Perfume History: The Boom of the Fragrance Industry Started in the 20th Century

We already established that in the end of the 18th century and throughout the 19th century, perfume was merely a single-flower fragrance. Designer perfumes created as the result of a more complex recipe were considered too expensive and rather hard to get, they were merely a gift for the wealthy aristocrats. The most popular flower fragrances came from delicate flowers like rose, violet, lily of the valley or lilac.

Scents composed of floral bouquets were introduced towards the end of the first decade of the 1900s- as mass production on some of the biggest perfumes was started. This mass scale extension of the perfume industry came as a result of recent chemical discoveries, when compounds were found to bind the floral notes together. This made perfumes much cheaper, as well, compared to the exorbitant prices design would take before the 20th century. These new discovery in chemistry actually revolutionized the industry, also allowing abstract fragrance creation, things which had no relation to a single floral note. This allowed the creation of overtones and new synthetical notes which greatly changed the way people looked at perfume.

In 1921, famous couture artist Gabrielle Channel launched her own brand perfume. Created by Ernest Beaux, this was the 5th in a line of perfumes the designer presented Madame Chanel. Hence the legendary name no.5… a perfume that never ceased to make victims throughout history. Even today, when talking about perfume masterpieces, experts will unmistakably quote Chanel no.5 as the perfect accessory to a sophisticated and elegant lady. In fact, Ernest Beaux was the first creator ever to introduce the use of aldehydes in his perfume creations. Chanel no.5 was the first completely synthetic mass- market fragrance.

Only nine years after the creation of Chanel, the world of perfume saw the arrival of a new family of fragrances: the leathery perfumes.  Florals returned with a vengeance as well, with the emergence of more French perfume houses creating masterpiece after masterpiece- Jean Patou’s Joy created in 1935, Caron’s Fleurs de Rocaille in 1933.

Chanel’s example was soon followed by other world famous designers who started creating an assorting line of perfumes: from Christian Dior to Jacques Fath, from Pierre Balmain to Nina Ricci. And thus started the boom of the perfume industry…

The world of fragrance today is one full of joy for the senses: everything is being created for all tastes and budgets. Today’s perfumes are made by perfume experts trained in the aesthetic traditions of renaissance: they spend years in apprenticeship, learning everything that is to know about floral accords, amber notes, musk receptor antagonists and the molecular binding affinities of floral receptor proteins.

The art of perfumery started as a divine science used to conciliate the gods. Today, it has lost some of its mystical values but it has been opened to the masses. Everyone has access to these sublime creations today, and due to this fact, we live in a more flavorful world now, one where memories of the Paradise flowers is no longer a memory.

A Scent History: The 18th Century and the Grasse Tradition

If there ever was Golden Age of perfume creation, especially for the European world, then the 18th century can be considered it.

In 18th century France, perfume art was one of the most important and many of the world respected recipes were born here. Generally, during that time, perfumes fell into two categories: floral and musky. Floral scents of the time were created using blooms from roses, jasmines and orange flower, distilled into water.  The obtained scents were quite close to the note range perfume designers use today. As for musks, they were usually animal- based and they were considered more masculine.  As a social aspect, perfume served as a popular odor equalizer in the merchant and noble classes, this, in an age where bathing practices were dubious, to say the least.  Another note about 18th century perfumery is that masculine and feminine fragrances were hardly distinguishable during those times.  A man might wear a wash of rose water to fresh his skin while a lady might don a heady amber toilet for a candle-lit dance.

As for recipes, they were considered state secrets and well guarded treasures. Some perfumes were as simple as distilling the scent of a single popular bloom, one of the most popular was rose water. Other perfumes would use a sometimes very rare and exhaustive list, including a process that was considered very troublesome. These more complex perfumes would be more popular among the noble class.

Grasse- the World Capital of Perfume

Throughout the Middle Ages, Grasse became famous for its tanners, the softness of its leather and the quality of the savoir-faire of its artisans had just one flaw, an odor from the hides that could make one ill. It was the perfume artist Gallimard who had the idea of scenting the leather products. The result: a famous pair of perfumed gloves he sent as a gift to Catherine de Medici. The fashion was launched and this innovation would contribute years later to the recognition by the court in 1614 of the new guild of “glover-perfumers”. Perfumery did not cease to develop but it was during the modern period that it took on great importance.

