The approach to Grasse doesn't really give any clue as to its leading role in the world of perfume and scent. I imagined a golden citadel surrounded by lush fields of lavender and roses, plus of course, an overwhelming smell of flowers. To be honest though Grasse seems pretty much like any other rather unattractive industrial town with lots of superstores scarring the outskirts. I mentioned before that you can't park a campervan in Grasse, so I took the bus (see Cannes entry) which drops you off right in the centre. It's in the old town that you get a flavour of the pretty Grasse, the one that's associated with perfume production. Vintage adverts on the walls bear testament to Grasse's elegant and sophisticated past.
Grasse was originally a tanning town, famous for its leather goods. But given the natural abundance of Provencale flowers available locally and the town's strong trade links, it also developed a leading reputation for scenting leather - particularly gloves. And so Grasse's role as a perfume-making mecca developed. There are several production houses still based in the town. I visited the rather lovely old Fragonard factory which dates back to 1926 (there are more modern production houses on the outskirts) and learned about this history of perfume making. The tour is free as they know that you're likely to be tempted into buying something at the end - yep, of course I did! It's also rather Willy Wonka-ish, with the processes simplified and theme-parked somewhat. Nonetheless, it's an entertaining (and fragrant) way to spend 45 minutes and there's a good collection of historical items associated with perfume production on display too.
You do get the urge to be refined in Grasse - there are some beautiful mansions housing free museums. The garden of the museum all about Provence's history is a good spot for a selfie!
The Fragonard brand has somewhat overtaken the town. Inside another beautiful house is a small but perfectly formed collection of costumes and jewellery from the formerly influential Arles region put together by Hélène Costa who's closely associated with Fragonard. Again this is free to visit, and is very well curated. You get an informed and analysis of the role of Provençale fashion from the 18th to the start of the 20th centuries as well as some wonderful examples of the clothes themselves.
Back in the Fragonard clothes and interiors stores (more branding) you can see how the textile craft techniques used on these regional clothes in the past have influenced Fragonard's stylish offering today. Embroidery, needlepoint detail, quilting, colour choices, all bear witness to the techniques of the past. The prices are pretty reasonable too, which means I doubt they are produced in France....
I love these sorts of techniques and how they're adapted for modern living. My mind started whirring with ideas for a Mary Jane range using textile craft skills too. Well, you never know! My first design is sketched out on the right. Orders to maryjanemakes.com please!