We reached Grasse at two o’clock, just when the restaurant, Les Délices de Jasmine, was about to close for the post-lunch, pre-dinner break. Sensing this, Keith gamely asked if they would like to go golfing. Actually, what he said was, “Au vert?” (oh-vehr) which in French is literally, “To the green?” He meant to say, “Ouvert?” (oo-vehr), meaning “Open?” They nevertheless graciously consented to serve us a meal of fresh salads and lamb kebobs, accompanied by a local wine and beer. Although we dined outside on the informal patio, a stroll inside revealed marvelous cobalt blue tiled tables and a spotless bathroom with hammered brass sinks. Fortified for the afternoon, we got in the car and drove the short distance to the perfume factory of Fragonard. (Les Délices de Jasmine, 25 Boulevard E. Rouquier 06130 Grasse Tel 04 93 60 69 18.)
Our timing was perfect, as in twenty minutes a one hour free tour in English was about to start. Our guide, Eira, began by telling us that fully eighty percent of the cost of a bottle of perfume is the price of the packaging. She also explained that the old method of creating fragrance was to place flowers on trays of fat which absorbed their essence. Alcohol was then poured over the fat to separate the essence from it. (By the way, it takes one ton of jasmine petals to make one kilo of essence.)
As we entered one area, we saw some of the perfumed products available, including soaps in the shape of eggs, a perennial favorite, especially in the springtime.
The person of reknown in a fragrance house is known as “The Nose,” and we heard that there are three places where those with the special gift of differentiating aromas are trained. Versailles is one of them, where fifteen people per year are selected to cultivate their talents. They must be able to identify 350 scents to start, and finally must distinguish between from 1, ooo to 2,500 different aromas.
Eira had asked us when the tour began what we thought the biggest mistake was that people make when choosing perfumes. After a few wrong answers from the group of twenty, she said that putting the scent on a paper stick instead of our body wasn’t enough to get a proper reading. The first blush, filled with alcohol, confuses the olfactory nerve, so it’s important to wait thirty seconds or so until it evaporates. She sprayed a variety of women’s and men’s fragrances on sampling wands and asked us what notes we could pick out: vanilla, patchouli, cinnamon, lemon, chocolate, etc. Of course we were doing this in the gift shop, so how could we not select a gift or two for the folks at home?