Between certain cities and perfume, very strong links have been woven over the centuries and through the history of fragrances. Some regions of the world have seen the birth of the very first forms of compositions while others have participated in the evolution of perfumery from yesterday to nowadays. From Grasse to Kannauj, passing by Cologne or Parma, we invite you to a perfumed journey full of scents, to discover these emblematic and inspired cities!
Departure for Kannauj, the Indian capital of perfume
Before putting down our suitcases and our bottles in more well-known cities, our first stop is in India, in Kannauj to be precise. On the banks of the Ganges, fields of Damascena roses stretch as far as the eye can see. Through the rows of bushes, we discover expert pickers with a precise touch who pluck the petals with a quick and delicate gesture. If the name of this city doesn’t ring a bell, it is nevertheless one of the cradles of the perfume industry of yesteryear, still very attached to this industry and its tradition.
It is in this city that one of the first forms of fragrance was born: the attar. This oily olfactory composition is manufactured without alcohol, thanks to an ancestral process about which we spoke to you here. For more than 400 years, essences have been made in the workshops of the narrow and noisy streets of the city. Moreover, Kannauj still counts more than 300 distilleries in which master-perfumers officiate and whose know-how is passed on from generation to generation. The place is still considered as the Indian capital of perfume and supplies the attar production of almost all the Middle East.
Fragrance of Arabia: the history of cities with a perfume of tradition
The history and evolution of perfume is strongly linked to Arab cities, from Baghdad to Damascus. Indeed, it is the Arab civilizations that have participated in the evolution of the manufacture and therefore the democratization of fragrances. In ancient times, the cities of South Arabia resembled green and flowery plains. Known as the land of perfumes, this emblematic region inspired the doctors and chemists of the time. The Arabs developed different techniques to extract the essences of flowers, bringing alchemy closer to perfumery. By perfecting the alembic invented earlier, distillation progressed significantly, allowing new forms of fragrances to be created. Alcohol was then added to formulas as a base for essential oils.
Thanks to these major discoveries, perfume was exported throughout Europe and became popular in the Middle Ages. Arab perfumers settled in Spain where they revealed their know-how, making Granada and Seville central cities in terms of fragrance production. Perfume then took a new path, to France, Italy and Germany.
Perfume conquers European cities
A French art of perfuming
For decades, France has been a reference in the field of perfume. And for good reason, certain cities in our country have played a major role in its history over the years. This is of course the case of Grasse, still considered today as the world capital of perfume. From the end of the 17th century, the Provencal city became the cradle of perfumery in Europe thanks to its fertile lands and the incomparable know-how of the first glovers-perfumers.
To stay under the southern sun, Montpellier is also on the map of inspired cities. Thanks to its Faculty of Medicine, founded in 1220 (and the oldest in activity today), many chemists and apothecaries made discoveries and carried out important work on distillation and on certain raw materials. Numerous perfume plants were cultivated in the huge “Jardin des Plantes”, which inspired the noses of that time.
Finally, it is thanks to the city of Paris that fragrance will win its spurs. At the end of the 18th century, the very first perfumeries-pharmacies were opened to all, largely settled on the Faubourg Saint-Honoré. These stores will quickly become the den of a wealthy population, which will make perfume a true French art of living.
Italian perfumery, from Parma to Florence
But our Italian friends are not to be outdone! As in France, the perfume settles in the country thanks to the expansion of the trade between the West and the East during the Middle Ages. But it was not until the Renaissance that the city of Florence became one of the most famous places for fragrances. In the “Corte dei Profumi” (the court of perfumes), the first perfumeries in Europe were located. And this is the case of Santa Maria Novella, the oldest perfumery in the world, created in 1612… And still open! In this shop, you could find among other things the water of the Queen Catherine. This mythical essence is one of the first compositions to contain alcohol, combined with the fresh and tangy scent of bergamot, grown a few miles away in Bergamo.
From the 19th century, it is another Italian city that will influence the world of fragrances. We continue our olfactory journey in the beautiful city of Parma. Marie Louise of Austria, Duchess of Parma and wife of Napoleon, incidentally, is a lover of flowers and especially violets, widely grown in this area. Its bewitching perfume will not be long in conquering her and she will incite the noses of the time to create a famous eau de toilette, the “Violetta di Parma”, the violet of Parma. This olfactory novelty will introduce a wind of freshness in the trends of the time. In fact, these were until then dominated by heavy and animal scents.
Terminus in Cologne, in search of a famous water
The next part of our journey ends in one of the most emblematic cities of perfume: Cologne in Germany. It is here that the famous water that bears its name was conceived and manufactured. Jean-Marie Farina, an Italian perfumer living in the German city, made his name in 1709. He would have inherited the secret recipe of an Aqua Mirabilis, escaped from an Italian monastery a few years earlier. Feeling (and smelling) a good idea, Farina decided to exploit this fresh and light formula. He set up a factory in Cologne to manufacture it on a large scale. And the success comes quickly! The Eau de Cologne with its citrus scents will convince a good part of Europe to be exported everywhere… Even across the Atlantic!
As its history proves, perfume has traveled between many now legendary cities! For several decades the industry has been globalized. The art of formulas, ingredients and concentrations evolves with the influences from all over the world. A true wealth that is not about to dry up!
Did you know the history of these cities linked to perfume?
Discover our fragrances