Fragrant reads we recommend: Nose Dive by Catherine Haley Epstein

This week we’re diving in nose-first to Catherine Haley Epstein‘s Nose Dive – a brilliant book for adventurous noses. We have a whole scented bookshelf of Fragrant Reads we recommend, so do please feel free to browse at your leisure, from literary to scientific and everything in-between.

Meanwhile, let’s get up close and personal with our sense of smell, and re-connect our sense of wonder as we read…

On the back of the book, author, artist and scent-maker, Catherine Haley Epstein, introduces her book in a way that intrigued and delighted us immediately. Describing it as a handbook for taking ‘…Adventures for your nose in art, anthropology, and science, the book Nose Dive is a broad introduction to olfactory culture meant for artists or anyone curious about the power of scent.’ Well that’s pretty much a checklist of our intersts, so we were eager to learn more, and Epstein contnues: ‘Something is in the air with respect to our most powerful and least regarded sense. This book demystifies the world of scent, provides springboards for further study, and presents exercises for shifting gears with your nose. A must-read for anyone intrigued by the superpower right under our noses.’ Consider us sold!

Epstein was lovely enough to send us a first-edition copy of her book with a letter, saying further that she wrote it because she wanted ‘…to invite dialogue from the different aspects of the scent arena.’ And also explaining the cover of the book is ‘Tiffany blue… not for the reason you might think – it’s actually the colour of my favourite smell, a pool toy.’

You know what they say about finding kindred spirits? We think she’s definitely one of us

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!

Nose Dive by Catherine Haley Epstein, $25 catherinehaleyepstein.com

By Suzy Nightingale

Fragrant reads we recommend: The Essence

Our bookshelf at The Perfume Society is ever-growing, and we couldn’t be more delighted to share some of our favourite Fragrant Reads with you. What could be more delightful on a cold, dreary winter’s day than curling up with a cuppa and a good book? From scholarly works to scent-inspired novels, books tracing the spice routes or dedicated to just one ingredient –  there’s a plethora of perfume-related books we recommend.

But this week we have our noses buried in…

The Essence: Discovering the World of Scent, Perfume & Fragrance, by gestalten

I must begin by declaring an interest, in that I was asked by the publishers to write all of the Fragrance Families pieces for this book. That doesn’t prevent me gasping in delight at the rest of the book, however (and there’s a lot of it to love – 288 pages in full color hardback, 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. Yes we have the inevitable picking of lavender in the fields of Provence and the laboratories, but also those lesser-told stories (in mainstream publishing certainly) 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 my 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

At WHSmith

By Suzy Nightingale

Fragrant Reads we recommend: The Scent of You by Maggie Alderson

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

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. However, today we are wondering about gifts to give perfume-lovers when you’re not sure exactly what they own, but want to get them something you know they’ll enjoy. Or perhaps you’re looking to snuggle up with a good book yourself, to escape the madness of the season?

This week we have our noses stuck in the wonderful novel, The Scent of You

I experience the world through smell – I always have.’ So begins the perfume-inspired story by Maggie Alderson, and we couldn’t agree more. Maggie was actually 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
At waterstones.com

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 Reads we recommend – The Scent Trail: A Journey of the Senses by Celia Lyttleton

Frosty winter days call for snuggling up with a good book, and we have a whole scented bookshelf of Fragrant Reads we recommend. Today we are plunging our noses into the beautifully written and so-evocative book that follows one woman’s journey to discover the secret of scent…

Penguin say: ‘When Celia Lyttelton visited a bespoke perfumers, she realised a long-held ambition: to have a scent created solely for her. Entering this heady, exotic world of oils and essences, she was transported from a leafy London square to a place of long-forgotten memories and sensory experiences. And once drawn into this world, she felt compelled to trace the origins, history and culture of the many ingredients that made up her unique perfume…

And so began a magical journey of the senses that took Celia from Grasse, the cradle of perfume, to Morocco; from the rose-growing region of Isparta in Turkey, to the Tuscan hills where the iris grows wild. And after journeying to Sri Lanka, the home of the heavenly scented jasmine, Celia ventured to India, the Yemen and finally to the ‘Island of Bliss’, Socotra. Here she traced the rarest and most mysterious agent in perfumery, ambergris, which is found in the bellies of whales and is said to have powerful aphrodisiac qualities.

