We’re going on The Scent Trail – A Journey of the Senses

As we’re still not able to travel very far physically, so many of us have turned more than ever to fragrance as a way to ‘travel with our nose.’ Today we are traversing time and space with Celia Lyttelton‘s  beautifully written and so-evocative book, The Scent Trail, that follows her 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!) Movingly 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 satiate your travel-lust until such time we may pack our bags and set off into the scented sunset…

 

 

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. Every page is a journey in itself. What are you waiting for…?

By Suzy Nightingale

Nose Dive by Harold McGee – a joyous celebration of our most under-appreciated sense

There are some books that really transcend the boundaries – appealing not only to those already immersed in the subject, but to the wider public – and Nose Dive by Harold McGee is most definitely one of the best we’ve read. So wonderfully connecting the dots between the worlds of smell and taste, it’s no wonder the Sunday Times named it 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.

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. Along the way, 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.

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.

Managing to be both scholarly yet immediately accessible, it’s his passion for that subject that really sporings off the page and makes you want to run out into the street and start smelling things with a new appreciation for what you might find. Whether he has you bending to smell wet pavements and marvelling at ambergris, exploring the fruit-filled Himilayan mountain ranges, literally stopping to smell the roses or cautiously approaching a durian fruit… this is a celebration of something the majority of us take so foregranted – until we have it taken away from us. Witness the huge rise in smell-related news stories, during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Perhaps now the media are focussing on our sense of smell at last, and realising how important it is to our enjoyment and understanding of every day life, there will be further books like this to enjoy a wider readership than they may have previously. And maybe that will lead to proper funding for the much-needed further research we still so desperately need. Now that’s something to celebrate!

If your intrest in pongs has been piqued, perhaps you’d like to perfuse the many other books about smell and the senses we have reviewed for our Fragrant Reads bookshelf…?

By Suzy Nightingale

World Book Day – fragrant reads to fill your bookshelves with

It’s World Book Day so we’re celebrating by perusing our Perfume Society bookshelf, which is filled with Fragrant Reads – from novels and books of poetry inspired by scent to technical tomes and books that explore the history of fragrance in so many fascinating ways.

Here are just a few of our ‘must reads’ to get your nose stuck in to…

Poetry

 

Atomizer poems, by Elizabeth A.I. Powell
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 Book of Scented Things – 100 Contemporary Poems About Perfume, 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.

 

The power of smell

 

The Smell of Fresh Rain, by Barney Shaw
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 journey to be part of. Merely reading this book expands your mind to the possibilities and scents you take forgranted every single day.

 

A Natural History of the Senses, by Diane Ackerman
The title doesn’t do this justice: Diane Ackerman’s writing is exquisite, 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. Something to read that shakes the very foundations of how you’ll look at smell and fragrance.

 

Perfume-themed novels

 

The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro
Traversing decadently through the decades in New York, Monte Carlo, Paris, and London, Grace discovers she’s the beneficiary of a famed fragrant muse who inspired one of Paris’s greatest perfumers to immortalise her in three groundbreaking fragrances. As she finds out more, Grace is forced to choose between the image of what society experts of her, and who she really is…

 

The Scent of You, by Maggie Alderson
‘I experience the world through smell – I always have.’ We couldn’t agree more, and Maggie was inspired to write this novel by spending time in our own Perfume Society office! The 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 connect to.

Why not have a good browse of our Fragrant Reads for more suggestions and reviews of scent-themed books we think you’ll fall in love. We’re always adding more, so having treated yourself to a tome for World Book Day, do check back often!

By Suzy Nightingale

Fragrant Reads – Smell: A Very Short Introduction

Part of a fantastic series by Oxford University Press, Smell: A Very Short Introduction by Matthew Cobb is an easy to read and very accessible intro to the incredibly nuanced, complicated and still most misunderstood sense…

Small in stature but big on fragrant facts, it’s one of those ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’ type publications, being an overview of ‘the science and physiology of smell and its historical, cultural, and environmental significance,’ in which 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.

At The Perfume Society we are, of course, fully on-board with how important our sense of smell is; and we suppose seing as you’re here, you agree. But our sense of smell still lags behind – in scientific research and the wider public understanding – in being discussed and even thought about on a daily basis. We wonder, however, if the recent links between Covid-19 and smell loss (and that anosmia being an early indicator of Covid, among many other medical conditions that doctors are still investigating) if smell will be taken more seriously from now on?

