Patricia de Nicolai Book : Perfume, Thoughts, Inspirations

Parfums de Nicolaï is celebrating its 25th anniversary, and to mark the occasion, Patricia de Nicolaï and her husband Jean-Louis Michau, the founders of the perfume house, have published a book about their work. Titled Nicolaï, Parfumeur créateur: un métier d’artiste, this 145 page volume covers the story of the collection and their creators.

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Patricia de Nicolaï is part of the Guerlain family, a granddaughter of Pierre Guerlain, Jacques Guerlain‘s brother. She grew up in the world of perfumery and quickly found her way into the lab. In her book, she describes her childhood, her apprenticeship and her thoughts on creation in general.

Nicolaï covers the mission of the line, the packaging (and even its evolution), the distribution, and the marketing in a greater detail than one might need, but the glimpses into the creative mind of Mme de Nicolaï outweigh all the rest. Her description of natural raw materials made me wish she wrote a book just on this topic. For instance, about Virginia cedar she writes, “with its notes of dry wood, the sawmill, the essential oil of cedar contains a multitude of olfactory facets you perceive in succession, kind of like a flat stone that skips over the surface of water.”

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On jasmine: “one of the raw materials preferred by Grasse perfumers–Jacques Cavallier, Edmond Roudnitska, Jean-Claude Ellena–who, in fact, call it ‘the flower’. I prefer ylang-ylang…”

On vanilla: “vanilla is one of my fetish materials. As Jacques Guerlain said to his grandson Jean-Paul, it gives the perfume an erotic touch” (p.64).

In the series of short interviews, Mme de Nicolaï describes her views of today’s perfumery, and she doesn’t hesitate to speak her mind. For instance,  on the topic of regulations she says, “As it concerns health and ecological risks, it is totally normal for perfumers’ natural and synthetic raw materials to be analyzed and tested prior to their use. But analysis techniques, which are more and more perfected, combined with the increased precautions that are so important to our society, mean that the pressure resulting from these regulations is becoming unsustainable, and is dangerous to the future of perfumery. Thus I am launching an appeal, so that we stay reasonable and also listen to the perfumer who, oddly enough, is never consulted on these matters. Too many decisions are made by people who are not even familiar with the field of perfumery” (p.66).

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There are plenty of photos accompanying the text, including images from Mme de Nicolaï’s family album. This was another aspect of the book I liked. The personal elements and the archival materials make it appealing to both Nicolaï and Guerlain fans. Anyone interested in Guerlain history will particularly enjoy the rare snapshots of the family, its perfumers and its muses.

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With so few perfumers publishing their thoughts on the ever-changing profession and the complexity of creation, this book is a welcome addition to my “Perfumers on Perfume” bookshelf. I only wish it were longer and covered more topics. I’m voting for a sequel.

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Nicolaï, Parfumeur créateur: un métier d’artiste is written in English and French, 145 pages, hardcover, available on the Nicolaï website, 20 Euros.

Review is based on an advanced review copy.

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47 Comments

  • Austenfan: This has my name on it. She is one of my perfume heroines. I love her work, as you know. Thanks for providing the review, Victoria! November 12, 2014 at 7:28am Reply

    • Victoria: I wish it had more on her perfume work and less on the marketing of the line, but since the book was launched for the perfume line anniversary, the marketing angle makes sense. The price is also reasonable for a coffee table book. November 12, 2014 at 11:06am Reply

      • Austenfan: I would agree with you on that, still it is better than nothing. I love the photos, did you notice the wirehaired dachshund in the one with her mother and grandmother? November 12, 2014 at 12:49pm Reply

        • Victoria: I did! It was the reason why I snapped this photo in particular. I was inspired by the dog chat you guys recently had in Patricia’s thread. 🙂 November 12, 2014 at 1:18pm Reply

          • Austenfan: That was a lot of doggy chat! November 12, 2014 at 1:24pm Reply

            • Victoria: It was fun to follow! November 12, 2014 at 3:14pm Reply

          • Austenfan: Oh, and forgot to say: Much appreciated 🙂 November 12, 2014 at 1:50pm Reply

            • kayliz: Thank you for the review and for this photo! How interesting, the different animals they’re holding.

