Friday, February 24, 2012

Fragonard's Museum of Perfume

Near the gorgeous Paris Opera, steps from the fabulous department stores of Printemps and Galeries Lafayette, and mere blocks from Cartier, Dior, and Laduree, is Fragonard's Museum of Perfume. Parfumerie Fragonard opened in 1926, named after the famous painter Jean-Honore Fragonard who hailed from Grasse, which is basically the capital of French perfume.  In the 1980s, they opened this museum which offers free guided tours on the history of perfume.

To be fair, I did not take a guided tour as there were several large groups of Russian tourists present and no English tour was being offered. I don't speak Russian.  I also often have little patience for guided tours and was happy to escort myself through the small but nicely done museum, which also allowed for some illicit photo taking (officially, no photos allowed).

The heart of the museum is the collection of perfume holders from throughout the ages.  There are Egyptian and Roman artifacts, elaborate Louis XVI flacons, and delicate vials from the 19th century.

Louis XVI Perfume Container

I believe that the museum is supposed to give you some of the basics about how perfume is made, but without a tour guide, this is one aspect that was not self-evident.  There is an interesting "perfume organ" that is dated in the 20th century, showing how a perfumer would have an array of extracts/synthetics in front of him as he worked.  By the end of the 20th century, however, this was certainly out of date.
18th-19th century perfuming kit

20th century perfume organ

Not surprisingly, the museum takes you directly into the Fragonard shop. Which I have to say is soulless and catering entirely to foreign tourists. I smelled a few things - perfume, shower gel, soap - and was less than inspired.  A polite shop employee asked if I needed help, and I attempted to ask my basic questions.  She seemed shocked that I asked anything and ran away as quickly as possible.  I'm not sure my visit to the Fragonard Museum of Perfume helped me in my quest to learn about perfume, aside from seeing some interesting antiques.  It may be worth a visit if you actually go on the tour but if you're really interested in perfume, there's much more to be learned from simply conversing with knowledgeable people in the higher-end perfume shops. 

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