These days, the vast majority of men and women consider a quick squirt of their favourite perfume or aftershave an intrinsic part of their morning ritual. You could argue that the criteria for the scent you wear each day should purely be based around the smell that you, yourself, find most pleasing; but the marketing of fragrances means that they are considered a key tool in alluring a partner and therefore at either a conscious or sub-conscious level we are all buying fragrances that we hope will please others too.
So, from this can we deduce that fragrances were developed to assist in our mating rituals? Actually no – the history of perfume actually has more spiritual roots, originally created for religious purposes to honour the gods. It is recorded that ancient civilisations dating as far back as 7000 years ago were using fragrance as part of their offerings to their countless deities. Fires were created, to which were added a fragrant ‘pot pourri’ of aromatic wood, incense, gum resins, herbs and spices and people walked through the smoke to wear the perfume. In fact, the word perfume stems from the Latin term per fumum, meaning “through smoke”.
It was from these origins that the concept of perfume arose, with techniques for extracting and preserving fragrances through boiling, pressing, drying, distillation and even blending with fats practised throughout the ancient world. However it was not until Roman monks discovered the distillation of alcohol that perfume production, in the true sense of the word, became possible.
The multi-million pound industry that we know today perhaps began its journey in earnest in the 18th century, with the establishment of a number of perfume houses. Techniques were improved and the “juices” as perfumers called their products became more sophisticated, and throughout the ages women have loved perfume including many famous women of our times.
At one time fragrance was a luxury for royalty; in 800BC, The Queen of Sheba used perfume to seduce King Solomon. Catherine de Medici – future wife of Henry II – bought her own perfumer with her as part of her entourage when she came to Britain, and she even established a perfume laboratory in Provence! Queen Elizabeth I was famous for her love of perfume; her clothes, gloves and shoes were steeped in the fragrance from damask roses and even the rooms of her palaces were sprinkled with scent.
Perhaps these historical women were the forerunners of today’s celebrities whose names are now closely associated with fragrance – albeit for more commercial reasons! Kylie, J Lo, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sean Paul and even Jade Goody have all placed their monikers on a bottle of scent! In fact, it could be argued that in today’s culture there are some who see celebrity as an almost ‘god-like’ status, so perhaps we haven’t come that far from the religious roots of perfume all those thousands of years ago.