The history of Perfumery dates back to the Wednesday after humans first realized that certain natural items smelled pleasing. So powerful is the impact of scent that many ancient civilizations used fragrant natural materials, alone or in combination, to enhance their world. Since the earliest times, fragrances have been used in religious rites, as status symbols, to freshen the air, to protect against diseases and to perfume the body. For millennia, natural materials were used for their fragrant aspects, but in the 19th century developments were made in the area of synthetic aroma compounds that not only vastly expanded the perfumer’s palette, but also brought perfumes into the hands of those who could never before afford them.
In Europe, in the late 1800’s, the art of Perfumery would get a great boost with the discovery of new natural isolates and synthetic aroma chemicals. Compounds such as coumarin (isolated from the Tonka Bean) and citronellol (isolated from Citronella Oil, among other sources) were identified and made available to the Perfumer. In addition, these and other new and varied aroma chemicals were synthesized in laboratories and exponentially expanded the palette available to Perfumers. Not only did these advances allow for the creations of fragrances previously unimagined, but the cheaper cost and greater availability meant more people than ever could afford the luxury of perfume and fragranced products.
The Healing Effects of Fragrance
“A perfume is always a medicine” – Chinese Proverb
Since its earliest uses among ancient cultures, perfume has always been ascribed curative powers. In many cultures, incense was burned to purify the air. Doctors treating patients during the black plague wore bird masks filled with fragrant material to protect themselves from infection, and certain perfumes were even used to prevent “fainting fits”. The rise of “modern” medicine over the last hundred years leads many to discount these more “primitive” remedies, but today, companies like Global Biolife are discovering that fragrances do actually possess many amazing properties.
Here are some brief highlights from the History of Perfume:
Used fragrances for many ceremonial purposes as well as personal application in the form of scented oils.
Nefertum was thought to be the god of perfume and is depicted as a symbol of fragrance and beauty.
Famous rulers, like Xerxes and Darius, are depicted with perfume bottles and fragrant Lily of the Valley blossoms.
Persians perfected the art of distillation, and the philosopher Avicenna expanded that work by distilling fragrance materials from flowers and other natural sources.
Perfume came in the form of Unguents, consisting of an oil base steeped with fragrant materials, and was very popular.
Fragrances were mentioned in many poems and writings of the time, including great thinkers like Pliny the Elder, though he may actually not have been a great fan of perfume.
In medieval times, not only could you take your turkey leg to watch the jousting tourney, you could also carry a pomander. These small open vessels, worn around the neck and carrying a small amount of scented material, were used to ward off infection.
In “the perfumed court” of Louis XV perfume was used everywhere, from clothes and fabrics to people and baths.
The 17th century saw the advent of the modern eau de cologne, an alcohol-based personal scent, with the creation of Aqua Mirabilis