Known as the perfume capital of the world, Grasse produces 50% of all the perfumes worldwide. There are three main perfumeries in this small hilly town, which are its main drawcards. The third oldest perfumery in the world, Parfumerie Galimard was founded in 1747 and supplied oils and perfumes to King Louis XV and his Royal Court. It was the only perfumery in France until 1849, when Maison Molinard was founded. What’s probably the most commonly known perfumery in Grasse, Parfumerie Fragonard, didn’t come onto the scene until 1926.
From Nice, it took us approximately one and half hours to reach Grasse, with a one-way ticket costing 1.50€. By train it would’ve taken approximately one hour, with a one-way ticket costing 5€ or 6€ (instead of the usual 10 or so euro, because we were 25 years and under). The way I see it, saving enough for deux boules de glace was worth the extra half hour in transit. The bus was comfortable enough and had air con.
When we arrived, we went for a mosey and grabbed lunch from the open-air market. A baguette, jambon and Brie. What else? We didn’t wander too far or for too long though because we needed to be at the Galimard studio for two o’clock, where Amy had booked to do a perfume workshop.
The perfume workshop was a pretty sweet deal. It cost 49€ for a two-hour workshop, where you get to create 100mls of your own Eau de Parfum. The other perfumery offering a workshop is Molinard. But I think Amy decided to go with Galimard because it offered a better deal and it’s the oldest perfumery in France. I wasn’t really all that into perfume before today, and I didn’t really have the capacity to carry a delicate perfume bottle around for the rest of my travels. So I just opted to watch and play assistant.
The first step in creating a perfume is to select and mix the base notes, which are the strongest notes that usually last the day and stay on your clothes. Before this though, Amy had to choose two scents from nine small samples. Based on her two preferences, the perfumer was able to pick a range of base notes for her to choose from. After choosing four base notes, the perfumer determined how much of each note to add to get the right balance. Then drop by drop, we began mixing.
After the base notes, come the heart notes, which usually last a few hours.
Last, are the peak notes. The peak notes are the first notes that you smell when you put on perfume, and they usually last 15 – 20 minutes before evaporating.
Towards the end, Amy was in a bit of a dilemma trying to whittle down her eight peak notes down to the necessary five. It also kind of seemed like she was picking notes based on what they were called. So I got her to close her eyes and smell them all again. To her credit, even with her eyes closed, she was pretty consistent with which peak notes she wanted. Sweet and fruity. The perfumer had some sage advice… “Don’t trust the idea, trust the smell”. The lady next to us wasn’t really trusting the smell. She was obsessed with this perfume called “Angel”. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she ended up trying to recreate it and calling it something similar.
One last mix of all the notes, et voilà! 100mls of Eau de Parfum called “Double Boule”, a reference to the double scoop of glace that we’ve been getting pretty much every day. I didn’t mind the end product. Although I couldn’t tell you what it was actually like on because it needed to sit for at least 15 days before being used. Galimard kept the formula in case Amy wanted to recreate it again. They must have a massive vault of formulae from all the people that have come to complete their workshop.
While I found the process interesting, I don’t think I could’ve kept smelling things for too much longer. My nose was nearing saturation. Fun fact: When we asked about some coffee beans to neutralise our sense of smell, they recommended smelling our own skin.
There was a world map on the wall, which showed where certain plants and flowers are sourced to create oils used in their perfumes. Australia produces eucalyptus (of course) and sandalwood. Surprisingly though, Australia isn’t the only country to supply eucalyptus. It’s also sourced from Spain and Portugal.
After the workshop we went to the actual Galimard perfumery , which was a 5 – 10 minute walk down the road. We arrived right on time and tacked onto the end of an English tour that had just begun. The tour guide was the sweetest woman named Olga. Props to her for remaining positive and calm while these two South African guys kept asking ridiculous questions. I was so close to snapping at them, “She just told you that!” Bless her, when the rest of the group had left at the end of the tour, Olga thanked us for being there because she didn’t think she would’ve gotten through the whole tour with just the others.
After today, I’ve developed a newfound respect for the Noses and perfumers. It really is a form of art. One where the true artists aren’t usually publicly acknowledged. For example, a lot of people know Chanel’s famous No5 perfume, but nobody really knows the name Ernest Beaux, the Nose responsible for creating it. Perfumery is a rather technical process too. To become a perfumer, you need to complete a degree in chemistry, followed by seven years of work experience. And I thought studying four years for my degree was long.
Perfumery aside, I can’t really say much about the town of Grasse itself. We didn’t really spend much time exploring it. Although it didn’t really seem like a town conducive to exploring on foot. Most of the places of interest (perfumeries, museums, flower fields) appeared to be a bus ride away. If you’re not big on perfume, I’d say a half-day is enough to wander round old town, visit a perfumery or two, and / or perhaps do a perfume workshop.