French perfume .....

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A short introduction to French perfumes and the history of the French perfume industry - from its roots in the Provencal city of Grasse, to today's  great internationally famous perfume houses in Paris


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 Perfumes of France..... 

Flowers for perfume    When it comes to the art of perfumes, no country ranks more highly than France. Many of the greatest names in the perfume industry, Chanel, Christian Dior or Estée Lauder are French, and in terms of international perfume sales, France is leader, with 30% of the world market. LVMH, one of France's flagship companies, is the greatest luxury-goods company in the world, and French perfumes and cosmetics are among its most important brands.
    It was not always so.

The history of perfume

    France was certainly not the first country in the world to invent perfumes. In antiquity, the ancient Greeks and Romans were keen users of scents and perfumes; indeed, the art of perfumery can be traced right back to the origins of western civilisation in Mesopotamia. Perfumes were used to hide bad body smells, and make people smell attractive instead. In times before bathing was a common activity, that was very important.
    It was at the time of the Renaissance that perfumes became particularly popular in Europe, and it is Catherine de Medicis, wife of King Henri II, who is credited with having introduced a fashion for perfumes into France. Originally, before the age of running water, perfume and the sweet scent of flowers were principally used to hide the odours of unwashed bodies.
Old Grasse    Today, while the big names of the perfume industry are based in Paris, and "perfumes from Paris" are particularly appreciated, the real heart of the French perfume industry is actually the small town of Grasse, in the Alpes Maritimes department, northwest of Nice (Photo) . Some 20 km from the coast and at an altitude of 350 metres, Grasse enjoys a mild Mediterranean climate that is particularly suited to horticulture, notably the production of jasmine, one of the most important natural aromas used by the perfume industry. But Grasse is also famous for its production of many other natural fragrances, including lavender, myrtle, roses and mimosa.
       Visitors to Grasse have plenty of opportunity to discover the history and scope of the French perfume industry , as the town is home to the International Perfume Museum, and to the Fragonard perfume museum. Several perfume houses offer free guided tours.
    The perfume industry in Grasse involves some sixty different companies, and employs almost 3,500 people; and even though Grasse has had to move with the times and now produces synthetic as well as natural fragrances, it is the natural fragrances for which it remains justly famous. The great art of perfumery is extracting the fragrances of flowers and concentrating them in forms from which they can be transformed into the perfumes that are eventually sold in little bottles at very high prices. The historic methods of extracting fragrances from flowers are either by maceration (soaking the flowers in a liquid that will absorb their fragrances) or by distillation. The resulting concentrates are known as "essential oils", and it is from these that perfumes are blended and made.

    In recent years, particularly at the cheaper end of the scale, the natural fragrances extracted from flowers and other plants have been largely replaced by chemically produced scents, which can be mass-produced anywhere in the world. But in the production of top-of-the-range high quality perfumes, made from natural extracts of plants, nothing can replace the acquired skills of France's master perfume producers. There is something in the secrets and techniques that are passed down from generation to generation under the Mediterranean sun in the area of Grasse, that just cannot be replicated of copied. In spite of the lucrative nature of the French perfume industry, other countries have so far found it impossible to challenge France's reputation as purveyor of fine perfumes to the world.

Going further:  Websites for some of the major names in French perfumery.

The top French perfume houses and their main brands: many of the main multinational brands are now linked to fashion houses
  • Caron  100-year-old high quality Paris perfume house
  • Chanel Makers of fine French perfume, most famously Chanel N°5 
  • Coty  Originally French, now American company; brands include Beyoncé Parfums, Pierre Cardin
  • Annick Goutal Paris perfume house founded in 1981, now owned by Taittinger champagnes
  • Loreal  Includes the brands Cacharel, Lancôme  Ralph Lauren, Yves Saint Laurent
  • LVMH  includes  Dior Perfumes Givenchy, Kenzo, Guerlain (France's oldest perfume manufacturer)
  • Orlane Independent fragrance and beauty-products company, based in Paris.

Fragrance producers

  • Expressions Parfumées  - Grasse - Producer of 100% natural fragrances certified Ecocert. A supplier to the big perfume houses and other parts of the cosmetics and beauty industry.
  • Parfumeries Fragonard  Independent perfume house in Grasse - with perfume museum.
  • Galimard - Producing fragrances and perfumes in Grasse since 1747
  • Jean Niel - Grasse - Family run company producing fragrances since 1779.
  • Molinard  Another family perfume company, based in Grasse
  • MPE (Matières Premières Essentielles) - Grasse based producer of essential oils

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