Eau de France – the story of a perfume icon

January 28, 2021

Sensuality, richness, premium ingredients – those are the qualities of the best perfumes in the world. And none fit this description better than the luxurious French scents.

Modern perfume was born in Italy

The word perfume traces its origin to the Latin phrase “per fumus”, meaning through smoke. Let us trace the path of European perfumery through the story of two countries …

City of Florence (NINU personal archive
City of Florence (Photo: NINU personal archive)

Perfumes made their way to Europe in the 13th century. Exotic fragrances were first brought by the Crusaders from Palestine, and they immediately captured the attention of the continent.

In Medieval times, Italian perfumers arrived to a breakthrough that shook the foundations of the perfume world: aqua mirabilis. The “wonderful water” was a 95% alcohol solution to which they added fragrances to create potent scents.

This discovery crowned Venice as Europe’s queen perfumes. The already well-established trade city had access to exotic flowers, oil, herbs, and other scented ingredients from the Middle and the Far East. Italian masters used them to craft unique scents, and its exotic luxury enthralled many – among them one young girl, who took the Italian perfume legacy to France.

“..a girl from Florence has sparked a love story between perfumes and France.”

Catherine de Medici (Photo: Accademia di Firenze)

At only 14, Catherine de Medici married Henry II and became the queen of France. When she moved to her new home, the girl brought along her personal perfumer Renato Bianco. When she introduced him to the court, the royals were immediately hooked.

It marked a moment when a young girl from Florence has sparked a love story between perfumes and France.

The rise of the French perfume

In the 18th century, during the reign of Louis XIV, The Sun King, the country advanced and perfected the art of perfumery. Louis’ court was called “la cour parfumée” (the perfumed court), and the King demanded a new scent each day of the week. Fueled by this love of its aristocrats, perfumes made in France became an international cultural icon and remained so until this day. 

Provence, the land of flowers

Today, Provence is famed for its endless fields of lavender, but the region is full of blooming beauty. During the time of The Sun King, one particular city in the area began attracting attention.

Lavander field (Photo: Pixabay)

The picturesque town Grasse became the cradle of the French perfume industry by using their ideal climate to grow flowers. Moderate temperatures, an abundance of sunshine, and fertile soils encouraged a rich harvest of jasmine, rose, mimosa, orange blossom, and other plants that give potent perfume oils. It quickly elevated Grasse to become the center of French perfumery, and later – a global perfume capital.

Natural is the way

As perfumes became a mandatory beauty accessory, the demand exploded, and everyone wanted to monetize this new trend. The beauty market was flooded with cheaper, more affordable perfumes, but easier access came at the price of sacrificing quality. The production of natural fragrances, extracted from plants, simply could not keep up with the demand, so companies started using synthetic fragrances.

Those can be produced regardless of the climate, soil, and other natural conditions.

But high-end perfumes and brands with a tradition still swear on natural fragrances, firm in their belief that lab-mixed chemicals cannot replace flowers bathed in the Mediterranean sun on small local plantations.

Add to that the tradition passed from generation to generation, unique family recipes, and carefully perfected techniques, and you can understand why French perfumes remain unchallenged on their throne.

The perfect blend of tradition, a sense of luxury, and sensuality, topped off by the unmatched quality of pure essential oils, results in the best perfumes in the world.