Perfume has become an intrinsic part of our daily lives. It is a part of our identity. Think of an ordinary day and all the different smell sensations , the zesty invigorating shower gel, the familiarity of a personal perfume, the fresh-washed smell of just washed clothes, the citrus tang of the dish-wash liquid, the relaxing night massage oil.
The fragrance in each product we use is taken for granted, though behind the scenes the whole industry strives constantly to improve fragrances. People are essentially visually oriented, and dependent on sight and sound to gather information from the surroundings .”Smell” however is an extraordinary sense, closely linked to the limbic system (seat of emotions and the functions of memory), it has the power above all other senses to transport us, in an instant to times past or pervade our psyche to change our mood. The consumer is ahead of the scientist, however, now, more than ever before, the developed world is flooded with products to enhance every aspect of modern living. The consumer is spoilt for choice, but a choice must be made! Fragrance is an important part in the positioning of these products and is a feature that the consumer turns to automatically to underscore the promise. It is much more than a personal perfume. It is mysterious, ethereal, and elusive. Yet it is rooted solidly in the physical world and can therefore be examined scientifically.
The very word perfume is derived from the Latin perfumum, meaning ‘by’ or’through’smoke, as it was with the use of burning incense that the prayers of the ancients were transported to the heavens for the contemplations of the Gods. The use of fragrances developed within the four great centres of culture in China, India, Egypt and Mesopotamia, and was extended in the elite societies of Greece, Palestine.Rome, Persia and Arabia. The great world religions of Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and Zoroastroism employ fragrance in pursuance of their faiths. Thus, religious and pleasurable pursuits have been the main drives in the phenomenal growth of perfume usage throughout the centuries.
The Christian bible is chock-full of fragrance descriptions. The story of Jesus of Nazareth is populated by fragrant materials, from frankincense and myrrh, his gifts at birth, through to the use of spikenard to wash his feet during life and finally the use of myrrh in the binding sheets of his body after crucifixion. Through trade and cultivation, Palestine became a great source of aromatic wealth. The Greeks further developed the use of fragrances, not only in praise of their gods, but also for purely hedonistic purposes. The sciences of medicine and herbalism developed with Hippocrates and Theophrastus, whilst Alexander the Great, tutored by Aristotle, in the third century BC advanced the use of alchemy. The most used fragrances of the Greeks were rose, saffron, frankincense, myrrh, violets, spikenard, and cinnamon and cedar wood.
Meanwhile, in Rome, Pliny the Elder outlined a primitive method of condensation which collected oil from rosin on a bed of wool , and also made the first tentative experiments in chromatography. Throughout the ages, perfume has provided a pathway to happiness.
The first professional perfumers piled their in Capua, which became a trading centre of the industry. Perfume was used in abundance at the games both as a gift for the gods and as a mask for malodors of a bloodstained and offal-dappled arena. It is estimated that in the first century Romans were consuming nearly 3000 tones of frankincense and over 500 tones of the more expensive myrrh. Roman emperors used perfume to excess, instanced by Nero and his wife Poppeae, who had a kind of ‘perfumed plumbing’ in their palaces, with false ceilings designed to drop the flower petals onto dinner guests and scented doves which fragranced the air with perfumed wings. When Poppeae died, it was said of Nero that he burned a whole year’s supply of incense on her funeral pyre.
Empress Zoë, in the Christian stronghold of Constantinople, had employed court perfumers. From there the practice spread, with Normans strewing flowers and rushes onto the floors of castles and churches to keep the air fragrant and acceptable.
In a perverse day, the Black Death of 1347-1351 and subsequent pandemics were huge catalysts to the growth in usage of aromatic products, which had already shown signs of flourishing from Eastern alchemical practice. To counteract the odor of decay of dead bodies due to plague ,the people carried nosegays and small floral bouquets .Washing with water and enveloping the body in smoke or incense was felt to be an effective defense against Black death, and in addition torch bearers with brands of fragrant herbs walked ahead of important and rich personages.
