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The History of Perfume: The Evolution of Perfume: From Ancient Origins to Modern Masterpieces

The History of Perfume: The Evolution of Perfume: From Ancient Origins to Modern Masterpieces

History of Perfume

Perfume, many hundreds of years in the making, went from simple to sensational to a giant $40-billion-a-year global industry: the co-creator of our olfactory selves. It is a history that might surprise. We start with the Ancient Egyptians, then on to Mesopotamia and theatrical ancient Greece, and finally we end up in the present day, where art and alchemy combine for different reasons.

Ancient Origins: History of Perfume

We are dealing with something close to a real — that is, ‘anatomically, physiologically, and psychosomatically’ — necessary thing. Perfume goes back more than 4,000 years and is mentioned in many ancient texts and scriptures — eg, myrrh and frankincense are used in religious ceremonies in ancient Israel, while in ancient Egypt cinnamon is employed in burials and medicine. It was, however, the ancient Egyptians who brought perfume to its artistic zenith, and were adept at the art of ‘aroma extraction’ — taking fragrant oils out of flowers, herbs, and spices — to use in religious services and rituals or to apply to their bodies.

The Rise of Perfume in Mesopotamia and Greece:

History of Perfume

The practice of perfume-making spread to Mesopotamia and eventually to Greece, where it later developed an association with status and luxury. The Greeks were particularly enthusiastic perfume users, incorporating the practice into their daily grooming routines. Myrtle, rose and iris were among the floral notes woven into household aromas and perfumes. The Greeks viewed ‘sweet-smelling’ atmospheres as expressions of beauty and an index of cleanliness.

The Influence of the Islamic Golden Age:

Perfume production reached its highest form in the Islamic Golden Age, largely because of Arabic chemists’ laboratory experiments for perfecting the art of distillation. They developed new ways of isolating essential oils from flowers and herbs, made new distillation equipment and wrote treatises on the art of perfumery that would colour the history of French perfume-making.

Perfume in Medieval Europe:

History of Perfume

Medieval Europeans employed perfume not only for personal use, but to reduce unpleasant odors and prevent the transmission of disease. Since perfume was often equated with hygiene and class, the nobility and royals commissioned their favorite scents.

The Birth of Modern Perfumery:

History of Perfume

Modern perfume as we know it first took shape in the 19th century with the development of French perfumers such as Guerlain, Chanel and Houbigant. Classics such as Chanel No 5, Shalimar and Fougère Royale helped to make perfume an icon of luxury with their creative use of new synthetic fragrance compounds and canny marketing techniques.

The Contemporary Perfume Industry:

Nowadays, the perfume industry makes up a multinational empire, with thousands of brands and designers selling a myriad of perfumes for a variety of tastes and occasions. Perfume has become a way for people to self-identify with the various iterations of themselves. Environmentally-friendly perfume made from natural ingredients and sourced in a sustainable way is a growing trend.


History of Perfume

From the first animalic molecules blended thousands of years ago in Arab citadels to the poetic geometries of the works of modern perfumery, nothing illustrates the persistence of olfaction as a constant feature in human history quite as well as the evolution of perfume. A homeopathic cure, a communion with the gods, a magic trick, a panacea: the relationship we have with perfume has varied over time, multitudinously accommodating all the convolutions of the human condition, and thus it will persist past all of us – the ritual will perhaps change, perhaps we’ll stop wearing perfume on our skin, but the nuts and bolts, the science, art and magic of olfaction will not. The Untold Story of Perfume by Angela D Schiavio is published by Reaktion Books.

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