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A - 2 : How Abayas saved the Perfumes

Every summer, many Arabs from Saudi Arabia and the Golf Countries descend on London to escape the brutal heat of their home countries. Something they all love is the green grass of Hyde Park, where Jenny and I live. Of course, green grass is rare in the Middle East. We see them sitting there the whole day enjoying themselves, having pick-nick and chatting. It is a lovely scenery.

Walking past them however is not a Hyde Park experience but an immersion in the history of perfume. Arab perfumes are very different from ours - much muskier, heavier, sometimes almost overpowering.

Egyptian Priestesses enjoying Perfumes

The use of perfumes (latin per fumes = through smoke) goes back to the first civilisations. Aromatic herbs were burned in holy places and royal palaces to make them smell better - a tradition that survives to this day in Catholic Churches when inscence is burnt. Already Indians figured out how to distill perfumes with steam, an art which the Persians and then the Romans developed further. Excavations of Roman sites always discover little perfume flasks - not all as precious as the one below but perfume flasks nonetheless.

Roman Perfume Flask

Since the rise of Christianity and the fall of the Roman Empire coincided, many earlier Christians blamed the decay of the Roman State on the indulgence and decadence of the Roman elite with their parties, excessive drinking and eating and widespread use of perfume. To re-surrect moral, christian culture adopted a very modest lifestyle. The dress code was strict, jewellery and perfumes banned and men and women separated. None of this was written in the Bible but has to be understood as a a cultural response to the vagaries of time.

Preparing the Perfume Ingredients for Extraction

The Arabs discovered fragrance in the 7th century when the Khalifs built a global Arab Empire with its centre in Bagdad. Having easy access to spices and all sorts of scents from all over the world, they experimented frequently and gave us the distillation with alcohol. Given the use of oriental substances to make their perfumes, their scents were heavy and musky. It was a big business for Bagdad. Perfume was used from the Spanish peninsula to the flatlands of Turkmenistan to the continent of India.

Basic Substances for many Perfumes

As the renaissance lifted many christian cultural restrictions and European town people began to consume foreign goods and experimented with new textiles, the interest in perfumes was resurrected. Due to its low volume, perfumes were easy to transport and the loading bills of most Venetian ships included pro-fumes. The constant stream of perfumes via Venice into Europe also encouraged people to try new recipes - perfumes with lighter floral scents became quickly popular. This gave the French perfume industry in Grasse its opening - a sweet spot they still hold today.

French Perfume Makers introduced many floral Tones

Had it not been for the Arabs, we probably would have lost the art of making perfume. So thanks to the Abayas wearing women for not giving up on fragrance!

Making New Perfumes is a big Business today - every Star wants his own Line!

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