Writing about perfume, and smells in general, is one of the greatest challenges for a journalist/author: how to evoke scents, with words…? But over the years, quite a few have done so very, very successfully. And if you want to build a ‘perfume bookshelf’, to deepen your knowledge of perfumery, start here…
We’ve awarded each title stars out of five, as a guide to which we think are the most important, and the all-round best reads. Nothing less than a three-star book is feataured here, though – so we reckon any of them are a worthwhile read.
As you become ever-more-obsessed (and we know how that feels), you may want to add to your collection – and of course, we’ll add to this section whenever new releases catch our eye…
We’d always prefer you support an independent bookstore rather than One-Clicking on Amazon – these indie stores can happily order most in-print books. However, in a super-busy world, we know it isn’t always practical. (And if you’re happy to buy secondhand – most titles are available via Amazon – this does often support smaller bookstores.)
Looking for out-of-print perfume titles in secondhand bookstores can be like searching for a needle in a haystack, meanwhile. If you’re in a hurry, we generally recommend abebooks.com, which links thousands of secondhand bookstores around the world, while Amazon can be a source for remaindered books…
Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent
Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent, by Mandy Aftel
Pioneering natural perfumer, writer Mandy Aftel is a force of nature herself, an inspiration to many, and now even has her own museum. The 'Aftel Archive of Curious Scents' is located in a building adjacent to her home in California, where you can see Aftel's incredible, custom-made perfumer's 'organ' of ingredients, smell more than three hundred natural essences and even choose three samples to take home. But it's Aftel's incredible way with words we first fell in love with, even before smelling her radiant scents. In Fragrant, Aftel explores scent literacy, taking five pillars of the perfumed world and tracing their history (and our own sense of familiarity or exoticism with each ingredient). From cinnamon and the Spice Trail to the healing properties of mint, from the mysticism of frankincense to the mythology surrounding ambergris, and our addiction to the radiance of jasmine. We come away with a true feeling for Aftel's passion, and for the many years of research and experience behind this exquisite book – filled to the brim with knowledge, recipes and lovely line drawings.
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Perfume: A Century of Scents
Under the premise of 'every perfume has a tale to tell' the wonderful olfactive adventurer, Lizzie Ostrum explores signature scents and long-lost masterpieces while waxing lyrical about the often wildly wacky characters and campaigns that launched them. A long-time friend and all-round fragrance maven, Lizzie is also known by the sobriquet Odette Toilette, under which guise she organises fascinating interactive trawls through the history of scent, and here collecting those often un-told stories of how perfume houses came to be - and the highly personal ways fragrance plays a part in everyone's history. From school changing room memories of lavishly applied body sprays to the most glamorous scents you can possibly imagine - Lizzie tells each tale with her trademark wit, yet filled with fascinating facts. We were glued to the pages from the moment we first held a copy, and this completely charming, totally accessible book is a real treasure trove of memories to savour.
Luca Turin Folio Columns 2003-2014
Folio Columns, by Luca Turin
Scientist, perfume critic, author of The Secret of Scent and co-author of Perfumes: the A-Z Guide - a book that turned many thousands of readers into fragrance fanatics - Luca Turin is a busy man. Now we can read another of his creative outlets, collected together for the first time. Writing two widely admired columns for a distinguished Swiss magazine called NZZ Folio, Turin discussed all things sniff-able (from Blue Stratos to Mitsouko), even describing the smell of a particular Air France jet. In a section entitled "Either/Or" he acted as a kind of agony uncle for the indecisive - helping readers explore the rather peculiar merits of such subjects as heels vs. flats, trains vs. trams, or Captain Nemo vs. Captain Haddock. Yes, really! Every page has something to intrigue - always written in his inimitable and wryly humorous style no matter what the topic, it's absolutely full of passionately held opinions both aesthetic and scientific, and fully embracing culture high and low. Previously, the columns were only intermittently available in English, so this is not only the first time they have been gathered together en-masse, but also the first time many have been published in English at all. Including a foreword written by his wife and co-author of Perfumes: the A-Z Guide, Tania Sanchez; this is an invaluable and totally immersive experience for your e-book reader (now also available in paperback format).
The Essence of Perfume
The Essence of Perfume, by Roja Dove. Ex-Guerlain, now with his own Haute Parfumerie in Harrods, Roja’s is very much a coffee table book covering everything from extraction methods to bottle-makers, the sense of smell to classic scents, raw materials to fragrance families - each subject brought alive with glossy visuals. Lovely shots of historic perfume bottles – and for the true perfume geek, a massive bibliography/reading list at the back of the book which would probably occupy you for a lifetime. We’ve a hunch it’s going out of print and you may need to track it down on a secondhand site, nowadays.
Nose Dive: A Field Guide to the World’s Smells
Nose Dive: A Field Guide to the World's Smells by Harold McGee [Published October 2020]
McGee familiarizes us with the actual bits of matter that we breathe in -- the molecules that trigger our perceptions, that prompt the citrusy smells of coriander and beer and the medicinal smells of daffodils and sea urchins. And like everything in the physical world, molecules have histories. Many of the molecules that we smell every day existed long before any creature was around to smell them -- before there was even a planet for those creatures to live on. Beginning with the origins of those molecules in interstellar space, McGee moves onward through the smells of our planet, the air and the oceans, the forest and the meadows and the city, all the way to the smells of incense, perfume, wine, and food.
Distilling the science behind smells and translates it into an accessible and entertaining sensory and olfactory guide. We'll sniff the ordinary (wet pavement and cut grass) and extraordinary (ambergris and truffles), the delightful (roses and vanilla) and the challenging (swamplands and durians). We'll smell each other. We'll smell ourselves. Here is a story of the world, of all of the smells under our noses - revealing how our sense of smell has the power to expose invisible, intangible details of our material world and life, and trigger in us feelings that are the very essence of being alive.
Perfumery: The Psychology and Biology of Fragrance
Perfumery: The Psychology and Biology of Fragrance, edited by Steve Van Toller and George H. Dodd. The Perfume Society has been working with Professor Dodd since the idea for this project first came into our heads: a ‘scatty professor’ straight from central casting, he has a gazillion ideas in his head and a large helping of pure, scientific brilliance. These days, Professor Dodd offers smelling courses for whiskey, wine, gin – and (through his Perfume Academy) perfumes; read more about them here. But having set up the Department of Aroma Sciences at Warwick University, this book built George’s reputation: a collation of scientific papers about smell, from biologists, chemists, physicians, psychologists and sociologists, bringing together the two areas of aromatherapy and perfumery. (Which normally never speak to each other). It looks at how fragrance really can shape our mood, how others view us at interviews, odours and disease, and the science of fragrance selection. This is not the Professor Brian Cox, Wonders-of-the-Universe, bring-science-to-the-masses approach (at times it makes our heads explode!), but it’s riveting stuff – and work that nobody else really seems to have done.
Patchouli by NEZ / LMR, published by NEZ éditions
Part of a series of extremely informative 'naturals notebooks' on some of perfumery's key ingredients, written and published in conjunction with LMR (Laboratoire Monique Rémy – one of the world's leading producers of naturals used in the fragrance industry); this is a fascinating read for anyone who wants to take a deeper dive into their favourite fragrance notes. As confirmed patchouli-heads, here at The Perfume Society, of course we had to begin with this one!
'Once seen as a scent favoured by courtesans and hippies,' NEZ explain (hello, yes, we feel seen) 'patchouli has become a key ingredient in today’s perfumery. Its warm, woody and complex fragrance provides the perfect setting for fresher notes to run free, especially in chypre and ambrée perfumes.' (Two of our favourite fragrance families there, so yes and yes again). An easy read, it manages to walk that fine line between interesting snippets of fragrant facts and a more in-depth and technical look at the processes behind how patchouli is produced. Indeed, NEZ say they wanted to 'Explore every aspect of this exotic plant, from botany, history, art, gastronomy, literature, agriculture and chemistry, to the perfumers who use it and the perfumes they create.'
We really enjoyed the quotes from perfumers who adore patchouli – Bruno Jovanovic saying that '...if magic had a scent, it would smell of patchouli!' and describing why he chose some of the other notes he added to his composition of Monsieur for Éditions de parfums Frédéric Malle, 'To clothe, enhance, envelope the patchouli so it could become a flagship fragrance in Frédéric's catalogue.' With diagrams of historical timelines and distillation techniques, along with reviews of key fragrances to try patchouli in, it's a short but fact-filled book that's great to dip in and out of rather than read cover-to-cover, perhaps.
Buy it from shymimosa.co.uk
On The Scent: Unlocking the Mysteries of Smell – and How Its Loss Can Change Your World
On The Scent: Unlocking the Mysteries of Smell - and How Its Loss Can Change Your World by Paola Totaro & Robert Wainwright [Published June 2022]
The story of a quest for answers, from the theories of ancient philosophers to the cutting-edge laboratories of 21st century neuroscience. It looks at the extraordinary experiences of patients and scientists alike, offering a unique glimpse into the world of those born without smell as well as those who lose it; exploring how smell can be a key indicator of declining physical health; and showing how new research may offer hope to the millions of people worldwide who have suffered sensory loss.
