Ah, the scent! For someone like me who is so obsessed and fascinated by the amazing world of fragrances, a little lesson on its history seems quite evident. So, here’s an insight as to what I discovered.
Perfumes have played an integral role in keeping up with people’s desire of looking amazing, feeling the best and smelling attractive. But most of us have been ignorant about its history or for how long it’s been around. We just focus on applying the fragrance we love, to make ourselves feel attractive. But from yesterday it seems that its original purpose wasn’t quite the same.
Dated back to the endless thousands of years, traces of the beginning of perfumes could be felt in Egypt. The first perfumes were actually incense, which explains the actual origins of the word ‘açık parfüm‘. It’s derived from the Latin words ‘per’ and ‘fumus’ which literally means ‘through’ and ‘smoke’. So it was through the burning of resins and woods that these fragrances were achieved and they were used for religious ceremonies.
Perfume was urbanized collectively with the first cosmetics, but their purpose wasn’t to attract the opposite sex; however they were made to attract the kindness of the gods. Spirituality was the idea that drove the Egyptians and this is why they took the art of making perfumes so seriously – they believed that the gods would smile down on them if they smelled good, and if they surrounded themselves with these perfumes. In fact, they took that idea with them after they died. Many barrels of perfumes were buried in tombs. They were also used for mummifying. The more perfume they used, and the stronger the perfume, the more chances they’d have of going to heaven.
As an instance of this, when Tutankhamen’s tomb was revealed, there flanking the body, were pots of oils and fragrances. When the tomb was opened, there was still a hint of the strong fragrance detect. And that was 3,300 years ago! Now that’s strong perfume!
For many years, perfume use had been limited to the priests who performed the religious rituals, and also to the very wealthy. Those rich enough and influential enough to have perfume, started to indulge in it for more personal reasons. In keeping with the idea of being spiritually clean, they figured that they could please the gods even more if they not only filled the air with perfume, but covered themselves with it, too.
This led to the practice of soaking fragrant woods and resins in water and oil, and rubbing the liquid all over their bodies. As this practice sustained, the priests surrendered their hold on the precious fragrances, giving others the right to use them. In an effort to create a perfectly clean society, people were command to perfume themselves at least once a week.
Logically, the next came step was the use of perfume in baths. The conceptualization of luxurious bath houses of the Greeks and the Romans came from the Egyptians. The fragrant oils used in their baths helped protected their skin from drying out in the hot climate and which further led to the beginning of creams and ointments for moisturizers.
The Egyptians took delight in their perfumes with grand revere, they believed that only the best containers would hold them, and so began the fabrication of beautiful containers made out of exotic materials. And then when glass was first manufactured in Egypt, it was considered to be more precious than jewels; hence the most preferable and popular material for their containers.
After this came the entrance of the liquid perfume. When the Greeks and the Romans moved into Egypt, they loved the perfume oils the Egyptians used. They quickly learned the art of producing them and started adding their own touches. To make the liquid perfume, they used the mixture of fragrant powders and heavy oils minus the alcohol.
As the time passed by and international trade routes freed, the skill of making perfume reached all over the celebrated world. This showed the way to its resurgence around the 12th century. As more countries got drawn into the art, varieties of aromatics were discovered to make innovative fragrances. The Arabs played a significant part in the development of the perfume industry. An Arabian doctor, urbanized a distillation process that could extract oils from flowers. The first flower he tried his process on was the rose. Up until then, liquid perfumes had been made from mixtures of oil and crushed herbs or petals, which made quite strong perfume.
In the 17th century, perfume wedged on in France. Being the romantics, perfume was a natural for adding a sensual touch. But the big evolution in perfumery came in the 18th century, with the designing in of eau de Cologne, which was a mix of rosemary, neroli, bergamot and lemon. The use of eau de Cologne didn’t impede at fragrances – the French used it in their drinks, in their food, as a medicines etc. Another part of the perfume legacy that the French had taken up was the ancient Egyptian art of making perfume containers. The French made all types perfume bottles.
Over the last forty years, the perfume industry has expanded. To give you an idea of how fast it’s bombing, in 90’s, there used to be one new perfume launch each week. Now, there’s one every day, with each company trying to beat their competition with expensive, innovative, and glamorous launches.
One of the original in the big launches was in 1970, when YSL introduced Rive Gauche. But it was the United States that really started the big launch explosion. Women were becoming more independent, and were buying scents to wear throughout the day and they started creating fragrance wardrobes, with a variety of perfumes, one to suit every occasion. Then the men’s fragrances started to appear. Christian Dior introduced Eau Sauvage, a scent that drove the women wild! Since then the perfume industry is ever expanding to what we experience now.