Enhancing Your Scent of Smell: How Perfume Came and Stayed!

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We think nothing of wearing perfume now, but thousands of years ago, its use was more than just cosmetic. Perfume was a main ingredient in the preparation of dead bodies for the afterlife. It was used as part of the embalming process and was even applied on manuscripts to keep pests away. Perfume was also used for worship to honor gods and with wine to enhance its flavor. It was also applied as fumigation, to keep pestilence away.

Perfume throughout history
Centuries ago, perfume existed only as part of religious ceremonies where it was used to anoint as oil and burned as incense. It was believed that perfume had the ability to enhance a human being's power and beauty and so rich or poor, they stood equal before the gods.

The main sources of perfume were flowers, herbs, resins, bark and gums. The first encounter with perfume was in the form of incense. Incense was first used in Mesopotamia where people burned wood barks and resins during religious celebrations. Raw fragrant materials were also soaked in oil and water and rubbed on the body.

Incense was soon introduced to the Egyptians who built botanical gardens dedicated to fragrance-producing trees and plants. Egyptians were fussy about personal hygiene and went to elaborate lengths to bathe themselves in scented water and oils. Perfume is also mentioned extensively in the Bible from Moses' time to the cedar woods of Solomon's temples to Jesus' birth.

The Greeks and Romans learned about perfume from the Egyptians and after bringing it to their home countries, used it with a vengeance. Romans applied perfume thrice daily. Horses and pets were also included. They also practiced using scents on candles, cushions and draperies and even their servants wore scents. During festivals and celebrations, they applied perfume on bird' wings and then released them to imbue the air with fragrance.

The Phoenicians traded aromatic gums with China, from whom Europeans also bought their supplies. During this period, only rich men could afford perfume and having fragrant oils and liquids were considered evidence of great wealth. To prove this, wealthy men and women carried balls of cloth filled with aromatic resins.

During the Renaissance, the increase in travel ushered in explorations and new discoveries. Aromatic herbs and spices were brought from other parts of the globe and introduced perfume to a wide audience. Perfumers set up shop and some moved to France, where perfume became mandatory in the royal court. Considering that the Sun King himself took only one bath every four years, perfume was used excessively.

Little by little, more sources of fragrance emerged: lilies, violet, jasmine, tuberose, lavender, patchouli and vetiver emerged. The middle class began to emerge during the 19th century, and luxury goods were traded.

The end of the 19th century saw the entrepreneurial move of fragrance businesses into targeting middle class women. It was also during this time that synthetic ingredients were first used in perfumes. The flappers of the 1920s were one of its first fans. After WWII, fashion designers and perfumers introduced 'character fragrance' which catered to different personalities.

The 1950s era introduced the first eaux de toilette for men and this was also the time that Estee Lauder introduced her house's first perfume. During the 1960s, the lighter, milder eau fraiches ruled. It was in the 1970s when perfumes were worn to promote a message, whether the wearer was romantic, provocative or just plain natural.

The materialistic 80s saw the emergence of designer and fruity scents as men and women became more aware of their bodies in tune with the elements. The 90s introduced more natural scents, fragrances that evoked the smell of water, air, earth and sea.

How scents were extracted
Direct application, crushing, mixing, soaking and burning were the first few methods employed to extract scent. It was the highly-respected Arabian philosopher and physician Avicenna who used the process of distillation to obtain essential oils from roses. The result was the delicately scented rose water which became very popular. As opposed to the earlier crushed petals mixed with heavy oils, rose water was light and refreshing.

Modern methods of extraction along with the use of chemical synthesis to create a unique scent have greatly improved the method of extracting oils and creating a fragrance. Perfume is now enjoyed in major categories like floral, oriental, fruity, green marine, floriental and chypre.

The concentrations of fragrance
Perfume or parfum is made from 22% essential oils. It is the most expensive type of fragrance and has the most concentration, followed by the eau de parfum which contains about 15 to 22% of essential oils. Eau de toilette is made with 8 to 15% essential oils while the eau de cologne contains just 4%. The lightest form of fragrance is the eau fraiche, which contains 1 to 3%.

The packaging of scent
Some of the first containers used for perfumes were made of gold and alabaster, used by Greeks to hold liquid perfume. These were basically oils mixed with fragrant powders. The Egyptians used porcelain, stone, glass and ebony to store their scents, aside from gold and alabaster.

Modern storage of perfume is mainly relegated to glass containers. New designs have given us more and more choices in perfume packaging from the provocative to the simple, from the classic to the playful, each bottle reflected the essence of what it contained.

There is so much magic and attraction to using perfume that people actually refer to 'wearing' it instead of 'using' it. What makes it hard to define is that choices are made based on an individual's preferences, affording perfume the kind of uniqueness and numinous quality that is sure to keep it on our shelves for centuries to come.
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