Our sense of smell shapes our everyday experiences in ways we often don't even notice. Its loss can transform our lives - affecting our emotional wellbeing, our relationships, our ability to interpret the world around us - and yet it has long been regarded as the least important of our senses. But Covid changed everything. As it became clear loss of smell was a key symptom and the number of sufferers exploded, olfactory researchers suddenly found themselves thrust into the spotlight, with more attention, subjects and funding than ever before. Presented with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, they were able at last to start unlocking the mysteries of our 'Cinderella' sense.
Perfume: Le Snob
Perfume: Le Snob, by Darius Alavi. Darius is an award-winning perfume blogger (a.k.a. Persolaise, and you can read his writing on this site) – and this purple pocket guide is his first book, which has a ‘Moleskine’-like notebook format. It does live up to its ‘snob’ name – one for the lovers of ‘niche’ perfumery, and a great gift for a scent-loving friend you can’t stretch to a bottle of Tom Ford or Miller Harris for. Perfume: Le Snob for the most part explores the world of lesser-known fragrance brands, with more practical sections from fragrance experts including Roja Dove, Francis Kurkdjian, Linda Pilkington (of Ormonde Jayne) and The Perfume Society’s co-founder, Jo Fairley. It will definitely give you some leads for sensational fragrances to explore on your own pulse-points (even if some take a little effort to ‘sniff out’, location-wise).
Four Fragrant Mysteries
Four Fragrant Mysteries, by Sarah McCartney
4160 Tuesdays founder and perfumer Sarah McCartney successfully “crowd-funded” a project to create four new scents that truly had a story to tell. On the website IndieGoGo, she asked the perfume loving public to pre-order the fragrances so they could afford the expensive ingredients to make them. Uniquely, each of the Four Mysteries scents came with its own 1930’s “cosy crime” inspired story when you purchase the 100ml size bottle, but now the paperback is published to purchase alone. The Search for Flora Psychedelica - a tale of botany and skulduggery; The Mystery of The Buddhawood Box - Horatio Kimble had sailed for Australia to seek his fortune. Twenty years later, his lawyers invite the relatives to a meeting; Up the Apples & Pears - Cissy and Dotty Shuttleworth defend their London pub from an unscrupulous property developer, and Captured by Candlelight - when the lights go out at Dolderbury Hall a portrait goes missing, but which one was it? A concept as quirky and delightful as the fragrances themselves, we loved snuggling up with this book of scent-inspired sleuthing.
Publisher: 4160 Tuesdays Limited
The Scent Trail: A Journey of the Senses
While on the quest for 'the perfect perfume', author Celia Lyttelton had a bespoke fragrance made by Anastasia Brozler in London, an encounter that set Lyttelton off on a tour of the world to trace the history and provenence of the ingredients used. From a collection of precious oils contained in an old wooden box to the growing, harvesting and distilling of the materials and exploring cultural responses and mythological beliefs surroung scent, this book is a must-have for anyone who wonders where, exactly their perfume originated. And what a tour to take! With new scent adventures beginning with sentences such as: 'We arrived on a plateau of dragons' blood trees and desert roses...' you will doubtless be Googling far flung fragrant climes, just as we did, while reading this (and now knowing exactly what you'd do following a Lottery win!) Beautifully written, and full of the insightful, utterly fascinating pieces of fragrant history that she collected along the way, this book is a deep-dive into perfume ingredients that will have you packing your travelling bags and setting off into the scented sunset... Save a seat for us!
Celia Lyttelton The Scent Trail: A Journey of the Senses, Bantam Books amazon.co.uk
The Secret of Scent
The Secret of Scent: Adventures in Perfume and the Science of Smell, by Luca Turin. Luca Turin writes so beautifully about fragrance: he’s one of the writers best able to conjure up a smell in words, and this is partly his personal journey - from working as a biophysicist through to working in the fragrance industry, using his theory of smell (or olfaction) to design entirely new fragrances and molecules. In this book, Luca looks at many raw materials and explains the science of smell in an accessible way that cleverly brings the subject alive for anyone who flunked chemistry at school. If you’ve ever wondered how smell works, he has a darned good try at cracking the code here.
The Book of Perfume
The Book of Perfume, by Elisabeth Barillé and Catherine Laroze. Out of print, but gloriously illustrated – a real wallow in fragrance history. (And if all history books were this seductive, we’d have concentrated better in lessons.) It follows the story of ingredients from around the world, field to flacon, exploring the sense of smell, perfume bottle design – and a section on perfume imagery in advertising and marketing. As a finale, a practical section: how to wear perfume, the fragrance houses/families/great perfume stores. A touch out-of-date, but one for the birthday wishlist or ‘Dear Santa’ requests.
The Diary of a Nose: A Year in the Life of a Parfumeur
The Diary of a Nose: A Year in the Life of a Parfumeur, by Jean-Claude Ellena. A slip of a book, this, by one of the world’s most revered perfumers – now the in-house nose at Hermès. (His most celebrated creation is probably First, for Van Cleef and Arpels.) A quiet and thoughtful man who works in his own hilltop atelier well away from the hustle and bustle of the commercial perfumery world, this chronicles Jean-Claude Ellena’s thoughts, inspirations and global travels while working on new launches. Most fascinating to us is the short section at the back in which Jean-Claude shares some of the harmonies and accords he’s perfected over the years: his aim is to create a specific scent with the minimum of notes. Who knew that you could conjure up the scent of sugared almonds with just vanillin, benzoin and benzaldehyde…? (Although what’s clear from this book is that haute perfumery is anything but simple, actually…)
The Book of Scented Things – 100 Contemporary Poems About Perfume
The Book of Scented Thing, edited by Jehanne Dubrow
The culmination of a unique aromatic and poetical experiment – an anthology based on this original concept of deliberately provoking with perfume and collecting the results. Hence we discover poems of deeply personal childhood memories, that relate directly to a sense of place and more deep-seated philosophical longings. We all know that fragrance can regularly provoke such feeling within us, but generally it’s left to the beauty press and perfumistas to wax lyrical about – and fascinating to read the results of poets being directly influenced in this way. Editor Jehanne Dubrow expands on the creative process in the introduction. ‘We were surprised to discover how many other poets already recognised the fleeting, narrative pleasure of scent.’ Describing how many of the poets already identified themselves as ‘perfume nerds’ and that even those who had little knowledge or previous experience of fragrance could see the potential of the project and were pleased to be involved. We really enjoyed reading so many of the poems – the contrasting voices and styles, and especially those little lightning bolts in recognition of a shared feeling or idea about the ever-changing contextual nature of smell, and what that provokes in all of us…
Publisher: Literary House Press
The Natural History of the Senses
The Natural History of the Senses, by Diane Ackerman. The title doesn’t do this justice: Diane Ackerman’s writing is exquisite – we’d call it poetic, actually - exploring and explaining not just the sense of smell, but all the senses. In the first chapter – Smell – she looks at scent and memory, at roses, at sneezing, at the way our health (and what we eat) impacts on our body odour. You’ll learn answers to questions you never knew you had, and though this book is over 20 years old, it’s timeless. Really, one of our favourite, favourite books on the subject – and the other four chapters are a ‘gift-with-purchase’.
The Rose in Fashion: Ravishing
The Rose in Fashion: Ravishing by Amy de la Haye
'An exploration of how the rose-the most ravishingly beautiful and symbolic of flowers-has inspired fashion over hundreds of years'
The Rose in Fashion: Ravishing takes a deep dive into our centuries-long love affair with the rose. In perfume, fashion, interior design and language, the Queen of flowers has imbued and enriched our lives, presumably ever since the first human saw the beauty of the bloom – and then caught a whiff of its magnificent fragrance. Amy de la Haye is professor of dress history and curatorship at London College of Fashion, so necessarily this coffee-table worthy tome is filled with the most extravagent examples of rose-bedecked clothing and textiles – from '18th-century woven silks to the latest gender-neutral catwalk trends and Alexander McQueen rose dresses.' But it's far more than just another book about fashion. The symbolism of the rose is also explored – beyond being pretty, what has the rose meant to differing cultures and classes around the world? And why are we still so drawn to roses today?
We especially loved the section on fragrance – of course! – in which Mairi Mackenzie explores 'Scent: The Inward Fragrance of Each Other's Heart', a line from the Keats poem, Isabella: Or, The Pot of Basil (1818). 'One does not need to be a perfume connoisseur to recognise the scent of a rose,' she begins. 'Its liberal use in modern perfumery, cosmetics, toiletries and the household goods of everyday life has familiarised us with its characteristics, and made the rose a part of olfactory language.'
