Feb 18, 2009

The Perfect Scent

I love perfumes as much as I love cats. Somehow perfumes always captivate me. An abstract art form that allows subjective individual interpretations.

I love smelling the general "aura" of the perfume and finding the different "facets" of the scent. It's like listening to music where I can hear individual instruments playing different parts to form a cohesive piece of music. The difference is I'm using my nose to dissect the perfume's identity.

Like with music I have a love-hate affair with perfumes. I find some perfumes smell revolting. Chanel No. 5 is an example. Personally I detest it with all my heart. One whiff scarred me for life. My skin and nose hated it with a vengeance. Chanel's marketing people must have done something right to have made it popular. Though I've heard that scents react differently on different skin. If it works for you doesn't mean it will work for me. Vice versa.

Some perfumes are too heavy and overpowering they give me instant headaches. Others are too unsubstantial the scent disappeared in a matter of minutes if not seconds. Some take my breath away, love at the first whiff, like Lancome's Magnifique, Bvlgari's Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert , Juicy Couture, Jo Malone's White Jasmine and Mint Cologne amongst others. These are works of art I could appreciate.

With new perfumes being launched all the time I find that generally they smell more or less similar, I get the impression that companies are trying to copy each other instead of coming with something more original. It's getting more and more difficult to find quality perfumes that stand out amongst the masses. Too commercialized, not enough substance and not enough thought being put into it. Beautiful packagings alone won't make me buy those substandard perfumes.

Am I being fussy? Of course. What's the point of spending an insane amount of money for scents that aren't worth it? Plus I do NOT want to smell like the next person on the street. Like what someone told me years ago, "If you want to know the latest perfume in Singapore, go to Orchard Road at the zebra crossing outside Somerset MRT Station. Smell the air as you cross the street. That would be the smell of the trendiest perfume of the moment. Everyone seems to wear the same thing at that place, everyone smells the same." I put this to the test and it was the truth.

So I was glad when I came across this fascinating book. The Perfect Scent: a year inside the perfume industry in Paris and New York. Engagingly written by a journalist and New York Times scent critic: Chandler Burr.

It reveals the behind-the-scenes process of the developments of two perfumes. One in Paris, one in New York. One by Hermes, done by their very first in house perfumer: Jean-Claude Ellena. The other scent is a collaboration by Coty and Sarah Jessica Parker.

This book answers my curiosity and taught me lots of things I don't know about the perfume industry. Like the fact that "designer" perfumes aren't done by the people whose names are on the bottle, they're done by the perfumers whose names are being hush-hushed for fear of ruining the image of the said designer brands.

I learnt that "the scent wake the perfume's wearer leaves behind in a space, an olfactory infrared arc of their trajectory... the sense of the person being present in the room after he or she has left..." is called sillage.

This book has amusing titbitts that remind me of something else from real life. For example, my mother used to describe some perfumes as "smelling like human's butt". Reading page 249 confirms that my mother's suspicion was right: "The smell of clean anus turns out to be extremely helpful in perfume. In trace amounts it deepens and enriches floral scents, fleshes out green scents. Jacques Guerlain - this is a man who was creating perfumes as recently as the 1950s - famously said that all his perfumes contained, somewhere inside them, the smell of the underside of his mistress. He was referring to all three holes." Gasp.

I was quite chuffed when I read this: "... Juicy Couture, one of the best perfumes on the market, by the expert commercial technician Harry Fremont." No wonder I like Juicy Couture, I have great taste! :)

It's a thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable book, with scientific facts thrown in together with interesting observations of the perfume industry and the people involved in the making of a scent. Last year a friend gave me SJP's Lovely for my birthday, so by the end of this book I've come to appreciate this particular perfume more as now I know the story behind it. As it turns out I'm already a fan of Jean-Claude Ellena's other creation: Bvlgari's Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert - another proof that I have an excellent taste in perfume. Hahaha... So now I have to try Hermes' Un Jardin sur le Nil. Hint... Hint... :)

My verdict? A must read for a perfume lover or people who are interested to know about the industry.

Book info:
ISBN-13: 978-0-8050-8037-7
ISBN-10: 0-8050-8037-6
First edition 2008

Published by Henry Holt and Company, LLC


GlossQueen said...

That book looks great, I'm going to look out for it.

I agree about Chanel No 5, I think it's an awful perfume. I don't understand why people love it so much.

Anonymous said...

This book sounds so interesting! I smelt Covet by SJP and it didn't smell very nice. The fragrance smelt as if a bit of this and that was concocted and just thrown together. One for the butt I say!...LOL

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