The History of Perfume in Italy
Today, you can find perfumes almost everywhere in one form or another – from cosmetics and personal fragrances to auto air fresheners and home décor.
Just think of how many fragrances you encounter on a daily basis as you go about your routine. Almost every product comes with its own unique scent.
Many people may not realize that the history of perfume has long roots not in France but Italy.
Italians actually developed the modern version of customized perfume everyone knows and loves today. And this whole time you probably thought it was France.
Here’s why Italy is still the world’s epicenter of exclusively designed scents and hand-made perfume products to this very day.
The Origins of Modern Perfume Actually Lie in Italy
The concept of perfume reached Western populations fairly late compared to their African, Persian, and Arab counterparts of the time. In fact, it wasn’t until the 14th century that perfumery really emerged in popularity in modern-day Europe.
During the Medieval era, Italian perfumers experienced an innovative breakthrough that changed the history of perfume as we know it. They developed aqua mirabilis: a potent 95% alcohol solution perfect for adding natural and synthetic scents.
This discovery crowned Venice as the world hub of perfumery for several hundred years.
It also helped that 14th century Venice was already a massive epicenter for trade and commerce. Spices, herbs, flowers, oils, and resins often made their way into Italy from the Middle and Far East. This gave Italian perfumers the resources they needed to develop customized scents for anyone who could afford them.
To top it off, Italy was the home of stunning Murano glass which provided perfumers with something classy to contain their exquisite fragrances. The high alcohol content makes perfume volatile, so glass containers are ideal.
How Catherine de Medici Introduced Perfume to France
Here’s where France fits into the picture.
In Medieval Italy, it was common for royalty and nobility to have their own personal perfumer. Things haven’t changed too much in that respect: today’s celebrities still manufacture their own fragrance lines.
Young Catherine de Medici (Caterina de Medici in Italian) was just a 14-year-old noble girl from Florence, Italy when she married 14-year-old Henry II in 1533 and became the queen of France. When she moved to France, it was only natural to bring her personal perfumer with her, Renato Bianco (who later became René le Florentin in France).
This was a good decision on Catherine de Medici’s part because when she came to France, Catherine was greeted by a wave of unpleasant smells from the common people around her (people who would lead to her monarchy’s demise shortly after her death ironically enough).
Catherine and her procession were quite a sight as they entered Marseilles. The women wore small gold or silver spheres which they would waft under their noses to cover the putrid smells and leave a wonderful fragrance in their paths. (It’s also ironic that many perfumes contained civetone back then: secretions from an African cat’s anal glands.)
Catherine de Medici introduced the French Court to Renato and the history of perfume really took off from there. Everyone who was anyone had their own identifiable scent, and perfume producers sprung up all around Grasse, France.
From the History of Perfume to Modern Perfumery
As you can see, despite France receiving most of the credit, Italy is really home to the history of perfume – at least how we understand perfume in a modern sense.
A lot of things have changed but much has also stayed the same.
Just like Medieval times, France and Italy are home to the largest perfume producers. France still produces perfume in high capacity while Italy stands out with expensive raw materials, exclusive designs, and customizable scents.
When looking for a one-of-a-kind scent, Italy is still the place to go.
This is where M.L.G. can help. From automobiles and home décor to cosmetics and personal fragrances, we can help you develop the perfect scent. M.L.G. specializes in creating original scents with exclusive formulas for celebrities, retailers, and everyone in between. We cover everything from formulation to packaging – with your input, of course.
Contact us to get started and learn more today.