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Perfumes – Their History

perfumesThe History of Perfumes

Once upon a time in a land far away there lived a wise and wonderful woman. Her name was Tapputi-Belatikallim, or Tapputi for short. She worked within the palace with flowers, oils and balsam. She, relying on her skills as a chemist, made perfumes from these natural wonders that were available to her.

Tapputi lived around 3000 years ago in Mesopotamia and her work was referenced on a cuneiform tablet – a clay tablet into which messages were impressed or engraved. Tapputi is the world’s first recorded chemist.

Also long ago, in another land not too far away and around the same time, there was an enormous perfume factory on the island of Cyprus. Amazingly, this factory covered 4000m2, which suggests that it was being made on a large scale.

Clearly, men and women have used perfume throughout the ages and there has always been a close interplay between chemistry and perfumery.

During the first millennia, Jābir ibn Hayyān (known as Geber) and Al-Kindi (known as Alkindus), two Iraqi chemists established the perfume industry – and developed techniques that are used today. These include distillation, evaporation and filtration.

perfumes 1Al-Kindi extensively researched perfumes and pharmaceuticals, and wrote a book (during the 9th century) containing over one hundred recipes, “Book of the Chemistry of Perfume and Distillations.”

During the 14th century, a perfume was made for Queen Elizabeth of Hungary from scented oils in an alcohol solution. This became known as “Hungary Water.” During this time, it was mostly the royalty of the West that used perfumery.

As time went on, perfume became more and more popular. The perfume industry responded to this demand, ultimately finding ways to make large quantities of perfumes quickly, cheaply and without relying on crops.

Predominantly, perfumes today are made from chemicals, which are not so costly for the manufacturers and provide a reliable source.

My history of perfumes…

When I was little, Mum had a bottle of perfume that she would wear on special occasions – the bottle, I think, lasted my whole childhood. It was precious and used to mark an event.

perfumes coffeeFrom a young age, I recall knowing where Mum was taking us because I could identify the smell. As a teenager, I retraced Mum’s steps and sniffed out the shop where she bought her freshly-ground coffee – an aroma that I still cherish!

Scents are strongly emotive and can cause the memories of places, thoughts, people, emotions and more, to resurface quickly.

Being blessed with an acute sense of smell, I have greatly enjoyed working with and blending essential oils since I was 18 years old.

I feel honoured to be using more traditional methods in my work. Using essential oils, to me, is using something as close to nature as possible – as not only the fragrance, but also the energetic qualities are captured through cold-pressing and distillation.

Now, with my allergies and sensitivities, I am grateful that I am absolutely fine with anything natural, but a waft of a chemical fragrance and the story is very different. In hindsight, Mum’s sparing use of perfume probably kept my tolerance at a decent level… Hilariously, the only perfume that I was given, and I was 17 at the time, was “Poison”!!

Wishing you all the best of health!

(c) 26/10/12

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Author of all content is Lucinda Curran, unless otherwise indicated.