Fragrance’s Rich History

These early perfumes were called unguents. Egyptian hieroglyphics are seen depicting women wearing solid perfumes in the shape of cones atop their heads.

Ancient Egypt has left us wonderful records depicting the use of perfumes. Then as today, these lotions were often credited with benefits far beyond the aromatic pleasure – elimination of wrinkles, smooth skin, and more.

This history extends through ancient Greece after Alexander the Great conquered Egypt and the Persian Empire. The first treatise on scent, “Concerning Odor”, was written by Theophrastus, teacher of Alexander the Great, after receiving cuttings and seeds of Persian plants. Later as Cleopatra sought to unite Egypt with the Roman Empire, she is said to have traveled anointed with rose oils and myrrh on ship equally perfumed.

With the rise of the Roman Empire, one also saw the increase use of personal scents and incense and reportedly created financial concerns for the Empire because of its extensive use.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Arab and Persian scholars and merchants can be credited with using their vast network to expand the spices used through out the Mediterranean and eventually into India and China. Exposure to these new cultures only served to broaden the wealth of flowers, fruits, herbs, and spices which could be used in creating new scents.

Jasmine, the king of flowers, an ingredient found in modern perfumes such as Chanel No.5, originated in The Valley of Kashmir, India.

The first named perfume is said to have occurred after the discovery of alcohol and fashioned after the taste of Queen Elizabeth of Hungary around 1370; “Hungary Water”, carrying extract of rosemary and lavender.

Further into the Renaissance, historical figures such as Leonardo da Vinci are said to have conducted experiments seeking to extract new scented oils for the court of Ludovico il Moro in Milan. During the same time, the seed for modern perfumeries were planted via the use of scented globes known as pomanders. This tradition which found its way to France, and the birth of modern perfumes, when noblewoman Catarina de Medici married Henri II.

Accompanying Catarina were her perfumer Renato Bianco and her alchemist Cosimo Ruggiero. The area of Grasse France was chosen by Catarina for her fragrance plantation of flowers, spices, and herbs.

Hygiene and personal care were beginning to take root and the use of perfumes continued to grow. Fashion, beauty, the arts, and hence interest in fragrances reached and apex with Louis XV and his mistress Madame de Pompadour. For it was Madame de Pompadour, who patronized the producers of Grasse and which eventually lead to references of Louis XV’s court as “la cour parfumée.”

With the development of organic chemistry in the mid to late 1800’s came the synthesis of natural scents. The Houses of Houbigant, Caron, and Guerlain were amongst the earliest merchants focused on producing perfumes.

It was, however, the arrival of François Coty who ushered in perfumes as we know them today. The young man became enamored with fragrances and eventually found his way to Grasse and apprenticeship under Antoine Chiris. Legend has it that he was unable to sell his fragrance at a department store. To create awareness for his fragrances, Monsieur Coty “lost his grip” on a bottle of La Rose Jacqueminot in a public environment – a lovely rose hybrid - releasing the fragrance which launched his career. Monsieur Coty became the most celebrated perfume maker in Paris. Amongst his clients were the Czar and Czarina of Russia.

In the 1920’s a celebrated Parisian designer joined the ranks of perfumers – Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel. She teamed with Ernest Beaux, a Russian émigré, who had learned his trade at the House of Rallet in Moscow. Legend has it that Madame Chanel commissioned Monsieur Beaux to develop a scent reportedly asking “I want something that reflects my personality, something abstract and unique, a perfume of regal discretion, to form a halo of light around my clothes….I want a perfume that is composed. It’s a paradox.” The fifth sample, her lucky number, was chosen and Chanel No.5 was introduced to the world.

By this time, synthetics were making there way in to the mix as a means of reducing the cost of natural ingredients. More and more, formulations we created to appeal to the masses and a host of new arrivals were brought to market. Avant-garde had taken root. This was expanded in the 1970’s when designers began to complement their styles with perfumes.

Today, a popular theme is to synthesize new fragrance ingredients. Concepts are derived from botanicals gathered through out the rainforest of the world as well as through new technologies. These new ingredients will often have scents which are novel and discrete leading to the creation of abstract fragrances with little familiarity to anything we may have experienced in our lives. With a bit of creative marketing and celebrity endorsements, these products are then brought to the masses.

Given the growing interest in natural and organic products, we at Maison de Návar are amongst a small group dedicated to resurrecting the rich history of natural fragrances. Like Coco Chanel, Louis XV, Cleopatra, and Alexander the Great, our goal is to help our clients experience the grandeur of a fragrance created to embody their persona.

Why not enjoy a tradition steeped in royal history!