French Fancies: Fragonard

If you thought this series of posts would be about delicious French delicacies then you’ll initially be somewhat disappointed because I’m starting with some of my favourite French companies. We’re not talking behemoths such as l’Oreal or Danone, but family owned and run enterprises, many of which are now into their third or fourth generation. Equally, I’m going to be looking in more detail at some of my favourite French things, which may or may not be edible!

The second post in this series is about a company whose factory in Grasse I recently (re)visited, where I buy a lot of gifts for myself and others. It’s the family-owned and run Fragonard which has factories in Grasse, Eze and Paris.

How did it all start?

Shortly after the First World War, Eugène Fuchs and his family left Saint-Chamond and his notary’s practice to settle in the sun-drenched hillsides around Grasse. This entrepreneur was soon won over by the magic of perfume and decided to create his own company with the purchase of two Grasse perfumeries: Cresp-Martinenq and Muraour. Parfumerie Fragonard opened its doors for business in 1926.

Fuchs decided to pay tribute to Grasse’s most famous son by naming his business after the painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806). The choice of the name Fragonard was also guided by his desire to thank the town that had welcomed him and his family, and to closely align the identify of his perfumery with the refinement of 18th century arts. Moreover, King Louis XV’s favourite painter was none other than the son of a Grasse perfumer and glove maker, François Fragonard.

This choice marked his intention to make his business part of Grasse’s traditions and history. Originally an 18th century tannery and converted into a perfumery in the following century, the factory acquired by the Fuchs family perpetuated the perfume making business and soon experienced a new boom.

Introduction of Factory Tours

During the inter-war period, the Côte d’Azur became a major playground of a certain elite. The seafront from Monaco to Cannes was colonised by artists, musicians, writers, couturiers, painters and their hangers-on who came to enjoy the prevailing Roaring Twenties lifestyle. Jazz made its appearance, followed hot on its heels by the Americans who, enthralled by this magnificent region, dubbed it the French Riviera.

For these new tourists, a stay on the Côte d’Azur included a detour through Grasse to purchase perfume prompting Eugène Fuchs to come up with a totally novel concept. He started gifting his loyal customers with an opportunity to tour the factory’s manufacturing workshops. Direct sales of scented products plus a visit to the factory turned out to be a real hit with the tourists flocking to experience the charms of the Riviera.

The Next Generations

Eugène Fuchs handed over the company to his son Georges and his son-in-law François Costa in 1929. The two brothers-in-law shared the workload, with François in Grasse and Georges canvassing business abroad. Both brought prosperity to the Maison from the importation of raw materials and own-label production for some of the biggest names in perfume. A business which still flourishes to this day.

Before war broke out in 1939, Georges Fuchs had started a business relationship with Elizabeth Arden, who managed a cosmetics company. Orders came flooding back in from the summer of 1947, and an office in the United States soon became a necessity. Blue Grass is undeniably the best-selling fragrance of this American firm.

Jean-François Costa, son of François and Emilie Costa, joined the company in 1939. After years spent abroad, he returned to Grasse in the late 1950s to take his father’s place, leaving his cousin Patrick the pleasurable task of developing the own label business.

From Perfume Maker to Collector

Back in Grasse, Jean-François Costa began modernising the company. A great lover of art, in the early 1960s he began collecting pieces that tell the story of perfume making and set up the first Perfume Museum in Grasse in 1975 in addition to two further museums in Paris. This initiative fuelled Fragonard’s already flourishing business while giving it a cultural dimension, further enhanced since by the Provençal Museum of Costume and Jewellery in 1997, the Jean-Honoré Fragonard Museum in Grasse inaugurated in 2011 and the Perfume Museum in Paris near the Opéra, which opened its doors in 2015.

Here Come the Girls

Jean-François Costa’s three daughters, Anne, Agnès and Françoise, were not predestined to join the family business. Steeped in the world of perfume from childhood, they started out on a quest for new horizons. Anne graduated from the Faculty of Medicine. After studying law in Paris, Agnès became passionate about marketing and advertising. Françoise studied economics at the European Business Schools in Paris, London and Madrid.

Just like the generations before them, they were keen to contribute to the company’s development as they continue to develop Fragonard into a hallmark of a certain art de vivre that goes beyond the boundaries of perfume. Some twenty boutiques in France – and since 2015 in Milan – showcase exclusive and constantly renewed collections where decorative home objects, fashion, accessories and jewellery coexist harmoniously with the perfumed products.

The three sisters rose through the ranks of Fragonard, and today Françoise runs the business side; Anne (based in Paris) is in charge of product development (fragrances and cosmetics), and Agnès – with her sense of style and love of colour – is in the creative hot seat, travelling regularly to India, Vietnam and Thailand, where they work with many different artisans, to source fabrics and craft items for the shops.gnant.’

37 Comments on “French Fancies: Fragonard

  1. Il existe à Paris un très intéressant Musée du parfum Fragonard.
    La fleur de cette année est la fleur de la passion.
    Mais don’t generalize : ” The French ” ! If you do that, it is because you do not know ” the French “.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, how would you like me to refer to you? If I were talking about other races I would say the Brits or the Americans, or the Germans….

      Like

  2. Fascinating behinds the scene look at this company. I’m impressed that it has remained flexible enough to be able to expand and include the talents of each generation

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I visited the factory in 1978 and bought a metal phial of Reve de Grasse, which I loved. A few years later, I wrote to ask if it was still available, but they had ceased to make that scent. Dommage!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It is always interesting to hear how children respond to their family business
    And another great informative post Sheree – you do these so well

    Liked by 2 people

  5. ♡ How many times did you say “Fucks” in there Control Freak; 😂🤣😅😆😁😄😃😀🙂

    …♡♡♡…

    Like

  6. I have been meaning to visit Grasse for few years now. Would be wonderful to be able to visit it one day, till now I have been able to visit only Paris in France

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Hi Sheree. I love the new look of your site ✨👌; and I love the new things I see and the new things I learn every time I come here 👍😄. Hats off to you for these remarkable insights.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Great post, love a company with a good heritage story. It’s getting harder to find the ones that can retain it though and not be swallowed up by huge parent companies. Modern day reality, I suppose.

    Liked by 2 people

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