The History Of Perfume – From Where It Began To Current Top Brands

If you purchase an item after clicking a link on this site, we may receive a commission at no extra cost to you. Learn more.

The majority of perfume we use today comes from top brands that create artificial scents using advanced chemistry. These chemicals don’t harm us of course, but their synthetic nature is a long way from the original process of burning flowers.

The word “perfume” comes from the Latin equivalent “per fumus”, which means “through smoke”. It has the same etymology as “fume” which we all know is a substance from smoke. The connections are all there when you know where to look. 

The History Of Perfume

What was created in one century, influenced another. How one brand shaped the history of perfume and the perfume industry, gave another the space to try something new. We want to carry on this tradition of adapting and continuing on a legacy too. 

Here at Scented Chemistry, we are proud to announce the acquisition of ReekPerfume.com. As we continue to expand and learn from our community, we will grow and develop into even greater domains. To any readers joining us from Reek Perfume, we want to offer a warm welcome. 

When we look back at history, we can see how one act helped another to succeed. So how did a chemist’s water concoction in 1200 BCE, turn into a multi-billion dollar industry filled with celebrities? Let’s figure it out.

How Perfume Began

Looking back through the archives of human history, the first recorded use and creation of perfume was in 1200 BCE by a chemist named Tapputi. She lived in Babylonian Mesopotamia, which we would now recognize as Iraq. Tapputi was the overseer of the Royal Palace which meant she was a powerful figure. Having such power meant her experiments and general interactions were noted down on tablets.

Because of these tables, we know that Tapputi created groundbreaking research into solvents. She found that mixing oils with flowers and distilled water, and then filtering the solution multiple times, could create a nice smelling liquid. In her research, Tapputi created the oldest known distillery.  

The Historic Connection Between Perfume And Celebrity

In the times of old, the biggest celebrities were the royals, and that statement holds the most value in India. Archeologists such as Dr. Rovesti found pots that contained materials such as oils, flowers, and water that could be carbon-dated back to 3000 BCE. These were all located in royal buildings such as religious houses of worship, palace homes, and such. This means perfumes were dated further back than Tapputi, although the methods have been lost over time.

Religion, in some respects, can be considered a type of celebrity too (bear with us…). When you live in a world where reading isn’t a skill that many people have, someone reading a sacred text to you is the only way in which you can take in cultural meaning and stories. And in religious texts, you can see the importance and significance of perfumes. 

For example, in the Christina religious text of the Bible, you can see that perfume is considered sacred. Exodus 30:22-33 stated that liquids containing cinnamon, cane, myrrh, and cassia were forbidden unless you were a priest. This concoction was seen as holy.

Jumping forward in history, we see royals from the 14th century using perfume for more than just beauty. At this point, we find documents that clearly show perfume being used to hide body odor. Remember this was a time before deodorant was invented, and so perfume was the only way to hide the foul smells of our bodies.

This was particularly popular in France, where perfumed gloves were a common occurrence among the wealthy. A new type of guild was created in 1656 which hosted glove makers and perfume makers.

As the years continued perfume continued to be a product of the wealthy. The bottled substances wouldn’t last for a long time, as they needed fresh ingredients to create strong smells. It wasn’t until deodorant was invented in 1888 that perfume makers had the room to research delicate and long-lasting scents.

Just one year later, the French chemist Aimé Guerlain, created the first-ever artificial perfume – “Jicky”. Jicky can be easily compared to modern-day perfume. It contained no chunks of biological material, and instead had a colored liquid. The artificial nature meant the scent could last longer and was cheaper to create. 

With a cheaper and long-lasting product, Jicky became an instant success that is still wildly popular today.

The Big Brands And How They Have Affected The Perfume Industry

The brands we are about to dive into are all household names. Each of them has been created in the 20th century and even if their entry into the market only made a little splash, they each changed the perfume world in some way or another.

Chanel No. 5

Chanel No.5 was created in 1921 by Coco Chanel, the fashion designer who made sporty women popular in the post-World War 1 era. Entering the perfume world, Chanel managed to change people’s perspective on scent just as she did on sport.

Before Chanel No.5, women only really had two choices when it came to perfume. Respectable women would wear scents that matched gardens. This meant flowers and citrus. Whereas provocative women would wear heavy or musky smells like jasmine. Wearing such animal scents suggested you were a woman of the night.

But when Coco Chanel brought out Chanel No.5. Aimed at women in the Flapper subculture, this perfume mixed musky smells with the idea of glamor and affluence. The advertisements created a “new type of woman” – A liberated and free spirit. It matched the 1920s ideology of freedom and natural beauty without leaving the idea of glamor behind. It was an acceptable personality type, which allowed women more freedom while remaining respectable.

