Last month, I was visiting the perfume-makers in Grasse, South of France, known to be the Perfume Capital of the World. I had a pretty old-fashioned image of perfume-making before going there, but I actually found myself to have an amazing time!! I learned tons of things and I could not leave the mesmerizing perfume shops!
Why is Grasse all about perfume?
That’s what I had always wondered. Why no other place, now that perfume is known everywhere in the world?
Well, history made a difference. Earlier on, Grasse had produced perfume from local products such as mimosa, verbena, and lavender, just like anybody else for centuries: using distillation. The distillation process is quite simple: you boil the product, the essential oils evaporate and when they are cooled down into the next equipment, you can collect them.
In the collector, essential oils are on top, while the floral water is at the bottom because it is heavier.
The oil can then be used to compose perfumes.
What made Grasse so unique in the perfume history is that, at the end of the 19th century, the local perfumers scaled-up the use of another method to collect essential oils from delicate, fragile flowers that could not be boiled, such as rose, jasmine, or peony. The so-called “cold process” is very time and labor intensive. It involves putting the delicate flowers on a bed of grease and changing those flowers manually every few days during 2 months.
After that, the grease is saturated with flower essence and can be processed to separate and extract the essential oil that will be used in perfume.
Since then, Grasse has been home to the most prestigious and demanding perfume-makers in the world. Today still, all of the French “noses” (the people who have the extraordinary scenting ability to create new perfumes) work in Grasse and compose the perfumes for all the famous brands we know such as Chanel, Givenchy, Dior, Armani, Kenzo etc. And 70% of the world’s perfume is created here, in Grasse, thanks to its 40 traditional manufacturers.
What’s a perfume really? And an Eau de Toilette?
I had always wondered what the difference between all those fancy bottles and their prices could be. I finally got the explanation. They all use the same products, but in different concentrations.
Here you go:
– Eau de toilette: 8% essential oils, 92% mix of water and alcohol. It smells very light and may last only for a few hours.
– Eau de parfum: 15% essential oils, 85% mix of water and alcohol. The scent usually lasts for up to a day.
– Parfum: the real thing: up to 25% essential oils and 75% alcohol. No water. At all. The product is very concentrated and has a very strong smell that can last for 2 to 3 days.
So now it makes sense why a perfume is so rare and expensive: it contains much more raw essence and materials than the others. It’s so stable that you can keep it for up to 10 years, provided you don’t expose it to light and humidity!
Typically storing perfume in your bathroom is a bad idea. Keep it in a closet in your bedroom, that’s the best option.
And remember, regardless of the concentration you prefer, it’s important that you try the product on your skin directly and not just on the sample paper before buying.
We usually spray a little amount on the inside arm area to know how the perfume smells on one’s skin. Why? Because the perfume molecules will chemically react with your skin and the scent will slightly transform and become a unique blend between the perfume and your own scent. So it’s really important you try it on.
How to put on perfume the proper way?
Well it all depends on which product you use. Eau de toilette may be sprayed several times on your skin and clothes; it has a light and fresh smell anyway.
Eau de parfum is stronger and will definitely require less spraying (maybe 1 or 2 sprays).
Parfum takes a specific etiquette and conduct. It smells so strong and the essence is so concentrated that you should only put very little. Otherwise you will definitely incommode your entourage and you may also get headaches. For example
– 1 or 2 drops on your wrists
– 1 or 2 drops below your ears.
Why there? Because this is where your veins are! Along the day, when the warm blood circulates into your body, the temperature will “re-activate” the essence and perfume effect. So it will smell nicely one or two days long.
Do not rub your skin or wrists after you apply perfume: it would break the perfume molecules and alter the nice scent.
You may wonder what’s the advantage of putting perfume then? Well:
– Perfume is a much higher quality product (hence the price): it contains no water and has a high concentration of essence.
– Perfume can be kept for a much longer time if you store it well (see upper section), up to 10 years!
– A specific and well-chosen perfume can even become part of your identity, it’s a part of you and people will recognize your presence by the atmosphere coming from you. Choose it well!
Going to Grasse
Traveling to Grasse is definitely a highlight of a France trip, especially if you are heading South. It’s accessible by road, driving from Nice, Cannes or Marseilles. While there, make sure you allow sufficient time to visit the perfume manufacturers, I would say at least one day. Allow even two days if you want to take your time or plan to attend a perfume-making workshop to do your own creation, or check out one of the really nice villages in the surroundings!
The factory visit may be short, but you will be surprised to spend countless hours in the stores, trying to figure out which perfume is your favorite!
You actually find two types of “Maisons”. The ones that produce under their own brands, such as for instance Fragonard. And the ones that create for luxury brands: those are allowed to sell the product for a few months only, anonymously, just before it comes to the market under its branding. These manufacturers’ visits are actually quite funny, as you get to try some perfumes that will be fashionable in 6 to 12 months!
For example, summer 2018 perfume trend for ladies will bring fruity mixes including mangoes, cherries or blackcurrant scents. Whereas men can expect original mixes such as apples with melon and herbs!
Buying directly from the manufacturers bring lots of advantages, with discounts ranging from 40 to 70% when compared to normal store prices.
So, Grasse is definitely a must-stop while going to France!