Everything you need to know about perfume

What if you walked away from the beaches of the Côte d’Azur? Grasse is waiting close by, hidden amongst the hills of Cannes’ backcountry. So many iconic fragrances were born in “the international perfume capital” Take five minutes to learn about the history of perfume in Grasse.

A smelly (g)love story

In the Middle Ages, tanners reigned supreme in Grasse. And while their leathers were well-known and well-loved, the odor that preceded them was far less so.... To try and avoid offending his customers’ nostrils, Galimard was the first to try dipping his gloves in a bath perfumed with the aromas of a Provence garden: lavender, myrtle, jasmine, rose wild orange blossom, and even mimosa.

Three names to remember

They’re easy to remember: they all end in “-ard”! Fragonard, Molinard and Galimard: three surnames that reappear time after time in the history of perfume in Grasse. One of these men, however, wasn’t a perfumier!

Something fishy amongst the perfumiers?

In 1926, it was Eugène Fuchs, and not Jean-Honoré Fragonard, who founded the famous Fragonard perfumery. In actual fact, Fragonard was... a painter (the one behind the inflammatory painting, The Lock). Nothing to do with perfume! Now that’s settled: Fuchs wanted to pay homage to the artist from Grasse, and through him to the town that had welcomed him and his family. History is silent on Fragonard’s nosy nature...

A Perfumier’s Glossary

Nez (Nose): a perfumier with a particularly refined sense of smell.
Jus (Juice): a perfume concentrate.
Absolu (Absolute): a pure floral concentrate.

On the nose (your own).

There’s nothing worse than meeting someone wearing the same fragrance. If you really want to leave a unique impression in your wake, call in to the Atelier de Tarinologie de Molinard and learn about the science of perfume and make a fragrance that is 100% you.

In the name of the rose

May is the perfect month to visit Grasse. It’s the only month in which its star flower blooms: the appropriately named May Rose. Its fragrance is as intoxicating as it is fleeting: a few hours and its gone. It has to be harvested early in the morning, when it’s just bloomed, before being distilled in the afternoon. It cannot be made synthetically, and the biggest names in perfume reserve the precious absolute before the harvest is even complete.

Chanel’s jasmine

If Grasse’s jasmine is just as iconic as the May Rose, it’s because it’s a key ingredient in one of the world’s most famous perfumes: Chanel N°5. Almost all of the region’s jasmine production goes towards it. So no more jasmine means no more N°5!

But why N°5?

When the great Coco Chanel met Ernest Beaux in Grasse in 1921, she ordered “a woman’s perfume that smells like a woman”. And what will we call it? With her heart set on sample number 5, the designer answered: “I’m launching my collection on the 5th of May, the 5th month of the year. Let’s leave the name as it is already stick with lucky number 5”.

A playlist for further listening

  • The book to read: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, by Patrick Süskind.
  • A factory to visit: Fragonard’s historic factory and the Perfumery museum on its first floor, where 13 of the artist’s paintings are also on display.
  • The workshop: Atelier de Tarinologie, at Molinard of course, where you can make your own fragrance.

Getting to Grasse