The Grasse region in France has long been the capital of perfume in Europe. The special microclimate in the region has encouraged growing of aromatic plants that would fuel the local perfume industry since the 18th century. The Fragonard Musée du Parfum is a French artisanal perfume maker originally started in Grasse, France, 1926. With factories in different locations, all open to the public, Fragonard offer guests an inside look of the magnificent collection of precious objects tracing the history of perfume from antiquity to the present day.
Immersed in the atmosphere of a late nineteenth century perfume factory, visitors discover the world of fragrance through a set design that combines ancient artefacts, archives and videos of modern production. This singular museum reveals the secrets to the perfume trade in France and Europe…
A unique olfactory journey through the ages
The Fragonard saga started in 1926, when Eugène Fuchs launched the first Fragonard perfumery in Grasse in tribute to Jean-Honoré Fragonard, a famous Rococo painter who hailed from the town. In the 16th century Grasse was famous for its leather tanneries and the tanners used the fragrant plants found in the region to disguise the unpleasant smell of their trade. This led to the creation of a new corporation of perfumers, which little by little overtook the town’s industry, until the 1700s, when Grasse’s tanners abandoned the leather trade completely in favour of perfumery. The flowers that made the region so delightful became a source of great wealth for the town and Grasse is still known as the Capital of Perfume to this day; thanks to a concentration of influential companies that have settled here to create luxury perfumes from the region’s high quality essences.
The cultural dimension of the Fragonard experience
In the 1970s, when Eugène Fuchs’s grandson, Jean-François Costa, was at the head of the company, this art lover conceived the idea of combining his various collections of objects concerning the history of perfume to open a museum in Grasse, followed by three further boutique museums in Paris. This initiative helped to give a cultural dimension to the Fragonard experience.
Next in this family story come Agnès and Françoise, who when very young joined their father in the business to ensure its continuation and lead Fragonard (now 90 years old), in brand new directions! In addition to the perfumes and beauty products perfected by the third sister, Anne, they now also sell decorative objects, household linen and a clothing line in the different Fragonard’ shops.
Today the company has three factories in Côte d’Azur where they produce all of their perfumes, soaps and cosmetics. The historic factory is still located in the town of Grasse, with a larger factory at the entrance to the town and the biggest factory in Eze-village, near Monaco. They have three perfume museums in Paris, including the new 2000 square metre that opened in 2016 and hosts all of the Expat Explore groups. Additionally, the House of Fragonard also have 23 boutiques in France and Italy where their artisanal products are available for purchase. This includes perfumes, eaux de parfum, eaux de toilette & eaux de cologne, cosmetics, soaps, candles and perfumes for the home, as well as a range of beauty products that are made from organic olive oil.
A look behind the magician’s curtain
What makes the visits to the Fragonard Musée du Parfum so fascinating is the realisation that the culture of perfume stretches back over 3000 years and to see the evidence of it in the form of ancient objects. The explanation of the production of perfume also captures the imagination. The process of manufacturing has changed a lot over the years and there are many methods to produce perfume, but perhaps the best-known and most-used process since the 12th century is distillation, also known as ‘steam distillation’.
Distillation requires that steam passes through raw materials (such as fruit, flowers or spices) which are placed in the still. This sends the volatile olfactory molecules through the gooseneck, which then passes through a cooled coil in a cold water tank and is condensed in droplets of water that contain the essential oil that is naturally separated by density difference in a Florentine vase.
The essences that are obtained in this way are mixed according to master perfumer’s formulas by chemist at the Fragonard Fabrique des Fleurs in Grasse. This concentrate of essences is then mixed with alcohol and macerated in large stainless steel tanks in a process that takes at least three weeks. The resultant mixture is then frozen and filtered to obtain a mixture of optimal quality called ‘juice’.
Many of the flowers of the region, such as Rose de Mai, Jasmin, Violet and Lavender are still harvested in the region and used in Fragonard products. Other ingredients come from further afield, notably other species of Rose from Bulgaria and Turkey and many spices from Southeast Asia.
Fascinating fact: It takes 3.5 tonnes of Damask roses to obtain 1 litre of essential oil!
Customise your own eau de cologne in Paris
The Fragonard Musée du Parfum offers visitors the opportunity to partake in a 90-minute Eau de Cologne workshop. Each student works with a set of nine scents and is guided through the process of creating their own eau de cologne by a professional parfumeur! The teacher also explains in detail the science behind the creation of a scent before commencing the creation process. Each student leaves with their own 100ml eau de cologne creation, as well as a certificate.
Eau de cologne differs from eau de toilette, eau de parfum and perfume in that the ratio of perfume oil to distilled water and pure alcohol is greater. Eau de cologne typically contains 5% perfume oil, while eau de toilette contains 12%, eau de parfum contains 15% and perfume contains between 20 – 24%. The higher the concentration of perfume oil, the more tenacious the olfactory imprint the product imparts. Top tip: Perfume should not be stored in the bathroom, rather keep it in the fridge!
The Fragonard museum in Paris is visited during the Paris Plus optional excursion, available on all Expat Explore tours with a two-night stay in Paris, and the Fragonard perfumery in Grasse can be visited on the Highlights of France tour.