Books on Perfume and Perfumers: From 18th century to Present

Kramskoybooksgother

As the evenings are getting colder, the prospect of staying in becomes much more attractive, especially when one can look forward to curling up under a blanket with a great book and a steaming cup of tea. For someone who is interested in the inner workings of perfumery and the creative process behind fragrances, books written either about perfumers or by perfumers themselves provide an extraordinary glimpse into the complex world of scent. The latter are rare, because as master perfumer Guy Robert explains, “Real perfumers create perfumes. They have neither the time, nor the inclination nor the desire to tell all.” Thankfully, there are some notable exceptions. The selection of four books below is based on several criteria: first, they are books I personally love; second, while being accessible to a beginner, they offer a wealth information for an advanced fragrance lover; third, they are written by experts whose enthusiasm and passion for scent are almost palpable, which lends a special appeal to the finished work …

Les_sens_du_parfum

Les Sens du Parfum by Guy Robert (only in French). Osman Eyrolles Multimédia (Nov 9 2000). ISBN: 2-7464-0187-8.  Available from Amazon.

I have been interested in Guy Robert’s fragrances ever since I discovered Madame Rochas and Hermès Calèche. His ability to create harmonious arrangements possessing luxurious heft as well as soft radiance is fascinating. Among rare books written by the perfumers, Les Sens du Parfum by Guy Robert stands out for its direct and accessible style. While writings by Edmond Roudnitska are a must read primarily for those who are seriously interested in fragrance, there is nothing to prevent a beginner from appreciating the work by Robert. Certainly, a fragrance connoisseur will learn a fair bit as well. Robert relies on personal experience and fascinating anecdotes to lead the reader into the world of perfumery. Unfortunately, the book is available only in French; however, one can only hope that this might be rectified in the future.

Perfume_legends_2

Perfume Legends: French Feminine Fragrances by Michael Edwards. Crescent House Pub (June 1999). ISBN: 0-646-277794-4. Available from Amazon or directly from Crescent House Publishing.

Perfume Legends is another book that is unique in terms of its focus on perfume creators. Its detailed explorations of legendary French fragrances complete with fascinating stories about the perfumers, designers and creators take one to another world. Reading the chapter on Coty L’Origan, I can almost smell the orange blossom and iris laced blend that inspired the entire family of floral oriental fragrances. Flipping to the chapter on Caron Nuit de Noël, I feel as if the tumultuous personalities of Ernest Daltroff and Félicie Wanpouille come to life. It is a blend of artistic inspirations and personal journeys that makes the book special, allowing one to behold a rich history behind each famous creation. Michael Edwards is an author and fragrance expert who is particularly famous for his fragrance classification system that has been the primary tool for analyzing and grouping fragrances for the industry. Perfume Legends should not be confused with the retail oriented Fragrances of the World guides, which contain updated lists of fragrances classified by families. Please see a longer review.

A_scented_palace

A Scented Palace: The Secret History of Marie Antoinette’s Perfumer by Elisabeth de Feydeau. I. B. Tauris; 1 edition (June 22, 2006). ISBN: 1845111893. Available from Amazon.

Sofia Coppola’s film is placing the French queen Marie Antoinette in the lime light this fall, and A Scented Palace by the historian Elizabeth de Feydeau reveals another aspect of the queen’s personality—her love for perfume and her relationship with her perfumer. De Feydeau draws upon the papers of perfumer Jean-Louis Fargeon to paint the scented world of Marie Antoinette including her beloved Parfum de Trianon, a tuberose rich floral bouquet. Reorchestrated by Francis Kurkdjian and named Sillage de la Reine, the fragrance was made available for sale at Versailles. Given the vivid manner of the narrative, I thoroughly enjoyed following De Feydeau through “the perfumed court” of Louis XV’s reign. The explanations of 18th-century beauty secrets and the conventions of the court are quite fascinating. The passion of the author for the subject is one of the most appealing qualities about the book, and despite the fact that I just finished reading it, I want to start re-reading A Scented Palace again. It is quite clear why this book won the Prix Guerlain in France. De Feydeau is a professor at ISIPCA as well as a cultural consultant to various perfume houses. Most recently, she worked with Parfums d’Empire on Eau de Gloire to recreate the fragrance of Napoléon Bonaparte.

Essence_and_alchemy

Essence and Alchemy: A Natural History of Perfume by Mandy Aftel. Salt Lake City: Gibbs Smith, Publisher (2004). ISBN: 1586857029. Available from Amazon.

The fragrances of the 18th century were natural, as De Feydeau explains in her book. In the 20th century, Mandy Aftel (interview) was among the first to bring the message of natural perfumery to a wider audience. The natural perfumery movement is based on the premise of using only nature derived materials, and her book Essence and Alchemy is a reflection of this philosophy. It is both a practical guide for natural perfumers as well as an exploratory work on the history of alchemy. While the latter runs the risk of being too new age for my tastes, overall, the discussion is clear and interesting, with a rather original angle. For someone who is interested in either natural perfumery or in obtaining an overview of common raw materials and their uses, Essence and Alchemy is a place to start.