But while we may be familiar with its smell, she asserts, we may be less aware of how its symbolism in fragrance has changed. 'Throughout history, rose perfumes have been variously used to annoint royalty, cleanse heretics, symbolise Gods, express virginity, cure ailments and flavour celebratory food, but this correlation between scent, beauty and divinity is not fixed.' Ineed, the rose has also been used to denote sinful antics in the scented boudoir, associated with death, degeneration and to '...demonstrate the tension that exists between the phenomenological and the culturally contstructed in our olfactpry preferences, as well as in our persistent, if volatile, relationship with rose and its perfume.'
Later on in the chapter, Mackenzie looks at the history of distillation and symbolism of fragrant roses in poetry, but there's also a fascinating Focus Study on Une Rose by perfumer Edouard Fléchier for Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle; and another Focus Study on the Osmothéque in Versailles. In this, Mackenzie explains some of the work they do on conserving and re-creating significant fragrances, and includes a list of iconic rose fragrances through history, from1896 to 2000. How wonderful that so much time was spent on including a chapter about rose in perfumery – perhaps a signal that historians are starting to entwine scent in their discussions as an important aspect to consider when exploring society and sybolism? We can but hope...
Altogether, this book more than lives up to its 'Ravishing' title – glorious pictures galore – but within the beauty is a scholarly, imaculately researched and still lively discussion of the symbolism and continuing fascination we have with roses; to adorn our bodies with their imagery and their fragrance to this day.
Buy it at Blackwells
Dior: The Perfumes
Dior: The Perfumes, text by Chandler Burr.
Be still our beating hearts: this is an utterly exquisite coffee table book, with words by fragrance authority and Emperor of Scent author Chandler Burr. It follows the history of Christian Dior's iconic scents all the way from Miss Dior's unveiling in 1947: the stories behind the launches, the bottle designs, the sketches for Dior fashions linked with particular perfumes, the gossip, the famous faces, the ads... There's a particularly lovely section on Dior and his Gardens, in the heart of this large-format volume: the couturier was flower-obsessed from a very tender age, which fuelled both his couture and his fragrance empire. The only downside with this book, in fact, is that (at time of press) it is currently out of print, now a collector's item – with prices to match. One to ask Santa for.
Perfume Legends: French Feminine Fragrances
Perfume Legends: French Feminine Fragrances, by Michael Edwards. Won the lottery? Spring for this. The blossoming interest in all things fragrant has elevated many out-of-print books on the subject to the realms of ‘When my ship comes in…’ territory. One heck of a weighty, well-researched volume, this – from Michael Edwards, one of the world’s most knowledgeable perfume experts – this goes into great depth on some of the greatest fragrances ever created (all French, as the title notes), since the dawn of modern perfumery in 1882. Think: L’Heure Bleu, L’Air du Temps, Calandre, Coco, Boucheron, Trésor – the trail runs out in 1992 (shortly before the book was published), but all of us perfume-lovers should probably be lobbying the publisher for a reprint and an update.
Taste & Flavour
Taste & Flavour: A cookbook to inspire those experiencing changes in taste and smell as a result of Covid by Ryan Riley & Kimberley Duke [Life Kitchen]
When it first came to light that many of those people who'd had or were still suffering with Covid-19 were experiencing loss of taste and smell, Life Kitchen said, 'our first thought was – what can we do to help?' Having undertaken extensive research, and garnered the help of experts such as Professor Barry Smith, from the University of London, the anosmia (smell loss) charity Abscent, and Altered Eating; it was 'discovered that Covid-related taste and smell loss has some distinctive features.' These included people who 'found they didn’t want to eat certain, quite common ingredients, including onions, garlic, meat and eggs,' while additionally (and upsettingly), 'certain foodstuffs seemed to trigger parosmia (changes to or distortion of the sense of smell), anosmia (loss of smell) and phantosmia (smelling something that isn’t there).'
As Life Kitchen comment, and we know from the reports of many post-Covid patients: 'Any of these olfactory conditions can have a profound knock-on effect for physical and mental health.' So, what to do for immediate and – most importantly – practical help if you've lost your sense of smell and can't taste the food you once enjoyed...?
Ryan Riley and Kimberley Duke worked with the smell and taste experts, to produce this recipe and self-help book. And – SO generously – they've not only produced printed copies you can purchase on the website for only £3.00 to cover postage costs, but have made a digital copy FREE to download, so they can help even if you can't afford the book right now, and no matter where you are in the world. The loss of smell (and therefore taste) has been devastating to those already suffering other symptoms and feeling isolated, so the authors say: 'This book is a collection of recipes, ideas and expertise to help you on your journey towards enjoying food again.'
'Using our five principles of taste and flavour – umami, smell, stimulating the trigeminal nerve (responsible for sensation in the face), texture, and layering flavour' they explain, 'we’ve taught over 1,000 people with cancer to enjoy food again. We wanted to apply these principles to create recipes for those people who have lost their senses of taste and smell as a result of Covid.'
Print copies available at: lifekitchen.co.uk
Miss Dior: A Story of Courage and Couture
Miss Dior: A Story of Courage and Couture by Justine Picardie [Published September 2021]
Miss Dior is a story of freedom and fascism, beauty and betrayal, roses and repression, and of how the polished surface of fashion conceals hidden depths. It paints a portrait of the enigmatic woman behind the designer Christian Dior: his beloved younger sister Catherine, who inspired his most famous perfume and shaped his vision of femininity. Justine Picardie’s journey takes her to Occupied Paris, where Christian honed his couture skills while Catherine dedicated herself to the French Resistance, until she was captured by the Gestapo and deported to the German concentration camp of Ravensbrück.
With unparalleled access to the Dior family homes and archives, Picardie shines a new light on Catherine’s courageous life and Christian Dior’s legendary work, and reveals how his enchanting “New Look” emerged out of the shadows of his sister’s suffering.
Tracing the wartime paths of the Dior siblings leads Picardie deep into other hidden histories, and different forms of resistance and sisterhood. She explores what it means to believe in beauty and hope, despite our knowledge of darkness and despair, and discovers the timeless solace of the natural world in the aftermath of devastation and destruction. The result is an exquisite and unforgettably moving book.
The Rose in Fashion: Ravishing
The Rose in Fashion: Ravishing by Amy de la Haye [Published in 2020]
Foregrounding innovative, refined, and challenging fashion design from elite 18th-century woven silks to the latest gender-neutral catwalk trends and Alexander McQueen rose dresses. Drawing upon fashion clothing, everyday dress, millinery, fine jewelry, perfume, and artificial and fresh roses, multiple expert contributors make reference to love, beauty, sex, sin, gendered identities, rites of passage, transgression, degradation, and death. Wild yet cultivated, savage yet delicate, this flower has remained an enduring symbol perhaps due to its versatility and the dichotomies it represents.
The Perfume Guide
The Perfume Guide, by Susan Irvine. Categorises into fragrance families 200 of the world’s best-known fragrances (at the time of publication, which means many have now disappeared forever), with information about families, perfumers, and the stories behind some of the real classics. A worthwhile addition to a bookshelf if you find it in a secondhand bookstore – or Amazon usually has discounted copies here.
Perfume – The Art and Craft of Perfume
Perfume – The Art and Craft of Perfume, by Karen Gilbert. Karen Gilbert is one of the British perfumers who runs occasional fragrance-making courses for The Perfume Society. (She worked for fragrance house IFF, and also at Neal’s Yard Remedies, after pursuing her passion for aromatherapy.) And here’s her at-home, how-to introduction to creating your own unique perfume. It looks at the psychology and classification of fragrances, talks about layering – and delves into the distinctions between natural and synthetic fragrances, before sharing the easy-to-follow secrets of blending at home. (With all the requisite safety info, too.)
Sensehacking: How to Use the Power of Your Senses for Happier, Healthier Living
Sensehacking: How to Use the Power of Your Senses for Happier, Healthier Living by Charles Spence [Published September 2020]
Showing us how our senses change how we think and feel, and how by 'hacking' them we can reduce stress, become more productive and be happier.
We like to think of ourselves as rational beings, and yet it's the scent of expensive face cream that removes wrinkles (temporarily), a room actually feels warmer if you use a warmer paint colour, and the noise of the crowd really does affect the referee's decision. Understanding how our senses interact can produce incredible results. This is popular science at its unbelievable best.
