History of Perfumes

What to know the history of perfume? We’ve created an accessible guide to all the perfume facts you need! From perfumes in America to the chemistry of perfume, top selling perfumes in history to famous perfume houses, we’ve compiled the most exciting and entertaining facts for you. Read on find out everything you ever wanted to know about perfume!

Commonly used perfume ingredients

Commonly used perfume ingredients

Plant and animal extracts have been used in perfumes and fragrances for thousands of years. There are many different types of plant sources used. The following plant sources are the most commonly used:

  • Barks such as Cinnamon
  • Flowers such as roses, jasmine, plumeria, gardenia.
  • Fruits such as apples and citrus fruits.
  • Leaves including lavender, rosemary and violets.
  • Seeds: cocoa, nutmeg and other spices.
  • Woods:Commonly used woods include sandalwood, rosewood and pine.

The use of animal sources in perfumes is not as common today as it once was due to ethical and legal issues. Up until the 20th century, musk was a common animal extract used in perfumes. Musk is found in a gland of the male musk deer, however the term has come to refer to glandular secretions from other animals and plants similar in odor to musk. Animal sources also once included sperm whales and civets, both are no longer used for ethical reasons. Synthetic fragrances have replaced the substances that are no longer allowed.

While the use of synthetics in perfumes is good for replacing animal sources, users have to be careful of certain harmful chemicals that can be found in perfumes. Certain types of alcohols used in perfumes may affect the more fragrant sensitive wearers. As of right now perfume manufacturers do not have to disclose the chemical ingredients of perfumes. So be careful!

Top selling perfumes in history

Top selling perfumes in history

As the perfume industry has grown over the last century there have been several perfumes that revolutionized or forever changed the market. Here are a few of the big ones that act as landmarks in the perfume industry:

  • Coco Chanel introduced her No.5 perfume in 1921. It was the first perfume to use synthetics in its fragrance. Today a bottle is sold every 55 seconds. Check out more of Coco Chanel parfumes.
  • Opium by Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) was first introduced in 1977. The release of the fragrance with notes of spices and fruit. Yves Saint Laurent incorporated oriental decor into the packaging, bottle design, and even launch party. The fragrance created controversy over its name as well as the cultural connotations. Chinese-Americans protested that the name be changed. All the controversy and attention given to the fragrance helped it become one of the best selling perfumes of the 20th century.
  • Joy by Jean Patou: Introduced in 1929 by French designer Jean Patou. The heavy floral scented fragrance was and still is advertised as “the most costly perfume in the world.” The large amount of natural ingredients in Joy is what makes it so costly as well as treasured.

Where perfumes are made

Where perfumes are made

It is no surprise that some of the largest producers of perfumers are in many of the regions in which an abundance of natural perfume ingredients grow. One of the best examples of this is the city of Grasse in the Provence region in France. The city created a name for itself in the 17th century as a major center of perfumery. The fields that surround the area overflow with fragrant herbs and flowers have turned the area into a main center for herb and flower growing for the perfume industry. Perfume production in the region accounts for two-thirds of the perfumes created in France. The town has embraced its status as one of the perfume capitals of the world as tourists flock to their perfume factories, shops and museums every year. Some of the historic manufacturers that are still in production in Grasse include Fragonard, Galimard and Molinard.

During the times of Ancient Rome and Greece, the Italian region of Campania became famous for its perfume production. The fields of the regions were abundant in roses and they became a popular ingredient in the production of perfumes.

Cologne, Germany is also a well known city for perfume production. You can read more about it in History of Cologne above.

History of cologne

History of cologne

Although perfumes have been made and used since the time of Ancient Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt, what is now known as cologne was officially introduced and created in Cologne, Germany in 1709. Farina’s creation brought wide attention to the city of Cologne for its perfume production. Giovanni Maria Farina (he is also known as Johann Maria Farina or Jean Marie Farina) introduced his lightly fragrant and unique formula and it soon became popular. The light fragrance created was soon worn by royalty throughout Europe. Many also consider the first Eau de Cologne as the first aftershave.

As it became more and more popular many wanted to know the recipe of Farina’s concoction. In 2009, Farina’s cologne is still in production and the recipe still remains a secret. His fragrance is still in production today going by the name of its creator, Jean Marie Farina

Now that you know the history check out Become’s wide selection of Men’s Colognes!

Perfumes in history

Perfumes in history

Archaeologists have discovered that nearly all of the ancient civilizations used and produced perfumes or fragrant oils. The remains of perfume shops in the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Palestine as well as Rome and Greece provide historians with evidence and insight into the process, ingredients, and uses of the fragrant oils and perfumes.

The ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt both created and used fragrances for societal customs and religious traditions. Similar to modern times, perfumes were first used primarily by the aristocratic class before becoming more widely used by the masses. A major difference between the composition of perfumes in ancient times and the perfumes of today is what was used as a base for the fragrance. Modern perfumes use alcohol while ancient perfumes used oils such as olive oil or others. Evidence from ancient art suggests that the perfume making process involved heating the oil with plants and adding the aromatic ingredients. The created perfumes were used for a variety of uses such including medicinal purposes, embalming, as well as anointment and offerings during religious ceremonies. It was so commonly for religious purposes that almost all of the large sanctuaries had an in house perfumery, a room used exclusively for the creating perfumes. Society women also frequently wore perfumes.

Meanwhile in Ancient Rome and Greece, art, excavations, and ancient writings all provide evidence that perfumes and fragrances were common in those societies. Art from periods often included scenes of women making perfume and often included the recipes of their concoctions. Perfume shops were often in the center of town or commerce area and frequented by shoppers. In some areas the shops also acted as a place for citizens to socialize. Evidence shows that perfumes with cinnamon and balsam of Judea were the most expensive. Those and other exotic ingredients were added to heated olive oil which was a commonly used base. As the trend of creating perfumes spread to other areas of Italy, local ingredients began to become incorporated. Perfumes became a common production regionally based on the available resources of ingredients.

Today cinnamon continues to be a popular note in fragrances, some popular perfumes with notes of cinnamon include Burberry London for Men and Estee Lauder’s Youth Dew.

Chemistry of perfume

Chemistry of perfume

The ingredients in fragrances and perfumes fall into two categories, naturals and synthetics. Up until the 1920′s, perfumes consisted mostly of naturals. The term “naturals” refers to natural sources such as plant and animal extracts. Naturals are more commonly referred to as “essential oils” to the general population. Natural perfume scents come from fragrant plants and flowers that are then broken down with their scent extracted from them.

Synthetic materials of all types were a product of the Industrial Revolution. From synthetic fibers to synthetic compounds used in medicines, synthetic aromas became used in place of pure natural oils. Synthetics are on the opposite end of the spectrum from naturals. Synthetics are fragrances that are not naturally found but are instead created in a laboratory through chemical compounds. Chanel No. 5 was the first perfume to rely heavily on synthetics in its fragrance. The use of synthetics in perfumes and fragrances allow perfumes to be mass-produced and for a fraction of the cost. Perfumes with a high percentage of natural oils and extracts are more expensive. Using synthetic ingredients lowers the fragrance price and allows more people to enjoy it.

Perfumes before the 20th century

Perfumes before the 20th century

Prior to the 20th century, Europe was the source and main producer of fragrances and perfumes. The first alcohol-based perfume was created in Hungary in 1370; it is considered the first modern perfume for its use of an alcohol solution for a base as opposed to the oils that were used as bases in the ancient civilizations. The fragrance was created for the Queen of Hungary and it became known as “Hungary Water” throughout Europe. The modern practice of perfume-making prospered throughout Europe and guilds of perfumers were soon organized. For hundreds of years thereafter perfumes were primarily used by the wealthy that often had their personal perfumers. In 18th century France, the court of King Louis XV was called “the perfumed court” for its heavy use of the scented fragrances, not only on clothing but also furniture and objects throughout the royal palace. The elaborate use of perfumes continued through the reign of Napoleon.

Many of the famous perfume houses today go back to 19th century Europe. One such example is Guerlain. The Guerlain perfume house was first established in 1828 in Paris by Pierre-Francois Pascal Guerlain. Guerlain, with the help of his two sons, would create custom scents for his aristocratic patrons. His success and prestige grew quickly and he soon had the honor of creating perfumes for Queen Victoria as well as Queen Isabelle II. The Guerlain house of perfumes would continue to prosper for generations after Pierre-Francois’s death in 1864 and keep their reputation of master perfumers. In 1889, Guerlain released the first highly-concentrated perfume Jicky which is close to the perfumes created in the 20th century. They are still creating popular fragrances today. Many of the scents created in early 1900′s are still sold and marketed today. Guerlain perfumes include Mitsouko (originally created in 1919) as well as Shalimar (1925).

