These days perfumes are a significant part of our lifestyle, which is why the perfume industry is one of the most developed in the market. We use them every day as an invisible accessory that represents our image and complements our looks, makes us feel elegant, stylish and sexy.
Perfumes have been known to people for centuries. Initially, they were used mainly by noble people. Today, however, almost everyone uses perfume to emit a pleasant aroma and can choose fragrances from a wide variety of brands. But, have you ever questioned yourself “When did the first perfumes come out?”.
If so, in this article I will give you an answer to the question as well as interesting information about their development.
At the Dawn of Perfumery
The history of perfumes is as old as the history of humanity. Perfumery, or the art of perfume making, originated in ancient Mesopotamia, later being improved by the ancient Romans and Persians.
There is evidence of the use of perfumes in ancient Egypt, dating from 3500 BC. In the cuneiform letter (the first writing system invented by the Sumerians around 3000 BC), the profession of a “perfumer “ was first mentioned in the 2nd millennium BC. The process of creating perfumes could be determined by the reliefs left on the walls of the tombs.
Ancient people attributed to the fragrances a divine and magical power. They used herbs and flowers to create high-quality perfumes. Fragrances were first used by the Egyptians for religious rituals, ceremonies, funerals, and to conceal a bad odour. People stored perfumes in glass or stone vessels, the most desirable ones being alabaster.
The very word “perfume” derived from the Latin expression “per fumum” which means “through smoke”. This is the earliest form of scent extraction — by burning of herbs and resinous substances. Thus, this Latin phrase has given their modern name. People sent their prayers and messages to heaven by burning aromatic oils and wood — the only way of divine communication.
Over time, perfumes became popular in other empires — Ancient Rome and Hellas. Later, in Persia, they used fragrances to show their political status. When the ancient Greeks and Romans conquered it and discovered perfume, they began to see it as an art form and use it directly on the skin.
The Greeks, who became famous as curious travellers, brought new and exotic scents from their wanderings. They were the first to make liquid perfumes, but quite different from the ones we use today — consisting of very heavy oils and aromatic powders. In ancient Rome, however, people attributed to aromas healing powers.
Spreading in the Middle Ages
The blossoming of Middle Eastern perfumery began with the conquest of Europe by the barbarians. A key step in the change of perfumes of the time to the fragrances we know today has been made by the Arab world.
The Arabs refined the extraction of aromas, becoming incomparable masters thanks to the invention of the distillation system. This technology pioneered the modern perfume industry. Crusades carried perfume all over Europe and so it gained wider popularity.
After the crusades, in the court of the English King Edward the First, and later in the French, Italian and Spanish courts, home-made perfumers began to work, creating aromatic oils and liquid aromatic mixtures. The city-state of Venice became the capital of perfumes and a processing centre of fragrances from the East. Gradually spreading around the world, perfume reached France and trade with it began to flourish, becoming a mass industry.
At the end of the fourteenth century, Hungarians were the first to introduce perfume as a modern fragrance, containing fragrant oils mixed in an alcoholic solution. Until then, aromatic oils were mixed with water. This period also marked the beginning of eastern alchemical practices — attempts to convert different metals into gold and silver to create different elixirs of longevity and more.
Metamorphosis at the Time of Renaissance
After many centuries of wars and economic downturn, Europe awoke to life during the so-called Renaissance. The art of perfumery prospered in Italy. In the sixteenth century, Italian perfume gloves came into fashion. The world’s first perfume factory was set up in Florence. Italian perfumes were imported to France at the time. It is believed that the first perfume by today’s standards was created in 1675 in France, which remains one of the largest perfume producing countries in the world.
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During the Renaissance, the use of different flavours was gaining in popularity. Although the medieval upper class bathed regularly, this practice was abandoned and perfume sales increased significantly due to the need to hide bad odours.
Perfumes started to get their modern look. They were stored in exquisite glass bottles, and attention was paid not only to the smell but also to the appearance. In the eighteenth century, the classic Eau de Cologne was born.
People’s preferences for sweet, floral and fruity scents appeared during the period. In the fourteenth century, began the act of growing flowers for essence extraction and later it became an industry key to the economy. During the Enlightenment ages, mass production of original perfumes began. France and Italy became major manufacturers of branded perfumes.
The Development of Organic Chemistry Changes the Course
Synthetic materials have emerged with the development of organic chemistry, which combined with the wide variety of natural scents, have led to the art of perfumery as we know it today. A significant difference between perfume making in the past centuries and nowadays lies in the origin of aromatic substances — today they are most often synthesized chemically.
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The modern perfume industry began to take shape between 1860 and 1900. At this time, the ingredients of the first synthetic perfume were introduced, and the art of blending multiple notes to create new scents was gaining popularity.
In 1900, the world of fragrances welcomed a new era, and perfumes became luxury products with prestigious names and beautiful vials. Small glass bottles, except ancient times, are still used today for storing perfumes, but their design is different.
Previously, they were of a very simple type, while now much attention is already being paid to it because it differentiates one producer company from another. Sleek, curvy and delicate in design – these are the models preferred today by perfume companies.
In the early twentieth century, France, England and Spain conquered the world of branded perfumes, expanding their horizons to the global market. Coty and Lalique overturned the perception of fragrances, leaving a legacy of perfume as an integral part of the fashion and luxury business.
Francois Coty, the founder of the global COTY brand, was the first to combine natural and synthetic flavours. In 1921, the French fashionist Gabriel — Coco Chanel, launched her brand perfume, called “Chanel №5”, which is one of the best-selling in the world. The synthetic aldehydes, used in it, have revolutionized the perfume industry.
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In the second half of the twentieth century, many new perfume technologies were developed to create new fragrances we had never dreamed of before. As a result, there has been a rapid increase in the number of new fragrances coming on the market. At the end of the century, perfumes became widely available, and over 100 different perfumes were marketed annually.
Becoming a World-class Modern Industry
Brand perfumes have gone a long way to reach us. Today, perfumes contain hundreds of substances and fragrances. In their modern form they are mixtures of essential oils and aromatic ingredients, fixatives and solvents, designed to give a pleasant scent to the human body, objects and spaces.
A perfume continues to be a symbol of elegance, but it is given the privilege of being a world-class art as well as an unprecedented trade arena. The size of the global perfume market is associated with billions of dollars and the trend is increasing sales. The statistic depicts the size of the global fragrance market, and by 2025 it is estimated to be worth about 52.4 billion U.S. dollars.
In the next article, I will tell you about the types of aromatic ingredients, used in perfumes as well as their origin and many interesting facts. Stay tuned.