I was lucky enough to spend half of my Erasmus year in the town of Aix-en-Provence in the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur region of idyllic southern France. As you’d imagine, the area is full of wonderful places to explore, from the French mountains painted by Cézanne to the narrow winding streets of local towns, filled with the scent of Marseille soaps and bustling restaurants and bars.
It was on a day trip to Monaco that we made a quick stop in the beautiful town of Grasse. Known for its long-established perfume industry, the French Riviera town is home to the Musée International de la Parfumerie as well as several large perfumeries including Fragonard, Molinard and Galimard, which offer tours of their premises to visitors. It was to Fragonard that we were headed, for a tour round the factory and museum to learn all about the House of Fragonard and its long story of perfume making.
1. Born from a passion
Fragonard was founded Eugène Fuchs shortly before the First World War, an entrepreneur at heart with a love of perfume. He to set up his own perfumery based on the idea of selling products directly to tourists, who at that time were starting to discover the many charms of the French Riviera which continue to make it a popular tourist destination today.
Parfumerie Fragonard opened in 1926, located in buildings which had already housed a perfume factory since being built in 1782. The premises were named after Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806), the famous Grasse-born painter, in tribute to both the town of Grasse and the refinement of 18th-century arts, and Fuchs would run his business in a traditional way. However, whilst under the tenure of Jean-Francois Costa Parfumerie Fragonard saw rapid expansion and modernisation. Costa was a keen art collector and during the 1970’s he amassed a large and unique collection of antique perfume related items. This collection has both enriched Fragonard and given the town of Grasse a new cultural dimension for which it is now well known.
2. Take a look around
Fragonard offers free guided tours all year round, and it was one of these tours which we joined. We visited the factory, the Museum of Perfume above, and of course the adjoining shop. It’s great to be able to learn how the products are made and the processes involved, and then have the opportunity to buy some (at more reasonable prices than usual!). The perfumes are also sold in metal bottles rather than glass, which stops light entering and preserves them better. Mine certainly stayed fresh for years, and the smell of it takes me right back to wondering around Fragonard. There are several parts to the Fragonard premises which showcase different aspect of perfumery, so make sure you get to see all you want.
The beautiful Fragonard factory is one of the oldest factories in Grasse. The building located in the heart of the old town houses the creation and manufacturing process of Fragonard’s perfumes and soaps. A free guided visit takes you through the workshops and laboratories, showing you how the products are made right from the raw materials.
Fabrique des Fleurs
The Fabrique des Fleurs is dedicated to perfumery and aromatic plants and is surrounded by an exquisite garden filled with plants used in the making of perfumes. The modern factory is just on the outskirts of the town and and was inaugurated in 1986. Equipped with state-of-the-art machines for manufacturing and packaging Fragonard products, you can visit the laboratories and packaging rooms free of charge and discover the secrets of the brand’s expertise and perfumery art.
Museum of Perfumes
On the upper floor of Fragonard‘s Historic Factory, the perfumery museum shows a magnificent private collection of perfumery related items, from flasks to gift sets, alembic stills and raw materials, here you can learn the story of perfumery from High Antiquity to the present day.
3. The art of perfumery
Fragonard has now seen three succeeding generations of ownership and today is run by Jean-François Costa’s two daughters, Agnès and Françoise. Fragonard and its products remain an important part Grasse’s heritage, as well as elsewhere – not long ago I stayed in an AirBnb in South-East France which had Fragonard scent diffusers in the bathroom.
Scents feature greatly in our everyday lives, from the wash products we use, to our favourite perfumes, to the flowers in our garden. The ancient process, now modernised and expanded, of using different plants and materials to create incredible arrays of scents is fascinating and worth learning a bit about. And for that, Grasse is certainly the place to start.