Perfumes and Books : a scented story

Are scents really that difficult to translate into words? I don’t think so. We only lack practice. Moreover, if you explore literature and poetry, from Colette to Hafez, from Virginia Woolf to Gustav Flaubert, you can find many examples of writing in which aromas play an essential role. They can help us imagine the development of a plot, the emotions of characters or even the state of the divine.  My latest FT Magazine column Perfumes and Books is about such scented stories.

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“Fragrances are intangible and evanescent – hence the assumption that they are beyond the linguistic capacity of humans. Such difficulties need not be the norm. Open Virgil, Tales of the Arabian Nights, Proust, Zola or Persian poets like Hafez and Nizami, and discover how aromas can be given form and language. Invisible though scents are, they become more powerful when captured in words. To continue, please click here.”

Any other favorite examples of sensory descriptions in poetry or literature?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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161 Comments

  • Scented Salon: Yesterday I was reading an article about Chandler Burr’s fragrant dinners and today your column about scented literature. It brings to mind how all smells are important, not just the pleasant ones. I have heard many trained perfumers emphasize this point. Everyone knows smells evoke memories, but as you described, not all of them are “pretty”smells. The rubber and sweat aroma of gyms transports me to my high school weight room when I was in the best shape of my life. The smell of pine sap raises memories of stacking some plastic washing bins and reaching for some high-hanging amber globules (and consequently falling and having the air knocked out of me for several minutes) when I was four years old.

    As I have told you before, I scent my books as I read them and that scent becomes associated with the story and my impressions of such forever after. I also scent my trips: one perfume is selected per trip so that it would remind me of the good times in the future. Istanbul is Guerlain Idylle while Arkansas is Chanel Sycomore. January 29, 2016 at 9:24am Reply

    • Leslie: I do the same thing. Whenever I visit a new place, I take only one perfume to wear there. Then I smell it and it brings back nice memories. January 29, 2016 at 9:52am Reply

      • Victoria: Nice tip! I’m not always diligent about following this, but when I do, it does create very strong associations. January 29, 2016 at 10:51am Reply

      • Scented Salon: Isn’t it fun? I specifically did not bring one to Paris so I could buy something there and scent the rest of my trip with that. Now, Mon Exclusif always reminds me of Paris. January 29, 2016 at 11:04am Reply

        • Nora Szekely: I also scent some of my books, by using test strips as bookmarks. January 29, 2016 at 11:34am Reply

          • Nora Szekely: What’s your method for books, Scented Salon? January 29, 2016 at 11:35am Reply

            • Scented Salon: I just spray the heck out of them as I flip the pages. January 29, 2016 at 11:36am Reply

          • Kari: Me too! In fact, I just tucked a bunch of Jo Malone test strips into the back of new hardcover books that came secondhand, and were a little musty smelling. January 29, 2016 at 8:30pm Reply

          • girasole: I do this too (usually on accident, by not having a bookmark handy!) but only for newer books – old books have a scent all their own that I don’t like to interfere with. January 31, 2016 at 5:11pm Reply

      • Heidi: I love the idea of coupling a scent with a special place. Soon to be taking a trip to Granville, NY where my Dad was born and raised (aka The Colored Slate Capital of the World)…. the 4th sentimental journey to Granville in about 8 months. This past summer I wore Yves Rocher’s Neroli (a lovely scent) and for my upcoming winter visit it will be Classique EDP by JP Gaultier, or Aromatics Elixir, or Bronze by Ellen Tracy, which I just discovered and love…. haven’t decided yet:) January 29, 2016 at 11:46am Reply

    • Victoria: I agree with you. For one thing, the world is not made up only of “pretty” smells, and our noses are more complicated than we assume, because there are many conventionally unpleasant smells that people like. Even something like jasmine packs a wallop of horse sweat, leather and indole.

      I admit that I like the smell of skunk in small doses. January 29, 2016 at 10:49am Reply

      • Scented Salon: Me too, even larger doses. I especially like skunk, or skank, accompanied by rose. There is hardly any oud perfume I do not like, no matter how synthetic it is. I draw the line, however, at medicinal ouds. But poopy ouds like Dior’s and natural ouds are my faves. January 29, 2016 at 11:07am Reply

        • Ariadne: The smell of skunk means Spring is arriving. ;+) January 29, 2016 at 6:19pm Reply

        • Victoria: For me, the smell of skunk, a little animal, is fine only in nature. The raunchy, animalic notes, but not overly sulphuric ones, are another story. January 30, 2016 at 8:21am Reply

          • NBelle: I happen to love the scent of barns.. Especially horses.

            Horses and rain mix well too, at least PNW rain 🙂 February 1, 2016 at 8:17am Reply

            • Victoria: I do too! I also love the smell of cows–milk, hay, manure. February 1, 2016 at 8:29am Reply

      • silverdust: My teenage daughter likes the smell of gasoline! January 29, 2016 at 4:30pm Reply

        • Scented Salon: For me, the smell of paint and mildew bring back good feelings. January 29, 2016 at 6:54pm Reply

        • Victoria: I also like it in small doses. Somehow it makes me think of city in the summer. January 30, 2016 at 8:56am Reply

      • Kari: I love jasmine – I’m currently wearing Lush’s “Lust” solid perfume – and I kind of feel like the sweaty, animalic scent makes it blend more naturally on my skin in the evening. I am not drawn to choosing jasmine perfume as much when I’m freshly showered, even though I love washing my hair with a jasmine-fragranced shampoo.

