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The History of Perfume

The History of Perfume

Men and women the world over enjoy wearing perfume and many never leave home without a spray of their favourite fragrance. They know it makes them smell lovely, gives them confidence and complements their mood or personality. Perfume is often a signature that announces someone’s arrival or evokes a special memory. The power and joy of perfume is something that has been understood for a very long time….



The scents used by Ancient Egyptians


The earliest fragrances were created by the Ancient Egyptians who used scents made from essential oils as part of their religious rituals. These rituals included cleansing ceremonies and also the creation of special ointments to embalm their dead. The Ancient Egyptians invented special stone and glass vessels for storing precious scents and balms. Soon they were using perfumed oils applied to the skin for both cosmetic and medicinal reasons and later, they invented the first perfumed skin creams too. Cleopatra also understood the aphrodisiac power of perfume and is said to have seduced Mark Antony by wearing jasmine.


The use of perfumes began to spread, and the Persians used perfume as a status symbol, but it was the Greeks and Romans who began to use it for everyday wear, and the idea soon reached the Islamic world.


Archaeological evidence found


Archaeologists uncovered the oldest perfumery in the world in the village of Pyrgos near Limassol in Cyprus. The perfumery dates from 2000 BC and traces of lavender, rosemary myrtle, laurel were found in the storage urns.


The earliest records made by a perfumer date from 1200 BC when Tapputi, a perfumer in Babylonian Mesopotamia, developed and recorded a variety of ways to extract perfumes and her findings have been the foundations of modern perfume making.


Perfume for trading


With the fall of the Roman Empire, the use of perfumes was almost forgotten, but perfumes enjoyed a renaissance during the 12th century when perfumes became a trading commodity between countries.


By the end of the 12th century, perfume had begun to manufactured in Paris, and by the 17th century, perfume was being widely used especially for the city’s new fashion – perfumed gloves! The use of perfume was certainly gathering momentum, but not just as a body fragrance; it was being applied to clothing, wigs, fans and even furniture. The court of Louis XV (1710-1774) was famously nicknamed ‘the perfumed court’.


Paris the focus for perfumes


A popular perfume of the time blended rosemary, neroli, bergamot and lemon and this was used to scent bath water, for washing hair, as a scented flavouring for wine and to scent household linen. By 1765, the Baccarat glass factory had opened and soon was creating exquisite perfume bottles for the perfumers of Paris.


During the next hundred years, modern chemistry developed and became the foundation of modern perfume-making techniques. Many new fragrances were created in Paris, and even the French Revolution did not disrupt manufacture but led to the creation of a perfume called ‘Parfum a la Guillotine’.


Much loved perfume houses open


The French loved this wonderful luxury product, and the town of Grasse in Provençe became the main supplier of raw ingredients such as jasmine, rose and orange blossom to the perfumers in Paris. There were new French perfume houses such as Houbigant, Roger& Gallet and Guerlain. During the 19th century, perfume houses were also established across Europe. In London, the new Crown Perfumery won Queen Victoria’s approval. Production at this perfumery only ended in 2002, when Clive Christian replaced it with his new luxury range.


One of the greatest French perfumers was Jean Carles (1892-1966) who created the iconic Dior Miss Dior perfume in 1947 and was also the founder of the Roure Perfumery School. It is said that had because his highly tuned sense of smell was so vital in his profession, that he had his nose insured for a million dollars!


The best selling fragrance is created


During the 20th century, floral fragrances became more popular. In 1921 the couturier Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel decided to dabble in the world of perfume and launched a range of Chanel perfumes. The best selling perfume of all time was her fifth -Chanel No 5. She later explained that she chose the fragrance as it reminded her ‘of soap and freshly scrubbed skin’.


In complete contrast, at about the same time, the more unusual perfume, Bacõn was produced by Parisian perfumers Fargginay. The perfume was created by a Parisian butcher in 1920 as he felt his blend of 11 assorted oils plus the essence of bacon would uplift his customers’ spirits! It was certainly the world’s first bacon-scented perfume!


During the 20th century, more French perfume houses were opened including Christian Dior, Nina Ricci and Jean Patou and French perfumes reached their height of popularity in the 1950s with new styles of fragrances such as ‘musks’ and ‘leather’ coming in and out of fashion.


Modern perfumes are complex!


By this point, modern perfumes had become complex to make as, the desired fragrance was created using a fine balance of numerous ingredients mixed with ethanol or ethanol and water and these precision methods are still used today.


Perfume consists of three ‘notes’. The top note is fragile and short-lived but is the first fragrance smelt. The middle or ‘heart’ note is developed by the warmth of the skin or daytime temperature. These notes tend to be herbal, floral or spicy and sometimes a mixture of all. The base note of a perfume is the longest-lasting note and the ‘anchor pin’ of the fragrance. The base note is usually wood or musk, and classic base notes include amber and sandalwood.



The concentration of pure perfume used depends on the type of fragrance being created. Perfume is usually 40% pure and is obviously the most expensive, whereas Eau de Parfum contains 20% perfume and is much lighter in fragrance and price!


And have such varied ingredients


For the past 100 years, floral perfumes have become increasingly popular. Many of the ingredients used are floral, spicy and woody. Amber is a very popular ingredient as it prolongs the smell of the perfume and oud wood (which comes from the resin of the agar tree) is popular with perfumers but rare and costly. Ambergis is one of the rarest ingredients used and one of the most valuable as it comes from the intestines of the sperm whale. Musk is a popular ingredient with perfumers and can be tricky to collect as it is secreted by the male musk deer.


And the perfume world today….


Today, there are 30,000 different perfumes in the world to choose from! French perfumes are still considered amongst the best, although perfume remains a very personal choice as it rarely smells the same on two people as it develops differently according to skin temperature and oils. In recent years, there has been the emergence of a number of perfumes endorsed by celebrities including Elizabeth Taylor, Britney Spears and Lady Gaga. All the major perfume houses regularly launch new perfumes with extravagant media campaigns. Trending perfumes are small exclusive perfume brands that are being created using the finest oils. The market for men’s perfumes is a fast developing one as more men enjoy wearing fragrance daily rather than for special occasions...  


The most expensive bottle of perfume on the market today is Clive Christian’s Imperial Majesty which costs $215,000 for 16.9 ounces. The perfume is presented in a Baccarat crystal bottle which has an 18ct gold collar and is embellished with a five-carat diamond.

Luckily there are equally beautiful perfumes on the market to suit everyone’s budget...

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