The Fragrance Industry:
Perfumes and fragrances are a $5 billion retail industry
American Demographics, June 1997
The fragrance industry is big business, very big business. It includes much more than retail sales of fragrances. Related industries such as chemical companies supply the chemicals the fragrances are made from. Most fragrance chemicals are synthesized from petroleum products. Some companies formulate fragrances and flavors for other companies. Marketing and advertising are used to create and promote the image of a fragrance.
Add related industries such as companies that add fragrance to personal care, personal hygiene, and household products and the impact is even greater. The food industry is also a large user of fragrance chemicals known as flavors or aroma chemicals when used in foods. Flavor / fragrance chemicals are also in heavy use by the tobacco industry as additives to cigarettes to enhance flavor, especially the lower tar and nicotine brands.
Virtually every aspect of our lives is impacted by the Fragrance Industry. In the past many products had generic scents that identified their use, rather than brand. All soaps had an odor that was identified as "soap". Most laundry detergents had the basic same odor and most cleaners either had a pine or lemon scent. This is no longer the case.
Laundry smells fresh for days. Advertising campaigns are based on the odor rather than the performance of products. Entire industries are built around the perception of odor. The sense of smell is the least understood of the senses and often considered the less important of the senses. Yet it is the basis of multi-billion dollar industries.
"Why is fragrance so important to the buying public? The key is a mixture of biological response, psychology, and memory. The limbic system is the most primitive part of our brain and the seat of immediate emotions."(Scent of a Market American Demographics August 1995)
Initially perfumes and fragrance materials came from plant or animal sources. Fragrance played an important part in religious observations. It was thought to have powers to heal and protect from evil. The history of fragrances goes backs centuries. The Bible documents using balms, ointments, and scented oils. For the Egyptians it was part of the burial ritual and a symbol of status. The Greek believed fragrance could be used as a connection to the Gods. The Romans used perfumes for seduction and used herbs as aphrodisiacs.
With the Middle Ages and the fall of the Roman Empire there was a decline in the use of perfumery. The main use of strong fragrances was to cover the stench of disease. During the Crusades, Europe was introduced to perfumery from the East. From the Arabs there was gained the knowledge of alchemy and distillation of essential oils. Venice became the center of the perfume trade. Gradually perfumery spread to other European countries.
During the 14th Century perfumes were considered frivolous and abusive. During this time the main purpose of essential oils were medicinal. During the 15th and 16th centuries bathing was unpopular because it was thought to open the pores up and allow diseases in. Fragrances were used to cover up the odors from not bathing.
Fragrances were used by the upper class from the 16th to 19th centuries. Only the wealthy could afford the luxury of perfumes. The art of perfumery flourished. France became the center of the perfume industry.
In the late 1800's the first synthetic fragrance material was produced. This was the beginning of the modern age of perfumery. With the event of synthetics, perfumery would no longer be exclusively used by the wealthy. The average person would be able to afford fragrances. By the 19th century there were more than 300 manufactors of fragranced products employing more than 20,000 people. (For more detailed information on the ancient history of perfumes visit Internet Parfum)
In 1868 Houbignat introduced the first perfume containing a synthetic material. That material was coumarine. In 1874, Vanillin was introduced. By the early 1900's synthetics were being used on a regular basis. The main materials were still of botanical or animal origin with synthetics used to complement and add new dimension to the naturals.
In 1921 Chanel No. 5 was introduced. It was the first fragrance that was dominated by the use of synthetic aldehydes. It contained about 1% aliphatic aldehydes. It was the first of a class of perfumes called floral aldehydes. Even then the majority of the formula was made from naturals, softening the harshness of the aldehydes. The trend continued to be dominated with natural materials. Synthetics were used to expand the types of fragrances that could be created.
After World War II there was an explosion of new synthetics. More and more were incorporated into perfumery. Naturals were used to soften synthetics. Synthetics were less expensive and supplies were more reliable. However, the synthetics were often harsh and lacked the softness lended by naturals. So naturals remained an important part of the formulas.
Fragrance formulas were closely guarded secrets. The fragrance industry was a truly secretive one and only a few trusted individuals would have access to a formula. Developing perfumes was a time consuming process accomplished by skilled perfumers. It often took years of experience to attain the skill needed.
Formulas could not be patented. The only way to prevent them from being copied was not to divulge the ingredients. Fragrance formulas came under "trade secret" laws. This meant the contents of the formulas did not have to be listed. Only the word "fragrance" had to be put on the label. In this way the secrecy of the formulas was more or less protected.
Gas chromatography and Mass Spectrometry brought about tremendous change in the Fragrance Industry. No longer could the secrecy of formulas be maintained. A skilled fragrance chemist with GC/MS equipment could analyze a fragrance and pretty closely duplicate a fragrance. Copies of expensive, exclusive fragrances were now available at a fraction of the cost.
Along with the ability to copy other perfumes, came the ability to analyze natural materials. Now closer matches could be made in duplicating natural materials. There was less need to purchase expensive natural materials. Synthetics could be blended to better imitate the naturals. Synthetic materials as a rule are less costly, the quality is easier to maintain, and the supply is more reliable.
These changes made mass production of fragrances widespread. The market became even more competitive. Advertising and marketing campaigns now accounted for most of the cost of perfumes. Image became the all-important selling feature of a fragrance.
Trickle down fragranced products became popular. Shampoos, lotions, and soaps were now available in the same scent as one's favorite perfume. In order to compete other brands now had to have distinctive scents. The generic scent for products no longer existed.
Marketing became the most important aspect of whether a product was successful. And fragrance has become the basis of that marketing. Skilled advertising campaigns create the image and convince consumers that their product will make them happy, sexy, mysterious, alluring, etc.
Your child's clothes have that fresh smell so everyone knows you have done a good job. While sweating is acceptable, smelling like sweat is not. Your hair must smell terrific, your soap must be fresh as spring, and your clothes smell mountain fresh.
A good perfume has been traditionally formulated to last six to eight hours. There were three notes. The first note was the first impression of the fragrance immediately out of the bottle. The second note was the body of the fragrance and took a bit do develop after it was on the skin. The third note was the lingering quality of the fragrance. The key to a good perfume was for these three notes to flow into each other to produce a pleasing effect.
Traditionally a good perfume was formulated to last for six to eight hours. Colognes and other products were less concentrated and the odor did not last as long. Now detergents are advertised make your clothes smell fresh for days. With most personal care, personal hygiene, and household products being scented there is a constant bombardment of fragrance. For a product to be distinctive, it must be able to be detected over this "background noise" of fragrance.
The trend is for immediately powerful fragrances that are long lasting. Gone is the gradual development and gradual fading of a fragrance. The impact is immediate and long lasting. And of course, to keep up with the competition, all fragrances have to be immediate and long lasting.
Over the past 20 years there has been a phenomenal increase in the use of fragranced products. Problems are emerging from this increase.
Sources for information:
Perfumery: Practice and Principles by Robert R. Calkin & J. Stephen JellinekFlavors and fragrance: The chemistry challenges
Seasonal Variation in Flower Volatiles