Grasse: Where Perfume Dreams Come True!
Our noses may have led us, but it was my first trip to Grasse sixteen years ago that planted the seed for creating my own perfume one day.
Widely known as the perfume capital of the world, Grasse is a small town on the hilly terrain of the French Riviera just 15 km north of Cannes and home to dozens of fragrance companies. It’s also where Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel had her iconic Chanel N°5 created in 1921. In fact, the flowers used for the famous scent are still grown and harvested in Grasse. In several Chanel biographies I’ve read, it’s mentioned that the fresh smell of soap and the fastidious cleanliness of Gabrielle’s teenage years in a convent would influence much of her attitude in life and her work—including her revolutionary perfume. When commissioning Ernest Beaux, Chanel told her Maitre Parfumeur that she chose the fifth vial sample he presented her because she presents her dress collections on the fifth of May, the fifth month of the year. According to her biographers, the number five was her lucky number and her perfume bears this hallmark. For Chanel buffs, you also probably know from her biographies that her tomb in Lausanne, Switzerland, is decorated with five lions representing her favorite number, and Leo, her astrological sign. I guess Coco and I have that little bit in common. We’re both Leos. She was born in Saumur, France. I was married in Saumur. She had a brother named Lucien. My son is named Lucien. (Not named after her brother of course! We named my son Lucien as it means Man of Light and because he was conceived in Paris, the City of Light.) That’s where the comparison ends! My favorite number is 8—infinity. (A side note of Chanel history: Chanel lived at the Paris Ritz for decades, but moved to Lausanne after WWII. Her questionable liaison with the Nazi officer Hans Günther von Dincklage during the war meant that it was wise for Chanel to leave France after the war. She was never charged with treason and it’s believed that is because her close friend Winston Churchill intervened to spare her. She eventually returned to live at the Ritz, but she was buried in Lausanne. Anyone who has not read her biography, really must. Read it without judgment though . . . it’s fascinating!)
Earlier this month, my family and I were on holiday in the Provence and French Riviera, so my perfume dream finally came true. I ended up waiting so long to fulfill this dream that I had two kids while waiting! But, it was more fun this way as Father and Son and Mother and Daughter collaborated in a heavenly scented two-hour workshop to create our scents. When I first proposed the idea to my family, it was my ten year old son who jumped at the opportunity! Like his mother, he has an overly developed sense of smell and I’ve always jokingly told him he should become a “Nose,” and he now had a “whiff” of what that means! He rated the experience a 10. (Yes, sometimes I ask him to rate stuff on a scale from 1 - 10).
We chose the Personal Perfume Creation Workshop offered by the House of Galimard, opened in Grasse in 1747 as the first luxury Parfumeur in France. At Galimard, you can choose from 127 scents and go home with a 100ml bottle of your creation, which is kept on file for you to reorder in the future! (Christmas gifts for everyone I know! Haha!) Tip: do book ahead with both Galimard or Molinard!
While a few scents were tabled as maybes, it’s quite amazing how quickly each of us knew which scents we immediately loved or disliked. My daughter and I had very similar noses. My husband worked with our son on their perfume, but he mostly let my son develop the creation. My daughter and I both love light florals and were afraid we only kept choosing variations of rose for all of our notes. We were sure it would just end up smelling like my Bulgari Rose perfume! But, it didn’t. I guess we managed to sneak in a few differing scents to balance it out!
We were asked to give our perfume a name, so my daughter and I came up with Rose de Gigi (my daughter’s name, which happens to be French!). I’m not sure if my son overheard us from the next lab station (he insists he didn’t), but he came up with the exact same name: for his unisex perfume: Rose de Lucien (my son’s name, which also happens to be French!).
While in Grasse, you can also visit some perfume factories. Galimard, Fragonard, and Molinard all offer tours in several languages. For a deeper look into the history of perfume, visit the Musée International de la Parfumerie, which at the time we visited had the summer exhibition Dior, Esprit de Parfums. Additionally, if you’re visiting Grasse in spring or summer, you can explore the Gardens of the Musée International de la Parfumerie that grow and harvest much of the lovely roses, lavender, jasmine, and other flagrant flowers that are used in the production of perfume!
Grasse itself is a charming little town, but it's truly a fragrance lover's dream and an opportunity to create perfume in a world renowned lab and bring home one of the best souvenirs or gifts from France I can think of! And easier to transport than bottles of Champagne! The French really do so many things so well! Vive la France!