What is Perfume?


Perfume is a mixture of fragrant essential oils or aroma compounds, fixatives and solvents in liquid form that are used to give human beings, animals, food, objects and living spaces agreeable scents. Its history goes back 2500 years and was refined by the Romans and the Arabs who used it as a way to smell good. The perfumes were derived from the oils extracted from plants by pressing, crushing or steaming them to release their pleasant odors.

The main technique for obtaining the perfumes was through distillation and it required many plant varieties to produce just one kilo of oil. Often thousands of flowers were needed. These essential oils are then diluted with alcohol which serves as a fixative to prevent their rapid evaporation. It is these essential oils that make the perfumes last long and give them their unique smell.

In the eighteenth century a French perfumer proposed that different classes should be scented differently. This was the start of class-based perfume where aristocrats had their own specific perfume, bourgeoisies used cologne and the lower classes were scented with disinfectant. King Louis XV was such an avid user of perfume that he had a fragrance for every day of the week and his court was known as ‘The Perfumed Court.

Today, the perfume industry is a multi-billion dollar business and has gained the reputation of having ‘aromatherapeutic properties.’ This is a result of the associative learning that takes place where certain scents are linked to positive emotions and physiological responses such as heightened heart-rate or blood pressure. This is why it is so important to have a well-developed nose and be able to distinguish between all the various nuances of the fragrances that are available on the market.

Perfumes are a mixture of top notes, middle notes and base notes. The top notes are the initial strong smell that a perfume has when it is first applied to your skin. The middle notes are the herbs, flowers and spices that will remain on your body all day while the base notes are the more mellow scents such as woods, amber or musk. The fragrance will evolve throughout the day as it blends with your skin chemistry and mixes with the other materials in the perfume.

Magne’s film is a fascinating look at the vast perfume industry and how it is a global phenomenon. It also provides a window into the world of the senses that are frequently neglected in cinema where the visual and auditory aspects dominate. However there are a few themes in this film that you wish it would have gone a bit deeper on such as the class divergence between Anne and Guillaume. In any case, it is a feather-light but delightful movie that should appeal to anyone who has a keen nose and appreciates the delicately happy floral scent of a perfume.