From the peasants and farmers growing their own crops, and the traders who sell to the great perfume houses, to the ‘noses’ who create the scents and the marketing kings who rule this powerful billion-dollar industry, Celia Lyttelton paints a mystical, sensual landscape of sights, sounds and aromas as she recalls the extraordinary people and places she encountered on her unique Scent Trail.’

We say: 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

*****

Looking for a gift or just the next thing you need to get your nose in to? Have a browse of our ever-expanding selection of favourite books – some are exclusively about perfume, others are more scholarly tomes on the history and scientific advancements of smell and the senses; while others still follow a path of examining fragrant ingredients in poetic, funny or awe-inspiring ways. What are you waiting for…?

By Suzy Nightingale

Fragrant Reads – scent books to snuggle up with

Now there’s a distinct nip in the air, now is the perfect time to snuggle up with a good book – and we have a whole scented selection of great books to recommend you in our Fragrant Reads library of reviews.  All of them focus on our favourite subject (obvs), with some specifically on the topic of perfume, while others explore the wider scent-scape of our sense of smell.

We read A LOT of books about perfume, but we don’t always have time to write up our reviews in full. So lately, we have been concentrating on updating our virtual library with some of the more recently published books we’ve come across, including this FANTASTIC volume by longtime Perfume Society subscriber, Catherine Maxwell, which we will pull out of the bookshelf for you now and examine below…

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

At Amazon

*****

By Suzy Nightingale

The Scented Letter Magazine

Well you’re here, so we’re going to take it as read that you enjoy reading about fragrance! But now imagine a glossy magazine filled to brimming with the very latest news, reviews, full-length features and exclusive one-on-one interviews with the best noses in the world.

Described as ‘a must-read’ by industry-insiders and fragrance-lovers alike, we are proud as punch of The Scented Letter Magazine, and it seems the feeling’s mutual…

With multiple Jasmine Awards (the fragrance industry’s ‘Oscars’, awarded by The Fragrance Foundation) and guest articles by fellow award-winning journalists, we take a theme for each issue and explore it in gorgeously unashamed detail.

Our ethos is that fragrance should be open to everyone, and so our readers range from people around the world who adore perfume, perfumers themselves, founders of fragrance houses and PRs hungry for news they just don’t get to read anywhere else.

Expert opinions, breaking news, fragrant reviews, stunning photographs and in-depth interviews – your glossily beautiful 60-page PRINT edition of The Scented Letter – The Perfume Society‘s acclaimed magazine will open the doors to the world of fragrance no matter what your experience.

A niche-lover who’s amassed hundreds of bottles in their collection or a perfume newbie: you’re all included, and welcome to explore this exciting world that’s just waiting for your fingertips…

Our latest magazine is The Alphabet Issue, taking an A-Z look at everything from Aldehydes to Madame Zed (Lanvin’s mysterious perfumer, who nobody can trace). Take a sneak-peek here!

 

All issues of The Scented Letter can be purchased individually for £15 (£12.50 for VIP Club Members) or back-ordered if you fancy a catch-up. But don’t risk missing out, treat yourself or loved one to an Annual Print Subscription – an entire year of fragrant reading for £75 (including P&P), to be read, referred to and admired many times (so we’re told!)

Written by Suzy Nightingale

 

Literary meditations in fragrant form with Walden Natural Perfumes…

Fragrant inspirations are diverse as the perfumes composed for them, but we’ve noticed a particular leaning toward the arts – literature, painting and music – in recent years.  Walden Perfumes are no exception, the house being named after Henry David Thoreau’s seminal work and the fragrances themselves inspired by certain passages within it.

