Originally published in The Pyambar.com on 15 March 2013.
There is something mysterious about scents and perfumes. The sweet smelling flowers, aroma of delicious food and fragrance of someone beloved around us add beauty to the life. From application on dead bodies to usage by the new brides, perfumes have been an old friend to humans.
Any perfume is a mixture of fragrant oils or aromatic compounds, manufactured artificially or extracted from plant or animal sources to give “a pleasant scent”. Thus, body sprays, deodorants, bottled scents, after-shave lotions, air/room fresheners are all part of the larger perfume family.
History of Perfume making
The Latin root “per fumum” means “through smoke,” a possible indicator of techniques used to make perfumes through excessive burning or boiling of various compounds. The roots of Perfumery or the skill of extracting a pleasant scent from a chemical compound, traces back to the ancient people either hailing from the Egyptian region or belonging to Mesopotamia, and Persians and Romans refined it later.
The contributions of Muslims to the art and science of perfumery are quite significant. The 9th century chemist that hailed from Arabia, Al-Kindi, wrote a book on perfumes titled the “Chemistry of Distillations and Perfumes,” which contained more than a few hundred pleasant smell related recipes. A chemist hailing from Persia, Ibne Sina, introduced a procedure (which is still in use today), for extraction of different chemical compounds from plants, especially flowers by the use of different distillation methods to extract oil.
This procedure greatly inspired western perfume industry. Although developments in the field of perfumery by Muslims were a result of their interest in the subject of chemistry, for the Europeans the reason was that the art intrigued them. In the 16th century, Italians did significant work to refine the techniques of perfume making and skill spread across to France.
Between the 16th and 17th century, the wealthy people in Italy and France primarily used perfumes, to hide body odors resulting from infrequent bathing! Later France took the lead and became one of the centers of perfume and cosmetic manufacture.
Modern Perfume Industry
With a three centuries old history and tradition, France remains the epicenter of world’s perfumes industry. Perfume making plants are mainly in the southern portion of the country along the coastline of Mediterranean Sea. The two cities of Nice and Grasses are about 25 km apart, and are the hub of perfume and fragrance industry.
The Mediterranean climate enables the cultivation of many different types of flowers for the essence extraction particularly in Nice. Modern perfumes rely more on synthetic than floral essences. However, the inspiration of most of the fragrances is from natural resources. A few of the big names in the perfume industry include Caron, Channel, Yves Saint Lauren, and L’Oreal.
According to a report of Global Industry Analysts Inc., global fragrances and perfumes market would cross US$33 Billion by 2015. Europe represents the largest worldwide market for fragrances and perfumes, while emerging markets include China and Middle East.
Grasse, France – The Perfume Capital of the World
In Grasse, France, more than 60 companies employ almost 3000 workers. These firms generate over 50% of the French turnover and nearly 6 % of the world’s turnover of the perfume industry. Grasse is also home to International Perfume Museum (http://en.museesdegrasse.com). Keeping in view the increasing demand and expanding business opportunities in the perfume industry, the establishment of GRASSE INSTITUTE OF PERFUMERY was in February 2002. The institute, apart from internships offers a nine-month course to the carefully selected student perfumers chosen for their creativity and “smelling” talent.
Art of Perfume Making
Companies manufacture perfumes from essential oils mixed with fragrances, aroma compounds, fixatives, and solvents. Although a perfume can consist of hundreds of ingredients, there are four major groups: Primary Scents, Modifiers, Blenders, and Fixatives. The mixing of these ingredients is one of the most well guarded secrets of perfume industry.
However, with the availability of modern techniques like gas chromatography and mass Spectrometry maintaining the secrecy of formulas is getting tough. A skilled fragrance chemist with appropriate equipment could analyze a fragrance,” reverse engineer” it and closely duplicate it. Consequently, copies of expensive fragrances are now available at a fraction of the cost all over the world.
Classification of Perfumes
We describe perfumes in terms of three notes, which are the olfactory effects they generate on application. The first note or the “Top Note” is the impression of the fragrance as soon as one applies it for the first time. After the dissipation of top note, the second note takes some time to develop. The third note is the persistent quality of the fragrance, which normally lasts for 6-8 hours. The key to a good perfume is that how these three notes flow into each other to produce a longer and pleasing effect.
Perfumes classification is according to major ingredients used. In traditional classification, their classification is as a single floral, floral bouquet, oriental wood and leather etc. Modern (post 1945) classification includes bright floral, green, aquatic, citrus, fruity and gourmand. In order to simplify the classification and naming of different perfumes, in 1983 Michael Edwards, a consultant in the perfume industry created a “Fragrance Wheel” with five major classes Floral, Oriental, Woody, Fougère, and Fresh each having its sub classes. Modern day commonly used classification is done on the bases of concentration of aromatic compounds in a product and includes:
• Perfume extract: scents15-40% aromatic compounds
• Esprit de Parfum: 15-30% aromatic compounds,
• Parfum de Toilette, Eau de Parfum: 10-20% aromatic compounds
• Eau de Toilette: 5-15% aromatic compounds
• Eau de Cologne: 3-8% aromatic compounds with citrus perfumes.
• Perfume mist: 3-8% aromatic compounds
• Splash and aftershave: 1-3% aromatic compounds.
In contrast to past perceptions regarding Fragrance and Perfumes, people do not consider today’s perfumes an extravagant accessory, but people use them as a symbolism of self-confidence and expression of individuality.