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August 2015

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Ancient Perfumery in Pompei


Indigo Perfumery welcomes the Mini Museum of Perfume History’s traveling exhibit, Unguent, Unguentarium and U, on Thursday, August 13th.


While preparing for this fun and educational exhibit, we decided to explore the history of perfume. This journey led us to Pompei and the story its frescoes revealed. The Pompei friezes are a bit younger than the perfume bottles in our exhibit, but give us insight into the importance of perfume in ancient times.

Who would have guessed that after the production of woolen clothing, perfume production was the second most important industry in Pompei?

Early 20th century postcard by G. Sommer, no.124, showing painting of cupids from the east wall. Photo courtesy of Rick Bauer

Early 20th century postcard by G. Sommer, no.124, showing painting of cupids from the east wall.
Photo courtesy of Rick Bauer

Perfumes have been used since the dawn of civilization. The first recorded perfumer was Tapputi, often referred to as the world’s first chemist living four thousand years ago in Mesopotamia. She reportedly used a still to distill natural materials such as balsam and myrrh.

The Egyptians famously used perfumes to anoint and cleanse, even including them in burials tombs for the after-life. In India, the creation of attars has been known for thousands of years. Cypress was the home of the oldest known perfumery, also 4,000 years ago.

Natural materials were exclusively utilized, placed in an oil (usually olive oil) base. Myrrh, cinnamon, frankincense, balsam, galbanum, labdanum, saffron and cassia were some of the ingredients used.

In Pompei, the perfume industry’s key component was the strongly scented flower of the region, the rose. Its precious oil was obtained by distilling the petals in horseshoe-shaped furnaces. (Roses and other local flowers in the Campania region were also used for creating garlands.) Other materials were often costly, having to be brought in from far places.

Red roses P2


Perfumes were usually reserved for the wealthy due to their high costs of production. Through excavations and testing, it has been discovered that their personal gardens were large, well organized and well tended. The gardens contained the botanicals used in making perfumes, unguents, and flower garlands.

The famous House of Vetti’s triclinium (dining room) contains detailed friezes of cherubs compromising nine masterpieces, depicting among other things, picking flowers and making garlands, baking bread and harvesting grapes.

Pictured below are the three scenes from the perfume related frieze in which the cherubs are manufacturing and purchasing perfumes.


Crushing flowers and working with the press to extract their oils

Crushing flowers and working with the press to extract their oils




Mixing the oil in vats

Mixing the oil in vats



Selling perfumes to a young woman

Selling perfumes to a young woman

The bottles used to hold the perfumes (unguents) and ointments are called unguentariums. They were created out of blown glass and are often found encrusted with sediment.

The exhibit at Indigo will feature three Roman perfume bottles from the first century A.D.,

typically used to contain ointments (unguents), cosmetics, perfume, balsam, and fragrant oils.

Indigo Perfumery

Late Summer Releases Sampler

Your late summer pick-me-up is here!


You’ve been wearing your lighter-weight perfumes for a while now- 

and you’re ready for something different. 


We present you with a wide range of families, notes and moods.

Late Summer Sampler

The Les Cocottes de Paris trio is the new chapter by Anaïs Beguine (of Jardins d’Écrivains).

The perfumes tell the memorable stories of three nineteenth-century French courtesans:

La Castiglione‘s combination of notes is utterly unique, ranging from citron and mugwort to licorice, myrrh and styrax. A ride to the fascinating darker side…

Melle Cléo is an unusual floral for those who prefer no sweetness. It is fresh and delicate in a substantial sort of way.    

La Belle Otero opens with a sweet neroli/fig tempered by the spice of pepper/ginger. Violet and a dry iris evolve into a woody dry down. Its progression is captivating.


Framboise Noire by Shay and Blue made its debut this week. With notes of black raspberry, Iris pallida, white oud and dark woods- all perfectly balanced to prevent it from becoming too sweet or fruity. Darkly noir.

An Air of Despair was just launched by Josh Meyer at Imaginary Authors. This limited summer edition focuses on cedar, with saffron and musk working their magic to provide an ode to the outdoors.

Jul et Mad‘s new trilogy of perfume extraits, Les White, continues their line of modern, refined fragrances using the best of ingredients. Madeleine and Julien enlisted the assistance of award-winning Luca Maffei to create Néa and Garuda. Nine-Shar’s nose is Sidonie Lancesseur. 

Garuda is as smooth as metal, as warm as saffron and as exquisite as the Cambodian oud in its heart. Its fruit and spice opening combination leads to an oud accord that is modulated by saffron and rum. Its base of smooth and comforting woods extends its silky warmth.  

Nin-Shar opens with a rich bergamot + rose liquor blend. Turkish rose and Egyptian jasmine become evident in the heart, continuing the display of the rose’s soft, floral petals to the green leaves, steam and thorns, and all the way to the roots with the earthy, woody base of oud, cedar wood and sandalwood.  

Néa is composed around a gourmand accord with rich oriental influences. A beautiful fruit combination of date, pomegranate and plum opens the scent, eventually accented by rose and jasmine. It progresses through a woody dry down, finishing with its gourmand vanilla/benzoin/tonka bean flourish.

Place your order here.