Islamic cultures contributed significantly in the development of Western perfumery in both perfecting the extraction of fragrances through steam distillation and introducing new, raw ingredients. Both of the raw ingredients and distillation technology significantly influenced Western perfumery and scientific developments, particularly chemistry.
As traders, Islamic cultures such as the Arabs and Persians had wider access to different spices, herbals, and other fragrance material. In addition to trading them, many of these exotic materials were cultivated by the Muslims such that they can be successfully grown outside of their native climates. Two examples of this include jasmine, which is native to South and Southeast Asia, and various citrus, which are native to East Asia. Both of these ingredients are still highly important in modern perfumery.
In Islamic culture, perfume usage has been documented as far back as the 6th century and its usage is considered a religious duty. Muhammad said:
The taking of a bath on Friday is compulsory for every male Muslim who has attained the age of puberty and (also) the cleaning of his teeth with Miswaak (type of twig used as a toothbrush), and the using of perfume if it is available. (Recorded in Sahih Bukhari).
Such rituals gave incentives to scholars to search and develop a cheaper way to produce incenses and in mass production. Thanks to the hard work of two talented Arabian chemists: Jabir ibn Hayyan (Geber, born 722, Iraq), and Al-Kindi (Alkindus, born 801, Iraq) who established the perfume industry. Jabir developed many techniques, including distillation, evaporation and filtration, which enabled the collection of the odour of plants into a vapour that could be collected in the form of water or oil.
Al-Kindi, however, was the real founder of perfume industry as he carried out extensive research and experiments in combining various plants and other sources to produce a variety of scent products. He elaborated a vast number of ‘recipes’ for a wide range of perfumes, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. His work in the laboratory is reported by a witness who said:
I received the following description, or recipe, from Abu Yusuf Ya'qub b. Ishaq al-Kindi, and I saw him making it and giving it an addition in my presence.
The writer goes on in the same section to speak of the preparation of a perfume called ghaliya, which contained musk, amber and other ingredients; too long to quote here, but which reveals a long list of technical names of drugs and apparatus. Al-Kindi also wrote in the 9th century a book on perfumes which he named ‘Book of the Chemistry of Perfume and Distillations’. It contained more than hundred recipes for fragrant oils, salves, aromatic waters and substitutes or imitations of costly drugs. The book also described one hundred and seven methods and recipes for perfume-making, and even the perfume making equipment, like the alembic, still bears its Arabic name.
The Persian Muslim doctor and chemist Avicenna (also known as Ibn Sina) introduced the process of extracting oils from flowers by means of distillation, the procedure most commonly used today. He first experimented with the rose. Until his discovery, liquid perfumes were mixtures of oil and crushed herbs, or petals which made a strong blend. Rose water was more delicate, and immediately became popular. Both of the raw ingredients and distillation technology significantly influenced western perfumery and scientific developments, particularly chemistry.
Eggs and floral perfumes were brought to Europe in the 11th and 12th centuries from Arabia, through trade with the Islamic world and with the returning Crusaders. Those who traded for these were most often also involved in trade for spices and dyestuffs. There are records of the Pepperers Guild of London, going back to 1179; which show them trading with Muslims in spices, perfume ingredients and dyes.
France quickly became the European center of perfume and cosmetic manufacture. Cultivation of flowers for their perfume essence, which had begun in the 14th century, grew into a major industry in the south of France. During the Renaissance period, perfumes were used primarily by royalty and the wealthy to mask body odors resulting from the sanitary practices of the day. Partly due to this patronage, the western perfumery industry was created. Perfume enjoyed huge success during the 17th century. Perfumed gloves became popular in France and in 1656, the guild of glove and perfume-makers was established. Perfumers were also known to create poisons; for instance, a French duchess was murdered when a perfume/poison was rubbed into her gloves and was slowly absorbed into her skin.
Perfume came into its own when Louis XV came to the throne in the 18th century. His court was called "le cour parfumee" (the perfumed court). Madame de Pompadour ordered generous supplies of perfume, and King Louis demanded a different fragrance for his apartment everyday. The court of Louis XIV was even named due to the scents which were applied daily not only to the skin but also to clothing, fans and furniture. Perfume substituted for soap and water. The use of perfume in France grew steadily. By the 18th century, aromatic plants were being grown in the Grasse region of France to provide the growing perfume industry with raw materials. Even today, France remains the centre of the European perfume design and trade.
After Napoleon came to power, exorbitant expenditures for perfume continued. Two quarts of violet cologne were delivered to him each week, and he is said to have used sixty bottles of double extract of jasmine every month. Josephine had stronger perfume preferences. She was partial to musk, and she used so much that sixty years after her death the scent still lingered in her boudoir.
Perfume reached its peak in England during the reigns of Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I. All public places were scented during Queen Elizabeth's rule, since she could not tolerate bad smells. It was said that the sharpness of her nose was equal led only to the slyness of her tongue. Ladies of the day took great pride in creating delightful fragrances and they displayed their skill in mixing scents.
As with industry and the arts, perfume was to undergo profound change in the 19th century. Changing tastes and the development of modern chemistry laid the foundations of perfumery as we know it today. Alchemy gave way to chemistry and new fragrances were created. The French Revolution had in no way diminished the taste for perfume, there was even a fragrance called "Parfum à la Guillotine". Under the post-revolutionary government, people once again dared to express a penchant for luxury goods, including perfume. A profusion of vanity boxes containing perfumes appeared in the 19th century.
In early America, the first scents were colognes and scented water. Florida water, an uncomplicated mixture of eau de cologne with a dash of oil of cloves, cassia, and lemongrass, was popular.
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