History of the International Perfume Museum

Safeguarding a heritage

Perfumery, in the broadest sense of the term, is one of the most important social phenomena since ancient times, in all civilisations, regardless of the social, political or religious context. For more than four millennia, it has given birth to thousands of objects made of precious or humble materials, using all art forms from realism to abstraction. It has of course inspired many private collections. But before the opening of the International Perfume Museum there was never the desire to create a public institution dedicated to the preservation of this international heritage. Soap, make-up and cosmetics are inseparable from what we understand today by Perfumery, that is to say essentially luxury alcoholic perfumery or the finished product.

Grasse, the birthplace of perfumery

Obviously, such a museum could only be found in France, where contemporary perfumery was born in the early twentieth century thanks to François Coty and where Coco Chanel launched the fashion for aldehyde rich perfumes.
Grasse has, over the decades, been able to retain and continues to demonstrate the excellence of its production of natural raw materials developed by constantly perfected ingenious processes and used by powerful industrial establishments. Grasse wanted to be the first to create an International Perfume Museum. The city presented the most elaborate project served by a tenacious collective desire to make it succeed. The creation of this International Perfume Museum in Grasse goes far beyond an apparent opportunity, it has symbolic value. Francois Carnot, one of the organisers of the Centennial Museums, was one of the strongest proponents of this idea. He remains an outstanding figure in the history of the creation of the International Perfume Museum: son of the President of the Republic, he had a passionate interest in the arts.

1918, the first museum

Thus in 1918, Francois Carnot created a private museum in Grasse. Since 1921, there has been a section dedicated to perfume in all its forms thanks to generous donors. In an essential complementarity, Paris and Grasse perfumers including the famous houses Piver, Pinaud etc as well as the industrial establishments Chiris of Grasse, worked towards the creation of this museum. François Carnot rallied the world of perfumery and that of the decorative arts. It is he who introduced the perfumer François Coty to the famous glassmaker René Lalique. Private collectors are no exception, and in 1931, Viscountess Savigny of Moncorps donated a very large collection of perfumery and cosmetics labels dating back to the early nineteenth century, and from the old Seillans perfumery (Var) to the Grasse museum. 
It was not until 1955, with the arrival at the Museum of Grasse of a young curator, that Francois Carnot restarted this project, but it received no help from the municipality despite the growing collections. Inaugurated in January 1989, the year of the bicentenary of French perfumery, the International Perfume Museum represents the living memory of a profession, but also a very strong specific identity in Grasse: perfumery, of which Grasse which remains the reference in the eyes of the world.

2006, Expansion and restructuring of the Museum

The works started in 2006 have doubled the surface area of the museum which now offers visitors an area of ​​3500m dedicated to the world of perfumery. A true testament to the international technical, aesthetic, social and cultural history of the tradition of the use of scents, the museum employs an anthropological approach to examine all aspects of the history of fragrances - raw materials, manufacturing, industry, innovation, trading, design, uses and through a variety of forms - art objects, decorative arts, textiles, archaeological evidence, unique pieces or industrial forms). The International Perfume Museum is the first public collection in the world devoted to the perfume industry, from the earliest times to the present day, on five continents and in three major areas: seduction, care, communication.

Four symbolic places in Grasse history

  • The entrance pavilion of the ancient Hugues-Aîné perfumery built in the nineteenth century, and the remains of the former Dominican monastery built in the fourteenth century, built against the city's wall dating back to the same period.
  • The hotel Pontevès and its main courtyard.
  • The former Pélissier building.
  • The gardens and terraces of different levels.