Another idyllic afternoon in Cassis, a stunningly beautiful village in the south of France, tucked in the arm of the luminous Cap Canaille. Around the corner sits La Ciotat, where in 1895 the Lumière brothers filmed their 50-second single-shot arrival of a train. Some say the movie’s composition, camera angle and camera distance created an effect both novel and realistic enough to frighten movie-goers out of their seats during the 1896 screening. Fact or foundation myth, this appealing episode of cinematic history was reenacted twice in Scorsese’s Hugo (2011).
Inhabitants do not pronounce the final “s” in Cassis; but many neighbors and transplants do. A cab driver from Marseille once explained in detail why phonetic rules dictated that the word end in sibilance; yet he consistently dropped the “s” during our Cassis-sprinkled conversation.
The village has nothing to do with with fruity kir mixer crème de cassis (pronounce the “s”), a black currant specialty of Bourgogne. Cassis does produce some delicious vins de Cassis (again, a silent “s”). In fact, one Cassidain I know posits that the silent-s/pronounced-s distinction is a linguistic evolution rooted in oenological reverence: the pronounced “s” must be reserved for sweet black current products; thus the crisp, dry rosés and flavorful white and red wines of Cassis regally claim a distinguishable name of their own.
Frédéric Mistral said that if you’ve seen Paris, but not Cassis, you’ve seen nothing at all. Similar words could apply to the village’s fragrant offerings. Cassis is the place where my love of mimosa grew from flirtation to life-long commitment many years ago. It’s too late in the season to inhale the peculiar dusty warmth of those yellow puff blooms, but as always, when it comes to fragrance, Cassis delivers: the open-air market, its produce, crusty breads, spices, olives and cheeses; laurel, lavender and linden in bloom; fruit orchards in every little jardin clos; herbes de provence run rampant; sizzling stone and clay tiles; and the sea, with all of its attending salty, breezy, sunblocky, fishy, clean, gold and azure aromas.
As if all of this were not enough, on a meandering walk back from the beach I discovered an unexpected bounty of scent on rue Saint Clair: the l’Eau de Cassis perfume and soap shop.
The welcoming boutique features an alambic dating to 1851, the founding year of the revived and renamed Eau de Cassis perfume. Friendly and knowledgable sales associates are on hand to refill bottles from urns or to custom slice bars from smooth, rectangular loaves of soap. They are also eager to introduce clients to the world of perfume production and appreciation. Feeling self conscious about my own sillage of Eau de SPF70-Salt-Water-and-Mid-Summer-Hike, I declined the kind invitation to sink into a velvety couch to watch a film on the history of Eau de Cassis and its materials. I did glean that the company was created in 2005 and that the secret formula for l’Eau de Cassis (originally called Senteur de Madame C) was the signature scent of a wealthy nineteenth-century Marseillaise.
The Eau de Cassis line seems designed to tug at the heartstrings of people like me who feel an emotional bond to its namesake’s landscape and geological splendor: Elixir des Calanques, Absolu de Garrigue, Envie de Cassis, Rêves de Cassis, La Mer, Un jour à Cassis, Baie de Cassis, Soleil de Cassis, l’Esprit du Sud and more. Most of the blends I sampled were variations on literal scents of place, with doses of lavender, citrus, mimosa, verveinne, rose, and other local leaves and blooms. The company creates an artisanal chic vibe through packaging, design, presentation and the boutique’s elegant but inviting ambiance. The website (not set up for online shopping) could still use a little work.
I left wearing l’Eau de Cassis on my left arm (a fragrance in the spirit of classic eau de cologne, with a provencal twist), and on the right, figgy L’Or Jaune, which is supposed to include mimosa, though I don’t it detect here (or for that matter, in any perfume featuring the note–but that’s another story entirely). The variety of fragrances, decent prices and flacon options are a plus.
Because my stay in Cassis was brief and booked up, I was not able to return to the shop. Fortunately I took a few photos, or I might begin to think that the chance encounter was a figment of my Cassis-smitten imagination. I hope to check out the Grasse branch in coming weeks to confirm that l’Eau de Cassis was not just a maritime mirage.
|30 ml glass travel size in Cap-Canaille tubes|
There are four L’Eau de Cassis boutiques: two in Cassis, one in Marseille, one in Grasse. See the webiste information the website www.leaudecassis.com.