If you ever find yourself on the French riviera with half a day to spare and you like to smell good, jump in a car and drive to Grasse, the perfume-making capital of this world. In this quiant little town nestling in the hillside, all the major perfume-makers grow much of their flowers and create perfumes for all the international brands.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit Grasse on three occasion and on one of these, my friend E suggested that we’d create our own perfume at one of the perfume houses. Never one to turn down a new experience, we rented a car and made a day of it, exploring Grasse and neighbouring St Paul de Vence, the most gorgeous little town clinging to the hilltop just a short drive from Grasse. We also popped by the modern art museum The Maeght Foundation just outside St Paul de Vence, which has as much art outside in its pretty gardens as inside its minimalist building.
When you spot St Paul de Vence on the hilltop as you are driving into the hills, your breath is taken away, it’s that beautiful.
Walking around inside the walls is also an amazing experience — the pedestrian-only town is a maze of paths winding it’s way up and down in between the buildings, passing an unreal number of art shops, galleries, cafes and restaurants. The reason for the strong focus on art is that many of the impressionists at some point or another spent time in this town — Marc Chagall died here in 1985.
The old part of Grasse is also only for pedestrians and you’ll find lots of perfume shops scattered about, in addition to cute boutiques, cafes and bars.
The biggest perfume house in the area is Fragonard. They have shops throughout the region that are a treasure trove for perfumes, soaps, tableware, jewellery and clothing, all in the style of Provence. For someone like me who loves both the scent and the look of lavender, this is pure heaven.
During all three of my visits I stocked up on soaps, both as gifts and for myself — currently I’m using the pink soap from this pretty set of pebble soaps.
E and I booked an appointment to make perfume with the perfumier Galimard, which is located on the outskirts of Grasse (though they also have a location in Eze). It was a cold and rainy day and as soon as we walked through the front door, a wall of warm and highly scented air completely enwrapped us. We were hooked.
As part of a group we created our own personal perfume, based on the scents that were our personal favourites. Starting with an alcohol, we continued to add scents we liked by selecting a set number of scents from several specific groups, measured out individually, all in a highly scientific way.
It was actually quite tricky to select the scents, as both my brain and my nose got very confused after smelling so many different oils and potions. I started doubting myself and didn’t know if I liked vanilla or not anymore. Still, I kept at it, smelling the scents over and over again until finally my personal elixir was complete.
Then, major crisis — I hated my new perfume! Far too loud and incoherent, it smelt like an old lady who’s nose wasn’t quite up to scratch anymore. Luckily, after letting it mature for the instructed three weeks, the scent was wonderful!
We all named our perfumes and the recipes were added to the Galimard archives. This means that we can re-order more whenever we run out — we can even have made a shower gel or bodylotion in our own scent. And who knows, maybe one day my perfume will be launched commercially and become an international bestseller?!? And then again, maybe not.