What’s the point of getting all dressed up if you don’t finish up with your favorite scent? Perfume is a basic accessory in which both men and women invest to feel attractive, sexy and desired. It gives you an opportunity to make a statement about yourself without even having to say something. It is an integral part of a person’s personality that can make an unforgettable impression on others. Perfume communicates your attractiveness and sensuality in a unique way. But, its power is not limited on this. Nothing can revoke a distant memory as good as a whiff of a scent can do. I can tell you this-I was standing in a subway when I caught an aroma of amber and musk. A memory flashed-my first kiss. I swear I could remember the smell of the boy’s deodorant and the scent of those summer nights. That’s how powerful a perfume can be. It can bring you memories of one night adventures, or of something that has become a lasting part of your identity.
This mixture of aroma compounds and fragrant essential oils has been used to give pleasant smell for centuries. The word “perfume” comes from Latin “per fume”, meaning “through smoke”. Its history is fascinating, indeed. People have used perfume as a display of wealth, to seduce, to communicate with the Gods, or only for pleasure. Its trails lead us back to Ancient Egypt, and since then, the perfume has undergone many changes. Let me present you the history of the most popular product of all times.
People were looking at natural ingredients to enhance their bodies and environments from earliest ages. The intriguing perfume history begins as early as 1000 BC. Egyptian priests were the first perfumers-they used aromatic wax to sweeten the smell of sacrificial offerings. The priests and Pharaohs were entombed with such scents, too. The aromatic fragrances were associated with the Gods and were thought to have a positive impact on health. The most popular perfume was “Khyppi”, made of myrrh, cinnamon, frankincense, mastic, saffron, mint and other spices and herbs. It had a spicy and long-lasting aroma. This perfume was burned each night to please the Gods, but ancient Egyptians also enjoyed it in everyday life. It seems that they understood the harmony between the scent and the body. They used perfumed balms, too, to soothe an inflamed skin or anxiety-a form of aromatherapy, I would say.
Ancient Mesopotamia was the place where people start producing perfumes. Cuneiform tablet from the second millennium BC has recorded that the first world’s known chemist was a woman. Tapputi did everything that today’s perfume makers still do-she made perfumes from flowers, oils, and other aromatic materials, mixing them with other substances. She was also the first to use the distillation process. Her efforts were probably recorded only because she made perfumes for the palace where she was an overseer. In Mesopotamia, the most favored scents were myrrh, cedar, cypress, and frankincense. The main sources of scent were plants-from flowers to resins.
The ancient roots of the first perfumery go back to the island of Cyprus, the birthplace of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, lust, and beauty. The perfumery in Pyrgos, which was a destroyed earthquake, dates back more than 4000 years. The ancient perfume-makers used mostly parsley, almond, coriander, bergamot, coriander, pine, and anise. The ingredients, derived from local plants, were mixed with clay jugs and olive oil, and then distilled in a clay apparatus. It is possible that Crete has been the main market for the ancient Cyprus perfume.
For the Romans, perfumes played an important and luxurious role. They used them for religious rituals but also for anointing the body. Public baths were very important and the wealthy people were crazy about body care. They used not only perfumes but also balms and oils. Emperor Nero had pipes installed in the diner so that his guests could be scented with rose water during dinner. The scent was a sign of luxury and attractiveness for the Romans.
Indus civilization made one of the earliest distillations of fragrant liquids, scents, and perfumes, for the isolation of essential oils. It is possible that many present day perfumes had actually originated from India. In ancient times, there were two types of perfumes there- Teertha, liquids, and Gandha, ointments. The first perfume that it’s mentioned is “ittar” or “attar” – natural perfume oil distilled from herbs. Mostly, the fragrances were used in special occasions. For example, during the coronation of a king, a person would be sprinkled with aromatic oils. Or, they would apply fragrant ointments, mostly based on sandalwood aroma during ceremonial bathing. They still use sandalwood, camphor, or ochre for some ceremonials similar to those of ancient times.
Although the rise of Christianity forbade the use of perfume in the Middle East, the Arabs preserved it and the Muslims improved it and continued to use it both in daily life and in religion. The establishment of the perfume industry was largely helped by the work of two talented chemists- Ibn Hayyan, who developed the techniques of distillation, evaporation and filtration, and Al-Kindi, who carried out researches and experimented in combining various plants and sources to produce scented products. His book from 9th contains a number of recipes for various types of perfumes and cosmetics. The scented products were made by mixing oils and crushed herbs that gave strong aroma. Ibn Sina, a Persian chemist, was famed for popularizing distillation of oil extracts from plants. This technique gave even more delicate aromas and influenced later development. Ones of his most popular experiments were with the rose and Rose water.
It wasn’t until trade routes with East opened again and Crusades in the 14th century, that Europe started using their knowledge to make perfumes. First modern perfume came in later in this century. It was made by the Hungarians at the command of Queen Elizabeth of Hungary, and called “Hungarian Water”. They blended oils in an alcohol solution. Perfumery was further improved in the Renaissance Italy. There was a growing trade with the East in plants such as jasmine, rose, and orange trees blossoms, which the distillers used to perfect the perfume making. Essential oils were distilled from pine, cedar wood, cardamom, nutmeg, anise and more. The main purpose of perfumes was to mask the odors.
