Perfume Legends : French Feminine Fragrances by Michael Edwards


“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

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  • Marcello: Thanks for your wonderful review, Victoria! Michael Edwards’ books have always been the beanchmark for other perfume writers. Perfume Legends must be the most comprehensive book in its category, but I don’t own it yet. The thing that keeps holding me back is the price: 130$ is a lot of money for a book. The cheapest second hand I found was 87$ – my new Caron book was half that price. I bought his Fragrance Adviser in 1999 (blind purchase) and I was hugely dissappointed. Perfume Legends sounds much, much better from your description, so I’ll reconsider. Thanks again! October 27, 2005 at 5:50am Reply

  • Marcello: oops… make that “benchmark” October 27, 2005 at 5:55am Reply

  • Håkan Nellmar: *Ponders Serge Lutens Exclusive or Perfume book? Perfume book or Serge Lutens exclusive?*

    Thank you for mentiopning this book again. I’ve always wanted it. Hopefully one day… October 27, 2005 at 7:46am Reply

  • julien: Thank you!
    I hope it will be available in french too.


    Kisses dear.
    J. October 27, 2005 at 8:10am Reply

  • Marcello: Julien: the French version is entitled “Parfums de Légende”. It was translated by Guy Robert October 27, 2005 at 8:56am Reply

  • Robin: This is undoubtedly the most useful perfume book in my collection, I refer to it frequently. October 27, 2005 at 9:02am Reply

  • Campaspe: I am going to put this on my Amazon wishlist. Hope springs eternal, yes? October 27, 2005 at 9:10am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Marcello, thank you! It is truly an amazing book. If you buy one perfume book blindly, Perfume Legends is it. I have Fabulous Fragrances of the World 2005, but the two cannot even be compared. It is expensive, but as I understand the publishing is his own endeavour. In my opinion, it is worth even its full price. October 27, 2005 at 10:49am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Håkan, I would buy the book! 🙂 You will derive so much out of it, especially if you are interested in perfume history, evolution of ideas, explanation of the creation process. This is my best purchase of the past few years, no doubt about it. October 27, 2005 at 10:51am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: J, Marcello already provided a link below. I hope that you can find it easily and take a look at it. October 27, 2005 at 10:52am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Oh, I did not realize that Guy Robert translated it. How interesting! October 27, 2005 at 10:55am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: R, I cannot agree more. It is a fascinating book! October 27, 2005 at 10:56am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: F, you never know. 🙂 It would make a terrific present for you. I would suggest that you canvass Ebay for it, but I know how you feel about this idea. October 27, 2005 at 10:57am Reply

  • linda: Thank you for this review! I have been eyeing this book for a while, but the price stopped me. I will try Ebay. I want to so badly! October 27, 2005 at 12:05pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Linda, I saw it on Ebay once for a very good price, but I purchased my copy from a used book seller on amazon (which actually turned out to be brand new!) I hope that you can find a good deal on it. October 27, 2005 at 12:23pm Reply

  • mreenymo: I may have to treat myself to this book, as I love reading about all aspects of perfume, especially what makes a particular a classic, as opposed to just another fragrance.

    Thank you for writing about this, darling V!

    Love you! October 27, 2005 at 12:36pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: R, thank you! It is a fascinating book, and it is definitely a must for anyone who loves fragrance. I cannot think of a more comprehensive anthology on the subject. Plus, it is also really well-written. October 27, 2005 at 12:42pm Reply

  • kaie: Great review!

    Marcello, thank you for mentioning the French edition.

    Have a nice evening! October 27, 2005 at 2:42pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Kaie, it is my pleasure! Enjoy the book. October 27, 2005 at 3:06pm Reply

  • julien: Oh thank you Marcello!
    That’s very kind of you 🙂 October 28, 2005 at 4:36pm Reply

  • M-J.P: Bravo Marcello vous m’avez esbaudie! Votre site est une pépinière pour ceux qui sont passionés par le parfum . J’espère que vous comprenez le français August 17, 2006 at 11:37am Reply

  • M-J.P: Bravo Marcello vous m’avez esbaudie! Votre site est une pépinière pour ceux qui sont passionés par le parfum . J’espère que vous comprenez le français August 17, 2006 at 11:38am Reply

  • M-J.P: Bravo Marcello vous m’avez esbaudie! Votre site est une pépinière pour ceux qui sont passionés par le parfum . J’espère que vous comprenez le français August 17, 2006 at 11:38am Reply

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