Scent Semantics, March 7, 2022

Welcome to this next installment of Scent Semantics! This month’s word, supplied by Undina of Undina’s Looking Glass, is “nostalgia.”

The fragrance I chose to embody nostalgia for me is Molinard de Molinard. Unbeknownst to me at the time, it was my first purchase of a “niche” fragrance, as I bought it while on our honeymoon in 1990 when we visited Grasse.

Scene of the city of Grasse, France
Grasse, France on September 10, 2021. Photograph by Bénédicte Desrus for NPR

On that trip, we first spent a week in Paris, which my husband had never visited, then we took the TGV from Paris to Marseille, which neither of us had ever visited. We spent a night with longtime friends of my parents, a family my father first met when he was stationed in Marseille with the US Army at the very end of World War II, then took our rental car and worked our way up the coastline, visiting the Riviera towns but mostly staying up in the hills of Provence. We’ve been back to Cannes and Nice, and some of the hilltop villages, but we haven’t returned to Grasse — yet!

Wearing Molinard de Molinard brings back many happy memories of our fabulous honeymoon, which was short on luxury but long on charm. It’s hard to envision pre-internet travel, but we had very few arrangements in place ahead of time — just the hotel in Paris, the TGV tickets, and the rental car. After our overnight in Marseille, we stayed in small, local hotels and inns, using a Michelin Green Guide and calling ahead a day or two in advance to make our reservations as we worked our way up the coast. Nowadays that seems so random, but we were in our 20s, footloose and fancy-free, and it was great fun! We still have a running joke about the “lacets”, those precipitous zigzagging roads that lead from the heights down to the Riviera coast, in a pattern that looks like shoelaces. So yes, Molinard de Molinard is a nostalgic fragrance for me, conjuring up a very happy time in our lives that was the prelude to the happy life we’ve built together.

Molinard is one of the three major existing Grasseois perfume houses, the others being Fragonard and Galimard. These are far from the only fragrance businesses in Grasse, however. The city is still known as the “perfume capital of the world” and is home to the world-renowned Grasse Institute of Perfumery, among many other fragrance industry connections (do read or listen to the NPR story; it includes comments from the founder and nose of 1000 Flowers, Jessica Buchanan). Its fields still supply jasmine and roses to the industry, although no longer the majority of the flowers used in modern fragrances.

I would have to retrieve a 30+ year-old photo album to confirm more details, but we visited at least one and maybe two of the perfume houses’ museums in their old factories in town. I think it may have been two, because I know we visited Molinard and I think we also visited Galimard. If we get the chance to visit Grasse again, I will be sure to round out the set by visiting Fragonard, which still makes and sells lovely fragrances, as does Molinard. Galimard seems to have remained more regional in character, though it is still creating and presenting new fragrances.

Molinard de Molinard was reissued in 2017; the new version was well-received, but sadly it was not reissued in the original bottle, with its molded frieze of classical figures (probably nymphs) based on a design by Lalique. I have one of those bottles, and it is beautiful. The 1979 version I have is a classic green fragrance. Per Fragrantica, its notes are: top — Green Notes, Asafoetida, Black Currant, Cassis, Fruity Notes, Lemon and Bergamot; middle — Narcissus, Lily-of-the-Valley, Jasmine, Bulgarian Rose and Ylang-Ylang; base — Vetiver, Labdanum, Incense, Musk, Amber and Patchouli. It reminds me of 1970’s Chanel No. 19 or 1978’s Silences, by Jacomo. The fruity notes don’t make the fragrance fruity or sweet; it is clearly dominated by the astringent “green notes”, asafoetida, bergamot, narcissus, vetiver, etc. It smells like a chypre, although the classic chypre base note of oakmoss is not listed. I haven’t tried the 2017 reformulation.

When my husband and I visited Nice in 2019, I went to the Molinard and Fragonard boutiques in town. Both are lovely, with friendly and knowledgeable staff. You won’t be able to buy the 1979 version of Molinard there, but you might find it at one of the outdoor marchés in the Old Town of Nice. I will enjoy and treasure what I have, which now includes an original tester bottle.

Fragrance is famously connected to our emotions and memories — do you have any that are particularly nostalgic for you?

And please read the other Scent Semantics posts:





Old Herbaceous


15 thoughts on “Scent Semantics, March 7, 2022

  1. What a fabulous honeymoon! I think the internet has somehow taken away the freedom of renting a car & using local knowledge to find your next place to stay.

    Asafoetida in fragrance strikes me as odd. I use it in my Asian cookery & boy, NO ONE wants to smell of asafoetida in its raw state. It really does smell foetid!

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  2. A honeymoon in Grasse? Wow, sounds heavenly!!! Your husband is definitely a wonderful man! My big nostalgia scent is Dana Tabu. It was the first perfume that really caught my attention as a child and I would beg my aunt to dab a little bit on my arm. It always reminds me of happy times with my favorite aunt.
    My nostalgia scents from adult life are Bvlgari Pour Femme and YSL Rive Gauche. Rive Gauche was my first proper French perfume. I bought it when I was in college and I felt so grown up and chic wearing it. The Bvlgari was the result of trying different perfumes (before I really knew anything about perfumery) and discovering two of my favorite perfume notes, violet and violet leaves. I will always have a bottle of Bvlgari Pour Femme in my collection. It’s poised, feminine and it’s perfect for business settings or just a lovely day.

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  3. Fabulous honeymoon! My most nostalgic scent is Chanel No 5 EDC. When I was in college, I spent a summer outside Paris in an informal exchange of kids with family friends (their son went to Iowa for the summer). On my last days, the son returned from the US and took me out to meet some of his friends. Of course I met a boy and hit it off. For the next year or so we wrote letters back and forth (1986 – no email!) and out of the blue, he sent me a bottle of No 5 EDC. The most extravagant gift I had ever received from anyone other than my parents… we of course drifted apart; and the bottle got lost (accidentally discarded) in the chaos of our last move in 2014. I have a tiny decant of the EDC (along with a small bottle of the EDT) which I don’t wear much, but like to sniff when I want a fun memory.

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  4. I miss the carefree days! What an adventurous honeymoon. My nostalgic scent to bring back that sense of bright, youthful confidence would be Gucci Nobile, a green-colored, masculine fresh fragrance that I briefly wore with abandon as a teenager. Now I just have a mini that I sniff occasionally, because the asking prices for what’s left out there are prohibitive.

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  5. Oh! Grasse! How I miss being there! Molinard is a must visit place indeed, thanks for reminding me of all wonderful moments in Grasse! Nostalgia…

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  6. What beautiful honeymoon memories! I remember those pre-Google Map days! We might be the last generation to, actually. It’s sad to think about that. I remember doing something similar in Italy. My old boyfriend and I showed up in Milan after taking an overnight train from Paris. We had no hotel, no plans, we didn’t even have a proper guidebook! We wasted so much time just figuring out where we were going to sleep, but isn’t that part of the charm?

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