GRASSE, France — The town of Grasse sits in the hills above the more famous French Riviera city of Cannes, and it doesn’t have the Mediterranean Sea at its doorstep. What it does have is fields of flowers — jasmine, May rose, tuberose, lavender. It is known as the perfume capital of the world.
It wasn’t always this way. Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, the industry took off in Grasse in part because this was an absolutely putrid-smelling town.
“Grasse, in the Middle Ages and especially in the 16th century, is well known all over Europe for leather, not for perfume,” says Laurent Pouppeville, the director of Grasse’s perfume museum.
Thanks to its tanneries, the town reeked of dead animals and lye. It was the glove makers who first tried to make their product smell better, using a technique called maceration.