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Hitting the right note: fragrances of the French Riviera

24/06/2015

Discover your nose in the heart of France’s perfume region and even have a go at creating your own eau de cologne, says Nancy Heslin

Eze village in the French Riveira

Anyone visiting the French Riviera in spring and early summer cannot help but notice the wonderful fragrances that permeate the air. The region’s famous jasmine, rose, lavender, lemon and orange form but a few of the floral ‘notes’ that lie at the heart of many of the world’s most distinctive fragrance harmonies, and its these floral varieties distilled into the essences that are so sought after by French perfume industry giants such as Chanel, Dior and Estée Lauder.

 

While the town of Grasse is renowned as the heart of the French perfume industry, the entire region is alive with artisan perfume producers. Perched above the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean, the stunning hilltop village of Eze is the perfect spot to discover more about the region’s perfume heritage and the art of the parfumeur. With workshops offered at two world-renowned fragrance manufacturers, Fragonard and Galimard, you can visit their laboratories, enjoy guided tours and even join a masterclass to create your own bespoke fragrance.

 

Train your nose

The art of the parfumeur is a complex olfactory science. The fragrance pyramid has three scent groups. The top (la tête) is the most volatile and hits you fast right out of the bottle; the middle (le coeur), such as lavender or jasmine, is used as a cover-up layer and the base (le fond) needs time to evaporate, which is why it lingers on your skin and clothes. Add to the formula masculine and feminine notes – Floral Floral, Chypre Fruity or Oriental Woody, for example – and it’s no wonder there are around 600 new scents on the market every year.

 

Edmond Roudnitska, perhaps the greatest perfumer of the 20th century, didn’t like being referred to as a nez (nose) – the term for the expert perfumers who create perfume compositions – because no one refers to Mozart as an ‘ear’. There are only 150 nez in the world, but 250,000 scented molecules. A simple aroma, such as lemon, can have 40 odorous molecules, while a more complex scent, such as rose of Grasse, can have 400. And you’ll fine that each individual and ethnic group has a unique relationship with scent, influenced by skin type and diet: what smells divine on an Italian, for example, may be off-putting on a Brazilian.

 

Even a favourite scent may need refreshing depending on your circumstances. ‘Perfume is a fashion statement, but watch that you don’t become immune to your scent,’ warns Diane Saurat-Rognoni at Fragonard. ‘Seasonal changes can affect your mood, so maybe opt for a refreshing citrus in the summer but a warmer vanilla-based fragrance in the winter.’

 

Be a perfumer’s apprentice

At Galimard in Eze village, you can immerse yourself in the world of the French parfumier at a two-and-a-half-hour Blissful Initiation workshop, which includes a VIP champagne break (to enhance olfaction, of course). At a private workstation with more than 125 different ingredients and a tin of coffee beans to cleanse the nasal cavity, a parfumeur oversees your personalised 100ml creation. ‘Try not to judge a fragrance within the first few seconds,’ advises perfumer Irina Zhurikhina. ‘Like the crescendo in music, the base notes need time to make a statement.’ If time is limited, the half-hour Pause Cologne lets you mix three essential oils to make 15ml of cologne. For more information, visit galimard.com. <<http://galimard.com/>>

 

At Fragonard Eze, in a classroom-like setting with a bay window looking down towards the coast, the Apprenti Parfumeur Cologne (two hours) works solely with nine essential oils: neroli, petit-grain, verbena, rosemary and lavender, obtained by steam distillation; and orange, lemon, bergamot (the extract in Earl Gray tea), and mandarin from cold expression. Also using mouillettes (blotters), fragrances are evaluated before deciding on your 100ml blend. You get to keep the apron and can also enjoy a factory tour, where products are still hand-carved and hand-packaged.  For more information, visit fragonard.com.

 

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Nancy Heslin

Nancy Heslin is Editor-in-chief of The Riviera Reporter. She has taken the TGV with Tom Cruise to Marseille, lunched with Prince Albert in Monaco and covered the Cannes Film Festival as part of her contributions to leading celeb glossies. She also writes for Fodor’s France and Fodor’s Provence and the French Riviera.

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