The Essence: Discovering the World of Scent, Perfume & Fragrance
The Essence: Discovering the World of Scent, Perfume & Fragrance, by gestalten
We must begin by declaring an interest, in that our Senior Writer, Suzy Nightingale, was asked by the publishers to write all of the Fragrance Families pieces for this book. That doesn't prevent us gasping in delight at the rest of this book, however (and there's a lot of it – 288 pages in full color, making this a coffee-table book to admire and dip in to many times). Delving into 'the history, culture, and science that have shaped the multi-billion dollar perfume industry into what it is today,' The Essence has at its core a curiousity to discover why 'fragrance has captivated us as humans for centuries.' Not simply another book of historical facts and well-worn stories, this is a tome for those who want to go beyond the surface and explore the people behind the perfume industry, from the inevitable picking of lavender in the fields of Provence and the laboratories, to lesser-told stories of incense producers in India and innovative, indie perfumers like Mandy Aftel and Lyn Harris (Perfumer H). Written by a number of distinguished fragrance writers from around the world, you are invited to 'Meet the trailblazers shaping the future of perfumery as we explore the vital role that technology and scented products will play in the 21st century.' And when history is invoked, it's done so in fascinating ways. One of our favourite sections was a double-page timeline tracing significant political and cultural events and showing the iconic fragrances that were launched against this backdrop. For novices, scholars, noses – anyone interested in fragrance, this is a book that manages to be both beautiful and brainy.
Publisher: gestalten ISBN: 978-3-89955-255-3
Atomizer poems by Elizabeth A.I. Powell [published by LSU Press]
A professor of writing and literature at Northern Vermont University, Elizabeth Powell writes poems that immerse us in what fellow author Dianne Seuss describes as 'the perfumery of seduction.' Harnessing her sense of smell and recalling often painful memories through scented snapshots, we are plunged into her world, seeing the world not only through her eyes, but through Powell's nose. The fact that fragrance and memory are so entwined is now far better known – and scientifically proven – but here, we share scenes in which the narrator weilds her perfume like a weapon:
I hold my atomizer like a lightsaber. I am learning the kung fu of demure.
I have mastered the koan of coy.
Later in the first poem in this collection, which is split in to sections of Top, Heart and Base notes; Powell dscribes the bottle itself, and how it's inherently connected to the woman who gave it to her.
My Atomizer's a DeVilbiss Art Deco made of opalescent glass I inherited from my flapper great-aunt, it sprays the world out atom by atom.
(Memory): Like me she feasted on Lorna Doones and linden tea and strange men.
Later, Powell describes the power of scent, because 'Fragrance Summons angels. I desire Proustian angels, different from Episcopalian ones.' She uses scent to summon memories and time travel at will:
Come angels. Olfaction is the evocation of memory. Come angels.
Let the atomizer release the top notes of my story, that which evaporates most
quickly. Let the atomizer do what it does best: release the distance between autobiography and criical analysis.
I have lost time, and I want it back.
A fascinating and emotional collection to delve in to, there's no doubt reading these poems will also make you revisit fragrances that have personal connections to your own memories. We suggest picking up a bottle that reminds you of someone you love, or a time you were truly happy, and allowing the scents to stir those images, as Powell does so movingly in this book.
Available from Amazon
Listening to Scent
Listening to Scent: An Olfactory Journey with Plants and their Extracts, by Jennifer Peace Rhind.
Like those of us at The Perfume Society, Jennifer Peace Rhind believes that the sense of smell can be cultivated and developed, and this book features exercises to help transform yours from the equivalent of a seven-stone weakling to an Ironman (or woman). Alongside sensory exercises, this 160-page volume explains how olfaction works, explores the odour families, looks at the language of scent, and the devotes the bulk of the book to identifying and exploring different smells – mostly via aromatherapy oils, as an alternative to fragrance ingredients from perfume houses. (Those are difficult for non-industry people to get their hands on.) There's a 'compare-and-contrast' approach that encourages you to smell different ingredients beside each other, to develop your olfactory memory bank and vocabulary. Great for anyone looking to create natural fragrances of their own, or as a textbook for those of us who are always keen to boost our smelling skills and expertise.
Publisher: Singing Dragon
Scent and Subversion: Decoding a Century of Subversive Perfume
Scent & Subversion: Decoding a Century of Subversive Perfume, by Barbara Herman
Far more than merely a way to smell pleasant, those of us obsessed by fragrance know well that perfume has historically been seen as subversive – and still can be used to break the rules and unsettle cultural conventions. Highlighting the use of perfume to play with society's gender conventions, Barbara Herman analyses vintage perfumes and perfume advertising – a theme that she began on her popular blog, YesterdaysPerfume.com. Lavishly illustrated, and lovingly detailed descriptions of vintage fragrances through the ages – and the femme fatales and mysterious stars associated with wearing them; Herman includes essays on scent appreciation, a glossary of important perfume terms and ingredients, and tips on how to begin your own foray into vintage and contemporary perfume. Written with great insight and humour, this is a book that any vintage lover would be delighted to read.
Publisher: The Lyons Press
The Scent of You
The Scent of You, by Maggie Alderson.
'I experience the world through smell – I always have.’ So begins the latest novel by Maggie Alderson, and we couldn’t agree more. Maggie was inspired to write this novel by spending time in our own Perfume Society office, attending launches and meeting perfumers, learning the history of perfume and developing a burning passion for it along the way. Central character, Polly, is a perfume blogger who loses herself in the world of fragrance while her own world falls to pieces around her – something many of us can empathise with. We love the fact Maggie was inspired to name her after falling madly for Vilhelm’s perfume, Dear Polly, and that she even created a blog and Instagram account for Polly to share her perfume reviews. Polly, having grown up surrounded by the beautiful perfume bottles of her ultra glam (ex-model) mother, and learning to explore the world by sniffing ‘…everything!’ she is now distracting herself with, among other things, ‘Guy, the mysterious, infuriating and hugely talented perfumer.’ We’re rather wondering who this may have been based on, as that description doesn’t sufficiently narrow it down… Completely gripping, the story of a life in crisis and wonderfully observed, it's a perfect holiday read for anyone who also experiences the world through smell (that'll be most of you, then!)
Publisher: Harper Collins
The Little Book of Perfumes: 100 Classics
The Little Book of Perfumes: 100 Classics, by Dr. Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez. This is the shorter version of Perfumes: The Guide, if you can’t stretch to the full, hefty book, focusing on what they consider to be the 100 greatest fragrances of all time – from Chanel No. 5 to Guerlain’s Jicky – although frustratingly, some of the featured scents aren’t available any longer, even if you Google them. (Including Coty’s Emeraude, Chypre, or Jacques Fath’s Iris Gris.) If you do own the original book, don’t bother with this – it’s simply the five-star reviews which featured in that.
Paris: Capital of Guerlain
Paris: Capital of Guerlain by Laurence Benaïm [Published February 2022]
Traveling across the history of Guerlain over two centuries, this book highlights the inextricable links between the house and the city of Paris, how Guerlain changed Parisian life with its cosmetics and perfumes and how it could have existed nowhere but Paris. Guerlain’s creations, especially its perfumes, are seen in their historical and cultural context of the city and times, through a combination of interviews, images, and portraits of people and products which played a part in the house’s history.
The history of the quintessential Parisian perfumer Guerlain both influenced and was shaped by Parisian life, savoir faire, and culture.
The house of Guerlain is a Parisian institution. Guerlain aficionados—from royalty and empresses, to celebrities, writers, and artists—have been featured in novels, song lyrics, movies, and artistic creations, all while exemplifying Parisian savoir faire and luxury.
The Guerlain headquarters and laboratory on the rue de Rivoli in the heart of Paris feature a new scent laboratory and a rose garden, intrinsically binding the famous house to the city of light, which it so perfectly captures in each bottle of perfume.
The perfect book for lovers of fashion, of Parisian life and savoir-faire, of scents and beauty products, of history―anyone will find value and beauty in this celebration of Guerlain, the quintessential Parisian perfumer.
Dior La Collection Privée
Dior La Collection Privée, with text by Elisabeth de Feydeau.
Truly one for the perfumista's coffee table, this. But although it was published in 2016, we do have to point out that it is already somewhat démodé as the original and exquisite La Collection Privée fragrances have been regrouped under the umbrella of Maison Christian Dior, with several fragrances renamed (Gris Montaigne, for instance, is now known as Gris Dior), and others in the collection now discontinued. (Audible sobs from The Perfume Society office...) Don't let that put you off, however: this large-format book remains is a glorious exploration of Dior's perfumed history, with the histories and stories of each of the creations recounted by François Demachy, set in a historical context by Elisabeth de Feydeau (France's leading fragrance writer), and expressed via the most glorious, wallowable-in imagery of flacons and ingredients.
Sensehacking: How to Use the Power of Your Senses for Happier, Healthier Living by Charles Spence (Viking Books)
'How can the furniture in your home affect your well-being? What colour clothing will help you play sport better? And what simple trick will calm you after a tense day at work?' These are the questions posed (and answered) by Oxford professor Charles Spence – an expert on the senses who we've seen speak at IFRA Fragrance Forums over the years, and whose research has often sparked or informed many fragrant features of our own. As head of the Crossmodal Research Laboratory, Spence focuses on how our senses often overlap – sometimes very confusingly – and this book aims to demonstrate how '...our senses change how we think and feel, and how by 'hacking' them we can reduce stress, become more productive and be happier.'
