The History of Fragrance
The fascinating history of perfumery dates back to the dawn of time, developing alongside civilisations, with examples of fragrance found in ancient Egypt, the Roman Empire, Mesopotamia, and the Persian Empire.
Many ancient civilisations traditionally used scents for spiritual ceremonies by burning incense and aromatic herbs. From then on, variations of perfumery were created for hygiene and cleanliness and as a symbol of wealth and nobility. As time progressed, fragrances were used as a form of seduction and preparation for lovemaking.
It was not until the renaissance period that perfumery was introduced to France and the rest of Europe. Originally, scents were used to disguise unpleasant odours produced from tanning leather. This eventually led to the creation of perfumes once it was discovered that the unique microclimate, rich soil, and abundant water in the south of France made for the perfect place to grow aromatic plants.
Grasse, Provence & Perfumery
The people of Grasse began supplying Persian scent-makers with their raw materials as early as the 16th century. The business of fine fragrances slowly expanded as the region started producing iris, hyacinth, and rose-scented soaps. The 18th-century’s invention of eau de cologne helped this small town grow into the acknowledged world’s perfume capital.
Due to Provence’s history, the growers quality, and the perfumers’ creative gifts, Grass's influence in the fragrance industry remains unmatched. Despite the lucrative nature of the French perfume industry, very few have met its reputation as a purveyor of fine perfumes to the world.
Today, Grasse’s handcrafting traditions and manufacturing heritage is benefitting from the organic movement that has helped revive the demand for small-scale flower produce, specifically for its fragrant roses and jasmine. Grasse is currently home to over sixty perfume companies, employing over 10,000 residents.
The Olfactory Pyramid has long been used to represent the fragrance notes and their composition within a perfume. Since the 1800s scents have been classified according to musical criteria, with each perfume divided into its different “notes” according to the volatility of its essential oils, which correspond to their evaporation rates when in contact with the air.
Each perfume is made up of Top notes, Heart notes, and Base Notes, which are visually represented by scale within the olfactory pyramid.
Top Notes form the top layer of the fragrance as they’re the most volatile and will evaporate first when in contact with the skin. When smelling a perfume these are the notes you will pick up on first, giving you your first impression. But they’re only fleeting compared to the heart and base notes. Citrus scents are common top notes.
Heart Notes, as their name suggests, make up the “heart” of the fragrance, and around almost 70% of the total scent. As the top notes fade, the heart notes transition in and make themselves known, remaining evident for the full life of the fragrance. Heart notes are aromatic and full-bodied, and produce a stronger scent, true of jasmine, geranium, cinnamon and pepper.
Base Notes form the foundation of the fragrance, and help to boost the lighter notes above whilst adding depth and resonance. Base notes are rich, heavy and long-lasting and typically activate 30 minutes after application as they evaporate slowly, working with the heart notes to create the fragrance’s scent, and lasting upwards of 6 hours. Popular base notes include vanilla, patchouli and woody notes like cedarwood; they will be the notes you remember the perfume by.