Perfume: A Century of Scents by Lizzie Ostrom ~ book review

Perfume: A Century of Scents by Lizzie Ostrom

Halfway through Lizzie Ostrom’s Perfume: A Century of Scents, I set down the book and wondered who it was written for. Not the perfumista. Ostrom’s essays on the book’s 100 featured fragrances often leave out key lore or information on a perfume’s place in the pantheon, its history, or sometimes even how the perfume smells. Then it occurred to me: the book isn’t about perfume, it’s a telling of social history through perfume.

Perfume: A Century of Scents presents ten fragrances for each of the twentieth century’s decades and an essay introducing each decade. Each fragrance gets a Thurber-style illustration and a snappy nickname. The book starts with Houbigant Parfum Idéal in 1900 (“the Queen-Bee Perfume”) and ends with 1996’s Demeter Dirt (“the Un-Perfume”).

When I say that the book isn’t really about perfume, I mean that, for instance, in Ostrom’s essay on Diorissimo you won’t find the story of Roudnitska’s study of his patch of lilies of the valley, or even much of a description of how the fragrance smells. Instead, once you’ve waded through a page of how tough it is for men to buy perfume for their wives, you get a comparison of Diorissimo to Grace Kelly and Dior fashion’s “modest, appealingly feminine lines.” It’s a comment on the times…

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Chanel No. 5 L’Eau ~ fragrance review

Lily-Rose Depp for Chanel No. 5 L'Eau

We should be happy. Chanel has been very careful with its legendary No. 5 and until now has only dared an Eau de Parfum and Eau Première beyond the original Eau de Toilette and Extrait. Both were careful enhancements. No No. 5 Noir or Eau de Sport or Resort Rose.

I can almost imagine Chanel executives casting sidewise glances at Guerlain. “What the heck are they doing with Shalimar?” they might ask. All those takes on the classic — Eau Legère, Light, Souffle de Parfum, Parfum Initial, Ode à la Vanille, and more — are akin to stealing Joan Crawford’s shoulder pads and eyebrows. At some point you end up not with an icon, but with a placid starlet who will please the common denominator for a few months, then be forgotten for good…

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Aftelier Memento Mori ~ fragrance review

Renaissance Gimmel Ring with Memento Mori

“I wanted to capture the musk-like smell of skin, using all naturals, which was quite a challenge,” Mandy Aftel writes of her latest fragrance, Aftelier Memento Mori. At first blush, creating a perfume that smells like skin might seem pointless. After all, aren’t we wearing skin? We should have skin smell already built in.

Think about it a moment, though, and it makes sense. Maybe you look out your window at a mountain, but it doesn’t take away from the pleasure of viewing Cezanne’s Mont Sainte Victoire. An artist’s interpretion of her subject adds value. Even an exact depiction of something can be art, because the painting is not the original object — ceci n’est pas une pipe. In the case of Memento Mori, this is not skin. It’s perfume…

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Inside the Perfume Cabinet ~ Jessica

Jessica, perfume books and perfume cabinet

In talking to Jessica — yes, our Jessica — about her perfume life, I tried to squeeze out a juicy story. Maybe her love of roses had to do with an ex-lover who brought her a dozen lipstick pink rosebuds every Tuesday? Or, maybe it’s because she won the Miss American Beauty pageant at the horticulture society? But no. The best I got was that her first rose-centered perfume was Avon Roses, Roses, and it came in a pink bottle shaped like a pig with a screw-off head.

Jessica’s path to perfumistahood will probably sound familiar to a lot of us. She grew up in suburban New Jersey with a quiet mother who wore dramatic fragrances, such as Rochas Femme and Guerlain Shalimar, and a grandmother who wore Caron Bellodgia and gave her Avon perfume in figurative bottles, including the pink pig…

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Comme des Garcons Blackpepper ~ fragrance review

black peppercorns

Coming off a heat wave, it’s hard to believe that Labor Day is this weekend. To me, Labor Day signals autumn, and autumn means sweaters, falling leaves and warmer fragrance. Comme des Garçons Blackpepper should come with “autumn” stamped on its label.

Perfumer Antoine Maisondieu developed Blackpepper. Its notes include Madagascan pepper, cedar wood, akigalawood (a spicy-woody material by Givaudan derived from patchouli), tonka bean and “musky accord.”

Say “black pepper” to me, and I think “biting, bracing, sneezy.” Fortunately, after its initial hit, Blackpepper is none of that…

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