In ancient civilizations Egypt and Greece, perfume as such did not exist. Flowers, fragrant herbs and resins were means for praising the gods. The use of fragrant substances was reduced to burning flowers, aromatic herbs, resins and spices to create fragrant smoke, making balms and possibly for aromatic potions-liqueur. Perfume was a symbol of beauty and power of the gods.
In many cases, fragrant substances were used for embalming important people of that time, but also as additives to remedies.
In medieval times, the Crusaders brought raw materials and perfume production techniques from the Orient. After the Chinese and the Arabs, European alchemists discovered ethyl alcohol and distillation. Also Marko Polos journeys spread trading of spices. Back then it was believed that good scents had attributes of disinfectants and prevented epidemics. The church, of course, strongly condemned the alchemists who were involved in production of aromatic liquids. Rich people wore perfumed balls of musk and ambergris or filled with fragrant resins. The use of perfumes was at the beginning of its new meaning, the poets celebrated it as a reflection of femininity. Despite the protests and warnings of the church, people used scented baths to enhance their natural body odour and to become more attractive.
During the Renaissance, the queens and courtiers argued fiercely about the recipes of the best Italian chemists as well as new discovered substances from Asia and America.
The Renaissance introduced a completely new view on the world and the milieu in whole Europe. Alchemic recipes were replaced with first chemical procedures, and the discovery of new continents brought a whole spectrum of new and unknown raw materials like: cacao, vanilla, tobacco, pepper, cloves, ginger and balms from Peru. Coquettes, mistresses of kings and powerful women at royal courts competed over the secrets of beauty and fine fragrances. This also included the secrets of making poisons as a powerful tool in the competition.
From Spain and especially from Italy through the Medici family, the perfumers conquered France. Versailles placed perfumers and producers of powders and gloves on the throne.
The glittering palace in Versailles was the place to be regarding fashion. In four years, King Louis XIV bathed only once! Being dirty was normal. In order to suppress somehow the stench of unwashed bodies, men and women used cosmetic products of that time, powders and especially perfumes.
Montpellier and Grasse competed for the primacy in the production of medicinal herbs and flowers such as: carnations, violets, lavender, jasmine and tuberose. At that time women discovered the dictatorship of fashion, the significance of hairstyle, makeup and perfume, although Cleopatra realized that much earlier.
The palace of Louis XV was the Palace of Perfume. Perfumes were changed every day; it was even specified what to use each day.
The promotion of rules of female elegance was at its beginnings, and the awareness of personal hygiene was finally returning. Priority was given to fine scents, especially those from Paris, which were thriving at that time. Chemists from Grasse live in affluence and make progress in techniques of distillation and perfume production.
In Cologne, Jean-Antoine Farina discovers cologne water (Eau de Cologne).
During the Napoleon era, the epoch of romance, women are looking for fine perfumes to accentuate their personality.
Josephine spent a fortune on exotic scents while Napoleon was satisfied with cologne. In 1789 scented baths as a trend started to spread from England. In the time of Romanticism women are turning away from strong makeup and perfumes to being pale and lightly perfumed.
In the late 19th century, with the development and rise of civil society, the perfume industry creates the first synthetic perfumes.
After a short time of vetiver and patchouli domination, the second half of the 19th century is marked by the rise of civil society and fine taste. Shops with luxury goods are flourishing, and creating perfumes becomes art. Chemistry and newly discovered substances lead into the revolution of scents. This was the birth of modern perfume production.
In 1900, during the time of Belle Époque, perfume was a status symbol. From then onwards, each perfume has a name and a bottle. In those years, the first institutes of beauty were established, which also created their own perfumes, such as Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein.
With the Jugendstil movement a wave of enthusiasm arrived. Coty and Lalique created a new symbol of luxury in perfume production.
In the era of emancipation and Charleston-girls a new breath of freshness is discovered in the perfume world; perfumes based on aldehydes. In these extravagant years and the boom of Charleston, the film industry enters the scene with big stars. Aldehydes bring new freshness, dynamic and euphoria, all the way until the stock market crash.
Fashion and perfumes are not very popular in times of economic crisis, pre-war and war years.
The film industry of that time produces big stars, and the fashion is restricted to Hollywood and the models they create.
After the war, a new time comes - the time of Christian Dior. The first fashion magazine for women Marie Claire provides all information women are interested in. Fashion makers create strong, characteristic perfumes.
In the 1950s, perfumes experience democratization, so Eau de Toilette is now also used by men. American perfume manufactures also become popular.
The time of revolution and behavioural freedom replaces high fashion with ready-to-wear collections. Perfumes are becoming more affordable and created with more simple fragrances.
1960: The revolution and the movement of 1968 are followed by a new wave of scents. The Hippie movement brings back the scent of patchouli, but fashion houses do not care about old scents, and keep pushing the freshness and lightness of new fragrances.
Feminism, getting back to nature, the liberation of homosexuality, new romance and many styles during the 1970s introduce a huge variety of perfumes on the market. The 1980s are confronted with the yuppie-movement and new ideologies after the fall of the Berlin wall. Perfumes of that decade are as strong as the events on the world scene. Competition between men and women in their personal success is reflected on the overall fashion scene, so the perfumes reflect that struggle for primacy.
After this materialistic phase, the scene is calming down and everyone is returning to fruity fragrances coming from America. Next in line is the new freshness.
The late 20th century is characterized by big turbulences, wars and fears. To escape the material world, the globalization and the internet, people are turning to the very beginnings and childhood refuge, so dominant scents in perfume production are vanilla, caramel, milk... New eau the toilettes smell like clean water, a touch of sea breeze and the simplest natural scents.
The return to original and essential fragrances in perfumes: earth, fire, water and air.