Posted: 2009-08-26


We took a day trip last week to the town of Grasse, 16 kilometers inland from Cannes.  Grasse has been the world capital of the perfume industry for more than 300 years.  There are over 30 perfume factories in Grasse, and they make perfume, eau-de-toilette, soap, and cosmetics. 

All sorts of plant and animal scent go into perfume.  You can find flowers, spices, fruit, animal musk, whale intestine slime, tree resins and roots, you name it.  The material from each plant or animal is distilled individually to make a pure essence.  In addition to making their own perfumes, the factories also sell the pure essences to big fashion companies who then make their own custom perfumes - think Dior, Estée Lauder and Lancôme.

Here are pure essences in individual bottles

This plant material labeled as “Mousse de Chêne” (Oak Tree Moss) is ready to be made into an essence

We took a tour of the Fragonard factory.  Fragonard has a few buildings/factories in the area.  The building we toured has been in use as a perfume factory since 1782.  That is one potent-smelling building!  Today, the actual essence is made somewhere else, but this building is still used for the mixing, bottling and packaging.  The tour takes you through some rooms with factory workers and others set up as “historical” rooms.  Would you like to take a tour?  Follow me!

There is hot distillery and cold distillery.  For hot distillery, the material is put into a large tank.  Then steam is pumped in through the bottom of the tank where it rises through the material to capture the scent oils and carry them out of the top of the tank.  The steam is transferred by pipe to a separate capture tank where it cools back to water and settles in the tank.  The pure scent oil ends up floating on top of the water for easy separation.

This antique distillery has 2 copper steam tanks with a steel capture/separation tank in-between - the equipment today uses all steel instead of copper but the process is the same

Cold distillery is used for plant or animal material which would be destroyed by the steam process.  Think of delicate flowers like lotus.  In cold distillery, the material is laid out on a tray of animal fat.  The animal fat absorbs the scent oils.  Every day, the old flowers are removed and fresh ones added.  When the fat is fully scented, it is melted to extract the scent oils.

This cold distillation tray has a thin film of animal fat spread on a piece of glass - the flowers are pressed into the fat

After the oils are captured by hot or cold distillation, they are mixed together to make a specific fragrance.  Water and alcohol are also added, and the liquid “rests” in a tank to let everything blend together.  Then the liquid is filtered to give the final perfume.

The various Fragonard perfume combinations are resting in these tanks

Each perfume is run through filter into a bucket below

By the way, the fragrance is developed by a person called a “nose”.  There are only 30 certified “noses” in the world.  I could go on and on…let’s just say that it’s a very particular kind of job.

The “nose” sits at a desk with 300 different essences and develops a blend to make a new fragrance

The final step is bottling.  Fragonard uses aluminum bottles because the perfume will last longer due to: aluminum stays pure and does not rust, plus it does not let light hit the perfume and degrade it

These gold-coated aluminum bottles are getting filled and labeled in the bottling room

Fragonard also makes soap.  Here are some egg-shaped soaps on the packaging table:

-Julia Abbott


Louise Hawk

Oh, wow, that was interesting. Guess some "noses" don't agree with my "nose" because I have sniffed some perfumes, etc. that I wouldn't want to put on my body!!!


The soaps look like Easter eggs (or eggs from our neighbor's back yard multi-breed chickens).

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