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History of Perfume

Hieroglyphics in ancient tombs have proven that fragrance played a part in the lives of Ancient Egyptians dating back as far as King Menes in around 3500 and 3000 B.C.

In ancient times burning incense and sweet herbs was the privilege of priests in the earliest civilisations. It was these ceremonial burnings that gave perfume its name. In Roman times worship to the Gods took place ‘per fumum’, meaning ‘through smoke’. It was this Latin phrase which became the modern word perfume.

Priests gradually relinquished their exclusive use of ‘perfumes’ and people were ordered to perfume themselves at least once a week to mask the stench of unwashed skin. This ritual was performed using scented oils which were also used to cleanse the skin and paved the way for the great Greek and Roman bath houses.

Egyptians believed that perfumes should accompany the spirit when the ascended to the heavens. This is why a trace of fragrance could be detected in Tutankhamen’s tomb some 3300 years after his death.

Perfumes also featured heavily in the Bible most famously the three wise men carrying gifts of Frankincense and Myrrh to Jesus. If you recall the Christmas carol ‘We Three Kings’ there is a line “Myrrh is mine, a bitter perfume.”

The Phoenicians were traders of antiquity. Aromatic gums were bought over from China and sold to rich Europeans. The possession of such perfumes was seen as evidence of wealth and social standing.

The Greeks are said to have been the first people to make liquid perfume, although it was very different to what we know today. Their perfumes consisted of heavy oils and mixed fragrant powders.

Perfumes were not only used to scent the body but also to coat papyrus manuscripts to protect them from insects in the time of Roman Emperor Augustus.

Romans used to apply perfume 3 times a day; pets and household objects would also be perfumed. At feasts birds would be released to dispense perfume from their wings.

When Cleopatra first travelled to meet Mark Antony, her arrival was announced by the pungent perfumes before her barge was in sight.

The process of extracting oils from flowers was first discovered by an Arabian doctor/chemist. His first experiments were with the rose and this “rose water” became instantly popular because of its light delicate smell. Before this discovery, perfumes were made by crushing herbs and oils.

During the reign of Catherine de Medici in France, perfumes flourished. It is reputed that she even had her own Perfumer whose laboratory was connected to her apartments by a system of underground tunnels to stop any formulas being stolen.

Perfume came to its peak in England during the reigns of Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I. Queen Elizabeth had all public places scented as she couldn’t stand foul smells.

Florida water - a mix of oils from cloves, cassia and lemongrass was particularly popular in early America.

At the turn of the Century, perfume was just a single flower fragrance – rose, violet, lilac or lily. Around a decade later, bouquets of fragrance were introduced and later abstract fragrances with no ties to single floral scents or bouquets group. This advancement paved the way for the perfumes we know today.

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