Grasse the Perfume Capital

A city of “art and history”, but especially of perfume and flowers, Grasse invites us to visit its streets, museums and gardens…
By Sarah Carrière-Chardon

Let’s take a trip through time… Back in the Middle Ages, Grasse was known for its tanners, installed around the little canal that cuts through the town. The lamb from the mountain pastures lent the place a reputation and today decorates the city’s emblem. The softness of its leather and the quality of the savoir-faire of its artisans had just one flaw, an odor from the hides that could make one ill. To remedy this, the perfumer Gallimard first had the idea, also during the Renaissance, to make a pair of perfumed gloves that he gave to Catherine de Medici. The fashion was launched and this innovation would contribute years later to the recognition by the court in 1614 of the new guild of “glover-perfumers”. Perfumery did not cease to develop but it was during the modern period that it took on great importance.

Artisanal production evolved within three major houses, Gallimard, Fragonard and Molinard. In the middle of the 17th century the process of cold enfleurage appeared, allowing for extraction of the most delicate flowers like citrus blossom, jasmine or tuberose. Perfumery federated a whole world of artisanal activity including glassmakers, tinsmiths, corkmakers, boilermakers, printers or transporters, and a multiple economy emerged. The 19th and the 20th century signaled the progressive industrialization of the trades, in particular for extraction, now via volatile solvents patented in 1894 by the industrialist Léon Chrisis or later, organic synthesis made possible synthetic products of which the mythical Chanel No 5 is the finest example. At this time, Grasse was at its peak. Chanel, like Rochas or Dior, owned their own fields of flowers.

If Grasse was a perfume, the three houses would make up the top note, the gardens the heart notes, and the surrounding countryside the base note… A 600-ton annual harvest at the beginning of the century has given over to 30 tons today.

Gardens like those of the Villa Noailles and the Villa Fort de France, fountains and the surrounding fields marry with the ancient Provencal village, which still lives to the rhythm of its harvests. Rose and jasmine are particularly celebrated. The first in May, with no less than 15 days of festivities around the Exporose and Mother’s Day, the second, a week at the beginning of August with flower parades which fill the whole town. Now very touristy, the town is preferable in low season, especially if you follow in the steps of Suskind’s novel “Perfume”…

Discover 
Musée International de la Parfumerie de Grasse
2, boulevard du Jeu de Ballon
06130 Grasse
www.museesdegrasse.com
Grasse, the perfume capital
Grasse, the perfume capital
Provence
Photography DR/Pole Azur
Grasse, The perfume capital
Grasse, The perfume capital
Provence
Photography DR/Pole Azur

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