Fragrance of ‘Grasse’
Creative Commons (flickr.com/creativecommons) By Zil
Considered the legend of world’s fragrance and sold every 55 second, Chanel No.5 was initiated from jasmine fields in ‘Grasse’, a small town to the south of France.
With the right height above sea-level and its warm climate throughout the year, Grasse, located in Provence region, boasts a wide variety of flowers. This includes both the best jasmine brought from the East by the Moors, and almost all kinds of flowers which are key ingredients for essential oil production.
It is therefore not surprising why Grasse is named the ‘world’s perfume capital’.
The Legend of Fragrance
According to the history, ancient civilizations had long known how to produce ‘aroma’. In ancient Egypt, incense and perfume oil was offered to gods, used in many ritual celebrations, and applied by women for their beauty. The Greeks considered bringing new exotic incense back with them to the homeland as their custom while the Romans used perfume for therapy. The Arabian and Persian people invented advanced techniques for producing perfume, resulting in popular use of it in the Islamic world.
For Grasse, however, the origin of its perfume industry is in fact derived from its fame in leather tanning. France learned leather processing from the Moors. Fragrant had been introduced in the 16th century when it was applied to reduce the unpleasant leather smell. Later on it was developed into fragrant fashion. Perfume was used in almost every daily goods, including furniture, clothes, and especially popular perfumed leather gloves for the European nobility. Perfume manufacturing later became an important industry which generates annual revenue of 600 million Euros for the 44.44-sq km city.
The Best Jasmine
In general, perfume may consist of over a hundred kinds of flower ingredients. But do you believe that the most important flower for Chanel No.5 manufacturing is jasmine derived from the same field for almost 90 years since the launch of this product?
Creative Commons (flickr.com/creativecommons) By Marta & Antoine Konopka
In every August, Joseph Mul, the 70-year-old flower field owner, and his workers hand-pick the world’s most expensive jasmine in order to supply the Chanel No.5 perfume factory with extracted essential oil. The harvest begins at 6 a.m. in the morning to ensure the highest amount of oil provided by the flower at night can be collected. One worker can pick half a kilogram of jasmine in an hour.
To collect one kilogram of essential oil needs 350 kilogram of jasmine. Each year the farm hires at least 70 workers to harvest the flower in the 5-hectare field during the 3-month harvest. The special feature of jasmine from this farm is its sweet scent, which is soft and less aggressive than other exotic jasmine.
With its 333-m. height above the sea level, and 20-km. distance from the French Riviera, Grasse has mild climate throughout the year, with temperature at night above 18°C and at less than 28°C during the day. Jasmine from this farm thus is 20-30 times more expensive than that of Egypt or India. Joseph, the fifth generation of his family, presented the special feature of his jasmine with a simple description: “It would be a different perfume if the flowers were cultivated elsewhere."
The Science of Scent
On one hand, synthesizing chemical fragrant currently plays an important role in the perfumery industry, resulting in continual decrease in flower farming. On the other hand, perfumery has been changed from blending of natural scent into thinking and imagination of perfumers in creating and developing new ‘scents’.
Anyway, Grasse still maintains its status of the perfume capital, with long inherited knowledge on scents. Each year the city welcomes many tourists, as well as those people who want to learn the confidential perfume-making science. Attractions include perfume factory, fragrant shops, perfumery institutes, and the well-known International Museum of Perfume.
Creative Commons (flickr.com/creativecommons) By SFragonard, OT Grasse
The museum has just re-opened in October 2008 after the 4-year renovation project with the budget of $US 16 million. The museum has doubled its size to 38,000 Sq Ft. This is to make the museum become the landmark of the attractive perfume capital.
Creative Commons (flickr.com/creativecommons) By Christophe Finot
“ We use perfume to communicate and to seduce”, said Marie-Christine Grasse, chief conservator of the museum as she talked about the renovation concept. The project was designed by Frédéric Joung, a French architect. With medieval look, the 5 existing buildings were merged, resulting in an outstanding structure that provides mixed feeling of old and new cities…
…in the place where the story of ‘scent’ lingers on in every corner of the city.
The Fragrant of All Women in the World
The origin of Chanel No.5 began in 1921 when Coco Chanel hired Earnest Beaux to develop 6 choices of perfume for her to choose. The one that she liked is the fifth one of which the Top Note is made of ylang ylang and neroli scent. The Top Note is perceived immediately after application of perfume. Grasse jasmine and May rose is its Heart Note, or the core scent which is the most complex of perfume, while the Base Note, which brings depth and solidity to the perfume, consists of Sandalwood and Vanilla. Coco Chanel believed that women should apply perfume every time they expected a kiss. The number five is her lucky number.
Grasse Institute of Perfumery
Creative Commons (flickr.com/creativecommons) By jean-louis zimmermann
After 30 years of accepted training experience, ASFO Grasse, a professional perfumery training center of Grasse, has officially opened Grasse Institute of Perfumery (GIP) in February 2002. The lecturers are from expert perfumers from famous brands like Givaudan, IFF, QUEST, and TAKASAGO. The institute has a large laboratory for learners, and a collection of both natural and synthetic raw materials. GIP also offers seminars, workshops and summer internships to allow lovers of the world of fragrances to explore the perfumery.
Annual Flower Festivals
Grassehas 2 great flower festivals each year, depending on the flourishing season of the flowers. The first one is the International Rose Festival in May, when roses are harvested. The second one is the Fête du Jasmin held in the first week of August. Floats beautifully decorated with flowers parade through the streets, and there is ‘bataille de fleurs’ or war of flowers where flowers are thrown into the crowd and they will be soaked with and fragrant due to jasmine water. Both festivals are held at Boulevard du Jeu de Ballon, an old district with 17th-18th-century architectural style. The city’s flower market is at Place Aux Aires, where a three-basin stone fountain is located and functions as the linkage between the city’s history and the present time.
Did you know?
If you still remember a scene from the film Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, the perfumer, who is the main character needs to travel to the city which is his final destination in order to practice capturing scent into perfume. That small city is ‘Grasse’.
Translated by Thaya Wichayathian
- 7 february 2011
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