Perfume has become an intrinsic part of our daily lives. It is a part of our identity. Think of an ordinary day and all the different smell sensations , the zesty invigorating shower gel, the familiarity of a personal perfume, the fresh-washed smell of just washed clothes, the citrus tang of the dish-wash liquid, the relaxing night massage oil.
The fragrance in each product we use is taken for granted, though behind the scenes the whole industry strives constantly to improve fragrances. People are essentially visually oriented, and dependent on sight and sound to gather information from the surroundings .”Smell” however is an extraordinary sense, closely linked to the limbic system (seat of emotions and the functions of memory), it has the power above all other senses to transport us, in an instant to times past or pervade our psyche to change our mood. The consumer is ahead of the scientist, however, now, more than ever before, the developed world is flooded with products to enhance every aspect of modern living. The consumer is spoilt for choice, but a choice must be made! Fragrance is an important part in the positioning of these products and is a feature that the consumer turns to automatically to underscore the promise. It is much more than a personal perfume. It is mysterious, ethereal, and elusive. Yet it is rooted solidly in the physical world and can therefore be examined scientifically.
The very word perfume is derived from the Latin perfumum, meaning ‘by’ or’through’smoke, as it was with the use of burning incense that the prayers of the ancients were transported to the heavens for the contemplations of the Gods. The use of fragrances developed within the four great centres of culture in China, India, Egypt and Mesopotamia, and was extended in the elite societies of Greece, Palestine.Rome, Persia and Arabia. The great world religions of Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and Zoroastroism employ fragrance in pursuance of their faiths. Thus, religious and pleasurable pursuits have been the main drives in the phenomenal growth of perfume usage throughout the centuries.
The Christian bible is chock-full of queen anne perfume fragrance descriptions. The story of Jesus of Nazareth is populated by fragrant materials, from frankincense and myrrh, his gifts at birth, through to the use of spikenard to wash his feet during life and finally the use of myrrh in the binding sheets of his body after crucifixion. Through trade and cultivation, Palestine became a great source of aromatic wealth. The Greeks further developed the use of fragrances, not only in praise of their gods, but also for purely hedonistic purposes. The sciences of medicine and herbalism developed with Hippocrates and Theophrastus, whilst Alexander the Great, tutored by Aristotle, in the third century BC advanced the use of alchemy. The most used fragrances of the Greeks were rose, saffron, frankincense, myrrh, violets, spikenard, and cinnamon and cedar wood.
Meanwhile, in Rome, Pliny the Elder outlined a primitive method of condensation which collected oil from rosin on a bed of wool , and also made the first tentative experiments in chromatography. Throughout the ages, perfume has provided a pathway to happiness.
The first professional perfumers piled their in Capua, which became a trading centre of the industry. Perfume was used in abundance at the games both as a gift for the gods and as a mask for malodors of a bloodstained and offal-dappled arena. It is estimated that in the first century Romans were consuming nearly 3000 tones of frankincense and over 500 tones of the more expensive myrrh. Roman emperors used perfume to excess, instanced by Nero and his wife Poppeae, who had a kind of ‘perfumed plumbing’ in their palaces, with false ceilings designed to drop the flower petals onto dinner guests and scented doves which fragranced the air with perfumed wings. When Poppeae died, it was said of Nero that he burned a whole year’s supply of incense on her funeral pyre.
Empress Zoë, in the Christian stronghold of Constantinople, had employed court perfumers. From there the practice spread, with Normans strewing flowers and rushes onto the floors of castles and churches to keep the air fragrant and acceptable.