Michael Edwards’s Perfume Legends II

I’ve been waiting for Michael Edwards’s Perfume Legends II in the same way that Star Wars fans anticipate the new sequels. First published in 1996, Perfume Legends told stories behind more than 40 iconic fragrances. Edwards explained the inspiration behind the concept and the bottle and also left room for perfumers’ voices. Why did Edmond Roudnitska add an opulent plum note to Rochas Femme? How did Jacques Polge create the baroque effect of Chanel Coco? I read and re-read the book so much that my copy fell apart.

Edwards, however, wouldn’t rush the sequel. Respected in the industry for his Fragrances of the World database that assiduously tracks every new launch, he brought the same meticulousness to the Perfume Legends project. He decided to update the list, and so he spent several years researching information and interviewing perfumers, creative directors and designers. The industry can be frustratingly secretive, especially when it comes to explaining the perfume formula, but Edwards has never been daunted by such obstacles. The book reveals it all.

Perfume Legends II contains the entries included in the first book, plus 8 new fragrances representing the most innovative creations of the last decades. Explaining what makes a perfume a legend, Edwards says that it should have an accord so innovative that it inspires other compositions, an impact so profound that it shapes a trend, and an appeal so lasting that it transcends fashion.

Among fragrances included in Perfume Legends II is L’Artisan Parfumeur Timbuktu. The book explains how perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour was inspired by nagarmotha, a natural raw material from India that combines the darkness of vetiver with the richness of agarwood. “It’s the dark side of vetiver!” says Duchaufour. “When you use nagarmotha, it makes vetiver seem sweet by comparison, almost as sweet as sandalwood. It’s great for reproducing an oud effect alongside other products.” Details like this will make any perfume geek swoon with pleasure.

I also enjoyed discovering in Perfume Legends II how Serge Lutens describes fragrances. When he came to Quest International (now incorporated into Givaudan) with a brief for Féminité du Bois, Yves de Chiris, Quest’s senior vice president gave Lutens 120 different ingredients to smell. He tried each and described their aromas. As Chiris reminisces, “he compares a fragrance ‘to a set of chords, not a mawkish series of harmonies. It is the emergence of a note, electrified by its collision with the following one, a chain reaction. In text, this is called the syntax, and sometimes this produces poetry. If we combined, helter-skelter, all the notes of Mozart’s Requiem, do you think we would come up with a masterpiece, just because we used the same notes? Or, taken randomly, do you think the words of Proust would produce the extraordinary emotion of The Search? When carefully selected, the marriage of two or three essences, whether natural  or synthetic, upsets and redefines the expression of a composition. In themselves, when taken alone, they are no more than ingredients.'”

Those familiar with Edwards’s work will find the same attention to detail and the same richness of information in the new book. Those discovering it for the first time will enjoy its collection of essays on perfumes that marked the 20th century as well as inspired ours. Either way, it’s a long overdue publication.

“There is no other book like it,” said Edmond Roudnitska, the creator of Dioressence, Diorissimo, and Eau Sauvage of Perfume Legends. It’s hard to disagree with the master.

The website Perfume Legends is offering a promo code for a 10% discount to Bois de Jasmin readers–BDJ19, valid until December 31 2019. If you’ve read the book, I’d love to know your thoughts.

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19 Comments

  • Jean Wagner Sutkiewicz: Where can I buy the book? December 9, 2019 at 9:18am Reply

    • Victoria: Please take a look at the bottom of the post. December 9, 2019 at 10:33am Reply

  • Klaas Backx: Oh Victoria, how utterly naughty you are, writing about this beautiful book just before the holiday season 😉 It is very tempting….I’d be curious to see the fragrances he picked as remarkable fragrances from the last decades. I’ll check out the website and promo code (thank you!), but first……I need to google nagarmotha!!! December 9, 2019 at 10:20am Reply

    • Victoria: I knew that the bit about nagarmotha would be tempting! 🙂 It was for me. December 9, 2019 at 10:33am Reply