There's some fascinating sections on how we're 'led by the nose', too. Ask most people about how they think large corporations try to entice us with smell and many will say something about supermarkets and the 'fake' but tempting waft of freshly baked bread. Spence reveals that no research is available on this subject – 'It's not that the research hasn't been done, you understand, for it most certainly has. It is just that the supermarkets have chosen not to share their findings.' But at least that baked bread smell is 'unlikely to be artificial' he explains, because 'the delectable smell of freshly baked bread is one of the aromas that, at least until very recently, chemists struggled to imitate synthetically.'
From the tricks of 'Subliminal seduction' and 'Multisensory shopping online', the way are senses are appealed to and why we find certain things/people/experiences more appealing than others, to what the future holds for ways we can hack our senses; it's certainly a thrilling read. And will provide you many ready answers to the inevitable questions we fragrance-lovers always get: 'Why are you so obsessed with perfume? Doesn't it just smell nice, and that's it?' Well, we've always known there's far more to it than that, and now you can recommend this book for any olfactory nay-sayers you might meet!
Buy it at WHSmith
Scents of Time: Perfume from Ancient Egypt to the 21st Century
Scents of Time: Perfume from Ancient Egypt to the 21st Century, by The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Out-of-print (but copies were available via Amazon for just a few pence, at time of writing), this a very worthy addition to the fragrant bookshelf of anyone who's fascinated by the history of perfume. It time-travels back through 1000 years and across many cultures, exploring and celebrating the role of fragrance in our world, showcasing many fragrance-related artefacts. There are brief sections on techniques for extraction, fragrance families and a basic glossary, but beyond that, the book beautifully uses paintings, lithography, photography and sculpture throughout – as you might expect from a book produced by one of the world's greatest museums.
Publisher: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Healing Power of Flowers: discover the secret language of the flowers you love
The Healing Power of Flowers: discover the secret language of the flowers you love by Claire Bowen [Published March 2021]
Features your favourite flowers grouped by their purpose – for love, for joy, for luck, for calm, to console, and to celebrate. Discover their traditional meanings, holistic benefits, and when flowers are in season so that they can be sourced locally with a minimal carbon footprint. By creating thoughtful personal bouquets or choosing a flower for its meaning, its natural energy, or holistic property, you can bring the benefits of the natural world back into your home, your workplace, and into the lives of loved ones.
Find out why you should give Foxgloves to celebrate a new job, Lilacs for joy, or Chrysanthemums for luck, and become fluent in the secret language of flowers.
The Secret Ways of Perfume
The Secret Ways of Perfume by Cristina Caboni
Any novel that contains the phrase 'perfume is the truth' has us whooping for joy, and in her beautiful novel, Caboni reminds us that scent has the greatest power to ignite our memories – something the main character, Elena Rossini, knows only too well.
Granted a rare gift of a superior sense of smell, Elena's passion for perfume has been passed down through generations of her family; but it's a power that can all too often overwhelm her, as this ability means painful memories about her mother are carried on the breeze, and so she can never truly escape her past. When a betrayal destroys her dreams, fragrant events are set in motion when Elena's best friend invites her to Paris, and she grabs at the chance to start afresh. Lured by the landscape, immersing herself in the world of scent once again, the ancient art of composing perfume beckons our protagonist. Searching for a secret recipe within her family's historic archives, Elena's new goal becomes the replication of a composition noone in her family managed to master. Having met a man who's harbouring his own clandestine past; before long, she's following the scent trail to discover all manner of mysterious. Because, 'Remember Elena, perfume is the truth. The only thing that really counts. Perfume never lies, perfume is what we are, it's our true essence...'
Buy it from Penguin U.K. (BLack Swan imprint, 2016)
Perfumes: The A-Z Guide
Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, by Dr. Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez. Originally a biophysicist, Luca Turin became fascinated by the idea that different smells ‘vibrate’ at different frequencies – and became so bewitched by his explorations in perfumery that he left the world of academic science behind, blogging and writing about fragrances. He teamed up with Tania Sanchez (now his wife) for this critique of over 1500 different fragrances – reviewed entirely subjectively, so Luca and Tania hate some, love others, and compose their own shortlist of ‘true classics’. There’s a shortish practical section at the front (about fragrance families and some Frequently Asked Questions) - but the writing’s brilliant in the body of the book, and makes you want to rush out and track down plenty. (While leaving wearers of some of the ‘one-star’ scents feeling a little insulted, perhaps...) Chocolat author Joanne Harris’s review read: ‘I loved it and bought it for all my friends… Very likely my favourite book of all time!’, and we agree: a great book for a perfume-loving friend.
Nose Dive by Harold McGee [John Murray press]
There are some books about science that really transcend the boundaries – appealing not only to those already immersed in the subject, but to the wider public – and Harold McGee has written a book that wonderfully links the worlds of smell and taste, which the Sunday Times named their 2020 Food Book of the Year, calling it 'A joyously nerdy study of how and what we smell, the effect on our appetites and much more.'
Having worked with some of world's most innovative chefs, including Thomas Keller and Heston Blumenthal; McGee has dedicated over a decade of his life to our most overlooked sense, and here gives us not only the facts about the chemistry of food, cooking and smells; but widens this (and encourages us to widen our nostrils) by explaining the science of everyday life and the various whiffs we may encounter along the way. Something we especially loved was how clearly this information is laid out – so it can be easily referred to. Each smell mentioned is laid out in a chart of its name/species, the component smells to identify it with, and the molecules that create those smells. Gleefully, some have a column respresenting 'Also found in', so we learn, for example, that Some Smells of Cat Urine are like blackcurrant, which is caused by methylbutyl sulfanyl formate, and can also be found in beer and coffee. More fragrantly, many flower varieties are described, along with plant pongs, animals, humans, food (raw, cooked or cured) and the scent of space itself.
Think of this as a manual to re-connect you to your nose, heightening your enjoyment and understanding of food but, much more than that – enriching every single part of your life. In Nose Dive, McGee introduces us to the aroma chemicals that surround us, which make up our entire world and colour the way we experience it. It's a joyous book that should be read by cooks, perfumers, fragrance-addicts and absolutely anyone who has been struck by a smell, wondered what it was and wanted to know more...
Available from Waterstones
Forage: Wild Plants to Gather and Eat by Liz Knight, iluustrated by Rachel Pedder-Smith [Laurence King Publishing]
There's a whole world of edible plants growing around us, but if the closest you've ever been to foraging for food is scrumping apples (or more recently, scrabbling at the red-stickered items in your supermarket's Reduced section), you need this beautiful book. Although the publishers say 'Anybody can enjoy the increasingly popular back-to-nature activity of foraging', the truth is, very few of us feel confident enough to start picking some of the foliage we see on our daily walks. Thanks to Liz's clear descriptions, and the stunning botanical illustrations of Rachel Pedder-Smith, the identification is made far easier and reading this, you'll really feel encouraged to explore and diversify with wild ingredients. What's more, it'll certainly make you look at flowers in a different way – from pickled cherry blossoms, linden leaf madeleines, dandelion petal cake to damson and rose petal preserves, the accompanying recipes sound like a feast for all the senses.
Nowadays we're perhaps becoming used to seeing 'foraged food' celebrated on menus of fine dining restaurants, but really Liz wants everyone to feel confident enough to try their hand at picking ingredients growing wild locally. Nowadays, Liz's life is spent searching the local hedgerows in search of scrumptious finds, and we're sure that reading this book will sew some more seeds of the passion for foraging and let them bloom.
Available at Waterstones
A Scented World
A Scented World: The Magic of Fragrances, by Claire Bingham.
Have you ever wondered about where – and how – the creators of perfumes live and work? Interiors journalist Claire Bingham went behind the scenes to talk to different perfumers, brand owners and creatives, visiting their homes and studios, from 'nose' Barnabé Fillon to Fragonard's Agnes Costa via Tom Daxon and Chris Yu of United Perfumes/Ostens, among the dozens of interviewees featured in this large format, lavishly-photographed book. The text, you might want to know, is in three different languages: French and German, as well as English – so taking that into account, at the end of the day this is more visual than verbal.
Floriography: An Illustrated Guide to the Victorian Language of Flowers
Floriography by Jessica Roux, published by Simon & Schuster
Exploring the secret, coded significance of various blooms through history, Jessica Roux presents a beautifully illustrated book of fragrant posy suggestions – from flowers to proffer a specific message to a prospective lover, to those one should an enemy... perhaps with a copy of this book, if you want to make sure your message gets through loud and clear?