              It almost looks as if her grandmother is cradling a fox cub — ? November 12, 2014 at 2:46pm Reply

              • Austenfan: That is my impression also. And dachshunds are and were used to hunt foxes out of their den. November 12, 2014 at 3:05pm Reply

                • Victoria: Aha! I was wondering what those animals were. Certainly they don’t look like dogs. November 12, 2014 at 3:15pm Reply

                • Hamamelis: Yes they must be fox cubs, a friend of mine had an orphan fox cub as a child, it stayed with them its whole life. Clearly they belong in the wild, but they can have a sort of domesticated life. Lovely picture though! November 13, 2014 at 5:49am Reply

                • Ann: A little while ago I read the very stressfull and nausea-inducing biography of Kim Philby (by Ben Macintyre–great book, if you can stomach it) and learned that Philby had a beloved pet fox. It was the first I had heard of such a thing. November 14, 2014 at 1:10pm Reply

        • Michaela: This beautiful picture capturing such a natural and beautiful scene probably has an interesting story behind. I’d love to know it. November 13, 2014 at 7:17am Reply

          • kayliz: I would think hunting has a role in the story. November 13, 2014 at 4:52pm Reply

  • Michaela: Excellent book and beautiful review! Thank you so much. November 12, 2014 at 7:37am Reply

    • Victoria: I loved the old Guerlain family photos! November 12, 2014 at 11:07am Reply

  • Minka: Thanks for the great review! This is going on my want list. November 12, 2014 at 7:52am Reply

    • Victoria: I really hope that more perfumers publish something about their work. It’s so interesting to hear what they think, how they create, what they love the most about perfumery and working in this field. November 12, 2014 at 11:07am Reply

      • Annie O: This is one reason I love Mandy Aftel’s books on perfume- she takes the reader along on her process of creating. Her descriptions of the ingredients are often magical and always inspiring. November 12, 2014 at 7:39pm Reply

        • Victoria: Yes, I remember reading “Scent and Alchemy” and enjoying it very much. I still have a copy. November 13, 2014 at 8:06am Reply

          • Annie O: Victoria, try her newest “Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent”. She chases the history and character of five ingredients used in perfume, encompassing many other facets of the trade. November 13, 2014 at 11:44am Reply

            • Victoria: Thank you! I will do. November 13, 2014 at 11:51am Reply

  • Aisha: This does look like a fun book to read, especially with the personal touch of family photos. Any idea if they ship to the U.S.?

    By the way, I’m wearing Vanille Tonka today. 🙂 It’s in the single digits above zero F today, and the PdN fragrance takes the chill off just a little. Well, it makes the chill more pleasant. 😉 November 12, 2014 at 11:37am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m sure they ship, but I would be surprised if Luckyscent wouldn’t get some copies soon. It seems like a good touch, especially since they carry books and the Nicolai line.

      Vanille Tonka is a perfect winter perfume. It instantly makes me feel warmer. Another one is Kiss Me Tender. Ordinarily, it’s too sweet, but on a cold day, it’s just right. November 12, 2014 at 11:46am Reply

  • Vishishta: Just finishing “Fragrent” by Mandy Aftel. A wonderful book as well. She is a great writer and has wonderful stories concerning mint, jasmine, ambergris and cinnamon. November 12, 2014 at 11:47am Reply

    • Victoria: I haven’t read that one yet, but it sounds very good. And I always love reading stories about ingredients. November 12, 2014 at 12:19pm Reply

  • Martha: Who are the ladies on the black and white photo? The one on the left is gorgeous. November 12, 2014 at 12:30pm Reply

    • Victoria: The lady on the left is Patricia de Nicolai’s mother and the other woman is her grandmother. I just loved this photo, and agree, they are beautiful. November 12, 2014 at 12:41pm Reply

  • George: Love PDN. Long may they evade the eye of Sauron with her one ring to rule them all (I’ll leave it to you to work out to what I am referring)! Wish I spoke better French to make this readable. So, she’s the second cousin once removed of Jean Paul Guerlain then. Interesting! November 12, 2014 at 12:36pm Reply

    • Victoria: Sauron must have something to do with Lord of the Rings? I’m the only person on the planet who hasn’t read it or seen the films. Anyway, I hope that they will remain independent. Truly independent brands are becoming extinct species.

      The book is in both English and French. November 12, 2014 at 12:45pm Reply

      • George: Ah, yes! My reading skills in English also need improving. 🙂 November 12, 2014 at 12:54pm Reply

        • Victoria: No worries! I should have mentioned it sooner in the post. November 12, 2014 at 1:19pm Reply

  • Tourmaline: Hi Victoria,

    Thanks for your great review.

