Perfumed Wisdom

When people speak about perfume, it's often in terms of products and aesthetics. And while I'm totally down with all of that, I feel that perfume has a rich and wonderful history that makes it more ritual for many than simple beauty product. After all, I'm a perfumer - to me, fragrance is art.

I wanted to share some fun facts about perfume throughout time that might inspire, pique your curiosity, and change the way we see something that, for so many of us, has become a regular part of our routine.

1. A 'nose' by any other name.

There are people, aptly called "Noses," whose sole job is to discern and create scents. There are only 50 true Noses in the world. To become a Nose, you must first have a impeccable sense of smell (a given, right?). According to this piece, a Nose must first pass a test comprised of being presented with a scent that can have an upward of 250 ingredients and needing to identify each and every one. Wow. Just wow.

2. Not just for pulse points anymore.

Where do you apply perfume? Pulse points such as on the wrists and neck allow the scent to strengthen, while putting it on clothing makes the scent last longer (and is better for folks who are sensitive). But rubbing your wrists together after applying the perfume actually breaks down the scent and crushes the fragrance. So when you apply make sure to let the scent breathe. Proper application gets you the most for your money.

3. Smoke and mirrors?

Perfume is thousands of years old - the word "perfume" comes from the Latin per fumes, which means "through smoke."

4. An ancient tradition.

One of the oldest uses of perfumes comes form the burning of incense and aromatic herbs used in religious services, often the aromatic gums, frankincense and myrrh, gathered from trees. The world's first recorded chemist is a person named Tapputi, a perfume maker who was mentioned in a Cuneiform tablet from the 2nd millennium BC in Mesopotamia. The Egyptians were the first to incorporate perfume into their culture followed by the ancient Chinese, Hindus, Israelites, Carthaginians, Arabs, Greeks, and Romans. The earliest use of perfume bottles is Egyptian and dates to around 1000 BC. The Egyptians invented glass and perfume bottles were one of the first common uses for glass. The basic ingredients and methods of making perfumes are described by Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia

5. Move over, Guerlain...

To date, the oldest perfumery was discovered on the island of CyprusExcavations in 2004-5 under the initiative of an Italian archaeological team unearthed evidence of an enormous factory that existed 4,000 years ago during the Bronze AgeThis covered an estimated surface area of over 4,000m², indicating that perfume manufacturing was on an industrial scale. 

6. Biblically sacred.

The Bible describes a sacred perfume (Exodus 30:22-33) consisting of liquid myrrh, fragrant cinnamon, fragrant cane, and cassia. Its use was forbidden, except by the priests. 

7. The first Plug-in?

Perfume reached its peak in England during the reigns of Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I. All public places were scented during Queen Elizabeth's rule, since she could not tolerate bad smells. It was said that the sharpness of her nose was equaled only by the slyness of her tongue. 

8. An American original.

Florida water, an uncomplicated mixture of eau de cologne with a dash of oil of cloves, cassia, and lemongrass (sounds good, right?) was the first scent popularized in early America.

9. Get an olfactory workout.

Your sense of smell is like a muscle--the more you use it, the stronger and more discerning your nose becomes. Consider me your personal trainer. ;)

10. First modern perfume?

Hungary Water, made in 1370 is said to be the first perfume that resembles the ones we use today. Before this date, perfumes were mostly fragrant oils. This perfume was made for Queen Elisabeth of Hungary and, in order for it to have the maximum effect, it had to be drunk as well as applied to the body.

11. It ain't just a saying.

Scientific studies prove that we can smell fear. Men can also smell when women are ovulating (it's in our biology to seek out partners who will provide healthy offspring and this is one skill set of that). Yup. We can also smell happiness and sexual arousal, as long as the person you're smelling is a close romantic partner. If you're looking for the ultimate happy-making scent, try my latest, Bluebird.

12. Five senses, seven scents.

Some researchers hypothesize that there are only seven primary odors: musky, putrid, pungent, camphoraceous (like mothballs), ethereal (like dry cleaning fluid), floral, and minty.

13. Animal kingdom.

In yet another showing of how incredibly complex and capable animals are, humans have 350 functional olfactory receptor genes. Mice have 1,300. Whoa.

14. You can never have too many...

The average woman owns 5 perfumes.

15. Before celebrity scents.

There were celebrity fans. Audrey Hepburn exclusively wore Givenchy. Marilyn Monroe claimed to wear Chanel No. 5 (and nothing else) to bed each night.