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.