The Industrial Revolution: Synthetic Aroma Compounds and the Dawn of Modern Perfumery

Posted by Emily van Oosterom on

The Industrial Revolution, a transformative period marked by technological advancements and economic shifts, brought about a profound change in the world of perfumery. During this era, the invention of the first synthetic aroma compounds provided perfumers with a broader palette of scents, fostering a landscape of creativity and innovation (Le Guérer, 1992).

One of the key breakthroughs during this period was the development of synthetic musk, a key ingredient that was traditionally obtained from the gland of the male musk deer. Synthetic musk not only allowed for ethical sourcing but also offered a cheaper, more consistent ingredient for perfumers to work with. Other aromatic chemicals like coumarin, which has a sweet, vanilla-like aroma, were synthesized during this time, allowing for greater complexity in perfume compositions (Le Guérer, 1992).

These new synthetic compounds, coupled with improved methods of extraction for natural ingredients, provided perfumers with an unprecedented array of scents, laying the groundwork for modern perfumery. The art of creating fragrances evolved to not only include the mastery of blending different scents but also the manipulation of chemical compounds to create unique and innovative fragrances. This period also saw the rise of 'olfactory families', categorising perfumes based on their dominant scent notes, such as oriental, floral, woody, or fresh (Burr, 2007).

The Industrial Revolution also heralded a significant change in the production and distribution of perfumes. With advancements in manufacturing techniques, perfumes that were once crafted in small batches started to be produced on a larger scale. Improved transportation infrastructure allowed these fragrances to be distributed globally, expanding their reach beyond regional markets. This revolution made perfumes more accessible to the general public, transforming them from a luxury product reserved for the elite to an everyday accessory (Edwards, 2018).

In 1882, the Houbigant perfume house marked a pivotal moment in perfumery by introducing the first modern synthetic perfume, "Fougère Royale." This iconic fragrance utilised synthetic coumarin, laying the foundation for a whole new genre of perfumes – the 'fougère' (fern-like) family. This marked the birth of modern perfumery, setting the stage for the vibrant and diverse world of scents that we see today (Edwards, 2018).


Le Guérer, A. (1992). Scent: The Mysterious and Essential Powers of Smell. Kodansha International.

Burr, C. (2007). The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry in Paris and New York. Picador.

Edwards, M. (2018). Perfume Legends II: French Feminine Fragrances. Crescent House Publishing.

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