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The word “perfume” comes from the Romans. It was used for ceremonial burnings, or “per fumum”, which means “through smoke”, so this Latin phrase gave perfumes their popular name.
Perfume was first used by the Egyptians as part of their religious rituals. The two principal methods of use at this time was the burning of incense and the application of balms and ointments.
Perfumed oils were applied to the skin for either cosmetic or medicinal purposes. During the Old and Middle Kingdoms, perfumes were reserved exclusively for religious rituals such as cleansing ceremonies. Then during the New Kingdom (1580-1085 BC) they were used during festivals and Egyptian women also used perfumed creams and oils as toiletries and cosmetics and as preludes to love-making.
The use of perfume then spread to Greece, Rome, and the Islamic world. And it was the Islamic community that kept the use of perfumes since the spread of Christianity led to a decline in the use of perfume. With the fall of the Roman Empire, perfume’s influence dwindled. It was not until the twelfth century and the development of international trade that this decline was reversed.
Perfume enjoyed huge success during the seventeenth century. Perfumed gloves became popular in France and in 1656, the guild of glove and perfume-makers was established. The use of perfume in France grew steadily. The court of Louis XV was even named “the perfumed court” due to the scents which were applied daily not only to the skin but also to clothing, fans and furniture. The eighteenth century saw a revolutionary advance in perfumery with the invention of eau de Cologne.
This refreshing blend of rosemary, neroli, bergamot and lemon was used in a multitude of different ways: diluted in bath water, mixed with wine, eaten on a sugar lump, as a mouthwash, an enema or an ingredient for a poultice, injected directly… and so on. 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. Liquid perfumes came in beautiful Louis XIV-style pear-shaped bottles. Glass became increasingly popular, particularly in France with the opening of the Baccarat factory in 1765. As with industry and the arts, perfume was to undergo profound change in the nineteenth century.
Changing tastes and the development of modern chemistry laid the foundations of perfumery as we know it today. Alchemy gave way to chemistry and new fragrances were created. The French Revolution had in no way diminished the taste for perfume, there was even a fragrance called “Parfum a la Guillotine.” Under the post-revolutionary government, people once again dared to express a penchant for luxury goods, including perfume. A profusion of vanity boxes containing perfumes appeared in the 19th century.
Due to its jasmine, rose and orange-growing trades, the town of Grasse in Provence established itself as the largest production center for raw materials. The statutes of the perfume-makers of Grasse were passed in 1724. Paris became the commercial counterpart to Grasse and the world center of perfume. Perfume houses such as Houbigant (Quelques Fleurs, still very popular today), Lubin, Roger & Gallet, and Guerlain were all based in Paris. In 1760, in London, James Henry Creed founded the House of Creed perfume.
With the turn of the century fragrance houses emerged in Europe. The Crown Perfumery was founded in 1872 by William Sparks Thomson, a maker of crinolines and corsets. Catering to the high society in London and Europe, he launched a collection of floral fragrances called Flower Fairies. Queen Victoria granted the Crown Perfumery her own crown’s image to top the fragrance bottles. In 2002 Clive Christian discontinued the Crown line of fragrances and replaced them with the luxurious Clive Christian perfume line.
Soon bottling became more important. Perfume maker Francois Coty formed a partnership with Rene Lalique. Lalique then produced bottles for Guerlain perfume, D’Orsay, Lubin, Molinard, Roger & Gallet and others. Baccarat then joined in, producing the bottle for Mitsouko (Guerlain), Shalimar (Guerlain) and others. Brosse glassworks created the memorable bottle for Jeanne Lanvin’s Arpege perfume, the famous Chanel No.5, and most recently for Parfums Raffy single note fragrances. Floral fragrances became more popular in the 20th century. Fracas perfume by Robert Piguet fragrances was first released in 1948 by master perfumer Germaine Cellier and is known as the premier Tuberose fragrance.
In 1921- Couturier Gabrielle Chanel launched her own brand of perfume, created by Ernest Beaux, she calls it Chanel No.5 because it was the fifth in a line of fragrances Ernest Beaux presented her. Ernest Beaux was the first perfumer to use aldehydes regularly in perfumery.
The 1930’s saw the arrival of the leather fragrances, and florals, also became quite popular with the emergence of Worth’s Je Reviens (1932), Caron’s Fleurs de Rocaille (1933) and Jean Patou’s Joy perfume (1935). With French perfumery at it’s peak in the 1950’s, other designers such as Christian Dior, Jacques Fath, Nina Ricci perfume, Pierre Balmain and so on, started creating their own scents.
The recent popularity of celebrity fragrances has also made an impact on the industry although most experts do not expect the trend to last. Today there are over 30,000 designer perfumes on the market and perfumes are no longer for the wealthy. The perfume industry has undergone several changes in technique, material and style. All of which have created the modern fragrance industry, one that still incorporates creativity, mystique and romance along with marketing to appeal to the masses.
In recent years the emergence of small and exclusive fragrance brands have been marketed. Known as niche fragrances, brands such as Amouage, Montale perfume, Xerjoff, Parfumerie Naturelle, Bois 1920, Odori perfume are bringing back the high quality fine fragrances of the past perfume artisans. These fragrances contain the finest oils from all over the world and have revived the passion of perfumery for so many.