        I would not enjoy wearing a perfume with this fragrance, mind, but I’ve always found freshly damp (not moldy/mildewy) concrete to smell good. I don’t understand why. January 29, 2016 at 8:37pm Reply

        • kpaint: I tested this in the store the other day (in spray form) and all I got was the overwhelming aroma of hominy/dried corn. I can’t say I’m eager to try it again ;p January 29, 2016 at 10:56pm Reply

          • Kari: I actually don’t like the liquid very much when I have tested it. It’s a lot sharper and kind of a harsher version of the scent. The solid is nice on me. It has enough staying power to be interesting hours later but the tin makes it easy to touch up, and it kind of warms up on my skin throughout the day so that I smell wafts of jasmine as I move and sweat. January 30, 2016 at 4:35pm Reply

        • Victoria: I also love that smell. There is a hint of it in Alaia’s perfume, and while it doesn’t stand out, it gives a cool feeling to the composition. January 30, 2016 at 9:01am Reply

        • peppermoon: I have the liquid version of Lush Lust, and it’s so intense that I usually just spray a bit on a tissue and blot it on me a bit, otherwise I smell like a jasmine hookah pot. I also like the way it smells better on sweaty, warm or otherwise not freshly showered skin! I usually only wear Lust in the summer. February 4, 2016 at 6:49pm Reply

      • Clair: I also enjoy the odor of skunk (at a distance), the same way I enjoy the smell of horse sweat and manure. But I know it is highly influenced by place and experience. The skunk smell is, for me, reminiscent of Michigan forests, especially Up North, where it is also mixed with sweet grass, ferns, pine needle, and log cabin smells. On the other hand, a skunk was hit by a car right on our street, and it permeated the inside of our house (with the doors closed) like a noxious gas, and you could smell it inside our car for a full day! Have you ever smelled skunk cabbage? It grew wild in the woods where I grew up, and emits a pretty good imitation. January 29, 2016 at 8:49pm Reply

        • Victoria: I haven’t, but you reminded me of wild garlic, which I would encounter on my walks in the woods. If you stepped on it, it released a strong odor. Strong but not unpleasant.

          You’re right, many of these smells are about the context and places. Smelling manure in the open field in the spring is a different experience from say, getting a hit of it in the city when you’re walking past the freshly fertilized flower beds. January 30, 2016 at 9:04am Reply

      • girasole: I just came back from a brief trip to Iceland where I spent some time in a few very active geothermal areas. Some of the steam vents/mud pits give off the most powerful, raw smell of sulphur dioxide. At first, I found it a little off-putting, but by the end of the trip I’d actually come to look for the smell rather than run from it. It’s actually a little unnerving how quickly one becomes accustomed to it (given its potentially harmful properties). I’m not saying I’d want to make a fragrance out of it, but smelling it so intensely (and frequently!) was a good olfactory exercise!

        P.S. Many years ago, I had a lip gloss that I was certain smelled like skunk…and I didn’t entirely hate it, although I did eventually end up ‘retiring’ it. January 31, 2016 at 5:24pm Reply

        • Victoria: My friend came back from Iceland and mentioned the same thing about the smell of sulphur dioxide. She also mentioned how it would become strangely addictive after a while.

          And did you come across an Icelandic specialty of fermented shark, hakarl? It’s supposed to be quite an acquired taste. 🙂 February 1, 2016 at 6:31am Reply

          • girasole: I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought so!

            Unfortunately (or fortunately!), we didn’t encounter any fermented shark on our trip, even though apparently late January is the right time for it. I would have tried it if offered, but I can’t say I’m too terribly disappointed about not having had the chance 😉 February 5, 2016 at 4:09pm Reply

      • Jane: Mmm…. skanky smells, my favourite is the smell of fritillaria bulbs, said to smell like foxes and I always think, also like the beery smell when you walk past an old pub doorway, reminding me of waiting for my grandfather with a bottle of pop and a bag of crisps. February 2, 2016 at 8:08am Reply

        • Victoria: I’m not familiar with those ones, but now I need to find them. 🙂 I want to know what foxes smell like. February 2, 2016 at 12:28pm Reply

    • Christine Kalleeny: I agree with you entirely. An example of this is Serge Lutens’ Tubereuse Criminelle..the opening notes of petrol…I read scathing reviews about those first few minutes of what people describe as a revolting experience…but to me..it is exactly that opening that makes his perfume exquisite and distinctive..in fact, I revel in those opening notes and wish them to linger, thought typically, I don’t like to inhale petrol or gasoline because they make me sick.

      Also Rubj…that animalic, sweaty aspect is precisely what i find appealing… January 29, 2016 at 11:01am Reply

      • Bela: I was about to write the same thing before seeing your comments. I used Tubéreuse Criminelle for several years. Like you, I would like the top notes would last longer. January 29, 2016 at 6:30pm Reply

      • Clair: I can understand the petrol. I often get a whiff of petrol or gasoline when I first spray on Cuir de Russie. When I first experienced it I wasn’t sure I liked it, but it grew on me. I am sickened by close exposure to most volatile solvents, but gasoline, especially once it has flashed off, also reminds me of summer. January 29, 2016 at 8:58pm Reply

  • Eric: A great topic! I’m interested to read The Ephemeral History of Perfume. January 29, 2016 at 9:45am Reply

    • Victoria: Do read it! It will make you view English history in a new light. January 29, 2016 at 10:50am Reply

  • Carolyn Middleton: Apologies for being off-topic, Victoria, but wanted to let you know that after a gentle reminder, I finally heard back from PdN re Le Temps d’Une Fete – 30mls GBP 32.00, 100mls GBP 92.00 – plus postage; thank you again for letting me know it was still available, the website doesn’t say so! January 29, 2016 at 10:01am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much, Carolyn! I’m glad that they responded, and it does seem like an affordable special request option. January 29, 2016 at 10:52am Reply

  • Gabrielle Langley: Wonderful post, Victoria! Thank you!
    As a poet, I often “perfume” my poems. Even one line invoking a scent will do the trick. Scent seems to draw the reader into the poem like nothing else, perhaps because our sense of smell is, neurologically, so deeply linked with memory and emotion.
    Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, is masterful in his use of scent in poetry. (“Cien Sonetos de Amor” as well as his “Odes” are redolent as examples). January 29, 2016 at 10:03am Reply

    • limegreen: So lovely that you work with imagery on so many levels, Gabrielle!
      A friend of a friend teaches creative writing, especially poetry, and wanted advice about perfumes when he heard from my friend that I was into this strange hobby of perfumes (no comment!). He wants to use perfumes (that evoke “nature”) for teaching. January 29, 2016 at 10:40am Reply

      • Victoria: What perfumes did you recommend to him? I like the idea! January 29, 2016 at 10:55am Reply

