Once upon a time, there was an emperor, called Shah Jahan. When he was still a prince his name was Prince Khurram. The prince met a young girl named Arjumand Banu, at the bazaar where her family was working. Enchanted by her beauty he married her after he became the emperor and he named her Mumtaz Mahal, in English, “Jewel of the Palace”. They stayed together in good times and in the bad, making them inseparable for life. She gave the Emperor 13 children, but she died at age 39, while giving birth to the 14th. Crushed and devastated the Emperor was left behind, and to honor her beauty and remember her forever, the Taj Mahal was build. Mumtaz had her favorite garden, ”The gardens of Shalimar” which was also build for her when she was alive can be found in Lahore, Pakistan.
It was built as a gesture of his undying love for his wife. The meaning of the name is, until this day unknown, but the garden is refined and exquisite having 410 fountains and has 3 levels called Fayah-, Faiz- and Hayat Bahks, meaning the Bestowers of Pleasure, Goodness and Life, all containing beautiful buildings.. Some of the trees you can find in the gardens are almond-, cherry-, peach-, plum-, mulberry-, mango and orange trees. It still is a paradise on earth.
This is a story that inspired a great perfumer to create one of his best-selling perfumes of all time, of course Shalimar, which was made by Jacques Guerlain in 1921 and after re-released in 1925.. The impact one story can have to create a small bottle, filled with essential oils, made from ingredients like bergamot, lemon, jasmine, rose, iris, incense, opopanax, tonka bean, and vanilla, making this perfume an Oriental, spicy perfume, that could last for days with just a single drop or two…..
The origin of perfume can be traced back in time to Ancient Egypt, although it was not used then as we use it now. Later the perfume became more refined in the hands of Persians, Romans and Arabs. In the early 14th century the knowledge of the perfumery came to Europe, being brought by Arab influence and their knowledge. The first modern perfume as we know it was made in 1370 at the command of Queen Elizabeth of Hungary, which is known in Europe as “Hungary Water”. Later, around the 16th Century the perfumery, which became a real craft and art, flourished in the Renaissance Italy, bringing it to France by the hand of René de Florentin, who was the personal perfumer of Catharina de Medici, Queen of France in 1547 – 1559. France started to develop into the world of beauty, and became the European Centre of perfume and cosmetics manufacture. In the Renaissance period, perfume was for the rich and royalty, using it to hide the bodily odor, which after quite became a substitute for soap and water. It was used on skin, but also on clothes and in the house, something we know very good.
But from the 17th century it became more successful and popular. Ever since it never stopped growing, Paris became the city with perfumers everywhere, and the South of France became a playground, where essential oils were made, cultivating flowers like Lavender and Lilacs. One of the most well-known and famous cities is Grasse, with the beautiful flower fields, where the production of raw materials still is made, even today. But that´s not the biggest history of Grasse. Originally it was a city with leather tanneries and had gloves ateliers. In the 16th Century perfumed gloves became a fashion, which ultimately lead to the perfume industry. Now a days, 60% of the materials for perfumes come from Grasse. The 3 biggest perfume houses in Grasse are Molinard, Fragonard and Galimard. Some of the finest perfumers in the name of history are Michel Almairac, François Coty, Jean Claude Ellena, Jacques Guerlain and his son Jean-Paul, Olivier Polge, Henri Robert and even Tom Ford, one of the latest well known fashion designers and even a perfumer, so it seems.
Still, today the market of perfumes is growing and growing. But the exclusivity is not the same as in the past. With the upcoming growth of synthetic fragrance more and more perfumes are made. Still, if you want to have a good perfume, there are plenty to be found, made out of the essential oils and natural products and now the Niche perfumes are taking over. Niche perfumes are an alternative, more high class perfumes which are made only in limited amounts, depending on how much the clients are asking for it. The essence and beauty of a Niche perfume is bringing back the art and beauty of perfume. More exclusive, more natural, more exhilarating. Names like Parfum d´Empire, Annick Goutal, Serge Lutens and L´Artisan Parfumeur are known for entering the Niche market with success, bringing new meaning to the beauty of perfume.
In the next weeks I will tell you about the buildup of a perfume, the olfactory aspects and some secrets from perfumers themselves. Also I will be looking in to the Niche market and of course how well this business still thrives and captivates millions of people around the world.
Keep an eye out,