After all: ‘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

If you’d like some more recommendations to fill your scented bookshelves, do have a look at our ever-expanding list of Fragrant Reads. We’ve reviews of everything from scent-themed romance novels to seriously weighty science books, and stunning coffee-table tomes to a tale of Guerlain’s history told in graphic novel form…

By Suzy Nightingale

 

Fragrant books to snuggle up & fall in love with

There’s all manner of fragrantly themed books on our shelf of scented reading, but did you know that among the many stunning coffee-table books and more scientific, technical tomes; there are a number of romance novels and floral volumes we think you’ll fall in love with?

Spring is just around the corner, we know, but until it fully blooms we’re still somewhat in hibernation mode. So why not grab a cup of coffee or indulge yourself with hot chocolate, wrap yourself in a cosy blanket and take some time to snuggle up with one of these brilliant perfume-related books…?

 

The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro

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…

Buy it at waterstones.com

 

The Scent of You by Maggie Alderson

‘I experience the world through smell – I always have.’ So begins this 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. 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.’ Completely gripping, the story of a life in crisis and wonderfully observed, it’s a perfect cosy read for anyone who also experiences the world through smell (that’ll be most of you, then!)

Buy it at waterstones.com

 

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 as this ability means painful memories about her mother are carried on the breeze, 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. Searching for a composition within her family’s historic archives, Elena’s new goal becomes the replication of a secret scented recipe that nobody in her family managed to master…

Buy it at Penguin

 

By Suzy Nightingale

From harlots & hippies: how patchouli got cool again

Patchouli might as well be called the ‘Marmite of the perfume world’ as those of us who fall firmly in the LOVE IT camp have our passionately held views matched only by those who devoutly HATE IT. But perhaps if you have always languished on the loathing side of the fragrant fence, you might have your mind changed by this book we’ve recently added to our Fragrant Reads bookshelves…?

Part of a series of extremely informative ‘naturals notebooks’ on some of perfumery’s key ingredients, written and published in conjunction with NEZ (the French olfactory magazine) and LMR (Laboratoire Monique Rémy – one of the world’s leading producers of naturals used in the fragrance industry); Patchouli 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 oriental 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.’

FYI: If you’re looking to learn more about patchouli, do have a look at our always-useful Ingredients section.

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.

Patchouli NEZ + LMR the naturals notebook, £15.99
Buy it from shymimosa.co.uk

By Suzy Nightingale

Floriography: arranging flowers for friends, lovers (and foes!)

We have an ever-growing bookshelf of Fragrant Reads, and just added another lovely one to the collection. Far from just a pretty book about flowers, it’s a whole coded history with which to send secret messages…

Floriography by Jessica Roux, published by Simon & Schuster

We first heard tell of this book when listening to the always brilliant Dressed: A History of Fashion podcast, when they interviewed the author, teasing us with the information that it should be ‘Daffodils for your unrequited love, lavender for your sworn enemy…’

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?

 

Image by Jessica Roux

 

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 loved were the suggestions of what other flowers to pair, to add further layers of significance to a bouquet, rather than only describing each flower in isolation.

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…

 

Image from Floriography by Jessica Roux

 

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, at any time of year – but how much more interesting that gift would be if accompanied by a meaningfully put-together floral arrangement, don’t you think? A thank you for friend who’s helped get you through this year, perhaps, or a thrillingly stylish way to communicate your displeasure? Rather depends on how nice the more challenging of relatives are to us during these trying times, doesn’t it…?

It’s selling super fast but at time of writing, it’s still available to buy from Book Depository here.

By Suzy Nightingale

Fragrant Reads – Guerlain The Prince of Perfume

Our ever-growing bookshelf of Fragrant Reads just got its first graphic novel – a unique take on telling the scented story of Pierre-Francois-Pascal Guerlain…

We’ve never seen a perfume house’s history played out in comic-book format before, and as a potted perfume biography of founder Pierre-François-Pascal; Guerlain – The Prince of Perfume, by Pierre-Roland Saint-Dizier is a delightful (if rather surprising) presentation.

Written with the help of Laurent Boillot, Guerlain President and CEO, Élisabeth Sirot and Hélène Schney, this is no mere child’s book (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.’

 

 

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.

 

 

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 [French edition] (Glénat) – Also available from second-hand book-sellers.

