Passion and perfume

Lubna Abdel-Aziz
Tuesday 9 Feb 2021

Oblivious to the drastic lifestyle changes of humans this past year, Cupid is full of excitement. His biggest fete is approaching. His bow buffed and polished, his arrows dipped in his mysterious magic potion, he is anxiously waiting to aim in our direction on Valentine’s Day.

He is sure to hit a million beating hearts, stir our blood by the arrows of divine movement, snatching our breath by its divine perfection, and we will be thankful for it.

Celebrating the feast of love will be somehow tricky this year. Dressing up to dine and dance is out of the question. Cards are plentiful, but handled by too many. A fresh bouquet of red roses is more than pleasant, but will soon wither away. Chocolates are the perfect aphrodisiac, but it will only add to the waistline that has already suffered under the confines of isolation, but do not despair. We have found the best alternative to express your passion to your beloved: perfume.

Perfume has more romantic power than all of the above, and it lasts longer.

Fragrance is the gift that keeps on giving.

There is that magical frisson of excitement when you smell a desirable fragrance. It’s that je ne sais quoi about our sense of smell that is omnipotent and immediate. Maybe it creates an impression of how we wish others to perceive us, fresh, crisp clean or sultry and seductive.

The hormone balance in our body is stimulated and the chemicals eventually find their way to the limbic section of the brain.

Even a small amount of fragrance compounds taken by respiration, causes indirect physical effects by activating olfactory memory.

Why is scent so powerful?

The olfactory system is located in the same part of our brain that effects emotion, memory, creativity and that part of the brain processes smell which interacts with the regions of the brain that are responsible for strong emotional memory.

It also has very close access to the amygdala, another part of the brain which processes emotion.

There you have it. Our sense of smell is our most primitive sense, so powerful, it cannot be turned off.

A recent study by Rockefeller University, New York, found that we remember 35 per cent of what we smell, five per cent of what we see and two per cent of what we hear. According to the Sense of Smell Institute, the average person is able to distinguish 10,000 different odours.

The ancients discovered that a long time ago. Modern science has backed them up. Scent interacts with regions of the brain that are important in the direction of human behaviour. It reduces stress, relieves pain and depression, energises and even kills disease causing microbes.

So, what are you waiting for? Without hesitation, shop for that beautifully designed tiny bottle that is pleasing to the eye, promising endless passion and romance.

Perfume, from the Latin per fumare, or through smoke, is a strange but accurate description.

Early man offered the greatest sacrifice to his gods:  slaughtered animals. To mask the stench of burning flesh, he stacked smelling leaves, woods and plants to deodorise the carcass.

In time wisdom prevailed. The animal’s flesh was eaten and the smoking fragrances became the symbolic offerings. The transition from incense to perfume occurred 6,000 years ago in the Middle East.

Ancient Egyptians and Sumerians literally bathed in oils and alcohols of aromatic herbs, flowers, trees and plants. Egyptians used balm in religious ceremonies, while Cleopatra bathed in milk and rosewater.

The first recorded perfume chemist was a woman, naturally. Her name was Tapputi as is found on a 1200 BC Cuneiform tablet in Mesopotamia.

The perfume industry owes a lot to Tapputi. She invented methods for scent exhaustion, and the most ground-breaking techniques of using solvents.

The Greeks and Romans learned of Egypt’s euphoric perfumes. Greeks prohibited the sale of fragrant oils to women, but males copiously embraced it. Discrimination began early in history.

Roman emperor Nero was partial to roses, spending the equivalent of $260,000 on raw oils, rose water and rose petals in one night. Even he wanted to smell like a bunch of fresh roses.

Strangely enough, it was the Islamic Culture that contributed significantly to the development of Middle Eastern perfumery which in later years greatly influenced Western perfumery in scientific developments and chemicals.

Perfume came to Europe in the 1200s from Andalusia in the West and the Crusaders from Palestine in the East.

While perfumery prospered in Italy during the Renaissance, France quickly grabbed the industry cultivating flowers in the town of Grasse in Provence, known as the world’s capital of perfume.

Gabrielle Chanel, (Coco) created a special floral scent of ylang ylang and neroli with a heart of blends of jasmine and rose above a base of sandalwood and vetiver. It was unlike any other on the market. The name came from the fifth bottle designed. She launched it on the fifth day of the fifth month in 1921. Five was her lucky number indeed as she collected $15 million during her lifetime from the sales of Chanel No 5.

This precious elixir has been the highest selling perfume ever since.

Remember what Marilyn Monroe wore at bedtime.

There are hundreds of choices and two distinct varieties: floral and spicy.

 The best-selling products are Chanel, Dior and Lauder.

Choose according to the personality of your Valentine.

Cupid suggests the best accomplice to his arrow is a bottle of perfume.

“With one breath of perfume, I forfeit my kingdom. With a second I forfeit my soul.”


*A version of this article appears in print in the 11 February , 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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