Perfume design grew and developed around the work of three famous competitors’ houses: Gallimard, Mollinard and Fragonard. It was in Grasse that the cold enfleurage process developed- permitting the  extraction of the most delicate flowers like citrus blossom, jasmine or tuberose.

The city blossomed from a commercial point of view, around the beautiful art of perfumery, as the relentless work of these three designers’ businesses created more business and artisanal activity for corkmakers, glassmakers, boilermakers, transporters.

The 19th and the 20th century signaled the progressive industrialization of the trades, in particular for extraction, now via volatile solvents patented in 1894 by the industrialist Léon Chrisis or later, organic synthesis made possible synthetic products of which the mythical Chanel No 5 is the finest example.

Towards the end of the 19th century, perfume creation in Grasse was at its peak.  The big French houses like Rochas, Dior and Chanel would even own their own fields of flowers in the area.

A History of Perfume: from Ancient Greece to the Arabic Countries

In our previous post, we have already established that the history of perfume dates back to the ancient world. The Egyptians employed fragrances as part of their religious ceremonials, believing that they could communicate with the gods by raising scented smoke. This is actually where fragrances were born. It was also the Egyptians that invented glass and later utilized it to store their perfumes.

Ancient Greece

The Phoenicians were the ones that introduced the world of perfume to the Greeks. In only a few centuries, the Greeks became the dominant nation in the trade of perfume. It is notable to mention the fact that most of the recipes and techniques the Greeks would use came from the Egyptians.

Perfume was so popular in Greece that its use became restricted in 640 BC when Solon decided too much perfume was actually a real waste. Although the sale of fragrances was restricted by law, Solon’s law wasn’t successful, as perfume remained the best sold product in Ancient Greece.

While the Greeks were those that categorized fragrances and kept a detailed record of their composition, it was the Persians that actually improved the art of preserving scent.

The art of perfumery in the early Middle Ages

It is interesting to note that, as Christianity spread, the use of perfume diminished throughout the European countries. This only lasted until the 12th century, when the routes for commerce opened to Asian countries and traders coming from the international routes would bring in more scents and spices. Perfume use revived, as it was a great addition to personal grooming. In those early days of fragrances, people often developed their own fragrances by mixing flowers, herbs, spices and oils in their own home. 

The Arabic worlds

After the rise of Christianity in Europe, the use of perfume in daily life became obsolete. However, the Arabs did preserve it. The followers of Mohammed mostly loved musk, but also roses and amber. They used to blend the substance even with the cement of which mosques were built. One of the largest discoveries originates from the 10th century, when the still was invented, as a consequence of which the distil techniques improved. Through the Spaniards and the crusaders the perfume arrived in Europe again. Catharina de Medici initiated the perfume industry when she left Italy in the 16th century and married the French crown prince. Suddenly everyone wanted gloves of perfumed leather. The best glove perfumers came from Grasse in France. Grasse developed in such a way that this became a leading perfume city, and still is important today


Is Perfume an Art? Short Introduction to a Scent History

Classicism, romanticism, expressionism: for art lovers, these are very familiar terms that describe movements of art.  But are they applied to perfume as well?

We have Mozart for the ears, Van Gogh for the eyes and Dior for the nose. Why is then perfume making not traditionally recognized as an art form? Art historians aren’t listing perfume history in their books, nor are they documenting the traditional houses and schools. Even nowadays, the western world considers perfume a consumer’s good, something that is manufactured and sold for mass consumption, just like food, drinks or cleaning products.

We believe that, in spite of the art historians’ ignorance of the matter, perfume making can be considered an art form. Like many applied arts, perfume making expresses ideas and feelings. The activity in itself demands creativity, knowledge and a refined sense of beauty. A perfume creator is an artisan and the work coming out of his imagination and senses is not only unique, but also structured in such a way that it resembles a musical creation.

