The inspiration behind the Profumo Collection
Scent, whose intoxicating power can last and linger in our memory for decades, has always inspired strong emotions. Mystical and powerful, scent has always been a force of attraction and a curse simultaneously.
Perfumes have been known to exist in some of the earliest human civilizations, either through ancient texts or from archaeological digs. The invention of perfumes and aromatherapy dates back to ancient Egypt. Scented ointments and burning incense was used during sacred, religious ceremonies and was believed to have medicinal effect. Ancient Egyptian queens and kings wore perfumes that were created based on mysterious recipes that promised power and eternal beauty. They were bathed and massaged with fragrant, essential oils their entire lives, and once dead, their bodies were preserved forever with through mummification.
During the Middle Ages the plague and other infectious diseases ravaged Europe. The cities and streets were strewn with garbage, excrements and rotten animal corpses. People thought that the diseases were transmitted through stench, blaming the poisonous vapors called miasma. This bad air was blamed for outbreaks of cholera, plagues and fevers. Coincidentally, the word malaria originally came from the Italian word mal’aria, which simply meant ‘bad air’.
Instead of eliminating the source of infection they tried to cover it with sweet smelling herbs. The belief was that the pleasant scent will protect them from the terrible disease that lingered in the air. Rotting teeth and no personal hygiene certainly must have made them very stinky themselves.
The elite class protected themselves from sickness and death by wearing a small ball filled with perfumes called pomanders. The ball was divided into tiny segments and each contained a scented herb, such as rosemary, lavender, nutmeg, cinnamon etc.
Pomander Origins and Purpose
The word pomander originates from the French pomme d’ambre, or apple of amber. Worn regularly around the neck in the Middle ages, the pomander was a perfumed ball, containing scented herbs that were set in waxy substances such as ambergris, musk, or civet. It was considered a sacred protection against infections in those times.
Perferated pomanders were made of gold or silver and hung from a neck-chain, belt or attached to a girdle. Sometimes they contained several partitions, each with a different perfume. Pomanders were an early form of aromatherapy.
Both men and women from the elite and aristocratic classes wore pomanders. It was reported in 1530 that King Henry VIII owned at least sixteen pomanders, all very precious and meticulously carved. Queen Elizabeth I. was frequently depicted wearing one, as were the other nobles and notables of the day.
Pomanders were considered the ultimate accessory. Most pomanders were made of precious metals and studded with gemstones but occasionally they were carved out of wood and attached to a simple string of rosary beads. They were worn with pride as an important piece of jewelry.
During the dark ages of the bubonic plague, called Black Death, people feared the end of the world and prophets and priests preached with apocalyptic fever, causing terror among the masses. Doctors had no knowledge of germs or how diseases were spreading; their only medical treatments consisted in bleeding patients and offering some herbal mixtures.
Repudiated by the medical elite because of his unorthodox methods, Nostradamus was ahead of his time. He worked with the town people trying to provide clean water and fresh air, and insisted on removing and burning the infected corpses. With his knowledge on herbs and plants he mixed concoctions rich in vitamin C that helped to prevent the plague infection.
Nostradamus is today mostly known as a prophet, but during his lifetime he was more renowned as astrologist, herbalist and apothecary. He was a true aromatherapy expert, creating sweet-smelling pomanders for his patients and clientele. One of his most famous aromatic balls was the ‘rose tablet’, believed to also have healing properties.
The life of this remarkable man is shrouded with mystery. Born on December 14, 1503 in St. Remy, Provence, France, Nostradamus came from a long line of Jewish doctors and scholars. His family had converted from Judaism to Christianity in 1502, as a result of persecution. It is believed that after a classical education he studied medicine, herbalism and astrology, but this was disputed by many elite members of his time. Astrologers accused him of malpractice, saying he never knew how to properly calculate his clients’ astrological charts, and doctors believed he was a raging lunatic.
Nevertheless he was invited to the court and became the personal astrologer of the royal family. It has been said that the queen herself, Catherina the Medici would not make a decision without first consulting Nostradamus. Unfortunately, his chilling prediction that all the queen’s children will die in terrible circumstances truly happened. Broken by the events, she continued to support and protect Nostradamus against the persecutions of his peers.
While his prophecies can be interpreted in contradicting versions, he was a true visionary and an excellent aroma-therapist and perfume maker.
Nostradamus Recipe for Aromatic Rose Balls:
“The very first step was to make ‘rose tablets’ by gathering a pound of roses without the flower heads, and seven ounces of ground benzoin. The roses must soak in deer musk and water for a night. Remove the roses the next day, squeeze out the water and grind them with the benzoin. While grinding, add a quarter of ambergris and another of civet musk. Once all the ingredients are grounded, divide the mixture into tablets and put each one between two rose petals. Let the tablets dry away from the sun.
The next step is to take:
-two ounces of the purest labdanum,
-an ounce each of Styrax calamites and benzoin,
-half an ounce of the previously made “rose tablets”,
-one ounce of violet powder,
-and half a dram each ambergris and musk.
Grind all the ingredients into powder. Then knead it together with the rose-mixture mentioned above for an hour and you will have an aromatic ball of the most supreme perfume, and the longest-lasting that can be made anywhere in the world.”