The story takes place in France in the middle of the 18th century. We see Paris, beautiful and terrible. Architectural splendor and stinking ditches. A place where the abyss between social classes is tangible.
A man comes to the city, his origins unknown to the townspeople. His mind is clear, as if he had just been born and is eager to explore the world. For unknown reasons, he causes rejection and hostility among the townspeople. It is extremely difficult for him to adapt in society and find friends. Having little choice, Grenouille finds shelter with the tanner called Grimal, thus dooming himself to hard labor to survive. He has the gift of a very acute sense of smell, and he doesn’t divide smells into good and bad.
One day he is captivated by the smell of a red-haired girl carrying a basket of plums. The smell is so entrancing that, intending to absorb her scent, he strangles her in his arms. When she dies, the smell disappears, as well, which is a great disappointment for Grenouille. From that moment on, he becomes obsessed with the idea of creating the perfect, in his opinion, fragrance. To achieve this, he has to murder 13 girls, extract the smell of each of them, and mix them to get the coveted fragrance to fill people's hearts with absolute love.
In Paris there is a perfume boom, dominated by a certain Mr. Pelissier with his new creation "Cupid and Psyche". The once successful perfumer Baldini is filled with envy. Picking up a handkerchief with his new-fangled fragrance in the streets, he tries to create a similar fragrance but in vain. Grenouille comes to him with leather samples provided by Grimal. He is intoxicated by the variety of smells in the laboratory, and he offers to create several fragrances for him. Baldini is fascinated by the young man's talents and swears that he will redeem him from Grimal, give him money and freedom if he reveals to him the recipes for all the fragrances that he created. Baldini keeps his word. His becomes popular again.
Grenouille keeps seeing the same dream in which he creates his own fragrance, the crown and main chord of which is the girl whose smell he heard behind the large fence of the widowed consul Antoine Richy. It was his only 14-year-old daughter Laura.
One day he sneaks into their garden. He sees the father and the daughter taking a walk. He is deeply touched by their love and harmony. Grenouille picks up Laura's doll while she unexpectedly comes back for the toy. Looking into her eyes, he falls in love with her. Now he is faced with a choice – to create the smell of his dreams or to keep her alive.
However, the endeavor has begun. On the same day, he murders two twins. He starts a job in a perfume studio by Madame Arnulfi managed by her young lover of Spanish origin, Druot. The atelier becomes his small laboratory where he starts to build his collection.
The city is gripped by fear. The townspeople demand that the consul catch the serial killer.
Grenouille begins to have nightmares in which he is attacked by his victims, and each time it is Laura who saves him by shielding him with her own body. However, she cannot protect him from the fury of the relatives of the dead.
Drawn either by an unknown feeling, or by a smell, Grenouille sneaks into the garden to Antoine again and sees the grown-up Laura. Feelings flare up between them. Grenouille barely fights the irresistible desire to capture her scent.
The wave of murders urges Antoine to move. Laura, seized with a love fever, is categorically against it, and has a conflict with her father. But the forces are not equal, and they hastily leave the city. On the way, Laura drops her handkerchief, Grenouille picks it up and follows the scent to track her. Meanwhile, Madame Arnulfi and Druot have a pompous wedding.
A few days later, Grenouille finds Laura. What is worse, the separation or being next to her?! Fearing for her life, he decides to strangle himself by covering his nose and mouth. Laura, in a swift impulse, breaks the chain of his hands and kisses him. The kiss of her first and only love becomes the kiss of death for her. Grenouille’s perfect scent of was created at the cost of murdered love. He spends the whole night next to Laura’s body, holding her tight. At sunrise, her father comes into the bedroom to wake his daughter. Seeing her and a stranger, he begins to beat him intending to kill him, but Grenouille puts on the fragrance he created, and Antoine is already in his power. They mourn Laura together.
Grenouille hastily leaves the house. Guardsmen follow his trail and soon are able to find him. They return their captive to the city where they can hardly beat off the townspeople who are all set to lynch him. Grenouille awaits execution. In the morning, he decides to test his fragrance of LOVE by throwing a scented handkerchief into the crowd who’s gathered in the square. A big orgy begins. Frustrated and broken, he leaves the square. Having reached the outskirts of the city, he sees a crowd of criminals, prostitutes, and other evil spirits. Entering their circle, he pours the entire bottle of his fragrance all over himself. Overwhelmed by euphoria, they circle him in a tight ring and devour him.