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A Whiff of Perfume History

Long, long, lonnng before the existence of soaps and clean personal hygiene, perfume was invented, no doubt to mask any number of unpleasant odors. This has been credited to the Medes, ancestors of the Kurds, in about the 10th Century B.C.

The Egyptians pioneered perfumery as an industry in about 1580 B.C. Perfume became a daily staple in both religious and boudoir rituals, the latter occurring most frequently in the chambers of Queen Cleopatra.

Drawing on their experience with plants for medicinal remedies, the Egyptians developed new methods of extracting and processing scents from plant and animal sources. China, Persia, Arabia and India sold raw materials to Egyptian perfumers, and Alexandria flourished as the most important trade center in that part of the world.

By 350 B.C. the Greeks had developed such faith in the powers of perfume that they sprinkled it into the air at their feasts so that it could be dispersed by the wings of flying doves to elevate the appetite for food and lovemaking.

At one point the obsession with perfume got so out of hand that it was actually pronounced illegal. But perfume proved unstoppable. It was thought to make people smarter, cure illness, and secure the favor of the gods. Rich people even went to their graves holding a bottle of perfume. And not to be excluded, poor people were placed in caskets bearing a painting of a bottle of perfume.

Fast forward to Italy, 500 A.D. Now perfume was the rage for both religious ceremonies and personal use. Soon the use of perfume spread to the Islamic world. But alas, the fall of the Roman Empire brought the perfume industry down with it.

Now fast waaay forward to France, 1656. The French established a "guild of glove and perfume makers" and the perfume industry came alive again. Perfumed gloves became the rage. The kings had "perfumed courts." New blends continued to elevate consumer demand and finally came Eau de Cologne: a fragrance for internal consumption! Yes, they drizzled cologne onto sugar lumps and stirred it into wines. They rinsed their mouths with it, poured it into bath water, and even used it for enemas.

The 1800s found France flooding the world with perfumes and colognes born of new chemical discoveries and manufacturing processes. This spawned the designer bottling industry, and its lavish works of glass raised the art of merchandising to new heights.

The 1900s brought the advent of synthetic fragrance materials, making it possible to formulate many thousands of scents. So today we can select perfumes and colognes from an endless universe of designer scents to delight the senses, inspire ooohhs and ahhs, and complement every personality.

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