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A brief history of…

Perfume

We’ve sniffed out some of the most surprising facts in the story of scent

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    Antiquity

    Scent is already making waves: Cleopatra allegedly uses fragrant oils to seduce Mark Anthony, while the Greek physician Hippocrates believes aromatherapy can prevent disease.

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    13th century

    Explorer Marco Polo brings fragrant spices to Venice, sparking a trend for wearing a ‘pomander’ (a small metal ball of aromatics) around the neck, finger or girdle.

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    14th century

    The first recorded alcohol-based perfume is created for the Queen of Hungary. Made with rosemary, the not-very-creatively named Hungary Water is thought to have magical properties to preserve youth and beauty.

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    Victorian era

    Light, floral scents such as jasmine and violet are loved by the Victorians. Queen Victoria favours Fleurs de Bulgarie by Creed – a blend of Bulgarian rose, musk, ambergris and bergamot.

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    1921

    Coco Chanel revolutionises women’s fragrance with the launch of Chanel No5, which uses aldehydes to create crisp, citrus, soapy notes, rather than just florals.

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    1950s

    Fragrance is still seen as special-occasion-only until savvy New Yorker Estée Lauder introduces a new scent, Youth Dew, as an everyday bath oil that doubles as a perfume. Women soon adopt it as a ‘signature scent’.

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    1970s-90s

    While 70s hippies go old-school and dab essential oils on their wrists, the 80s and 90s see the rise of the power perfume, with Calvin Klein’s vanilla-scented Obsession dominating the era.

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    Today

    Bespoke fragrances with green credentials are on the rise, such as Liz Earle Botanical Essence No.20*, £54/5,400 points (50ml, edp), with damask rose and 87% natural ingredients.

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Words Rosie Benson Photography Advertising Archives, Alamy, Estée Lauder, Getty Images, Shutterstock

*Available in selected stores

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