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Grasse, the womens perfume capital of the world.

Flowers and a few animal essences such as musk and amber are the basic ingredients of all perfumes. Indeed, it is because of flowers that the real perfume capital in France is not Paris but Grasse, in the Cannes hinterland, on the French Riviera. For centuries, roses, jasmine, lavender, irises and mimosa have been grown here along with aromatic plants to extract their essences.

In this small sunny town, perched in the foothills of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, a few thousand people work to make womens perfume and aromas, generating a turnover of more than a billion per year, or 50% of the market for French perfumes and food aromas and 6% of the world market. A number of major perfume groups, such as Sanofi, are represented there.

But essences are the real trade in Grasse, with names such as Givaudan-Roure and Robertet. Nowadays, flowers are rarely cultivated on site due to the excessively high production costs and most flowers and, of course, spices are imported from Bulgaria, Turkey and Madagascar.

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In spite of the difficulties and relocations of some of its industries, the tradition is carried on at Grasse. Robertet, for instance, produces custom-made essences for its clients from the Middle East, who are willing to pay thousands for a liter of compositions that blend the finest of essences. This kingdom of womens perfume has seen the birth of new vocations: two sisters, heirs to the Fragonard brand, have just relaunched some of the perfumes that once made the fame of the brand. But, conversely, labor costs and environmental concerns have compelled others to relocate (indeed, the perfume industry is extremely polluting).

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