The art of perfume making began in Ancient Egypt roughly four thousand years ago, at nearly the same time that the first glass was made for bottles. Although glass perfume bottles did not achieve their modern form for centuries, perfumery became increasingly sophisticated as cultures all over the world sought to develop ways to control and improve their smell. The simple nature of how perfume is made is part of the reason why even today perfume in plastic bottles is rare. Though perfumes have become much more complex, they still rely on many of the same elements that chemists used in ancient cultures.
One of the most interesting facts about perfume is that as with much of modern chemistry, it owes a great deal of its development to Islam. While the Romans were attempting to improve the scents they had gotten from Egypt, the Arabs had a strong incentive to make perfumes more effective and less expensive and to develop them in a wider range of scents. One of the most important Sunni texts required males who had reached puberty to bathe every Friday, and recommended perfumes to improve the effects of this regimen. This prompted increased demand for scents, which in turn led to the development of a wider range of herbs and spices for perfumes, steaming techniques to get the oils out of natural ingredients that didn’t yield them easily, and better filtration techniques to produce purer oils.
These techniques and ingredients, brought to the west on the backs of the far-ranging Islamic traders, influence Western science and perfumery to this day. However, this transmission doesn’t seem to have begun until the 14th century, well after glass development had begun to advance in that same part of the world. Modern perfume, which involves not just scented oils but an alcohol solution that evaporates leaving the scent behind, began in Hungary at the order of a queen. Italy and soon thereafter France came to prosper in the development of “Hungary Water,” which remained a product of nobility and royalty through the next several centuries. New flowers, formulas, and techniques were developed and jealously guarded for their financial value.
Throughout the 18th Century, perfume grew in importance, as more people used more of it instead of soap and bathing in mainland Europe. However, modern chemistry, changing tastes, and the first industrial revolution changed the process and demand for perfume forever just a few decades later. From there, it grew and spread to the produce that we know so well today, available in a wide variety of scents for men and women, in glass bottles of every shape imaginable.