Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Somewhere in Le Marais, Paris: Make Your Own Perfume

The use of perfume, goes back to the Egyptians, with Queen Hatshepsut,  around 3,000 B.C. in the form of incense. In Latin, "per" means "through" and "fumus" means smoke. Eventually incense, aromatic oils and perfumes became available to the Egyptians, not just for religious and burial rites, but for personal use, as well. Spices and aromatics were imported from India, due to the favorable climate there. 

In the Bible, there are passages describing the use of incense and aromatic oils. Frankincense, which was the popular plant source for incense during biblical times, continues to be used in the religious rites by the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. 

The making of the first liquid perfume is attributed to the Greeks. It's a long time-line from the ancient history to when perfume came to Europe. In France, it was under the reign of King Louis XV, in the 18th century,  when the use, appreciation, and desire for perfume reached it's peak and the perfume industry was established. Grasse, a town in the French Riviera,  became the center for producing and sourcing fragrant scents - first, singular floral scents were in vogue; then compound, floral bouquet scents were developed at the turn of the century. Fragonard, Molinard, and Galimard were among the first perfumeries to be established. 

Jean Galimard opened his company, Parfumerie Galimard, in 1747. He supplied King Louis' court with his original formulations of olive oil, pomades and perfumes. Today, it still uses the same processes, following the company traditions to maintain their fine quality, in producing the rich scents sourced from nature. We are all invited to visit and join a free-guided tour, to discover the art of perfume making in Grasse or in their branch in Eze Village. 

In Paris, it's now possible to experience  the world of perfume at Le Studio des Parfums! Using the scents produced by Galimard, this parfumerie shop in Le Marais markets its products, and also brings the experience of perfume-making to anyone interested, from Grasse to Paris. They have staffed the shop with a "nose" to teach the process, and supplied the ingredients for the mini-workshop, to create your own perfume.
Imagine, now you can even compete with Galimard, when you create your own fragrance, uniquely yours, as you will see. Perhaps, you will be reminiscing - choosing scents and smells that remind you of your childhood, of a place, of people or of things.
To get started, you will be directed to sit at the work station where a chart and bottles of scents, paper strips, a cup of coffee beans are organized for your use.

Now that finding out the secret to perfume making is an option, aside from shopping for perfumed soaps, eau de toilette, and perfumes, a  "nose" is available to help you along the way, as you get introduced to the different base products and techniques in developing your own fragrance, and to explain to you the three-tiered structure or architecture of a good perfume. He will evaluate your unique olfactory preferences as he engages you in a fact-finding conversation, and explain the classifications of the different groupings of scents, along with their components. Armed with the basic steps and principles of developing your own fragrant formulation, let the fun project begin! 
This chart gives you an idea of what scents to use to create your signature perfume for women and men.

Perfume making involves the selection from three groupings of scents. With the bottles of scents neatly arranged on a three-tiered shelf around the work table, first round of sniffing and choosing involves the the scents known as the BASE NOTES - the Foundation Notes (found on the table level,  along the sides). Next to be studied are the MIDDLE NOTES - Heart Notes (found on the mid-shelf level). Finally, to round off the formula are the TOP NOTES - Head Notes  (on the highest level around the table.) 

Here is a sampling of what the bottles contain, just to name a few -
BASE NOTES: Musc (Lilac), Ambre (Wood), Cedre (Cedar), Vanilla, Tubéreuse (Iris), Patchouli (mint family), Cuir (Leather)
MIDDLE NOTES: Rose, Jasmin, Muguet (Lilly of the Valley), Néroli, Oeillet (Carnation), Epices (Spice), Marine
TOP NOTESThé (Tea), Cassis, Bergamote (mint family)Citron (Lemon), Lavande (Lavender), Bambou, Figue 
The "nose" - the expert, the equivalent of a connoiseur - after discerning the type of scent you are looking to create, will choose several bottles of base notes for you - these are the scents that stay on the skin. You are to smell them one by one and choose about 4 to 5 scents, and then put the bottles of your choice aside.
Your chosen scents are poured into a tube, in measured drips, then transfered to a beaker...
for you to sniff with the use of a strip of paper, and to critique. It is important, also, to apply some of it on the skin to see how it evolves with your skin type.

In the next round, a series of middle notes are presented to you - these scents will define your creation as fruity or flowery. These are complimentary to your base notes to enhance them and make then last longer on the skin. Again, you sniff, choose, and set aside the bottles for the nose to add to your previous selections.

From time to time, it is good to clear out your nose of all the lingering scents by smelling coffee beans, to refresh your sense of smell.
Into the calibrated tube, the middle notes are added to the base notes, in certain proportions, much like following a recipe.
In the final round of scent selection from the top notes, you do more smelling and choosing of scents to finish the perfume creation process. The scents you choose here will open up the fragrance to settle in the air.
In the meantime, the nose expert takes down notes by indicating the number of drops used in your ongoing formulation, in a form, to keep track of your scent development. If you want further tweaking, say to make it milder, then verveine (verbena) is added; the rose scent is added to give it that powdery-scent finish. By the end of the process, about 15 or so scents were chosen to create the fragrance.  When satisfied and final approval is given, your product creation has come to an end.
Voila! You get your perfume bottled and personalized under a name you choose. You can go back for more of the same thing some other time, with your original formulation, as long as you bring your personal chart that has your recipe. Or your can order online, which is shipped within 24 - 48 hours.

This make-my-own-perfume experience costs about 95 to 155 euros, depending on the size of the bottle you choose for your finished product. In Grasse, the same activity make be experienced for much less than half the price at Galimard. If you happen to be in the south of France, you'll know where to go now and what to do for about two hours. 

Be assured that you are leaving with a scent so uniquely " you." And if you win praises for your creation, who knows you may be on your way to starting a new business - marketing your own perfume line, under your own signature name. Good luck if you do!

23, rue du bourg Thibourg Paris 4e Arrt
Tel. + 33(0)1 40 29 90 84 
Store Hours: Tuesday - Saturday - 11:00h to 20:00h
Metro°1 and 11: Hotel de Ville; M°1: St. Paul
Bus: 67, 69, 72, 76, 96


  1. What a delightful blog discovery! Thank you for your insights and images. As a visual merchandising specialist, I'm thrilled to imagine your first-hand stories about retail and culture in France. I look forward to reading the rest of your blog: please keep them coming.

    :: Paul Ancheta
    Kolkata, India

  2. Hi Paul. Thank you for your positive feedback and for signing up to follow my blog.



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