By the end of their career a perfumer can distinguish up to 3,000 different smells.
How many can you recognize?
What comes to your mind when you think of France? Wine, cheese, pastries? What about things that don’t have to do with eating and drinking? Stumped? How about perfume! And even better making your own perfume during your next trip!
The real heart of the French perfume industry is located in the small town of Grasse (which is northwest of Nice) and is also known as the "capital of parfum". But you don’t have to head down South in order to have a memory making perfume experience. You can do it right in Paris in the 9th Arrondissement with Fragonard Parfumeur (one of the oldest perfume houses in the country).
If you’re a little skeptical as to why you should make your own perfume over just going to a parfumerie and buying a bottle, let me give you 5 reasons why you should take time out of your afternoon to make magic in a bottle….
YOU'LL LEARN THE FASCINATING HISTORY OF PERFUME
(and of Fragonard)
- Believe it or not, perfumes did not begin as a trendy, luxury good. Initially they were used to hide bad body smells (in times before daily bathing was a common activity) – which is one fact that definitely does not make me want to go back in time
- Catherine Medicis (yes the same woman who created the Jardin des Tuileries) is also credited with making perfumes more fashionable in France
- Grasse (the "capital of parfum") is most known for its natural fragrances – although with the changing times the industry has had to also produce synthetic, chemical-based fragrances
- The art of creating perfume comes from extracting the fragrances of flowers and concentrating them into "essential oils”
- Fragonard Parfumeur which opened in 1926 was named after famous Grasse-born painter, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, as a tribute to both the town of Grasse and the refinement of 18th-century arts
- Eau du Cologne was originally produced as protection against the plague (and featured rosemary and citrus essences)
- Fragrances can be called a variety of things - which is based on the concentration of their essences. Don't get them confused and admit to yourself you're probably not actually wearing perfume. Highest to lowest is as follows: Perfume (40% concentration of essences aka $$$), Eau de Parfum (15% perfume concentrates), Eau de Toilette and Eau de Cologne (10% perfume concentrates)
FUN FACT: Historically, the way fragrances were extracted from flowers was by maceration (soaking the flowers in a liquid that will absorb their fragrances) or by distillation (a process of heating and cooling).
YOU'LL GET A PERFECTLY CURATED ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME EXPERIENCE
(where you can also ask as many questions as you want without feeling like a total amateur)
The one item I knew I needed to bring home was my very own personalized and hand-crafted Eau de Cologne. After all for the DIY enthusiast like myself this is the perfect "souvenir".
After being lead into the classroom (where the waiting tables were set up so perfectly Insta ready) our instructor for the next hour and a half went over our our essential materials for creating our unique fragrances: a cute, glass bottle, a pouch to carry our finished product home in, Fragonard aprons, a packet of droppers (for adding those hints of essence), 9 bottles of essential oils, and our booklet where we would break down the percentages of the oils/scents we wanted to use in our Eau de Cologne.
Once we knew how to use everything in front of us we dove right in to the history of the perfumery, the origins of the raw materials, how to distinguish the essences with our noses and how to read the fragrance pyramid (which I will get to a little later on).
This is where you really need to pay attention to what your instructor is saying about the notes, the way they work together, and the types of scents you get from each oil. That is how you are going to be able to decide how you ultimately want your finished product to end up smelling and how best to break down the percentages of your oils (which need to add up to 100% of the bottle) to achieve your desired scent (or hopefully something similar).
My Eau de Cologne had the following breakdown, and although I can’t say it was the best smelling thing at first, as the oils have now had time to meld together it smells a lot better now that it's 3 weeks later and I'm back in the states haha (maybe it was that plane pressure).
YOU GET TO UNLEASH YOUR INNER CREATIVITY
& EXPAND YOUR SENSORY LIBRARY
There are so many different types of oils and natural aromas you can create a myriad of combinations. From jasmine, to lavender, to myrtle, to rose, to mimosa and so many more!
There are three notes that are present within each parfum and are also present on the fragrance pyramid:
- THE TOP NOTE (citrus, aromatic, green, fresh): You will sense this just after the vaporization of the perfume (it can last up to 2 hours)
- THE HEART/MIDDLE NOTE (flowery, fruity, spicy notes): Develops over several hours and is the characteristic scent of perfume
- THE BASE NOTE (woody, sweet, leathery): Evaporates slowly (sometimes over several days) and ultimately is what makes the perfume last over time
FUN FACT: It takes 1 tonne of flower petals just to extract 1 liter of oil!
