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perfume

perfume, aroma produced by the essential oils of plants and by synthetic aromatics. The burning of incense that accompanied the religious rites of ancient China, Palestine, and Egypt led gradually to the personal use of perfume. In Greece, where flower scents were first developed, the use of perfume became widespread. In Rome perfume was used extravagantly. During the Middle Ages the Crusaders brought the knowledge of perfumery back to Europe from the East. It was at this time that animal substances were first added as fixatives—musk, ambergris, civet, and castoreum (from the beaver). Italian perfumers settled in Paris (after 1500), and thereafter France became the leader of the industry. After 1500 scents became fashionable; both men and women wore an ornamental pomander or pouncet-box (dry-scent box), which hung from the waist. Each wealthy household had a "still room" where perfume was prepared by the women. Since the early 19th cent., chemists have analyzed many essential oils and have produced thousands of synthetics, some imitating natural products and others yielding new scents. Most perfumes today are blends of natural and synthetic scents and of fixatives that equalize vaporization of the blends and add pungency. The ingredients are usually combined with alcohol for liquid scents and with fatty bases for many cosmetics. Leading producers of perfume oils are the East Indies, Réunion island, and S France. Bulgaria and Turkey are noted for attar of roses, Algeria for geranium oils, Italy for citrus oils, and England for lavender and mint. The great fashion houses of Paris are renowned for perfumes that carry their names. See eau de Cologne.

See E. Sagarin, The Science and Art of Perfumery (2d ed. 1955); R. Genders, Perfume through the Ages (1972).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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