One of the greatest perfumers in the world, a Master Perfumer. Jean Claude Ellena.
Through his work, he’s been a part of my life for years now! On my skin. Not surprising when you think about all the perfumes he signs! I also love him maybe because I’m sentimental about his path in perfumery, maybe because times are a-changing. His way is the “old French school”, classical way.
The second time in three years, to be exact, spending my vacation there, already feeling a bit like a Grassoise.
What does Grasse smell like? Jasmine, of course. Sprayed above the old medieval streets all day long:
This time we rented an apartment in a lovely old Provencal house on the hill facing Musee International de la Parfumerie (International Perfume Museum), 300 m away from the center of the city.
Which seems fine, the view from our bedroom window was amazing, but…going downhill was like a five-minute walk.
Going back home? Well, let me just say that it took me up to fifteen legs’n’gluteus exercise minutes…
As a perfume lover, of course I stayed in Grasse. I noticed that numerous tourists don’t stay in the town. There are organized tours from all the bigger cities along Cote d’Azur, offering half-day or one-day excursions to Grasse. Meaning that at 10 AM you can quietly sip your coffee or tea on the main square -Place aux Aires, but all of a sudden, buses and trains enter the city and the invasion of one-day tourists begins, ending usually around 5 PM and leaving jasmine sprayed, old cobbled streets empty and quiet again.
I did manage to visit some new perfume shops and boutiques in town, besides the well-known Fragonard-Galimard-Molinard trio (will tell and show you more in one of my next blogs, stay tuned).
I also must say that I do need to return again: there’s so much to see and to do that you cannot possibly cover everything in ten days! And I am talking about Grasse only, let alone all the wonderful and amazing sights and places in Riviera’s Maritime Alps region! I am already making a „must see“ list for my next visit…
Any season is the perfect time to visit Grasse, but I do think that May is probably perfect timing if you need more peace and quiet and days that are not too hot. And Rose Centifolia experience: that divine, fruity, deep, oh! So a special rose!
Summer months of June, July and August are packed with various events in the city! On 3rd, 4th and 5th of August you do not want to miss Fete du Jasmin (on my first day in Grasse) and on August 12th a celebration dedicated to Tuberose took place.
Make sure to check out events on the list of the International Perfume Museum (MIP): they have a great offer of perfume workshops on a daily basis. I had a difficult time to chose between Accord Aromatique, Poudre, Epice (Les epices de l’Arabie), Musque, Agrume, Boise, Gourmand workshops– one for each day in a week.
You can also make your own perfume there, booking in advance is obligatory and the price is 60 EUR (one adult person, 100ml). Or arrange your private visit or a private event for professionals, book a workshop for children on Friday mornings – they can create their own eau de cologne!
MIP offers tours to MIP Flower gardens on Saturdays (4 EUR): this was a recommendation given to me by Jessica Buchanan of 1000Flowers: you just have to see, touch and feel fields of different flowers, depending upon the season of the year, right here, in Grasse.
The MIP olfactory route in Gardens allows you to discover notes used in perfumery and includes fragrant plants grown in Grasse.
Along the way, you can touch fragrant foliage or smell the flowers near your path.
In the „Conservatory“ you can learn more about the history of the perfume plant industry in Grasse: the first plants were wild orange from Italy, lavender, cassia from the mimosa family, myrtle and pistachio mastic.
From the 17th century onward, these three plants become major ones: jasmine rose and tuberose.
Today, there are not so many rose fields as you might imagine: some rose centifolia is still grown in Grasse through a partnership between Chanel and Mul family in Pégomas, or in Le Labo fields. I asked: it’s not easy to get a job or even volunteer as in rose fields: the collaboration between field owners and pickers is many years long, pretty closed and pickers are usually Gipsies (Gitanes), from a clan called „La Fleur“, so I am told. There are other growers in the region. I will continue to try to find a way to spend one week in May in Grasse, picking roses (I’m perfectly aware there’s nothing romantic about it, don’t worry…)!
