How are Perfumes Made? Find Out the Fun Way!

Perfume is so easy to apply. Simply open the bottle, spray on the neck or wrists, then let it get to work. How convenient is that?

It’s so simple, that it’s difficult to imagine how much hard work goes into creating a fragrance. With that in mind, here’s some fascinating information about how perfumes are developed and created, and some historical insight into how the industry first got started.

A whizz through the history of perfume-making

The first people to make perfume (as far as we know) were the ancient Egyptians. However, these weren’t fragrances as we know them today. Instead, they would have come in the form of scented balms, or even blocks of fragranced material.

The ancient Egyptians used several different flowers, plants and wood-chips to make their perfumes, which were bound together with fats and oils. Castor oil, sesame and linseed were all used, though sometimes almond or olive oil was also utilised to boost the potency of the fragrances. Presumably, they were very good for the skin too!

They had a few different types of perfume that we know of, such as Susinum, which was made with lily, myrrh and cinnamon, and Rhondinium, which relied heavily on roses for its scent. It’s amazing that some modern fragrances, like the much-loved Velvet Rose and Oud, still feature roses to this day.

A whizz through the history of perfume-making

The Persians and Romans took what the Egyptians had started, and they ran with it. In fact, some Persian rulers loved their perfumes so much, they even had their slaves carve images of themselves, clutching their fragrances – a bit like an ancient billboard advert, if you like.

It’s believed that the Persians were the first people to develop the distillation process. Thanks to historical records, we know that Avicenna, a Persian pharmacist, experimented with perfume-making, and used a rudimentary form of distilling to condense the aromas down. Amazingly, his sketches show that he used much of the same techniques that are used in distillation to this day.

The Romans weren’t sitting idly by and doing nothing, though. A mural in Pompeii shows how perfumes were made in Italy at that time; first by pressing olives, then adding plants and woods using meticulous measurements, and finally leaving the fragrance to ‘steep’ (which means letting the scents settle into the oil, so the oil could be sold).

A mural in Pompeii shows how perfumes were made in Italy at that time

Perfume making in the East

The ancient Eastern cultures were using perfume too, though they created it somewhat differently to the Egyptians, Persians and Romans.

In China, for example, fragrance wasn’t really worn on the body. Instead, it was used to add a pleasant scent to special locations, such as temples. This was done via the use of incense and other fragrant materials.

The Chinese put a lot of faith in fragrance, and believed that it could purify a room. Perhaps even more surprisingly, they also thought scent could kill diseases. Heavily scented flowers were grown in gardens across the country, and wealthy women used to rub mandarin oranges on their hands to extract the smell. Interestingly, some of the world’s most famous designer perfumes, like Neroli Portofino, choose to feature citrus too.

Perfume making in the East

The portable pomander onwards…

If you were anybody worth knowing in Medieval times, you carried around your personal portable pomander. If you’re not sure what one of those is, it’s basically a small ball of scented ingredients, that releases a pleasant aroma as you walk around (and helps to conceal pungent body odour).

Portable perfume was introduced to Europe via Arab traders, and it quickly caught on. Best of all, it was easy to make, as there was no distillation process to go through. Simply bundle the flowers, wood and other scented items into the ball, then go about your business. The only thing was that you had to have the cash to buy the expensive items in the first place.

The portable pomander onwards…

Perfume-making was about to get a whole lot more complex. Allow us to introduce the 14th century Hungarians.

These clever people were the first to create an alcohol-based perfume. Prior to this, fats or oils were used to provide a base for the scented ingredients. They also capitalised on the wealth of exotic ingredients that traders brought to Europe, like musk, ambergris and civet. Just to clarify, musk is extracted from a deer’s musk-pods, ambergris is vomited up by sperm whales, and civet is taken from the anal glands of civet cats. Nice. Even better, some of those ingredients are still commonly used to this day!

But this was how you made perfume back then, so the people of Hungary, and indeed the rest of the continent, didn’t complain.

But this was how you made perfume back then, so the people of Hungary, and indeed the rest of the continent, didn’t complain

The real breakthrough came in Italy, when perfume-creators worked out how to make aqua mirabilis. This clear liquid was made up of mostly alcohol, but was infused with plenty of strongly scented ingredients. This is when proper perfume, as we’d recognise it today, was born.

Modern perfume-making – the role of the ‘Nose’

In the perfume business, a Nose is a valuable thing indeed. We’re not talking about the thing sitting in the middle of your face; instead, we’re referring to a professional perfumer, who is known in the industry as (you guessed it) a Nose.

The Nose is someone who has received extensive training on fragrance, and who understands how scents are composed to create different effects.

At a basic level, they must have in-depth knowledge of ingredients – what each one smells like, and how to tell the difference between each one. They must also know how different scents interact with one another.

Make no mistake, this is not an easy job. These days, a professional Nose must attend a perfumery school, or complete a specialist course at a recognised university. They usually have to have other qualifications too, like a degree in chemistry or pharmacy.

Modern perfume-making – the role of the ‘Nose’

Extracting and blending

Once the ingredients are decided upon and gathered together, the extraction can take place.

Oils are extracted from plants, woods and other substances by a variety of different methods. These include steam distillation (just like our friend Avicenna, back in ancient Persia), maceration, enfleurage and solvent extraction.

As you might imagine, these are about as complicated as they sound. For example, during the steam distillation process, steam is passed through the ingredient, which makes its essential oil turn into a gas. This gas is then moved through a series of tubes, where it’s cooled (which forces it to return to a liquid form).

For solvent extraction, flowers are placed in large rotating tanks, then benzene or petroleum is poured over them. The solvents dissolve the flower parts, leaving a waxy residue that contains the essential oil. Then, the oil is placed in alcohol, where it dissolves. The alcohol is evaporated, and because the perfume oil is a higher concentration, it remains at the bottom, ready to be used in a fragrance.

Extracting and blending

Now the Nose comes into play. Once the perfume oils have been collected, he or she develops the fragrance by blending them together. Sometimes, this process alone can take several years.

Once the scent has been decided upon, it’s mixed with a base liquid (usually alcohol). The percentages of scented oil to base liquid determine the quality. The higher the ratio of scented oil, the more opulent (and expensive) the perfume.

The finishing touches

Of course, it doesn’t end there. Most perfumes need to age for a while, to allow the ingredients to settle. This can take several months. Next, it’s time to undertake some quality control, before releasing the product on the general market.

That’s the point when the Nose and his or her team probably sigh with relief, and pour themselves a celebratory glass of champagne.

These methods of perfume-making are practiced across the world, and by the Copycat Fragrances team! We spend several months studying some of the most popular designer perfumes, then blend ingredients to replicate the essence of the original, at a reduced price. It’s not the easiest process, but it’s certainly worth it.

If you’d like to test out some of our great ‘inspired by’ fragrances, visit the Copycat Fragrances website today. You can order all our perfumes in sample sizes, letting you trial each one before committing to the full-sized bottle.

Disclaimer: all products mentioned above, along with their labelling, are a guide and should not be confused with the actual fragrance brand. Any name trademarks and copyrights are the property of their respective designers or makers. Please note, these perfumes and candles are not to be confused with the originals, and we have no affiliation with any companies mentioned. Our interpretations of the fragrances and candles were created through chemical analysis and personal development, and their description is solely to give the customer an idea of the nature of the scent. It is not designed to mislead or confuse the customer in any way, and does not infringe on the manufacturer's or designer's name or trademark.

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