Wednesday 14 December 2011

A ghost sign of Christmas past

On the Rue Marx Dormoy in the 18th arrondissement is one of the clearest ghost signs in Paris, and one which is particular relevant at this time of year.

Those who have spent the winter in France may be familiar with 'Les Pyréneens', a seasonal chocolate that
only appears in the shops during the Christmas period, but few will be aware of its history. This ghost sign gives us a clue to its origins.

The Rozan chocolate brand was launched in 1924 by Maurice Rozan de Mazilly. The company's headquarters were in Paris at 21 avenue Niel, but production took place at Oloron Sainte-Marie in the Pyrénées mountains. This information can be read clearly in the ad, but what is not so clear is the company's graphic identity, which seems to have been some kind of clown holding four bells. Who was Maurice Rozan de Mazilly though, and what was so special about his chocolate?

Born in 1893, Rozan de Mazilly did not come to the chocolate business on an easy route, but rather as a way of rebuilding his life. Originally from a working class family in Normandy, he began working at the age of 15 as a sailor, before signing up with the French army at the beginning of the First World War.

Although he survived the conflict, he didn’t escape injury. He received severe injuries to his face, which required a two-year stay at the Hôpital du Val de Grâce in Paris and over twenty operations to repair the damage. Despite the pain and suffering, this period gave him time to reflect, and his first act after leaving hospital was to become a chocolatier.

He managed to persuade a number of people to support him financially, including an American millionaire called Frank Jay Gould, but his success came after he discovered a new way to create chocolate. His inspiration came from the Austrian pastries he tasted during a visit to Vienna which ‘melted in the mouth’ whilst at the same time offering a sensation of freshness. He wondered if something similar would be possible with chocolate, and after two years of research and testing, he found a technique. In 1927 he launched the Les Pyrénéens brand, and his recipe for these chocolates (which should be served chilled from the fridge, and seem to melt in layers in the mouth) remains a secret to this day.

Above: the brand identity today. Below: where the inspiration for the packaging came from.

Rozan de Mazilly sold his brand to the Swiss group Lindt in 1956, but stayed on as ‘président d’honneur’ of the company, and was able to ensure that production remained in France, in his original factory in Oloron Sainte-Marie. To this day, the Les Pyréneens chocolates are sold only in France, and only when the snows begin to fall on the neighbouring mountains.


rgsoundf said...

Very interesting, my kind of stuff, thank you Adam. Maurice Rozan de Mazilly doesn't however sound as a working class name to me :)

Gwan said...

How interesting! I never realised les pyreneens were only sold at Christmas, I just thought that there just don't tend to be shelves full of boxed chocolates in the supermarket the rest of the year! I might have to go see if I can get some half price in honour of this post :)

Anonymous said...

I have been to 23 countries of those I have lived in 15. These chocolates that are only available in December & only in France, are the best chocolates I have ever had. They melt in your mouth like no other chocolate. Absolutely AMAZING! Do not purchase the outdated packages from AMAZON or other retailers. Call a retailer in France and have it shipped to you. They are worth every penny.

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