Secrets of the Lavender Girls – real-life WWII stories of the women who worked at Yardley

In her novel, Secrets of the Lavender Girls (a book we recently added to our Fragrant Reads shelf of scent-themed tomes), Kate Thompson tells the tale of the women who worked at the Yardley factory during the war. But it turns out some of the stories she discovered suring her research were even more incredible…

‘I love archives and libraries,’ Kate Thompson shares on her Facebook page. ‘Carefully untying the cream ribbon of an old file and catching the scent of 80-year-old dust motes is a thrill. More than once I’ve found hours can slip away leafing through yellowed newspaper reports and witness accounts from the Second World War in the silence of a reading room…’

Revealing her passion for research, and the extraordinary stories she found during her time writing The Secrets of the Lavender Girls, Kate says that ‘nothing beats what historians calls ‘Primary Sources’ and what I prefer instead to call ‘Magnificent Women’.’

The utterly charming novel follows the fragrant history of Yardley, and the remarkable stories of the women who worked there. Though a fictional account, Kate’s genuine fondness for the real life women she found (and who shared their tales with her) truly shines through.

Unravelling the stories of the real-life women who worked at Yardley during the war, she received ‘a beautiful handwritten letter in the post.’

‘I was a wartime lavender girl, I read about your book in a magazine,’ wrote Joan Osborne. ‘Yardley was the most wonderful years of my life. I am now 91.’

The letter was from Joan, who’d desperately wanted to work at Yardley, telling Kate: ‘It must have been the glamour. I remember travelling from Stratford to Ilford on the bus and the conductor opening the window so everyone could smell the lavender blowing from Yardley. Carpenters Road, or Stink Bomb Alley was famous for its smells. Seven different types of air flowed down there depending on which way the air was blowing. I can still smell the lavender,’

 

Kate learned Joan was sent to work in the top floor perfumery department where she was given a broom to sweep the floor. ‘I thought, “I haven’t come here to sweep floors” so they moved me to bottle-filling where I was putting the skin and caps on bottles. They were losing so many girls to the services I don’t think they wanted to lose anymore, so they kept me sweet. I earnt eighteen shillings and something a week and my clocking in number was 157. I’ve still got the card.’

‘They were dangerous times, especially when the flying bombs started up, but being young I didn’t think that much about it. I was more upset by how cold it was in the factory, the heating was rarely on and we were always freezing. They used to give us cups of Oxo to warm us up. Least the room always smelt lovely from the lavender, freesia and April violets perfume.’

 

 

You can read more of the remarkable back-story of Joan and her fellow Yardley girls in Kate Thompson’s touching refelections on researching the book. But we cannot urge you enough to go and buy the book itself – and read it while wearing one of Yardley’s classic fragrances (still proudly in production!) for an extra fragrant waft of history…

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

The Secret Ways of Perfume by Cristina Caboni

The Secret Ways of Perfume by Cristina Caboni is the scent-themed book we’re snuggled up with right now – why not make yourself a brew and get cosy while you read our review…?

 

The Secret Ways of Perfume by Cristina Caboni

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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 promise of  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 toall manner of mysterious discoveries. Because, as she was told all those years ago:

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…’

From the landscape of Florence to the sun-drenched lavender fields, this a book to delight all perfume-lovers – a novel that you’ll dive in to, nose first.

Buy it from Penguin U.K. (BLack Swan imprint, 2016)

In the mood for some more perfume-related books? We have a whole scented bookshelf of Fragrant Reads – from non-fiction historical explorations to contemporary criticism, with a plethora of perfume-related reading you can get your nose stuck in, right now!

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.

Recreating ‘Perfume: The Story of a Murderer’

Occasionally, you’re scrolling through Instagram and something particularly catches your eye. Today it was, firstly, a still from the magnificent film adaptation of Patrick Süsskind’s Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. And secondly, the rather intriguing text beneath…

‘Sexy gingers wanted!’ Redheads all around the world, we are looking for you! Mediamatic is looking for sexy gingers who let us extract their scent during Playhouse: Sex S(m)ells! Inspired by Patrick Süsskind’s ‘Perfume: The Story of a Murderer’ we will recreate the perfume from the book. Interested and not afraid of people inhaling your smell? E-mail to: [email protected]

Well now. In the novel (and resulting film adaptation) of Perfume, the protagonist, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, is born with an extraordinary sense of smell. Those of you who have read the book or seen the film will be aware that his methods of capturing people’s scents are rather, um, murder-y, as the title may suggest. Lest potential volunteers are put off by this, the Institute for Art and Olfaction add a helpful footnote:

‘The redheads don’t actually need to be sexy, but exhibitionism is a must. We’re going to attempt Jean-Baptiste Grenouille’s experiments, minus the murder!’

