Why Grasse is the world’s perfume capital
The French perfume makers of the town of Grasse have held court in the industry ever since its products won over the royal court of King Louis XV, nearly three centuries ago.
Now synonymous with some of the world’s most prized scents, the medieval town wasn’t always so fragrant. In the 12th century Grasse was a hub for the tanning industry, producing coveted leather gloves that came with a not so coveted scent.
When Jean de Galimard, the man behind what is now the town’s oldest perfumery, was tasked with making gloves for French queen, Catherine de Médicis, he scented them with locally-grown flowers from his hilltop town. They were an instant hit.
Taxes caused tanning to die out but the perfume industry thrived and Grasse continues to live up to its moniker as the perfume capital of the world.
In recent years the French Riviera town, nestled between the alps and the Mediteranean sea, further cemented its position: UNESCO bestowed World Heritage status for skills related to perfume, and it joined the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
“We wanted to create products with organic, real scents that had the same strength of fragrance as what is achieved synthetically. We were told by many it would be impossible,” said Alban Mayne, co-founder of Beauty Disrupted. “Working with the experts in Grasse we achieved exactly that.”
Despite its global renown, the town has kept its quaint charm. With a focus on natural and organic production on small family plots, instead of mass-scale manufacturing, the heart and soul that drives the industry has remained intact. The town’s narrow cobblestone pathways and elegant time-worn buildings have also endured, and are just as enchanting as the fragrances produced there.
Visitors to the town can immerse themselves in all things fragrance with an interactive museum, Musée International de la Parfumerie, charting the history of perfume. Several perfumeries also offer guided tours, giving a behind-the-scenes glimpse in the perfume process. Those who think they have the nose to navigate the subtleties of scent can sign up to study at the Grasse Institute of Perfumery.
A stroll through the town is a journey in scent but it’s not just from the perfumeries that line the streets. It’s in the gardens and groves and the fields and farms where nature is in control that add to the town’s distinctive aroma.
Karryn Miller is a native of Auckland, New Zealand, for whom “home” has also meant Tokyo, Hanoi, Mumbai, Seoul, and Washington, DC. As a hotel public relations consultant with a passion for travel, she has also published pieces in dozens of travel books, magazines, and newspapers around the world. Most recently, together with a global collective of mothers, she co-authored the book Mother Wild, and launched a series of wellness retreats. In 2021 Karryn relocated with her family to the second snowiest city in the world, Sapporo, on the island of Hokkaido in northern Japan.