YOU'LL HAVE A GREATER APPRECIATION FOR THE ART BEHIND THE BOTTLE (AND THE PRICE)
Visiting Fragonard's Musée de Parfum while in Paris helps take out some of the mystery behind perfume and why sometimes it can be so pricey.
The museum occupies two stories of 19th century townhouse in the 9th arrondissement, which was super interesting in itself as the building also has a fascinating history.
When you walk through the museum you step back in time and see many of the old, beautifully produced perfume ads, the evolution of bottles as perfume became more accessible to the public, the cute little spherical pomanders, scent/smelling boxes (later called “vinaigrettes”), a replicated perfumer's laboratory (which is called an organ), and the “La Pyramide Olfactive” which breaks down the traditional structure of a perfume.
High quality perfumes are always made from the natural extracts (“essential oils”) of plants. Many of which have come from hand-picked flowers.
FUN FACT: The word pomander comes from the French phrase “pomme d’ambre” or “apple of amber”). These little spheres contained amber-grease ("ambergris" in French) or compartments of different fragrances that people wore around their necks in the 15th – 17th centuries. To, let's be completely honest, mask their smells from not bathing (because it wasn't the thing to do back then).
We were able to tour the museum following our workshop and even got to play a little scent game to see if we had learned anything in class.
Ending in Fragonard's perfume boutique, our guide pulled out strips of paper and we were able to sample various scents from their Fragonard Perfume Gilded Alu Natural Spray line. This is the line you want to bring home with you!
You just spent the afternoon making your own perfume, took a walk through its history and learned all about what goes into making just one bottle...so now it’s time to pick something to bring home with you.
You can say you're 'just looking' but it's going to be hard to resist once you start smelling their signature scents and hear about how special this line actually is.
The great thing about the boutique is they have package deals on bottles, and lucky for you since you just went on a group tour you can pair up with some of your tour mates to get the best deal possible on a bottle or two by creating a box of perfume together (which you obviously split up later after paying).
FUN FACT: Packaging perfume in aluminum bottles has been well established to have bigger advantages in keeping fragrances fresh - despite the fact the only place I have really seen this done was at Fragonard. Not only that, aluminum better protects perfume from its two main quality enemies: sunlight and heat.
There is nothing can replace the skills of France's master perfume producers. But sometimes it’s fun to play like one for an afternoon and bring home your own diploma proving you're now an expert.
IT'S THE BEST GIFT YOU COULD EVER BRING BACK FOR YOURSELF
(AND YOUR LOVED ONES)
Not only will my meticulously crafted perfume be something I'll be able keep for a while (this is the benefit of oil based perfumes, their longevity and how little you need to use), going into the boutique afterwards I was able to pair up with a couple of my classmates in order to get the best deal on two 60ml sized bottles of Fragonard’s aluminum bottle sprays to bring back for my family. They'll get to feel slightly more Parisienne in the Pacific Northwest. :)
TIP TO NOTE: There’s really no point purchasing a bottle any smaller than 60ml. The deal you'll get by pairing up with a couple of classmates (or people on your tour) to create a 5 pack of bottles results in you getting a discounted price and also being able to take home complimentary spray bottles for each perfume bottle you purchase. So really 60ml+ is a win-win situation for everyone.
You can find Fragonard Parfumeur and the Musée du Parfum near the Paris Opéra Metro station at 3-5 Square de L'Opera, Louis Jouvet, Paris (it's a little hard to find, but you need to walk down a little alley around the corner from the boutique). It's open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday (9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays and holidays) year-round.
The 30 minute tours are free and open to the public and run every 20 minutes - in both French and English. Additional more specialized tours are priced at 8-15€.
BIG thank you to Alexia at Fragonard Parfumeur for setting up this very special workshop for me. It was something I will always remember and maybe if I get to Grasse something I can experience again in the capital of this industry!
Don't forget to pin one of the images above so you can remember to become a parfume apprentice the next time you're in Paris (or even Grasse)!
Content Creator, Traveler, Foodie, Amateur Photographer (and surprise!) Graphic Designer living in New York City. This website started in 2016 as a space to share my passion to live life to the fullest, make adventures a priority, eat all of the good food, drink all of the wine, and curate the beautiful photos that come along with it.