Want to know more? We suggest starting with our page dedicated to the history of Guerlain, and then exploring the History of Perfumery sections…

By Suzy Nightingale

Vellichor: capturing the scent memories of old books

There are times when discovering a new word can ensnare you, and ‘vellichor’ is one of those, for me. So when the Odorbet online dictionary asked me to submit a piece to their collaborative gathering of fascinating, lesser-known words to describe smells, I knew immediately which one I wanted to explore.

In my feature, A Shiver of Vellichor: On the Satisfaction of Finding New Words, I look at the very recent coining of this word; but basically what you need to know is, it describes one of the very best smells in the entire world: old books.

The word’s author, John Koenig, added it to his Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows – a catalogue of terms forensically detailing emotions from ennui to existential despair, which previously we may have struggled to adequately express.

Specifically, the word ‘vellichor’ sketches the overwhelming wistfulness that can engulf us when we enter an antiquarian bookshop or library, and are plunged into an olfactory sensation far beyond smelling the paper, leather and dust. Just as the olfactory word it was inspired by – petrichor – is larger than the sum of its parts; so vellichor conjures a fragrant universe far beyond the smell of a room lined with leather-bound tomes, ‘which are somehow infused with the passage of time.’ We feel nostalgia for our own past, for the memories instantaneously triggered when we pick up a particular book, for that comfort the very act of reading and escaping to another world can bring.

Along with all the unbidden time-travelling and spiritual yearning through scent, the smell of vellichor happens to be extremely pleasant – a mixture, it turns out, of book materials begining to break down and releasing their volatile odours. A pleasing irony, perhaps, that the smell of the slow death of books can give life to such bitter-sweet pleasures as revelling in scent memories.

In the 2009 scientific study, Material Degradomics: On the Smell of Old Books, the lead reseracher, Matija Strlic, closely studied the smell and discovered it was made up of…

‘A combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness, this unmistakable smell is as much a part of the book as its contents.’

The vanilla-like smell comes from lignin, (closely related to vanillin – the primary component of the extract of the vanilla bean, which can often be synthesised in perfumery) and which is present in all wood-based paper. I wonder if this is another aspect that aides vellichor in soothing troubled souls? After all, scientific tests have proven the calming powers of vanillin.

 

 

It used to be assumed this was because the scent infantilised us somehow – reminded people of mother’s milk or the childhood bliss of licking cake-batter straight from the bowl; but those tests proved it significantly reduced the ‘startle reflex’ even in animals that don’t suckle or, presumably, share our nostalgia for forbidden treats. Vanillin has since gone on to be trialled in fragrancing particularly high-stress areas of hospitals, such as MRI and CT Scanning rooms, and for patients undergoing chemotherapy.

Whatever you might like to ecape from – or to – fellow book-sniffers seeking solace from daily woes should immerse themselves in the following, and enjoy a hit of vellichorian goodness whenever they wish…

 

The Yorkshire Soap Co, Library Glycerine Soap
Even Lady Macbeth would surely have enjoyed her handwashing had this been available: the half-remembered hush of soft tobacco, the supple leather of a friendly chair to sigh into.
£3.50 for 100g
yorkshiresoap.co.uk

 

 

The Perfumer’s Story by Azzi, Old Books
Whispers of incense curl through motes of dust dancing on hazy, sepia-toned memories, as patchouli, amber vetivert and cedar slowly evanesce.
£95 for 30ml eau de parfum
libertylondon.com

 

 

Immortal Perfumes, Dead Writers
Black tea sipped as fingers trace words known by heart, a shady nook of vetiver, clove and musk snuggled into voluptuous heliotrope and a hug of vanilla tobacco.
$50 for 15ml parfum
immortalperfumes.com

 

Maison Margiela REPLICA, Whispers in the Library
Waxed wood gleaming in the afternoon sun, drowsy days in the ancestral library (we wish), a twist of pepper adding spice to the pencil shavings of cedar and a sweetly dry rustle of vellum.
From £22.50 for 10ml
maisonmargiela-fragrances.co.uk

 

 

Byredo, Bibliotèque
The romance of nostalgia made liquid, a fuzzy nuzzle of ripe peach and succulent plums atop a tangled posy of blowsy peonies, powdered violets and ripped, resinous leather.
£115 for 50ml eau de parfum
byredo.com

By Suzy Nightingale

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