Firstly it is necessary to understand that perfumery is an ancient art. And for those who believe that France is the cradle of this craft, I’ll outright say this is incorrect information. Perfumery has existed since the dawn of humanity, making it impossible to date its birth. The first records on perfumes and how it’s used are dated B.C.E., in ancient civilizations, such as ancient Egypt. Before these records, it is known that the human species developed a privileged relationship with the sense of smell, which was refined and used a lot more before we even had assumed an erect posture. The fact is that perfumery is not something modern. On the contrary, before we got to know it in its current form, it was already used for different purposes: ritualistic, medicinal, aesthetic, etc. Here it is worth mentioning that NATURAL PERFUMERY was the first perfumery to exist and it is precisely this that gives rise to all other types of perfumery we know today.
Ancient civilizations, such as Egypt and Greece, used perfumes with a spiritual purpose. They burned resins and aromatic plants in order to communicate with their gods. Therefore, for these peoples, perfume was something divine; it was the bridge of communication between God and men. From these ritualistic practices came the inspiration for the name “perfume”, originated from Latin “per fumus” meaning “through smoke”. There are indications that these societies were already using rare raw materials, such as jasmine, rose, myrrh and frankincense. The story goes that the beautiful Egyptian women used perfumes for various occasions: “they had different perfumes depending on the days, on the parts of the body, on their temperament.”
This sophisticated art, for a long time, was dominated by the Orientals, and only later it reached Europe. Before France had joined the game, the one who came to dominate perfumery in the West was Italy, which maintained commercial relations with the East and which, thanks to the high investments of the bankers of Florence in the 15th century, gained access to the techniques of the aromatic plants’ cultivation, as well as the extraction of essential oils. About a century later, mainly with the union of the Italian Catherine de Medici with King Henry II, France began to participate more actively in perfumery. It is said that Catherine brought along to France her renowned perfumer, René Le Florentin, and thanks to diplomatic relations between these two kingdoms, the French discovered the oriental techniques of growing flowers, spices and extracting perfumes.
In Europe, the perfume becomes a real luxury. Of course I mean natural perfumes. They were the privilege of the nobility, Kings, Queens and of every class that could afford the high costs of natural essences. The Princess of Nerola (Marie-Anne de La Trémoille) made orange blossom water famous because she was in the habit of perfuming her gloves with this rare natural essence, named Neroli in her honor. Emperor Napoleon could not live without his eau de cologne made from orange blossom and noble citrus fruit that generally came from Italy.
The Hungarian Queen’s perfume was a revolution in this universe, since, based on it, appeared the first alcohol-based perfumes of the West, which changed the history of perfume consumption. At the end of the 19th century, organic chemistry began to develop and natural perfumery began to lose strength, being gradually replaced by synthetic perfumery. Coty revolutionized synthetic perfumes; Channel was not left behind, especially with its Chanel No. 5, sensualized by Marilyn Monroe. From then onwards, the field and the perfumery market had an unprecedented expansion, perfumery and fashion starting to walk side by side.
In the 21st century, especially since 2010, the public has changed. For them, consumer goods are now more associated with their meanings, awareness when consuming, lifestyle, ethical and aesthetic values, and health, a trend that the perfumery market follows. However, what we see today is not the birth of a new perfumery: but the rescue of an art much older than we imagined. Natural perfumery conquers its place again, adapting to the needs of demanding consumers who seek much more than a perfume, but also quality of life, the story behind each fragrance and their personalization, because through it we tell our own story and we discover our true essence. We are living in a golden phase in perfumery, in which we see far beyond the bottle and seek more and more content.
FLORES, Angelica. “What is Natural Perfumery?”. Natural Perfumery Blog. Curitiba, May 13, 2019. Available at: https://www.labriseparfum.com/o-que-e-perfumaria-natural/
BARRY, Nicolas de. The art of perfumes: colognes, soaps, bath salts, candles. São Paulo: Editora Senac São Paulo: Boccato, 2012.