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Perfume the history of fragrance

Updated on March 6, 2016
Perfume bottle
Perfume bottle

Yardley's Royal English Daisy, a fragrance I currently use, soft floral and light. Pick any perfume you like and you'll discover perfume has been around for centuries. Early fragrances were used to satisfy the gods and would only have divine value. The word perfume originates from the Latin "per fumum" which means "smoke". Even now in religions such as Catholicisim burning scents are still used.

Perfume and the Egyptians

The Egyptians used perfume for their own personal pleasure, but the manufacture of perfume was for the priests only. This was done in a lab specifically arranged in the temples of the time. Queens and Emperors used perfumes in the mummifying and embalming process, using cassia and myrrh in the scents they created. Only those highly regarded would receive special scented water on their graves. Under Cleopatra's reign in Egypt, perfume had reached its height. Cleopatra used large amounts of perfume along with her beauty to tempt Caesar.

Perfume and the Greeks

The Phoenicians brought perfume into Greece. The Greeks perfected techniques that were originally Egyptian.

The Greeks would have a different fragrance for each part of the body. Solon, a Greek politician in 640 BC, decreed this was overdone and restricted the sale of perfume. His restriction wasn't successful , and perfume went on to be the best selling product of the time.

Perfume and the Romans

At the start of the Roman Empire perfumes were only for religious occasions such as funerals. At the time of Emperor Augustus perfumes were used to scent the body, but also the use of coated papyrus manuscript to ward off insects. The Romans used perfume heavily often applying it 3 times a day. Not only on themselves but also on their pets and household objects.

Perfume and the Middle East

With the rise of Christianity in the Middle East, the use of perfume was deemed useless. The followers of Mohammed preserved it and would use musk with roses and amber. Mosques were built with perfume cement.

Perfume and the Middles Ages through the Classical Period

With the fall of the Roman Empire and the years of what seemed like endless wars, the use of perfume disappeared.

The 12th century brought an increase in trade and development and building of universities in many cities. Perfumes developed with the knowledge of alchemy and the distillation process that was introduced by the Arabs of the time. Women of the period would sprinkle perfume on their clothing and around their homes.

The pomander, a perfume holder, came into use to preserve the resin, perfumed oil, amber and musk. There were holes for the perfume to escape through. It was believed that therapeutic scents would eradicate pestilence and disease.

In the 14th century "toilet water" was a term used to describe perfume. These perfumes were based on alcohol and ethereal oils.

By the 15th century the world was slowly starting to grow, with the discovery of America. The trade was extending, techniques in agriculture were improving, and "eau de toilet" was becoming increasingly more popular.

However the attention to personal hygiene was not a concern. So perfume was used to obscure body odour.

Glass bottles were used or phials as they were known at the time. Were made out of various types of glass; Venetian; Crystal and white milk glass.

Hygiene was not a high priority in the 17th century. Perfume fragrances were changing with the use of jasmine and roses. The pomander was used up until the 18th century.

Perfume in the Age of Reason

During the French Revolution, the court of Louis XV was nicknamed the "perfume court". Perfume was strewn over clothing, furniture and fans.

The 18th century saw the introduction of "eau de cologne". Its origins are detabateable.

Plants were grown in the Grasse region of France to help the ever growing perfume industry.

Perfume was bought in exorbitant amounts when Napoleon cam to power. He had 2 quarts of violet cologne delivered on a weekly basis. Josephine preferred muskier fragrances, she used so much that after her death the smell still lingered in her boudoir.

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Perfume in the 20th Century

By the end of the 19th century, there were nearly 2,000 people working in the French perfume industry, and French perfume was being exported all over the world.

There was a new attitude towards perfume. Advertising and the way perfume was packaged became important to the people that purchased it.

Perfumers such as Francois Coty started to mix synthetic scents with natural ones, creating L'Origan. He saw how essential an attractive bottle would be when selling a perfume.

You can't mention perfume without Chanel. Gabrielle Chanel introduced Chanel No. 5 in 1919. Though not the fragrance that is familiar today.

Chanel No. 5 has been an iconic fragrance, a bottle being sold every 30 seconds. With movie stars such as Marilyn Monroe favouring the fragrance, it has become a best selling perfume.

Perfumes moved on in the 30's with the introduction of leather and flowery scents. A new element brought out such perfumes as L'Air du Temps by Nina Ricci and Femme by Rocha.

Perfume in the 21st Century

In the 21st century the perfume industry is worth millions of dollars. It's aim is to give every man and woman a touch of luxury. A promise of making you feel and smell beautiful.

© 2013 Helen Bolam


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