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

The Scented Letter Perfume & Culture issue launches

Perfume & Culture is the theme of the just-published edition of The Perfume Society‘s The Scented Letter magazine, in which we explore the many exciting ways fragrance is crossing over into the arts – infusing theatre, literature, ballet and art installations with its sensory magic – and at the growing trend for artists to launch perfume ranges of their own.

In this issue you can expect to find…

• For Lights, Camera, Aldehydes!, award-winning blogger and author Persolaise was inspired by his twin passions for film and fragrance

The Scent of a Novel is the article which won Julia Berick the ‘Rising Star’ Jasmine Award – and now you can read it in full

• Suzy Nightingale lifts the velvet curtain on the actors and film directors who use fragrance as a tool to create a mood or get into a role in Perfuming A Part

 Bottle design is an art in itself – so we report on the exquisite fragrance flacons which broke all records in The Perfume Bottles Auction 2019

 

• Novelist Jane Thynne – who weaves perfume into her bestsellers – shares her olfactory life in Memories, Dreams, Reflections

And of course, as usual, we bring you all the Latest Launches, news, events – and so much more!

Our 60-page multi Jasmine Award-winning magazine is your very best way to keep up to date with all that’s happening in the scented world. Described as an essential read by industry insiders and perfume-lovers alike, the 60-page magazine is available FREE for our VIP Club Members online (sign in to view) or to purchase the coffee-table worthy glossy print version, you can order your copies here for £15 (£12.50 for VIPs)

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

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
 
 
 

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…?

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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  [email protected] and let us know if there’s anything missing from our ever-expanding bookshelves…

Written by Suzy Nightingale