Walden was written partly as a guide for meditation, and can be seen as a handbook ‘…for simple living in natural surroundings.’ Fittingly, the fragrances are 100% natural, and each carries a quote on the back of the box, a creative whisper of suggestion as to the perfume inside. And we couldn’t wait to browse their fragrant library…
Soaringly beautiful, a mega-hit of ylang ylang swoons into a buxom bouquet of iris and jasmine garlanded in swags around amyris and oodles of tonka bean. Finalist for ‘Best Natural Beauty Product’, Natural & Organic Awards Europe 2017, this is a creamy, dreamy, romantic delight.

A Little Star Dust, £40 for 50ml eau de parfum
An intriguing melange of the freshly zesty and totally tropical, citrus bursts forth with all the sparkle of a just-poured cocktail, exotic flowers dancing in the breeze with cool, herbaceous lavender. Like a joyous celebration of the sunshine and the shade, this twirls exuberantly.

Castles in the Air, £40 for 50ml eau de parfum
A frolic through a forest of wild flowers, roses climb and tumble through boughs of trees as jasmine entwines the branches and iris goes native in the shady nooks. Sliced through with shards of bergamot citrus like sunlight appearing through the verdant canopy above, it’s perfect for summer.
Two Eternities, £60 for 50ml eau de parfum
Capturing that petrichor scent of just-after-the-rain freshness when the world seems to pause and breathe a sigh of relief, the sharpness of petitgrain is followed by a cool heart of earthy vetiver and a whisper of patchouli swirled amongst the creaminess of amyris.

The Solid Earth, £50 for 50ml eau de parfum
Opening with a spicy kick of black pepper, this is woody all the way up to 11 with warm amber tingling the senses in the heart of cedarwood followed by a smooth flourish of resinous amyris segueing to freshly sharpened pencil-ness of sandalwood. Vigorous yet comforting.

A Different Drummer, £50 for 50ml eau de parfum
Walden Natural Perfumes are available at lovelula.com

Perhaps literary-inspired perfumes highlight our need to not necessarily simply escape to a wonderland in troubled times, but to use artistic measures to put them in context and reflect? Whatever the aim, we cannot help but be thrilled that finally, perfumery is being seen once again as an art form to rejoice in!
Written by Suzy Nightingale

Fragrant reads as festive gifts? Snuggle by the fireside and enjoy five of our favourites…

Is there anything as satisfying in these cold, dreary days, as settling by the fireside, reclining on a chaise lounge (or lounging on the sofa in your favourite old pyjamas – however the mood takes you!) while sipping a cup of hot chocolate (or, y’know, gin) and getting your nose stuck in a good book? When the tome you’ve chosen is all about fragrance, all the better – and a great add-on gift for your fellow ‘fumeheads, too.
You can find an entire library in the Fragrant Reads section of the website – but these top this booklist of our seasonal, perfume-themed recommendations. (Click on the blue book titles to find them on-line.)
 

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Perfume: A Century of Scents by Lizzie Ostrom

Under the premise of ‘every perfume has a tale to tell’ the wonderful olfactive adventurer, Lizzie Ostrom, explores signature scents and long-lost masterpieces while waxing lyrical about the often wildly wacky characters and campaigns that launched them. 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.
 

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Essence & Alchemy by Mandy Aftel

More than a history of fragrance, this book brilliantly 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 having a go at making fragrance yourself…
 

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A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman

This one can be difficult to get hold of, but is often available on Amazon’s second-hand marketplace. Do find it if you can – 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…

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The Diary of a Nose: A Year in the Life of a Perfumer by Jean-Claude Ellena

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…?

book

British Perfumery – A Fragrant History

Dedicated to the fascinating history of British Fragrance (dating back to the 16th Century), this stunning book takes you on a journey through the esteemed heritage of The British Society of Perfumers, their famous clients (including royalty) and follows 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…

Writing about perfume really is an art all of its own. (If we do say so ourselves!) So from these fragrant reads. we are sure you’ll find something to set your senses alive – something to gift to a fragrance loving friend or to keep for yourself.

What other scent-centered books have you been getting your nose stuck into, lately? Do get in touch by emailing  info@perfumesociety.org and let us know if there’s anything missing from our ever-expanding bookshelves…

Written by Suzy Nightingale