Lifestyle & Travel
Aug 1, 2015
Grasse, the capital of perfume. Here, for centuries, flowers have bloomed, water has ran, and scents were made. It is where the hills perfume the air, and color the landscape. Here is the Home of Perfume.
The story begins way before the time when perfume was famed here, back in the middle ages, during the 13th century. The area was then famous for its lamb leather tanning, with abundance of water in the hills, needed for the cleaning of the hides. The artisanal know-how was well known, and so was the quality of the leather and the tanning. With one little problem: the hides had a very distinct, strong and malodorous smell.
The solution? Perfumed gloves, originally created by perfumer Gallimard, and offered by him to Catherine de Medici, in the 16th century. It was a success, and led to the later division between tanners and glove makers, the latter establishing perfumeries. With the development of new irrigation methods, flowers bloomed grandiosely and abundantly, elevating Grasse to the status of Perfume Capital.
Grasse is considered to be the birthplace of the French perfume industry. It led to a whole lot of other business opportunities, and artisans became glassmakers, tinsmiths, cork makers, boilermakers, printers or transporters, generating a new economy boom. In the 19th century, the industrialization came along. Now, extraction was made through volatile solvents, and in the 20th century, organic synthesis presented us with a historical mark: Chanel Nº5. Grasse was on top of the world, with brands like Dior or Rochas owning their own fields of flowers.
Today, Grasse is still the center of scents. More than 60 active companies, employing over 13,500 people make up for about half of the France's fragrance industry, with revenues of over USD$650 million. These values include the production of scents for detergents or yoghurts, with food flavoring makes up half of the fragrance industry.
The flower fields are no longer the main or the most important resource, especially with the synthetic production growth in the 20th century, but the town adapted. Fifty years ago, most perfumers in Grasse produced ingredients, it was their main income source, but nowadays creativity domains the industry, with imports from several other countries used for the development and application of the centuries old know-how that no synthesis can replace.
Jean de Galimard lived in Grasse in 1747. Founder of the Corporation of Glove Makers and Perfumers, he supplied the court of King Louis with olive oil, pomades and perfumes from which he developed the first formulas. Since perfume was used to scent the fashionable gloves, the industries literally grew together hand in hand.
For over 266 years, Parfumerie Galimard has been following the same traditions as its renowned founder and currently uses the very processes which made its name famous. As in the past, the source is the natural resources of Grasse: jasmine, rose, lavender, orange flower, and tuberose, from which they obtain such rich scents.
Shortly before the First World War, Parfumerie Fragonard was opened, in 1926, by Eugène Fuchs. He chose to name it after the famous Grasse-born painter, Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806), a tribute to both the town of Grasse and the 18th-century arts. It expressed his desire to run his business in accordance with traditions.
Three generations have run and are still running the company, but it was Jean-Francois Costa that expanded and modernized the Parfumerie Fragonard. Today, Jean-François Costa's daughters, Agnès and Françoise preside over the perfumery's destiny, and are as concerned as the preceding generations with continuing to build the company while adapting it to current market needs and desires
The Maison Molinard was founded in 1849 in Grasse, Provence, cradle of the world's perfume industry. It has remained an entirely family-run business to this day, and is also the oldest of its kind. At that time, Molinard produced floral waters and Eaux de Cologne. In 1900, the company moved into an old perfume factory, where the distillery structure was designed by Gustave Eiffel. Molinard is still there today.
In 1921 Molinard launched two products that are still popular to this day: the famous Habanita, originally marketed to perfume cigarettes, and Concréta, the first solid perfume: "natural flower wax used directly as a perfume". René Lalique, the famous master glassmaker, created and signed for beautiful bottles for some of Molinard's perfumes.