Scent & Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative Perfume by Barbara Herman ~ perfume books

Scent & Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative Perfume, book cover

Once or twice a year, someone will ask why I’m so fascinated with perfume — or, more bluntly, why I’m willing to pay more than $100 for a bottle. I have an answer ready: It’s a piece of art that you get to carry with you all day instead of leaving on/above the mantle.

It’s a half-truth. I also wear perfume when I can’t pile on enough cashmere, or black eyeliner, or gin flasks to keep up with my mood. That’s when I reach for Bottega Veneta, or Dior Poison, or Jean Patou Joy. Because, as Yesterday’s Perfume blogger Barbara Herman so aptly states in her book Scent & Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative Perfume, “Perfume’s power is that it has one foot in the elevated world of language, and one foot in the primal, emotional, visceral, and dreamlike.” They say what I really want to say, in a cut-to-the-chase, non-HR-involving language…

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Cult Perfumes by Tessa Williams ~ perfume book review

Cult Perfumes by Tessa Williams

When I mentioned to a friend and colleague that I was reading Cult Perfumes: The World’s Most Exclusive Perfumeries, she thought it a pity that the book isn’t a scratch-and-sniff (or, more practicably, accompanied by a set of sample vials). If you’ve ever smelled a Lush store from a mile away, you can see the quirky appeal: the atmosphere within — or roiling out of — a fragrance shop is quite telling.

Even so, Cult Perfumes tells a lot for a book that is technically meant for the coffee table. Author Tessa Williams, a British journalist whose byline has appeared in Vogue, Marie Claire and Elle, catalogs the past and present of 26 “extraordinary niche perfumeries throughout the world,” with quick nods to 15 more in the back. Gorgeous art is peppered throughout, including historic advertisements, snapshots of the shops, and, of course, lots and lots of gorgeous bottles…

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The Diary of a Nose and Perfume: The Alchemy of Scent by Jean-Claude Ellena ~ perfume books review

The Diary of a Nose by Jean-Claude EllenaPerfume: The Alchemy of Scent by Jean-Claude Ellena

“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…

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The Perfume Collector ~ perfume book review

The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro

…I easily imagine this perfume floating in the wake of a tall, slender brunette, whose moves are confident, who voice is accustomed to giving orders, and who fingers are slightly darkened by tobacco. She is one of those women who always wears a suit, even at midnight at the Savoy; one of those women captivating to watch at the casino in Monaco, who after having lost a sum of money, takes bills and a money order from a love letter hidden in her fine leather handbag, where they have taken on a pungent, slightly wild odor, and with great calm throws them on the green baize of the gaming table.

In her review of Chanel Cuir de Russie, Angela hoped the writer of this 1936 publicity text went on to a career as a novelist. In any case, author Kathleen Tessaro paints a worthy past for this Cuir-scented brunette with The Perfume Collector

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Scent of Darkness by Margot Berwin ~ perfume book review

Scent of Darkness by Margot Berwin

Think of a perfume that has a way of wearing you, instead of the other way around. Now imagine if one day that scent began to emanate from your pores, and had the power to seduce everyone around you. That’s what befalls the heroine of Margot Berwin’s Scent of Darkness, a contemporary fairytale that takes fragrance out of the lab and into the realm of Louisiana folk magic.

Evangeline is the granddaughter of a gifted “aromata,” a perfumer who is a wise woman and folk magician more than a cosmetic chemist. When Evangeline is 18, her grandmother dies, leaving Evangeline her house — and a vial of perfume: “Do not remove the stopper, Evangeline, unless you want everything in your life to change.” And change her life it does, as the perfume becomes a permanent part of her and its scent fills anyone who smells her with desire. Though the perfume snares the man she longed to be with, its unfading presence continues to draw dangerous attention. Evangeline follows her love to New Orleans where she hopes the city’s own sultry mugginess will dampen her scent.1 But instead of safety she finds a painter with his own dark power of attraction who offers the key to understanding her grandmother’s gift — if she’s willing to pay with heartbreak…

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