Following His Nose
Frédéric Jung had all the right instincts at the Musée International de la Parfumerie in Grasse, France
Ian Phillips -- Interior Design, 8/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
"Working on a museum is quite extraordinary for an architect. Each time, you open a box of treasures you didn't know existed," Frédéric Jung says. His firm, Jung Architectures, has worked on three such projects. One of the latest, the expansion and redesign of the Musée International de la Parfumerie in the French town of Grasse, transported him into the world of scents. "I knew absolutely nothing about them," he admits. So much so that when he was offered a bottle of Christian Dior's Eau Sauvage by the widow of its creator, he got the name mixed up with Eau Ecarlate, a brand of household cleaning products.
Situated 7½ miles north of Cannes, Grasse has long been a global mecca for perfume, thanks to the local cultivation of jasmine, roses, and orange blossoms. The area currently accounts for more than 50 percent of French fragrance revenues. In 1989, the town inaugurated its perfume museum, housed in two buildings on a hill. One of the structures, dating from the 19th century, was once a perfumery called Hugues-Aîné; the other was new.
After winning a competition, Jung's brief was to double the museum's size to just over 38,000 square feet, incorporating not only new galleries but also an 80-seat auditorium, a children's play area, workshops, curators' offices, and an archive. The expansion involved annexing an 18th-century mansion and its stables as well as the cellar of a 17th-century house. "You have a collage of buildings with different histories," Jung says. "Everything separates them, including their heights." Indeed, the site slopes 30 feet between the highest and lowest points. Inside, visitors wander a host of floors aptly labeled a "seven-level labyrinth" by museum reps.
Examining the museum's original plans and other records in the municipal archives led Jung to suspect that a section of the town's 14th-century fortifications, which appeared to stop at the facade of the 19th-century perfumery, actually continued alongside, between the perfumery and the 18th-century mansion and stables. After finding traces of this medieval rampart in the archives, he demolished the side of the perfumery abutting the stone wall—a massive 6 feet thick at its base—and roofed in the resulting gap with glass to create a 38-foot-high atrium. Four passages through the wall already existed, and he created four new ones to allow visitors to move more easily from one side of the museum to the other.
They arrive via the grand gated courtyard flanked by the mansion and the stable. The visit proper starts in the atrium, at the south end of which Jung removed a service elevator to reveal spectacular views of the Mediterranean Sea. In front of one wall, pipes snake up from the 19th-century stills exhibited on a lower level.
Three adjacent galleries offer very different experiences. One space is devoted to perfume-industry terminology. Another is actually a greenhouse showcasing exotic plants used in the perfume industry. (Plants indigenous to Grasse grow in a garden outdoors.) In the final one, called an olfactory air lock, smells intermingle with images and sounds. "We remind visitors that they have a nose and a sense of smell," Jung remarks.
The rest of the visit is chronological. It begins in the mansion, with the presentation of objects from antiquity to the 18th century, among them a wooden case for kohl, from the Coptic period in Egypt, and a bronze perfume bottle in the form of a goddess of beauty, from southern India. The history of the house itself is equally interesting. It served as a tribunal during the French Revolution, a heritage embodied by the blue, white, and red stripes on a number of walls. In one tricolor-painted room, a Revolutionary inscription translates as "Men Are Equal Before the Law." And it's here, in a rather cheeky juxtaposition, that Jung placed the museum's star attraction, a traveling case made for Marie-Antoinette. It has loads of compartments to store toiletries, pills, writing implements, and eating utensils and weighs an astounding 90 pounds.
Jung reinforced the floors, but the mansion's landmark status meant that he was unable to touch either the walls or the ceilings. Display cases are thus lit from inside with fiber optics. These cases are loosely inspired by 18th-century furniture, with gray-ones displaying historic items and white ones housing contemporary objects inspired by creations of the past.
The remainder of the 3,000-piece collection can be found on the other side of the rampart. In the former perfumery, Jung created a brightly colored evocation of what it might have looked like there in the 19th century. The two lower levels of the atrium showcase 19th-century machines, a perfume organ, and a laboratory that represents the role of chemistry in the industry. "The architecture is so rich and interesting that I kept things simple," he explains.
A special committee was assembled to elect one perfume for each year of the 20th century, and the museum has displayed the results in the 17th-century cellar. L'Heure Bleue by Guerlain represents 1912. Obsession by Calvin Klein is for 1985.
Photography by Eric Laignel.
PROJECT TEAM ISABELLE DEVIN; CLAUDINE DREYFUS; JEAN-CLAUDE CALEDONIEN; ANNE FERRARD; BRUNO GIOVAGNOLI; FLORENCE MAUNY: JUNG ARCHITECTURES. THÉRÈSE TROÏKA: GRAPHICS CONSULTANT. MC2: LIGHTING CONSULTANT. ANAMNESIA: AUDIOVISUAL CONSULTANT. GROUPE SLH: STRUCTURAL ENGINEER, MEP. PIGNATTA: ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. CARI: GENERAL CONTRACTOR.
PRODUCT SOURCES FROM FRONT KARTELL: CHAIRS, TABLES (ENTRY). ROYAL MOSA: FLOORING (ENTRY, ATRIUM). IGUZZINI: CEILING FIXTURES (ATRIUM). VIABIZZUNO: TRACK LIGHTING (19TH CENTURY). THROUGHOUT LABORATORIO MUSEOTECNICO GOPPION: CUSTOM SHELVING, SEATING.