“Perfume follows you; it
chases you and lingers
behind you. It’s a reference
make silence talk.” – Sonia Rykiel
Since the dawn of civilization, humans have strived to hide or intensify their body odours by using perfumes. Perfumes are made of various natural and synthetic materials, which are applied to the skin and clothing, are used in cleaners and cosmetics or to scent the air. Different smells can arouse different feelings and can bring back the memories of the past. The word “perfume” is derived from the Latin word “per fumum”, which means “through smoke”. The Roman author, Pliny the Elder in his book “Naturalis Historia”, describes the basic constituents and the process of making perfumes.
Now, the question arises how perfumes originated and who discovered them. Many say scent was discovered in Mesopotamia, while others state that it originated in Arabia, which is also known as the “Land of Perfumes”. The World’s first chemist and a perfume maker was Tapputi.i She was from Babylonian Mesopotamia as mentioned in a cuneiform tablet around 1200 BC. Hieroglyphics in tombs prove that Ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians were making perfumes as far back as 3000 BC. They burned incense called “Kyphi”, which was made of heena, myrrh, cinnamon and juniper, as religious offerings to God. The wealthy upper class of the Egyptian society would embellish themselves with aromas to denote their status. They perfumed their dead as they believed, “Perfumes are foods that reawaken the spirit”, written by Moslem prophet Mohammed. To date, the oldest perfumery has been discovered in the islands of Cyprus. Recent excavations have unearthed evidences of an enormous factory that existed 4000 years ago during the Bronze Age.
(Ancient Egyptian Perfume Bottles)
The Ancient Egyptians used to create ointments and balms with essential oils mixed in to provide scent. They used natural ingredients such as flowers, grasses, spices, fruit, wood, roots, gums, resins, as well as resources like alcohol, petroleum and coal. Some perfumes were made from animal products such as castor came from beaver, musk from male deer, etcetera.
According to the Bible, Three Wise Men visited the baby Jesus carrying myrrh, a sticky substance with a sweet smell and frankincense, an aromatic gum resin obtained from an African tree. The Greeks and the Romans were influenced by the Egyptian perfumery. It spread across Europe during the 13th Century when crusaders brought samples from Palestine to England, France and Italy. The first modern perfume was produced from scented oils blended in alcohol solution in 1370 at the command of Queen Elizabeth of Hungary and was known as “Hungary water”. King Louis XIV of France was such a patron of perfumes that he was called “The Perfume King”.
The indigenous Indian tradition of perfume making is evident as early as 3000 BC in the cities of Indus Valley, where recent excavations have unearthed distillation stills. “The Book of Delights” written by Ghiyath Shahi in the 15th century, reveals how perfumery was once regarded as an essential part of the art of living in India. India was once envied and famed for this art. In the old cities of Delhi, Agra, Lucknow and Hyderabad, there still exist perfumers who have been based there since time of Mughals and continues the ancient tradition of ittar making, an oil based scent.
In the 21st century, scientific, technical, and artistic expertise are required for creating fragrances. Modern day perfumes are made and used in different ways than in previous centuries. More and more synthetic materials are used instead of natural oils. The future promises to expand the uniqueness and enjoyment of designer-inspired perfume. The olfactory adventure of the 21st century absolutely knows no bounds.
By Saptarshee Misra- Saptarshee is a passionate writer, a fast learner and an intern with Mistpoffer®
 Strathern, Paul (2000). Mendeleyev’s Dream- The Quest For The Elements. New York: Berkley Books.