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History of Perfume – So What Is Perfume?

The use of perfume dates back to the Egyptians when they used it as part of their religious ceremonies by burning incense or by using ointments and balms. Incense is a product which has scented organic materials which, when burned, release a beautiful fragrance. When burnt, the organic compound condenses into fine droplets and scents the surrounding cooler air.

Perfumed oils are not only used to make the wearer smell nice but also have medicinal properties and is used to treat skin complaints. During Egypt’s New Kingdom (1580-1085 BC) period, women’s perfume began being used as a cosmetic. Legend has it that Cleopatra conquered the Romans with her perfume and Bathsheba seduced King Solomon with perfume.

Popularity of perfumes spread to the Romans and Greeks, perhaps because of Cleopatra. Romans were extravagant with perfume – flowers and perfumed waters were placed profusely in spas, bedrooms, banquets and atriums. Perfumery was a flourishing business in Rome with spas and beauty shops becoming meeting and greeting places. It has been said that Nero just by himself burned more incenses than Saudi Arabia could produce in an entire year.

To the Greeks, perfume was almost as important as food. It is thought that the first perfume factory was started in Greece. Guests at banquets went through a ritual of washing their hands in perfume and at the banquet’s end were given a vial of perfume to take home.

This era of abundance and some say decadence began to fail as the Roman Empire fell.

Perfume then became popular during the 12th century with France becoming the center of the perfume industry during the 16th and 17th centuries. Perfume was incorporated into gloves, applied on clothing and even furniture.

Perfumed cloths were used to disguise the smells and unpleasant odor of the streets. There was some thought during the Black Plague that some scents such as rosemary and lavender could ward off the disease.

Eau de cologne is made up of rosemary, lavender and bergamot. A simple recipe is 1/8 teaspoon of lemon oil, ½ teaspoon of lavender oil, and ¼ teaspoon of bergamot (orange) oil mixed with 4 ounces of high proof vodka. Eau de cologne can also be made by steeping lavender flowers, rosemary springs, lemon peel and orange peel in the vodka.

Napoleon was said to have used 60 bottles of perfume a month, even on the battle field.

So what is perfume

Perfume is made up of alcohol combined with a fixative, essential oils or chemical scents. Cologne is essentially a diluted version of perfume. Perfumes generally contain up to 30% essential oils whilst colognes only contain 1 -2% oils.

Some perfumes contain just one scent such as verbena but most have a combination of a high note, the first scent that reaches you, middle notes, sometimes called heart notes, which is the personality of the perfume and finally the base note which lingers on.

It is important to remember that perfume reacts with each person’s body scent to create a unique aroma. That’s why the same cologne can smell so differently on different people. This is why you should try perfume on your own skin before buying otherwise you may be disappointed. A good rule of thumb is to never test more than three perfumes at a time.

Fragrance falls into six basic groups:

  • Florals: jasmine, lilac, gardenia, rose
  • Herbal: lavender, bay, sage
  • Exotic: musk, ylang-ylang, vanilla
  • Spice: cinnamon, ginger, cloves
  • Wood: pine, sandalwood, cedar
  • Fruit: lemon, orange, peach

The perfume can have top, heart, and base notes all from one category or mix the notes from different categories.Home made perfume can be fixed with glycerin or castor oil. Commercially perfume was often fixed with for a longer shelf life with civet oil, or musk. Today chemical replacements have been found.

One of the most recognized perfumes in the world is Channel No. 5, the reason it was given that name was because a bottle a bottle labeled “5” during the testing period. has top notes: Aldehydes, Grasse jasmine Heart Notes: Rose, ylang-ylang, iris Base Notes: Amber, patchouli.

Modern perfume making has been taken over by Classic Designer houses such as Christian Dior which offers several perfumes.

To prevent your perfume from disintegrating and turning sour make sure that you keep the bottle away from heat and light. Also the best bottles for perfume are small plus perfume should be applied with a stopper or spray so that the oil from your fingers doesn’t contaminate the perfume.

The cost of perfume ranges from the least expensive colognes around $25 a bottle to $215,000 a bottle for Imperial Majesty, a Clive Christian signature scent. The fragrance is $2,150 per ounce. To warrant a price tag of $215,000, a Baccarat crystal bottle was filled with 16.9 ounces of perfume and a five carat diamond and gold collar.

April Kerr