History of Perfume

History of Perfume

We say, hear and use the word "perfume" (or parfum in French) a lot. What does it actually mean, have you wondered? I was looking up for some information on the Internet and found some interesting things to share with you all.

The word has its Latin origin meaning to smoke through "per fumus". This could have meant the boiling/distilling of ingredients during the preparation process which gives out fragrant smoke or the smoke that comes from the burning incenses. 

Perfume existed a long time ago and it is believed the Mesopotamians and the Egyptians were the first peoples to be using it and the art of perfumery was further refined by the ancient Greeks and Romans. There were also documents showing that Asian people used perfumes too but the perfume was mainly incense based. 

Throughout history, different perfumers developed different distinctive scents and fragrances and I have discovered some interesting stories during my online research.

Fun facts about perfume:

Possible earliest depiction of perfume making

This fragment of an Egyptian tomb plaque showed how lily perfume was made. As I do not read Egyptian hieroglyph, I wonder what would be the meaning of the "snake with bunny ears" on top of the big perfume jar...And if it could mean one of the ingredients too...

Who was the first chemist to create perfume?

Tapputi, a female chemist, was the world's first recorded chemist who made perfumes at the Royal Palace in Babylonian Mesopotamia, some 4,000 years ago. According to Wikipedia, she used "flowers, oil, and calamus along with cyperus, myrrh and balsam." How did she make it? She would add water or other solvents to the floral ingredients, distilled and filtered a few times to make her perfume. 

Where is the capital of perfume?

Grasse, in France, is considered the world's capital of perfume.

What happened when you name your perfume Champagne or Opium?

The French fashion house, Yves Saint Laurent (YSL), made and sold a new perfume named Champagne in 1993. The controversial name sparked a bitter legal battle between YSL and the alcoholic drink makers in the real Champagne region, citing that no other products than the real bubbly drink should be named Champagne and YSL was ordered by the French court to change its product's name if it was to be sold in France and other EU countries.

This was not the first time the fashion house collided with the public when issuing their fragrance. Back in 1977 when the fashion mega name introduced their new scent Opium, the public was concerned about its relation to the addictive drug. The Chinese community in the United States especially, strongly opposed the use of such name as they saw the ill-chosen word a painful reminder especially to the Chinese communities how this drug had destroyed so many lives in China just a century before.

Who were the world's well known biggest fans of perfume?

You must have heard, in one way or other, the legend of Napoleon suffering from bad stomach problem and to cover the odor of the gas he passed? He splashed himself with Eau de Cologne. It was also said that his wife, Josephine, introduced him to bathing and the using of perfumes. The new habit had proven to be addictive as court papers showed that Napoleon had as many as 50 bottles of Eau de Cologne to be sent to him each month. You can find more interesting story about Napoleon and Josephine here.


Napoleon and Josephine had a penchant for perfumes and colognes
Napoleon and Josephine, painting by Harold H. Piffard (1863 - 1938)

The first Eau de Cologne

The first Eau de Cologne was created by Giovanni Marie Farnia, an Italian perfumer, in 1709, who named the scent after his new hometown Cologne in Germany.


The original Farnia Eau de Cologne in its modern day packaging

The most famous Eau de Cologne 

It has to be the 4711 Eau de Cologne created by the German perfumer Wilhelm Mülhens in the 18th century. The cologne was named after its location at Glockengasse No. 4711. 


The most famous perfume

It has to be Joy, released by Jean Patou in 1929. It has been voted "Scent of the Century". The famous black glass bottle was designed by Jean Patou and was used since 1930. He was inspired by the Chinese snuff bottle on the left.

Using an everyday ingredient as perfume? 

Why not? Some housewives did use vanilla oil as perfume back in the old days. Who says you need expensive labels when you can use this everyday cooking ingredient!

The most iconic bottle

When fashion brands spent so much money to make the most beautiful ever bottle for their perfume, Chanel decided to introduce its signature scent No. 5 in a simple glass bottle which mimics a laboratory jar. 

Since its introduction, this perfume was made even more famous after Andy Warhol silk-screened this image on his artwork, aptly named Chanel


This screenprinted artwork by Andy Warhol was sold in 2007 at US$145,000 by Christie's

Image from Christie's website

Using of atomiser nozzle in perfume bottles

The first atomiser nozzle was invented by an American doctor Allen DeVilbiss, an ear, nose and throat specialist from Ohio, who used it to spray medicine on the back of his patients' throats in 1887.  The easy and great use of this invention caught other physicians' attention that Dr. DeVilbiss opened a factory to manufacture atomisers in 1890.

The device since then, has been applied to many other usages and perfume is one of them, thanks to Thomas DeVilbiss, the son of Dr. DeVilbiss, who joined the company in 1905 and started manufacturing perfume atomizers.



A vintage 1940s - 1950s Furry Friends Perfume and Atomiser Set available from our webshop

The earliest perfume bottles

Earliest perfume bottles aren't disappointing at all. The craftsmanship on them show clearly how perfume was treasured even in ancient time. The below bottle was a Greek artifact, one of the earliest perfume bottles unearthed. It is made by terracotta and in the shape of a siren, circa 570 B.C. You can click here to find out more beautifully made perfume bottles around the world.

CM Dixon/Print Collector/Getty Images

The below female head perfume bottle was an Etruscan (now central Italy) perfume vase. The inscribed word on its head reads "suthina”, which means “for the tomb” in retrograde Etruscan script. The bottle is made in bronze, and was from the early 2nd century BC.

Famous quotes on perfume

Coco Chanel: A woman who doesn't wear perfume has no future.

Christian Dior: A woman's perfume tells more about her than her handwriting.

Jean Paul Guerlain: Perfume is the most intense form of memory.

Marian Bendeth: Fragrance speaks the loudest on a subliminal level. 

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