Cult Perfumes by Tessa Williams : Perfume Book Review

Cult Perfumes: The World’s Most Exclusive Perfumeries is a new book devoted to small, artisanal perfumeries, or for the lack of a better term, niche. It includes interviews with the perfumers and creators, perfume descriptions and the history of various lines. The author Tessa Williams includes 25 different brands, from Amouage to Serge Lutens. There are even mentions of small lines like Byredo, Tauer Perfumes, and Nasomatto. It also contains a handy glossary of fragrance terms and a list of perfume museums around the world. Did you know that Japan has three such establishments?


There are plenty of photos, and at 192 pages Cult Perfumes is a cross between a coffee table book (albeit, in a small format) and a reference set. The book isn’t overly technical, and as such, it would be best for someone fairly new to perfume or curious to learn more about small, lesser known brands. Advanced perfume lovers might find the information too light.

My main qualm with Cult Perfumes is the lack of proper identification of the perfumers. For instance, ‘perfumer’ is often conflated with the creative director, which can be confusing. For instance, Williams calls Serge Lutens the creator of Shiseido Féminité du Bois. The perfume was authored by Christopher Sheldrake and Pierre Bourdon under the creative direction of Lutens, but neither Sheldrake nor Bourdon are mentioned in the Féminité du Bois discussion. Or in the chapter on Ormonde Jayne, Linda Pilkington is introduced as the perfumer behind the entire Ormonde Jayne line, while Geza Schoen, who in fact created them (and this is no secret), is surprisingly omitted. For a book aiming to be a guide to niche, where perfumers are usually given the spotlight, it’s an oversight.

Since the book was originally published in the UK, there is a strong emphasis on British perfume houses. This angle is interesting, because the emergence of new British perfume brands and the revival of classical houses like Grossmith and Atkinson has been a notable recent phenomenon. Although the fragrance market is still dominated by French and American brands, the British perfume scene has a new energy and vibrancy which is reflected in Cult Perfumes. At the same time, I hope that future editions will feature a wide range of brands, since 25 is just the tip of the niche iceberg.

Cult Perfumes is now available at, $31.95

Sample copy provided by Merrell Publishing



  • theperfumeddandy: Dear Victoria
    Thank you for this balanced and informative review… on balance, not one for me I think, but I’m sure it will have its readers.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy April 30, 2013 at 7:35am Reply

    • Victoria: Anyone reading perfume blogs on regular basis is probably not the right candidate for this book, but for an intro that’s not too technically heavy, it works well. April 30, 2013 at 9:10am Reply

      • Di: But then who is the right candidate. The average shopper who picks up a perfume at a Department store for Mother;s day probably has no clue that there are “cult” perfumes, would not be interested in buying a book about them, and probably would, if offered the choice, prefer to buy something Mum would recognize. (Gee, Mom, I could have gotten you that Channell No. 5, you always sniff when we walk through Macy’s but instead I got you this stuff made from a guy in Brooklyn whose motto is “I Hate Perfume” because cultists admire him?*)

        By the way, given that Serge Lutens is a brand of the largest cosemtic company in the world, and is carried by most “Prestige” department stores, is it really a “cult line?” To me that is a little like saying “Breaking Dawn” is a cult movie.

        *CB I Hate Pefumes, a fine cult brand from a Brooklyn based company.

        Only someone interested in perfume would be interested in “cult” perfumes; the I undoubtedly would be informed by a book on craft beers in the United States since I know nothing about the topic. On the other hand, I know nothing about the topic because I am reall April 30, 2013 at 4:21pm Reply

        • Victoria: I don’t know if I find it to be the case. These cult brands aren’t necessarily trying to reach the perfumista crowd, since that’s a tiny group anyway. The consumers who drive the sales for these so-called “cult” lines are the people who are interested in something different, but they aren’t the hardcore perfume lovers. The average niche consumer is someone who interested in smelling good, but also in having a perfume that’s slightly (or a lot) off the beaten path. And that’s exactly the kind of reader who would enjoy this book.

