Published 10/31/2023

Tidbits invites you to take a whiff of these facts about the perfume industry, a $51 billion annual market world-wide, $12 billion in the U.S. alone.

•   We get our English word “perfume” from the Latin, “per fume,” which translates “through smoke.” Ancient Roman feasts featured the scent of oil of rose and jasmine which was poured into fountains and filtered into the air. Early Arabians burned incense, aromatic herbs, and fragrant woods to scent their clothing. A Cuneiform tablet dated to 1200 B.C. records the first perfume maker, a Babylonian woman named Tapputi.

•  The Egyptians used fragrant oils as part of celebrations, religious rituals, and times of prayer, believing the aroma offered divine protection. They were the first to store perfume in glass bottles, dating back to 1000 B.C. 

• Queen Elizabeth of Hungary commissioned the first modern alcohol-based perfume in 1370, a mixture of lemon, orange blossom, thyme, and rosemary, a concoction known as Hungary Water. 

•  In the 1500s, French King Louis XV advanced the popularity of fragrance by adding perfume to furniture, gloves, clothing, and bathwater.

•   Perfume-making is a complex process, beginning with the extraction of the fragrant oils from plants, most commonly through steam distillation. This involves boiling the materials, which releases the essential oils. The steam and oils are then condensed once the oil separates from the water. The oils are diluted with alcohol, which also seals in the fragrance by delaying evaporation. The solution then steeps in copper pots, then is cooled to allow any foreign particles to settle out before the filtering process, and finally, the packaging.

•  The composition of perfume is made up of what is known as “notes,” top, heart, and base. The top note is the most delicate, the scent you smell when you first sample the perfume that doesn’t last very long. The heart is the middle note, usually herbal, floral, or spicy, lasting longer than the top note. It’s the heart scent that begins to surface after it reacts with a person’s skin chemistry, usually after about 20 minutes. The base note is the scent that lingers after the perfume has dried. Composed of wood, amber, and musk, its scent lasts the longest.

• A person’s body heat activates perfume’s scent, so it should be applied at the skin’s main “pulse points” – the inside of the wrist, the neck, behind the ears, in the crook of the elbows, and behind the knees. You might think the correct procedure is to rub the wrists together after application, but this action heats up the skin and actually changes the scent.

•   The same perfume will smell different on each person, due to different skin pH, or the wearer’s routines, such as diet, smoking, and exercise.

•   A perfume’s concentration can change over time, so it’s a good idea to use perfume within 3 to 5 years. If the bottle is opened, it should be used within 3 years. After that, the perfume might smell of alcohol. Those with higher concentrations of essential oils tend to last longer. Humidity, sunlight, and temperature can also affect the scent, so storing in a dark place is recommended.

• There are several different categories of perfumes based on the fragrance’s concentration of pure perfume oil. The higher the concentration, the longer the scent lasts on the skin. Eau Fraiche, also known as Cool Water, contains just 1-3% of essential oils and is mostly water. Its light scent will last from 30 minutes to an hour. Eau de Cologne’s concentration is 2-4%, with the aroma lasting 1 to 3 hours. Eau de Toilette contains 5-15% of the oils, with a scent expectation between 3 and 8 hours. The strongest perfume concentration you’ll see at the general retail level is that of Eau de Parfum, with a 15-20% concentration. Its fragrance will continue for 6 to 12 hours. Pure Parfum with its 20-40% concentration will last 12 to 24 hours. Just one drop lasts for the whole day. Of course, the concentration of essential oils dictates the price you pay. The buyer can expect to pay up to four times more for Pure Parfum than the Eau de Parfum counterpart

• In the world of fragrance, perfumers are known as a “nose.” Frenchman Jean Carles is considered the most famous nose, a man who insured his nose for a million dollars. He was the creator of Tabu in 1932 and Miss Dior Eau de Parfum in 1947. By the time he was in his early 20s, Carles was already considered one of the industry’s most gifted perfumers.  

