“Craftsman, artist: I have never managed to settle for one or the other of these definitions for myself,” perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena wrote in The Diary of a Nose: A Year in the Life of a Parfumeur, published in English last January. “I feel like a craftsman when I am completely wrapped up in making a perfume; I feel like an artist when I imagine the perfume I need to make. In fact, I constantly juggle with the two standpoints. If perfume is first and foremost a creation of the mind, it cannot actually be created without the mastery of true skill.”
Diary of a Nose follows Ellena’s first book, Perfume: The Alchemy of Scent, a short volume on the fragrance industry released in English in 2009. As Marcello noted in his review of Alchemy of Scent in its original French edition, Le Perfum: Que-sais je? (2007), Ellena uses “some of his well-known creations to explain what he regards as the essence of his profession.” For those who have read industry basics before, the chapters on history, materials, classification, and marketing will be familiar, but told with more depth. The biggest gems are the chapters on learning the trade and creating perfume, especially for fans of Ellena’s work who itch to know more about the 152 materials in his palette.
Diary of a Nose, first published as Journal d’un parfumeur (2011), is a far more intimate view of Ellena, a glimpse into his workshop and travels for a year beginning October 2009. The problems of working with mint, seeking a name for an iris Hermessence, capturing a perfect encounter with a pear at a farmer’s market — all are fascinating if you love perfume, but there’s also a beauty in Ellena’s experiences that will resonate with anyone who has undertaken a creative endeavor.
Given its more literary and personal nature, Diary of a Nose is the one to get if your budget is tight, your bookshelf is full, or you just don’t need another outline of the industry. But there’s something about reading the two together that feels like a complete portrait, capturing both the craftsman and the artist.
The Diary of a Nose: A Year in the Life of a Parfumeur
By Jean-Claude Ellena, translated by Adriana Hunter. 174 pp.
Rizzoli Ex Libris, 2013. $24.95.
Perfume: The Alchemy of Scent
By Jean-Claude Ellena, translated by John Crisp. 176 pp.
Arcade Publishing, 2011. $22.95.