          But on the other hand, the book would benefit from delving deeper into the subject and from covering more brands. April 30, 2013 at 4:46pm Reply

          • annemariec: I think that’s a good characterisation of the niche customer. A while back when I was exploring the Le Labo line I wondered who the brand was aimed at. From reading reviews and comments it seemed that most perfume enthusiasts are not impressed by the ‘made to order’ and personalised labels stuff, and certainly not the city exclusives. So the customer Le Labo is after has to be someone with plenty of money, who is style conscious and looking for something ‘different’, especially as gifts, but who is not necessarily well-informed about perfume. They probably buy high-end brands in other consumables as well, whereas I notice that many perfume enthusiasts are forced to be discerning because they are not necessarily flush with cash, and they reserve what they do have just for perfume. April 30, 2013 at 9:37pm Reply

            • Lindaloo: Annemarie, I think your analysis is spot on. Locally, I notice many niche lines are carried in independent fashion boutiques and make-up boutiques — a certain clientele who like to choose from among a curated collection. April 30, 2013 at 10:34pm Reply

            • Victoria: You’ve put it really well. Trying to attract this kind of consumer is the reason why many brands aimed to be niche price themselves at a luxury level (there are other reasons for high prices, of course, but it’s one of them). May 1, 2013 at 8:06am Reply

              • Di: All true characterization of the “niche” or cult customer, but once again, I ask, if the book is not aimed at the cult perfumer customer, who would be interested enough in this topic to buy the book.

                It is possible that the book serves a different purpose, many if not all of the brands listed may be sponsoring the book. (I once received a copy of a similar book with a purchase of a niche perfume), who can then refer back to the book both as a sign of legitimacy and to eductate potential customers and retailers. May 2, 2013 at 10:49am Reply

                • Victoria: Di, sorry if I wasn’t clear in my response, but yes, the book is aimed at the typical “cult” perfume customer (who doesn’t happen to be a perfumista reading blogs on regular basis and collecting perfumes for the pleasure of it). May 2, 2013 at 11:24am Reply

  • Liz: Thank you for reviewing this book. I don’t know much about British niche perfume houses, so I’m curious. April 30, 2013 at 8:31am Reply

    • Victoria: There are some brands mentioned there that I didn’t know much about, like Krigler or Angela Flanders. April 30, 2013 at 9:11am Reply

  • Martha: Thanks for the review. This book will be fun to read, but I am disappointed to discover it is not completely accurate. Maybe somebody else, who is more thorough, will write a better book about niche perfumes (hint, hint). April 30, 2013 at 9:03am Reply

    • Victoria: Admittedly, the question of authorship in perfumery is very complicated, but the information that Sheldrake and Bourdon created Feminite du Bois is publicly available.

      I would love for Sanchez and Turin to write another book! April 30, 2013 at 9:20am Reply

      • Martha: Well, I might like to read something else by Sanchez & Turin, but I was really thinking of you. Not to be pushy and presumptuous;) April 30, 2013 at 4:47pm Reply

        • AndreaR: I agree with Martha 🙂 April 30, 2013 at 10:23pm Reply

          • Lindaloo: Thirding this! April 30, 2013 at 10:34pm Reply

            • Cornelia Blimber: I am no.4 May 1, 2013 at 7:25am Reply

              • Victoria: 🙂 Thank you for your encouragement! May 1, 2013 at 7:55am Reply

  • Morris: What do you think of Nasomatto? April 30, 2013 at 10:16am Reply

    • Victoria: Do mean a particular fragrance or a line overall? I liked Nuda so far. April 30, 2013 at 12:55pm Reply

  • Barbara: I gave Perfume Guide to a couple of friends and they loved it, because it is very funny. April 30, 2013 at 10:50am Reply

    • Victoria: Perfumes The A–Z Guide is fantastic, and in my opinion, it’s a must-have for any perfume lover. As I mentioned to Martha, I wish they would write another book. April 30, 2013 at 12:56pm Reply

  • Barbara: Is there any other good perfume book for beginners? What do you all think? April 30, 2013 at 10:51am Reply

    • Victoria: I liked Mandy Aftel’s Essence and Alchemy, Michael Edwards’s Perfume Legends, Cathy Newman’s Perfume: The Art and Science of Scent. Those are good options for everyone, beginner or not.

      Alyssa Harad’s Coming to My Senses and Denyse Beaulieu’s The Perfume Lover are the personal perfume journeys, very interesting.

      There is also a small book in Le Snob series (they have them on various topics), and it features perfume reviews. I haven’t read it, but it was written by blogger Persolaise and the reviews are good. April 30, 2013 at 1:00pm Reply

  • Maren: Thank you for this review. I saw it at the book store the other day but it was shrink wrapped and couldn’t take a look. I was actually there ordering a copy of Perfumes a-z guide, such a entertaining but educated read!. So I’m glad to know this new one is going to be a pass for me, though I might ask my library to order it! April 30, 2013 at 9:36pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’m glad it was helpful! I really dislike when bookstores shrink wrap their books and you can’t even peak inside. And they often do it for some of their most expensive volumes. 🙂 May 1, 2013 at 7:41am Reply

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