The perfume caters to our smell – olfactory sense. Our five senses are – touch, hearing, seeing, tasting and smelling. Corresponding to these are the five sense organs – the skin, the ears, the eyes, the tongue and the nostrils. Over and above these gross physical senses is another – the sixth sense that is something intangible which, leads to a feeling of wellbeing upon inhaling a delicate perfume.
In animals smell is very strong. The predators mark their territory with urine, which by the way each one has a distinctive odour. The pet in the house knows about our individual perfume more than we know ourselves. Perfumes have two functions, negative and positive. It covers up stale smell of sweat and on the other hand it exudes intoxicating fragrance.
Perfume is from Latin `per fume` meaning `through smoke`. It goes back 4000 years to Mesopotamia and Egypt before being improved upon by Romans and Arabs. In Europe it came in the 14th century. Hungary produced the first modern perfume in 1371. Renaissance Italy saw a burst of activity in perfume making. France became the centre of perfumes made from aromatic plants being grown from the 18th century in Grasse.
Man wants to pocket everything – from the diamond in dark caverns to pearls in ocean depths. The perfume is the victory of man over Nature – capturing the cream of her scent spread all around. The perfume is a mixture of oils, aroma and fixatives blended with solvents. The industry is shrouded in secrecy. Not everybody can understand the language of perfume making. Each perfume belongs to a family.
Perfume making starts with dilution of the oil with a solvent. Ethanol mixed with water is the most common solvent. Others are coconut oil, wax and jojoba. The increase or decrease of aromatic compounds relates to scent`s intensity and longevity. The amount of oil used varies from one perfume family to another.
From 1900 perfumes were categorized in groups – single floral, floral bouquet, ambery (admixture of scents from animals, flowers and woods), woody (mainly sandalwood and cedar), leather (honey, tobacco, wood and wood tars), chypre (cyprus) and fougere (fern).
Since 1945 perfumes have been divided into bright floral, green, oceanic, citrus and gourmand. From 1983 the fragrance-wheel is being used to simplify classification – floral, oriental, woody, fougere and fresh. Each are divided into subgroups.
Perfumes are metaphorically said to contain three musical notes – top, middle and base. Top notes are the scents that are immediately perceptible. Middle notes emerge after the first effect dissipates. The base note persists in combination with the middle after the top goes. Perfumes can be dissipated due to exposure to heat, light, oxygen etc.
The sources from which perfume is drawn are plants, animals and synthetic bases. Plants are the largest sources – its bark, fruits, flowers, leaves, twigs, roots, seeds and bulbs. In the animal world perfumes are extracted from whales, beavers, civets, honeybee and musk deer. Synthetic perfumes are cheaper but not quite so fine and delicate. In the case of the latter there are health risks connected to rashes, asthma and even cancer.
Perfume is extracted by soaking the raw material in a solvent for any length of time from few hours to months. In distillation the process of condensation is used, while in destructive-distillation method the raw stuff is heated directly. Squeezing and pressing are also common methods. Another method is absorbing the aroma in wax. Perfumes are part of industry and used for the food and chemical business.
The person who makes perfumes is known affectionately as The Nose. Next time you go to buy a bottle of perfume give a thought to the efforts that go behind creating that exquisite bottle for you!