A short history of perfume

The first preoccupation in attempting to relate the history of perfume is to emphasize Parfums ERRU’s philosophy inspired by the origins of fragrance creation.

According to National Geographic News (March 29, 2007), the world’s oldest known perfumes have been found on the island reputed to be the birthplace of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, lust, and beauty. Discovered on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus in 2003, the perfumes date back more than 4,000 years. Extracts of anise, pine, coriander, bergamot, almond, and parsley are among the ingredients the ancient perfume-makers preferred. It is still unknown why the people of Cyprus started making and wearing perfumes 4,000 years ago.

In India, perfume and perfumery are known from the Indus civilization in the period 3300 BC to 1300 BC.

The world’s first perfume record has it’s origins from the 2nd millennium BC in Mesopotamia. A woman by the name of Tapputi distilled flowers and other aromatics in order to produce perfume.

In the 9th century the Arab chemist Al-Kindi (Alkindus) wrote the Book of the Chemistry of Perfume and Distillations, which contained more than a hundred recipes for fragrant oils, salves, aromatic waters, and substitutes or imitations of costly drugs. The book also described 107 methods and recipes for perfume-making and perfume-making equipment, such as the alembic.

The Persian chemist Ibn Sina (also known as Avicenna) introduced the process of extracting oils from flowers by means of distillation, the procedure most commonly used today.

In Europe, all started around 1221 according monks from Florence, Italy. In Hungary, a perfume made of scented oils blended in an alcohol solution was produced in 1370. In the 14th century, thanks to Renato il fiorentino, France became one of the European centres of perfume and cosmetics manufacture. Between the 16th and 17th centuries, perfumes were used primarily by the wealthy to mask body odours resulting from infrequent bathing. Partly due to this patronage, the perfume industry developed. In 1693, Italian barber Giovanni Paolo Feminis created a perfume water called Aqua Admirabilis, today best known as eau de cologne; his nephew Johann Maria Farina (Giovanni Maria Farina) took over the business in 1732. By the 18th century the Grasse region of France, Sicily, and Calabria (in Italy) were growing aromatic plants to provide the growing perfume industry with raw materials. Even today, Italy and France remain the centre of European perfume design and trade.1

Today, we have reached a post-naturalism state, some are encouraging the benefits of capitalism, unconcerned by the ethics of our planet and the importance of ecology. With time, profitability has conducted to the elaboration of synthetic molecules able to replace natural products in the manufacture of fragrances. The first synthesis of odour molecules happened in the 1930’s as chemist experimentation rather than a demand from the perfumers. Nowadays, these synthetic molecules represent up to 98% of all the substances used in perfumery. The three main reasons for these numbers are: First the possibility to have a much larger range of odours (about 4000 vs. 300), secondly synthesis of flowers scents that could not be extracted, and last but not least the economical aspect as traditional methods of extractions are much more expensive.

We must admit though that some natural extracts also contain allergens and have potential physiological effects on our bodies. We have to keep in mind that essential oils and other plant extracts have medicinal properties. On the other hand, when we take a closer look into the production of modern fragrances, studies show the wide usage of hazardous substances as for example phthalates and synthetic musk. -“This suggests that regular use of perfumes could substantially contribute to individuals’ daily exposure to these chemicals, some of which have already been recorded as contaminants in blood and breast milk. Furthermore, there is increasing evidence of potential endocrine-disrupting properties for certain musk compounds.” (Greenpeace perfume investigation).2

A lot of studies and literature exist around these issues on the web. You are always welcome to take contact with Parfums ERRU for an advice.

Our intention is not to argue about what is good or bad, but rather to explain why Parfums ERRU prefers to use natural substances in your personal perfume creation.

  1. Wikipedia – History of perfume [back]
  2. Greenpeace Report 2005 – PERFUME – An investigation of chemicals in 36 eaux de toilette and eaux de parfum [back]