The Evolution of Fragrance
Perfume and fragrance has permeated human culture since the beginning of recorded time. The Chinese are credited as the first people to use plants for aromatic purposes; maybe the allure is a health benefit. Or, could it be that perfume, which changes with the times, is sought after for a particular feeling or memory it evokes? Maybe we desire a distinctive scent to set us apart from, or draw us closer to, those around us.
“We take the client on a sensory journey, using the olfactory senses, to promote wellness,” says Jackie McKay of Essentials Salon & Day Spa in Doylestown about Aveda’s Pure-FumeTM fragrance line. The line, which centers on aromatherapy, is custom-blended on-site to create a signature scent from Aveda’s Key ElementTM aromas, all of which are inspired by the basic Ayurvedic elements: earth, air, fire, water and infinity.
The first fragrances used by humankind were most likely incense, frankincense being the most widely known. Recently, what is thought to be the world’s oldest perfumery was discovered in Cyprus, dating back more than 4,000 years. Maybe the most famous fan of fragrance in ancient times was Cleopatra, whose presence was known before she entered a room because of the billowing clouds of perfume that preceded her.
Although the term aromatherapy was not used until the 20th century, the practice of using plants and oils to promote health and well being dates back thousands of years. During the plague in the 14th century, it was hypothesized that perfumers may have avoided death through their constant contact with natural aromatics. Perfume a lifesaver? I’m on board.
Says Natalie Morton of Tsi-La (pronounced Chee-La) Natural Perfumery and Organics in Langhorne, “organic and natural fragrances smell like the true materials they were created from. All of our fragrances are created with natural materials from the earth, which is why they smell so beautiful.” With scents like Misaki, a floral- and green tea-based perfume, or Fleur Sauvage, a tuberose scent inspired by the flowers of Hawaii, “you capture nature in a bottle,” proclaims Morton.
In the 20th century, perfume penetrated the American landscape. The 1920s are known as the golden age of perfume, and the most famous character of the time was Shalimar. In the ‘50s, a lady would rather be caught dead than caught in public without her Max Factor! Fast forward to the ‘80s, and the perfume scene was full of power perfumes, like Poison and Obsession, which complimented trendy power suits. Then it was Thierry Mugler’s Angel that had everyone clamoring for a bottle of the blue stuff.
“Our fragrance, I Heart Unicorns, is reminiscent of childhood but appropriate for a 40-year-old woman,” tells Jennifer Artur of A Beautiful Life in New Hope. “It’s very ‘80s and conjures up good feelings, like a girl just on the verge of growing up.” Indeed, the fragrance is inspired by bubblegum but manages to have character and depth, as well as a hint of citrus and vanilla.
In 2010 we have fragrances that represent our culture, one in which health, handcrafting and things holistic are highly esteemed. Heading the organic fragrance movement is Tsi-La, with a fragrance line made from products grown “without the use of pesticides, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation,” explains Morton. She adds that this “gives us all another way to minimize exposure to chemicals and benefit from essential oils—by relaxing, energizing and promoting joy.”
Similarly, the accompanying card from A Beautiful Life’s fragrances lists only a few key ingredients: essential oil, fragrant oil, and love. “We felt like there was nothing special about fragrances anymore, and we wanted to create something that could play with the big boys but still be ma & pa,” says Artur. The brand consists of hand-poured fragrances in hand-labeled bottles that have cool, with natural scents, like the blood orange and sandalwood of Crush’d, or the citrus and pepper of Smitten, a unisex, purse-friendly roll-on fragrance.
As in ancient times, ingredients like herbs, spices and flowers are still used to craft fragrances. According to McKay, “90 percent of Aveda’s essential oils and 89 percent of the raw herbal ingredients are certified organic, making Aveda the number one green cosmetics company in the United States.” A true believer in the time-tested benefits of aromatics, she adds, “Aroma should not be overpowering, but should compliment a person’s personality and inspire a pleasing feeling to the wearer.”
Whether it’s a feeling you’re after, a memory, or a health benefit, the right fragrance can create these like it has for so many others throughout time. It can finish an outfit and create a mood. It can take you back to a place you once loved. It can uplift your senses and produce an atmosphere of positivity and healing. Or, like it did for Cleopatra, it can announce your arrival before you enter a room and linger just long enough for people to notice when you’re gone.
Essentials Salon & Day Spa, Doylestown, 215-489-8800, www.spaessentials.net
Tsi-La Natural Perfumery and Organics, 215-750 -9996, www.tsilaorganics.com
A Beautiful Life, New Hope, 215-862-8838, www.abeautifullife.com
Story by April Reynolds