Only the ‘Nose’ Knows for sure

Smelling scentsGRASSE, FRANCE – For the first time I’m on the French Riviera – in Cannes. Traveling with my 22-year-old daughter, Kathryn, our route takes us along the seafront boulevard, beneath umbrella-like palms and past beaches sprinkled with sun worshipers. As we negotiate promenade de la Croisette, we continue pass bustling outdoor cafes.

“Where are we going?” you might question. What could be a greater lure than the aforementioned French enticements?

The answer: perfume.

We’re heading into the countryside to Grasse, home of French perfume’s flowers and essences. Why? To create our own fragrances.

Grasse is the birthplace of the country’s perfume industry and more than 60 per cent of the world’s production is from here. It’s where great houses of the 18th and 19th centuries were born. The oldest (established in 1747) is Parfumerie Galimard – our destination.

Among its first customers was the court of King Louis XIV, for whom the Count de Galimard created pomades and perfumes. And on this day Kathryn and I are both customers and creators.

Kathryn purchases the industry’s newest fragrance in the factory’s perfume store – a grapefruit scented eau de parfum (not yet named) for 28 Euros (about $28 U.S. We’re told it will sell in North America for $150 U.S.). She’s delighted. I wait. My plan is to create my special fragrance – “Cintiana” is its planned name.

Next stop: “Studio des Fragrances.” Best described as an interactive workshop of sorts, it promises to provide a peek into what were once considered well-guarded industry secrets.

Upon arrival we’re escorted to our own stations (they’re called organs). It’s like sitting at the console of the grand musical instrument, surrounded by more than 100 bottles of essences like rose, wild lavender, cinnamon and sandalwood (no fragrance is identified so as not to influence the selection process). I’m a bit overwhelmed.

But we have a guide through this process called the “Nose” – a scent specialist. There are only 250 in the world, 50 of whom are in France. Ours is Jacques Maurel.

I liken the process to developing a cake recipe. We begin with the base note. Six bottles are placed in front of us. “Select your three favorite fragrances.” Of the six, I find only two that I like. Four additional bottles are pulled from the collection “for you only” I am told.

“Pour 5 ml. of each of your three choices into your glass vial,” we’re instructed. Identify the bottle and the quantity used on the paper provided. The “Nose” makes his rounds to give his “oui” or “non”.

He visits Kathryn’s station first.

“Very, very good,” he exclaims.

I excitedly wait for his judgment of my creation. He makes a face and selects three additional bottles from which I am told to select one. The same steps are repeated for the fond note and the final peak note (the most recognizable scent of a fragrance).

“She has it. Perfect!” he exclaims after smelling Kathryn’s final product. And says to me, “Very, very good,” but gives me a bottle from which I’m told to add an additional 5 ml. Suddenly, I’m in competition with my daughter for the “Nose’s” approval; but a few steps later “Cintiana” is a reality.

Through an interpreter I ask the name of Monsieur Maurel’s favorite fragrance? “CK1,” he says. “Me, too,” I exclaim.

We give one another a thumb’s up, in acknowledgment of our mutual olfactory sensitivities. My “nose” is vindicated.

PerfumeryFragrance facts: