The word perfume itself inspires myriad feelings within people – and for good reason. Our sense of smell has evolved over millennia, and it is particularly sharp for identifying memories attached to specific scents. For example, when people smell a flowery scent, say gardenia or freesia, they may become nostalgic as they recall their mother hugging them after school in their childhood, Still others, when they catch a whiff of a masculine scent like sandalwood, may find that they are reminiscing about their beau – whether current or past! This rich tapestry of feelings would not be possible without perfume invention. Sit tight as we take you on a journey across time to the origins of perfume making, how each culture utilized scents and how the modern perfume came about but first…
What Does Perfume Mean?
Did you know that the word perfume has its roots in Latin? It quite literally means “a sweet-smelling fluid that contains the essence of flowers and other substances”. If that sounds a tad vague to you, you should bear in mind that the earliest versions of what we call perfume today, only had natural ingredients. Indeed, one of the most abundant and fragrant sources of ingredients in nature are flowers before synthetic compounds were invented.
The Earliest Origins Of Perfume
Many people associate ancient Egyptians with the pyramids and the sphinx, but an oft-overlooked part of their history is that they were – quite inadvertently – the pioneers of perfume making. How so? Well, they had a rather elaborate burial ritual – in the form of mummification. Archaeologists have found that the mummies are rather well-preserved and this is due, in a large part, to various scents like ritual oils and resin. While this was originally only used for royalty, it became a fairly ubiquitous part of daily hygiene too owing to the increase in trade of spices and aromas. Similarly for ancient Greeks, perfume was not only confined to ceremonial occasions but also had entered the profane space.
How Different Cultures Contributed to Perfume Invention
Each culture and epoch brought with it something new to the table of perfume making. For instance, the use of glass containers for perfumes is attributed to the Romans. If you wonder why glass, specifically is used, it’s because the material itself is odorless and easy to shape and color which is evident in the heterogeneity of designs and colors of perfume bottles today. Arabs are credited with the creation of the alembic, an apparatus used for distillation. Distillation techniques like extracting oils from flowers then spread to the rest of Europe.
Perfumes as we know them today really began gaining traction at the beginning of the 20th century. The discovery of various chemical compounds like aldehydes ensured that perfumes lasted longer. Synthetic compounds became ubiquitous and perfumes were marketed as a style and status symbol. Over the last century, techniques have improved and the processes have simplified however, the essence of perfumes has not changed: they are first and foremost a nod to one’s identity and heritage.