22 Perfumers / 22 Parfumeurs by Clara Molloy & Carine Soyer ~ perfume book review

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The format of the 2007 book 22 Perfumers: a creative process (also published in French as 22 Parfumeurs) is simple: interviews with 22 perfumers, presented in a coffee table format with lots of pictures. The book was the brainchild of Clara Molloy, who founded the niche perfume brand Memo the same year that the book came out.

As the subtitle suggests, the book focuses on the creative aspect of perfume development, but you'll learn other things about the perfumers in question as well — Michel Almairac loves to cook, Alberto Morillas has "organized his life around a garden". Each perfumer is presented with different questions, but overall, you'll get a glimpse into what it's like to work as a perfumer. You'll also learn about each perfumer's career choices and why they might move from one fragrance & flavor company to another, developing perfume as part a team vs. working alone, what it's like to mentor a younger perfumer (or be mentored by an older perfumer), creating for niche vs. mainstream brands, what it's like to be a house perfumer for a specific brand, and where perfumers find their inspirations. The five or six pages that cover each perfumer also includes a list of their creations, sometimes with commentary for individual perfumes, sometimes without. If you're an aspiring perfumer, you'll be interested in the questions about how "outsiders" (those who did not grow up in Grasse or have family connections to perfumery) broke into the industry.

Along the way, you'll pick up interesting tidbits about some of your favorite (or not favorite!) perfumes:

Calice Becker on Christian Dior J'Adore: "I pictured all the beautiful dresses that I had loved when I was a little girl".

Carlos Benaïm on Ralph Lauren Polo: "So I created something that was fairly surprising for me. I spent almost a year creating it, without truly realizing what I was doing or the impact that it would have."

Olivier Cresp on Thierry Mugler Angel: "Angel is like an anti-fragrance. Everything in Angel contrasts. There is no overall consistency."

Sophia Grojsman on Lancôme Trésor: "I created the initial formula for myself, based on my idea of the perfect fragrance."

Jacques Polge on Chanel Coco: "Coco was created after a visit to Mademoiselle Chanel's apartment...When I saw her baroque environment...it surprised me. I wasn't the image I had of Chanel, who I thought had a simpler style."

Maurice Roucel on KenzoAir: "With KenzoAir, man has accepted his feminine side and retained something of the little boy that he once was. For me, there is no such thing as a fragrance for men or a fragrance for women."

22 Perfumers, interior page 122 Perfumers, interior page 1

In addition to the perfumers mentioned above, the book includes interviews with Françoise Caron, Jacques Cavallier, François Demachy, Jean-Michel Duriez, Jean Claude Ellena, Jean Paul Guerlain, Francis Kurkdjian, Sophie Labbé, Mathilde Laurent, Aliénor Massenet, Annick Menardo, Christine Nagel, Olivier Polge and Dominique Ropion.

Do you need a copy? That perhaps depends on your level of interest in perfumers as opposed to perfumes. As I've said here before, the book that taught me the most about how the fragrance industry works, and how perfumers fit into the larger picture of fragrance development, was Michael Edwards' Perfume Legends: French Feminine Fragrances.1 22 Perfumers has a more narrow focus, but is nearly the only book of its kind available in English,2 and by presenting the perfumers in their own words, it provides a more human, every-day sort of look at the perfume industry. It is also true that Perfume Legends ends with the creation of Angel; 22 Perfumers gives a better idea of the time constraints (and marketing factors) that affect perfumers today. Highly recommended.

22 Perfumers / 22 Parfumeurs
ed. Clara Molloy, author Carine Soyer
140 pages; Editions Pirate
€69 at the Memo fragrance website; as of this writing, only the English version is available

1. Perfume Legends is now out of print, but if you are patient, eventually you may find a reasonably priced copy (by reasonably priced, I mean around $100: it is not a cheap book) on eBay. I'm pretty sure that's also how I got 22 Perfumers, but I've had it so long now that I can't remember.

2. Other books in English that deal with the topic of how perfumes really get made and what it's like to work in the fragrance industry include Chandler Burr's The Perfect Scent and Jean-Claude Ellena's Diary of a Nose.

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11 Comments

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  1. morgana says:

    Robin, thank you for this review and the lists of the new books that you posted recently — this is super interesting!

    • Robin says:

      Glad you found them helpful…I’ve been meaning to review this one for ages.

  2. Erin says:

    Thanks for the great review, and for listing all the perfumers covered – I have always been very interested in this one. I gathered from the titles and previous reviews that the main theme of the book was more the personalities of the fragrance industry and the individual paths of specific perfumers, but the quotes give more of the flavor of the profiles. I would say about half those quotes seem very illuminating and personal, while the other half of them sound a bit like the opaque, PR-speak blurbs from noses that normally appear in magazines. But overall, I would say I’m more interested even than before. Thanks! ;) Another lemming…

    • Robin says:

      Might be due to my selection of quotes, but definitely true that some perfumers are more open & honest about the current state of the industry & how it affects their work than others, & I really only selected quotes about perfumes themselves, not about other, larger issues, because otherwise, would have included too much text.

      I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s almost a shame they include perfumers like Jean-Claude Ellena, who are already so widely known and quoted. I learned almost nothing from his profile (although granted, when the book was being produced he was perhaps a bit less known). But really nice to hear from some of the perfumers who don’t get much attention or who are usually pretty shy about speaking to the press. In that sense, too bad it isn’t “50 Perfumers” or “100 Perfumers”!

  3. Omega says:

    Well, I just received Coming to My Senses, I gotta read that before anything I suppose:).

  4. Rappleyea says:

    I would really like to have this. I especially loved Marcel Roucel’s quote. Thanks for reviewing, Robin!

    • Rappleyea says:

      Amazon has a used copy for $345. Probably won’t be happening!

      • Robin says:

        It is way cheaper then to order it directly from Memo. Don’t know what they charge for shipping! Or, put an automatic search in your ebay account, which is how I buy most of my perfume books.

  5. puhfume says:

    The book sounds very interesting. And I love that quote by Roucel – No such thing as a fragrance for men or a fragrance for women. Amen to that. :)

    Thanks for letting us know about the existence of this book. It is quite pricey though. Not sure if my local library will have it. I doubt it. Will have to see if ebay is more affordable.

    • Robin says:

      I doubt any local library will have it either…eBay is probably your best bet, and even then, you may have a long wait until you find one.

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