Guilds of the supply of aroma products began to be formed between the 12 th and 13 th centuries. Related crafts included the London Guild of Pepperers and Spicers, and in 1268 the Glover’s Guild was recognized. King Henry I of France and England granted a heraldic shield to the Guild of Perfumers. A charter to glover perfumes had been granted by Philip Augustus of France as early as 1190.
Venice was an important centre for trade and commerce between Europe, the Middle East and the Orient, and became the funnel through which many spices and aromatic raw materials reached Europe, and its domination in trade for these products lasted for a few hundred years.
Distillation as an art was well known in the 11th century, but the first European treatise on distilling was written by the Catalonian Arnald of Villanova around 1310.Different types of distilled spirit were identified as aqua vitae(life), aqua vini(wine),and aqua gardens(burning water) and the book on the practice was translated into English from the German. Early processes of distillation used alembics, usually made of copper, iron or tin, since lead and silver had the characteristic of tainting the distillation vapour. Arnald of Villanova showed interest also in the sulphur baths of Montpellier,and it was around this time that the fragrance raw material and production centre of Grasse ,in the south of France, began to develop strongly. Meanwhile, Paracelsus(1493-1541)worked on distillation to separate the ‘essential ‘ from the ‘non-essential’ parts of a compound, and developed further the quinta essential theory of a fifth element ,involved in imbuing life. In 1573 Edward de vere ,Earl of Oxford ,brought Elizabeth I not only scented sachets, but also perfumed gloves and jerkins. Around this time the first books and manuscripts describing perfumery techniques surfaced, and court perfumers took the stage. A contemporary of Elizabeth, Catherine de Medici (1519-1589) traveled to France to marry HenryII,and in her entourage were two skilled artisans skilled in the crafts of perfumes and poisons. Diane de Poitiers, a rival of Medici, was said to dabble herself in philters, potions, perfumes and poisons.
Norstardamus, the personal astrologer of Catherine, was known to inhale smoke and incense as part of his preparations for prophesying. As a plgue doctor, Nostradamus used rose petal pills as a palliative and part herbal remedy for bad breath and cleaning teeth. The recipe of these pills included red roses picked before dawn, sawdust from fresh green cypress .iris, cloves, calamus, tiger lily and aloes. His second wife Anne Ponsard Gemelle was famed as a maker of herbalised perfumes.
History is littered with examples of the famous and their perfumed preferences: Henry III was said to have fallen head over heels in love with Mary of Cleeves after breathing the odor of her just removed clothing. Henry IV of France was reputed to smell so ripe that his intended ,Marie de Medici(1573-1642) kneeled over when she first met him, while Henry himself ,revealing in his own natural odor and those of others, once reputedly wrote to his mistress Gabrielle d’Estree, ‘Don’t wash my love ,I will be in home in eight days’. The French kings and their courts greatly indulged the use of fragrance, LouisXIII favoring neroli, based on orange blossom, whilst his chief adviser Cardinal Richelieu had the fragrant scent of flowers ‘bellowed’ through his apartments. Louis XIV,the Sun King ,with his mistress Madame de Montespan,compounded his own fragrances, whilst Louis XV lavished wealth on ‘La Cour Parfumee'(the perfumed court) with his mistress Madame de Pompadour and Madame du Barry, where even the fountains did not escape a fragrant dousing .
Mean while, over in England,Charles I (1600-1649) had Neil Gwynne as fragrant advisor ,whilst CharlesII (1630-1685) was encouraged in the aromatic arts by Catherine of Braganza.Perfume rings, filigree pomanders and vinaigrettes gave new ways to perfume the air, much needed since the strong smell of valerian musk and civet was desirable to the lack of personal hygiene which existed at the time.
In 1708, Charles Lilly,a London perfumer, introduced scented snuffs and a revolutionary fragrance consisting of orange flower ,musk,civet,violet and amber, whilst in 1711 William Bayley opened a perfumery in Long Acre ,moving later to Cockspur Street under the sign of ‘Ye Olde Civet Cat’. Juan Floris (1730) and William Yardely (1770) added to the groundswell matched in France by Houbigant(1774) and Lubin(1798). These half dozen perfumers catalyzed the marketplace; expanding their clientele to commonflok . Two famous compounded fragrances La Poudre de Marechale (1670) and Eau de Colonge (1710) ,grew in popularity ,making a slight move in presence from the heavy animalic scents of the times, but with pox and pestilence to counter, aromas of all descriptions were slapped on ,sprinkled over and carried in nosegays. Houses were refreshed using pomanders, potpourris, and cassoulets.The chuches frowned and Oliver Cromwell did his best to put a stamp on the use of fragrances, but the eighteenth century saw a fragrance backlash of mighty proportions.