Described as a 'full-color guide to the historical uses and secret meanings behind an impressive array of flowers and herbs,' there is such delight to be found its pages, and one cannot but help construct imaginary floral messages to foes or scandalously salacious love letters 'written' in this fascinating historical code! Something we particularly enjoyed were the many suggestions of flowers to pair, adding further layers of mysterious significance to a bouquet – rather than a single meaning of a bloom.
The language of flowers is centuries long, floral mythology and cultural significance reaching back as far as history itself; but it really hit its peak with the always nostalgic and whimsical Victorians in the 19th century, particularly in England and within the United States. In these times, the importance of etiquette could not be understated – and sending the incorrect bouquet might have resulted in faces as red as the roses you'd innocently gifted. We have to remember that really, such strict social guidelines were enforced to reign in any unwanted displays of open emotion (unthinkable!) and so such coded ways of communicating were commonplace. And yet, where strictness prevails, so too do romantic fancies entangle every possible method of expressing oneself...
The Victorians were notoriously harsh in their 'rules' about what types of fragrance (particularly women) should use, where they should apply it, how much and how often. You can read more about this – and other eras' perfumed proclivities – in our dedicated section on Perfume History; but for full-on floral charm, the scented snippets researched and illustrated by talented artist Jessica Roux, makes this a wonderful book for any flower-lover – and you'll surely be dropping the floral facts you've gleaned from it into conversations for years to come.
The publishers suggest this is a perfect gift, and we certainly agree – but how much more interesting that gift would be if accompanied by a meaningfully put-together floral arrangement, don't you think...?
Buy it from Book Depository
Dominique Ropion: Aphorisms of a Perfumer
Aphorisms of a Perfumer, by Dominique Ropion.
Often called 'the master of flowers' or, sometimes, 'the king of rose', Dominique Ropion is one of the greatest perfumers working today. Having created fragrances for just about every house you care to mention, from the groundbreaking Mugler Alien to the heart-stoppingly stupendous Portrait of a Lady for Frédéric Malle, really, this book could simply list everything he's ever done, and we'd be impressed. But reading this is akin to going for a walk through a scented garden with Ropion, as he gradually reveals snippets of the things he's learned over the years. It's a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a 'nose', and how we agree with his assertion that, 'An event, place or encounter will always be associated with a perfume or scent, serving as an infallible and trusty aide-mémoire, a formula we do not always recognise but available if we need it.' We're sure so many people's memories are forever connected with at least one of his fragrances...
Publisher: NEZ Littérature
Secrets of the Lavender Girls
Secrets of the Lavender Girls by Kate Thompson [Hodder Paperbacks, 2021]
This utterly charming story follows the fragrant history of Yardley, and the remarkable stories of the women who worked there. A fictional account, author Kate Thompson always undertakes a great deal of research, and her genuine fondness for the real life women she found (and who shared their tales with her) truly shines through. In the novel, though World War Two is still raging across Europe, for the Lavender Girls (the nickname for the workers at the Yardley cosmetics factory in East London) the challenges they face are also on the home front. Battling their own demons while striving to put a brave face on it (and wearing Yardley's wartime-named lipsticks to keep their spirits up, because it was rumoured Hitler hated women who wore red lisptick!) we meet newly married Esther, trying to juggle her home life while being a working woman for the first time. West End starlet Patsy has many secrets to hid from her controlling mother, and works at Yardley by day while shining in the spotlight at night. Lovely Lou, meanwhile, is hiding a forbidden love that's tearing her apart – something that's forcing her to choose between happiness and her own family. 'Can she be brave enough to forge her own path in the chaos of a war? One thing is certain: the Lavender Girls need one another more than ever if they are going to survive.'
What you really take away from this novel is how vitally important fragrance and makeup and making the best of things (yourself included) was for these women, during the most violent and devastating time. They found courage and pride in working for a company who helped boost women's confidence, and the scents of April Violets and Freesia and many of the other classic Yardley fragrances would literally waft a scent of courage for them.
Nose Dive: A Book For the Curious Seeking Potential Through Their Noses by Catherine Haley Epstein
Reading Nose Dive is an absolute must for anyone of us who's wanted to dive deeper than merely smelling nice by spraying something beautiful, deeper still than having a particular memory connected to smell – Epstein manages to express both a childish glee at this super-power right under (and in) our noses, while explaining some complex theories and inviting the reader to explore. There are short, easily digestible chapters on Art, the science of smelling, things to consider when making a perfume and on extolling the utter joy that our sense of smell can bring. On that first thorny issue of art, and in answer to the on-going debate as to whether perfume 'deserves' to be classed as such, Epstein puts it perfectly by saying, simply, that 'Art is translation. Art is a human-specific activity for translating our experiences, using whatever mediums we can.'
Along with theoretical discussions, pondering on her own years of research and development, Epstein also offers some practical exercises for those interested in making their own fragrances, or things to think about, study and and enjoy in your own time. Half the joy of Nose Dive, in fact, is that it doesn't pretend to have all the answers or place itself on a pedestal to preach about perfume to the already converted. Neither does it simply re-hash historical references and methods of making fragrance or only focus on new, exciting niche houses. This is a well-considered work that manages to pack in some powerful topics and truly thoughtful themes into such a slim volume, you can practically feel the waves of excitement about perfume and smell pulsating from every page. Not only to read and enjoy for yourself, we suggest this is one to press into the hands of everyone who's ever asked you why you're so obsessed with scent... Spread the love!
Mind Marrow Publications catherinehaleyepstein.com
Sandalwood and Carrion
Sandalwood and Carrion: Smell in Indian Religion and Culture, by James McHugh.
India is a country of sensory overwhelm – colours, sounds and in particular smells. This 300+ page goes back through millennia, looking at the fragrant element of Indian culture right back to the first millennium CE, explaining how perfumery influenced many of the materials, practices and ceremonies which are associated with India's religious culture. (Did you know that evil literally 'stank', in Indian religion?) In an extremely readable style, the book looks at the gifts of flowers and incense, dives into Sanskrit texts on perfumery, explores in depth the significance of sandalwood and traverses the 'smellscape' of traditional South Asia, via poetry, literature, ancient texts (and even a smattering of Evelyn Waugh).
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Perfume: In Search of Your Signature Scent
Perfume: In Search of Your Signature Scent, by Neil Chapman
Spoiler alert: this is just the best perfume book we’ve read in YEARS – and it definitely belongs on every perfumista’s fragrant bookshelf. Best known as the blogger ‘Black Narcissus’, Neil Chapman 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. Though we think he got the title wrong. Because there’s no way you’ll be able to stick to one signature scent, after reading this.
Publisher: Hardie Grant
Find it at Amazon
The Perfume Bible
A beautifully illustrated guide to the world of perfumery, by The Perfume Society‘s Founders Jo Fairley and Lorna McKay - The Perfume Bible brings together everything you need to know about fragrance, from scent families, fragrant facts, the fascinating history behind much-loved perfume houses and independently run niche brands only previously known by a select few industry-insiders - we may be biased, but it's a must for every fragrance-lover (as well as being a fabulous gift). It’s an encyclopaedia of all things fragrant – from how to go about building a perfume ‘wardrobe’ to a line-up of the '100 perfumes to try before you die'. Seeking to intrigue and de-mystify the more confusing aspects of perfumery - how many people know exactly what a 'Chypre' perfume actually is? - you’ll discover the journey of ingredients from field to flacon, a run-down of the best perfume shops in the world and the history of scent – 192 pages of our favourites shared with those curious to begin their own fragrant journey, or perfumistas already well on the path...
It’s available to our VIP Subscribers at the special price of £16.25 – and to non-subscribers for £25 (including postage & packaging)
The Smell of Fresh Rain
The Smell of Fresh Rain, by Barney Shaw
Going in search of the meanings of smells (and how they help shape our lives), author Barney Shaw went on a journey of exploration for this book celebrating 'The unexpected pleasures of our most elusive sense.' From describing petrichor (the actual smell of fresh rain) to researching the scent of fresh paint, frying bacon and pondering the question of what three o'clock in the morning smells like, it's a fascinating ride to be part of. And part of it you most definitely are, as merely reading this book expands your mind to the possibilities and scents you take forgranted every single day. We especially loved the observation that 'Unlike sight, smell does not travel in straight lines, so it is valuable in environments when sight does not serve well...' Something we teach as part of our How to Improve Your Sense of Smell Workshops (see EVENTS listings) – because as Helen Keller said, smell truly is 'the fallen angel of the senses.' We may not use it to seek out a sabre-toothed tiger or find food anymore, but the ability is there, or emotional reactions are built-in, unbidden. An excellent book for anyone interested in exploring their senses further (for flavour is so interconnected to smell, as we know, and addressed within the book); those who write about perfume or smell in any respect will be especially pleased by the chapter On the Tip of My Nose, which looks at the language of smell, and what we can do to improve our communication skills. Completely fascinating from start to fragrant finish!