Because of Chanel No.5, women could now wear musky scents without suggesting they were a prostitute.

Gardenia

Gardenia is another fragrance by Chanel. This one was created in 1925, 4 years after Chanel No.5, but most people only recognized it in the 80s. This was due to a relaunching when the synthetic materials were developed to create a light floral scent.

Originally the scent was heavily floral and didn’t have a strong fan base. When it was reintroduced, the developers created a subtle scent of white flowers. In this era subtlety was utilized allowing just a whiff of natural fragrance to create an elegant suggestion that you aren’t wearing perfume at all – you simply smell that good.

Creed

Originally a tailoring establishment, Creed was the first perfume house to become a worldwide sensation. Their first fragrance was created in 1933 and was sold as an aftershave cologne.

In a world where perfume was accessible to the masses, Creed managed to keep a sense of glamor, dignity, and loyalty while only being distributed to limited audiences such as celebrities and politicians.

Creed is a name few people know the smell of, but if you are in the right circles, you would be sure to grab a bottle.

Dior

Dior is another perfume company born from a French fashion designer. Christian Dior originally sold shoes and clothes, but in 1948 the company produced its first-ever perfume, Miss Dior. It was named after Christian’s sister, Catherine, and aimed to copy her personality of being shocking, unafraid of speaking out, and happy to indulge in the excitement of life. 

Smelling of rose, jasmine, and sandalwood, the mixture of floral and earthy scents allowed Dior to follow in Chanel No.5’s footsteps while keeping a scent of traditional femininity. 

As Miss Dior has grown through the years, they have created a new image of sweetness, blending muskiness with candy. And so in 2005, we saw the birth of food-like fragrances.

Dolce And Gabbana

The trend of fashion-designer-turned-perfume-creator continues with Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana’s story. Having created their fashion brand in 1982 and receiving international success, they expanded to perfumes in 1992 with their first scent Dolce & Gabbana Pour Homme and  Dolce & Gabbana Pour Femme. Both were rugged scents of the sea, creating a new idea of adventure and drama inside a fragrance.

Selling the two together and advertising them as a set created an idea of adventurous couples who lived life dangerously. It created a new trend, where perfumes were no longer about elegance but about passion.

Gucci

Gucci itself was founded in 1921 after Guccio Gucci became fascinated with the beautiful luggage bags he saw on his travels around the world and wanted to make his own. Not long after World War 2 started, leather ended up in high demand. In his first show of creative resilience, Gucci started using linen, jute, and hemp to create his bags instead.

This change was an instant success. Fast forward again, and Gucci branched out for the second time, as he created his first fragrance – Gucci No 1.

Although the brand originally catered to men and women separately, they now create a gender-neutral scent advertising to men and women alike. This relatively new concept shows how as the world changes so does Gucci. And if anyone is wondering how the fashion or perfume industry will change again, keep an eye on Gucci and how they are already 3 steps ahead.

Yves Saint Laurent

YSL has always been an advocate for women’s rights. He was an active campaigner for women’s social liberation during a time when women were expected to be a wife and a mother but nothing else. Times were changing and so Laurent designed outfits for women which were feminine, sexy, fashionable, and most importantly, functional. 

His outfits gave women a masculine edge to make their place in the workforce more empowered. In 1964, he continued this idea with a perfume that was elegant and powerful at the same time.

With YSL in their wardrobe and by their nightstand, Laurent helped women create a masculine persona to give them strength in a male-dominated workplace.

Versace

Moving on up to Versace, this women’s fashion line was created in 1978 with instant success and continues to dominate high fashion. Celebrities like Britney Spears, Madonna, and Halle Berry all cling on to this fashion designer. Many people even say that Versace created the idea of a “supermodel” in the 1990s because of their highly sought-after fashion shows.

But back to perfume. Versace’s first fragrance was Gianni Versace for Women created in 1981. Named after the creator of Versace himself.

Gianni’s clothing line was raunchy, leather, and tactile. It followed in Miss Dior’s footsteps of being hungry and unapologetic. So, of course, the perfume followed suit. With a mostly amber and warm spice scent, what smokey and woody perfume was the perfect pairing for leather clothing and pushed forwards a new era of fashion – punk.

Burberry

Continuing on the fashion first trend, in 1981, Burberry created its first fragrance – Burberry for Men. Unlike other masculine scents, Burberry pushed the boat out. The very first version of this perfume contained thyme, mint, and amber, coupled with lavender moss and cedar.