    That’s another perfume book for my “to buy” list. I’m especially interested to read about the Guerlain family and see the photos, although I’m sure that I’ll also enjoy delving into the mind of Patricia de Nicolaï. November 12, 2014 at 8:54pm Reply

    • Victoria: I hope that the US retailers of Nicolai will carry the book. It would be a shame if it remained only in Europe. November 13, 2014 at 8:07am Reply

      • Tourmaline: Most books eventually seem to arrive at Amazon, which ships to Australia. Recently I received my Amazon order of four perfume books – “Perfume: The Alchemy of Scent” (Jean-Claude Ellena – on special for $9.00!), “Scent and Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative Perfume”; “A Collector’s Handbook of Miniature Perfume Bottles: Minis, Mates, and More”; and “More Miniature Perfume Bottles”. I have been in browsing heaven!

        However, I think that my next perfume dollars should go towards buying a couple of spare bottles of Frederic Malle perfumes – especially Lipstick Rose! November 13, 2014 at 6:22pm Reply

        • Victoria: I found that in Europe books are much more expensive than in the US, even through Amazon. For this reason, I switched for some books to Kindle, but I really prefer the paper copies. November 13, 2014 at 6:48pm Reply

          • Tourmaline: I prefer paper copies too – no competition at all. November 14, 2014 at 5:39pm Reply

            • Victoria: The smell, the feel, and ultimately, the ease of reading. There is a reason why a scroll went out of favor and was replaced by codex. It’s such a much more convenient way to read. November 24, 2014 at 12:49pm Reply

              • Tourmaline: It is indeed. I also dislike the idea that, when using Kindle, I am always using either electricity or a battery. I only have a Kindle on my laptop, and I use it mainly for my dictionary and less important books.

                As for the smell of books – yes, there is nothing like it. I remember reading Luca Turin’s review of Dzing!, which he said smells of paper, and it was a revelation. As you might already know, he wrote,

                “Lignin, the stuff that prevents all trees from adopting the weeping habit, is a polymer made up of units that are closely related to vanillin. When made into paper and stored for years, it breaks down and smells good. Which is how divine providence has arranged for secondhand bookstores to smell like good-quality vanilla absolute”.

                It all made sense! Dzing! is still on my list of fragrances to try.

                The best smelling shop in Brisbane, in my opinion, is Archives Fine Books. (You can google it; it has a fabulous website and an online catalogue that includes a list of rare and antique books. It even has a section called “More than 200 years old” that currently lists 14 titles.) The store is located in a heritage-listed building in the city and is quite large, with over a million books.

                I just checked the website and was amused, but not surprised, to see that the two featured testimonial quotes both mention the smell of books:

                “It’s like Dr Who’s Tardis, tiny on the outside, huge wonderland once you’re in the door. And the smell of old books permeates to the soul! Love love love”

                “Everything you want a bookstore to be really; crowded, quiet and scented with that wonderful smell that says great ideas have been captured in pages that are stored here.”

                You just can’t get that wonderful smell from a Kindle! November 28, 2014 at 10:35pm Reply

                • Victoria: Gosh, a reason to visit Brisbane, I thknk! 🙂 November 30, 2014 at 10:08am Reply

  • solanace: At first glance, I thought her mom was Grace Kelly, and was wondering which Guerlain she wore, lol. The book sounds great. By the way, I’m reading the one on the Punic wars by Adrian Goldsworthy that Cornelia indicated, and it’s incredibly good. November 13, 2014 at 3:18am Reply

    • Cornelia Blimber: Hi Solanace!
      Goldsworthy makes Ancient History exciting.
      I am glad you like it! November 13, 2014 at 4:39am Reply

      • solanace: I’m at the beach right now, in Bahia. So happy I brought it! November 13, 2014 at 5:14am Reply

        • Victoria: Lucky you! 🙂 Wish I could join you. But I can at least download a sample of Goldsworthy on my kindle and join in the reading. November 13, 2014 at 9:21am Reply

          • solanace: You’ll love The Fall of Cartague, it’s pretty addictive for a history book! As for Bahia, until you come, you can check Caetano Veloso singing ‘Maria Betania’ or ‘I want to go back to Bahia’ at you tube. But do come! People here are so relaxed and friendly, the food is beautiful, there is a lot of amazing baroque architecture surrounded by old, huge mango trees and the ocean is warm! November 13, 2014 at 7:45pm Reply

            • Victoria: Can’t offer me a more tempting description of a place! 🙂 November 14, 2014 at 1:36am Reply

    • Victoria: Oh yes, she does look like Grace Kelly! November 13, 2014 at 9:12am Reply

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