•  Eau de Cologne was concocted for the first time in 1709 by Johann Maria Farina, and was a blend of lemon, orange, tangerine, neroli (orange blossom oil), and lavender. Farina dubbed his creation Kolnisch Wasser, which translates “water from Cologne,” named after his hometown in Germany. It’s the oldest perfume still in production. The second-oldest is the Eau de Cologne 4711 by Muelhens, another Cologne, Germany product, introduced in 1799. Its main notes are lemon, neroli, jasmine, bergamot, basil, lavender, and rosemary. The company suffered a setback during World War II when its headquarters were destroyed by a bomb that decimated nearly 90% of the city. An 800-ml (27 oz.) bottle of 4711 can be purchased today for around $35.  

•   French perfumer Francois Coty is regarded as the founding father of the modern perfume industry. In 1904, at age 26, Coty received the break he had been working toward. He took a chance delivering some of his latest creation, La Rose Jacqueminot, to the perfume counter of a large Paris department store. Within minutes, customers flocked around the counter, clambering to buy the fragrance. The entire stock was gone almost immediately, and the store offered Coty a space on the floor for his products. It wasn’t long before the perfume had made him a millionaire. At the beginning of World War I in 1914, Coty perfumes were the number one in the world. In 1929, his estimated worth was $34 million (over $800 million in today’s dollars), much of which was lost in the stock market crash that year.

•  Surveys indicate that 97% of people feel more confident when wearing a fragrance. About 78% claim they feel energized when wearing citrus scents. Women respondents say they feel the most feminine and attractive when they choose floral fragrances.


Who hasn’t heard of Chanel No. 5? But how much do you know about the woman behind the scent? Follow along as Tidbits aims the spotlight at Coco Chanel.

•   It might seem that world-renowned fashion designer Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel led an elegant, privileged life, but her beginnings were very humble. She was born in a French village in 1883 to a street peddler father and a laundress mother, one of six children. Her 32-year-old mother died when Gabrielle was 11, and her father, overwhelmed and unable to provide for the family, placed her and her two sisters in an orphanage operated by Catholic nuns. They never saw their father again.

•  During her six years in the orphanage, Coco was taught to sew, a skill that shaped the rest of her life. When she left the institution, she found employment as a seamstress and milliner, with a side job as a nightclub singer, where she earned the nickname Coco.

•  In 1921, Chanel branched out into perfumery, introducing the legendary Chanel No. 5. Wanting to create perfume that represented “a real woman,” scents of floral and woods were blended and named after the fifth sample that was presented to her. The following year, Chanel No. 22, a variation of No. 5 was launched.

•  When Coco was 27, her current love interest financed her first shop in Paris. Another boutique followed three years later. In 1923, the Chanel tweed suit was introduced, a jacket and skirt in light wool, with a jersey or silk blouse. Her aim was to make clothes that were more comfortable for women.

•  Perhaps Chanel’s most famous creation was the “little black dress,” which she debuted in 1926. It was a simple yet sophisticated straight, long-sleeved, drop-waist, calf-length sheath dress of crepe de chine. It was worn with a string of pearls. Vogue magazine declared that the dress would become “a sort of uniform for all women of taste,” describing it as “the frock that all the world will wear.” Chanel produced it in wool and chenille for daytime wear, and elegant dresses in satin, crepe, and velvet for the evening. Chanel’s style was to keep the dress simple, but pair it with the perfect accessories to “dress it up” or “dress it down.”

•   By 1927, Coco Chanel owned five properties on the exclusive fashion district’s Rue Cambon, property that the company still occupies. Coco had a lavish apartment on the second floor of one of the 18th-century buildings, filled with luxurious furnishings, objects from ancient Greece, Egypt, China, and Italy. Yet she never slept there. She chose to reside in a suite at the Ritz Hotel for 34 years, walking back and forth each day. She used the apartment “to work, read, daydream, rest, lunch and entertain.” It was Coco’s habit to notify the staff of her arrival time in order to have all the rooms spritzed with No. 5 perfume.

