Beauty Without Fuss

Monday 2 May 2011

Project Perfume - Book Review

(Click picture for source)
 Alongside "Perfumes the A-Z Guide" by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez, I've also read "The Perfect Scent" by Chandler Burr, and it's completely, totally and utterly fascinating.

Burr is the "scent critic" for The New York Times Magazine, and in this book he highlights the journeys of two perfumes on their way to market, One a high-end Perfume House; Hermes, making their way with Un Jardin Sur le Nil, and at the other end of the perfume spectrum, there is Coty, trying to get a celebrity perfume to market, and that is Sarah Jessica Parker's "Lovely".

At times unintentionally hilarious, as when a trip along the Nile becomes a bit of a disaster when the team from Hermes, who have just drafted in Jean-Claude Ellena as their in-house "nose",  discover that the gardens along the Nile don't really smell of anything, but at all times fascinating, it's an instructive and sometimes quite emotive book about how the high end and the mass-market go about things in their respective industries.

The Hermes story is very much about how much a company can have invested in one person's vision of how a scent should be, and how that will affect a company as whole, whereas the Coty story of Lovely is a little of the opposite, about how "smoothing the edges off" one person's vision can satisfy the company's marketing needs.  At least, that's how I read it.

All through the book you're treated to visions from both Jean-Claude Ellena and Sarah Jessica Parker (who played a surprisingly large role in the creation of her first perfume), of how they wanted the perfumes to smell, and what their inspirations were, and how they went from iteration to iteration of each scent until they were ready (sometimes only just!) to go to market.  I found this very interesting, so much so that I went out and bought a sample of each of the scents in the book, so I could smell the finished product for myself.

First things first, I'm not a massive fan of either Jean-Claude Ellena or of celebrity scents in general, Ellena's scents I find are simply too ethereal, too light, and too ... thin for me.  I can appreciate the master skill that he puts into making his perfumes, but, for me, they disappear too quickly, and usually I'm left resentful that after ten minutes or so I can no longer smell them at all.  With that in mind, to me, Un Jardin Sur Le Nil is pleasant, fruity, and, unsurprisingly insubstantial.  It is something that I will probably get more wear out of during hot weather, where I will appreciate something lighter and fruitier during the summer.  I'll be revisiting this one at a later date, I'm sure.

The real revelation for me is  Lovely by Sarah Jessica Parker, which I was surprised to find actually lives up to the name.  I am, I admit, a bit of a snob, there are no two ways about it, and I have, for years totally ignored - rightly or wrongly - celebrity perfumes.  I have no real desire to smell like the latest trend, and as the latest trends in perfume all appear to veer towards fruity toilet cleaners (particularly at the cheaper end of the z-list celeb scale)  then, I don't think I've missed all that much.  But this is a little gem, a non-fruity, rather sophisticated little musky floral that I don't mind admitting that I've been carrying around in my handbag for a week or two now.  It's a simple, easy wear, that doesn't need much thought, but it is, as the name suggests it will be, rather pretty, and sometimes, when you've been wrangling with other perfumes which can, and indeed do smell like cat-poo doused in honey (and that's a GOOD THING btw, but more about that later), Lovely is a nice little no-brainer that won't make you smell like Kerry Katona.

So, The Perfect Scent is a "right riveting read" as my mum would say, and a salutory lesson that price isn't - always - everything when it comes to scent.  Highly recommended.

The  Fine Print: Everything mentioned in this post was bought with my own cash, even the cat-poo-doused-in-honey scent, which I'll tell you more about later.

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  1. Good post and a helpful reminder that the nose knows best, as Turin and Sanchez emphasise in their Guide.

    Now, I've coated the Mad Moggy in Honey and parked her in her litter tray - what is the delightful scent that she should be conjuring up (if she cooperates at all)?

    cheerio, Anna in Edinburgh

  2. the thing to remember about the 'Jardin' fragrances is that they are Hermes' take on mass market. I would suggest instead getting along to a Hermes boutique or the concession in Harrods and sniffing the various components of the Hermessence collection, all fo which are JC Ellena creations. Some are quite ethereal (Rose Ikebana or the Osmanthus one whose name I forget) but there are some much heavier ones too like the Ambre Narguile or Vetiver Tonka. altneratively look at the range he did for Frederic Malle, some of which pack quite a punch. There's a good Wikipedia page on him. His output is very varied and while he's probably unrivalled at light, transaparent, floaty creations, he also has some much more powerful fragrances to his name too.


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