Famous perfume houses

Famous perfume houses

One thing that makes a perfume famous is the length of time the perfume house has been around. The success of a perfume depends not just upon its current popularity but, more importantly, the reputation that the perfume house has retained over the years. There are few perfume houses that have stood through the test of time. The perfume houses that have lasted for years are truly bestsellers. Here are a couple of these in vogue perfumes from the most reputable perfume houses. Check Become.com for more popular, classic and reputable fragrances.

Guerlain is among the oldest perfume houses in the world. It first garnered public attention way back in 1853. In the early 1900s it achieved acclaim under the direction of Jacques Guerlain, the first perfumer to incorporate vanilla in the perfume-making process. This highly esteemed brand of perfumes has a large and loyal customer base. Vanilla and amber are the basic ingredients in most of Guerlain’s fragrances. The Guerlain Insolence perfume is a true Guerlain product with its remarkable scent of confections. With its unique blend of almond blossoms and the feminine charm of jasmine, it symbolizes grace and spontaneity.

Hermès is another big perfume house that was primarily known for its accessories and leather good until the second half of the 21st century. However, in 1946 Hermès launched its first perfume and hasn’t looked back since. The Hermès perfume Jardin is a unisex fragrance with scents of vetiver accord, coriander, ginger flowers, peppers and cardamom. This designer perfume, which was launched in 2008, is recommended for evening wear.

History of Chanel

History of Chanel

Today Chanel is synonymous with elegance and class. In addition to her suits, jackets and the “little black dress”, her signature fragrances have been worn and treasured by generations of women.

While she is known for her exquisite clothing designs and signature fragrances, Coco Chanel started her fashion career by opening a millinery shop in 1912 in Paris. She quickly made a name for herself as she began designing simple and comfortable dresses, trousers, and ensembles for women. In a time period when most women wore corsets, comfortable and sometimes “mannish” clothing was quite a novel concept. Close to ten years after opening her first shop, Coco Chanel created her signature scent Chanel No. 5. Chanel No. 5 created a buzz at the time of its inception because of its heavy jasmine notes. During the 1920′s jasmine was one of the most expensive perfume oils which made Chanel No.5 one of the most expensive perfumes on the market. Aside from being one of the most expensive perfumes, Chanel No. 5 was the first perfume to use synthetic floral aldehydes in its top note. The use of synthetic aldehydes gave the fragrance a lasting scent that didn’t require constant reapplication. To this day, Chanel No. 5 remains one of the most popular perfumes in the world. She would go on to create other signature scents, whatever the scent may be a Coco Chanel perfume is bound to be spectacular.

Few designers have a legacy that matches that of Coco Chanel’s. After her death in 1971, her signature fashion styles have remained in style and treasured by generations of women. In an industry of constantly changing trends, Chanel’s classic looks (and scents) will always be in style.

Perfumes in America

Perfumes in America

Prior to the nineteenth century and modern chemistry, the market of women’s perfumes consisted mainly of natural oils that required constant reapplication. The perfume industry exploded onto the American market in the first half of the twentieth century.

Following the achievements in chemistry in the 19th century, fragrances became a popular product beginning in the 1930′s. In 1937 the Shulton Company first introduced Early American Old Spice. Surprisingly it was for women with Old Spice for Men following a year later in 1938. Their signature products of shaving creams and aftershaves would soon follow and would become their signature products.

In the 1930′s Elizabeth Arden was one of the first big American beauty brands. Inspired by the European trends at the time, Elizabeth Arden introduced American women to new styles and types of makeup, revolutionizing the industry and market. In 1935 she introduced her first fragrance, Blue Grass Perfume . She and her company have gone on to introduce other perfumes such as Red Door perfume and 5th Avenue Perfume. Whatever the scent may be, Elizabeth Arden perfume is always popular.

Estee Lauder has been helping women maintain their beauty since the incorporation of her company, The Estee Lauder Companies Inc., in 1946. For over sixty years, Estee Lauder has been leading the cosmetics and fragrance industry. Shortly after the founding of her company and the introduction of several cosmetic creams, Estee Lauder launched her first fragrance, Youth Dew in 1953. It was first introduced as bath oil and sold for an affordable $8.50 a bottle. Women everywhere loved Estee’s creation, the fragrance now sold in multiple forms, remains one of the most popular fragrances sold today. Some of the popular Estee Lauder perfumes today include Beautiful, Pleasures and White Linen.