On the heels of a recent visit to the Miss Dior expo at the Grand Palais, I decided to investigate the world of perfume making in France. It’s hard not to think of France when one considers some of the most famous perfumes: Chanel, Dior, Estée Lauder, Givenchy, and Yves Saint Laurent to name a few. France isn’t the only country renowned for its perfume; however, it leads the market of international perfume sales at 30% of the world market. Additionally, France possesses LVMH, one of the largest luxury-goods companies in the world, which relies heavily upon perfume sales for business.
What surprised me the most about perfume manufacturing in France though is where it is produced. If I had to take a guess, I would have thought many perfumes were manufactured in Provence (I wasn’t too far off). It turns out that the international perfume capital lies in Grasse, France which is located in the Alpes Maritimes department, northwest of Nice. This region sits atop a hill located 750 meters above sea level. It is home to colorful and vast valleys that contain millions of roses, and jasmine and tuberose plats, all of which serve to make the famous perfumes. Grasse has become quite a tourist attraction because of its perfume expertise. Of the 200 perfumers that are in the world, 40 are in Grasse!
So how exactly is perfume made? In ancient times, flowers and plants were distilled to obtain aromatic essences which were used as aphrodisiacs or therapies. The process from ancient to modern times hasn’t changed significantly in that perfume is still prepared by distillation, maceration, and then either cold or heat pressure. The concentration of the perfume varies depending on the type of scent one wishes to produce. For example: Eau de parfum has a lower concentration of the substance used in a perfume (between 15 and 19 %) and the price is also lower. Eau de toilette has as concentration level between 6 and 10% . It has a simpler formula, because it includes fewer extracts from the original the perfume.
What differentiates Grasse from some other perfume makers is the fact that they continue to use natural fragrances. This leads to much higher prices for very small bottles, yet this maintains olfactory authencity. Many perfumers have moved to a cheaper process of creating chemically produced scents, which can be produced anywhere and doesn’t require as many flowers, nor the temperature parameters. In addition to its manufacturing sites, Grasse is also home to one of the most prestigious and competitive perfume schools: Grasse Institute of Perfumery. Students start by learning to differentiate between 500 different scents, and by the end of their studies they have such a highly developed olfactory system that they can recognize up to 4,000 different odors. The end goal for these students is of course to create their own perfumes one day.
Thinking of creating your own scent?! Great news! You don’t have to enroll in the Grasse Institute of Perfumery. Check out our blog post about Maison Francis Kurkdjian, which offers custom-made fragrances.
Tell us: what are your favorite French fragrances?? Are you more citrus, floral, spicy, musty, or oceanic?