‘It has been said, with some justice, that the world was discovered in perfume’s wake’ – Mandy Aftel, Essence & Alchemy, A Book of Perfume

Inspired by this quote and by the origins of our July focus brand Carthusia, join us as we follow the tendrils of the past to discover how perfume has grown and shaped from a budding flower, into the full blooming industry we know today

If you read our last blog, you’ll know Carthusia’s heritage began in the late 1300s. A surprise visit from the Queen to Capri had the monastery’s father prior plucking the island’s most beautiful flowers from the soil and placing them in her room. Upon throwing them away, the water was noticed to have obtained a fragrance and thus, the first Carthusia fragrance was born.

It’s a wholesome tale of connection with the natural world, but we can go back even earlier than that to Ancient Egypt, where hieroglyphs tell of ancient formulae and inhalations. The Egyptian people knew how to harness the power of scent, using it medicinally to aid ailments and ritually to connect with their gods. As international discovery of the world grew, spices, plants and flowers from new civilisations were given a coveted status in society. To have access to such luxuries was a boast of the wealthy

But it was the body-conscious Greeks who created the first perfumes worn on the skin and crafted the beginnings of perfume as we know it today. Scent has always played its part in pleasure – Cleopatra used to scent her sails so Mark Antony would know she was on her way – but putting it on the skin was the ultimate technique in seduction, especially because everyone kind of smelled a bit back then…

Fragrance went on to experience varying waves of popularity across the continents. The Dark Ages brought a European lull, but Arabic countries, with their impressive knowledge of perfume making processes and access to some of the best ingredients in the world, helped to re-introduce the rest of the world to the joys of scent

Riding the perfumed waves of time into the 16th century, members of the upper class scented everything from furniture, to gloves and clothing. Queen Elizabeth 1st even demanded all public places be scented because she hated bad smells. In the 17th Century – and verging on obsessive – King Louis XIV demanded a different fragrance every day (we say obsessive, but we fully support his sentiments), and France proudly held the title of the European epicentre of perfume production around this time

In an era where a connection to the world around was the norm, a sense of smell played a large role in the day to day. But as the 19th century rolled around, tastes changed once again, and the invention of synthetic ingredients came to the fore. Chemistry became the new alchemy, and it became easier to make less readily available and more expensive ingredients in a lab, rather than waste time obtaining them from their natural sources

They say fashion is cyclical, and indeed there are some trends that have come back around, although it’s not always a good thing (praying pedal pushers stay away) but when you consider the last 10 years or so of perfume, the same thing can be said. The demand for more natural concoctions is rising, and a move toward more traditional ways of making perfume is being adopted and appreciated once again

People are more aware of what they’re putting on their skin, and they’re tuning in to the benefits of scent in spiritual and medicinal ways in 2021. A return to the wholesome ways of before is happening, and we’re here for it. Are you?

Photos from Carthusia, Pixabay and Flickr