Grasse, France – The World Capital of Perfume

Grasse, France

Just off professionele geurverspreider Côte d’Azur in south-eastern France is a hilltop medieval hamlet known as “world capital of perfume.” It may sound like an overstatement to travellers used to hype but it’s not. Two dozen scent companies here produce the perfumes that go into most of the soap, potpourri, talc, after shave and cologne sold in France, Europe and beyond.

For some 300 years, the town has been producing a product that’s as much an art form as a painting. The story began when the perfumer Jean de Galimard scented his leather gloves for the French queen. Then, in the 19th century, industrialization pushed perfumers to bring in raw materials from around the world – patchouli from Indonesia, vetiver from Madagascar and pink pepper wood from California, among them.

Innovations in Scent Technology: The Evolution of Scent Machines

The flowers and herbs are crushed, steamed or heated (to release a volatile compound) to make aromatic oils. The oldest technique is called enfleurage, where a flower or herb is flattened against beef and pork fat to absorb the smells. This gives the oil a rich, earthy flavor. More common now is fractional distillation, which separates out the chemicals in the plant.

Creating new fragrances is no easy task, but it’s not perfumers who make the most money in the industry. Instead, the work is done by a highly trained artisan of aroma, who is known as a nose. This is not a job for the faint of heart, as the process can take up to two years. There are only 50 master noses in the world and they’re expected to be able to identify 4,000 fragrance essences blind.