Thursday, September 23, 2010

History of Perfume

The giving of perfume as a gift to an honored guest is an ancient tradition going back thousands of years, not merely fueled by modern-day commercialism surrounding Valentine's Day. Religious, royal, and important individual events were all marked by fragrances.

Perfumery began independently in ancient India, Mesopotamia, and Egypt and was further refined by the Arabs, Greeks, Romans, and Persians.

Attars have been used in the entire Eastern world for thousands of years and are popular to present day. Archaeological excavations (Indus Valley civilization) have revealed round copper stills, used for making ittars, that are at least five-thousand years old. Also known as Ittars, they are natural perfume oils derived from botanical sources through hydro or steam distillation. The oils thus obtained are generally distilled into wood oil bases, such as sandalwood and agarwood and then aged. Attars entered into popularly written eastern history during the middle ages in Indian, Arabic, and Persian courts. They're also mentioned in sixth century Sanskrit literature.

For ease of transportation and storage, Egyptians blended perfumes in fat solids and either carried them in amphoras, in lockets around their necks, or in cones under their wigs. Excavators found that the Sumerian queen Schubab who lived in 3500 BCE was very fond of perfumes and cosmetics. Prescriptions for perfumes are found in numerous hieroglyphs in caves. The world's first recorded chemist is considered to be a woman named Tapputi, a perfume maker who was mentioned in a cuneiform tablet from the second millennium BC in Mesopotamia. In 2005, archaeologists uncovered the oldest European perfumery in Pyrgos Mavroraki, Cyprus, dating back to 2350 BCE, the Early Middle Bronze Age.

Perfumes entered into European history via the Italian and French courts and the all powerful M├ędicis during the Renaissance and quickly became very popular. The court of Louis XV was even named "the perfumed court" due to the scents which were applied daily not only to the skin but also to clothing, fans, and furniture. The French Revolution had in no way diminished the taste for perfume, there was even a fragrance called "Parfum a la Guillotine." Ahem.

The eighteenth century saw a revolutionary advance in perfumery with the invention of eau de cologne. In the nineteenth century, alchemy gave way to chemistry and new fragrances were created, paving the way to modern perfumery. Soon individual perfumers gained prominence as they made their wares into highly-desired luxury products through limited productions, expensive crystal bottles, and exclusive marketing. The modern fragrance industry has once again made perfumes available to the masses, not merely restricted for wealthy connoisseurs.

All this to really talk about personal perfume collections. If you're in the mood for a splurge, how about this one:

Crown Marechale Original: Limited Edition and certified No.84 of 250 in existence. "This exquisite Baccarat crystal flacon is filled with one of the world's rarest perfumes. Originally created in 1669 for Madame La Marechale D'Aumont, wife of Antoine, Marshal of France, this fragrance is of extraordinary complexity. The Crown Perfumery Company successfully recreated Marechale from the original perfumers records from 1670, the secrets which now lie in the Crown's archives. The result is an imperishable model of perfumery composition; a delicate scent of floral rose, blended with guaiac wood exuding subtle spices and exquisite florals. The mold used by Baccarat is the original from the 18th century." Price: 2.4 oz for $2,500.

My favorite place to try out new perfumes is The Perfumed Court, which I was introduced to by Amanda McCabe. I recently ordered a new batch of my favorite decanted perfumes in two-ounce sizes: Neroli by Laura Mercier, Basic Instinct by Victoria Secret, Chanel No. 5, For Her by Narciso Rodriguez, and Daisy by Marc Jacobs. In addition, I bought Plumeria Vanilla from Island Heritage and Relaxing from The Chopra Center.

Do you have a favorite perfume? A favorite brand? Any recommendations for me to try?


Anonymous said...

Janet W: What a brilliant website! I should get the new Marc Jacobs for my dd: she's been telling me about it. Thx for the link!!

Keira Soleore said...

Janet, thanks for stopping by to comment. Isn't the Court a marvelous source? They have so many, many choices and at the prices, it's OK if you end up with a dud or two.

pheromones attract women said...

The perfumes have been used even in the past centuries and have been highly valued in every cultured and good that you shared this history of perfume.