Book Review: Perfume Legends II by Michael Edwards

I was busy queuing up my Labor Day weekend binge viewing when a delivery truck arrived. Little did I know the next two weeks I would be binge reading what was in the box.

For perfume to be fully embraced as the art form I believe it to be we need to have the history of modern perfumery chronicled somewhere. I have always known it existed within the mind of Michael Edwards. Having had the fortune to hear him speak as well as spend time with him he has been the conduit to much of what I understand about the art of modern perfumery. I have spent hours listening to him and always left wanting more. He has now granted my wish by publishing “Perfume Legends II”.

Michael Edwards

If you are wondering where “Perfume Legends I” is you missed it, most likely. Mr Edwards published the first edition in 1996. It came out right as the independent niche perfume trends were arriving. Publishing “Perfume Legends II” twenty-three years later has allowed for the perspective of that growth of independent perfumery to also be included. All the content from the first edition has been further researched and elaborated upon. Along with the addition of the more recent legends.

“Perfume Legends II” covers the entire history of modern perfumery from the first modern perfume 1886’s “Fougere Royale” through to 2010’s “Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Portrait of a Lady”. Sandwiched in between are fifty more perfumes. Each chapter covers the time of when the perfume is released, the composition of the perfume, and the creation of the bottle as well as the reason it is a legend.

It is a remarkable collection of the history of perfume in one place. Each chapter feeds off what came before. It displays the evolution of perfume as a commercial product as well as a reflection of society. One of the most fascinating parts of the book was the history of the bottle. I have said many times I don’t care about the bottle just give me the perfume. After finishing the book I have a new appreciation for the container.

The most fascinating of these was the fraught creation of the bottle for YSL Opium in 1982. Bottle designer Pierre Dinand would be challenged to accommodate changes requested by Yves St. Laurent as they were nearing release. Once you read the story you will never look at a bottle of Opium the same way. It is true of most of the bottles written about. I still care more about the perfume but I have newfound respect for the bottle.

If there is a drawback it is that the volume is focused on French perfumes. It really isn’t one because Mr. Edwards is able to make his larger point within the smaller dataset. It also becomes less French and more global as the Legends reach the 1970’s and beyond because of the global reach of the brands.

I presume anyone reading this blog is a perfume lover. You need to put a copy of “Perfume Legends II” on your bookshelf. It will give you a deeper belief in the artistry behind modern perfumery.

Disclosure: this review is based on a copy provided by the publisher.

Mark Behnke

Book Review: Fragrant- The Secret Life of Scent by Mandy Aftel- Essential Oil Reading

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When I reviewed Mandy Aftel’s recent release Palimpsest she mentioned it was inspired by the research she did for her new book, “Fragrant- The Secret Life of Scent”. I received my review copy a little over a week ago and spent this past weekend completely enthralled by Ms. Aftel’s new book. This is Ms. Aftel’s fourth book on scent and it is by far her most accessible.

Ms. Aftel starts off with an introduction on how she fell in love with making natural perfume after a number of previous careers. She realized that scent was important to her and that she wanted to learn how to create perfume. She immersed herself in the history of perfumery and after her years as a perfumer she has come up with a simple truism, “Scent is a portal to these basic human appetites- for the far-off, the familiar, the transcendent, the strange, and the beautiful-that have motivated us since the origins of our species.” That sentence encapsulates what great perfume does for me and what it aspires to.

MandyAuthorPhoto

Mandy Aftel (Photo: Foster Curry)

For this book Ms. Aftel decided to focus on five raw ingredients: cinnamon, mint, frankincense, ambergris, and jasmine. Each ingredient gets its own chapter. It starts with a history of the ingredient but there are delightful tangents as well. One of my favorites comes from the Cinnamon chapter where she found a set of five rules for perfumers in ancient Constantinople. It directs where the perfumers can ply their trade so the pleasant smells will drift up into the Royal Palace nearby. They are also directed that, “They are not to stock poor quality goods in their shops: a sweet smell and a bad smell do not go together.” I think there are some modern perfumeries which could be reminded of these old rules.

The last section of each chapter is dedicated to experiencing the ingredient as a raw material and it includes recipes for different fragrances and ways to use it in cooking. For an even richer experience for these last sections; on the Aftelier website there is a Companion Kit which has all five of the ingredients to allow you to actually play along as you read. I received one of the Companion Kits and it greatly enhanced my experience. Plus there is enough to allow the reader to choose to use some in whatever way seems apt.

Ms. Aftel’s previous career as a writer along with her experience as a natural perfumer allows for a perfect synergy as the author is also the expert. It is an important distinction when it comes to describing a sensory experience in words. I believe it is Ms. Aftel’s intimate relationship with these materials which allow for her to communicate about them so effectively and beautifully.

There are very few books which can reach outside the small circle of those of us who are obsessed with perfume. I believe Fragrant is going to be a book which does have a much wider reach because it is as easy to read as a true-life adventure. For those of us who love perfume and the raw ingredients within them Fragrant is going to give you new perspective on these ingredients. I learned so much I didn’t know about ingredients I thought I knew a lot about.

The section of my bookshelf which houses the books on scent and perfume that I think are essential is pretty small. With the publication of Fragrant it just got one volume bigger.

Disclosure: This review was based on a copy of Fragrant provided by Riverhead Books.

Mark Behnke