History of Perfumes

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Published: 14th March 2011
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Perfume has been an important commodity in both ancient and modern times. The word "perfume" derives from the Latin phrase, "per" meaning through and "fumes" meaning smoke.

One of the oldest known uses of perfume bottles goes back to Egyptians at about 1000 BC. Interestingly, Egyptians invented glass and used it for making perfume bottles. Initially, they used perfumes as part of religious ceremonies like burning of incense and aromatic herbs and used as balms and ointments. Earlier, perfumed oils were also utilized for medical purposes. Though the Egyptians were the first ones who incorporated perfumes into their culture, Hindus, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Israelites also followed them in perfume making.

It is believed that during 7000 to 4000 BC, sesame and the fatty oils of olive were mixed with fragrant plants to create the Neolithic ointments. Interestingly, during the Old and Middle Kingdoms perfume was only used for religious rituals like cleaning and spiritual use. During 1580-1085 BC (New Kingdom) they started using perfumes during festivals. Women also used perfumed creams and oils as cosmetics and as part of making love.

Later on, the use of perfume soon spread to Rome, Greece and Islamic countries. However, the increasing popularity of Christianity resulted in a decline in the use of perfume. During the 17th century, the perfume witnessed a great success. It gradually spread in France and, in 1656, guild of glove and perfume makers was established and perfumed gloves became hugely popular.

In the 18th century, Louis XV came to the throne and his court was named as the "perfumed court". It was because he asked for different scents to be applied to skin, clothing, fans and furniture in the court. The eighteenth century also witnessed the invention of Eau de Cologne, which came out as a turning point for perfume industry. The fragrance notes of the Eau de Cologne included rosemary, neroli, bergamot and lemon, which were used as a mouthwash, on clothes and skin, as scent, in wine and so on.

The 18th century also saw a revolutionary change in the perfumes and perfume bottles. New and improved scents were created. In 1765, glass became even more popular, especially in France, with the opening of the Baccarat factory. The town of Grasse in Provence turned out as the largest producer of rose, jasmine and orange, which resulted into passing the statutes of perfume-makers in 1724. Paris came out as the commercial counterpart to Grasse and became the major hub of perfumes. All big perfume houses like Houbigant, Guerlain and Lubin were based in Paris.

William Sparks Thomson, who catered to the elite society of London and Europe, launched the Crown Perfumery in 1872. He also founded a collection of floral scents known as Flower Fairies.

In a historic moment, Couturier Gabrielle Chanel founded her own brand of perfume"Chanel No. 5" in 1921. Even today, Chanel No 5 is still considered as the most popular scents. In 1950s, the world saw the dominance of French perfume market and perfume makers like Christian Dior, Nina Ricci perfume, Jacques Fath, all came up with their own signature scents.

Today, perfume market is flooded with over 30,000 designer fragrances and its consumption is not only remained limited to elite class. Perfume industry has become a $ 10 billion dollar industry. It saw drastic changes over the centuries in terms of technique, style and material, which has made this industry mystique and lucrative.

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