Nestled between the Cote d'Azur and the foothills of the Southern Alps, the Pays de Grasse’s temperate weather, rich soil and sheltered fields coincide to create the ideal microclimate for the cultivation of flowers. Iris, mimosa, tuberose, violet, orange blossom, hyacinth and most of all jasmine and the tousled pink centifolia rose (called the May rose) provided the backbone of an early cottage industry that over the centuries blossomed into the world epicentre of perfume.
But Grasse has not always smelled like roses. Tanners found the region’s many rivers indispensable to their trade – a notoriously foul-smelling one due to the stench of decaying hides, not to mention the use of animal excrement in the tanning process – which thrived here from the 12th century onward. Prized by the French nobility, Grasse’s leather products – especially its supple gloves – reeked.
Queen Catherine de’ Medici, the industrious widow of King Henry II, credited with bringing everything from fine pastry to the fork to France from her native Italy, came to the rescue by dousing her gloves in scent. Catherine bestowed perfumed gloves from Grasse on all her favourites (and, allegedly, poisoned versions on her not-so-favourites) sparking a 16th century craze that nourished Grasse’s parallel industries: leather and perfume.
While high post-Revolution taxes finally dealt the death blow to Grasse’s leather works, the Industrial Revolution’s technological innovations were wholeheartedly embraced by the city’s old glovemaking-perfumer families (including perfumers Galimard, Molinard, and Fragonard, still major presences in Grasse today), who pioneered ever new methods of extraction from plants grown in Grasse and from less perishable materials – such as woods, resins or leaves – imported from abroad. Today, some of the most famous elixirs ever to grace a wrist are still inextricably linked to Grasse expertise… including the perfume many consider to be the greatest ever created.
In 1920, Coco Chanel decided to proceed with a project she’d envisioned for years: aligning her fashion house with a signature perfume, a new trend pioneered by only two other couturiers at the time. There was just one place to go: the Pays de Grasse.
Here is a selection of some of the best fragrances made in Grasse
- Gault Parfums
- Panier des Sens