A woman named Tapputi is the world’s first-recorded chemist, a Mesopotamian perfume maker. Imagine 2nd millennium BC Mesopotamia, and Tapputi, an olive-skinned overseer at the Royal Palace, holding it down in her lab distilling flowers, oil and calamus to present to the king and queen. From Rome to Persia to India, perfumery became a fad of luxury.
Our ancestors knew that looking good and smelling good meant feeling good – and based on their timeless wisdom, thus was born the ancient art of perfumery. Everything from herbs, spices, flowers and grasses went into their mixtures.
Today’s scents vary just as much, but the quality and sophistication varies too, so we want to break it down.
Perfume categories, are designated by their concentration of aromatic compounds, which determine a perfume’s intensity and longevity; i.e. the higher the compound concentration, the more potent and enduring the scent. The three most popular categories are parfum, eau de parfum, and eau de toilette.
- Parfum offers the highest aromatic concentration ranging from ~15-40%; by nature this is the most expensive option and is sold in small quantities. Why? You don’t need much - put your parfum on for a night out, you’re almost guaranteed to catch lingering notes the next morning and even after.
- Eau de Parfum is the next best step with ~10-20% aromatic concentration. Generally less expensive than parfum, but will usually last throughout a day, the lighter concentrations probably requiring a refresher.
- Eau de Toilette ranks lowest in aromatics with only ~ 5-15%. These are generally much less expensive, as their very light scents evaporate quickly. Good to freshen up for a quick meeting or midday, but not much else.
We’ll cover what some of the modern world’s most sophisticated perfumers draw on for inspiration and how they get down in their own labs in an upcoming post.