We had the pleasure of hosting our CEO at our home in France this past week, and naturally, we needed to keep him busy, so we organized a trip to Grasse. Most people already know of Grasse for its abundance of perfumeries and fragrance houses. After all, the town is known as the Capital of Perfume, as it was the French that luxuriated the scented oils.
Located just north of Cannes, this town is a quick 30 minute drive from Nice International Airport, which makes it an easy day trip if you find yourself on the Cote d’Azur. Grasse is a relatively small town, with just over 50,000 residents, however it does receive approximately 1 million visitors annually, which is essential to the town’s tourism economy.
The old town is exactly what one would imagine from a southern riveria town, filled with small 17th century buildings, sun bleached shutters and small winding streets. The 17th century cathedral is a main attraction, located in the center in a large open square, and is home to 3 paintings by Rubens, the Flemish baroque painter. Perfumeries like Fragonard, Galimard, and Molinard, among others, have their headquarters here. Some of these perfume houses have been around since the late 1700s.
Due to our curiosity of fragrance creation and development, we stumble upon a small local perfumery. It happened to be a relatively new company formed by 2 gentlemen that have been in the industry for years and decided to create their own atelier. Not that we were perfume connoisseurs to begin with, but we did have our ideas of how fragrances were created. I suppose I imagined the creation more like fresh squeezed orange juice, when in fact it is closer to the creation of a very complex and fancy gastronomic cocktail. Each scent that we smelled had a list of ingredients that looked like a laboratory report. Each fragrance’s ingredient list contained a minimum of 25 lines... and some even had 10 times that amount.
We had no idea how much actually goes into what would appear as a simple scent. Creating a scent has many steps, like any process. What makes this one so unique is that there is a unique blend of technology and human control. Scents are run through a sophisticated computer program to determine how much of each ingredient is in the fragrance. This allows for easy alteration if a certain ingredient needs to be enhanced or weakened. In the end, the decision comes down to a person. Each fragrance house has an expert perfumer, tenderly known as "the nose." Similar to a wine sommelier, an expert perfumer has an incredibly keen and fine sense of smell, which allows them to create spot-on compositions. They can transport you to an orange grove by smelling an essential oil that literally contains almost no natural ingredients. It is quite fascinating since you believe you are smelling a vile of fresh squeezed orange juice. Seeing the process makes you have a lot more appreciation for fragrances, and, in particular, the nose behind it. Nevertheless, creating perfumes is an art and the creators are nothing less than artists.