        • limegreen: Ha! Well, purely for description sake, I recommended Richard Luscher Britos for the “terroir-based” fragrances intended to evoke different landscapes. I have no idea how they smell but have enjoyed READING the descriptions, and of course love the inspiration and ideology behind the fragrances. The other was Demeter!
          I gathered that the poetry professor was not interested in the SMELL per se as much as the sensory description in language, and language in sensory perception, so I didn’t worry about whether he would have skin chemistry with the fragrances. 🙂
          I was forewarned anyway, because when my friend was visiting (from out of town), he became interested in my odd hobby, and clearly had a very specific idea of what he wanted something to smell like. Everything that I thought told a good “story” (En Passant — lilac fields next to a bakery making baguettes; my mother’s flour-caked hands and flour in the kitchen in Bois Farine, the Southern Californian desert air in L’air du Desert Marocain, etc.), he would like the story/scent memory but he complained that everything smelled like “perfume” or “flowers”! The one that hit the spot for him, for the exact smells he wanted, was Demeter Wet Garden! (I use it as a room spray.) So he wanted to tell the poet about Demeter but forgot the brand name and asked me for it.

          It’s funny to be reminded that others in the non-perfume “civilian” community don’t want fragrances to wear, that in the case of my friend, he wanted a replica of a scent memory. January 29, 2016 at 11:27am Reply

          • Victoria: I suppose there are so many reasons to wear a perfume, and your story is a reminder of that. Some people want a bottled memory, some want something that smells nice, some want to explore art, science, the world through another dimension. The beauty of this pursuit is that it can accommodate it all. January 30, 2016 at 8:24am Reply

      • Therése: I once used perfume (4711) in a haiku workshop I taught. It worked really well, the participants thought it was very amusing. February 1, 2016 at 7:20am Reply

    • Victoria: Do you weave in scent references or just keep them in mind as you write?

      I really need to read more of Neruda’s poetry. If anyone has a good translation to recommend, I’d love to hear. January 29, 2016 at 10:54am Reply

      • Christine Kalleeny: Victoria,

        Neruda is a must..his love poems are…melancholy and at the same time, delicious. He makes love so tangible you can bite into it with your teeth.

        Do you write poetry Victoria, by any chance? Your article was beautifully written…so much so that it made me miss writing poems. January 29, 2016 at 10:56am Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you very much, Christine! Sometimes one needs a break from writing, but then it’s always even more rewarding to return to it.

          I used to write poetry, but it’s been years since I’ve written any. January 29, 2016 at 11:08am Reply

    • Christine Kalleeny: Gabrielle, I love Pablo Neruda, and Rilke. I too write poetry, and scent has always illuminated my experience of writing, if not inspired it. Of late, I’ve been dedicating my free time to discovering new olfactory adventures, though this morning I was thinking to myself…what happened to my writing?! Do you write regularly? What keeps you inspired to write? January 29, 2016 at 10:54am Reply

      • Clair: Rilke! So beautiful. I am trying to learn German, so maybe I will someday read them in their original language. A good motivation! January 29, 2016 at 9:03pm Reply

        • Victoria: I discovered recently that even with limited language skills opening up a book you always wanted to read in the original can be inspiring. You may not follow the text or understand everything, but catching a few words here or there is another to motive you even more. Or sometimes I copy some of my favorite poems in my workbook–a reminder that someday I will be able to read them with ease. January 30, 2016 at 9:07am Reply

          • Notturno7: Beautifully said, Victoria! Thanks for encouraging note, yes even with limited knowledge we can read in original language. We just decided to read Proust the 1.volume of ‘In Search of Lost Time’ in my book club this weekend and this though appeared to me to get it in French too, to improve my language skills and see how beautiful it must be in original. Thank you for Ostara review!! My Ostara bottle arrived on Friday and me and my mom are loving it. I saw a friend today who demanded to know what I was wearing today and I offered to make her a sample from my bottle. It’s my new favorite scent now, but it feels so light I end spraying like 4-5 times and put more during the day. I remembered how you said your mom would put fragrance in two stages and it made a difference. I’m loving this blog!! February 1, 2016 at 4:15am Reply

            • Victoria: I’m very glad that you liked it! Yes, it makes a difference when you apply on skin and then later on your clothes. Of course, it’s easy to overapply with this method, but for light perfumes, it’s ideal.

              It’s great idea to read In Search of Lost Time both in English and in French. At the very least, you’ll get more exposure to language. February 1, 2016 at 6:28am Reply

        • Jackie: I teach university English, and i always have my first-years write a descriptive essay in which they must invoke all the senses, including smell (interestingly, this seems to embarrass them a little; it’s as if smells are too personal or intimate). These are always the best essays to read! One student last year produced 1,200 words on his first kiss with his girlfriend; smells included the night air, the girlfriend’s hair, her skin, her lip gloss, and her breath. He also managed taste, touch, and sound beautifully. Barely a word of the visual, and it was incredibly evocative. 🙂

          Wonderful article, Victoria! January 31, 2016 at 12:36am Reply

    • Nora Szekely: I came across Neruda’s poetry after seeing the film The Postman. I should be rereading his works. January 29, 2016 at 11:09am Reply

      • bregje: Such a beautiful movie! (metaphore 😉 ) January 30, 2016 at 7:20pm Reply

    • Notturno7: Gabrielle, talking about scents inspiring artists, Spanish actress Penelope Cruz said she chooses a scent for each role that she is preparing for, it supposedly helps her get into that character role. I love that. February 1, 2016 at 3:54am Reply

    • Karen (A): Gabrielle – wanted to say how much I’ve enjoyed reading your poems on your web site. Very beautiful! Poetry has made a reappearance in my life, and each day I receive a Poem of the Day from The Poetry Foundation – a fun way to read a variety of poets. February 1, 2016 at 5:53am Reply

  • limegreen: What a beautiful article, Victoria, on a subject that’s so near and dear to my heart.
    I can’t imagine what poetry would be without sensory descriptions.
    I would wonder how we might describe heartbreak without salty tears and bitter bile.
    Every time I read BdJ and the comments, there is always a reminder that scent memory drives us, almost to an obsessive nth degree, but oh, well! January 29, 2016 at 10:46am Reply

    • Christine Kalleeny: You sound like a poet yourself… January 29, 2016 at 11:02am Reply

      • limegreen: Nah, just love language. 🙂 January 29, 2016 at 11:34pm Reply

    • Victoria: True. Sometimes people wonder why someone who has worn a fragrance for years is so upset by its reformulation. After all, it seems so trivial. On the one hand, yes, it is. But on another, these changes mean that you lose something of your memories, of associations with scents. It’s special to be able to open a bottle of perfume and be transported to another place, another time. January 29, 2016 at 11:04am Reply

      • limegreen: How beautifully expressed!
        Thank you for a thought provoking subject, Victoria — I am enjoying everyone’s comments. January 29, 2016 at 11:34am Reply

        • Victoria: Me too! Such a fun thread. January 30, 2016 at 8:24am Reply

      • Clair: So true. I felt like I lost my grandmother with the reformulation of Caron’s Bellodgia, and she didn’t even wear it! It simply conjured her the first time I smelled it, making it at once familiar and mysterious. This was most likely one of the reasons I was initially drawn to it.

