By Jennifer Weil
with contributions from Miles Socha
 on September 15, 2016
Outside Les Fontaines Parfumées in Grasse.

GRASSE, France – “A perfume has to reflect a sense of place, a sense of time,” plus be in sync with the soul of a brand, explained Michael Burke, chief executive officer of Louis Vuitton.

Specifically, that place for Vuitton and for Parfums Christian Dior is Les Fontaines Parfumées, the site of the “creative workshop” of each label’s respective perfumer, Jacques Cavallier Belletrud and François Demachy, which was inaugurated officially here on Thursday.

They were joined at the ceremony by Claude Martinez, ceo of Parfums Christian Dior; Jérôme Viaud, mayor of Grasse, the Riviera town widely considered the birthplace of modern perfumery, and Jean-Pierre Leleux, senator of the Alpes-Maritimes region, along with others involved in the project and international press.

Scents of odoriferous flowers and herbs from the 350 varieties of plants sewn all over the property wafted around attendees standing in the bright morning sun.

Another goal of Les Fontaines Parfumées is to “give life to this place emblematic for Grassois,” said Martinez, referring to the “fragranced fountains” (that gave its name) dating back to 1640. From them, denizens of Grasse would fill bottles of what they believed to be naturally fragranced river water that ran through fields of jasmine and rose.

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The eaux were long culled in a shop located in the ground floor of the four-story orange-and-green building that now houses the perfumers’ offices and high-tech laboratories. That former store area has been renovated in Twenties’ style, replete with blue tiles and faces of bronze spouting water.

Martinez said Les Fontaines Parfumées is dedicated to the transmission of savoir-faire, as well.

“Creating a perfume is firstly a solitary act,” said Demachy. “It’s also a profession of exchange and sharing. Les Fontaines Parfumées exists today for that. In this location full of history we write the future of our fragrances.”

Cavallier said the site is infused with authenticity.

“It’s not a gimmick, it’s not marketing,” he said.

The two men, both natives of Grasse and longtime friends, have heartfelt childhood recollections of the majestic building in the center of town that’s now their workplace. Cavallier wondered about the structure each time he passed by as a boy, while Demachy had visited the place when it was the home of a school friend.

Bernard Arnault, chairman and ceo of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, owner of Louis Vuitton and Parfums Christian Dior, stated: “Grasse was the muse of Christian Dior and the place where he claimed to feel as much a couturier as a perfumer. It is also here where the leather industry emerged and flourished in the 17th century.”

Les Fontaines Parfumée’s buildings were completely dilapidated after 50 years of abandon, before LVMH took on their renovation process.

Visitors to the site were given guided tours and shown memorabilia from its heyday, including posters of products formerly sold there.

Cabinets of curiosity on the ground floor are lined with special-edition Dior and Vuitton fragrances from yesteryear, such as Je, Tu, Il from 1928 and a Diorissimo travel coffret dated 1956. Vintage Vuitton trunks are scattered about, while other décor includes painted portraits of the likes of Dior the designer himself and old-time photographs of Grasse.

Across from the perfumers’ lab, where they have more than 1,000 primary materials to work from, is a discovery atelier for visitors to try their hand at fragrance creation.

More than 200 artisans and journeymen, 95 percent hailing from Grasse, were employed to spiff up the estate, which includes a mill today visible through translucent flooring of an outbuilding.

Hundreds of employees from Dior and Vuitton are to descend on Grasse yearly to learn about fragrance, discover the raw materials from the region that’s fragrant with fields of roses, tuberoses, jasmin, citrus trees, lavender and mint.

Both brands have partnerships with local producers to purchase crops. “Only 30 tons per 40 hectares of perfume flowers are produced in Grasse today,” according to LVMH. “The two maisons are working in close collaboration with production sites, financing to this end new state-of-the-art equipment.”

It’s all part of the quest to cull the highest-quality, sustainable ingredients for Dior and Vuitton perfumes.

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