About Writing The Perfume Lover by Denyse Beaulieu

Reading The Perfume Lover by Denyse Beaulieu, the author of Grain de Musc, I felt as if I were following her on two big journeys. One was a personal journey into a lifelong fascination with perfume, and another into capturing the memories of a specific experience in perfume form. On the surface, it sounds easy—just tell a talented perfumer your story and let your scented memories unfold. However, I suspected that it may not have been all that straightforward. The language of perfume is subjective and elusive. What seems like a clear idea in your mind can be hard to grasp for other people. The most interesting part of The Perfume Lover is that despite these difficulties Denyse and perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour were able to pull together a beautiful and memorable fragrance. So, I asked Denyse to share with us how her book The Perfume Lover and her perfume Séville à l’aube, which will be launched by L’Artisan Parfumeur in July, came together.

by Denyse Beaulieu

“The pleasurable byproduct of wow.”  That’s how the legendary music critic Greil Marcus defines his writing. And since I started out as a jailbait rock critic during the punk era, whatever Greil Marcus says is all right with me. In fact, “the pleasurable byproduct of wow” strikes me as the best definition for both The Perfume Lover and Séville à l’aube. Bertrand Duchaufour’s wow came when I told him the story that inspired him to compose the fragrance. My wow was not only that he actually wanted to create a perfume based on my story, but that he allowed me to capture his creative process into words.

But as I was chronicling the development of Séville à l’aube, I realized that to speak of the making of a perfume that sprang from such a personal memory – the story of one of the most intensely sensual, magical nights of my life – I also had to explore the making of a perfume lover.

We’d called our perfume-in-progress Duende, after a book I’d given Bertrand, Theory and Play of the Duende by Federico Garcia Lorca. For Lorca, the duende is a form of inspiration: “a mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosopher has explained”. That name wove its spell.  Duende seeped into my life. It whispered to me what it wanted the book to become; forced me to reach into myself, summon my ghosts, weave its progress into the history of perfumery and into my own personal history – the sensual and intellectual hunger that lies at the core of both perfume-making and perfume-loving…

How can you make sense of your life through scent? If a perfume speaks to you deeply enough, that’s what it does, consciously or subconsciously: it reaches into your memories, into everything that lead up to that encounter, that “wow” moment of instant recognition, when you click with a scented aura you didn’t even know existed. Now, imagine how much more intense that experience can be when that perfume literally springs from you. How magical it is to be given access to the secret world of perfume-making…

For months, I was in such awe that the whole thing was happening at all that I just stayed in the sidelines, chronicling and commenting the development. But when Bertrand invited me into the process, asked me to become his creative partner, the stakes got higher. And I had to live up to them.

Bertrand told me I had to know what I wanted. When I realized it was my role to keep the project focused on the story – on that initial wow he’d felt – and finally scrunched up the courage to tell him what I actually wanted, the whole process almost came to a screeching halt… He freaked out because he wasn’t sure he could be true to the story, true to his style, and create a perfume that was both beautiful and original. I freaked out because I thought I’d derailed his creative process. I was afraid he’d give up. After all, I wasn’t his client. He’d undertaken the project of his own free will. He owed me nothing. He could offer any number of other projects to L’Artisan Parfumeur… But somehow, I trusted him even more, precisely because he’d trusted me enough to share his doubts with me. That’s when I knew how much he cared about the perfume. So I told him I trusted him absolutely.

And in the end, everything he wanted put into the fragrance, even the things I’d initially rejected, fell into place.  Séville à l’aube is everything I wanted, and even what I didn’t know I wanted. Isn’t that what we all look for in a perfume? To take us to places we never imagined, yet always knew? The Perfume Lover is only part of the story: my personal history of scent.  The rest – what Séville à l’aube will become, the many lives it can express – will be reinvented by all those it touches.

Image: The Perfume Lover by Nathan Branch, all rights reserved, used with permission.

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9 Comments

  • Eric: I’ve pre-ordered this book on Amazon and hope that delivery from the UK will not take too long. I’ve enjoyed the writing on Denyse’s blog and I look forward to smelling her perfume when it comes out. I would be curious to know which other of Duchafour’s perfumes she enjoys? April 18, 2012 at 10:30am Reply

    • Victoria: Eric, I also look forward to hearing what else Denyse likes out of BD’s perfumes. To your point about shipping from the UK, I order books from Amazon.co.uk often, and I find that the shipping is reasonably fast–5-6 days from the day of actual posting. April 18, 2012 at 12:03pm Reply

    • grain de musc: Eric, good question! The first one to pop up on my radar, before I even knew who Bertrand was, was Avignon… But apart from Séville à l’aube, obviously, the fragrance of his I wear the most is Nuit de Tubéreuse. I’m also very impressed by his new Aedes de Venustas. April 18, 2012 at 12:15pm Reply

      • Eric: Thanks, Denyse! I’m going to try Avignon. I missed this L’Artisan fragrance.
        I was going to order the book when Séville à l’aube came out in the States, but the reviews tempted me to place my order sooner. April 18, 2012 at 1:29pm Reply

        • Victoria: Eric, Avignon is from Comme des Garcons Incense series. It is a dry, austere incense. Beautiful! April 18, 2012 at 1:51pm Reply

  • Jenna: Dear Denyse, I am reading your book right now and I am enjoying it. My London based book club selected it for our reading list. Too bad that the perfume won’t come out sooner. Are you planning to do a book tour in the UK? April 18, 2012 at 1:24pm Reply

    • grain de musc: Dear Jenna, wow, I’m thrilled and flattered! Normally I should be coming to London in late July when the perfume is launched. There should be an event for customers at the L’Artisan Parfumeur Covent Garden boutique. April 18, 2012 at 1:42pm Reply

  • marisol: Denyse, that’s fascinating! Working with such a talented perfumer must have been a great experience, whatever the challenges. I’m going to order a copy of your book. Can’t wait to smell Seville a l’Aube. Wonder if it will remind me of my honeymoon there. April 18, 2012 at 1:48pm Reply

    • grain de musc: Marisol, I was often asken whether Séville à l’aube brought me back to Seville. I can’t really answer: the perfume has become my image of Seville and replaced the old memories. But some people have said it did remind them of Andalusia… What a wonderful place to spend a honeymoon! I hope it does bring back, if not the exact smell of the city, at least some of the beauty you found there. April 18, 2012 at 6:11pm Reply

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