Aromatic materials and products have existed and been in use for many years, with the earliest record dating back to 4500BC. The history of scent is very long so I would have definitely missed out information but I have tried to condense what I had as much as I can. I am also writing the history between 4500BC and the 20th century.
The earliest record of aromatic products and their uses was in China.
Scent was used in Egypt for various purposes, such as wrapping significant Egyptian figures like pharaohs in bandages infused with fragrant oils. When archaeologists opened the tombs many centuries later, the oils were found to still be aromatic. Egyptians also burned incense as peace offerings to the deities. One important incense was Kyphi, which contained 16 ingredients including wine, myrrh, honey, raisins, cupress grass, resin, sweet rush and juniper, which was burned every night to ensure that the sun god Ra returned safely the following morning.
Greeks not only used perfume for worship, but also for aromatherapy and bathing, and to fragrance themselves.
Cleopatra had a great love for perfume and scented her boat with aromatic oils, which was thought to have been strong enough to be perceivable from miles away and to have helped her seduce the Roman Consul Marc Antony.
The Romans were influenced by the Greeks to use perfume, initially for religious occasions and burials, and later, for applying it on themselves, the people around them as well as public and living spaces.
476-1700AD (Middle Ages & Renaissance Period)
Most of Europe set perfume aside while the rest of the world took great pleasure in it. In India, men and women were anointed with oils during tantric rituals, while Chinese filled their temples with fragrance. Koh-do, which translates to “incense ceremony” from Japanese was developed in Japan to improve mental wellbeing.
The Crusaders were believed to have revived the appeal of perfume in Europe, as they brought home exotic aromatics and rosewater.
An Arabian alchemist, physician and philosopher named Avicenna refined and mastered the distillation process.
In 1380, the first known alcohol-based perfume known as “Hungary Water” was created for Queen Elisabeth of Hungary and contained aromatics, including rosemary. Her special fragrance, which she wore and drank, was believed to have preserved her youth and prolonged her life (she lived to an impressive 75 years of age).
Italy was a key region in the perfume world as Venice was a trading centre for raw perfume materials. The Italians used fragrance wherever they could: to perfume their clothes, to beautify their skin and to block out the stench of canals (or just to leave a fragrant trail) using pomanders.
After the Italian Queen Catherine de Medici married King Henri II of France, she, as well as the heart of the perfume world, moved to France. She took along her personal perfumer, René le Florentin, who created perfumes for her, most notably to scent her gloves. Soon, glove makers in Grasse, then a major producer of leather gloves, used aromatic oils in order to mask the unpleasant odors of treated leather. The perfume industry was dominated by the Maitre-Gantiers (master glovers), for whom a guild was established. One was required to complete a four-year apprenticeship followed by another three years of training before becoming a master perfumer-glover.
King Louis XIV, known as ‘the sweetest-smelling king’, loved perfumes; besides scenting his clothes, he filled his palace and fountains with it, and had visitors sprayed with it upon their entrance. The French court earned the name ‘the Perfumed Court’. Louis took his perfume obsession further by commissioning his perfumer, Jean Fargeon, to compose a new fragrance everyday. Fargeon’s son, Jean-Louis, later became Queen Marie Antoinette’s perfumer.
18th & 19th Century
Sensual scents, which were fashionable in the 17th century, were replaced by more demure and refined scents like solifloral fragrances in the 18th century.
A French perfumer named Jean-Louis Fargeon opened his own business on rue du Roule, and later was recruited by Queen Marie Antoinette to be her personal perfumer.
The French Revolution caused the perfume industry to suffer as it lost many of their clients who were noblemen. However, Napoleon Bonaparte aided the situation with his adoration for Eau de Cologne, which he wore extravagantly and of which he ordered fifty bottles each month from his perfumer, Chardin.
During the 19th century, the world of perfumery evolved owing to great advances in perfume technology including the development of new extraction methods and the creation of synthetics. Guerlain’s Jicky and Houbigant’s Fougère Royale were among the first fragrances to contain both naturals and synthetics that emerged towards the end of the 19th century.
The Perfume Bible by Josephine Fairley and Lorna McKay (2014), p. 46-49
Roja 9-15 on pdf