Fragrances were needed in profusion to combat the olfactory disaster zones of prisons, hospitals, ships, churches, theatres,work-shops and ,indeed, anywhere where there was a gathering of humming humanity.
The seventeenth century perfumes had begun to be stored in lightly blown glass bottles and the eighteenth century saw the appearance of pear-shaped bottles in opaque white glass, decorated similarly to porcelain ware. Weight was reduced ,and decorative appeal achieved by colour,cutting and appliqué decoration ,which made perfume bottles truly treasured possessions, and worth much to today’s collectors.
Napoleon Bonaparte loved aromas ,he liked citrus and herbal smells, and favored Eau de Cologne, using by all accounts several bottles a day. Josephine, a Creole from Martinique, employed a different potpourri of smells. She favored animalics, and was particularly fond of musk oil.
Queen Victoria can be credited with two smell revolutions that hit Britain. The shawls she wore were steeped in patchouli, imbuing a rich woody fragrance to the garment. During the Victorian era, wearing of perfume was strictly controlled. As the Victorian era drew to a close, new names cropped up to cater for the mass-market demand in quality and reliability of scents. Scientists and artisans developed into perfumers of both integrity and repute. To famous names such as Lillie Yardley, Lentheric,and Floris were added Savoury and Moores, Atkinsons, Chardin, Crown, Coty, Hougibant, Guerlain, Roger and Gallet, Penhaligon and Piver; names which are familiar in households today.
Perfumery developed in three fundamental ways: the technique used, the structure and synthetics employed and the industrialization of the process.
In his book Odours, Fragrances and Cosmetics(1865),S.Piesse developed theories that related specific odors to notes on a musical scale in an attempt to categorize the spectrum of smells. In 1890,Atkinsons published one of the books on perfume technology, essentially concerned with the production of absolutes by the cryoscopic removal of fats. In 1861,Guerlain created Eau Imperiale for Empress Eugenie, the influential wife of Napoleon III .By the end of the century, this redeveloped fragrance was shown tobe created around neroli, rose, geranium, sandalwood, musk and the synthetic chemical coumarin. Fragrances began to be described in a structural form, with the adoption of top, middle and bottom note terminology.
Two other fragrances, Forgere Royale (1882) and Jicky (1889) were in vogue.Fougere Royale was arguably amongst the first fragrances to use a synthetic chemical -Coumarin,whilst Jicky is held to be the first truly vertically structured fragrance ,with a fresh ,citrus top based on lemon, bergamot and mandarin, middle floral notes of rose and jasmine, woody notes in vetiver,orris root and patchouli, and base notes of coumarin, benzoin, civet, amber and vanillin. By 1879, Yardley exported different varieties of scented soaps to the United States, whilst the British company Crown Fragrances was exporting about fifty different fragrances to different countries. Perfumers focused on mass production techniques for aroma chemicals, glass bottles and alcohol service an ever-growing market demand. Products were branded to encourage consumer loyality. Perfumes of France, England and Spain widened their horizons to a global marketplace. Perfume started reaching the masses.Tjis set the scene for the twentieth century ,the age of fashion ,which spurred a truly explosive growth in the use of fragrance in many forms.
In the first 20 years of the twentieth century, a score of fine fragrances was developed, including Violette Purpre (1907,Houbigant),L’Origan (1905,Coty) ,English Lavender ( 1910,Atkinsons),L’Heure Blue ( 1912,Coty), and Old English Lacender (1913,Yardley). During the last decade of that century, the industry had grown to such an extent that over 100 fine fragrances a year were being launched. Perfume had come to the people. Chemistry and creativity had brought it there.