Where would men be without that eternal favorite, perfume? Easy to buy and wrap, it makes the perfect gift for birthdays, anniversaries and other important dates that might have slipped the mind.
For many years now, men's fragrances
have also been growing ever more popular, joining women's perfumes at the top of many a Christmas shopping list. Rather than being the butt of jokes about unwanted aftershaves, fragrances for men are at long last not only acceptable but fashionable.
For many people, their outfit is not complete without adding a touch of their favorite, appropriate fragrance. Like clothes, a careful choice of perfume can also be seen as a means of attracting a partner.
But it has not always been that way. Many historians suggest that fragrances were originally used to cover up unpleasant smells caused by lack of hygiene. In medieval times, for instance, most people only bathed once or twice a year.
The Egyptians and Romans became well-known for their extensive use of perfume as a symbol of their style and elegance. They combined fragrances with oils to rub into their skin. Until this time, the process had been less sophisticated, with spices such as fenugreek and cinnamon simply being squeezed into a liquid.
Today, perfume in the pure sense of the word is the most expensive kind of fragrance, being made from around 22% essential oils and 78% ethyl alcohol. Perfume of this quality gives the longest lasting fragrance. Its close neighbor, eau de parfum, contains between 15-22% essential oils, followed by eau de toilette and then the much weaker eau de Cologne.
With so vast a range of quality, price and fragrance, choosing the right perfume takes careful consideration. When choosing it as a gift, it's not enough simply to think "that smells nice" and head to the checkout. Is the fragrance light and fresh, making it more suitable for daytime wear? Or should it be a slightly headier perfume, more appropriate for the evening?
Then consider the increasing range of celebrity perfumes, bearing the names of actresses, sports stars, singers and models. Other factors also need to be taken into account. Some people, for example, might have a strong dislike for one of the ingredients, such as musk or vanilla, or even have an allergic reaction. Moreover, many people are now recognize by their 'signature perfume' – selecting the right fragrance requires homework.
The major categories of fragrance are Oriental, Floral, Floriental Green Marine, Chypre and Fruit. A wide range of plant products are used, including bergamot, lavender and ylang-ylang. Some plants evoke particular eras. For example, the use of patchouli was particularly popular in the 1960s and 70s by those enjoying the hippie lifestyle.
More controversial is the perfume industry's use of animal products, which are used as fixing agents. These can include ambergris, which comes from sperm whales, and castoreum, a secretion from beavers. Most distinctive is probably musk, taken from the male deer of that name.
In an age where perfumes are now bought as a fashion item, many manufacturers use man made ingredients, enabling them to produce large quantities of fragrances
at prices that can suit most people's budgets.
Technology has certainly changed the manufacture of perfume beyond recognition since the days of the Romans. However, in some ways their original application of perfume has come full circle, as the twenty-first century indulges in essential oils and fragrances through its current passion for aromatherapy.