        But also, it is curious that people regard a deep interest in scent and fragrance as frivolous, or trivialize it. I have to remind myself that they are simply not connected to certain perceptions and sensitivities. I have experienced similar lack of comprehension regarding many artistic pursuits, but the artists, perfumers, designers, etc, would all be dearly missed without their enormous contributions. January 29, 2016 at 9:17pm Reply

        • Victoria: If one has never experienced how powerful sensory stimuli can be, it’s hard to imagine it, and people assume that perfume, as a beauty product, is in the same category as nail polish. Then there are always those who like to excoriate women for wanting to take care of their appearance, for spending money on themselves, etc. Of course, the perfume industry doesn’t help the perception of its products as being trivial and frivolous. The way perfume is marketed and presented is disconnected from culture, art and even fashion. It’s presented as mostly about sex and in the most banal and vapid terms possible. January 30, 2016 at 9:15am Reply

          • Jackie: Shout it out, Victoria!! The ad agencies need to hear! You’ve expressed exactly my thoughts on most perfume advertising. To reduce it all to sex (in which, moreover, women are usually presented as, ho hum, passive objects) is indeed banal and trivializing as well as insulting. It’s time to move on! They could do better.

            I mostly ignore it, but it is sometimes in your face. The infantilising of female sexuality in recent Chanel Chance in-store advertising is one example.

            :/ Rant over. January 31, 2016 at 12:48am Reply

            • Karen (A): It took a lot for me to purchase Tom Ford’s Fleur de Chine as his ads are sooooo awful. Liked the fragrance enough to buy it despite his ads, but I gave it a lot of thought.

              If only marketing departments would consult with perfume lovers! I wonder what those ads would look like. That’s actually fun to think about – designing an ad for a favorite fragrance. February 1, 2016 at 5:59am Reply

              • Jackie: Oh gosh, Karen, I googled TF Fleur de Chine ads to see what you meant, and feel quite sick. 🙁

                They’re just trying so hard to be “provocative”! What’s with the white woman made to look “Asian”? Geez. The perfume ad industry needs a serious injection of creativity! February 1, 2016 at 1:27pm Reply

                • Karen (A): Yeah, it wasn’t even a specific ad for Fleur de Chine, just his overall ads. Ick! February 1, 2016 at 2:43pm Reply

                  • Jackie: Ick is right! February 1, 2016 at 3:16pm Reply

            • Victoria: And some of them are just so badly done! But the worst part is that to do these ads, the brands spend money they would have put towards the juice. The TV ads are especially costly. February 1, 2016 at 6:38am Reply

              • Jackie: As your review today of Live Irrésistible (not even sure how to say that) attests, for some of these bland, copycat mainstream scents, marketing seems to be the ONLY explanation for their popularity. Such is the power of advertising! February 1, 2016 at 1:14pm Reply

                • Victoria: True. On the other hand, it can’t make people buy them the second time, which is why the turnover is so high. February 1, 2016 at 1:55pm Reply

                  • Jackie: Haha! Yes, I guess the proof is in the pudding! February 1, 2016 at 2:17pm Reply

          • Therése: Too true. February 1, 2016 at 7:24am Reply

          • Clair: So true. This blog proves otherwise. February 1, 2016 at 12:08pm Reply

          • peppermoon: As someone who is also into nail polish, I have to say that it can be art too! I paint tiny paintings on my nails as a form of meditation, and there are many others who have amazingly detailed nail art. Not to mention the indie nail polish companies that are wizards with light and color and texture.

            Basically my point is, almost anything can be elevated to an art form. I’m sure there are plenty of people who would scoff at perfume as art!

            Not mine, but an example –
            http://images.cdn2.beautylish.com/11/09/27/ft_64f234ebde4637171d80f98d2360671a.jpg February 4, 2016 at 7:05pm Reply

            • Victoria: Oh, definitely, you can create artistic objects with any medium, and the science and technique involved in polymers and colors are fascinating. February 5, 2016 at 6:03am Reply

          • Notturno7: You really nailed it, Victoria!! I totally agree ? February 7, 2016 at 5:00am Reply

  • Karen (A): Wonderful article! Thanks to my interest in fragrance, I now notice references to it much more when reading – and love Scented Salon’s idea of placing scented strips in books. January 29, 2016 at 10:55am Reply

    • Victoria: A friend of mine used scents when she studied for her exams. She claimed that it boosted her memory.

      Isn’t it fascinating how one’s perceptions change once you’re more attuned to something. Spend an hour looking at blue things, say, if you had to match samples of fabric, and I guarantee when you step outside, everything blue will jump out at you. With scents, it’s even more powerful and fascinating. January 29, 2016 at 11:06am Reply

      • Karen (A): I’ve read that “Rosemary is for remembrance” comes from it boosting the memory part of your brain. Plus, I believe the scent of basil also helps with memory retention. January 29, 2016 at 11:56am Reply

        • Victoria: I read the same thing about frankincense, and also that it helps to improve concentration. Not sure to what extent it works, but having nice smells around is never a bad idea. January 30, 2016 at 8:29am Reply

      • Jackie: Interesting analogy, Victoria. You’re so right! Once we start focusing on one of the senses, our sensitivity to it becomes heightened (whether it’s colour, sound, texture etc). Since I started the perfume habit a year or so ago, my nose has become much more keen.

