Perfume is thousands of years old. The word ‘perfume’ is derived from the Latin per fumum, meaning ‘by’ or ‘through’ smoke, as it was with the use of burning incense that the prayers of the ancients were transported to the heaven for the compliment of the Gods. Then came the priest-kings, and a wider audience, though still very select, of pharaoh, emperors, conquers and monarchs with their attendant courtesans and alchemists. By the twentieth century the combination of chemistry and the industrial revolution brought the revelation of perfume to the rest of humankind. The French gave the name Parfum to the pleasant smells that drift through the air from burning incense.
In prehistoric time, the hunter-gatherer tribes found many substances of extensive use in everyday living, e.g. animal products were employed
for clothing, shelter and tools, as well as for food; a collection of herbs, spices and grasses unearthed could be used as medicines. Eventually,
a drift and concentration of tribes founded the great civilization of the Nile in Egypt, Mesopotamia in modern day Iraq, the Huwang-Ho valley
in China and the Indus of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa, all of which came into their own between 4,000 and 2,000 BC, while in China, around 500 BC. Within these civilizations, over the centuries, knowledge of glass, alcohol and aroma chemicals was developed. Incense statuettes thousands of years old have been unearthed in the ruins of Indus civilization, which was known to trade with both Egypt and Mesopotamia.
The great world religions of Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism and Zoroastroism employ fragrance in pursuance of their faiths. Thus, religious and pleasurable pursuits have been the main drives in the phenomenal growth of perfume usage throughout the centuries. With the dawning of civilization, the use of fragrances developed within the four great centres of culture in China, India, Egypt and Mesopotamia, and was extended in the sophisticated societies of Greece, Palestine, Rome, Persia and Arabia.
The usage of perfume in Western culture began when Crusaders brought back three magical gifts from the East to Europe. The delicate aromatics, distilled alcohol and refined glass were the physical manifestations of thousands of years of alchemical research. The three together, a beautiful smell, a solvent to extend it and a bottle to conserve it, made the ‘gift from the Gods’.