So that’s reassuring!

Earlier this year, the Art and Olfaction team arrived in London for their annual Award ceremony, celebrating independent and artisanal perfumers and artists who work with the sense of smell. Prior to the awards, there were many workshops, talks and performances taking place in Los Angeles, where the IAO are based, culminating in an Experimental Scent Summit in London, which we were delighted to take part in. The next award ceremony (2019) will be in Amsterdam, and ahead of this the IAO team will be taking up residence for the next month. As they explain…

Mediamatic and the institute for Art and Olfaction Team up for a summer program exploring innovative topics around olfaction. Over the course of a month, the IAO Los Angeles team will be in residence at Mediamatic in the first part of an ongoing research and programme on open scent culture and olfactory art.

Join us in our Aroma Lab for perfume blending workshops, follow our live on-site podcast production, learn about sex smells and join our aromatic game show, or a range of other activities presented by the IAO’s Los Angeles-based team.’

We can’t wait to see what they produce. Would you be brave enough to volunteer to have your scent ‘extracted’? We’re thinking it would certainly make for a unique ‘What I Did On My Summer Holiday’ diary entry, if nothing else!

Written by Suzy Nightingale

 

Fabulous new fragrant reads to get your nose stuck into

Make room on your shelves immediately – not for more bottles of fragrance, this time, but books about them. There’s a perfumed plethora of fragrant reads out there that we’ll be reviewing in the coming months, showing the ever increasing lust for more, more, more fragrance facts and behind the scenes peeps in to the perfume world.
Here are just a few of the favourites we’ve read already, but fear not – there are many more fragrant reads to stack up on your bedside table, and we shall attempt to cover as many as we can possibly get our noses stuck in to…


The Scent of You by Maggie Alderson (HarperCollins AU), 32.99 AUD

‘I experience the world through smell – I always have.’ So begins the latest novel by Maggie Alderson, and we couldn’t agree more. 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.

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!’ Polly now distracts 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…
Currently the book has been launched in Australia, but having been utterly gripped by the first chapter – which you can read for free, here – we’re crossing everything that the book will be published in the UK and other territories, soon.
 

CHANEL – The Art of Creating Fragrance by Lionel Paillès (Abrams Books), £125

A breathtakingly beautiful – and lavishly presented – six-volume set of books that foucs on single ingredients, revealing the artisinal techniques used to create those famous Chanel fragrances. Following the journey of the five main flowers from which the majority of Chanel perfumes are made, we learn about the growing, harvesting and meticulous processing of May rose, Grasse iris, Grasse jasmine, rose geranium and tuberose.
Stunning photographs by Pierre Even ensure a feast for the eyes, with fascinating facts dotted throughout. Did you know, for example, that since the very first bottle was made in the 1921,  Chanel No. 5 has been made with flowers from the same picturesque patch of land between the Alps and the Mediterranean, known as the Pégomas Valley?
Gloriously celebratory, this visual tour of the French Rivierea by way of its fragrant flowers just makes us want to jump on a plane and run through the fields in a gauzy white gown and a straw hat, stat. Yes, it’s far pricier than your average book but you are getting a set of six, and these are volumes you’ll want to treasure forever – or give as a really special gift for that ultimate Chanel fan.
 

Flacons Guerlain: Collection de Sylvie Guerlain, by Bernard Gangler (Chêne), £42.24

Imagine being a member of the Guerlain family (oh, imagine…) and becoming obsessed by the bottles (easy enough even when you’re no relation at all, we find!) and then setting about making an extensive collection of them by scouring the flea markets and antique shops of France to hunt down every last rare example you can find. The book is written in French, but really it’s all about the lovingly documented flacons themselves – page after page of them – with greater emphasis on the visual joys than the writing itself, so even if your French is sub- Sixth Form, you’ll get by just fine.
We think this is the perfect ‘coffee table’ book with which to flagrantly display your love of fragrance – hours of flicking through, gazing and sighing happily are pretty much guaranteed, we feel. It’s so interesting to see how some of the bottles change through time – and those that barely change at all. Definitely one for your Christmas List if you can’t quite swing for it yourself right now.
Written by Suzy Nightingale