        And yes, when we can put those scents into words and read other evocations and articulations of smells, life is greatly enriched! January 31, 2016 at 12:56am Reply

        • Victoria: Our noses definitely become keener once we start using them more. It doesn’t matter what we do–smell perfumes or smell spices or smell anything we come across, but it all helps. Makes the daily experiences more interesting, too. February 1, 2016 at 6:34am Reply

  • Nora Szekely: Hi Victoria and perfume lovers,

    I’d like to add something different to the discussion. At first, I thought that would be the topic 🙂 I like to pair reading at home (alone or out loud to each other with my lover) with scents and would give some examples when I match the scent to what I’m reading.

    1. Vol de nuit by Guerlain
    – Works of Saint-Exupery : it seems trivial perhaps but I enjoy especially Vol de nuit and The little prince paired with the scent dedicated to this author pilot
    – La mare au diable by Gerorge Sand : this simple yet charming tale set in the French countryside compliments the hay scent

    2. Estee Lauder Bronze Goddess :
    – Bonjour tristesse by Francoise Sagan
    This little gem is set at the French Riviera and tells the story of a carefree young girl facing the difficulties of growing up who makes a choice with devastating consequences. The sun lotion scent fits the scenery perfectly.

    3. Zelda by En voyage Perfumes :
    – Tender is the night / The great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    – Save me the waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald
    What can be more evocative of the story of these star-crossed lover writers than the perfume dedicated to Zelda ? The fume’s strong spicy personality remind me of whiskey and cigarette soaked dance clubs from the roaring twenties.

    4. Coco by Chanel :
    Liasons dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos
    1001 nights
    One of my absolute favourite scents, for me Coco is either a dangerous seducer just like Valmont in the famous French novel or Scheherazade herself, keeping us on our toes with her magical storytelling.

    5. Midnight poison elixir by Dior
    – Anna Karenina by Lev Tolstoy
    I admit that I expected this novel to be slower paced but kept me up at night and I read in in a few days. Anna’s complex, alluring personality and her story for me is embodied by this dense, mysterious scent fit to be worn with a ball gown.

    Anything to add ? Do you have such pairings on your mind? January 29, 2016 at 11:06am Reply

    • Scented Salon: Wow, those ideas are awesome. I would love to try some but I don’t have any of those perfumes. I will have to work with the ones I own. January 29, 2016 at 11:11am Reply

      • Nora Szekely: Please share with me your favourite pairings, I’ m curious. January 29, 2016 at 11:38am Reply

        • Scented Salon: I have wanted to try Midnight Poison but it is unavailable. Also wanted to start a perfume club in real life: can you imagine how cool it would be if five people got together to share spritzes of their perfumes with each other? We could potentially sample thousands of perfumes for very little money. January 29, 2016 at 12:36pm Reply

          • Clair: I’ve thought the same thing, and you learn so much more by sharing the experience. I almost brought the sample collection (a modest number acquired over the past few years) on a trip to the beach last summer, since my daughter’s friend is always keen on perfumes and we have fun sharing our experiences, but they laughed at the idea and I realized I would need to find a more appreciative audience…. January 29, 2016 at 9:24pm Reply

            • Notturno7: I can’t believe they laughed at the idea, Clair! How sweet of you. I did the same thing with a friend of mine and brought her 5 bottles to try and keep for a week, and the following week I took those back and gave her another 5. We did this for a month and it was so much fun. She said she’d learned a lot and it gave her appreciation for a good quality scents. Now she started collecting perfumes of her own ? and it’s been fun to talk to her about our new purchases February 3, 2016 at 6:03am Reply

    • Karen (A): What fun! Will think and add some! January 29, 2016 at 11:57am Reply

    • Christine Kalleeny: Very interesting…you really got me thinking about my literary-olffactory associations.
      For myself, the Arabian Nights conjure the plush, sensuous whimsical and enchanting character of Nahema by Guerlain or on the darker side, Portrait of a Lady (depending on the narrative). I teach the Arabian Nights regularly, and I always love to walk into a huge puff of either of those scents before going to class to teach…Of course, nothing better than a well-crafted Arabian rose-saffron-oud perfume to mesmerize the reader as Shahrezade weaves her endless tales…

      For Les Liaisons Dangereuses–another favorite text–I think of Tubereuse Criminelle–innocent, virginal tubereuse mixed with the corrupting, hellish vapors of petrol… January 29, 2016 at 12:35pm Reply

      • Scented Salon: Around me, I hardly ever smell perfumes on people. It is a shame. Since I live in a city where everyone drives their own car, there is no interaction at bus or metro stops nor on trains. At stores, I never smell anything on anyone walking by. I wish I had a professor who wore scent, any scent at all, when teaching beautiful literature. January 29, 2016 at 12:39pm Reply

        • Christine Kalleeny: Sometimes I’m afraid I’m overwhelming my students with perfume…lol January 30, 2016 at 9:34am Reply

          • Jackie: Me too! In fact, just the other day, I was reminded by my department’s office administrator of the university’s policy on fragrance. :/ But I think my student’s like it! I can certainly think of worse odors on a professor!

            I think when people complain about overwhelming scents, it’s those damn dryer sheets. Those things give scent a bad rap! January 31, 2016 at 1:07am Reply

            • Notturno7: Wow Jackie and Christine! I’m a teacher too, self employed and give individual lessons and luckily so far, my students love it. Kids always comment how much they like what I’m wearing and sometimes I let them put little bit of perfumed body cream if the parents are there and they like it too. February 3, 2016 at 6:08am Reply

    • Sandra: This is great!!! January 29, 2016 at 3:28pm Reply

    • Victoria: What great, thoughtful pairings! When I first smelled Malle’s Iris Poudre, I imagined Anna Karenina and specifically the scene when she gets ready for a ball. January 30, 2016 at 8:19am Reply

      • Nora Szekely: I love Iris Poudre. I thought about the moment when Anna meets Vronski and fate sets things to motion. January 30, 2016 at 4:40pm Reply

        • Victoria: Yes, that’s exactly the scene I had in my mind. February 1, 2016 at 6:39am Reply

    • Jackie: Wow, Nora! You’ve just opened up a whole new world! Your pairings are quite magical. January 31, 2016 at 1:09am Reply

  • Kari: Oh, this is such a great topic. I have always been a big reader, and part of the reason I can’t quite get into e-readers is that physical books are such a multisensory pleasure. The crisp feel of paper, a beautiful cover… And often, the actual smell of the pages. There are certain papers that bring a mysterious, spicy scent that whooshes out when I open the cover. (My sister and I are habitual book sniffers.)