Scented Pages and Biblioparfum are the two sources I highly recommend for those interested in exploring more reading on fragrance.

Painting: Ivan Kramskoy. Books Got Her. 1872. Oil on canvas. Ivan Kramskoy Museum of Fine Arts, Voronezh, Russia. From abcgallery.

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20 Comments

  • patchamour: Dear Victoria,

    Thank you for this wonderful bibliography! I look forward to reading these books as soon as work lets up a little. These are books I would not have found by myself, especially “Les Sens.” Thanks, too, for remembering about the kheer. I know you’ve been really busy with moving. (A move always undoes me completely, so I admire how smoothly you’ve handled it.) So not to worry. The recipe will be great whenever it comes.

    Best wishes,
    Patch October 4, 2006 at 9:19am Reply

  • Tania: I absolutely must get that Guy Robert book. October 4, 2006 at 10:29am Reply

  • Madelyn E: Dear Victoria,
    What an inviting and cozy anticipation: a cuppa coffe (or tea) a candle (scented, of course ) and a book on perfume ! I , too share your love of the inner workings of fragrance ,though, am not nearly as prolific as you. Ypur writings are an inspiration. I will look forward to buying one or more of the aforementioned books. Also, where do you have access to vintage scents such as Chanel Ivoire ? Also, can I visit the fragrance foundation , would they have samples of vintage scents ? Today, I am enjoying Bois Des Iles – my all time favorite.
    How is your new place ?
    Best To You !
    Madelyn E October 4, 2006 at 10:57am Reply

  • violetnoir: Thank you, darling. When I read Antonia Fraser’s wonderful biography of MA, “Marie Antoinette, The Journey,” I was completely enthralled, but disappointed that she did not focus on the Queen’s love of fragrance. “The Scented Palace” sounds fascinating and is on my list of must-read books.

    Hugs! October 4, 2006 at 11:45am Reply

  • Marcello: Guy Robert’s book is a great choice if you read French. Like you said, direct and accessible. I find it frustrating that so many perfume books are left untranslated… this one would be a very welcome addition in English.

    I recently placed an order for ‘A Scented Palace’ and ‘Perfume Legends’ (both in French, which was cheaper for me). Guy Robert translated the latter, so I’m very much looking forward to it. October 4, 2006 at 12:04pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Patchamour, I love reading about fragrance, and it is always great to discover a book that makes me want to revisit it again and again. That is how I judged the four books presented here.

    Thank you for understanding–I will try to get the recipe to you soon. October 4, 2006 at 12:41pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Tania, you absolutely must! Try also Amazon Canada. I just noticed that French Amazon is out of stock. October 4, 2006 at 12:41pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Madelyn, thank you. I am glad that my writing serves as an inspiration. It is always a pleasure to share my discoveries. As for vintage, searching, searching and searching. The Fragrance Foundation does not have them, I am afraid. October 4, 2006 at 12:43pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: R, then I am sure that you would enjoy A Scented Palace. It is a very interesting book, especially for someone who is interested in history. October 4, 2006 at 12:44pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Marcello, I agree. Perhaps, the publishers do not think that there is a big enough market in the States?

    I am certain that you will enjoy both books. They are quite well-written, and the original French version of A Scented Palace is better. October 4, 2006 at 12:45pm Reply

  • Robin: Great list, V. Very much looking forward to Scented Palace, which sounds very much worth reading, and will kick myself for the millionth time for never learning French — would love to read the Guy Robert book. October 4, 2006 at 1:21pm Reply

  • Amandampc: I really enjoy “Legends” – I have read bits and parts of it and love the level of detail on the histories of the various fragrances covered. Thanks for the great – as always – recommendations!:) October 4, 2006 at 1:31pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: R, Guy Robert’s is a great book. I am certain that you are going to enjoy A Scented Palace. October 5, 2006 at 11:09am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Amanda, my pleasure! I also love the detailed explorations of the fragrance creation in Legends. It is a mainstay among my favourites. October 5, 2006 at 11:12am Reply

  • cynthia: Thank you for a great recommendation. I finally ordered Perfume Legends based on your review, and now I am kicking myself for waiting this long to read it. Great book. I am now waiting for Scented Palace to arrive. October 5, 2006 at 12:02pm Reply

  • peter: I read Essence and Alchemy and found the first part on alchemy very tiresome. However, once I got to the part on materials and blending, I found the book to be very interesting. October 5, 2006 at 1:03pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Cynthia, I am glad to hear that you are enjoy it. It is hands down my favourite. October 5, 2006 at 11:28pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Peter, I felt the same way. I loved the part on blending. October 5, 2006 at 11:29pm Reply

  • greeneyes: Victoria, thanks for this list! I just received my copy of Essence and Alchemy yesterday. I’ll start it as soon as I finish Emporer of Scent. After that, it’s a toss up between Scented Palace and Perfume Legends! Guess I’ll just have to order both. *Sigh* October 6, 2006 at 12:57pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Greeneyes, I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts. I hope that you will enjoy these books. As for making a decision between Perfume Legends and Scented Palace, it is tough. Check bookfinder.com for good deals. October 11, 2006 at 1:35am Reply

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