Grasse has always been perceived as the cradle of worldwide perfumery. In this town, located just 35 km from Nice, there are more than 60 active fragrance companies: from the niche iconic perfumeries such as Galimard, Fragonard and Molinard, to giant leaders like Robertet, IFF and Firmenich. In such variety, however, all these companies have one additional thing in common: faster than ever fragrance market change. Michael Edwards, a British fragrance expert and author of "Fragrances of the World" and "Perfume Legends" counted over 1500 fragrance brands worldwide with 360 niche perfumes compared to under 100 just a decade ago. Learn how big international players and niche fragrance brands use the potential of this Silicone Valley of perfumes to meet modern luxury customers needs.
The incredible history of Grasse started in the 17th century. The leather and glovemakers from the town couldn’t stand the horrible odors of the tanning process so they started creating scents. Thanks to its rich soil and climate, the town’s hills were covered with fields of roses, jasmine, mimosa and lavender. But the 20th century changed everything: the synthetic production democratized perfume and completely changed the whole industry. Recently the global economics has also played its part in weakening Grasse’s position in the market: 1kg of roses from Grasse today costs 10 times as much as the equivalent from Bulgaria, which has helped contribute to flower production in Grasse falling from around 5,000 tones a year in the 1940s to less than 30 tones today.*
How is it possible that Grasse is still considered the fragrance capital of the world? It has adapted to the new reality. “Fifty years ago, most perfumers in Grasse were producing ingredients as their main source of income. Today, it’s a predominantly creative industry. You can import essential oils from India, Egypt or South America, but what can’t be imported is the know-how that’s here. Grasse is like the Silicon Valley of perfumes.” says Han-Paul Bodifée, a major industry figure and the president of the Grasse Institute of Perfumery.
Grasse benefits well from the global organic and natural trend in the beauty industry. International fragrance companies that were using mainly synthetic ingredients are now trying to become more natural and they come to Grasse for both: know-how and high-end image of this town. " If you want to go natural, you want to be associated with Grasse” says Han-Paul Bodifée.
The Big Three luxury fragrance houses: Galimard, Fragonard and Molinard represent the niche and family oriented business side of this region. Molinard has been creating fragrances since 1849 and has remained an entirely family-run business to this day. Their unique value proposition has always been based on personalization and creating a luxury customer experience. For example, Molinard offers 4 unique and fragrance dedicated events:
- Le Bar: where customers can smell and compare different perfumes to create a basic scent.
- L'Atelier: where customers select their favorite fragrance notes among 90 essences to create entirely personalized combination.
- Le Petit Perfumer: olfactory play for children between 4 and 10 years old.
- La Villa: supreme luxury experience in 2 hours perfume creation with an expert.
Parfumerie Fragonard was opened in 1926 by Eugène Fuchs. The brand’s philosophy is running the business in accordance with tradition. Each year Fragonard launches a ‘special edition’, usually a single note fragrance, to show how innovative simplicity is. In 2014, for example, they captured the delicate sweet peas’ short season in a bottle of Pois de Senteur perfume. This year they celebrate Iris. Fragonard also offers a tour in Grasse to show how their fragrances are made. Guests can touch and smell some of the raw materials that make up these evocative compositions: flowers, but also aromatic herbs like basil, thyme and rosemary. Making your consumers feel like they are part of the creating process is a truly luxury experience.
But Grasse is not only about the Big Three and cultivating old traditions. It’s about being able to adapt to modern trends and innovations. Thanks to a growing eco trend, Grasse attracts the biggest worldwide fragrance makers. American leaders IFF and Swiss number one Firmenich (whose creations include fragrances such as Daisy by Marc Jacobs, Light Blue by Dolce & Gabbana or Acqua di Gio by Giorgio Armani) have opened their offices in Grasse in 2000 to work on the production and extraction of natural ingredients. The Mane Group, founded in 1871 and based in Le Bar-sur-Loup, near Grasse, ranks sixth worldwide with 2010 revenues of €480m from fragrances, flavours and ingredients. * Robertet, based in Grasse, has a similar international footprint that delivered revenues of €362m in 2010.**
How do the established luxury brands use Grasse’s potential? They follow the path of modernity by keeping in touch with their roots and nature. Chanel, that grows the raw materials for its scents in Grasse’s flower fields, introduced a farm-to-fragrance narrative. It allows the consumer to learn where exactly the ingredients of their perfume come from. This “from land to fragrance” approach emphasizes the importance of quality ingredients and the importance of history. The iconic Chanel N°5 was created with Grasse-grown jasmine. Additionally, Chanel’s advocacy for local farming and perfume production is a great step towards sustainability.
Christian Dior atelier decided to revive the historic Château de La Colle Noire to change over 50 hectares into nursery for flowers intended for the brand’s perfumes. The atelier is restoring the mansion and transferring much of its fragrance division to the region. The creative laboratory of Francois Demachy, Dior's main perfumer-creator since 2006, has been established in the Grasse city center. The brand will also establish exclusive partnerships with nurseries that produce fragrance-quality flowers in the region. To mark the completion of Mr. Dior’s “Provençal dream,” Mr. Demachy has created the La Colle Noire scent, to be included in the La Collection Privée Christian Dior fragrance range.
To promote this spectacular event, Dior made an interesting documentary about its famous Miss Dior fragrance creation. Miss Dior Absolutely Blooming is made with roses harvested in Dior’s gardens in Grasse and Natalie Portman, the ambassador of the fragrance, is shown visiting the rose fields with Mr. Demachy. Dior used the shorter, 15-second versions of the movie to support this campaign via Social Media.
Grasse has also been announced as the new headquarters of Louis Vuitton Parfums with master perfumer Jacques Cavallier-Belletrud supervising the main creation of 7 scents launched in September this year. “It’s not just about unveiling a perfume; the first step is really about acquiring a savoir faire, a trade,” said Michael Burke, Louis Vuitton chief executive and chairman. “Perfume is a trade in itself and back in the 1920s and ’30s, Vuitton was very active – the brand came up with four different perfumes between 1927 and 1946 – so we wanted to reacquire this trade." To build fragrance credibility and show the brand heritage Louis Vuitton decided to give the consumers a tour behind the scenes, offering a look at its craftsmanship and olfactory perspective. They created short films to show their master perfumer at work, the history of Grasse and the estate itself. This tour connects leather artistry to fragrance and helps introducing the brand as a perfumer with expertise behind its perfume creations.
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*from Norwegian magazine “Inside Grasse’s perfume industry”
** from Grasse: Perfume cluster permeates the globe By Ross Tieman