Grasse, situated on a centuries-old hilltop town in southern Provence, is surrounded by fields of lavender, orange blossoms and other aromatic flowers. Because of it’s flora it has become one of France’s leading perfume producers. The Fragonard Parfumerie dates back to 1782. Just how did all this start, you ask? To begin with, the inland environment provided shelter from the sea air and the just-right soil, sun and temperature nurtured the rose, jasmine, lavender, myrtle and wild mimosa that was the frontrunner in the French perfume industry in the 17th century.
It all began with a foul odor. There was a large leather tannery in Grasse that made gloves. The smelly gloves did not sell very well and the nobility demanded something else. A Grasse tanner presented scented leather gloves to Catherine de Medici, the Queen of France and the perfume industry was born. So petal picking and saturating gloves and selling them to the queen and her buds, has lead us to this! Who knew!
Here are some of the old copper boilers that were used to break down the petals. They mashed the various boilers into a fine display at the entrance to their factory. When the flowers are scheduled to be picked, the blossoms are placed on trays in the upper part of a still over water that is brought to a boil. As the steam rises, it captures the scent-bearing components and carries them into a glass cooler where the mixture of water and essential oils is then collected. It takes three tons of petals to produce one liter of oil! That would be a lot of petal picking!
Inside the pristine factory we saw more of the old copper boiling pots, where the petals were placed and then distilled down and filtered to that little, little canister! Old and new photos of the production procedures were side by side on the wall.
Moving on to the factory testing rooms we could see the spotless work stations, where the fragrances are sniffed, mixed and refined. It’s quite the lab.
And then they fill their light-weight aluminum parfum bottles. Now I can buy more and not worry about weight and bottle breakage! Yee! Ha!
The fragrance compounds for soaps are moved up the ramp, where it is mixed, rolled and then flattened out and shaped into a bar of soap.
And then it is inspected and packed. Wouldn’t that be a happy job?
After touring the manufacturing area we were lead into the parfum showroom and asked to see how good our sense of smell was at determining fragrances. Fragonard offers four distinct fragrances; the naturals, the florals, the fruities and the orientals. My first choice was Étoile in the naturals. It was a fragrance combination of lemon, apple, ginger, gardenia, lily-of-the-valley, jasmine, cedar wood, amber and musk. That was until I tried the Belle Chérie in the Fruities group. That fragrance was a combination of mandarine, starfruit, jasmine, heliotrope, lily-of-the-valley, tonka bean and vanilla! Oh my! What is a tonka bean? Do you know the difference between a parfum and a eaux de parfum? Parfum lasts up to eight hours and eaux de parfum around two hours. So there is the price difference. Since all of Fragonard products are exclusive to Fragonard and sold at factory prices we women could hardly be contained! Do you see any photos of the shopping frenzy that ensued? No. It was every woman and man for themselves. We immediately took off to the four sections of the shopping area to the specific fragrance area of our choice, (more likely, if the gals were like me, they shopped in every area) where we found perfumes, eaux de parfum, soaps and more. When we went to the checkout counter they offered the most beautiful large floral utility bags featuring their different scents. So you could buy a large tote to match your fragrance choices. There was fragrance everywhere and we were all soaking it up! Well, I am ashamed to say I was the second to last gal to get back on the bus……the guide had to come get me and my Aussie friend. But, we had the best day ever! I also learned that every year the town celebrates two blossom festivals around the time the Mai Roses and Jasmine bloom. Wouldn’t that make a wonderful fragrance trip? And to make it even more exciting there are four more parfumeries in Grasse! I can see myself returning here! Now on to Monaco and Monte Carlo! We’re following another ship out of port!