Before you step out of the house for a big date or an adventurous night, what do you do? More often than not, the finishing touch is your fragrance - a spritz of your favourite fragrance on the inside of your wrist will give you the confidence you need before you head out. As it has been done so many times, it has already become a ritual that you don't give much thought to it anymore. However, when you perform this ritual, you are paying homage to a tradition that goes back all the way to ancient Egyptian times.
The history of perfume is fascinating and rich, spanning over centuries and borders. The knowledge about this history will certainly give you that extra something when you administer that sweet-smelling substance on yourself.
With the vast number of fanciful rituals and adornments used by the ancient Egyptians, it's no surprise that the creation of perfume is credited to them. The burning of incense to communicate to the gods during religious rituals was common practice, and women used scented ointments for cosmetic purposes. Myrrh, frankincense, rose, and peppermint were the sweet fragrances one could enjoy during these times.
Perfume was brought to Greece through the conquering of Egypt by Alexander the Great, and through maritime trade. The ancient Greeks became enthralled by this new substance; both men and women covered themselves in it, often using a different fragrance for different parts of the body. The excessive use of perfume became too much for one politician and poet named Solon, who tried to restrict the sale of perfume. However, the love of fragrance overturned this decree.
The love affair of perfume was also echoed by the Romans, who went beyond anointing themselves with perfume and used fragrances on walls and even pets. China, India, and the Islamic world also had a fondness for fragrances.
We are all guilty of doing this once in a while: using fragrance to cover up our unpleasant body odours when we haven't bathed. This was actually the norm during the Renaissance period - seeing as bathing was blamed for the spread of diseases such as the Black Plague (people bathed in public baths) and it ruined elaborate hairstyles. To mask their odours, the aristocracy instead took perfume showers - covering themselves in perfume.
France, a country now known for its rich perfume culture, began this reputation during the Enlightenment. Eau du Cologne was developed by a young Italian, who invented it in Germany and brought it to France where it was made popular. The popularity of perfume in the French court led to the development of a bustling French perfume industry, whose practices and traditions inspired the iconic French perfume houses that we know and love today.
Perfume was a luxury item coveted by the high society of Europe, but it's interesting to note that the popularity and availability of fragrance in other parts of the world, such as India, did not wane. It was, and continues to be, a normal part of life.
Advances in science and technology in the 19th century revolutionised perfume production, but it wasn't until the mid to late-20th century that perfume became a luxury item that those not belonging to high society could possess. Thanks to the creation and importance of the middle class and mass production being able to meet this new group's demand, perfume has become an essential item of many.
Even though it's now widely available in so many options and price points, perfume gives off a feeling of uniqueness and luxury to the wearer. With such a rich history, it really is no wonder.