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A Brief History of Perfumery

The journey to modern fragrance

Our love for the art of perfumery runs deep – so we thought we would take it all the way back to the start of the long and winding journey to modern fragrance from ancient apothecaries and cultures.

A perfume is a substance, extract, or preparation that imparts a pleasant smell. The word perfume derives from the Latin verb perfumare – which means ‘to smoke through’.

Ancient Civilizations and Apothecaries

The art of perfume making originated in the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley and Ancient China. It was subsequently improved by the Romans and early Arab and Persian pharmacists, who developed the technique of distillation and the suspension of essences usually derived from botanicals in alcohol.

Medieval Europe, the Perfumer and Pharmacist

This knowledge was later brought across to medieval Europe, and perfume making soon prospered among the royal courts – especially later in 17th century France under Louis XIV, and in England and Italy. Fragrant oils were also used for healing and wellbeing, which meant that the professions of perfumer and apothecary or pharmacist soon became closely intertwined.

Masking the odour

Strangely, it was the European leather industry which was to accelerate the development of perfumery. Leather production in the 17th and 18th centuries used rotten unpleasant smelling processes while tanning, which meant that leather goods (including riding saddles and gloves) imparted unpleasant odours to all those who used them. European nobility and high society consumers demanded that their leather goods should have a pleasant smell. Leather glove makers, known as ‘gantiers-parfumeurs’, took up the challenge in towns like Grasse in Provence, which was famous for the cultivation of botanicals, particularly flowers used for the production of essential oils.

Marie Antoinette’s love of fragrance

In the 18th century, Marie Antoinette’s love of perfume was well documented. Her scents were prepared by leading Master perfumer, Jean-Louis Fargeon, with whom she had an especially close relationship. Fargeon would create a variety of fragrances to suit her different circumstances and requirements – even going as far as to create fragrances to scent her bathwater. Her deep rooted love of fragrance let her down in the end – it was said that she was only recognised as royalty when attempting to flee Varennes because of her Houbigant perfume, which only royalty could afford.

The rise of Britain’s Fragrance Industry

In the late 18th and 19th centuries, the French revolution and war in Europe gave Britain the lead in the commercialisation and production of European fragrances. Compared to its immediate neighbours at the time, Britain saw rapid industrialisation and technological advances, which created a flourishing and increasingly affluent consumer society. The British Empire, with its global trade routes and organizations such as the East India Company, brought different exotic spices and ingredients to ever more demanding perfumers and consumers alike. The modern world of perfume was born.

Blending nature and science

Perfumes are usually produced from botanicals: a blend of fragrant plant materials. The essential oils are extracted from different parts of the plant, flowers, seeds and bark. However, many things have changed since the early days of perfumery. Scientific advances have allowed many of these naturally-derived compounds to be produced synthetically. The modern perfumery we know today began in the late 19th century, with the commercial synthesis of aroma compounds such as vanillin or coumarin. This led to the creation of perfumes with aromas previously unattainable solely from natural sources.

From wellbeing to survival

Throughout the course of history, the pleasant-smelling volatile particles emitted from these fragrant botanical compounds have been synonymous with wellbeing. Today, perfumes are commonly used to enhance the scent of our living spaces, bodies and clothing.

In our modern everyday lives our sense of smell continues to act as an important signal, feeding us information about our immediate environment. From a biological perspective, the sense of smell remains critical for survival for many species – including our own. Here at CRANBOURN® , we believe you should nurture and reward this wonderful sense with luxury fragrances in your daily life.

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CRANBOURN® developed from the idea that there is another way, by continually exploring, discovering and creating the very best sustainable luxury fragrances for our customers.

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