The First Essential Oil

Everyone thinks it must be lavender, emblem of Provence, that Olivier Baussan, the founder of L’Occitane, distilled first. In fact it’s rosemary. Let’s look back on this crucial moment.
By Caroline Taret

Before discussing distillation, we must imagine Olivier Baussan at 23 years old. The young man, already a father, a student of Modern Literature in Aix-en-Provence and supervisor in a college in Apt, was interested in essential oils. But it was his meeting with André Botte, a fiery and pioneering character in environmental awareness, that made him understand the importance of this raw material for cosmetics. This meeting was certainly critical, but it was especially his relationship to the nature of Provence that Olivier Baussan has maintained since boyhood which explains that first step. As Pierre Magnan says in his book ‘The Essence Of Provence: The Story Of L’Occitane,’ Olivier Baussan is a kid from the hills, in love with the fragrance of Provence, a person who very quickly becomes one with his environment.

Olivier Baussan started manufacturing essential oil in 1976, with the aim of creating bubble bath. He bought a still, unused for 20 years, repaired it, and installed it on a trailer attached to the back of his Citroen 2CV, which allowed him to zigzag the Provencal countryside in search of his precious ingredients. His first distillation was with rosemary, a powerful ingredient in perfume but rough on the hands. The alembic was placed at the edge of the river Laye, in the village of Limans, which provided water for the distillation. And it was in the stone sink of an old shed that the first bubble bath was manufactured before being sold at the markets of Manosque and Forcalquier.

From this ancient knowledge, many L’Occitane products were born. The old still exists today, and stands in front of the L’Occitane museum in Manosque. As much as L’Occitane itself, it’s the record of this story.

To Read
‘The Essence Of Provence: The Story of L’Occitane’ by Pierre Magnan, Arcade Publishing (2003)

The First Essential Oil
Olivier Baussan in Provence
With the famous 2CV!
Photography L'Occitane en Provence

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