Humans have always been attracted to lovely smells and I would imagine that flowers have always been prized by ancient peoples for their fragrance, perhaps rubbing the petals into their skin or using them to add fragrance to their surroundings. However the first recorded use of perfume was by the Egyptians. Their religious rituals called for the use of incense and the application of scented balms, unguents and ointments. Not
until the New Kingdom 1580-1085 BC was perfume used in a secular way as
perfumed creams and oils and cosmetics and as pre-sex massage oils.
Egypt the use of perfume spread throughout the ancient world of the
Greek and Roman Empires and to the Islamic world. The advent of
Christianity saw the decline in the use of perfume, considered a vain decadence
with immoral sexual undertones, and it was in the Islamic world that the
skill of perfume making was kept alive and continued to develop.
The Crusades in the 12th and 13th
centuries saw the reintroduction of perfume to the Christian world
brought back by the returning crusaders among the many new wonders they encountered in the Islamic world. Simple floral, herbal and fruit
extracts were used to disguise the more unappealing aromas caused the
universal distrust of bathing. Perfume was also thought ward off
infections and an orange stuffed with cloves was often carried by the
wealthy as a protection against the plague.
making, particularly in France, had developed and grown into a skilled
industry by the seventeenth century and the Guild of Glove and Perfume
makers was established. The
court of King Louise XV was named The Perfumed Court as it became all
the rage to apply perfume to clothing, fans and furniture as well as to
the skin. Baths were still an annual occasion in seventeenth century
France, even for royalty, so perhaps this was a blessing for all.
Century saw the creation of Eau de Cologne, a refreshing blend of
rosemary, neroli, bergamot and lemon. It was the latest fashion and was
used in every way imaginable, mixed with wine, eaten with a sugar lump
or as a mouthwash, an enema, or a poultice. It was also added to bath
water as by this time the wealthy were overcoming their distrust of
washing and cleanliness was becoming the vogue.
popularity of perfume coincided with the development of decorative
glass and perfume was kept in beautiful faceted bottles as a fashion
accessory and an ultimate must have status symbol for the wealthy.
The advent of the industrial era in the late 18th
century saw the craft of the perfume maker turned into a science. New
fragrances and mass production were introduced with France still the
major centre of production. This is the time when the famous names in
the perfume industry began to emerge, Houbigant, Lubin, Roger &
Gallet, Guerlain and Coty.
1921 Couturier Gabrielle Chanel launched her own brand of perfume
called Chanel no 5, still probably the world’s most famous and popular
1930s saw the arrival of the floral fragrances with Worth’s Je Reviens,
Caron’s Fleurs de Rocaille and Jean Patou’s Joy. After World War 11 the
major fashion houses such as Christain Dior, Jacques Faith, Nina Ricci
and Pierre Balmain all rushed to develop and market their own brand.
1970s saw the arrival of the inexpensive mass market perfume with the
creation of Revlon’s Charlie. Now there are many perfumes in all price
ranges to suit everyone.