Incredibly we have been using perfume in one guise or another for thousands of years. Fragrance has been used in religions ceremonies, medieval medicine, and to demonstrate ones wealth and power.
First we will answer some popular perfume related questions, then take a journey from early civilisation all the way to the present day with a rather helpful history of perfume timeline.
Where Does The Word ‘Perfume’ Come From?
The word perfume originates from the Latin word perfumare, which literally means ‘to smoke through’.
Where Did Perfume Originally Come From?
The earliest discovered use of perfume was by the early Egyptians.
The Egyptians predominantly ruled between circa 3000 BC to 1000 BC where perfumes and incenses were used in religious ceremonies.
These early Egyptian oil based perfumes would contain spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, myrrh and cassia bark, and have been described in writings in a number of Egyptian Temples.
Pharaoh’s mummies have been discovered with fragrance used as part of the embalming process. It is also thought that Pharaoh’s and the Egyptian wealthy elite used perfume as a status symbol of their social standing and power.
How Was Perfume Originally Created?
The Egyptians, early Arabs and Greeks all originally created perfume by burning incense and herbs such as frankincense and myrrh for religious purposes.
As time moved on, exotic herbs and spices would be ground up and mixed with oils to create the first early perfume that people could wear as a fragrance.
What Does Modern Perfume Contain?
Perfume of the modern age is made from a combination of denatured ethyl alcohol scented essential oils. It’s the precise combination of these scented essential oils that provides each perfume with it’s own unique fragrance.
There are three main varieties:
What Was The First Perfume Ever Made?
The first modern perfume ever made was known as Hungary Water. It was a blend of scented oils (rosemary, thyme, orange blossom and lemon) contained in an alcohol solution. Queen Elizabeth of Hungary had commissioned its creation in the early 1300’s.
What Is The Oldest Perfume Still Being Made?
4711 Original Eau de Cologne is thought to be the oldest perfume still being made, and it’s precise recipe (unchanged since 1792) is a secret to this day. Check out my review of the 4711 Floral Collection.
Bergamot, lemon and orange give citrus tones, the lavender, rosemary and bitter orange blossom provide a floral feast on the senses. It’s not often you can smell over 200 years old and still turn heads!
Why Is France Famous For Fragrance?
Chanel, Dior, Guerlain and Yves Saint Laurent to name just a handful of the most important and iconic French perfume houses of all time. Why does France dominate the perfume industry to such an extreme?
Deodorant was not going to be invented and brought to the masses until the early 1900’s. Before this time frequent bathing was deemed an unnecessary luxury, so perfumes were used to ‘disguise body odor.
According to the history books, the Queen of France (Catherine de Medici) who reigned from 1547 to 1559, was given a pair of scented gloves by a tanner from the French town of Grasse as a gift. From here it is said that the perfume industry was born.
Due to it’s perfect climate for growing flowering plants such as lavender and rose, the town of Grasse moved from tanning and quickly became the epicenter of the countries perfume industry.
The rest as they say, is history.
Why not pay a visit to the Perfume Museum in Grasse?
History Of Perfume Timeline
Let’s now delve into our helpful history of perfume timeline where you can explore the use of perfume throughout the ages.
It has been discovered that during the Egyptian era, fragrances were used during the mummification of Pharaoh’s and also worn by the wealthy. Perfume ‘recipe’s have been found written in many Egyptian temples.
Philosopher and army commander Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) recorded rose scented water being use to mask smells in public areas. When Julius Caesar forcibly took the Egyptian throne in 47 BC he celebrated by throwing bottles of precious perfume into the crowd.
The first alcohol-based fragrance is commissioned in 1371 for Queen Elisabeth of Hungary. This first ‘modern’ perfume was known as Hungary Water. It originally contained oils of rosemary, thyme, orange blossom and lemon ion an alcohol solution.
Perfume remained the main substitute for daily hygiene among the upper classes, and after the creation of the lighter ‘cologne water’, fragrances became more accessible for all classes.
In England, Queen Elizabeth I (reign 7th September 1533 – 24th March 1603) orders for all public places to be perfumed.
By this time perfume was deemed so important to the French aristocracy that King Louis XIV (reign 1643 to 1715) commissioned his perfumer to create a new scent for each day of the week.
In 1709, Italian perfumer Giovanni Maria Farina puts the German town of Cologne firmly on the fragrance map with his alcohol-based masterpiece ‘Fragrance Eau de Cologne’.
During the Victorian era perfume finally becomes more affordable to the ‘masses’. Queen Victoria herself grants The Crown Perfumery (founded in 1872 by William Sparks Thomson) special permission to add an image of her crown to the perfume bottles.
An explosion of perfumes houses emerges and perfume becomes a must have fashion item. In 1921, what is now deemded to be one of the most famous and iconic fragrances of all time was launched. It’s name… Chanel No.5. Then came Jean Patou’s Joy perfume in 1935. In 1947, a young Christian Dior released another perfume you may have heard of… Miss Dior
We need YOUR thoughts! Get in touch to tell us which perfumes created from 1st Jan 2001 on-wards are potential future classics?
As of writing this article, our money is on either Coco Mademoiselle by Chanel or Black Orchid by Tom Ford
Our perfume timeline clearly shows that man-made fragrances have been an important part of human history and culture for thousands of years. Initially used in religious ceremonies, it was also used to demonstrate social status by the wearer due to it’s rarity and cost.
Our sense of smell is a powerful force. Perfume can alter our mood, trigger memories and affect how others perceive us!
Before you go, I have put together a review of the most elegant perfumes ranging from timeless classics to modern day sophistication that I think you will enjoy.
Discover Your Perfect Fragrance
Please take a moment to browse through my hand-picked collection of exquisite perfumes.
There may just be the perfect fragrance waiting there for you!
Ingrid is an avid perfume collector, fragrance writer & reviewer, fragrance Youtuber and Friend member of the British Society of Perfumers who has worked in the fashion industry for over 30 years.