After class a couple Fridays ago, Aude took a group of us to Grasse, a little nearby city that is one of the perfume capitals of the world.
AIFS sends out newsletters in English to our emails every week, and the translations are always kind of cute and amusing, but I thought that the way they described the Grasse trip was particularly endearing:
“Grasse is the world parfume capital, the city is world know for its flower culture. During this excursion, perfume won’t have any more secret for you. First we will visit the international perfume museum, a guide will explain us, the history of the perfume, from the antic time to now, then you will create your own perfume following a recipe. On the second part we will visit the fragonnard factory, where you will be able to see how they made perfume. After smelling all those fragrances, you will have free time to smell fresh air exploring the old town of Grasse on your own.”
So that’s a quick overview of what we did – we only spent a few hours there, but I got the impression that it’s the sort of city where all of the major points can be covered in an afternoon.
The bus ride was pretty quick, maybe a half hour or so. Nothing too exciting, save for the carousel we passed that boasted beautiful, classic horses and a solitary Pikachu.
As we parked by the Fragonnard, Aude told us that we were far up in the mountains, at about 1500 feet or so. A lot of people seemed pretty impressed – I guess I forget sometimes that living in the mountains at 3100 feet isn’t always normal? She also said that the air in Grasse was so much fresher than in Cannes, but I would have guessed the opposite. Maybe it was just because we tended to stick around the perfume-y parts of the city, but fresh isn’t necessarily the word I would have used to describe it. A bit too odor-y to really feel fresh, I suppose.
We started off at the museum, which was, of course, also very fragrant. Our guide was quite nice and spoke very good English save for the word “odor” which she tended to pronounce as “udder”, much to the amusement of some of the guys in the group.
We started off in this greenhouse room with a bunch of fragrant plants. Between the odors (or udders) and the heat, moving into a cooler room that merely contained countless perfume bottles was a welcome change!
She told us about some of the older perfume making techniques and how long and painstaking a process it was – the amount of work/flowers needed to create just a tiny amount was kind of staggering (unfortunately I don’t remember the exact figures). She also explained how people train their noses and study to become perfume makers – there are I believe 400 scents that they practice recognizing and retrieving to the point that they are able to compose complex scents in their imagination. And this is all after spending a few years studying chemistry at university. Turns out that there’s quite a science to smelling nice!
We then got to go to a little workshop where she gave us different scents on these little paper tester things, and we had to come up with different ways to describe the scent and come up with names for them. I learned that my trouble with titles extends to perfumes, coming up with such classics as “Sunny Yellow Garden” and “Mountain Fresh Nostalgia”. Suffice it to say, I don’t think that a career naming perfumes is in the cards for me!
After describing/naming 4 different scents, she gave us little recipes with 3 of the 4 smells to create our own perfumes to bring back with us. Mine is a mixture of lemon stuff, floral stuff, and musk stuff. Not to brag or anything, but it didn’t turn out awfully! We were supposed to name our scents, but I took pity on myself and others and skipped that step.
Then we headed over to the Fragonnard for a little tour around the factory. We got to see giant vats and tiny bottles and these things that looked like huge coffee filters and the place where they make soap eggs. It was pretty interesting, and of course it ended in their gift shop where they sell their perfumes at factory price. It was pretty tempting to take advantage of, especially after having spent the last couple hours hearing about the magic of perfume, but then I remembered how rarely I actually wear perfume and decided to refrain. Most girls left with at least a little bottle, though.
At that point we had about half an hour or so to wander around the city. Aude had told us that there was an old cathedral in town that we could find by following the main road, so Kailyn and I set off in search of it. We found the main road just fine and started heading down it, but somehow we missed the sign to turn somewhere and walked straight for what felt like far too long.
Luckily we always knew where we were in relation to the bus, but we were nothing if not determined to find that church – we were not about to let it get the best of us! So we took a little side street and ended up at some sort of lookout point that boasted a rather nice view – not what we were looking for, but appreciated!
So we took another side street and ended up in a square with a bunch of guys playing soccer; this also did not seem right, and upon noticing that we were the only women there, we headed back to the main road pretty quickly.
Another side street and we found the gate to the Hôtel de Ville, which we thought was supposed to be by the church, but we didn’t see it and headed on.
Another street or two and a circle later, we somehow ended up back by the Hotel de Ville, only to find that had we walked to the right of the gate we were standing in front of, we’d have found not only the church, but another beautiful view as well!
Having solved The Mystery of the Hidden Church and taken our share of pictures, we headed back to the bus and made it just in time to collect a free sample vial of some jasmine perfume and head back to Cannes.