New perfume books don’t come along every day. But new perfume books this good? Rarer than hen’s teeth.
Last Thursday The Perfume Society was privileged to be invited by Michael Donovan, owner of Roullier White, to host the book launch for Neil Chapman‘s Perfume: In Search of Your Signature Scent, at this fabulous South London scent mecca. Neil is a.k.a. ‘The Black Narcissus’, a Jasmine-nominated blogger living in Japan where he manages to unearth incredible vintage treasures at flea markets to build his collection, and regularly shares his scented musings about fragrances (new and historic) on his blog. (Read The Black Narcissus here. No, do better than that: bookmark it.)
It was a super-fun evening where The Perfume Society V.I.P. Club members rubbed shoulders with Neil’s friends and family to celebrate the launch, and he read from his book, sharing the journey of his life-long scent obsession – which was kindled by his parents’ own rather impressive collection.
And oh, we love this book. As he explained, it divides fragrances by type, ranging from green scents to flowers, taking in the classic fragrance families (the floral-aldehydes and Chypres), moving on through gourmand, sexy scents, woods, incense, oceanic smells and ultimately, embracing futuristic smells. There are chapters called ‘The Spice Rack’ and ‘Eros’, and in all, well over 700 brilliantly concise, thought-provoking reviews.
I decided to put it to the test, and dived straight into the Chypre chapter, as a longstanding lover of this particular fragrance family. And you know what? At some point, I’d loved and/or worn (and in many cases still wear) every single fragrance in the chapter: Guerlain Mitsouko, Rochas Femme, Christian Dior Miss Dior, Carven Ma Griffe, Paloma Picasso, Lancôme Magie Noire, Eau du Soir and Millot Crêpe de Chine (like Neil, I once found a vintage bottle of this, in my case in a French flea market). Peerless, perfect examples, every one. Quite simply, Neil utterly nails it.
His writing is beautiful. A taster: here’s what he has to say about Sana Jardin Berber Blonde – a tale of fragrant hope, if ever we read one…
‘How perfume can be a psychological life-saver… Despite the excellent care, two months in the confinement of a Japanese hospital learning to walk again after major knee surgery was a traumatic time for me, and uncharacteristically, I found myself completely unable to enjoy my sense of smell. But once I was through the worst of the ordeal, on an impulse I decided to try a perfume sample I had brought along for and… rejoice! It was just so perfect for that particular moment that, suddenly mood-altered, I began spraying it in tiny amounts on different parts of my room and person: sunshined, respirited and elated.
Berber Blonde, made by an ethical perfume house using Moroccan fair trade oils, is designed to smell like pure yellow happiness and sunshine in a bottle, and it actually does. For me, at that vulnerable moment, it was like being transported away from the drab, antiseptic confines of the ward onto a citrus grove on a hot blue afternoon – just orange blossom buds and open flowers, fresh and alive in the heat, suspended above pools of bottomless, clear blue water.’
There’s just one thing. He got the title completely wrong. ‘In Search of Your Signature Scent’? Because there’s no way you’ll be able to stick to one, after reading this.
Perfume: In Search of Your Signature Scent/£16.99 – buy it here
PS To promote his book, Neil did lots of media interviews including one with the BBC’s Jo Good (who’s a perfume-lover from way back). Listen to it here.