News from Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Perfume Industry- How It Started

These short essays on fragrance are meant to give you a basic understanding of the importance of fragrance and get you started toward making your own. There is so much to learn, and when you are as passionate about fragrance as I am, simplifying it into a few short discussions is almost impossible.I want to make you aware of what is around you, and the role scents play in your life. And a little history couldn't hurt.

When the dark ages descended on Europe, bathing was rare, and considered dangerous to your health. Probably because of polluted water.  A class culture developed; the working classes, because they worked, smelled worse than the leisure classes, so prejudice developed. In the time of the plagues, disease smelled bad and the odor was associated with poor, dirty, and diseased. Since unpleasant body scent was associated with the lower classes, if you wanted to raise your class, you had to smell better.  The search for pleasing odors became an obsession, especially among upper class men. They reeked of musk. Since patchouli was a moth repellant, their clothes often smelled of wet dirt. They bathed in cologne water, considered safer than plain water. Journalists of the day commented that the odors in some gala affairs became so oppressive, what with the perspiration, unwashed clothes, and musk from perfumed leather, that one could hardly stand to attend.
Women, on the other hand, contented themselves with flower waters they distilled at home. As alcohol distillation spread throughout Europe, and oils became readily available, local alchemists took advantage of the opportunity to blend perfumes.

The first recorded cologne, Aqua Hungarica, or Hungary Water, was made in 1370 for the Queen of Hungary. It was a concoction of rosemary, orange, lemon and lime, and the rumor was that it kept her so desirable that she received a proposal of marriage at the age of 72. Being Queen might have had something to do with it. Napoleon Bonaparte's fondness for violets is well documented. He took cases of Parma Violet Cologne Water to Elbe when exiled. 
There was only one problem remaining before perfumery could become a full-blown industry. There were only two was to get essential oils: distillation and pressing, in the case of citrus oils, because the fragrance was in the oily skin. So far, the oils produced were from herbs and woods. The most exquisite oils from jasmine, gardenia, cassie and tuberose would not survive distillation. It was left to an Italian, Count Orsini, to revive the ancient art of enfleurage; that of packing petals in sterile fat and allowing the fragrant oils to transfer to the fat, which was then distilled. He succeeded with Orange Flowers (neroli) and produced a cologne, he named Farina, which became the rage. It is the world's oldest cologne, commercially produced. The formula is owned by Roger & Gallet and has undergone changes, but it is still marketed under the name Vielle. The fragrance became the inspiration for 4711, and Caswell-Massey's Number Six, famous for being George Washington's favorite. That mix of orange, lavender and musk is known in the industry today simply as cologne.
Enfleurage is still used today for jasmine and tuberose, but is forbiddingly expensive, costing more than a thousand dollars a pound (pint).
Next time: The Psychology of Fragrance

No comments:

Post a Comment