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Fragonard: the name alone rings with essence and time-honored sway, not unlike the perfumes produced by this fixture of French class and culture. For generations, the Maison de Fragonard has nestled in the back country along the Côte d’Azur, in the town of Grasse, considered by most as the perfume capital of the world. To visit the premises is to imbue the senses and realize the very expertise honed for kings and queens of centuries past continues in like manner for us modern-day adventurers as well.
This renown drew me and my French girlfriend from our base in Nice to the coast that eventually weaved and turned climbing roads to Grasse. Once inside the parfumerie, we found ourselves the sole visitors for the free half-hour tour, professionally delivered by one of a team of women each equipped with multiple languages along with her chic designer burned ochre skirt, sweater and scarf. Ambling along, we passed ancient copper-plated vats as the cultivation, extraction, and boiling-down of essences was explained to the last detail including a recitation of mind-boggling ratios as regards inputs and outputs. For example, it can take upwards of a ton of petals to extract out less than a litre of essence, this of course depending on the strength desired (perfume, eau de toilette, soap) and the type of flowers.
Over 200 different petals and plant parts can go into any one perfume, which explains the difficulty in reproducing a scent other than via the secret formulas that these essences claim. The regaling of former times sparkled the presentation, like during a detour to the room that showcased cow and horse hides with petals stuck to them, an example of the maceration and penetration activities that hundreds of years ago addressed royalty’s demand that their body odors be masked with these luscious sensuous smells rather than their bothering with a good shower or bath, an activity they considered unhealthy and dangerous. Ahhhh, was it really that ‘good to be the king’?!
The tour ends in the boutique where you can sample as many fragrances as you wish, and take your time engaged with the plethora of products with names that ring with timber and an ‘éclat’ not unlike the signature gold-brushed bottles and packaging—Miranda, Belle de Nuit, Diamant, Rêve Indien, Murmure.
I purchased a 15 ml (.5 oz) bottle of Diamant for 24 euros (factory prices here). With extracts of mandarin, prune, caramel and a base of rose and jasmine, the scent has not disappointed. Hmm, how might Louis XIV have put Diamant to use?
‘Vieilles Filles’ and Other Tales from France by Kathleen Comstock
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