A brief history of perfume

A brief history of perfume

People have been wearing perfume for at least four thousand years. This week, we're diving into the history of scent: where it comes from, who wore it, and how our favorite fragrances have changed over time.

When was perfume invented?

Nobody knows exactly when or where the first perfume was made. We do know that people were making perfume around 4000 years ago in China, Egypt, India and the Middle East. And from ancient Mesopotamian documents, we know that the world's first chemist was a woman called Tapputi, who mixed up fragrances from natural flowers and oils.

The oldest ever perfume to survive until modern times was found on the island of Cyprus. (According to Greek legends, that's where the goddess Aphrodite herself was born!). Archaeologists found perfume bottles and mixing jugs which contained 14 different scents - including anise, pine, bergamot and almond. These natural scents were mixed with olive oil and used on the skin or hair.

How fragrances have changed over time

Believe it or not, our taste in perfumes has changed a lot over time. What smells good to you might have smelled horrible to an ancient Greek!

The biggest shift in perfumes over the last few centuries has been the switch from natural to artificial scents. However, some perfumiers are starting to roll this change back and look for scents in the natural world. That's one reason why we're such big fans of niche perfumes.

You might also be surprised to hear that our favorite fragrances have changed dramatically over the last century. Back in the 1920s, the most popular fragrances for women were tough, bold scents with notes of leather, wood and musk. They're a far cry from today's clean and floral fragrances.

If you're interested in the history of scent, there are some great books out there. Scent & Subversion, by Barbara Herman of Yesterday's Perfume, is a delicious guide to the fragrances of the last hundred years - and it comes with a recommended reading list.

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