    My grandma, a former librarian and voracious reader herself, kept sprigs of dried lavender near her bookshelves. I could swear the scent perfumed the pages. The books I borrowed from her smelled gorgeous. (Those that I inherited after she passed away still do, actually.)

    Going back to the gist of your post, a couple examples that come to mind:

    Julia Child’s My Life In France, where she describes how she fell in love with French food, lavishly painting us a picture of the scents as well as the flavors. Briny mussels, warm and yeasty bread, creamy fresh butter…

    Reading Lolita in Tehran has a great description of carefully and thoughtfully preparing strong, spiced Persian tea in “hourglass shaped” vessels that stuck with me, and always makes me crave spices. January 29, 2016 at 12:25pm Reply

    • Scented Salon: Iranian tea is actually not spicy but I know what you mean about looking at something and picturing a smell. I have been doing that with Guerlain’s Ne M’Oubliez Pas: the plum color is just stunning. I am picturing notes of juicy plums and rose melting into a base of spices and vanilla. In my mind, the smell is beautiful but of course, the real smell might be nothing like what I picture. Often I have been disappointed by a perfume I blind bought solely based on its listed notes. January 29, 2016 at 12:45pm Reply

    • Kari: Oh, interesting! I must be remembering that description wrong, then. January 29, 2016 at 1:04pm Reply

      • Scented Salon: Oh no, you probably remember correctly but the author described it that way. Everyone smells different things, even spice in unspicy black tea. Or maybe she put spice in her tea on purpose! January 29, 2016 at 1:30pm Reply

      • Victoria: I’m sure you remember it correctly. I’ve tasted so many varieties of tea in Iran, especially at people’s homes. One of my favorite was a spicy black tea brewed with cinnamon and a little bit of black lime. Since I was in Iran during the cooler weather, the spicy tea was commonly offered, as it was believed to warm up the body. I might brew a pot right now. January 30, 2016 at 8:35am Reply

    • Kari: Here’s a passage from “My Life in France” that is particularly aromatic, anticipating her first meal in the country while in Rouen (one of the first cities I visited during my family’s trip to France in 2001.)

      “Suddenly the dining room filled with wonderfully intermixing aromas that I sort of recognized but couldn’t name. The first smell was something oniony-“shallots,” Paul identified it, “being sautéed in fresh butter.” (“What’s a shallot?” I asked, sheepishly. “You’ll see,” he said.) Then came a warm and winy fragrance from the kitchen, which was probably a delicious sauce being reduced on the stove. This was followed by a whiff of something astringent: the salad being tossed in a big ceramic bowl with lemon, wine vinegar, olive oil, and a few shakes of salt and pepper.” January 29, 2016 at 8:57pm Reply

      • Clair: Clementine in the Kitchen by Samuel Chamberlain is about an American family in France in the 50’s and how their experience of food was completely transformed by their experience, especially under the tutelage of their cook, Clementine. The food and scent descriptions are marvelous! January 29, 2016 at 9:32pm Reply

        • Victoria: I also loved this book. There is another similar story published in the same series. It’s called “Our Cook Katish,” about a Russian emigre cook to an American family. A charming story and delicious recipes. January 30, 2016 at 9:17am Reply

          • Kari: Adding these both to my to-read list.

            (This is such a well read group! I’ve been shocked at how many books I’ve added to that list just in the couple months since I started reading this blog! I must have added about 35 intriguing finds to that list from the “Books around the World” thread, and scooped up 12 of them from used bookstores via Amazon to keep me busy in the first couple months of the year. Currently I’m in the middle of Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul.) January 30, 2016 at 1:00pm Reply

            • Karen (A): Regarding Pamuk’s Istanbul – I tell people if you are thinking of going there not to read it! He paints such a depressing picture of the city – although it’s noisy, busy and crowded it’s such a vibrant place with this incredible layer upon layer of history. February 1, 2016 at 6:03am Reply

              • Victoria: It’s interesting. I found Istanbul a great read before my visit. His portrayal of the city didn’t strike me as all that depressing, but more than any other book on the city it made me see its complicated history and all the layers (and of course, there is Pamuk’s own personal experiences that color his view, but that’s to be expected). There is definitely a sense of melancholy that you see in the crumbling churches, old palaces, villas along the Bosphorus, and in combination with the energy of the living city, it’s very moving. February 1, 2016 at 6:25am Reply

              • Raquel: Hi, if you don’t mind if there any book you would suggest to read before visiting Istanbul. Thank you. April 24, 2016 at 11:42am Reply

                • Karen A: Hi Raquel, very exciting you are visiting Istanbul! Good question, I’d say there are a couple of things to check out including the magazine Cornucopia, web site http://www.Cornucopia.net – devoted entirely to Turkey and is a very gorgeous magazine with interesting articles. You can buy back issues, but there is also info on their site that gives you some ideas. They do email updates with info on art exhibits and things that aren’t in typical tourist sites.
                  Another web site that is interesting because it has lots of info on different neighborhoods and areas is Istanbul Eats (they do tours which look really interesting and fun).
                  I myself don’t really care for Orhan Pamuk, I know others like him quite a bit, but to me his book Istanbul was quite gloomy and I thought if I’d read that before going I might not go!

                  The cookbook Turquoise has great writing on Turkey and will familiarize you with not just the food, but the country.

                  Although a tourist book, the DK Top 10 for Istanbul is a great little guide, when I used it several years ago all the restaurants recommended were terrific.

                  I’m biased, but highly recommend visiting Suleyman mosque – it’s stunning and recently underwent major renovations. Also, the Rustempasha mosque near the spice bazaar is a hidden little gem, important for its tiles. It’s tricky to find, which is half the fun.

                  The day trip up the Bosphorus on the ferry is a great way to spend a day – you can see different parts of the city, it’s relaxing and very cheap.

