Oct 21, 2008
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Museum aims to make French town the hub of perfume history

Oct 21, 2008

GRASSE, France, Oct 21, 2008 (AFP) - From ancient Egyptian ceremonial incense to pungent Mesopotamian ointments and lotions dating back to medieval France, a newly re-opened French museum traces perfume's lesser-known past.

"The history of perfume is not only that of the industry linked to fashion or luxury, in which France has become the main player," said the curator of the International Perfume Museum, which re-opened this weekend in Grasse, near Cannes in the south of France.

"Since antiquity, perfume has also been at the crossroads of therapeutics, cosmetics, cuisine, even sacred" uses, said Marie-Christine Grasse, according to whom the museum offers a unique collection in terms of size and scope.

While the picturesque Provence town that hosts the museum is no longer the heart of the perfume industry, officials hope it will now serve as a centre for history on the fragrance industry.

After three years of renovations, the museum has been transformed from a dusty collection housed in an 18th century mansion, to a modern exhibition of artefacts spread across new inter-connected buildings.

Once the home of nobility, the mansion lies at the centre of architect Frederic Jung's complex -- mixing old with modern, mouldings with contemporary glasswork.

The actual size of the display area has been doubled to 3,000 square metres (32,300 square feet) and some 3,000 artefacts of the total collection of 50,000 objects are on display.

The chronological, interactive and olfactory -- sense-driven -- tour of perfumery is presented along three themes: seduction, healing and communication.

The collection's centrepiece is an 80-kilogramme (175-pound) "travel" vanity case once owned by Marie-Antoinette, the French queen arguably best remembered for her extravagant tastes.

Fashioned out of mahogany and leather, the case is riddled with compartments and drawers containing brushes and gadgets necessary for the young queen's elaborate beauty regime.

The story of perfumery further unravels in rooms devoted to the 19th century advent of the industry, in which Grasse played a major role.

The town's name will be familiar to viewers of "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer," a film based on a novel by German writer Patrick Suskind and following a young perfumier's search for the ultimate odour.

Grasse was a global centre for producing natural extracts from the jasmine, rose and orange blossom plantations emanating from its periphery.

The majority of extracts today come from outside France, but Grasse has maintained a foothold in formulating perfumes and food flavours.

Formulations from Grasse, where specialists also come to use the museum's large research library, account for more than half of France's sales in these industries.

Perfume professionals in the region -- many of whom are partners in the project -- hope the museum will give them a chance to exert a unique influence on the industry's past and present.

By Sophie Makris

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