Perfume was first used by the Egyptians as part of their religious rituals. The two principal methods of use at this time was the burning of incense and the application of balms and ointments. Perfumed oils were applied to the skin for eithercosmetic or medicinal purposes. During the Old and Middle Kingdoms, perfumes were reserved exclusively for religious rituals such as cleansing ceremonies.
Then during the New Kingdom (1580-1085 BC) they were used during festivals and Egyptian women also used perfumed creams and oils as toiletries ar cosmetics and as preludes to love-making.The use of perfume then spread to Greece, Rome, and the Islamic world. And it was the Islamic community that kept the use of perfumes since the spread of Christianity led to a decline in the use of perfume.
With the fall of the Roman Empire, perfume’s influence dwindled. It was not until the twelfth century and the development of international trade that this decline was reversed.
Perfume enjoyed huge success during the seventeenth century. Perfumed gloves became popular in France and in 1656, the guild of glove and perfume-makers was established. The use of perfume in France grew steadily. The court of Louis XV was even named “the perfumed court” due to the scents which were applied daily not only to the skin but also to clothing, fans and furniture.
The eighteenth century saw a revolutionary advance in perfumery with the invention of eau de Cologne. This refreshing blend of rosemary, neroli, bergamot and lemon was used in a multitude of different ways: diluted in bath water, mixed with wine, eaten on a sugar lump, as a mouthwash, an enema or an ingredient for a poultice, injected directly… and so on.
The variety of eighteenth-century perfume containers was as wide as that of the fragrances and their uses. Sponges soaked in scented vinaigres de toilette were kept in gilded metal vinaigrettes. Liquid perfumes came in beautiful Louis XIV-style pear-shaped bottles. Glass became increasingly popular, particularly in France with the opening of the Baccarat factory in 1765.
As with industry and the arts, perfume was to undergo profound change in the nineteenth century. Changing tastes and the development of modern chemistry laid the foundations of perfumery as we know it today. Alchemy gave way to chemistry and new fragrances were created.
The French Revolution had in no way diminished the taste for perfume, there was even a fragrance called “Parfum a la Guillotine.” Under the post-revolutionary government, people once again dared to express a penchant for luxury goods, including perfume. A profusion of vanity boxes containing perfumes appeared in the 19th century. This picture shows a woman at her dressing table.
Due to its jasmine, rose and orange-growing trades, the town of Grasse in Provence established itself as the largest production center for raw materials. The statutes of the perfume-makers of Grasse were passed in 1724. Paris became the commercial counterpart to Grasse and the world center of perfume. Perfume houses such as Houbigant , Lubin, Roger & Gallet, and Guerlain were all based in Paris.
Soon bottling became more important. Perfume maker Francois Coty formed a partnership with Rene Lalique. Lalique then produced bottles for Guerlain, D’Orsay, Lubin, Molinard, Roger & Gallet and others. Baccarat then joined in, producing the bottle for Mitsouko (Guerlain), Shalimar (Guerlain) and others. Brosse glassworks created the memorable bottle for Jeanne Lanvin’s Arpege, and the famous Chanel No.5.
1921- Couturier Gabrielle Chanel launches her own brand of perfume, created by Ernest Beaux, she calls it Chanel No.5 because it was the fifth in a line of fragrances Ernest Beaux presented her. Ernest Beaux was the first perfumer to use aldehydes (see perfumery ingredients) regularly in perfumery.
The 1930’s saw the arrival of the leather family of fragrances, and florals also became quite popular with the emergence of Worth’s Je Reviens (1932), Caron’s Fleurs de Rocaille (1933) and Jean Patou’s Joy (1935). With French perfumery at it’s peak in the 1950’s, other designers such as Christian Dior, Jacques Fath, Nina Ricci, Pierre Balmain.. and so on, started creating their own scents.