Soon, the epicenter of perfumery moved to France, Catherine de Medici’s personal perfumer moved there and continued his work, opening a shop. Since then, France is the European center of perfumes and cosmetics. Before that, French enjoyed the fragrances in form of scented sachets or molded clay bottles. But, Catherine brought with her scented gloves from Tuscany, where the perfume was used to mask the odor of the leather. The first guild of glove and perfume- makers was formed in the 17th century.
By the time Louis XIV came to the throne, in the 18th century, perfume was applied on the body and also on clothing, furniture and fans, which gave his court the name “perfumed court”. His perfume was entitled to create a new scent for each day of the week. His shirts were perfumed with “Aqua Angeli”, which consisted of aloe, nutmeg, cloves, and benzoin, boiled in a rose water. After simmering for a night, jasmine and orange flower water and few musk grains were added. Soon, the competition to supply the “perfumed court” with aroma goods became really serious. So much, that the hills and valleys of Provence were filled with delicate scents of jasmine, carnation, rose and lavender, especially in the Grasse region.
After the Revolution, the new Directorate government marked the reawakening of the French love of luxury. Josephine introduced Napoleon to perfumes. His favorite fragrance was Eau de Cologne, a mixture of citrus oils combined with oils of lavender, rosemary, and jasmine in diluted ethanol. His perfumer, Chandin, delivered to him 50 bottles a month. Josephine was fond of and mignonette flowers which Napoleon sent to her directly from Egypt and she kept on her balcony. Soon, it became a popular flower among the French elite, which they named “Little Darling”.
In England, perfume was also used since the 16th century, during Queen Elizabeth’s and Henry VIII’s rule. Public places were perfumed because she couldn’t bear bad odors. Creating delightful fragrances was some kind of a hobby for the ladies of that time. The Queen also wore perfumes to mask the odor of sweat caused by her panic attacks. She loved most scents of musk, damask water, rose-water and sugar that had to be boiled and strained to create the fragrance. Henry VIII adored scents made from imported spices, demonstrating his wealth. He is famed to have a soft spot for fine things. The most famous English king is said to wear a concoction of ambergris and civet, two of the finest aromas of that time.
During the Russian Revolution, perfumes were a rare commodity and most special perfumes were produced to celebrate the Soviet successes. The perfume production grew significantly by the early 20th century. Slowly, but surely, perfumes became a significant part of conferences and campaigns. Finally, they entered into the second five-year plan in the 1930s, which had its focus on social progress. The most famous is the “Red Moscow” perfume. This classic fragrant, presented in a bottle resembling the Kremlin’s towers, was created especially for Maria Feodorovna. Initially, it was named ‘The Empress’ Favorite Bouquet’, but the name was changed to erase all associations.
In America, the first fragrances were scented water and colognes brought by French explorers. The most famous are ‘Florida Water’, a combination of eau de cologne and oil of cloves, cassia, and lemongrass. It has a citrus basis, same as Cologne Water. This fragrance bears its name because of the famed Fountain of Youth, said to be located in Florida and the flowery nature of the scent.
The 20th century welcomed the birth of fashion designer perfumes which were mostly of French origin. After experimenting for a while, Paul Poiret created the very first designer perfume. His clothes were sensual and fluid, influenced by the mystic Far East, as a contrast to the corsetry that imprisoned women for a long time. The fragrance was named ‘Les Perfumes de Rosine’, to honor his late daughter, Rosine. He established also his own laboratory and facilities for blowing glass to package his small wonders. His couture clients were quickly enchanted by his spicy and floral scents.
And then, Gabrielle Chanel set the fashion world on fire, launching the iconic creation ‘Chanel No. 5’. Even 100 years after, this revolutionary perfume is a definition of elegance. Gabrielle herself was known as a truly modern and classy woman. So, she wanted to launch a scent for all modern women out there. She assigned the perfumer Ernest Beaux to produce a series of samples from which she would choose. Out of all samples numbered from 1 to 5 and from 20 to 24, she picked number 5 and wrote history. This fragrance was the first aldehyde one and smells fresh, a touch soapy, like the scent of linen or hot iron. This creation became the biggest sensation of the time and set a new level for the perfume world.
Este Lauder created her game-changing scent ‘Youth Dew’, firstly as a bath oil. She wanted women to be able to purchase the fragrance without having to feel guilty about it. To buy bath oil was a feminine, all-American thing to do, so she went for it.
‘Givenchy L’Interdit’, created especially for Audrey Hepburn, has a floral, delicate and powdery aroma. She wore the perfume for years before it was officially released to the public. The launch of this perfume created revolution because it used an image of a movie star in an advertising campaign for the first time.
In 1985, Dior’s ‘Poison’ ‘opened the doors to the closed world’. This revolutionary perfume has powerful and mysterious harmony and offers a discovery of a whole new world. ‘Poison’ is seducing and captivating with its rich and sensual aromas.
By the time the 90s were over, Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Carolina Herrera, Hugo Boss, and other fashion designers were already international stars. Today, the new age perfume culture heated up the competition. The leading designer stars such as Vera Wang, Marc Jacobs and John Galliano have launched blockbusters that present their fashion. Today, creating a perfume includes a lot of technical and artistic experience. The new technologies and concepts allow the designers to move the bounds of perfume production with every new fragrance.
As I said above, a perfume has the ability to make us feel desired and to help us show our individuality. It makes us more positive, confident and increases our vitality. Finding the right aroma will fill you with joy! So, no matter whether you want to smell like vanilla or jasmine, choose your fragrance and go conquer the world!