By Elyse Romano
Men’s fragrances have come a long way since their ancient origins.
Once upon a time, pleasantly scented potions were a matter of necessity. One’s nose was constantly assaulted by the unpleasant odours of smoke, rotting food, and open sewers. And that was just the people – imagine what the actual sewers smelled like.
Today’s colognes don’t perform such a purely practical purpose, but they do serve a more interesting one: helping you get lucky. Pair the right scent with the right man and some kind of scorcery happens. If you don’t know what we’re talking about, you just haven’t met The One yet (scent, that is).
Join us on a journey through the history of men’s fragrances, from the world’s first recorded chemist to today’s billion-dollar industry.
A Scented History
Long before modern perfumery began in the late 19th century, perfumes existed in some of the earliest human civilizations. The art of crafting scents began in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, then was further refined by the Romans and Persians. At a glance:
The world’s first recorded chemist was Tapputi, a perfume maker mentioned in a cuneiform tablet from the 2nd millennium BC in Mesopotamia. She distilled flowers, oil, and calamus with other aromatics like cyprus and myrrh, then added with water and filtered several times.
Having already invented glass, Egyptians began using rudimentary perfume bottles. Some scents were used for religious purposes, while others served cosmetic or medicinal functions. Myrrh, frankincense, peppermint and rose were popular ingredients.
The oldest perfumery discovered to date was found on the island of Cyprus. During a 2004-5 excavation, an archaeological team unearthed evidence of a factory that existed 4,000 years ago. Its gargantuan size indicates that perfume manufacturing had reached an industrial scale.
Cologne Comes West
Knowledge of perfumery came to Europe as early as the 14th century, due in part to developments in the Middle East. Islamic cultures perfected the extraction of fragrances through steam distillation and introduced new raw materials to the industry. With that, fragrances were ready to move west.
The first European alcohol-based perfume was made in Hungary. According to legend, it was formulated at the command of a Queen of Hungary in the late 1400s and became known as “Hungary Water.”
Like many other arts, the art of perfumery prospered in Renaissance Italy. Rene the Florentine, Catherine de’ Medici’s personal perfumer, brought his knowledge of the craft to France in the 1600s and the country quickly became the European center of perfume manufacture.
Perfume fully came into its own when Louis XV took the throne in the 18th century. After Napoleon came to power, exorbitant expenditures for perfume continued. The diminutive would-be world leader would even reportedly dab on some fragrance before going into battle.
Rise Of The Masculine Fragrance
Though perfumery goes back thousands and thousands of years, men’s fragrance is a relatively recent development. It began in 1709 in Cologne, when Italian expat Giovanni Maria Farina created a special scent to honour his new hometown. He gave the fragrance the town’s name and the catchy moniker stuck.
The fragrance was fresh, a welcome contrast to the heavy scents favoured at the time, with notes of citrus, flowers, and herbs. Farina’s list of customers expanded rapidly. Soon his Eau de Cologne was sold throughout Europe and became a royal and imperial favourite.
The eighth generation Farina family still produces the pioneering unisex Eau de Cologne. Countless imitations have emerged over time, as have shady counterfeits, but it’s still possible to purchase the original fragrance and its sanctioned variations.
These days, in the ultimate sign of success, ‘cologne’ has transcended its meaning for a specific product to become a label for all men’s fragrances. New techniques and ingredients constantly change the industry, and scent is no longer considered a luxury of the wealthy. With mass production in full effect, men’s fragrance is a booming billion-dollar business.