French perfume typically traces its history back to about the 17th century AD. The town of Grasse, in Provence, has long been considered the center of French perfume making, and is still highly regarded for its fragrances throughout the perfume industry. Early French fragrances, often made from oils and plant resins, were typically sprinkled onto the clothing to give the wearer an attractive scent, and many people sprinkled these fragrances onto their furniture at home to act as an air freshener. The French developed colognes in the 18th century, and often used them medicinally as well as cosmetically. As chemical technology began to advance in the 19th century, French perfumes began to grow gradually more complex, as perfume makers developed more complex scents.
The southern French region of Provence is believed to be especially conducive to the manufacture of perfumes because of the many fragrant flowers that grow there. These flowers include jasmine, mimosa, rose, and lavender. Their fragrances are often considered traditional to many perfumes, along with scents such as bergamot, lemon, and rosemary. Animal ingredients such as musk or ambergris have been traditionally used in many French colognes and perfumes.
Though many of the flowers typically used to make French perfume are native to Provence, they may now be grown in other parts of the world. Fragrant flowers can often be grown in regions of India or Africa and imported to French perfume makers for a fraction of the cost of growing and harvesting these flowers close to Grasse. It can take hundreds of thousands of flowers to produce 16 fluid ounces (0.47 liters) of essential oil for perfume making.
Despite the fact that Grasse has outsourced some of its flower growing, the town still continues to produce large amounts of botanicals to be used in the French perfume industry. A majority of the citizens of Grasse are believed to work in the perfume industry in some capacity. The town of Grasse remains known for manufacturing the essential fragrances used to make high-end French perfumes, such as Dior and Chanel. The town also boasts a fragrance museum where visitors can learn about the uses of perfume throughout history. Visitors can even sniff fragrances that were commonly worn hundreds of years ago.
Though many other nations now manufacture high-quality perfumes, many people consider French fragrances to be the best. Some of the most popular perfumes in recent history have been French, including Jean Patou's Joy, Coco Chanel's Chanel No. 5, and Guerlain's Shalimar.