                  Depending on your interests, there is something for everyone – modern art, religious sites, architecture, shopping and eating – the food is incredible!

                  Cornucopia is a great resource, if I can think of any books I will post more, these are some of the things that jump to mind. April 25, 2016 at 10:15am Reply

                  • Raquel: Hi Karen!
                    Thank you very much for so much useful information!! Istanbul is on my wish list along with Iran. You’ve been very kind. Cornucopia is a fabulous source of information, I didn’t know about it. Thanks again!!! April 27, 2016 at 9:52am Reply

            • Victoria: The “Books around the World” thread is responsible for the rapid increase of the book pile near my bed. There are many readers in the group, and since we have such an international crowd, one always learns something new, a new author, a new book, a new genre. February 1, 2016 at 6:45am Reply

      • Victoria: Thank you for finding this passage. Ah, I adore Julia. January 30, 2016 at 9:04am Reply

    • Victoria: The lavender scented books sounds like a great perfume idea. Old books do have a wonderful smell, and I also love to open my grandmother’s books just to sniff them. There is something so addictive and beguiling about the smell.

      When I was reading Julia Child’s My Life In France, I would be hungry even before I’d manage to finish a chapter. Then I just had to open “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and try some of her recipes. 🙂 January 30, 2016 at 8:42am Reply

      • Kari: They really do, don’t they? What’s more, though I know this particular grandma wore perfume, I don’t recall what it was. The scent I associate with her is truly the lavender-infused pages of her books, or the slight whiff of vanilla from those that are very old. I have a couple of her books that were printed in the 1920’s/30’s that have that lovely library smell.

        Yes, it’s totally dangerous to read My Life In France on an empty stomach!

        In college when I was studying English Literature, I took a fun elective course where we exclusively read and analyzed food-based literature. It was a summer session course, and the weather was great, so sometimes we would move class outside, grab lunch, and picnic on the lawn as we discussed our reads. (Like Water for Chocolate, Babette’s Feast, and some excerpts by Ruth Reichl were among those that I particularly remember.) January 30, 2016 at 1:12pm Reply

        • Victoria: How I would have loved to have a class like that! In college I remember going through a spell of watching films in which food played a big part, including Like Water for Chocolate and Babette’s Feast. And we even managed to throw dinner parties in our tiny dorm room, where the only electrical implement was a tiny (and very forbidden) hot plate. 🙂

          When I was already at grad school, I loved studying in the stacks of our main library. It was a very old library, and the section on foreign literature featured many old editions. So when you walked into the dark galleries, a wave of the damp vanilla smell, the smell of old books, would wash over you. It always inspired me to study. February 1, 2016 at 6:49am Reply

        • Notturno7: This blog is great!
          I loved Ruth Reichl ‘Garlic and Sapphires’?- a fun read February 7, 2016 at 4:41am Reply

  • Aurora: Thank you especially for your thoughts on La Vagabonde. I read it and loved it a long time ago (can’t revisit unfortunately as all my French books are packed in France). Yes, Colette writes so beautifully about sensory pleasures like you do in your blog in many ways. Perfume in literature is linked to Baudelaire for me: ‘Nous aurons des lits pleins d’odeurs legeres et des divans profonds comme des tombeaux.’

    ‘. January 29, 2016 at 12:28pm Reply

    • Victoria: Baudelaire is a perfumer’s poet.

      La Vagabonde was the first novel by Colette I read, and I remember being amazed by her ability to describe the sensory impressions with such mastery. January 30, 2016 at 8:45am Reply

  • Alicia: Yes, Pablo Neruda was a profoundly sensual poet, particularly in those dedicated to his mistress Matilde, who eventually became his wife. His great literary love was French poetry, which takes me to the scent journeys of Charles Baudelaire through the hair of his mistress Jeanne Duval, which evoqued to him all of Africa and Asia. “La Chevelure” might well be the poetic masterpiece on the evocative power of fragrances. Here is an stanza of this extraordinary poem: Cheveux bleus, pavillon de ténèbres tendues
    Vous me rendez l’azur du ciel immense et rond;
    Sur les bords duvetés de vos mèches tordues
    Je m’enivre ardemment des senteurs confondues
    De l’huile de coco, du musc et du goudron.

    Thank you so much, Victoria, for your article. It enchanted me. January 29, 2016 at 4:39pm Reply

    • Victoria: Mesmerizing! January 30, 2016 at 8:57am Reply

    • Christine Kalleeny: Thank you Alicia for reminding me of how much I love the poetry of Baudelaire and La Chevelure was one of my favorites… January 30, 2016 at 9:38am Reply

      • Alicia: Nothing better than to share beauty. For that I am grateful to you. February 7, 2016 at 5:15am Reply

    • Notturno7: Thank you, Alicia! February 7, 2016 at 4:45am Reply

      • Alicia: I am delighted that it pleases you. As the great poet Keats puts it: “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” February 7, 2016 at 5:18am Reply

        • Notturno7: ? yes! February 8, 2016 at 4:42am Reply

  • Wara: this is off the subject, but thought you would love the article: perfume and food……

    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/28/t-magazine/jean-georges-vongerichten-perfume-chandler-burr-dinner.html January 29, 2016 at 8:16pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Wara. January 30, 2016 at 8:59am Reply

  • Clair: The Ephemeral History of Perfume: Scent and Sense in Early Modern England
    This is going on my list. January 29, 2016 at 9:41pm Reply

    • Victoria: My favorite part was discovering all of the English scent related words, most of which are no longer in use. January 30, 2016 at 9:18am Reply

  • iodine: Beautiful article, V.
    I personally love so much when a writer uses scents, smells and perfumes to give body and soul to prose.. One I discovered recently quite by chance- though he had the Nobel Prize in the sixties, 🙂 not a Mr Nobody!!!- is François Mauriac. In his “Thérèse Dusqueyreux” you can smell the story all through the pages, and you are left with the smell of old, damp houses, pine forests, stale tobacco when you close the book! January 30, 2016 at 5:09am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m adding François Mauriac to my list. All of your book recommendations have ended up as my favorites. 🙂 January 30, 2016 at 9:20am Reply