While this can be debated for hours on end, let us focus our next blogging attempts to detailing the history of this beautiful art. From the Ancient Egyptians to today’s classic perfume houses, we will attempt a time travel event that will touch upon the most important moments in the art of perfumery.

Short introduction

The concept of perfume is thousands of years old. The term itself comes from the Latin per fume “through smoke” referencing the idea that scented oils were first used to be burned . The burning of incense and aromatic herbs was used in religious services, and some of the first notes were aromatic gums, frankincense and myrrh, gathered from trees. The Egyptians were the first to incorporate perfume into their culture followed by the ancient Chinese, Hindus, Israelites, Carthaginians, Arabs, Greeks, and Romans. The earliest use of perfume bottles is Egyptian and dates to around 1000 BC. The Egyptians invented glass and perfume bottles were one of the first common uses for glass.

The Egyptians

The first historical account of perfume use is during the rule of Queen Sheba. Egyptians at the time were using perfume as part of their religious culture. Incense was used for embalming the dead, making it an integral part of the Egyptian life.

The scent that has traveled to us through centuries was called the kyphi and according to historians, this was the odor that was released into the air when the tomb of  Tutankhamen was opened. Surviving through so many centuries, this perfume proved the fact that the Egyptians’ art for creating scent was actually well advanced and their methods are probably lost forever in time. This also explains why perfume was considered more expensive and precious than gold and diamonds, during those times.

Egyptians are also credited as being the first to anoint their bodies with scents of cinnamon and honey. Later in their development, they started distilling scents from the flowers of lilies and other exotic flowers brought from India, Palestine or Persia. Even during their times, perfume was reserved exclusively for the wealthy and influential figures in the Egyptian society.

New and Recommended Fragrances You Should Be Looking for This Year

Have you had enough of your old perfume? If you are trying to change it something new and trendy, here are a few suggestions.

Newer fragrance: As Oscar season has just wrapped up, we cannot ignore acknowledging one of the latest and most successful fragrances launched at the end of 2013, which is now gaining more momentum with actress Cate Blanchett’s big win at the Oscars: Armani’s Si.

If you haven’t heard of it, it is time you checked it out in shops everywhere and maybe even bought it.

According to some experts, this new perfume is an absolute accomplishment, which is only equaled by the house’s classic Aqua di Gioia. It belongs in the cyphre perfumes category and is fronted by Blanchett- switching the focus from the conventionally young and sexy model Armani uses for its recent fragrances. This means the target is more mature and sophisticated women who know how to appreciate a true designer’s creation.

Fragrance description:

This fruity and sophisticated creation opens very clearly with delicate and assertive notes of Sicilian Bergamot, Mandarin oil and Liquer de Cassis. At the heart of the whole edifice you will find several stronger, classically recognized notes of Rose de Mai absolute, Neroli absolute and Egyptian Jasmine absolute. After a few minutes of wearing, you will be overwhelmed by warm undertones of cyphre combinations. Patchouli oil stands out from these notes. Amber and musky tones are also felt. Everything is wrapped up with a sweet accord of vanilla, which will give this entire composition a longevity and power.

3 fragrances to hit the shelves in 2014:

  • Guerlain Idylle Duet Rose Patchouli Perfume- This incredible new scent is developed on the concept of blending Bulgarian rose and leaves of Indonesian patchouli. This is a seasonal perfume that will be available this spring.
  • Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Limon Verde Fragrance- Reminding the wearer of a hot summer vacation on a beach, with a Caipirinha in hand, this is the ultimate must have. Refreshing and citrusy, it is expected to hit the markets early this spring.
  • Kenzo Couleur Violet- This is the third member of a series of perfumes launched a year back with Rose- Pink and Jaune- Yellow. This perfume, expected to be launched in April starts out with notes of exquisite blueberry, leading to the floral heart of elegant violet and the base made with chilled currants.

For more new and classic perfume options at the best prices, check our LilyDirect site. Also look for the new creations this spring, as we always keep our perfume offer updated.