  • Klaas: Oh my, I just checked the website….his other book, the Reference Guide…..WOW! My mind is blown! I’m going to write a letter to Santa tonight! December 9, 2019 at 10:42am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s like a paper version of his database. I see them sometimes at the perfume counters. December 9, 2019 at 10:58am Reply

  • rickyrebarco: Wow, this book looks amazing. I do want to buy it, but I have to wait until I have the funds. Major dental work this year has put a big grinch wrench in my holidays! How long does the 10% off code last? December 9, 2019 at 2:29pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s till the end of the year. December 10, 2019 at 3:06am Reply

  • Fazal: Good thing he added Calandre, not Rive Gauche because I find vintage Calandre to be superior to vintage Rive Gauche. I guess Calandre probably won because it came earlier. The inclusion of two fragrances did surprise me a bit; Cabotine and Boucheron because I did not suspect them to be revolutionary in any sense though Cabotine was shamelessly copied by Tendre Poison. December 10, 2019 at 12:54am Reply

    • Victoria: Boucheron was not an obvious choice for me, but I understand that it was in the combination of a a fruity-floral accord against an oriental base, the concept and the bottle.
      Cabotine has a great green fruity accord that is so bright and pretty. It found its way into many different perfumes. December 10, 2019 at 3:06am Reply

  • Carolyn Middleton: I bought the first book when it was published & loved it, but I seem to remember a subsequent announcement that the follow-up was to be about ‘American feminine fragrances’, which I would have loved to read. Can’t see me paying GBP 130.00 just for the additional eight fragrances covered in what is basically a re-issue of the first book with extra chapters, unfortunately. I may have told the story of my original purchase on here before, but here goes anyway…living in Aberdeen, in the north east of Scotland, there was no department store, fragrance retailer or indeed book shop that planned to stock the book, so I contacted House of Fraser in Edinburgh as my husband was going to be there, with a group of half a dozen like-minded friends, for a motorcycle extravaganza. Said day arrives, & my husband, along with appropriately clad for a 260 mile round trip fellow bikers, makes his way to the main perfume counter to collect my purchase to the amusement of both the staff & ‘ladies who lunch’ customers! December 10, 2019 at 10:33am Reply

    • carole macleod: Carolyn Middleton-I’m dying to know what you chose! I loved your story. I haven’t read this book before, and it looks amazing. The Cdn dollar to Us exchange isn’t in out favour, right now, but I’m interested. Thanks for the code, Victoria. 🙂 December 10, 2019 at 10:53am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m also waiting for the American Perfume Legends!
      Yes, it is the first book, plus eight additional, newer perfumes. December 11, 2019 at 6:16am Reply

    • Victoria: And your story is fantastic! I just imagine the look on their faces. December 11, 2019 at 6:16am Reply

  • Carolyn Middleton: Carole – not sure I understand your question regarding ‘what I chose’? It was the book itself that I bought & my husband & his biker buddies collected…glad you enjoyed the tale though! December 10, 2019 at 6:38pm Reply

  • carole macleod: Ah, I see-I thought he was buying you perfume, too 🙂 December 11, 2019 at 8:53am Reply

    • Carolyn Middleton: He certainly wouldn’t have risked buying me perfume he chose, would definitely have asked me for a few options! Saying that, when we met, I was wearing the original Oscar de la Renta (to me still the best smell from this company) in EDT form, & after a particularly lucrative weekend of his spent working overtime he surprised me with a bottle of the pure perfume – the bottle with the stopper in the shape of a flower holding a drop of dew – I still have the bottle somewhere…& we had our 30th wedding anniversary in July! December 11, 2019 at 8:08pm Reply

  • Emma: Oh my goodness, thank you so very much for the discount code! Incredibly kind of Mr. Edwards and you. Many thanks! December 11, 2019 at 9:01am Reply

    • Victoria: I hope that you enjoy it! December 11, 2019 at 9:26am Reply

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