Urban agriculture and sustainability trends are taking root in the Windy City, literally. The City of Chicago has partnered with perfumery Tru Fragrance to launch Tru Blooms Chicago, an eau de parfum created with flowers cultivated exclusively in 19 urban gardens throughout the city. “We wanted to do something completely different in the fragrance industry, something that would be inspirational to folks to create a deeper connection to their city, ” says Monte Henige, CEO of Tru Fragrance and a native Midwesterner. “Our idea was to celebrate while helping to beautify this great city.”

The fragrance is composed of three types of flowers: rose, lavender, and the state flower of Illinois, violet. “One of Chicago’s distinguishing characteristics is our weather, which is an acquired taste but something we hold dear to our hearts,” says Henige. “So we worked with perfumers, chemists, and botanists to understand what could grow in our climate and also be compelling as a fragrance.” Variables such as direct sunlight, irrigation, and spatial concerns dictated where each flower could be planted, from Highland Park to Water Tower Place. “Chicago is a city of neighborhoods,” says Henige. “We tried to incorporate each of them to make the perfume truly authentic to Chicago.”

Sustainability, both economic and agricultural, was a central component. In collaboration with city parks and urban gardens, the 43-year-old fragrance house trained and employed more than 100 Chicagoans to plant and maintain the flowers throughout the summer harvest to ensure the highest quality of plants.

At the three Chicago Botanic sites alone, 10 variations of traditional roses—English and Portland breeds—were planted, along with English lavender in early May. “Roses are very sensitive flowers,” says Kelly Larsen, supervisor for the Windy City Harvest program at the Chicago Botanic Garden. “They need constant attention. They’re also prone to fungi, so our community employees did a lot of baking-soda sprays for them.”

“We cut the flowers as soon as they bloom, early in the morning because that’s when they’re the most fragrant,” says Larsen. Her team (nearly 30 community employees) then placed the flowers on a drying rack for two weeks and packed them into brown paper bags, allowing for ventilation. Using the aromatic extraction process, Tru Fragrance then cherry-picked portions of the flower to synthesize. Depending on the bloom, petals were chosen for a saturated scent or stems for essential oils.

These flowers were seeds in the spring: planted at the end of May, harvested in August, distilled and bottled in August and September. This fall, they’re the scent of the city. But the best part? “The community played an integral role in the process,” says Larsen. “We really couldn’t have accomplished this without them.” Smells like community spirit.

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