Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Literature for Sniffers -- February 20

I just finished reading this book:


and I must say, I really enjoyed it. I liked it more than I thought I would, based upon my prior feelings about Chandler Burr's writing. Burr is the perfume critic for the New York Times Magazine, and the author of The Emperor of Scent, a book about fragrance genius Luca Turin and his explorations into the science of scent. The Perfect Scent is a combination of articles Burr wrote for two different magazines about the development of two very different perfumes, UN JARDIN SUR LE NIL by Hermes andLOVELY SARAH JESSICA PARKER .

I found Burr's writing in The Emperor of Scent a little breathless and fan-mag, and his adoration for Turin often came off like a schoolboy crush. There's slightly less of that here, and the stories he's relating are very compelling, especially if, like me, you really love perfume. The inside peek into what goes on during the development of these two products is fascinating. There's just enough science and industry arcana to make perfumistas feel like we're really getting some good scoop, but it's presented in a way that I don't think would be at all confusing to the random consumer of fashion & beauty industry news. If you're a fan of Jean-Claude Ellena, the composer of Jardin Sur le Nil (and I most definitely am -- he's created a few of my very favorite fragrances and I admire his work immensely), your opinion will be cemented by this book. The same goes for Sarah Jessica Parker, who comes across as a genuinely decent young woman subject to none of the common Hollywood star foibles. The book is relatively short and very easy to read, it only took me a few days to go through it.

My problem with Burr's writing stems from his inability to keep from making himself central to the action of what he is reporting. Perhaps this is inevitable (and a bit hypocritical on my part, given the writing I do here) due to the extremely subjective nature of something like the sense of smell, but I do wish for a bit more journalistic distance in his writing. He still comes off as a bit star-struck. He doesn't just report an interview with a subject, he details his experience of and feelings about the interview with a subject. Some might find that a great way of connecting with the reader, but I find it obtrusive. I'm also extremely annoyed by any writer's attribution of motive or subtext to a subject when they do not actually have any proof other than their own gut instinct about it: at one point Parker pays an offhand compliment to Kate Winslet and Burr spends the next third of a page explaining that this is a "tiny bit of management, the line she was supposed to say because she's a careful professional." Well, perhaps that is true. Or perhaps Parker just happens to think Kate Winslet is gorgeous. I mean, most of us do, after all.

Still, the book is worth reading for the information you get. As a lover of fragrance, I was sent running to my perfume collection to sniff bottles and samples several times to reference different scents Burr mentions. I also strongly recommend having samples of the two central fragrances to sniff while you read. (They should package two little sample vials with the book -- wouldn't that be fun? Since they don't, click on these links if you want to get a sample or decant of Jardin Sur le Nil or Lovely from the good folks at The Perfumed Court.) I had some Nil at my disposal, but Lovely is a perfume I don't know and I was kicking myself all through the book for not planning ahead and getting some before I started reading.

For the record, Jardin Sur le Nil is a fragrance I really love, and yet for some reason have never purchased. I'm still trying to work out why that is. The perfume is based on Ellena's experience of the scent of green mangoes in Egypt, and I think at base that is what stops me from wearing it. In my heart I prefer "perfumey" perfumes; I'm not a big fan of what sniffers call "gourmand" accords, basically, fragrances that echo foods. (All the chocolates and vanillas and berries and cotton candies on the perfume market the last few years mostly just turn my stomach.) This is not to say that Nil will make you smell like a bowl of fruit salad -- it's much deeper and more sophisticated than that. Just a comment on my personal taste.

Now. The perfume book that I am really waiting for, eagerly rubbing my hands together like Snidely Whiplash plotting something particularly dastardly, is this one:


which is being released April 10. This book is written by Luca Turin, the subject of The Emperor of Scent and the author of The Secret of Scent(confused yet?), a book I loved and have talked about here, and Tania Sanchez. I'll do a little celebrity name-dropping and mention that I'm acquainted with Tania via the Perfumista Interwebs. She's a very bright, funny, perceptive person who writes incredibly well, so the combination of these two authors bodes happily for this book and I can't wait to get my hands on it. (Yes, I'll pre-order. 'Cuz I'm geeky that way.)

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go hit myself with a nice spritz of one of my favorite Ellena perfumes, Angeliques Sous la Pluie. How about you? What did you spritz today?

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Deja Pseu said...

I purchased Jardin sur Nil last summer and wore it constantly. The citrus top note when it first goes on just gives me a rush of happy, then it dries off to a very soft, lovely and wearable scent.

Wish I could say the same for "Lovely". Based on what I'd read about the fragrance prior to its release, and my girl-crush on SJP, I really wanted to like it. But when I first sampled it, (and the two or three subsequent times I thought I'd give it another chance) I couldn't shake the feeling that it smelled like skunk. And I love a good musk but this one just ain't it.

Princess Poochie said...

I adore the smell of Jardin sur Nil and soooo wanted it. But I tried it on one day at NM and it smelled crummy on me.

I was so depressed.

Maybe I'll order a sample and see if it get the same result.


Alexandra said...

Both of those books are going on my birthday wish-list!

deb-ct said...

Deja pseau said it perfectly although my secret thougts were much 'stronger' on the subject of "Lovely".

I love the Jardin and wear it often but must admit that it is the only Hermes scent that I felt purchase worthy. I wanted to love Kelly Caleche---not happening.