Whether you’re drawn to citrus or woody scents, floral or spicy notes, perfume has been delighting people’s olfactory senses for centuries. These “liquid accessories” can be traced back to ancient civilisations, such as the Egyptians and the Greeks and certain perfumes have always been a symbol of wealth and class. They can add the finishing touch to an outfit and some claim to feel “naked” when stepping out without their favourite scent on. Here are ten facts you perhaps didn’t know about perfume.
The word perfume comes from the Latin word “per fume”, meaning “through smoke”. This is rather fitting since the earliest perfumes are believed to have been incense based and were made up of combinations of spices and herbs.
Jasmine and rose are the most commonly used flower essences in modern perfumes. Jasmine is nicknamed the “King of Oils” whilst rose is the “Queen of Oils”. This is the case since jasmine is considered the most masculine of all floral oils. It takes at least 8000 blossoms of to produce just 1ml of jasmine absolute. Absolutes are more concentrated than essential oils and usually take longer to produce, rendering them the pricier of the two. Both jasmine and rose are thought to be aphrodisiacs, with jasmine being the ultimate aphrodisiac oil.
Back in the day when bathing was an infrequent luxury, rich but albeit rather smelly folk would dowse themselves in perfume in an attempt to mask their unpleasant body odour. They would rely on elaborate mixtures of sweet scents to distract from their own not-so-sweet ones.
The person considered the world’s first chemist was a woman by the name of Tapputi and she can be traced back to Babylonian Mesopotamia, in the second millennium BC. She used the distilling method: flowers and oils would be distilled with other aromatics in water and then filtered to produce an array of stills, or in this case, perfumes.
“Parfums de Rosine” was the first signature fragrance to be launched by a design house way back in 1911. French courtier Paul Poiret was the mastermind behind the perfume, named after his daughter, which he introduced to the elite of Parisian society during a swanky costume ball. Each guest was presented with a bottle branded as “Nuit Persane” in accordance with the theme of the evening. His follow up scent “Le Minaret” was released in 1912.
Fit for a Queen
The first modern style perfume (essentially the blending of oils with an alcohol solution) was called “Hungary Water”. It was made for Queen Elizabeth of Hungary in the 1300s and was a delicate mix of rosemary, verbena essence and thyme blended with brandy. The unusual part was that the perfume could be used as a kind of tonic water to treat a variety of ailments. Some claimed that in order for the scent to have maximum effect, it had to be swallowed. Bottoms up!
Whale of a Time
Ambergris, otherwise known as whale vomit, is a waxy, grey substance regurgitated by Sperm Whales. As it ages, it develops a sweet, earthy scent and it is still used by some of the more expensive perfume producers as a fixative (this allows the scent to last longer). More commonly though, a synthetic substitute is used. Other animal sources, such as deer musk and castoreum (from the North American beaver), have been used in the manufacturing of perfumes in the past, but most have been replaced by synthetic substitutes too.
Whilst the pulse points are often the spot of choice to which a scent is applied, spraying your fragrance on the chest and in the back of the neck is said to maximise its smell. The reason for this is because these areas are said to become hotspots when we become either excited or scared, during which the heat released intensifies the perfume’s aroma. Spritzing a few sprays onto the hair is also a great way to make a scent last – the hairs retain the smell for much longer.
Eau de Cologne originated (surprisingly) in Cologne, Germany. This milder, much more diluted form of perfume was used by both men and women, although in modern times this style has been associated mainly with men’s fragrances. It was originally mixed by Italian immigrant Giovanni Maria Farina (or Johann as he was known in Germany) who named it after his new home. He claimed the smell reminded him of the Italian springtime in the morning.
Certain perfumes can have a profoundly positive effect on one’s mood. Smell, emotion and memory are irrevocably linked and that is why certain smells can trigger certain emotional memories. The scent of lavender is said to have relaxing effects whilst citrus-based fragrances gives you an energy boost. You can always trust your signature fragrance to cheer you up when you’re feeling down.