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The history of solid perfume

The history of solid perfume

Along times…

Second Era

During Middle Ages, we keep perfuming with gum balms

Aristocrats from Ancient Egypt put under their headgear or wig, small cones of cooked dough that diffused nice scents of spices and resin when it melted. During Middle Ages, they kept perfuming themselves with cinnamon, amber and gum balms in the form of birds (The ‘Birdies of Cyprus‘). The Christian Middle Age didn’t really use perfumes (the Church being wary of these ‘artifices of the devil’ or when they used it some, it was in form of ointments, creams, balms, incenses, perfumed oil, flower crown during religious rites). In the medieval time, the perfumery has faced a decrease in West. Since Rome fell appart at the Vth century before Jesus Christ because of the barbarians, the art of perfum took refuge in the Byzantine Empire. Moreover, the profane use of scents, symbol of the frivolity of the heathens is sentenced by The Fathers of Church. The use of ointments, oils, incenses, and myrrh kept going lasted in the liturgy. From the middle of the XIIth century, the influence of the Arab world through the trades and crusades and the need of hygiene (use of soap) contributed to the revival of perfumes in the western world. In 1190, King Philippe Auguste allowed the corporation of glovers perfumers.

The Arabs, masters of the Spices Routes, brought back the spices and techniques from China and India. We award the Arabs, heirs of the antique knowledge on the subject, a determining role in the evolution of the perfumery, thanks to the development of the still and the serpentine in the XIVth century. These instruments allowed the distillation of the alcohol, a technique which developed the modern perfumes. Contrary to the wide-spread ideas, hygiene remains an important concern for the time. Then appeared ‘pomanders’, which are balls filled with perfumed products where the exhalations escaped by the perforations on the surface. Many fragrances were forgotten during these times of withdrawal and were only rediscovered during the reopening of the Roman commercial roads for the crusades or with the access to new civilisations during Marco Polo’s or Venice’s long travels. As the crusaders returned from their Easter expeditions, they brought back cosmetics and scents.

© Chaalis, Le Figaro, L’Art des Mets

First Era

From the furthest… ointment in Ancient Egypt, first perfume with a solid format.

Egypt can be considered as the cradle of perfumery. Egyptian perfumes were known all over the antic world, and the know-how of Egyptian perfumers was appreciated across the whole Mediterranean Basin. Egyptians acquired in-depth knowledge in elaboration of perfumes, first used during religious and funerary rituals. This tradition of perfume then extended to the daily life. In religious processes, perfume was mainly used under two forms: - In combustion, from which the name “perfume” originates: Per Fume or Par Fumare in Latin (par la fumée in French means “by the smoke”), to purify the air during worship. - It also existed under the form of ointment for the mummification of great figures and for the bath of divine statues. The whole Egyptian population had then adopted ointment. The must was to place small cones filled with balsamic oil on the top of the forehead, which, while melting, perfumed the face. Wise Ptah-Hotep, governor and vizier of King Isési wrote in his famous education treaty: “know that perfumes are the best care for the body”. At this time, Egyptians were not familiar with the distillation process. However, they had several technics for the creation of perfumes, such as soaking flowers in a greasy substance, eventually heated, to let the aromas impregnate the oils.

In a way, this was the first “concrete of filled perfume”. To squeeze flowers in a linen right after the picking was another technic to collect floral scents. Perfumers were composing their fragrances with oil: nut grass oil, flax, sesame or lettuce seed oil, olive and nut oil or even balan and benjoin oil. Then, they would aromatize it with herbs, spices or flowers. Animal products such as musk, ambergris and civet were considered as impure and remained absent from these recipes. The used plants were at first chosen among Egyptian flora. Scents like Blue Lotus was considered as divine effluences. They would also use Nut grass and Calamus and later, Narcissus, Lily and Iris. In order to enhance their range of scents, Egyptian perfumers eventually imported new plants and odorous products by shipping and caravanner roads. This is how Pink Lotus, Roses, Styrax, saffron, cypress oil and resin, Galbanum, Opopanax and even more ingredients arrived in Egypt, diversifying the fragrances.

© AromaZone, Cameline, Chaalis