Shadowscent: The Darkest Bloom is a fantasy adventure full of romance, adventure and political intrigue, set in a world where scent has power. In the Empire of Aramtesh, daily life, religion and trade revolve around scented products and rituals. Whether you’ll be taken seriously in certain contexts will depend upon the perfume you wear, and the most precious commodities are the ingredients for rare fragrances. As background research for the book, I delved into the fascinating history of perfume and perfume making. Here’s just 10 of the interesting things I discovered:
1. The earliest written record we have of perfumery comes from 1200 BCE. It’s the cuneiform lab notes of an ancient Babylonian palace perfumer: Tapputi. She’s even left us with the recipe for an aromatic balm for the king, including her method for distilling the required ingredients. This makes her the first chemical engineer we have on record!
2. Historical perfumes didn’t necessarily mean simple perfumes. In ancient Egypt, one of the most important fragrances was kyphi, which was made from sixteen carefully balanced ingredients. Kyphi was believed to cure everything from snakebite to liver complaints and was a firm favourite of Cleopatra’s—it was said you would know when the royal barge approached by the fragrance that preceded it.
3. If you were looking for a new perfume in ancient Greece, you wouldn’t go to a retail store and test several fragrances on a paper blotter, you’d go to an apothecary-like workshop where a perfumer would help you work out what smelled best on your particular skin—it would be tested on your wrist because that’s where it was believed it would smell the best.
4. In ancient Rome, perfume was dubbed by Pliny the Elder to be among the most elegant and honourable things one could enjoy in life. Perfumes were used in the home, in religion, medicine, and for personal use, and were imported from across the known world.
5. By contrast, the Christian writers of the fourth century discouraged perfume use. Anointing oneself with scent was seen to be indulgent, and perfumes were also associated with self-abandonment and a lack of control. Centuries later, perfumed individuals would again be frowned upon by those in the Protestant Reformation who viewed cleanliness, rather than scented-ness, as next to godliness.
6. In Tudor England, Henry VIII used copious amounts of rose perfume as a symbol of his kingship—it was a reminder of his divine right as king and the relative peace he presided over after the Wars of the Roses a century before. It was under his reign that many English gardens planted copious amounts of roses, in a shift from medieval garden styles. His daughter, Elizabeth I, went on to also favour rose perfumes.
7. Despite the name, Eau de Cologne didn’t technically originate in Germany. It was previously known as Eau de la Reine, and travelled from Italy to France with Catherine de Medici when she was betrothed to Henry II. An Italian perfumer took it onto Germany from there, where it received its name change.
8. Later in France, the court of Louis XV was also known as ‘la Cour parfumee’, and the trend among courtiers was to wear a different scent each day of the week. But by the time of the French Revolution, many perfumes fell out of favour as people feared that wearing them would link them with the old regime.
9. As with clothing, women have long been judged by the perfume they wear, and this depended on the fashion of the time. In nineteenth century Europe, for example, middle class ladies where advised to avoid jasmine, tuberose, civet and musk lest ‘polite society’ condemn them as courtesans or prostitutes.
10. Today, the largest perfume archive in the world is in France. Founded in 1990, the Osmothèque has over 1,400 perfumes in its collection. Of those, 500 are no longer being produced. Historians, curators and others have wondered whether we can ever truly preserve the scent of a particular period, or if they’ll be lost to the winds of time…
Shadowscent: The Darkest Bloom by P.M. Freestone (Scholastic) is available now.
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