Publisher: Icon Books
Catherine Maxwell: Scents &Sensibility: Perfume in Victorian Literary Culture
Scents & Sensibility: Perfume in Victorian Literary Culture, by Catherine Maxwell
We're honoured that Catherine has been a Perfume Society subscriber pretty much since day one, so when we heard she'd published a book, we couldn't wait to get our hands on it. And even more wonderful was the realisation that her choice of subject tied together two of our greatest loves – perfume and books. Delving deep into literary culture, she explores the myriad ways writers have been influenced and inspired by perfume, and how scent can become an invisible 'character' or reflect the inner workings of an actual character's mind. More than that – the way a writer describes and uses scent can give us an insight into their own personality. We were particularly fascinated by how outrageously catty Virginia Woolf, for example, could be!
Catherine's inclusions from her personal diaries and correspondence reveal Woolf loathed strong perfumes, and had very exacting opinions about those women who wore it (we feel she definitely wouldn't have approved of us!) On meeting the writer Katherine Mansfield, Maxwell relates, Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary that she wished 'that one's first impression of K.M. was not that she stinks like a civet cat that had taken to street walking.' Later, Maxwell cites Woolf's further biting comments regarding overly scented women, quoting an occasion Woolf condemned some women she'd met in the library, saying 'A more despicable set of creatures I never saw. They come in furred like seals and scented like civets.' Don't hold back, Virginia – what do you really think?! Further writers and their works are examined – from Oscar Wilde – Catherine also draws on a wealth of contemporary material such as ettiquette guides, advertising, beauty manuals and perfumer's guides. Altogether, it's the most eye-opening account – a scented snapshot of perhaps the greatest literary period in history – and a must-read for anyone who loves literature and wants to enhance their sensorial understanding (and enjoyment of literature.
Publisher: Oxford University Press 2017
A History of Scent
A History of Scent, by Roy Genders. The perfume historian’s go-to book, looking in-depth at how perfume evolved from Ancient Egypt through Roman times, the mystical fragrances of the east, the scents of early England via the Elizabethans and Stuarts. Published in 1972, if you get your hands on a copy it may well smell authentically musty, but nevertheless it’s packed with extraordinary, fragrant factoids.
The New Perfume Handbook
The New Perfume Handbook by Nigel Groom. A true textbook – and priced accordingly; it’s out of print and sniffing out a copy on the web might is a real investment, and only (we’d say) for the really serious perfume obsessive. (Though of course there’s always the library…) But if you do get your hands on one, it’s especially useful for info about ingredients (natural and synthetic), ‘perfumespeak’ terminology and fragrance brands. (Though of course we do cover a lot of that territory on this very site.)
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind. Wonderfully readable, compelling and sinister all at once, this novel – later made into a movie starring Ben Whishaw – is probably the most successful ever to turn ‘words’ into ‘smells’, in fiction, recreating the world of 18th Century France in all its beauty, horrors and downright fetid odors. A must-read for the perfume-lover (although probably not late on a dark night when you’re alone). Note: At the time the film was produced, Thierry Mugler produced just 300 coffrets of fragrances created to evoke different smells from the book, with names like Baby, Paris 1738, Aterlier Grimal, Boutique Baldini, Virgin Number One, Orgie – and so on. The ultimate collector’s item – and you can read more, terrific reviews at The Scented Salamander and Boisdejasmin
Smell: A Very Short Introduction by Matthew Cobb (Oxford University Press)
Part of a fantastic series by Oxford University Press, here's an easy to read and very accessible intro to the incredibly nuanced, complicated and still much misunderstood sense. An overview of 'the science and physiology of smell and its historical, cultural, and environmental significance,' Cobb reveals exactly what happens in our brains when we smell something, and how our human olfactory processes differ from those of mammals, birds, and insects. 'The connection between smell and memory is more than a literary conceit' Cobb shows, 'with smells proving more effective than images at unlocking memories.' Cobb does a good job of explaining how 'The same odour can have different meanings to different people. Smells themselves are often blends, and our reactions to them are influenced by our memories and cultural conditioning,' as well as asking bigger questions, such as: 'Is there a link between smell and genetics?' Although we've said it's accessible, that doesn't mean it skimps on taking scent seriously, and this book can be read by those interested in smell and fragrance at most levels of understanding – from complete novice to the already well-read. It's also a great gift for friends and family members who perhaps don't 'get' why we're so obsessed with smells.
Get it at Oxford University Press
The Perfume Collector
The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro [Harpercollins]
This 'richly evocative novel is a 'secret history of scent, memory and desire' and begins in the 1950s with newly-married socialite Grace Munroe's life being turned upside down by the arrival of a mysterious letter, naming her as the beneficiary in the will of a woman called Eva D'Orsay. Requested to attend the offices of the lawyers handling her inheritence, the main problem is that Grace has never even heard of this woman. But her journey of discovery will lead to the heart of the perfume world, travelling to Paris and exploring the life and death of this shadowy benefactor who, it turns out, was the darling of high society in the 1920s. Traversing decadently through the decades in New York, Monte Carlo, Paris, and London, Grace discovers Eva was a famed fragrant muse, and someone who inspired one of Paris’s greatest perfumers to immortalise her in three groundbreaking fragrances. As Grace finds out more, and indulges her own senses, she will be changed forever when forced to choose between the image of what society experts of her, and who she really is...
In their review, The London Magazine described The Perfume Collector as 'a truly delicious and sensual novel', and recomended it 'if you’re the kind of person that loves nothing better than to curl up watching a period drama, or if you can’t leave the house without a splash of red lipstick...' Well, we feel seen, and definitely devoured every word of this. The story moves along apace, and the fragrance descriptions are written with a depth and passion that reveal the author as a fellow fragrance obsessive. The perfect novel to tempt anyone who loves perfume!
Buy it at Waterstones
The Perfume Garden
The Perfume Garden by Kate Lord Brown [Thomas Dunne Book for St. Martin's Griffin; Reprint edition 2016]
Although the main protagonist here, Emma Temple, is a perfumer – think of it as being more like one of many ingredients rippled through a fragrance, than the entire composition itself. Instead, the pleasure of reading this novel comes from its dreamy, evocative descriptions and the clever weaving together of two stories.
One story is set in the modern day, just after Emma simultaneously loses not only lost her mother, who was also a perfumer, but the father of her child at the same time. She travels to an abandoned house her mother owned in Valencia, and in renovating it, discovers all manner of disturbing family secrets revealed in the flashback portion of the book, set during the violence of the Spanish Civil War. Interspersed throughout is the sense that the author is fully in tune with her own senses – who understands that taking time to describe a smell not only helps evoke a place, but adds another emotional connection for the reader. At one point, Emma tries to think of a particular fragrance 'like a half-remembered melody she couldn't sing' and imagines the fragrance she would like to make of her time in Spain; writing a list as inspiration:
'The seduction of white flowers
Woodsmoke and saffron
Lavender mountains, cranberry sunsets
Immense night skies pricked with stars.'
The rest of the novel is similarly lush, and should really be enjoyed in the garden, preferably on a sunny days with a glass of something cold, and hopefully sitting somewhere near a heady honeysuckle or fragrant blossom to immerse yourself in glorious scents as you read. It might not be the most detailed description of a perfumer's work, but it's a romantic – heartbreaking at times – engaging tale of a house giving up its secrets and the way scent weaves its own tale in all of our lives.
Perfume: The Creation and Allure of Classic Fragrances
Perfume: The Creation and Allure of Classic Fragrances, by Susan Irvine. Susan Irvine writes so evocatively about perfume, and was so often winner of the perfume industry’s own literary award, The Jasmine Award, that her writing colleagues almost gave up entering…! This coffee table book is long out of print, but worth sniffing out on secondhand book sites (where it’s available very inexpensively). It’s particularly good on natural ingredients, the history of the great perfume houses, and the links between fragrance and fashion.
The Scents of Time: Perfume from Ancient Egypt to the 21st Century
Published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, this wonderful book explores perfume from the (fabulously titled!) first chapter of 'Scent in the Fertile Crescent', through the Classical World, following the fashions for fragrance around the globe and through the ages – we were especially drooling over the Jazz Age chapter, though really every single one is full of fascinating historical snippets and the most lust-worthy bottle and advertising pictures. If this were one of those whopping great tomes it could be called a Coffee Table Book, but at this smaller size it's perfect for actually reading without taking up a gym membership to carry around. One of those books you'll want to keep around to dip in to and sigh with the gorgeousness.
The Scents of Time, Edwin L. Morris amazon.co.uk
The Perfume Lover: A Personal History of Scent
The Perfume Lover: A Personal History of Scent, by Denyse Beaulieu. Denyse is a highly-respected perfume blogger Grain de Musc - who writes quite beautifully here about how her childhood passion for perfume became a life-long quest, enticing her to Paris and a career as a fragrance critic. At the heart of this story, though, is how a conversation with L’Artisan Parfumeur perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour turned into a collaboration to produce an actual perfume, Séville a l’Aube – a divine orange-blossom-fulled Ambrée. A truly excellent read and a great insight into the art of fragrance creation.
