“Oh Christ that’s vile” my conscience screamed as my face politely recoiled from a nasty smelling bottle, decorated with miniature plastic handcuffs. We’d just arrived in Grasse, the home of perfumery. Unfortunately we were also stuck in the town’s only tacky fragrance shop.
As the owner grinned over-enthusiastically as we entered, I knew that this definitely wasn’t what I’d imagined. I’d come to Grasse in the search for a perfect perfume. One that was sweet, soft and simple. One that I wouldn’t smell on a stranger back home.
We politely sniffed a selection of his homemade odours, too English to walk straight back out. But after ten or so minutes of inhaling synthetic scents I was done. “Okay, well thank you very much, we’ll have a look around and might be back later!” I said as we snatched a quiet moment to get away, all of us sharing a glance that said otherwise.
When I’d first heard about Grasse, I immediately got butterflies of excitement, reserved for places that ignite a passion. I conjured rows of miniature boutiques in my head, a floral cloud that would escape as a customer entered. Would this be where I’d find my scent?
I’ve always had a bit of a thing with smell.
The smoky waft from a blown out candle; the freshly printed papers of a magazine; the comforting steam that rises from a warm loaf. I don’t just smile when I catch a whiff of something good. I’ll purposely engulf my face in the object, breathing it in as if the aroma might run out.
I’m not sure where this enthusiasm for the olfactory sense started. It must have been sometime at university when the Miss Dior perfume stopped being satisfying and I became of the age where a woman develops a need to cover her surfaces in scented candles.
It was here that I wrote my dissertation on senses in the event industry, waffling on for thousands of words about how influential and emotionally connecting it can be to smell, see, hear, touch and taste.
Fast forward to my post-uni job and I was working for a bespoke company whose sole purpose was to match clients to their own personal scents. We’d work to create harmonising perfumes for brides and grooms to be and develop edible fragrances for immersive brands. It was fascinating.
Unfortunately the role didn’t work out as I’d hoped, but I carried on my interest in odours and was never able to purchase a high street perfume again, instead embarking on a long unsatisfying quest to find my perfect bespoke fragrance.
This brings me to Grasse.
We only had one hour in the town, ten minutes of which had been wasted smelling bottles that reminded me of the Charlie Red body spray.
We mooched with purpose, following our noses like a dog sniffing for its dinner. We began to enter what seemed to be the town centre, decorated with bunting that was strung across the highest windows. Crossing underneath a row of flags, we each shivered with a chill. “Are they… spraying water?” I said with confusion. But then I realised, with a whiff of sweet fragrance, that the mist that dispersed below the bunting was in fact perfume.
“Bloody hell, they need this in London!”.
Joyfully breathing in light rose and citrus notes, we continued my quest. “This street looks cute!” was our method of exploring, and successful it was proven. A left down a cobbled path took us past jewellers, a crêperie and towards the International Perfume Museum where I picked up a wax candle that smelt of fresh French brioche.
The clock ticking, I began to feel a slight jolt of panic. We picked up the pace, venturing into a labyrinth of tiny streets that towered over us. Finally! A row of miniature shops filled with glass bottles.
I entered a small boutique named Bastide des Arômes. I felt hesitant, for what if I couldn’t find the perfect scent in the short time I had?
Thankfully on this occasion the shop owner was less than bothered by my presence. I’m never one to enjoy assistance whilst I’m perusing and was grateful to be left to sniff the samples at my own free will.
Sandalwood. Amber. Coconut. Oh and vanilla. All scents I knew that I liked in a fragrance, but where to start. I worked my way along the rows of vials, liking many but not falling for just one. That was until I breathed in a rich honey scent that caused an instinctive smile. It was floral and sickly but a small spray on the inside of my wrist melted into a sweet sensual fragrance that I repeatedly came back to.
Essences of patchouli, jasmine and rose lay a long-lasting floral base whilst a luxurious top note of peach and cassis combined to alluringly enrich the aroma. The name? Framboise – Caramel; a rich sugary perfume that seduced my sweet tooth.
I’d found it, a scent that painted a romantic, seductive charm with indulgent sweet notes and a timeless French elegance. I definitely wouldn’t be smelling this on Central Line commuters.