When in Rome, pardon Grasse…I decided to book a visit and make my own perfume (again). To make your own perfume in Grasse, the cradle of perfumery? It is educational and so much fun! If you are into perfumes, this is really a must-do!
I love looking at my companions sitting at perfume organs during workshops: a mother, discussing notes with her daughter to make her a perfect birthday present. A couple, mixing and laughing together, creating a bridal perfume (they are getting married as soon as they return to States) and so on!
It’s great to see people trying to learn more about perfumes. They are showing interest and devoting their time – to perfumes, trying to express their creativity in given circumstances and offered possibilities. People attending these workshops have an opportunity to learn the basics of building a perfume structure, smell different notes, blend, use pipettes and experiment with proportions, have a real hands-on experience of perfume making! I think this is simply wonderful and I wish that even more people would want to devote their time and energy to learn more about perfumes! What a wonderful world this would be!
Perfume geeks, like me, doing…well. I’ll tell you, a little later on.
Let me give you basic info first, classics. You can book your “make your own perfume” workshop at: Galimard. Offering Haute Couture Perfume Creation Workshops in Grasse (and Eze) where you work with their Master Perfumer in her lab. Prices range from 200-800EUR or you can attend the Studio des Fragrances workshop, in small groups, by appointment, 53 EUR per person. (2hrs, 50ml). 127 notes organ. Fragonard. Perfumer Workshop, 90 minutes, 100 ml. You also receive a pouch for your perfume and an apron. 65 EUR. Molinard. L’Atelier des Parfums. 60 minutes, 90 bottles organ, 50 ml, 69 EUR. Le Petit Parfumer, for children, too. La Villa du Perfumer is a private perfume creation session.
No matter which house you choose, you will go through a similar process. My choice was Galimard, both times, simply because it is the oldest house and because their organ features 127 notes/accords. Maybe also because you can create a line of products, like body cream and shower gel, too. Next time I visit, I will probably choose Molinard. And then Fragonard. 😀
Your formula stays recorded in their archives and you can always order another bottle – if you really like your creation you can get a refill.
So, there I go again. During a perfume making workshop in Galimard lab, I made my first perfume, three years ago. Pretty, but not exceptional. This time, I came prepared.
You see, I do have ideas about a five to six perfumes (at least) I would like to make or have made for me. These ideas are not expressed by notes or perfume groups, no, I have vivid images in my head. Memories, moments, little bits and pieces of emotions. Some are like paintings on canvas, some are vivid and bright like short movies in glorious Technicolor…
Then I think about these images and try to translate them into notes and accords in perfume language. The keyword is trying. 😀 Don’t expect too much.
Galimard has a very pragmatic approach, as all the others I mentioned/ perfumes and notes are strictly divided in „for her“ and „for him“ groups:
You have 127 notes to play with, which is fine in my opinion for this level of perfume making.
A really lovely young lady helped me with proportions. She told me that she is a student of chemistry in Lyon and that she comes to work at Galimard every summer. I know I might have taken too much of her time at the workshop because I really wanted her to hear my story first, before pushing me to start sniffing and choosing max five top notes or accords…and then other 4-5 middle ones, and 4 base ones…
This young lady was really patient, but the supervising lady approached me a couple of times to warn me that I’m running behind scheduled time in the process and that I should hurry up. I swear I had a feeling that she would be even harsher if I were an apprentice there…
There’s more. At one moment I wanted to add a very specific fruit accord to a leathery tone and received a really scorning gaze: you do not want to do that, kind of look. 😀
Alas, she hasn’t heard my olfactory memory this perfume was supposed to bring back… I think that she didn’t really like my pretty rebellious attitude in the sense of not blindly listening and following her suggestions.
I did pretty well, I think. Not that is exactly what I wanted/imagined/dreamed of, but here it is: „Once Upon a Time“!
Now I have to wait for 3 weeks for it to mature, in a not too dark, not too light, not too humid, not to dry, not too hot and not too cold place.
New blog, part II will follow!
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Photos: The Plum Girl Disclaimer