•  By 1935, Chanel’s company had more than 4,000 employees. But with the outbreak of World War II, she shut down her business, firing the workers, and closing the stores. Post-War, she left Paris for a self-imposed exile in Switzerland and at her country house in the French Riviera.

• In 1954, after her couture house had been closed for 15 years, at age 70, Chanel re-entered the fashion world, launching a comeback collection of new designs. 

•  Coco Chanel was 87 years old when she died in 1971. Today, the company produces 137 different perfumes. Chanel Grand Extrait sells for $4,200 per ounce.


•   French perfumer Jacques Guerlain introduced Shalimar in 1925 after four years of experimenting with just the right blend, a mixture of jasmine, citrus, lemon, cedar, orange, rose, and vanilla. Guerlain began his training in the family perfume business at age 16, and created his first perfume, Ambre, that year. Shalimar has been in continuous production since 1925, and was the hands-down favorite of actress Rita Hayworth.

•  Introduced in 1929, Joy by Jean Patou now sells for $850 an ounce. The favorite perfume of Jackie Kennedy and actress Vivien Leigh, Joy requires the essential oil of 10,000 jasmine flowers hand-picked in the French Riviera and 28 dozen roses to produce just one ounce.

•  In 1957, perfume and fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy, who created the dresses worn by Audrey Hepburn, blended a special scent just for her as a gift. He named it L’Interdit, which translates from the French for “forbidden,” using rose, jasmine, violet, iris, narcissus, and sandalwood in the fragrance. Hepburn wore it exclusively for a year, after which Givenchy released it to the public, with Hepburn as the “face” of the perfume, the first actress to do so.

•  The sky-high prices of perfume aren’t always because of the scent. Elaborate bottles contribute greatly to the cost.  For example, Clive Christian No. 1 is priced at $2,150 an ounce, but the bottle has a sterling silver neck plated in 24-carat gold. In 2006, Christian offered 500 ml of No. 1 perfume oil in his Imperial Majesty version, packaging it in a bottle loaded with crystals, an 18-carat gold collar, and five carats of white gold diamonds. The price tag was $12,722 an ounce.

•   How about DKNY’s Golden Delicious perfume for $1 million an ounce? The company offered this blend of rose, musk, sandalwood, orange blossom, gardenia, and golden delicious apple in a bottle featuring 2,090 precious stones, including yellow sapphires, white diamonds, pink diamonds, rose-cut diamonds, and a canary yellow diamond on the cap. If that’s out of your budget, you can purchase a 3.4 oz. Eau de Parfum spray of the scent for around $40.

•  The world’s most expensive perfume was presented in Dubai in 2019 with a price tag of $1.29 million. Its name is Shumukh, which translates from Arabic to “deserving the highest.” Three years of experimenting and 494 trials resulted in an exquisite blend of sandalwood, musk, Turkish rose, and frankincense, along with many other ingredients, with a fragrance that lasts more than 12 hours on the skin. If the price seems exorbitant, consider that the bottle stands at 6.46 feet and holds 3 liters (3.17 qts.) of fragrance. Contributing to the cost is the fact that the bottle is embellished with 3,571 diamonds, gold, silver, pearls, and topaz. 

•   When you hear the name Hermes, leather goods and scarves might come to mind. But the French design house is famous for its perfumery as well, notably its 24 Faubourg, introduced in 1995. With its scents of hyacinth, orange blossom, peach, gardenia, jasmine, and sandalwood, and many others, it was the favorite and signature scent of Princess Diana of Wales. An ounce of Hermes 24 Faubourg retails for $1,500. •  Baccarat Les Larmes Sacree de Thebes, a blend of frankincense and myrrh scents, is packaged in a handmade Baccarat crystal pyramid bottle, and sells for $6,800 an ounce.

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