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The History of Fragrances

Since 3000 BC, fragrances have been a part of daily life. Although a lot has changed since its invention, there are a lot of similarities between what our ancestors once wore and what is sold in stores today. Exploring the history of fragrance not only gives us a better understanding of the beauty industry, but also helps us understand pop culture and history.

In the 1400s, classic perfume (what we now would consider perfume) was invented. Both men and women applied pungent perfume to their clothing and gloves, rather than directly to the skin. In the 1600s, incense, soaps and perfumes were popular amongst the wealthy. They often carried around small, ornately decorated tins called “vinaigrette boxes” that they could sniff whenever surrounded by bad odors. Bathing was not common during this time period, hence the need for strong perfumes. In fact, many people used a perfume-soaked sponge as a substitute for bathing. During King Louis XV and Marie Antoinette’s reign in the 1700s, the royal court was nicknamed “the perfumed court” for their excessive use of perfume. King Louis’ mistress, Madame de Pompadour, is actually credited for making France the perfume center of the world. People in this time sprinkled perfume on everything: clothing, breath mints, incense, and potpourri. With the advent of the French Revolution, perfume was banned.

Napoleon lifted the perfume ban after crowning himself emperor. The Victorian era was known for its subtle use of perfume; it was no longer necessary, as bathing started to become more frequent. The most popular fragrance at this time was patchouli. In 1888, deodorant was invented, helping to solve the issue of overwhelming body odor. Towards the end of the 19th century, cosmetics became affordable for people of most social classes. Because of this, beauty and self care became accepted as an important practice.

The 1900s brought along the most famous perfume of all time. In 1921, Coco Chanel created Chanel Nº 5, the first synthetic perfume, meaning it was made with artificial materials. She created the perfume to embody her vision of the modern woman during that time. During this time, scents went from being light and delicate to being more sophisticated and musky. This was due to the film industry focusing more on sexuality, so people wanted to emulate what was popular in culture. In 1947, Christian Dior released a perfume called Miss Dior, which was massively successful as it emphasized femininity after World War II. In the 1970s, essential oils became popular due to the popularization of aromatherapy. After this, perfumes were commonly marketed with health benefits, such as invigorating the mind and body. In 1994, Calvin Klein released the very first unisex fragrance, CK One. Since then, unisex fragrances have remained popular.

In the 2000s, celebrity perfumes became extremely popular. Celebrities Sophia Loren, Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce, and Paris Hilton released perfumes. This allowed celebrities to expand their empires and earn profits, as the fragrance industry is very successful. Beyonce’s 2010 fragrance, Heat, earned over $400 million during its first three years on the market.

Fragrance trends, like the fashion and beauty industry, are cyclical. As time passes, trends go in and out of style all the time. Some examples of past trends repopularizing include the re-emergence of celebrity perfumes (Ariana Grande and Kim Kardashian’s perfume lines), popular notes (for example, the ‘60s popularized floral notes, and the trend returned in the ‘90s), and unisex perfumes (In the age of androgyny and gender fluidity, fragrance trends reflect society’s change.). We wonder what will come back into style next.

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