“Michael Edwards’s book represents a truly praiseworthy effort to help people better appreciate the great perfumes of this century,” says Edmond Roudnitska in his introduction to Perfume Legends: French Feminine Fragrances. Indeed, a perfume lover’s library is incomplete without this wonderful anthology, which combines beautiful illustrations with the comprehensive information on some of the greatest French fragrances. Edwards’s focus on perfume as an art form traced over the 20th century is an appealing vantage point, given the fact that he recognizes the synergy between the fragrance and the time in which it was created. He also notes the scientific discoveries that shaped the development of perfumery, such as the discovery of cinnamic aldehyde as the chemical responsible for the scent of cinnamon in 1833 by Dumas and Péligot, or the isolation of coumarin from tonka beans by Perkin in 1868. Moreover, the process of creation and forming of ideas that gave rise to some of the most famous fragrances is elaborated in great depth in Perfume Legends.
The book focuses on 45 fragrances, from Guerlain Jicky (1889) to Thierry Mugler Angel (1992), providing information on the creators, from the perfumers and the couturiers to the bottle designers and the executives of the perfume houses. …
The accompanying illustrations and photos alone make the book a worthwhile purchase, as many have never been published before. Edwards includes three criteria for including a fragrance in the book: innovative accord that served as an inspiration for the subsequent composition; trend shaping impact; and appeal transcending fashion. Although the selection might be considered somewhat controversial, it is no doubt that the coverage is quite thorough. Although titled as Legends, the fragrance stories are anything but based on myths. With more than 150 in-depth interviews over a period of four years going into the creation of Perfume Legends, the work possesses an unsurpassed breadth.
Although serving as an excellent reference, Perfume Legends is able to engage and to maintain a reader’s interest with its smoothly flowing writing and fascinating bits of information. Edward’s passion for the subject matter is obvious, as is his intimate knowledge of fragrance.
Thus, one can learn about the love affair between Félicie Wanpouille and Ernest Daltroff, which resulted in the most fruitful of collaborations, as Wanpouille designed bottles and selected advertising. “ ‘My seed-sower,’ he would call her, recognising that her talents had become indispensable” (52). Nuit de Noël was inspired by her love for the Christmas Eve, while Bellodgia was a memory of a trip to Bellagio on the shores of Lake Como. “When Daltroff discovered a very pungent and spicy carnation in the famous gardens of the Villa Serbelloni, it was Félicie who suggested that they name the perfume after the town” (52).
Or why Edmond Roudnitska’s Diorissimo survived the test of time, while many soliflores have not. “Diorissimo’s orchestration is very, very complex. People can detect many facets, because it’s an orchestration around a very easy, understandable lily of the valley accord, with accents of jasmine, boronia and other notes which make it very sophisticated. That is the genius of Roudnitska” (113).
Or what makes Angel interesting. “…the overdose of patchouli…it gives it a character both feminine and masculine. If Yves and Olivier [Yves de Chiris and Olivier Cresp, the noses behind Angel] had played with soft oriental notes, Angel would have been just another oriental. But when you contrast the strength of the patchouli with all the gourmand notes and add a light, airy feel to the top notes, it becomes something rather unique” (283).
American Feminine Fragrances is scheduled to be the next in the series. Edwards, Michael. Perfume Legends: French Feminine Fragrances. Crescent House Pub, 1999. ISBN: 0646277944