The fabulous history of Grasse
A true cultural gem of the Cannes hinterland, between sea and mountains, the town of Grasse strives to attract crowds with its reputation as the “World Capital of Perfume”. Its industry, known throughout the world, makes it the very essence of its heritage. A place full of authenticity where the conservation of the buildings still bears witness to a crazy era which shook up the landscape of a small, unpretentious town. Come and pound the pavement, appreciate its old-fashioned decor and breathe in the smells of its past while going back through the history of the city of Grasse.
From tanners to noble perfumers
It was in the 12th century that the crazy history of the city of Grasse began. Many tanners set up around the small river which crosses the town to trade in skins. Gloves, bags, belts, whose tenacious scent was unpleasant, did not find their place among women of the world who left this material for the use of small workers. To respond to this problem, certain tanners began to combine flowery fragrances with their leathers and sent scented gloves to the Court of France. The success was immediate, and, under the leadership of Catherine de Medici, they became an essential fashion around the Mediterranean basin. In 1614, the King himself recognized a new corporation of perfumers and glove makers.
The expansion of the industry
From the development of these fragrant waters was born that of flower cultivation. Fields and plantations multiply on hectares around the city whose microclimate and the quality of the earth make it a gold mine. Jasmine, May rose, violet, orange blossom, lavender, Mediterranean olfactory essences are cultivated there. In the middle of the 18th century, industrialization took off. The greatest perfumers, Fragonard, Gallimard, Chiris were born there, the world of perfume became competitive.
Manufactures and fragrances
Artisanal manufacturing gives way to manufactures and imports of fragrances with exotic scents from the colonies such as vanilla or ylang. In 1875, 65 companies linked to perfumery colored the economy of Grasse. Industries, brokers, farmers then share the economic growth of the city of scents. The creation of perfume factories, shops and the cultivation of plants has established a fine reputation which will only continue to grow. But this fragrant luxury still remains elitist and high-end.
Popularization of a luxury product
Cradle of aromatic discoveries, the 20th century saw the middle classes access perfumes thanks to the appearance of synthetic products. In 1905, 600 tonnes of flowers were harvested each year compared to 5000 tonnes in 1940. In the 2000s there were only 30 tonnes of products transported to the historic factories.
The fields are decreasing in favor of housing which the city needs to accommodate its workers. However, today there remain a few floral farms well known to locals around the Grasse countryside. These flowers are again reserved for the high-end industry.
Vestiges of a past with a thousand scents
Marked by its years of exploitation and floral creations, Grasse is today adorned with the marks of its history. Strolling through its historic center is like going back in time and reliving the flourishing years of the Provençal perfume industry. In the heart of medieval Grasse, the vestiges of a bygone era are hidden. It is here that the greatest perfumers began their art, perfected their practice and passed on their knowledge. Its cobbled streets, narrow and disordered, the freshness of its walls, the fragrances of its perfumes. A pleasant stroll where small restaurants and shops attract you with their period storefronts.
Let the story be told to you!
Many museums now recall the incredible development of a small city that nothing intended for such an existence. The international perfume museum, the Fragonard museum, the Gallimard museum and the Molinard museum are the main flagships. The Provence art and history museum and the costume museum immerse us in the authentic world of Provençal life.
Today the capital of perfume, the old town of Grasse opens up to you the secrets of ancestral manufacturing of their scents around perfume creation workshops, demonstrations of transformation of raw materials, distillation, extraction, during fragrant guided tours of museums in the middle of the stills. Period floral ointments, aromas, eau de parfum, cosmetics, eau de toilette, eau de Cologne, incense, candles, picking, everything is evoked with the aim of awakening our five senses. A cultural heritage in Pays de Grasse which is the pride of the region. Today, perfumeries offer their “Grasse perfumes” as an emblem of olfactory quality, a certificate of excellence.