Grasse which is located in the Alpes-Maritimes, France is once again on its way to becoming the undisputed capital of perfume. Its dedication towards the intricate know-how of perfumery makes this city more than the tourist showcase of perfumes. In the Middle Ages, Grasse was a city of tanners and glovers. It began making perfumed gloves and harvesting the flowers such as lavender, jasmine, orange blossom, mimosa in the 16th century, which were later used for the fragrances of great perfume houses. Until the early 1980s, Grasse remained the epicentre of art and made the whole planet dream.

After globalisation and the pressure built up by the real estate, the industry had to be relocated. The factories closed one by one, the old town of Grasse faded. Of the 14,300 hectares cultivated with perfume plants in the 1930s, only about 50 hectares were left in the year 2000. A hint of nostalgia has now hit the foothills of Alpes-Maritimes, with the coming back of the big perfume brands to the city.

Chanel was the first to return to the cradle of perfumery. Its most renowned fragrance, Chanel N°5 was born in this region itself in 1921. And then it is Hermès which got its roots set in 2005 in this sweet-smelling city of Europe. Slowly, the label made in Grasse is regaining its lustre in its hometown. When spoken to a local perfume composer from Grasse about how does he see the return of the perfume industry to the city, he says, “The idea was not only to go back to the source or to the material, but also to find a form of freedom of creation by moving away from Paris and any marketing temptation.”

Born in the city of perfumery, the renowned French perfumer Jacques Cavallier Belletrud has a keen pursuit of fragrances. When asked why he chose to put his skills in his birth land, he replied, “Grasse is the city that brings together the know-how of both, growing plants and processing of raw materials.” He is overwhelmed to witness the coming back of the scents to the homeland.

These days, various perfume manufacturers offer a guided tour to different factories, which are known for the business. Galimard, Fragonard and Molinard are some of the popular setups that provide an opportunity to understand in detail the history of the city of perfumes. During the tours, people get to see the process of perfume making, catch a glimpse of flower fields, and those who are kindled by the chronicles of perfume making can even buy some good smelling goodies.

Chitman Kanwar Ahuja

Chitman Kanwar Ahuja is a feature writer at L'Officiel India. She is a silver jewellery hoarder and an aesthete of all arts. You can find her unraveling new stories day in and day out.