Apparently, we human beings don’t think that we are a race that smells good. Or not good enough. After a physical work-out or during hot weather such as we currently see it is true. Because when we perspire, bacteria mix with the sweat – and can cause odor. Having eaten specific food might enhance the unpleasant effect. Now, imagine times and places when daily hygiene was limited if existent at all. Yeah … no! Enter perfumes. (And thank you, Don Doman, for your inspiring movie review in the Suburban Times very recently).
I imagine that fragrant essences have been discovered as soon as human beings conquered nature. The smell of plants such as mint, rosemary, lavender, of leaves, bark, flower petals, the preservation of these through distillation must have been a natural process. No wonder, that perfumes have been documented to have been available as soon as there was a way of written communication. The oldest perfumes discovered were from around 4,000 B. C. The Roman (Latin “perfumare” means “to smoke through”, by the way) and Muslim world refined the fragrant essences over the centuries. We encounter myrrh as one of the Magi’s gifts as well as fragrant oils with which to anoint bodies throughout the New Testament. There was literature about distillation in the 9th century, and Persian scientist Avicenna invented the liquid form of today’s perfumes’ predecessor, rose water.
Reports about perfume use in Europe pick up after a break (probably due to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire). The Islamic conquest of Spain seems to have heightened the interest in fragrance as a courting device once more. Why it was mostly monks who experimented with perfume is up to your imagination. Finally, the European courts became interested in fragrances developed especially for them. Which is why e. g. the French region around the city of Grasse developed an entire perfume industry in the 1700s.
Whereas the Medieval Ages actually celebrated bathing culture (you can find countless ancient illustrations proving this), water apparently had become a matter of distrust as of the 16th century. Now, imagine a court covering up their body odors with perfume. Add to that all the matters that people didn’t know how to dispose of in modern ways in a household of hundreds of people – fecal matters, kitchen waste, yard waste. It must have been a world that literally “stank to high heaven”.
Today, we know different kinds of perfumes ranging from perfume to Eau de Perfume to Eau de Cologne to Eau fraîche, depending on the percentage of fragrant essences, alcohol, and water. The price of these varies accordingly. Aromatic compounds in perfumes for females tend to be more intense than in such for males, allegedly. I discovered that it is hard to find fresh, non-sweet notes for women. That is probably one the reasons why, when I was still in senior high, it became pretty much a fad for us girls to wear Eau de Toilette created for males.
To this day, I am sad that my favorite “female” fragrance by Armani has been discontinued – for whatever reason. I find it happened to some of my favorite “male” fragrances by other perfume creators as well. Which is why I have pretty much stopped wearing any. What’s in the market these days, simply rarely speaks to me. Apart from that, perfumes often are way too heavy to wear indoors, as they impact the sense of smelling to a point where they may cause headaches and even allergies. And what’s the point in wearing perfumes outdoors?!
Maybe pheromones are the best (unconsciously) perceived fragrances anyhow. They impact our social network – which means that when we sometimes literally “cannot stand the smell” of people, we don’t include them into our circle of friends. Which also means that some people love each other because their pheromones obviously trigger kind of an addiction. Which also probably means that the best perfume might not work in courtships if the physical chemistry does not match.