Drop by your local beauty counter and you’ll find the usual selection of celebrity fragrances by Katy Perry, Rihanna, and even One Direction. But if you’re looking for something more unique, consider spending an afternoon in the Provençal perfume capital of Grasse, creating your own signature scent.
Blessed with an abundance of water and sunny days, flowers thrive in Grasse’s warm Provençal microclimate. An easy day trip from most villas in Provence or the French Riviera, Grasse’s major perfume houses, including Fragonard, Molinard and Galimard offer free guided tours of their perfumeries, for a glimpse into the traditional perfume making process, as well as perfume-making workshops.
Put on the map by a demand for perfumed leather gloves during the Renaissance, Grasse has weathered centuries of change in the perfume industry. And while synthetics have replaced fields of flowers at many perfume houses, luxury brands focused on the finest ingredients continue to source floral scents in this Provençal town – Chanel and Dior rely exclusively on Grasse jasmine for their respective Chanel No 5 and J’Adore L’Or fragrances.
For a hands-on introduction to perfume making, sign up for a workshop and create your own signature fragrance, with the help of a ‘nose’ (a professional perfume maker). Visiting from Nice, my sister Lauren and I opted for the hour-long workshop at Molinard, one of the three major perfume houses. Greeted by an impossibly chic perfume expert, with a blond bob and lab coat, we were led to an airy workshop in the Molinard chateau. She introduced our small group to difference between top, middle and base notes, before letting us loose with a selection of 90 essential oils. With her guidance (a few more drops of verbena, easy on the sandalwood), we were on our way to creating our own Provence-inspired scents: a citrus-y eau de toilette for me and a marine inspired fragrance for my sister.
When making your own perfume, just as when buying a perfume in the store, it’s important to understand how a fragrance changes over time. Here’s a rough guide to the three perfume ‘notes’:
The Top Note: A perfume’s first impression, the top note is light, fresh, and fleeting, lasting only five to thirty minutes on the skin. Typical Provençal top notes include lemon and verbena.
The Middle Note: Warm and soft, the middle note of a perfume comes into its own just at the top note starts to fade: at around the thirty minute mark. Lavender, geranium, cypress and rosemary are some of the middle notes traditionally used in Provence.
The Base Note: These fragrance heavy weights are what give perfumes their staying power, with a warm or spicy scent. Roses, jasmine and exotic spices like patchouli, sandalwood and vanilla are popular perfume base notes.
The best thing about creating your own perfume? It keeps those vacation memories alive, long after your tan has faded.
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