A Brief History of Perfume

Fragrance is an important part of our everyday lives, with each of us having our own favourite signature scent that we can’t resist spritzing before leaving the house. A fragrance has the power to evoke memories, transporting us to specific times or places in our lives, and can hold a special meaning to us personally. We often reserve specific fragrances for use during day and night time, or one that we wear daily and another saved for those special occasions!

Fragrances are often bought as gifts for occasions such as Christmas, birthdays and Valentine’s Day due to their personal nature. At Beauty Base, we stock a vast array of various fragrances to suit individual preferences, from floral to musk, and citrus-infused scents to sensual notes of sandalwood and tobacco. We’d like to take a look at a brief history of the perfume world and take you on a journey of interesting fragrance facts to pique your senses and get you excited about your fragrance choices.

The word ‘perfume’ derives from the Latin term ‘per fumus’ which means ‘through smoke’.

Perfume covers a multitude of sins

As far back as Ancient Egyptian times, fragrances were used as a form of communication to talk to the Gods. With this image in mind, we can draw comparisons to the use of incense in places of worship, which has maintained its significance through to modern times. The original “art of perfumery” belonged exclusively to priests, and only the Gods, the royal family and aristocracy had access to it. Those who had a carefully created scent in their possession would use it in personal religious rituals, as a means of highlighting a holy presence or achieving new religious heights with their faith. Embalmers were even known to use highly fragrant spices and scented oils when preparing bodies, with cinnamon and myrtle flowers found in Tutankhamen’s tomb!

So, how is perfume made, or more specifically, how was it made back then? women of this time would also use scented oils as a fragrance, not only to cover up their lack of hygiene but also for pleasure and as a tool to seduce men. The Greek ladies even had a special scent developed for each body part. The sensuality of a fragrance is something which has been reinforced over time with contemporary fragrances for women and men being promoted with seductive advertising campaigns.

The most commonly used floral ingredients used in perfumes are rose and jasmine.

A royal scent

Often reserved for the aristocracy and monarchy, the decadent nature of fragrances meant that they were an elusive item with only the richest people in society being able to afford them. The first alcohol formed fragrance was created in 1371 by a priest for Queen Elisabeth of Hungary, and the fragrance was rumoured to be what kept the queen looking so young throughout her lifetime! Throughout the 17th century, perfume remained the main substitute for daily hygiene among the upper classes, and after the creation of the lighter ‘cologne water’, fragrances became more accessible for all classes.

(Image credit: Ornella Binni)

The last Queen of France Marie Antoinette was famous for her love of flowers, and her favourite fragrance was a 100% natural scent made of notes of rose, orange blossom and jasmine. Flower petals were crushed to release their natural essential oils before herbs were added to the oil for a unique scent. This method soon developed to include the lighter rosewater. Not only did the French use perfumes on their bodies, but they also doused their clothes with it and used it on furniture to make their rooms smell more fragrant!

The first glass perfume bottle was created in 1765 by the Baccarat glass factory in France.

Modern fragrances – it’s all in the notes

Contemporary fragrances saw the biggest development during the 19th century when chemists discovered new distillation processes and different complex molecules to create new scents for men and women. Which was excellent considering that older perfume processes often involved crushing 300,000 rose petals to make a kilogram of rose perfume! Understanding the difference in perfume notes became key to the method of creating new scents for men and women to enjoy.  This distillation process also affects how long perfume lasts, and how perfume is made for a commercial market.

The focus on differing notes included in a scent began as a way to choose specific scents to add to a perfume – with the top note giving the first impression, followed by the heart and base notes. If we take the world-renowned Calvin Klein fragrance, Eternity, with its romantic scent and luminous composition as an example, it’s easy to distinguish the developing aromas. The top notes you can smell first feature zesty mandarin and lemon, giving way to the heart notes of orange blossom and juniper berries, finally leaving a lingering scent of musk and amber. Finding the perfect mix of notes for a long-lasting fragrance is key to modern day perfumery.

How To Make Your Own Perfume

Of course, buying a designer perfume can bring us unrivalled joy when it comes to treating our senses to a new scent, but how do you make your own perfume for a unique scent? Those who are interested in DIY beauty tricks, such as creating homemade face masks, may well be looking for ways to make your own perfume to continue your love for DIY beauty products. It can be quite a scientific endeavour when it comes to making your own perfume at home as you’ll need an accurate scale to measure ingredients and put together specific formulas. You’ll also need to understand the top notes, middle notes and base notes that comprise a perfume.  

An easy way to make your own perfume is to get to know your essential oils. Popular essential oils include patchouli, sandalwood, vanilla and lavender. Essential oils are highly concentrated, so to be applied to the skin, they will need a carrier oil. Basic carrier oils which your favourite essential oil can be added to include grapeseed oil, almond oil and jojoba oil. This is a very basic DIY perfume guide, but to extend the life of your perfume, you’ll need to add alcohol and keep it a dark bottle. There are many online guides on how to make your own perfume with ingredient suggestions for the different notes.

If you would love the DIY perfume aesthetic but would prefer to trust an expert, there are a handful of traditional perfumeries you can visit to create your very own scent in Paris. A good reason for a trip to the official city of love!


The timeline of perfumery is such an intriguing period of history to delve into to find out more about something which we all enjoy in our daily lives. There’s a story behind every scent! We hope you’ve learnt something new about fragrances with our brief history of perfume, and that it’s hopefully inspired you to pick a new scent for yourself. Take a look at our collection of classic fragrances here at Beauty Base for timeless scents you can enjoy and cherish forever.

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