France became the empire of perfumes. Glove makers sold fragrances along with perfumed gloves imported from southern Spain, where the Moors had introduced the perfumed goatskin industry.
The first small perfume laboratories were later established, each perfumer making and selling their fragrances to their customers according to their tastes and preferences. These were custom-made perfumes for a noble and wealthy clientele, but the use of scented waters gradually spread. The courts of the kings of France, in particular those of Louis XIV and Louis XV, consumed fragrances on a massive scale; the scent of perfumes was crucial for masking the lack of hygiene and overall stench of the time, despite the elegance of the nobles’ dresses and powdered wigs, and the pomp and circumstance of their Versailles festivities.
The perfume market ground to a halt during the French Revolution, but one new scent became popular: “Parfum a la Guillotine”, named after the apparatus under which the perfumed heads of the nobility rolled. The origin of the perfume is unknown, but it was sold among the revolutionaries and “sans culotte” until things returned to normal during the post-revolution era shortly after.
A new era for perfumes began with Napoleon’s rise to the throne: the ruler consumed exorbitant amounts of perfume. From then on, perfumers, who had recently advanced from simple craftsmen to small-scale industrialists, provided the major push that would eventually turn perfume-making into an industry that continues to be extremely dynamic throughout the developed world, moving astronomical amounts of money and providing jobs —from researchers in major laboratories to those who sell the products—to hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.