June 07 2010
I first discovered L’Occitane’s almond oil products in France during the long, hot summer of 2003, when I found that the then-new Milk Concentrate (£32) made a very soothing and moisturising after-sun lotion, with a delicious and nostalgic scent somewhere between childhood penny sweets and marzipan. It soon arrived in Britain and I added the shower oil, which genuinely does leave skin smooth enough not to need a lotion afterwards. That comforting scent makes it less good for energising, but for an unwinding, late-day bath or shower I can think of nothing nicer.
I didn’t know the backstory of it until I fell into conversation at the Chelsea Flower Show with L’Occitane’s founder, Olivier Baussan, and now I’m even keener. The majority of Provence’s almond trees, he told me, were wiped out by a severe frost in 1956 and most farmers replaced them with olive trees, which seemed more reliable as an agricultural crop. Perfumers in the south of France had to use almond oil from California which, he says, lacks the richness of the Provençal version and racks up the transport miles. Then a decade or so ago a younger generation started to look again at growing newer, more frost-resistant varieties. Baussan encouraged the planting of groves, offering to take the eventual production, and now all L’Occitane’s almond oil is locally produced.
Better still, as the almond is, like many Mediterranean plants, dependent on bees for pollination, the firm gets local beekeepers to bring their hives to the groves in spring at flowering time. The bees, so threatened in many places, benefit, almond trees are once again prettying up the landscape with their white flowers, and we get a gorgeous product which, at £15, is worth it for the tale alone.