As part of my French road trip with the bf, I begged him to take us through Grasse – the sweet smelling city that claims to be the ‘heart of the fragrance world.’ And the place where the flowers for making the legendary Chanel N°5 are grown and harvested. ‘It’s like me wanting to drag you around a car factory’ he whined. But relented anyway.
I’m really into scents. Our sense of smell is so powerful. It can stimulate memory and trigger emotion or physical attraction (cue the Lynx ads). Just the other week, I walked past a spotty teenager in a mall, whiffing of Davidoff Cool Water and it took me straight back to my 16 year old self having a massive crush on a boy at the bus stop. Weird how these things can stay stored up in your brain.
Don’t go to Grasse for anything else other than the fragrance thing. It’s a bit…tired.
Grasse has the perfect climes for flower growing – it’s warm, sheltered from sea air, and mountainous with loads of water. And since the 18th Century, it’s been famous for growing flowers like Jasmine, Rose, Lavender and Mimosa, with even the likes of King Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette picking up a Parfum or two.
The three most popular fragrance factories in Grasse are Galimard, Fragonard and Molinard. We chose to visit Galimard, the oldest of the three. It was a Sunday when we went for our tour (completely free), so it was extremely quiet and we didn’t get the added bonus of seeing the fragrance workers doing their thang, but our animated tour guide, who was also the spit of Penelope Cruz, more than made up for it.
She walked us through the fragrance process from flower to bottle, showing us how more robust flowers – like Lavender are boiled and distilled to extract the essential oil and how more delicate flowers – like Jasmine are handpicked and placed in a solvent to extract the essential oil. It sounds boring, but it was all very interesting, I promise.
At the end we got to try our hand at being ‘a nose’ and sniff testing lots of fragrances (in-between sniffing coffee beans to reset our noses) to find our fragrance style. I ended up buying Paradoxe Eau De Parfum – a combination of mingled figs, lemons and woody undertones. Better yet, it cost me €39 for 100ml and I think the bottle is pretty darn nice.
If you ever find yourself in Grasse – I suggest you go.
Some other fun facts I learned…
- The person who decides how to mix scents to create perfumes is called ‘a nose’ and they get paid SHIT LOADS
- Remember the weirdo from Perfume: The Story of a Murderer? He was a nose and it was set in Grasse
- You can not train to be a nose – it is a natural gift
- There are only 200 noses in the world, 40 of which are in France, 39 of which are in Grasse
- Eau De toilette is a bit shit (yet we all buy it) It is composed of 6% essential oil, alcohol and water
- Eau De Parfum is your best bet – 12% essential oils, alcohol and water
- Parfum is the best quality at 22% essential oil, alcohol and no water – meaning you only need a dab and it will last you for AGES (But no one buys it as it’s a bit whiffy)
- You should not keep your perfume in the bathroom as the moisture is bad for it