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Monday, 30 January 2017



Perfumes were used in the earliest human civilizations. The word perfume used today derives from the Latin per fumum, meaning "through smoke." suggesting that it was first obtained by burning aromatic gums and hardened oozings from resinous woods such as balsam, bdellium, myrrh, and frankincense.


Perfumery, or the art of making perfumes, began in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. The earliest form of perfume was incense, which gives off its odor when burned. The first liquid perfumes were prepared as long ago as 3500 BC.

The earliest mention in the Bible of an aromatic substance occurs in Genesis 2:12 in reference to the land of Havilah: "And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium, and the onyx stone."

Bdellium was a fragrant gum resin obtained. from a shrublike tree growing in arid regions of western India. From incisions made in the bark oozed an odoriferous gum that hardened into small, transparent, waxlike pellets resembling fragrant pearls, which early Egyptian women carried about in pouches as perfume. Bdellium was often sold as a cheap aromatic substitute for myrrh.

Egyptian scene depicting the preparation of lily perfume, 4th century BC  Guillaume Blanchard, July 2004,

The world's first recorded chemist is considered to be a woman named Tapputi, a perfume maker who was mentioned in a cuneiform tablet from the 2nd millennium BC in Mesopotamia. She distilled flowers, oil, and calamus with other aromatics then filtered and put them back in the still several times.

The early Egyptians used containers made of wood and clay for their perfumes. Later, the Egyptians invented glass and perfume bottles were one of the first common uses for glass.

Archaeologists uncovered what is believed to be the world's oldest perfumery in Pyrgos, Cyprus dating back more than 4,000 years. At least 60 stills, mixing bowls, funnels and perfume bottles were found in the 43,000-square-foot (4,000 m2) factory.

The Persians developed perfumery to a fine art. They began to master the art of preservation by placing the rose buds in sealed earthenware jars to be later opened for a special occasion.

The Persians also used perfumes after bathing. One could smell civet on a man's beard and musk placed on other parts of the body.

Perfume really came to the fore in Ancient Greece. The Greeks learned how to make perfumes from the Egyptians and Persians and used scent lavishly on their bodies and in their banquet halls. They had perfumes for every part of the body. Scents were designed to clear the mind, cure illness, and win true love. They even scented their wine with violets and roses.

The Greeks believed the gods were perfume's inventors and it was said that the visit of a god or goddess was marked with the sweet smell as a token of their presence.

Perfume held a special place in ancient Greek ceremonies. In Homer's Ulysses, one can read about the practice of anointing the dead bodies with scented oils. During weddings, the bride's maidens wore crowns of hyacinths.

The ancient Greeks also played an important role in the science of perfume by categorizing them by the part of the plant from which they were made and documenting their compositions.

Though perfume played an integral part of Greek society, some of the greatest philosophers like Socrates thought them "effeminate".

Roman patricians anointed themselves with perfume three times a day.

Etruscan perfume vase shaped like a female head, 2nd century BC

After Rome fell, the art of perfumery was lost in Europe and had to be learned again from the Arabs. The Arabs also acquainted Europe with alcohol, the perfect diluting agent and carrier for scent.

The Arabian alchemist, Al-Kindi (Alkindus), wrote in the 9th century a book on perfumes which contained more than a hundred recipes for fragrant oils and medical substances.

The Persian chemist Avicenna introduced the process of extracting oils from flowers by means of distillation, the procedure most commonly used today. He first experimented with the rose. Until his discovery, liquid perfumes were mixtures of oil and crushed herbs or petals, which made a strong scent. Rose water was more delicate, and immediately became popular.

Alcohol-based perfumes were brought to Europe by the Crusaders. Hungary Water was one of the first Alcoholic perfumes developed in Europe, it was originally concocted for Elizabeth of Hungary in 1370. Its recipe included brandy and rosemary flowers. Hungary Water quickly became a fashion necessity with the voguish elite.

France became the perfume center of Europe during the 16th century. This came about as a result of the village of Grasse's tanning industry starting to make lavender-scented gloves for Catherine de Medici, the Queen consort. When these gloves kick-started Europe's craze for fragrances, Grasse became the world's perfume capital.

In mid-16th century Portugal there were twice as many glove perfumers, and three times as many cosmetics experts, as there are teachers.

The variety of eighteenth-century perfume containers was as wide as that of the fragrances and their uses. Sponges soaked in scented vinaigres de toilette were kept in gilded metal vinaigrettes and liquid perfumes came in beautiful Louis XIV-style pear-shaped bottles.

Vintage atomizer perfume bottle

The fragrance market in 1920s France expanded rapidly. Most of the major haute couture, or high fashion, designers had their own perfumes -Chanel, Lanvin, Schiaparelli, and others.

Chanel No 5 perfume was named because Coco Chanel had rejected the first four fragrances presented to her.

One of the tricks of cosmetics mogul Estée Lauder (1906-2004) was spilling her perfume on shop floors. She did this in Paris when a manager of the prestigious Galleries Lafayette was reluctant to place an order. Smelling the scent wafting through the store, customers quickly demanded to know where they could buy it.


In 1954 there were just 19 perfumes on sale to the public. By 2004 a new fragrance was being launched every three days at an average cost of £25 million.

Perfume is composed of 20%–30% pure perfume essence, Eau de Perfum contains 15%–20%, and Eau de Toilette contains 5%–15%

Two fragrances are included in almost every perfume - the extracts of rose and jasmine flowers.

The faint trace of perfume left in the wake of a passing person is known as sillage.

£40m worth of Elizabeth Taylor's White Diamonds perfume was bought in 2010, making it the best-selling celebrity perfume.

Katy Perry named one of her perfumes after the record "Killer Queen" by Queen. She stated "Freddie Mercury painted the lyrics of this woman who I wanted to be. She seemed very powerful, and she captivated a room when she walked in." Seemingly unbeknownst to the singer, the song was about a high class prostitute.

The faint trace of perfume left in the wake of a passing person is known as sillage.

The most expensive perfume is the Clive Christian No.1 for Men or No.1 for Women at $205,0000 for a 17 ounce bottle.

Sources Daily Mail, Comptons Encyclopedia

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