The Origin and Power of Perfume

Bottles of perfume

As the spirits of certain people hover over music, my soul, oh my love, swims over your perfume.

~ Charles Baudelaire

A Brief Look at the History and Origins

Perfumery the art of making perfumes has been with us for thousands of years. Perfume is derived from Latin ‘per fumers’ meaning through smoke. It all began in Egypt was refined and further developed by the Romans, Persians, and Arabs. The basics, ingredients, and methods are described by Pliny The Eden’s Natural Historia.

The Ancient Beginnings of Perfume

The oldest perfumery was discovered in Cypress in archaeologist excavations, uncovering remnants of an enormous factory that manufactured perfume on an industrial scale. Many of the artifacts are on display in Rome. Islamic cultures made major contributions to modern perfumes by perfecting the distillation process and introducing raw ingredients.

The Perfume Industry Was Founded

The spices, herbs and fragrance materials were of greater access to Islamic cultures and Muslims cultivated the materials like jasmine and various citrus, ingredients still important in todays perfumery. The perfumes industry’s rise is credited to Al-Kindi born 801, Iraq, and Jabir ibn Hyyan born 722, Iraq, both Arabian chemists. Jabir developing distillation, evaporation, and filtration processes and Al-Kindi, the founder of the perfume industry, researching and experimenting with plant varieties and combinations, creating many recipes for a broad range of perfumes, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals.

The Dawning of Modern Perfume

The first modern perfume was introduced by the Hungarians, a scent blended with oils and an alcohol solution. It was made in 1370, known throughout Europe as Hungary Water made at the request of Queen Elizabeth of Hungary. The art of perfumery prospered in Renaissance Italy in the laboratory of Catherine de Medici, the to France, where it became its cultivation center, growing into a major industry in the South of France. perfume 16th century engraving

Royalty and Perfume

Perfumes were used to great success used primarily by royalty and the wealthy to mask body odors, substituting for soap then was used to perfume gloves, so popular that a guild of glove, and perfume makers was formed in 1656. Then came Louis XV, ascending to the throne, which also became known as ‘La Cour Parfumee’, the perfumed court. Madame De Pompadour was a voracious user of perfume and King Louis using a different fragrance each day applying it only to to himself but to his clothing and furniture. Napoleon was also a great consumer of perfume, two quarts of violet cologne a week, and Josephine, preferring musk, used so much it is said that 60 years after her passing, her boudoir still carried the scent.

The Power of Fragrance

Our sense of smell is most powerful, a trigger for memories and emotions. While our sense of smell is subjective its power is undeniable. A strong factor on our emotions and psyche, it is speculated certain odors can create ‘imprints’ and remind us of experiences, people and places, affects our memory and possibly our process of learning. While not an absolute science, there is a classification system for perfume, developed by Dr. Paul Jellinek, to navigate the power of fragrance on our emotions, categorizing scents into Aphrodisiacal, low strong notes, akin to scents of the human bod that can be very arousing, to Relaxing– Flowers and balsams create relaxing feelings. Almost intoxicating and effect dulling reactions and senses, Awaken– Citrus- Mint- Stimulate and awaken increase sense of well being noted as being sharp and clean and Stimulate– Seeds Woods and Mosses- Dry, spicy odors striking intellectual and physical stimulation.

Music Inspired Perfumery

music and perfumery jasper_wagner-2_new
A music-inspired taxonomy of scent offered by English chemist and perfumer George William Septimus Piesse in his seminal book The Art of Perfumery (1857).


BBC Perfume documentary Part1 “Something old, something new”

including an interview with Master Perfumer, Jean Paul Guerlain and a peek into his home.

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