The art and science of perfume making at the Paris museum – The New Indian Express

express news service

Where would you find roses from Turkey, lemon from Italy, jasmine from India and mimosas from France all under one roof? The answer is, in Paris. Not in an exotic flower market, but in a dedicated museum
to such items with their own historical prestige: French perfume.

Located in the historic Opera district, surrounded by landmarks like the Palais Garnier and Madeleine Church, the Musée du Parfum Fragonard is often overlooked by tourists. Located
Housed in a terraced house from the 1800s, the museum is a tribute to the ancient technique of bottling aromas.

Established by Maison Fragonard, a family-owned traditional French perfume house dating from 1926, the museum was the first of its kind to open in Paris in 1983. Through free tours and interactive exhibits, visitors gain insight behind scene. watch the creation of scents and can even test their olfactory senses in a fun game of ‘guess the scent’.

The guided tour of the two-story private museum is a tour of the perfume-making process, combining art and science, history and innovation, and fascinating facts and insights shared by your guide.

The exotic flowers that constitute the raw material of the Fragonard perfume line are displayed in beautiful bottles. These flowers are harvested by hand, a method that hasn’t changed for decades. The volume of flowers needed to make a fragrance is incredible. Did you know that it takes 3,500 kg of roses to extract just one liter of rose essence, which ends up in a small perfume bottle? Or that Italian iris is the most expensive essence to create, as it is extracted from the root, which can take up to six years?

The art and science of perfume making at the Paris museum - The New Indian Express frf
The Perfume Organ (Malavika Bhattacharya)

Creating a fragrance is a long, laborious, and expensive proposition that involves extracting essences and then artfully combining different scents. Past the ingredient displays is a dimly lit room where large metal gadgets demonstrate how flowers are turned into sweet-smelling potions. Steam distillation is used to extract the essence of flowers such as rose and lavender, while other flowers such as jasmine require a more modern cold extraction technique.

How much essence goes into a perfume bottle? Fragonard has science down to the letter. “Eau de toilette is the least concentrated form of perfume, with 10 percent essence. It remains on the skin for a maximum of three hours”, says the guide.

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In the middle is the Eau de Parfum, with 15 percent essence, followed by perfume, which is the most concentrated, with 20-24 percent essence. It can stay on the skin from five hours to all day. A flower essence is expensive, and consequently, of the three varieties, perfume commands the highest price.

The art and science of perfume making at the Paris museum - The New Indian Express perfume
Apparatus display at the museum (@Dbrnjhrj Adobe Stock)

With all the numbers and lab screens we’ve seen, it seems like it takes a chemistry genius to create a little jar of the good stuff. It’s no wonder then that ‘noses’ are the most revered species in the perfume industry. The talented professionals who create perfumes are called noses, and they have the challenging task of creating scents that universally appeal to the mood and memory.

The profession requires intensive study: chemistry at university, followed by attendance at a special school for perfumers, a process that can take seven to eight years. Nostrils must have a keen sense of smell and can recognize up to 400 scents.

As we try to decipher this number, we enter a chamber filled with all kinds of containers of different shapes, sizes, and materials. There are delicate porcelain vials and flasks of gleaming crystal, jeweled metal pomanders and vases of sturdy stone.

The collection follows the evolution of perfume bottles up to the 20th century, housing many vintage pieces from around the world. Over the years, perfumers have used a variety of intriguing instruments to formulate scents, and one can see these vaporizers and stills on display.

An elaborate apparatus resembling a musical instrument occupies pride of place in the center of the room. The ‘perfume organ’ is a Fragonard masterpiece, made up of more than 200 bottles of the scent and built to resemble an elaborate church organ.

“Each bottle of essence is called a note, like in music,” the guide says. Just as an organ comprises different musical notes, perfume is a complex harmony of essences. Perfumers mix between 20 and 250 notes to create a single fragrance;
a task that can take between two months and years.

There is something profoundly poetic about equating fragrance with melody. After all, both sound and smell appeal to memory, affect our mood, and have the ability to reach our hearts.

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