A perfume is a mixture of fragrant essential oils or aroma compounds, fixatives and solvents in liquid form that is used to give the human body, food, objects and living-spaces an agreeable scent. The scent can be a subtle, long-lasting and sometimes a subtle mix of three-part smells, usually consisting of top notes (the first smells your nose notices), heart notes and base notes (the smells that last the longest after application).
Perfume has enjoyed huge success since it was invented in ancient times. It was most popular during the seventeenth century when hygienic conditions were poor and perfumes were used to mask unpleasant body odor. In fact, even Queen Elizabeth I insisted that all public spaces be scented because she could not tolerate bad smells.
There are many reasons people choose to wear perfume, from enhancing self-esteem and feelings of attractiveness to altering moods and evoking pleasant memories. Some women consider it a mark of wealth, while others feel that it is a way to communicate their personality or character. A woman’s perfume is often considered her most personal and private possession, which is why it is so important to make sure that she selects the right fragrance for herself.
The earliest perfumes were made from natural substances, such as flowers and spices, but as technology advanced and production increased, it became possible to create more sophisticated and expensive scents. By the nineteenth century, the blending and development of chemical ingredients had allowed for the creation of a great number of different fragrances. Perfumes are classified according to their concentration levels of perfume oils and also by the amount of alcohol added to them. This is why a perfume bottle may have several French names on it, which correspond to various perfume oil concentrations.
Modern perfumes contain a large percentage of synthetic odorants as well as natural aromatics, which are secondary metabolites produced by plants to protect against herbivores, infections and to attract pollinators. For example, coumarin and linalool are naturally occurring compounds from the tropical orchids and these are a common ingredient in many perfumes.
Other common raw materials of perfume are seeds, woods, animal oils and resins. These are usually macerated, pressed or dry-distilled before they can be used in perfume. The most commonly used seeds are tonka bean, carrot seed and coriander. Woods like sandalwood, rosewood and agarwood are available either in macerated or distilled forms. Animal substances like castor oil from beavers, musk from male deer and ambergris (lumps of oxidized fatty compounds secreted and expelled by the sperm whale) are also used in perfume.
As with all cosmetics, the packaging of a perfume plays a very important role in its marketability. Bottles can be made of crystal, glass or porcelain and are decorated with creative designs. The image that a perfume projectes is often as important as the name of the brand and even its price. This is why so many perfumes have been named after cities and towns or after famous people.