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  • Lauren Strever


Grasse, a town in the hills in the South of France, overlooks the Mediterranean ocean and is steeped in perfumery history. Grasse is loved and acknowledged as the world's perfume capital with good reason; since the end of the 18th century, many "noses" have spent time in the area, and Grasse produces most of France’s natural aromas. The quaint town is home to old perfumeries such as Galimard, Molinard, and Fragonard and is considered the centre of the French perfume industry.

Each year in Grasse, the old city’s cobbled streets are lined with pink umbrellas to represent the May Rose which is important to the perfume history of the city and is one of the great objects of pride of the Grasse region. Language and memory play a massive role in refining one’s understanding of the fragrance world. In perfumery, the Grasse Rose absolute scent is softer and finer than the Rose absolute from the Moroccan rose, which is more vibrant and slightly spicy. Although the pink umbrellas are usually removed shortly after the Rose harvest in May, this year they have kept them up a little longer - much to my delight.

I was finally in Grasse for a practical, in-person course at the Grasse Institute of Perfumery. It was a 2-week program, referred to as a Summer School, for perfumer beginners. On the website it reads; “Grasse Institute of Perfumery wants to shine the art of Perfumery and its birthplace, Grasse with people willing to learn.” I have always learned best when guided by a teacher; hands-on, and in this case, smelling. I looked for South African courses and couldn’t find what I was looking for. I kept coming back to Grasse. It just sounded like a dream. So, I dreamed... For years, I lived in France in my dreams.

By the end of 2019, when my youngest child was old enough for me to leave home for long enough to attend the course, I started to enquire more seriously about the Grasse Institute of Perfumery. I had made some huge personal changes that helped to heal fear and uncertainty, and the longing outweighed the sense of impossibility. Typically, in my life, travel has been a bookmark for monumental personal growth. What would Grasse hold for me? I managed to book a place at the Perfumery Institute for the following European summer. I was officially going to fulfil my dream to create fine fragrances with natural ingredients. Progress seemed to snowball once I had taken this step. I bought Rose Absolute for the first time in my life. It was like holding gold. I was close to printing the first labels for my first few products. My brand, Lopo, was launching. I was going to France and then BOOM... 2020.

France may have been on hold but I kept my focus on Lopo. I launched several products, the prize one being Power Serum. It took me 2 years to get it right and it is everything I hoped it would be. It feels like one of my life’s greatest victories and serves as a reminder to never give up. Embedded in the names of many of Lopo’s products, is a lesson from the story of my life or moments in time that have shaped me. We help to heal others through the telling of our own stories, so it was important for me to design products that deliver not only the highest quality ingredients, but something meaningful, with an offering of well-being for body, heart, mind, and spirit.

Fast forward to August 2022, after multiple obstacles, when the kind-faced French passport control officer stamped my passport and let me through, it took every inch of me to not burst into tears of relief. As I waited for my bag, I caught a glimpse of the sea and could feel the warmth of the Mediterranean summer outside. I finally knew that I would get to tell the story of the small village of Grasse in the South of France, where I came to fulfil my dream to study perfumery.

Besides, the French cafes, the macarons and baguettes, the rolling hills, the view of the bay of Cannes, the grapes hanging off the pergola at my guest house, perfume shops and museums, the course was everything I hoped it would be. I navigated a lot of stuff during my three weeks in France - I was reminded of who I am. I was allowed to be Lauren - I was nobody’s mom, boss, sister, friend, or daughter. I was just someone who loved perfume. My days flowed. There was no pressure or rush. I lapped up our classes, Laurance’s French accent filling my heart and the testing strips filling my nose.

I realized that, like any art, perfumery requires a concept and a level of creativity. I was surrounded by these other creative beings, and I was slightly intimidated. I didn’t have any new concepts. I struggled through self-criticism to find peace. A lot of the fragrance testing is reliant on memory – something that, for health reasons, I sometimes struggle with. I started to train my memory to work in visuals. It is amazing how hard it can be to differentiate Black Pepper from Frankincense in a blind smell-test. I let go of the need to be good at it and I opened myself up to the joy of the ingredients, many of which I was able to experience for the first time. In lieu of a concept, I trusted that if the process is joyful, and you end up with something that smells beautiful, then you have created a successful perfume. I was inspired by a story told at the International Perfumery Museum, how, many decades ago, dipping your hands in honey and crushing rose petals by hand in olive oil resulted in honey-infused rose oil. I left Grasse, assured that my “DIY” of extracting my Gardenia oil to use in my oil-based perfumes was perfectly acceptable.

Our weekly outings while on the course included a visit to the perfumer’s garden. My original love is plants so it was heaven interacting with plants I had never seen before, whose precious oils were familiar to me. The other was to a Jasmine and Tuberose farmer whom we helped to harvest the Jasmine blooms and where we frolicked in the Tuberose fields. I was living a dream. As we walked away from the tuberose fields, I asked the farmer if he knew where I could buy a few bulbs. He stopped next to the shed, grabbed a handful from a crate and put them in my hand. It felt like treasure. Although the harvest was underway in France in late summer, I was heading home to Spring, and it was the perfect time to plant the bulbs. When they bloom, I intend to soak my hands in honey and crunch them into baobab oil to make a honey-infused Tuberose oil. It fills my heart to know that I have a piece of Grasse with me forever.

I am not sure if it was the endorphins or the sea air, the warm sun, the good coffee, or a mixture of all the above but the aha-moment occurred while I was walking along the Antibes peninsula. My concept landed in my brain like a ghost from the past. I had it all along. I had literally forgotten it. This is my new challenge; I need to dig deep to create and launch the range of my dreams. I still have a few outstanding oils to acquire but I have already started to play with new ones that I invested in, after my course - oils that I would never have otherwise used.

When launching Lopo, it was important to me to honour my roots. I am proud to be from Limpopo. I celebrate sleeping under the Limpopo stars because we live in a place that feels tucked away, wild, and natural. Nature has always inspired me so it was important to me to honour it through Lopo by using raw materials and packaging options that are produced with mindfulness and care for our planet. I am fiercely South African, so I endeavour to support South African suppliers in every facet of the business. It is also important to me to pay tribute to the parts of the world that have held me and taught me the lessons that have shaped me. These places will unfold within the Lopo story in time, as I launch more products and perfumes. With these elements in mind, I offer you, Lopo botanicals. It is an embodiment of my everything.

Photos courtesy of Lauren Strever, Lopo

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