Perfume is incredibly popular today. In fact, if you meet someone that doesn’t use perfume it is pretty rare. Today perfume is used by everyone for hygiene reasons, to show our personality, as a status symbol, and to attract others to us. It is something that from a young age we think has special properties that once someone has caught the scent will increase their attraction to us. Whether it works or not is up for debate but what is not up for debate is how important perfume has become to society with the global market estimated to be worth USD 33.7 billion in 2020 and has a forecast annual growth rate of 3.9%. Perfume is important and getting even more important. It wasn’t always this way. Let’s look at the history of perfume.
There is some debate over where perfume began. There is evidence that perfume was used as far back as the 2nd century BC as a tablet was discovered that mentioned a perfumer and chemist named Tapputi who was part of the Mesopotamian civilization. The bible also mentions perfume in the Book of Exodus that was said to be sacred and it consisted of cinnamon and other sweet-smelling flavors.
The reason for perfume was very different from how we use it today. Perfume started as a purely religious substance. For those who have been to mass, you may remember how they sometimes walk the aisles spreading a song incense flavor in the room. Ancient Egyptian priests used perfumes to sweeten the smell of sacrificial offerings. If you are going to sacrifice a dead animal, don’t expect it to smell good. Use some perfume to cover the smell of death instead. Not only this but ancient Egyptians believed that if they burned incense it would connect them to the gods. Soon the rich and wealthy started to adorn themselves with these perfumes on a permanent basis to be in the favor of the gods. It became a symbol of status to be able to wear these scents. Cleopatra is probably the most famous user of perfume from ancient times. Legend has it that she would cover the sails of her boat in strong oils so that when she sailed to Mark Anothony he would catch her sent before she arrived and it would help her to seduce him.
The ancient Greeks were also big fans of perfume and started to use them for hygiene reasons. They even prescribed these ointments as a way of preventing disease. For the name ‘perfume’ though we have to thank the Romans. The Latin phrase “per fumum” means through smoke. It was widely used by Romans with one Emperor actually wanting the fountains to smell sweeter during his time and so they were mixed with rosewater.
Islamic cultures are responsible for use of perfume around the world. Europeans purchased many perfumes during trades and the scent soon spread. It is believed that the first modern perfume was created in 1370 for the Queen of Hungary. This used an alcohol solution and as such was distinctively different from anything that came before.
Perfume really took off when the Italiens got involved. They created a perfume that was made of 95% alcohol and was infused with a strong scent. This invention alone made Venice, Italy the center of the perfume trade for nearly a thousand years. France also got involved and Louis XIV famously wanted his palace to constantly smell like perfume. He told his servants to create a scent for each day of the week and made anyone entering the court be sprayed with perfume.
Perfume has an incredible history and has become even more popular in modern times. Coco Chanel is likely the most famous perfume person in the 20th century. She created her Chanel 5 scent in 1921 and it has been popular ever since. In more recent times celebrities have tried to own the perfume game realizing that their brand could put them at the top of the market. The next king or queen of perfume has yet to be decided but with such a complex history it is only a matter of time before a new perfume chapter is written.