Guerlain – The Prince of Perfume
Guerlain The Prince of Perfume by Pierre-Roland Saint-Dizier
We've never seen a perfume house's history played out in comic-book format before, and as a potted perfume biography of Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain, it really works. Of course, given the format, it can never be the full story; but as a book of scented snapshots, its a charming and evocative portrait of not only the man who began the Guerlain family empire, but of the birth of modern perfumery, the political climate in France at the time, and a history of our changing tastes in perfume – and the way we shopped for them.
Written with the help of Laurent Boillot, Guerlain President and CEO, Élisabeth Sirot and Hélène Schney, this is no mere child's book either (though we feel it would be an ideal gift for a younger reader interested in the history of fragrance). It's well-researched and gives an historical overview of the French Revolution, as a backdrop to Pierre-François-Pascal's story along the way. We see him first in 1807 as he falls in love with smelling vanilla, herbs and spices in his father's shop – memorising the way they smell. Later, Pierre leaves for Paris to work for Briard – already, then, an historic French perfume house – and, as his ambitions grow, learning soap and cosmetic-making, travelling the world as a salesman and working for various perfume and soap houses. As the back of the book's blurb explains, 'This young man, who will eventually become known as "Prince of Perfume" and the official perfumer of the European Royal Courts, does not yet realise that he will conquer the world of perfumes and pave the way for a dynasty of perfumers to come.'
It can be difficult to find an English translation copy of the book, which we found on an online auction site, but a Kindle version is also available in the original French. Indeed, it may be best to pick up a French copy if you're able to translate yourself – a great way to encourage French language development in someone interested in perfumery – as the English translation isn't always perfect, here. However, it's a lovely thing to own, charmingly illustrated by artist Li-An throughout, and includes a written appendix detailing the hidtory more thoroughly, and explaining how the author was granted access to the extensive Guerlain archives (including original family letters) in the research. Over all, a fascinating addition to any perfume-lover's bookshelf!
Buy it on Kindle [in French] (Glénat)
The Secret History of No. 5: The Intimate History of the World’s Most Famous Perfume
The Secret History of No. 5: The Intimate History of the World’s Most Famous Perfume, by Tilar J. Mazzeo. For 90 years, Chanel No. 5’s been the world’s best-known and bestselling fragrance – but the story behind it is more complicated than is often let on... Chanel-o-philes will want to add this to their bookshelf: it’s part-biography of ‘Mademoiselle’ (whose own extraordinary story is interwoven with that of No. 5), and part an exploration of the countless facets of the fragrance immortalised by Marilyn Monroe as ‘the only thing I wear to bed’, and by Andy Warhol in the silkscreen which appears on this book’s cover. Throw in a bit of information on the art of perfumery itself, and what you have is a book that made many Goodreads reviewers want to go out and buy a bottle itself.
What The Nose Knows: The Science of Scent in Everyday Life
What The Nose Knows: The Science of Scent in Everyday Life, by Avery Gilbert.
You don't have to be a science geek to be fascinated by this book, by a US-based psychologist, smell scientist and entrepreneur. It distils the science of olfaction into highly entertaining, easy-to-understand language, looking at everything from Sigmund Freud's thoughts on smell to (he was 'not a big fan of the nose') through to musings on whether composer Richard Wagner or poet Emily Dickinson (who shared a passion for flowers) was the bigger scent freak and even looks at Andy Warhol's 'Scent Museum'. Avery Gilbert investigates the role of aroma and olfaction in modern culture and marketing, but also explores the olfactory sense itself – confirming our own belief at The Perfume Society that if trained correctly, the human nose is almost as sensitive as the nose of many different animals, including dogs. Bust some myths by getting your hands (and nostrils) on this.
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Cult Perfumes: The World’s Most Expensive Perfumeries
Cult Perfumes: The World’s Most Expensive Perfumeries, by Tessa Williams. Cult, or ‘niche’, perfumes have become a massive fragrance trend – but surprisingly, until now there’s been no book dedicated to them. Scottish journalist Tessa has sniffed out 25 of the world’s ‘cult’ fragrance houses, talking to their ‘noses’ (or creative directors), and visiting their stores, from Santa Maria Novella through to London’s Floris. (Although having said that, being a British author, Scottish journalist Tessa does put a strong emphasis on UK brands like Grossmith and Ormonde Jayne). Once you’ve read this coffee table book, we kind of defy you not to start planning a tour of the perfumeries she mentions. It’s a great starting point.
The Perfume Companion: The Definitive Guide to Choosing Your Next Scent
The Perfume Companion: The Definitive Guide to Choosing Your Next Scent by Sarah McCartney [Published October 2021]
Perfumes have the power to evoke treasured memories, make us feel fabulous and help us express our best self. But with so many out there, how do you choose something new? When the scents in the perfume shop are merging into one aromatic haze, how do you remain focused? And if your favourite scent goes out of stock, how do you replace it?
The Perfume Companion is here to help. Sarah McCartney and Samantha Scriven deliver a host of scents for you to try – including bargain finds and luxury treasures, iconic stalwarts and indie newcomers, the lightest florals and the deepest leathers.
The Perfect Scent
The Perfect Scent, by Chandler Burr. Chandler Burr was for a time The New York Times’s own perfume critic, and this is his ‘year in the life’: a sneaky peek behind the scenes over the span of a year, in which he’s given ‘above-top-secret’ access to the world of fragrance creation. On one side of the Atlantic, he gets an insider’s view of the relationship between Sex and the City’s Sarah Jessica Parker and Coty, while launching her acclaimed debut scent Lovely. On the other, he’s invited to spend time alongside Hermès’s (then) newly-anointed in-house perfumer, Jean-Claude Ellena, while he works on Un Jardin Sur le Nil. Chandler Burr’s an arch observer, with a terrific turn of phrase that brings scent to vibrant life.
British Perfumery – A Fragrant History
Published by the esteemed British Society of Perfumers, this stunning tome is dedicated to the fascinating history of British Fragrance (dating back to the 16th century) while taking you on a journey through their heritage, famous clients (including royalty) and following the scented trail right through to the great British houses carrying the fragrance flag today, and in to the future... Formed in 1963, the British Society of Perfumers came together as a way of helping individual perfumers improve their status and deserved recognition as leading lights of the creative output this country offers the world. Celebrating the profession past and present while marking their own 50th anniversary, the book was conceived by their President - John Bailey - working with contributors Helen Hill, Yvonne Hockey and Matthew Williams. Beautiful, packed full of facts and endlessly delve-in-able, we think it's definitely one to place on a coffee-table to have your guests swooning...
Quintessentially Perfume, edited by Nathalie Grainger. The book may look like a giant fragrance flacon – but inside you’ll find an encyclopaedia of perfume knowledge, covering over 40 brands (from designer to niche), dozens of interviews and lots and lots of gorgeous glossy pix. What we find especially useful is the chapter on demystifying the language of perfume – and we love the interviews with key ‘noses’, including a refreshing number of women: Camille Goutal (who inherited her mother’s ‘crown’ at Annick Goutal), Linda Pilkington (of Ormonde Jayne) and Olivia Giacobetti, creator of many of L’Artisan Parfumeur’s masterpieces. You’ll also find a chapter from The Perfume Society’s co-founder Jo Fairley – on the future of fragrance, as well as from several contributors to our newsletter The Scented Letter.
Floating Gold: A Natural (and Unnatural) History of Ambergris
Floating Gold: A Natural (and Unnatural) History of Ambergris, by Christopher Kemp. Rich, sexy, earthy and enticing: this precious ingredient is prized by perfumers, yet can’t be ‘harvested’: it’s simply washed up randomly on beaches, being a by-product of the whale’s digestive process. (Not so long ago, a stroller on a Dorset beach found a lump of ambergris, alleged to be worth up to £80,000.) Christopher Kemp has woven a fascinating tale around a single fragrance element, bringing to life ambergris’s place in fragrance history and creation. A book to make beachcombers of all of us.
Essence & Alchemy
Essence & Alchemy, by Mandy Aftel. Mandy Aftel’s fascinated by magic and alchemy – and she writes so beautifully, she definitely adds a touch of fairydust to this truly readable book. It’s more than a history of fragrance: it looks behind the scenes at the evolution of fragrance-making, and packs plenty of info about essential oils and their attributes. A ‘natural’ perfumer herself, working only with botanical essences (and with her own fragrance line, based in California - Aftelier - and in the closing chapters it segues into a how-to book that’s a good place to start if you want to become your own ‘perfume mixologist’, and deepen your understanding and love of perfumery by making fragrance yourself. (Reading reviews on www.goodreads.com, it inspired plenty of readers to do just that.)