This article was originally published February 23, 2019
Embrace good smells.— Gretchen Rubin
No cost, no calories, no energy, no time—a quick hit of pleasure.
Of all our senses, smell is possibly the most powerful. One sniff can shuffle through our memories, evoking and wrapping us in feelings we haven’t touched in years. And when those scents are associated with people, it seems the power of smell becomes all the more important. Have you ever loved someone who wore perfume? And then caught a whiff of it when they weren’t around?
When these bottled scents are associated with the people we love, it gives us an avenue to revisit that person, and those memories tied to them, with just a mist.
Join us, as we follow our noses to the French Riviera and into the city of Grasse. Known to have revolutionized the perfume industry, this city is the birthplace of the innovation and creativity in the scents that have forever altered popular culture (have you heard of a little perfume called Chanel No.5?) and most likely, your own memory.
Like all good stories, Grasse’s history with perfumes began with a bad smell.
In medieval times, the town had a thriving leather business, but the tanning process made for pungent merchandise that didn’t sit well with the gloved nobility. A Grasse tanner presented a pair of scented leather gloves to Catherine de Medici, the queen of France from 1547 until 1559, and an industry was born.” 1
Today in Grasse, you’ll find fields upon fields of fragrant flowers from which some of the worlds most popular scents are created, acclaimed perfumery schools, and museums dedicated to the craft in a city doused with tradition and history.
For our own introduction to the city, we’re turning to a channel very dear to our hearts, Great Big Story. They visited Grasse and caught up with three people who work in different parts of the perfumery process to give us a unique look into their tradition.
So without further ado, let’s head into the City of Scents!
What a great place! Every year they even hold festivals celebrating roses and jasmine—the two flowers they’re most known for—and visiting the city during those to see (and smell) it all first hand, is most definitely on my to-do list.
This video is a part of Great Big Story’s “The City Of…” series, where they travel to find places that have been built around their crafts, from scents to glass, marble, watches, violins, and even swords. If you’d like to see more of the brilliant stories Great Big Story has brought to the internet, head on over to their YouTube channel or website! You can also stay up to date with them by following along on Twitter and Facebook.
Now, you caught that the legendary perfume Chanel No. 5 was created here, right?
Since its release in 1921, this scent has not only completely revolutionized the perfume industry but forever altered popular culture. It was provocative, mysterious, something completely different than anything else that had ever hit the noses of people before. Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel teamed up with the perfumer, Ernest Beaux, and with a combination of her vision, the flowers grown in the soils of Grasse, and a possible extra dose of aldehydes, this renowned perfume shook markets (and pockets) around the world.
Aldehydes? Yeah, these were fairly new at the time as well. These chemicals had been around for about 20 years before Chanel and Beaux created No. 5, but it was this perfume that launched their additions to scents into popularity.
The Perfume Society describes aldehydes and their effect as so:
Aldehydes triggered a revolution in perfumery. Think of them as something like ‘rocket fuel’, boosting the ‘whoosh’ of a fragrance, when you first smell it: they’re like the fizz of champagne, having the power to make a perfume truly sparkle and effervesce. Aldehydes may be found in natural materials—rose, citronella, cinnamon bark and orange rind, for instance—but are also a family of synthetic chemicals, formed (here’s the science bit) ‘by the partial oxidation of primary alcohols’. 3
Pretty cool, right? That’s all just the tip of what this perfume spurred into action.
To show us the power a scent can have really on society, here’s a look inside Chanel No. 5, brought to us by none other than Chanel themselves. Take a look…
This is one of the most dynamic films I’ve come across in a while. To see more from Chanel, head over to their YouTube channel. They have a ton of videos letting us in behind the scenes of one of the most iconic brands in history.
I highly suggest visiting their “The Unmaking of a Fragrance” series if you’re at all interested in seeing what goes into making these potions. This short video in particular talks a bit about Grasse and its flowers!
To this day, Chanel No. 5 is only created from flowers grown in Grasse, France.
“Perfumes are the feelings of flowers.”
For a tour around Grasse, I’d like to direct you to this wonderful article written by Colleen Creamer for the New York Times. It’s full of beautiful descriptions of visits and experiences all around this scented city.
So, how does this impact your life?
Now, I’m not a huge wearer of perfume, but after researching for this article and realizing how important scents are with linking us to our memories, I’m determined to find my go-to: that scent that is always left hanging in the air when I leave for my loved ones to find comfort in. Because if this sense is really so powerful as to cloak us in feelings long forgotten, I want to utilize it.
What kind of memories could be created, and solidified, with just a few spritzes?
What’s your scent? Are there any that instantly remind you of someone you know? Or a moment you’ve had? For me, as a personal example, smelling Axe Body Spray brings me to the halls of my high school; Juicy Couture’s Viva la Juicy gives me strong memories of what my freshman year of college was like; and the smell of smoke from a woodfire will always send me right back to the comfort of my childhood in the arms of my father.
Send us an email with your responses if you’d like! I’d love to hear what smells in this world bring you back into the past.
As always friends, stay open to new possibilities! You never know what smell is reminding someone of you right now.
“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” — Albert Einstein
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- Creamer, Colleen. “A Perfume Devotee in the Land of French Fragrance.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 8 Aug. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/08/08/travel/grasse-france-perfume-fragrance-gardens-capital.html. Accessed 18 Feb. 2019. ↩
- “This French Town Might Be the Best Smelling Place in the World.” YouTube, Great Big Story , 9 Jan. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=0iHtQDRTn2Y&feature=youtu.be. Accessed 19 Feb. 2019. ↩
- “Aldehydes.” The Perfume Society, perfumesociety.org/ingredients-post/aldehydes/. Accessed 19 Feb. 2019. ↩
- “CHANEL N°5 – For the First Time – Inside CHANEL.” YouTube, CHANEL, 5 Oct. 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRQa33dqyxI&feature=youtu.be. Accessed 19 Feb. 2019. ↩