France, the perfume country

Posted By: Maribel A. In: Perfumes On: Comment: 2 favorite Hit: 3328

Discover why France is truly the perfume country.

The love story between the French and their perfume had lasted for centuries, though that is only a short time compared to the ancient perfumes in Mesopotamia dating from an estimated 7000 years ago.
Nevertheless, French King Louis XIV's monarchy gave a noble scent to the French way of life, which is still perceived to this day.

Perfume, or per fume ?

In ancient times, it was believed that smoke and vapours allowed men to communicate with divine beings. Incense and plants were therefore burned, filling the sky with aromatic fumes.
In Latin, that would be called per fume access to the heavens. Per fume translating into 'by smoke' or 'through smoking'.

For the French, since their language has more direct roots in Latin, the word per became 'par' and fume turned into 'fumée' that come together as 'parfumée', the feminine form of the adjective 'perfumed'.

Communication with the divinities through the smoke, or per fume

From Arabian markets to the court of Louis XIV

The ancient Egyptians were known for their use of perfume, as were other ancient civilizations - Greeks, Phoenicians and later, the Romans.
Europeans only found out about perfumes and their manufacture through trading with travelling Arab merchants.
Additionally, the Catholic Church was not entirely open to the powers of seduction and temptations of such perfumes; whereas Islam was in favour of fragrance, musk especially.

The reasons explained above show why perfume wasn't as popular in Europe as it was on other continents, until the medieval crusaders coming back from Oriental lands with musk, amber and sandalwood popularised the use of fragrance, especially for hygienic purposes.

But it was really during Louis XIV's reign that it expanded. After facing several epidemics of the Plague, doctors came to believe (wrongly) that water was filled with disease, since most of the population bathed in water daily, as we do today.
Fearing for sickness, people would avoid washing themselves using water, deciding to mask their pungent body odours with perfumes.
Strong perfumes were developed under the reign of Louis XIV, who lived a lavish life in the sumptuous château of Versailles.

So in reality, perfume was only being used to hide a powerful lack of hygiene : not so glamorous for one named the 'Sun King'.
On the positive side, this all provided a catalyst for developing the art of fragrance across all the kingdom of France.

Louis XIV the Sun King


Grasse is a town in the south of France, with a reputation - from long before Louis XIV's reign - for leather work : even in the Middle Ages, exports were made throughout Europe, mainly gloves.
But customers complained about the very bad smell of the leather, due to the tanning methods at the time.

Since aromatic plants cover the south of the country, the artisans had a bright idea : from the 16th century onwards, local plants such as lavender, orange flowers ot myrtle were used to overcome the bad smell of the leather.
They learnt to distill the plants to produce the essential oils, thereby becoming glove-makers and perfume-crafters.

During the following century, the mild climate in Grasse allowed the introduction of more exotic plants, like jasmine from India.
The culture of roses also become popular during the 17th century and Grasse progressively abandoned leatherwork and replaced it with perfume creation.

The 18th and 19th centuries were a Golden Age for the town and its reputation spread through the entire world.
In 2014, Grasse produced 11 tons of jasmine flowers and 70 tons of roses, the 'World Capital of Flowers and Perfumes'.

Old stills used in perfumery

This long tradition of perfumery in Grasse is now recognized by UNESCO's intangible cultural heritage inscription (November 28, 2018).

Modern Perfumery

While French perfume makers dominated the creation of perfumes from plants and other natural ingredients, they didn't rest on their laurels...
In the second half of the 19th century, Fougère Royale perfume introduced the first synthetic molecule 'coumarin'.
This marked a new area for fragrance creation, which soon developed into a true industrial process.

Top French brands such as Houbigant (established 1775) or Guerlain (1828) continue to represent the best of French expertise today.
There are currently approximately 300 active perfume companies, from market leaders Chanel or Dior to many smaller laboratories.
Though other countries (e.g. Switzerland, US) also produce large quantities, France remains the world leader.

More than 42000 hectares are cultivated for perfumed, aromatic and medicinal plants (including 20000 hectares dedicated to lavender).
The total cosmetic and perfume industry is France's second biggest exporter behind aeronautics.
France has 25% of the world market share, with a 2017 value of 240 billions USD, including 47 billion USD for perfume alone.

Beginning with spiritual roots, then becoming simply useful, perfume has become a source of pleasure.

And that's our real purpose at Madame and Monsieur Romantique : to offer you the very best of French tradition for your own pleasure.

The pleasure of perfumes


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