by Kathy Wolfe

This week, Tidbits invites you to take a whiff of these facts about the perfume industry, a $51 billion annual market world-wide, $12 billion in the U.S. alone.

We get our English word “perfume” from the Latin, “per fume,” which translates “through smoke.” Ancient Roman feasts featured the scent of oil of rose and jasmine, which was poured into fountains and filtered into the air. Early Arabians burned incense, aromatic herbs, and fragrant woods to scent their clothing. A Cuneiform tablet dated to 1200 B.C. records the first perfume maker, a Babylonian woman named Tapputi.

    The Egyptians used fragrant oils as part of celebrations, religious rituals, and times of prayer, believing the aroma offered divine protection. They were the first to store perfume in glass bottles, dating back to 1000 B.C.   

• Queen Elizabeth of Hungary commissioned the first modern alcohol-based perfume in 1370, a mixture of lemon, orange blossom, thyme, and rosemary, a concoction known as Hungary Water.   

Zinn Music Shop

    In the 1500s, French King Louis XV advanced the popularity of fragrance by adding perfume to furniture, gloves, clothing, and bathwater.

Perfume-making is a complex process, beginning with the extraction of the fragrant oils from plants, most commonly through steam distillation. This involves boiling the materials, which releases the essential oils. The steam and oils are then condensed once the oil separates from the water. The oils are diluted with alcohol, which also seals in the fragrance by delaying evaporation. The solution then steeps in copper pots, then is cooled to allow any foreign particles to settle out before the filtering process, and finally, the packaging.

    The composition of perfume is made up of what is known as “notes,” top, heart, and base. The top note is the most delicate, the scent you smell when you first sample the perfume that doesn’t last very long. The heart is the middle note, usually herbal, floral, or spicy, lasting longer than the top note. It’s the heart scent that begins to surface after it reacts with a person’s skin chemistry, usually after about 20 minutes. The base note is the scent that lingers after the perfume has dried. Composed of wood, amber, and musk, its scent lasts the longest.

• A person’s body heat activates perfume’s scent, so it should be applied at the skin’s main “pulse points” – the inside of the wrist, the neck, behind the ears, in the crook of the elbows, and behind the knees. You might think the correct procedure is to rub the wrists together after application, but this action heats up the skin and actually changes the scent.

The same perfume will smell different on each person, due to different skin pH, or the wearer’s routines, such as diet, smoking, and exercise.

A perfume’s concentration can change over time, so it’s a good idea to use perfume within 3 to 5 years. If the bottle is opened, it should be used within 3 years. After that, the perfume might smell of alcohol. Those with higher concentrations of essential oils tend to last longer. Humidity, sunlight, and temperature can also affect the scent, so storing in a dark place is recommended.

There are several different categories of perfumes based on the fragrance’s concentration of pure perfume oil. The higher the concentration, the longer the scent lasts on the skin. Eau Fraiche, also known as Cool Water, contains just 1-3% of essential oils and is mostly water. Its light scent will last from 30 minutes to an hour. Eau de Cologne’s concentration is 2-4%, with the aroma lasting 1 to 3 hours. Eau de Toilette contains 5-15% of the oils, with a scent expectation between 3 and 8 hours. The strongest perfume concentration you’ll see at the general retail level is that of Eau de Parfum, with a 15-20% concentration. Its fragrance will continue for 6 to 12 hours. Pure Parfum with its 20-40% concentration will last 12 to 24 hours. Just one drop lasts for the whole day. Of course, the concentration of essential oils dictates the price you pay. The buyer can expect to pay up to four times more for Pure Parfum than the Eau de Parfum counterpart

In the world of fragrance, perfumers are known as a “nose.” Frenchman Jean Carles is considered the most famous nose, a man who insured his nose for a million dollars. He was the creator of Tabu in 1932 and Miss Dior Eau de Parfum in 1947. By the time he was in his early 20s, Carles was already considered one of the industry’s most gifted perfumers.

    Eau de Cologne was concocted for the first time in 1709 by Johann Maria Farina, and was a blend of lemon, orange, tangerine, neroli (orange blossom oil), and lavender. Farina dubbed his creation Kolnisch Wasser, which translates “water from Cologne,” named after his hometown in Germany. It’s the oldest perfume still in production. The second-oldest is the Eau de Cologne 4711 by Muelhens, another Cologne, Germany product, introduced in 1799. Its main notes are lemon, neroli, jasmine, bergamot, basil, lavender, and rosemary. The company suffered a setback during World War II when its headquarters were destroyed by a bomb that decimated nearly 90% of the city. An 800-ml (27 oz.) bottle of 4711 can be purchased today for around $35.

      French perfumer Francois Coty is regarded as the founding father of the modern perfume industry. In 1904, at age 26, Coty received the break he had been working toward. He took a chance, delivering some of his latest creation, La Rose Jacqueminot, to the perfume counter of a large Paris department store. Within minutes, customers flocked around the counter, clambering to buy the fragrance. The entire stock was gone almost immediately, and the store offered Coty a space on the floor for his products. It wasn’t long before the perfume had made him a millionaire. At the beginning of World War I in 1914, Coty perfumes were the number one in the world. In 1929, his estimated worth was $34 million (over $800 million in today’s dollars), much of which was lost in the stock market crash that year.

    Surveys indicate that 97% of people feel more confident when wearing a fragrance. About 78% claim they feel energized when wearing citrus scents. Women respondents say they feel the most feminine and attractive when they choose floral fragrances.