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: Scent and Subversion

Did you know we have an ever-expanding bookshelf of Fragrant Reads here at The Perfume Society? Combining two of our favourite things (perfume and books), we’re always on the lookout for great reads to recommend you – from just-published new novels and scholarly scent explorations through to more historically inclined tomes – all with a central scented theme.

We know we’re not alone in getting ever more geeky about fragrance – our feedback from you overwhelmingly shows we’re seeking more information about the fragrances we wear – and the people who make them. Throw in some scientific facts or fascinating glimpses behind-the-scenes of ingredients, or take us by the hand to explore the faces and inspirations behind some of our favourites and we’re happy as pigs in… er, petals!

Today we’re sticking our noses into a book that lovingly recounts scents once regarded as ‘forbidden’ or even dangerous, and the incredibly glamorous people who flouted such milksop opinions and wore them anyway. We rather think you’ll fall in love with this one, just as we did…

 

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, Yesterday’s Perfume.

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 classic perfume – such a great way to navigate this sometimes intimidating world, and to find a new love from a back catalogue you may have missed.

I love how Herman injects wit into her descriptions, such as this from her review of Le Galion Sortilége: ‘Boozy, lush, animalic, but lady-like, this is one of those perfumes that, to an untrained nose, might be described as ‘smelling like my grandma.’ Well, maybe if your grandma was Colette or Marlene Dietrich…’ The volume is written with a mixture of humour, historical fact and useful advice, and this is a book that any perfume lover would be delighted to read.

Publisher: The Lyons Press

At amazon.co.uk

*****

Barbara’s blog is well worth re-visiting, but you may notice the last entry was updated in 2016. This is because she had a rather exciting project up here sleeve…

Barbara Herman: ‘I launched a perfume brand — Eris Parfums. Named after the Greek goddess Eris, daughter of Nyx (Night), and one of the bad girls of Mt. Olympus with a reputation as a troublemaker and subversive, Eris has thrown down her gauntlet (or thrown her Golden Apple?) in the form of three new perfumes. I think you’ll like their inspiration: vintage floral animalics.

Belle de Jour, Night Flower, and Ma Bête were each composed by perfumer Antoine Lie (Tom Ford, Givenchy, Comme des Garçons, Etat Libre d’Orange, et al) and each are a take on vintage perfume styles but with a modern twist. I really love them and I hope you do, too!’ And there’s now a fourth fragrance in the collection – Mx.

Having had the pleasure of sampling each of the fragrances, I can confirm that those of with a penchant for vintage will get a real kick out of these. My favourite has to be Ma Bête – ‘(My Beast) caresses you with the suggestiveness of perfumed fur. A collision of the floral and the animal, MA BÊTE combines a regal Tunisian Neroli with spices and a 50 percent overdose of Antoine Lie’s own animalic cocktail.’

‘Ma Bête is a fierce beast with raunchy elegance.’ – Antoine Lie

Whether reading about delightfully subversive scents or wanting to douse yourself in their forbidden essence, this season is an excellent time to slip into your most fabulous gown and exude dangerous glamour, don’t you think?

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