Dec 06, 2018 | By Jane Boddy
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Apr 21, 2016
If you’re a bit of a perfume junkie like me (I currently have five different fragrances on the go to suit my various moods and fancies) then a trip to the Musée du Parfum by Fragonard is a must. Nestled away in the centre of Paris – just behind the Opera – it’s a truly authentic and beautiful trip into the world of scent, housed within a building that’s lived a thousand lives – once a theatre, once a velodrome, go for the architecture alone.
A guided tour sees small groups of guests taken (for free I might add) through a cavernous basement full of 3000 years worth of history – from the aristocracy of the 18th century through to today’s major fragrance players, yet the way we connect to scent has barely changed at all.
Back then water was the enemy, teaming with bacteria and viruses, and so washing became a no no. Instead, a great quantity of perfume was used to stifle the smell of the body. Women placed vials between their breasts, while men hung flacons from their waist, and as a result the bottle became an accessory. Extravagant and seriously ornate packaging was designed, (many of which are on display here) immediately inflating the price of scent to well beyond the reach of commoners. As time moved on, however, the perfume industry was democratized, morphing into the multi-million dollar industry it is today. As to be expected, marketing became its biggest ploy, and it was thanks to this that perfume was given a gender – for the first time in history we divided scent into male and female
Besides the history, any one intrigued by the ‘method behind the madness’ of fragrance will be given a glimpse into both the manufacturing process and the life of a nose. The former looks at the extraction of essential oils from raw materials, while the latter – the most interesting part of the experience in my opinion – delves into the mind of perfume creators. Formally known as ‘The Nose,’ they have to be able to depict at least 500 different scents at the beginning of their career, a number which rises exponentially by the end – think one to two thousand individual smells, incredible, especially once I realized I can barely pick out one note from a spritz of my daily scent. The organ is the nose’s workshop – an array of hundreds of singular scents which they mix and match to create a many layered perfume, with the process taking anywhere from a few months to a few years to perfect.
As the tour comes to an end you’ll be directed into the flagship Fragonard store – an expected outcome but the discounts are worth it – trust me. More than that though, you get to see what all the fuss is about, for the museum might be dedicated to perfume as a whole, but Fragonard is an historical tale in itself and there’s no better place to explore the two side by side.
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