Musée International de la Parfumerie
On Thursday, I shook hands with Clary Sage for the first time. As you can see, her hands are much bigger than mine! This exciting encounter took place at the tropical perfume garden of the Musée International de la Parfumerie in Grasse.
The International Perfume Museum in Grasse re-opened in 2008 and is unusual from other perfume museums in the world in that tries to show the history, archeology, cultural and technical aspects of perfumery not only through bottles (although mostly bottles, as expected) of perfume and cosmetics, but also allows visitors to smell some scents. The press release for the museum promised more than I found there, but I still felt the museum offered an unusual and valuable experience as well as being educational and informative (if you can understand French – only the very main writings was in other languages – and so I missed any commentary on the enfleurage process, for instance – not to mention the many curious artifacts ranging from Ancient Egypt and Greece to medieval Europe and Asia).
A few curious items that impressed me: the mummified feet and hands (covered and stuffed with fragrant herbs for preservation), and very old fashioned mascara used to be pressed powder plus brush that women would wet with their saliva to paint their eyelashes. There were many elaborate accessories and bottles for cosmetics on display that looked like silver tea sets, but were in fact a medicinal/cosmetic treatment kit. The lack of commentary in English (there may have been some in German though) clearly was not in my favour.
But what I mostly came for was what I read about in the press release announcing the re-opening, that mentioned smelling stations or mechanisms around the museum where visitors can dispense scent into the air by a push of the button. None such thing existed. And when I finally gave up and asked the front desk about it, they said it is yet to be built. A later conversation with a tour-guide at Fragonard informed me that ultimately this museum will also include a division of the Osmotheque. That could be so fantastic!
While I never found Marie Antoinette’s vanity chest mentioned in the radio show, but I went to a pink vanity room where you can open the drawers to see scented fans, and flip up a chest cabinet to reveal entire collections of cosmetics and perfumes from long ago. I also did find an old fashioned perfumer’s organ which was very impressive.
The only exceedingly aromatic exhibit was the sensory auditorium, where a short osmo-art film is shown: nature scents on two adjacent walls, accompanied by music and scent, of course. Beginning with ocean (too much calone for me), proceeding to woods (incensy, sappy and warm – almost smoky), a field (which I am unable to describe since by than the room was saturated with both previous smells) and finally, an energetic and juicy cantaloupe piece that was my favourite.
While I found the vast number of stunning perfume bottles overwhelming I was especially moved by the gardens dedicated to exotic aromatic plants that I haven’t had the chance to ever see alive and growing, i.e.: clary sage, with whom I shook hand for the first time in my life, vetiver, patchouli, vanilla orchid, cinnamon tree, cardamom, tuberose and ylang ylang (though not flowering) and bergamot to name a few. The museum seems to be still under development and I can only hope that next time I’m in Grasse the museum will be even more complete and with more olfactory adventures.
Even the wallpaper was created from old perfume boxes: