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A Brief Introduction to Perfume

From the beginning of humanity, human beings have had physical faculties that are divided into five sense. However, the faculty of smell seems to have the least value and attention. Let's go back to the beginning and try to understand why.

What is scent?

Our five physical faculties include the sense of sight, touch, hearing, taste, and smell. According to Septimus in The Art of Perfumery, "Of the five senses, that of smelling is the least valued, and, as a consequence, is the least tutored." This simply means that we do not pay enough attention to the sense of smell and the ways it can have an impact on our welfare and happiness.

However, what was true in 1857 when Septimus' book was published, is no longer applicable today. The art of perfumery has evolved over the years to become a multi-billion industry with countless amount of fragrances being created every day.

According to the dictionary, perfume is a fragrant liquid, typically made from essential oils extracted from flowers and spices used to impart a pleasant smell to one's body or clothes." This definition is literal and does not tell the story of perfume which is so much more than a collection of scents designed to make us smell good.

Perfume is associated with memory. The scent of rain for example, will always take me back to my childhood. A time when at six or seven I was allowed to play barefoot outside, feel the wetness of the rain on my face, twirling in freedom as to make it last forever without a care in the world. It's pure joy. And I get this sweet memory just from a smell.

Perfume is associated with memory. The scent of rain for example, will always take me back to my childhood.”

Science says our sense of smell does not deteriorate with age like our hearing and other senses. In fact, it is the only sense which cells regenerate every twenty-four days and it is capable of recognizing and storing more the 600,000 scents. In Perfume: the Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind, the main character, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille can literally smell anything miles away. He does not need to enter a room or a city to recognize all the odors it encompasses. He does not even need his eyesight as his extraordinary sense of smell guides him to the deepest parts of the cities he visits.


Perfume is as old as the world. But it started being identify and given a name during religious observances or ceremonies where incense was burned to honor divinities. Perfumes were also mixed in oil and wax for the lamps and lights in churches.

Perfumes were then used as luxuries by the Greek and later by the Romans. A Roman noble named Frangipani invented perfume in the form we use today, thus the name Fragrance.

Perfume making used to be a very secretive world. But today the industry has evolved and anyone can compose and make their own scent from natural essential oils. Most famous perfumes heavily contain synthetics. Today, there is a strong desire to meet consumer demands and create perfumes from natural ingredients that minimize the damaging effect on the environment. More than that, people are looking for a scent that is more personal and speak to their journeys and aspirations, a scent that is calming, restorative, relaxing and aromatherapy. This is very achievable from the comfort of your home and does not need to come in a package, although more and more well-known perfumers are taking notice and adapting.

Photography by Zanou Nelie

Ref: Septimus, George William, The Art of Perfumery, and Methods of Obtaining the Odors of Plants." A Public Domain Book.


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