In the Middle Ages, Grasse specialised in leather tanning. Grasse leather is well reputed. But leather emits a pungent aroma and the idea which was to change Grasse’s history was to fragrance it, namely leather gloves in “fragrance baths” (rose water). From this moment on, tanners fragranced their leather and perfumed gloves found their way to Court and throughout high society. It was the 17th century, the great age of the “Glove and Perfume Makers”. But taxes on leather and competition from Nice rang the death knell for the leather industry.
In 1724, the glove and perfume makers detached themselves completely from the tanner’s trade association.
Towards 1750, the process of cold enfleurage appeared; this was how the extraction of delicate flowers developed with rare fragrances from the Grasse area, such as jasmine, orange blossom and tuberose. Grasse became world perfume capital. A title it consolidated in the 19th century thanks to the industrial revolution and the appearance of new extraction techniques, such as extraction with volatile solvents. This marked the shift from cottage manufacturing to industrial activity.
The advantages of a climate and terroir which were particularly suited to growing aromatic plants, contributed to this success.
At the end of the 19th century, Grasse became a leading research site, after obtaining a large number of patents. Léon Chiris, a true visionary and perfumery industrialist played an exceptional role in this supremacy. He set up trading posts and obtained his supplies of raw materials from all over the world.
Simultaneously, the organic synthesis developed and offered Grasse perfumers new notes for their palettes.
The inter-war period was one of prosperity for Grasse perfumery and the title of world perfume capital became more legitimate than ever.
This monopoly waned slowly following the 2nd World War, with the decline of natural raw material growing in the Grasse basin, the large-scale arrival of synthetic molecules and the penetration of the market by large, foreign groups. During the sixties and seventies, large international groups progressively took over the local, family factories. (Chiris, Givaudan-Roure and Lautier for example). Production often being relocated.
However, in the last few years there has been a return to natural and fundamental principles. Niche perfumery in particular is helping to boost the use of natural raw materials, which have a strong history and olfactory impact. Partnerships between industrialists and local producers are ensuing.
Still today, perfumery is the main industrial activity in Grasse. A network of around sixty companies employs 3,500 people in the town and surrounding areas. Almost 10,000 Grasse inhabitants make a living out of perfumery, when also considering indirect jobs.
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