When we smell a particular fragrance, such as, say, clean laundry or a fresh peach, we instantly and unconsciously connect that smell to a portion of our memory. Smell can evoke feelings and bring back memories that we forgot we had. Perfume is, quite simply, a mastery of some of the most frequent scents, and the artful combination thereof to produce a unique smell for an individual person. To understand perfume, we would need to start at its inception, back in the time of the ancient Egyptians.
Origins & History
Egyptians were responsible for the origin of perfume. They utilized scents in everything from religious ceremonies to burial preparations and even daily wear. The rich elites of Egyptian society, male and female alike, would adorn themselves with aromas like lily to denote their status. The Persians took over the use of perfume as a sign of political status, but it wasn't until the Greeks and Romans became acquainted with it that it began to be viewed as a form of art and produced en masse and in consistent quality. Archaeologists recently uncovered a perfume factory from 2,000 BC, located in Cyprus, which seemed to have specialized in the production of scents like coriander, laurel, myrtle, lavender, and rosemary. Perfume slowly spread throughout the globe, and for a while, scents were reserved mainly for use in religious ceremonies. However, in 1190, perfume began to be produced commercially in Paris, and from there, it blossomed into a massive industry once more.
How Perfume is Made
The Egyptians used to create ointments and balms with essential oils mixed in to provide scent. Today's perfume, however, utilizes a much more complex method of preparation. The desired scents, in specific quantities, are combined with either ethanol or ethanol and water. The concentration of the scent depends on what kind of perfume is being made. True perfume, for example, may have a composition of up to 40% of scent material. Eau de Parfum will only have up to 20% of scent material in its mixture, resulting in a lighter, more subtle aroma. It all depends on the desired perfume profile and the scents that the perfumer wants to include.
Types of Perfume
True perfume, as discussed above, is a highly concentrated mixture of scent. The next "step" down from perfume is Esprit de Parfum, which is comprised of up to 30% of aromatics. Eau de Toilette will never have more than a 15% concentration. As to whether a scent appeals more to a male or female demographic, the identifier is in the fragrance notes. The most common fragrance families are floral, chypre (scents like bergamot), oceanic, citrus, fruit, and gourmand (scents like vanilla and honey), and a perfume is defined by the concentration and dominance of its contained scent notes.
Today, many perfumes utilize synthetic scents. Historically, and with some modern all-natural perfume manufacturers, scents are derived from the essential oils of plants, animals, and even seaweed. Synthetic creations, conversely, offer scents which do not exist in the natural world. The scent of Calone, for example, has hints of ozone and metal. Many "musk" scents are now produced artificially as well, both to provide perfumers with a more neutral scent undertone and to alleviate the need for harvesting from animals. There is debate as to whether synthetic scents are better or worse than natural aromas, but ultimately, it comes to the question of the personal preference of the customer.