When I learned via the publisher Wiley-vch about a new book on fragrance science authored by the prominent chemists Günther Ohloff, Wilhelm Pickenhagen and Philip Kraft, I immediately placed a pre-order. Ohloff’s articles have been my favorite perfume geek reading since I first started Bois de Jasmin and I already knew of Philip Kraft’s work through his revealing Perfumer & Flavorist article on Chanel No 5, so I impatiently anticipated my book to arrive. For the past couple of weeks, I have been spending my free moments with Scent and Chemistry: The Molecular World of Odors, learning about aroma-materials and their role in some of the most renowned fragrances on the market.
Before I go further into my review, I have to warn that this book is aimed at chemists, perfumers and fragrance lovers with a strong taste for technical details. Well, the title gives it away, doesn’t it? Imagine a carefully researched and documented academic work in a chemistry journal, and you have a good idea of what to expect from Scent and Chemistry. If you like pouring over the molecular structure of odorants, learning what kinds of ionones are used in Dior Poison and just how much linalyl acetate is contained in bitter orange oil, this book is for you. So please take it either as a warning or encouragement, depending on your interests!
Those who love chemistry, however, will find Scent and Chemistry to be a fascinating glimpse into the world of fragrance science. The book is based on the award winning work by Günther Ohloff, Riechstoffe und Geruchssinn. Die molekulare Welt der Düfte (Scent and Fragrances: The Fascination of Odors and Their Chemical Perspectives). One of the most renowned fragrance chemists, Ohloff (1924-2005) worked for Schimmel & Co, Dragoco and Firmenich, where he researched and perfected the synthesis of aroma-materials and odorants. His original work was not a big tome, but it contained so much information that it quickly established itself as a standard fragrance chemistry book.
Scent and Chemistry is driven by the same curiosity and painstaking attention to detail that characterized Ohloff’s original publication. It revises and extends the material, backing it up with over 400 perfumery examples. The eight chapters cover topics like the history of chemical discoveries, structure-odor relationships, natural raw materials and some of the most widely used synthetics. Additional information is provided to illustrate some of the most notable perfumery trends such as the use of sweet notes in mainstream perfumery and dark incense effects in niche. Every chapter is backed up by a bibliography containing hundreds of useful references. To me, this alone is worth the $78.99 price tag—yes, academic books are expensive!
I enjoy the range of examples used in Scent and Chemistry, where next to the bestsellers like Burberry Brit and Lancôme Trésor, one finds niche offerings like Comme des Garçons Incense Jaisalmer and Annick Goutal Ce Soir ou Jamais—the latter established a record by using 0.45% of rose redolent beta damascone. It is also interesting to learn about the chemical synthesis of odorants, which reveals why some man-made materials are as expensive as the naturals. All in all, it is a densely packed 418 pages, and it makes for a great reference volume. As such, it definitely has its own audience, but I hope that the authors might also consider writing more of a layman’s book about raw materials. Given their unique perspective and a wealth of knowledge, it would be a great addition to a perfumery bookshelf.
NB: Corrigenda is available via Scent and Chemistry Facebook page.
Scent and Chemistry: The Molecular World of Odors by Günther Ohloff, Wilhelm Pickenhagen, Philip Kraft, 2011. ISBN-10: 3-906390-66-7; ISBN-13: 978-3-906390-66-6
Available from Amazon.com.