Grasse has been the perfume capital of the world for two hundred years but came to the attention of literature lovers (as opposed to perfume aficionados) in the mid-1980s as the setting for Patrick Süskind’s ‘Perfume – The Story of a Murderer’.
It’s a fascinating town to wander around, buildings tumble over steep hills with spectacular views all the way to the coast. I’ve been wandering around early in the morning, the streets are quite deserted and you could easily imagine you’re back in medieval times. The twisting laneways can be a little spooky. It’s easy to imagine Grenouille, Süskind’s black-hearted killer, slinking about looking for fresh maidens to murder. Fortunately I no longer qualify.
Today I wanted to go to the village of Cabris to see the terrain outside Grasse and how the town looks from a distance. Grasse is situated on a massive steep hill and the bus station is at the bottom, so it was an hour of walking down and asking directions and another hour sorting out where the bus left from and waiting for it etc – all for a ten minute bus trip! On the return trip, I discovered the bus also stops at the top of the hill – glad I figured that one out in time before I walked all the way back up.
While the creation of a fragrance is a work of art, the design of the container is an equally creative endeavour. The Musée International de la Parfumerie in Grasse has a huge range of exhibits right back to ancient Egyptian perfume bottles – but I love these more romantic ones.
Went on a long walk around the terrain this morning. Antibes and Juan-les Pins share a promontory on the Mediterranean and you can easily walk from one to the other. The coastal landscape is famously spectacular.
I was scouting for settings for particular events, notably a party Iris attends at a spectacular house on the sea, with a swimming pool. I can see that this would have to be set further past Juan-les-Pins as the landscape around Antibes does not allow for the type of luxurious 1930s villa I have in mind.
Had an amazing day visiting three perfume houses in London and talking to the experts.
First stop was the Salon de Parfums which is on the 6th floor of Harrods. Very exclusive, but on explaining my mission the Maitre de Consultation of Roja Dove perfumes, Benjamin Paul Mabbett, generously took me through the process of selecting a personal perfume. It was quite a revelation when – with his guidance – I could actually smell the different notes and layers.
Amazing perfumes, all made of authentic ingredients but sadly beyond the means of the average writer starting at around £375 – perhaps one day!
Still in the Harrod’s Salon de Parfums – next stop was the Guerlain salon where manager, Ange Skopatie, showed me the extraordinary and beautiful products favoured by clients from the Middle East (costing up to £38,000!) and told me some of the stories behind the fragrances.
The House of Guerlain is one of the oldest French fragrance houses and recently celebrated the 160th anniversary of their ‘bee bottle’ originally designed as a gilded bottle covered with Napoleonic bees for the emperor’s wife Eugénie in 1853.
A quick trip up to Mayfair to the flagship Floris shop which has been at 89 Jermyn Street since 1730 and is still owned by the same family. Perfumes were originally manufactured in the basement of this building – known as ‘The Mine’ -but this part of the operation has since moved to Devon.
Sales Assistant Pierre Bonvalot kindly showed me the consultation room in the back of the shop which has barely changed over the centuries. Floris was first awarded a Royal Warrant in 1821 and this is where the aristocracy of England, including royalty, still come today to have their bespoke perfume created.
So that was my excursion into the fascinating world of English fragrances and, needless to say, by the end of the day I smelled simply divine.