The classic masculine scent had a fresh and uplighting finish, creating an elevated elegance that men often couldn’t experience. Burberry was making a statement – change wasn’t just for women, it was for men too.

Hugo Boss

Hugo Boss’s first fragrance was created in 1985. With the simple name Boss No.1. It was an instant sell-out, outperforming every other perfume on the market. What made it so striking was its refreshing scent. Using nutmeg, patchouli, and sandalwood, this perfume wasn’t a musky older man’s smell. It was uplighting, and for men’s perfume that was a new concept.

Ralph Lauren

In the 1990s, Ralph Lauren launched a perfume bottle that changed the perfume world. Before the lids of the bottles were just that – lids. But Lauren wanted every element of the product to be as glamorous and beautiful as the liquid perfume itself.

Instead of a screw top and a simple cover, Lauren protected the spray with a beautiful crystal-like display. Cut for the appropriate size, the bottle has a silver edge to create the illusion of a crystal.

Because of this change, it became popular for people to spray their perfume out in the open, to show off their Ralph Lauren accessories. 

Jo Malone

Out of the fashion era for a moment, it’s time to share in Jo Malone’s success. Jo Malone is a cosmetic store that focuses only on scents – perfumes, candles, and anything else to tickle your nose hairs.

The thing about Jo Malone’s scents is that she made them up without a formula. This means that her amazing candles and perfumes weren’t created via simulation or scientifically rehearsed studies. Instead, they were created for their aroma alone.

This change in professionalism meant that scent was being put back at the forefront of fragrances. Reminding us all that the nose knows best.

Calvin Klein

While everyone was creating musky or floral scents, Calvin Klein went in a new direction – sweet and light with just a grounding hit of oak moss.

The CK One was launched in 1994 during a new change in the fashion industry. Light and breezy were the new trends, and Calvin Klein translated this into perfumes by creating a pineapple and orange fragrance. 

It was advertised as a unisex scent too, breaking down gender-divide barriers as well as opening up our aromas to delicious new options.

Tom Ford

Tom Ford used to work for Gucci, but in 2004, he branched off and created his own label. Here he created accessories of all kinds, including perfumes. In the noughties era, the idea that “sex sells” was strong. And almost every advert that Tom Ford created, used a naked woman in one form or another.

One had a naked woman using perfume to cover her private areas. Another had a naked woman ironing a fully-dressed man’s clothing.

What started as overly sexual turned into outright social sexual dominance. The critics didn’t like it at all.

Ford continues to be a high-selling perfume manufacturer (still trying to court controversy too.)

Le Labo

As the ideas within our cultures shift, so do our creators. Le Labo is a fragrance company that doesn’t test any of its products on animals. Their ethos is to create luxury by using true craftsmanship and not artificial constructors or mass machines.

In an age where everything is mass-produced, Le Labo is slowing the machines down. Little did Le Labo know how their 2007 ideas would be viewed in 2022 when the urge to stop fast fashion was at its height. 

Juicy Couture

Juicy Couture picked up what Calvin Klien was putting down and created a perfume line consisting of sweet fragrances. Passionfruit, Watermelon, Apple, and Orange. Smell as sweet as summer when you pick up a Juicy Couture perfume bottle, or that’s the idea at least.

As the noughties continued to be a fun-loving and sweet decade, the perfume of the era followed in this dessert-like treat of aromas.

Daisy

Daisy created by Marc Jacobs has been around since 2018. They followed the sweet train and sold themselves as the new perfume treat. But in recent years Daisy has tried a new marketing strategy and is targeting the cottagecore aesthetic.

Cottagecore is the concept of Snow White living. Having a cottage in the forest, living off the land, and wearing clothes that are both simple and historic. The cottagecore trend connects back to the rejection of fast fashion, and the people’s desire for a less technological life. Daisy’s sweet fragrance with white flower undertones fits perfectly in with this new subcultural style.

Jimmy Choo

Jimmy Choo is most well known as a shoe brand, but in 2011, they released their first fragrance, Jimmy Choo Man. The masculine fragrance is a classic and contemporary return to lavender and amber scents.

With this release, we see how the circle of fragrance has been reconnected as masculine scents come back in force and fruity numbers are put on the shelves.

Summary

Although there have been massive changes in the perfume industry, the last couple of decades has shown that fragrances once seen as fashionable, end up falling out of favor, and then returning into culture as if brand new. The history of perfume has cycles like any other realm.

The one consistent theme is that fashion and perfume go hand in hand. If you look good, you need to smell good too.

Our take: Watch the industry for long enough and you’ll see the sweet trend come back into fashion!

Leave a Comment