  • Jessica: So many beautiful examples out there (many of which I could pull from this blog!) – here are two I’m fond of:

    “The flower shop was here and it was my father’s domain, but it was also marvelously other, this place heavy with the drowsy scent of velvet-petaled roses and Provencal freesias in the middle of winter, the damp-earth spring fragrance of just-watered azaleas and cyclamen all mixed up with the headachey smell of bitter chocolate.” Patricia Hempl, The Florist’s Daughter

    “That smell of cold and damp always sends a little shiver down my spine, it’s like turning over a rock to see what’s underneath: Moss and worms and earth.” Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train January 30, 2016 at 7:45am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much for these beautiful examples, Jessica! As I read this sentence, I could smell it all so distinctly–“just-watered azaleas and cyclamen all mixed up with the headachey smell of bitter chocolate.” January 30, 2016 at 9:24am Reply

  • Haefennasiel: An excerpt from “How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife” by Filipino author Manuel E. Arguilla (1911 – 1944)

    “I looked at Maria and she was lovely. She was tall. Beside my brother Leon, she was tall and very still. Then I went out, and in the darkened hall the fragrance of her was like a morning when papayas are in bloom.” February 1, 2016 at 6:03am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you! This is very beautiful. February 1, 2016 at 6:25am Reply

  • NBelle: Jean Rhys’ ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ always made me think of the smells of the protagonist Antoinette’s surroundings. I don’t have a copy currently, but I recall her describing the English rain and mildewed house Antoinette was kept captive in, and the scent of fire burning in the wet. Then it would go describe the lush Caribbean fauna. Great descriptions, but the scents were purely imagined by yours truly! February 1, 2016 at 8:34am Reply

    • Victoria: I need to read it at long last. I have seen the film, but I have never read the novel. February 1, 2016 at 1:41pm Reply

  • Clair: Thank you, Victoria, for all your thoughtful comments and this amazing forum! February 1, 2016 at 11:48am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you and everyone who contributed–and who added more interesting reading to my list! February 1, 2016 at 1:54pm Reply

  • Aisha: I love your article! And I love it when authors try to describe scents. That’s still something I struggle with myself. But, I’m practicing… 🙂 February 2, 2016 at 9:21am Reply

    • Victoria: This is really the case when trying to put a scent into words not only improve your ability to describe it but also to smell it! February 2, 2016 at 12:27pm Reply

  • Cornelia Blimber: Charlotte Brontë, ”Villette”:

    The Parisienne was always in debt; her salary being anticipated, not only in dress, but in perfumes, cosmetics, confectionery, and condiments.
    (p. 145 in The Modern Library)

    What perfumes could that have been, in 1853? February 2, 2016 at 3:19pm Reply

    • Victoria: I love this!

      There were Lubin, Creed, L.T.Piver perfumes. And Guerlain, of course, which was founded in 1828. February 2, 2016 at 4:18pm Reply

      • Cornelia Blimber: Thank you!
        It goes on like this:
        What a cold, callous epicure she was in all things! I see her now. Thin in face and figure, sallow in complexion, regular in features, with perfect teeth, lips like a thread, a large, prominent chin, a well-opened, but frozen eye, of light at once craving and ingrate. She mortally hated work, and loved what she called pleasure, being an insipid, haertless, brainless dissipation of time.

        Charlotte Brontë had no sympathy for this perfumista! February 2, 2016 at 4:29pm Reply

        • Cornelia Blimber: By the way, Villette stands for Brussels in this novel. February 2, 2016 at 4:37pm Reply

          • Victoria: Charlotte spent some time in Brussels, I recall, and was in love with a Belgian professors, with whom she exchanged many letters (he put a limit on how many she could send). I need to read Vilette. February 3, 2016 at 4:23am Reply

            • Cornelia Blimber: Villette tells the story of these loves!
              I am sure you will like this novel. February 3, 2016 at 4:37am Reply

              • Victoria: Thank you. I just found a copy at a used book store.

                I watched a BBC program on Charlotte Bronte a while ago, and I remember being touched by the intensity of her feelings towards this married professor. February 4, 2016 at 5:50am Reply

                • Cornelia Blimber: Great! did you buy the edtion of the modern library? Beautiful lay out, and the typeface is very agreeable reading. February 4, 2016 at 6:11am Reply

                  • Victoria: I ordered it from their online site, so I’m not sure what edition it was. It wasn’t expensive and rated as being in “acceptable” condition. So we will see. February 4, 2016 at 6:58am Reply

        • Victoria: Not flattering at all, and what a brilliant, vivid description. February 3, 2016 at 4:21am Reply

  • Carla: Bravo February 3, 2016 at 9:03pm Reply

  • Nick: ‘There is no reason to believe that it is a lost ability’ — indeed, we simply lack practice in an age that visual presentation dominates. Naturally, we lose touch with the more elusive tactile, aural, gustatory, and of course olfactory sense. We ought to give what we experience daily more thoughts to them. February 5, 2016 at 6:29am Reply

  • Gabriela Batista: “Como agua para chocolate” (Like Water for Chocolate), that is novel written by Laura Esquivel (Mexico) , published in 1989. It is about the life of a woman and the relationship between her affairs, the family and Mexican kitchen recipes. The magical realism is used and it is as if you could smell the cooked recipes!! September 22, 2016 at 5:53am Reply

    • Victoria: I loved the film, and I saw it a few times. One of the best sensory depictions of food and scents. September 22, 2016 at 10:31am Reply

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  • Elisa in Top 10 Summer Picnic Scents: I do love Eau de Reglisse! It’s the only truly summer-appropriate licorice scent I can think of. June 25, 2017 at 6:07pm

  • Elisa in Top 10 Summer Picnic Scents: I absolutely love the smell of grilling peppers too! And roasting green chiles 🙂 June 25, 2017 at 6:05pm

  • kpaint in Top 10 Summer Picnic Scents: Mmm, yes they take on that jammy smell when they’re roasted. I also love the smell of grilling peppers – heavenly. June 25, 2017 at 1:34pm

  • Aurora in Top 10 Summer Picnic Scents: Good idea to have a mood board: picnic is perfect to evoke summer and it’s an enticing list with some choices I’m not familiar with. I will wear a lot… June 25, 2017 at 11:42am

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