Shortly after we were married my husband picked up a bottle of fragrance and proceeded, for whatever reason, to read the label.
“Honey? What is “ew dee toilet” and why is it in this bottle?”
“Water of toilet,” I replied with a snicker.
Eau de toilette is not, of course, referring to the dog’s favorite porcelain water fountain, but it sounds funny all the same. The French word “toilette”, used in this form, has to do with the means and manner of grooming oneself, or the style of dress one affects. The addition of a little “toilet water” — or fragrance — is a usual part of our everyday “toilette.”
Perfume comes in multiple forms, eau de toilette being one of the more diluted versions. The strongest, most potent form of scent is perfume extract, followed by eau de perfume (EdP), then eau de toilette (EdT), eau de cologne (EdC) and, finally, aftershave or splash. The concentration of perfume compounds is diluted, usually with ethanol (alcohol) or ethanol and water, and occasionally with oils.
Perfume compounds are made up of organic materials from plant and animal sources, and from synthetic sources when the organic substances are too rare or difficult to obtain. Perfumes obtained from all natural substances are generally much more expensive than synthetic scents.
The compounds are mixed into different “notes” — top, middle, and base — to create individualized, specific scents. The formulas for those scents are highly guarded by their creators. A scent can generate income and brand loyalty for decades, and even be passed from generation to generation.
The first perfumes were created not for attracting the opposite sex, nor for covering up unpleasant body odors, but to attract the gods through worship.
The recipe Moses described for the temple’s anointing oil was a kind of perfume, and anyone who copied that recipe was subject to punishment. Mary Magdalene broke open an alabaster flask of perfume and poured it on Jesus’ feet as an act of worship (the perfume in that flask was said to cost a year’s wages). Esther and the virgins who were candidates to become the next queen were subject to a year’s worth of soaking and application of scented oils. That’s a lot of Bath and Body Works! The women who came to the tomb after the crucifixion arrived with spices and herbs and perfumed salves and oils for preparing the body for burial. Like mothballs and cedar?
The extracts used in the making of specific perfumes determine, to a large degree, the cost of the end product. The most expensive perfumes have the purest extracts as part of their composition.
Scientists acknowledge the sense of smell to trigger memory as far greater than sight, sound, touch, even taste. Combined with the theories of aromatherapy — using the power of scent to change moods, emotions, even physical symptoms — perfume takes on greater importance.
The “world’s most expensive perfume” was created by French perfumer Jean Patou in 1930. “Joy” perfume, a combination of the purest form of rose extract, rose absolute, and jasmine, was designed for Patou’s wealthy American friends who had been devastated by the Depression. An early attempt at aromatherapy, perhaps?
Like music and fashion, perfume follows definite trends. You can probably tell what era you grew up in, or your socioeconomic status in that era, based on your recollection of various perfumes.
Here’s a few that come to mind….
Which fragrance is your favorite?
Which ones remind you of someone so much that when you smell it you think of them?
Do you have a “signature” scent?
What’s your favorite men’s cologne?
It’s too bad we haven’t invented a scratch ‘n’ sniff computer screen yet…