The first written documentation on perfumery has been found in the Messopotamian civilization. The Sumerians have left to us many prescriptions of ointments and perfumes, and Queen Schubab who lived in 3,500 years B.C. is the first known royalty buried with cosmetics. The Messopotamian culture influenced the Egyptians.
Until the beginning of Egypt’s Golden Age, perfumes were used only in rituals for Gods. Pharaohs were accompanied by more than two hundred maids with smoky censers, perfuming their route. Cleopatra, known for her beauty and femininity was also legendary for the power of her scent. She arrived in Egypt from Rome to become queen, with clouds of perfume announcing her arrival before her barge came to view. She greeted Mark Anthony on a ship with perfumed sails.
In time, perfumes became available to the citizens which were commanded to perfume themselves minimum once a week. Egyptians carried perfume from birth to beyond death, accompanying the soul in the Other World. They took great pride in the vessels that kept their perfumes, and when glass appeared around 1500 BC, it was more expensive than jewels.
The ancient Greeks considered beauty, aesthetic harmony, proportion and balance as divine. The Greek Gods in mythology were teaching the mortals to use perfumes. Venus nailed a thorn of a rosebush and from that day on legend has it that the rose is red, and no more white, and carries its aroma.
The Greeks developed perfumery through Crete, Syria and other towns. Products were used in such abundance that Solon, one of the seven sages, banned imports by the 6th century due to their high costs. That ban did not last long, as the Greeks were so fond of scents, that nothing could stop them.
The major contribution of the Greeks to perfumery is not in the scents themselves, but in the art of presenting them. The Greeks created pottery which is considered until today as unsurpassed. They created seven forms of flasks and decorated them with the mythical geometrical movites, mythological scenes and fantastic animals.
During that period, the Phoenicians played an important commercial role in the industry. This ancient culture with over 7000 years of history had settled between the sea and the Lebanon mounts. As great navigators and retailers, they were capable and intelligent people who quickly became rich from the commerce of cedar and murex. Their taste for trade and travel made them the first perfume distributors in the Mediterranean.
Rome – a prose and austere town was profoundly changed by the Greek influence indulging the love of perfumes throughout the empire. With the end of the republic and the first centuries of the empire, Rome became a very rich and prosperous city, where perfumes grew to be part of the culture. They were applied three times a day not only on humans, but also on pet dogs and horses. Birds were released from their cages during feasts to dispense perfume from their wings. Draperies, tables, and all accessories were perfumed and servants wore musk, marjoram, spikenard, and other scents.
The Roman perfumers were located in the “Vicus unguentarium” district, where they prepared and sold their perfumes and ointments and built their names. With the fall of the Romans and the rise of Christianity, which preached austerity and moderation, the use of perfumes declined significantly and was limited to the royal courts and nobility.
The Byzantine empire, heir of Rome, perpetuated the traditions of perfumery in the East. The south of Arabia, today’s desert, was once as a mythically beautiful and green region. Over time, it took over the world traditions and became the Land of perfumes, trading essences throughout the world. Being great experts, the Arabs not only assimilated and perfectioned the knowledge of previous civilizations, but introduced the art of distillation of alcohol as essence support and began the elaboration of perfumes. Avicenna, the Arabian doctor was also a chemist, first experimented with the rose, creating Rose water. Together with the musk and the civet, they became the queens of the aromas in all the Middle Ages.
The discovery of alcohol led to the creation of the Water of the Queen of Hungary, and legend has it that it was given to her in the XIV century when she was quite aged and infertile. It did her so much good that the King of Poland proposed her a marriage.
During that period Venice and Florence were the capitals of perfumes. The most legendary figure of the time, Catherine de Medici, left to France to marry King Henry II, taking her own perfumer, Rene le Florentin from Italy, with her. Her apartments and his laboratory were connected by a secret passageway, so that no formulae could be stolen on the way. Rene opened a perfume store in Paris which became a great success. Legend says he was known to compose equally well perfumes and poisons.
Published in Venice in 1555, the first perfume treaty featured 328 perfume preparations, and constituted for over two centuries the base of literature in the field.
Many interesting things occurred since. Feminis, an Italian living in Cologne, was the first to commercialize l’eau de Cologne under the name Aqua Mirabilis. His nephew, Jean-Pierre Farina brought the creation to its heights, counting Napoleon amongst his biggest fans.
1900: Perfume as art
The beginning of the 20th century has been marked with the conception of the perfume as an object of modern art, and in 1910 Paul Poiret launched Le Parfums de Rosine, which marks the generation of couturier-parfumeurs.
1920 -1960 : the apogee of French perfumery.
This is the golden period of French perfumery, where perfumes were an artistic expression and an aesthetic and olfactive celebration. Industrialization and commercialization began, with mass production and synthetic materials.
1960-1980 : Diversity
The 1960s until the end of the 1980s were a revolutionary period. A period of redefining values and society. A period of contrast and extremes. The fragrances of the time seeked to reflect this new reality, the economic and social unrests and the influence of the street.
1990s : Globalisation
In the 1990s, the perfume industry can be characterised with its loss of artistic sense and the concenration of the field in the hands of several multinationals. Large scale marketing, synthetic raw materials and financial strength became key success factors, leaving behind the actual perfume and its meaning. The buyer is a consumer, not an individual whose taste is to be understood and whose personality cultivated. Mass and volume were the key.
2000s: Back to sophistication
Today the world is experiencing profound changes. Following the process of globalization, we experienced both its positive and negative aspects. People now seek individuality, signature and uniqueness, and the perfumery tendencies are back to their solid basics:
- We return to the sophisticated, original and daring fragrance
- We return to feminine and masculine fragrances, and not unisex products
- We seek back the emotional and artistic aspects of our products