The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry in Paris and New York
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The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry in Paris and New York

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3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  662 ratings  ·  142 reviews
No journalist has ever been allowed into the ultrasecretive, highly pressured process of originating a perfume. But Chandler Burr, the New York Times perfume critic, spent a year behind the scenes observing the creation of two major fragrances. Now, writing with wit and elegance, he juxtaposes the stories of the perfumes—one created by a Frenchman in Paris for an exclusive...more
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Published April 13th 2008 by Tantor Media (first published January 22nd 2008)
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Jon
I have probably worn cologne less than a handful of times in my life. I have no real interest in perfume. And yet, I was drawn to this book precisely because of my lack of interest in the subject. Perfume is something I so rarely think about that the idea that whole lives revolve around this intrigued me (just as say, a book about hair care products probably would, or laundry detergent). Burr, who covers the perfume industry for the New York Times (again, another surprise--that someone on a news...more
Melody
I enjoyed this immensely. It's one of those books one carries around reading aloud from. Full of fascinating chemistry tidbits as well as the slightly less fascinating celebrity/designer ones. Burr's scathing, off-the-cuff assessments of current perfumes are hilarious, as are his other asides. Here's a favorite quote:

"Perfumers are deeply strange people simply because their sensorial perception of the world is so highly trained. The educated olfactory capacity makes spending time with them not u...more
Molly Ringle
It's quite likely that anyone with a fanatical perfume hobby, such as me, will eat up this book. I certainly did. It covered some territory I already knew, but on the whole it was quite the eye-opener about the strange and magical and illogical world of modern perfumery. Burr's assorted opinions on various fragrances are at times hilarious (he compares certain popular scents to weed killer and nerve gas), and always evocative ("the scent of a European man removing his underwear in August"--okay,...more
Jane
This was a bit of a let-down after having just read Chandler Burr's previous book. It was hard to get excited about Sarah Jessica Parker nor even about the perfumer Jean Claude Ellena. Details about industry and the celebrity stuff didn't grab me. Turns out he wrote this at an outdoor cafe in Rome. Not a surprise - you can tell his priorities were elsewhere.
Jennifer
I am slightly anosmic so I'm very curious about what it's like to experience perfumes. Chandler Burr writes about perfumes using evocative images from your other senses so that I can kind of experience the perfume. Here is an example:

"Lovely" is the lightest olfactory party dress of powder and sweet, the scent equivalent of the terrific wrap of soft floating mesh fabric I saw one summer enveloping the shoulders of a young woman, a physical cloud she wore elegantly through the East Village street...more
Jamie
The Perfect Scent by Chandler Burr is the story of creating and marketing a fragrance for the very rich and two disparate approaches taken by luxury houses in the trade. One, the anonymous (to the public at large) but indispensable perfumier working for an absolutely top-of-the-line house (in this case, Jean-Claude Ellena for Hermes), the other, the launch of a "celebrity scent", in this case Sarah Jessica Parker's for Coty.
My first thought, even before opening the book, was "There's such a thi...more
Cathy
I've recently gotten very interested in perfume, so of course I was dying to read this. Burr is the perfume critic for the New York Times (who knew?), and he follows the creation of two perfumes -- Lovely, a celebrity scent for Sarah Jessica Parker created by a commercial house in New York, and Un Jardin Sur le Nil, created by luxury house Hermes' new in-house "nose," Jean-Claude Ellena.

I got the feeling that Burr spent so much time with the people in the Parker camp (especially Parker herself,...more
Andrea
The information that Chandler Burr was able to dig up and touch upon during his year 'inside' the perfume industry is amazing. He really does get in and write about things that the common fragrance consumer would not know, and the industry might not necessarily want him/her to know, about what goes into the making of two particular fragrances. They were fascinating stories to follow, filled with interesting characters.

I was not, however, a fan of Burr's writing style, which became too parentheti...more
Kate
I picked at it, and liked a lot of it, but I don't think I'll finish it. It reminds me of food writing, in the way it makes you think about a sensory experience. What goes into creating the scent of a perfume (a lot!), the evolution of techniques, different schools of thought, inside baseball and backbiting -- fun stuff. But the book is kind of ponderous and I'm losing interest. Also, the author clearly has a crush on Sarah Jessica Parker (he follows her around as she's developing her perfumes)...more
Nancy
An most interesting look at what goes into creating a new scent from the brief that describes what the story the perfume should tell, right through to the placement of the display at the perfume counter. The author works with two very different companies, Cody and Hermès, following as each launchs of a new scent. Cody is develops a scent, Lovely, with Sarah Jessica Parker. It is a celebrity scent, but the very likable Parker has much more input and is much more involved than is usually the case....more
Emily
Mr. Burr also wrote about Luca Turin - and having read Turin's "Secret of Scent" which I liked very much, I went in search of Mr. Burr's work.
That and my Mom read it and recommended it and my interest was piqued when she told me it recounted the making of Hermes, Le Jardin Sur la Nil, which I wear. In fact, the book should be an interesting reflection on our house, as I own Le Jardin Sur la Nil and Kate owns both Sarah Jessica Parker's Lovely (profiled in this book) and her subsequent scent, Cov...more
Paul
Halfway through I wanted to scream 5/5 to the sky. "Fascinating, fascinating fascinating!" Then it dipped. Kept dipping. Then picked up, but stumbled. Finally it settled. So while I actually feel more 3/5 than 4/5, I'm going higher just because those first ~140pp were that gripping. I couldn't care less about the subject going into the thing. I decided to borrow it after a guest on a monthly Australian book club television program introduced it. Then postponed it for about a month. Then got to i...more
Owen
This book follows the launch of 2 perfumes: Lovely by Sarah Jessica Parker and Un Jardin sur le Nil (sp??) by Hermes. Given my recent obsession with perfume, it is a perfect book for me to read. And how cool that I actually have smelled (and liked) both perfumes being launched? If you decide to read this book, hie thee to a Sephora and get samples of each of the perfumes. It will make reading this smellarific! ;)
Yellowoasis
I love fragrances, and heard a good review of this book. I did enjoy it, but the amount of detail was overwhelming. I think it started as a long-form magazine article, and it would have perhaps been better in that format. The amount of detail made it difficult to grasp – perhaps that was the point, that the perfume industry is so vast and complex and full of arcane mystery. I wasn’t sure I needed to know every single detail of each and every meeting Sarah Jessica Parker had with the perfume exec...more
Amelia
This is as close as you'll ever get to action adventure writing in the world of perfume. It clearly illustrates, and name drops like a pro, the New York and Paris experience of bringing a scent from licensing agreement to consumer market launch - if you were ever interested... not for the anosmic or those who could careless about the business of international fragrances.
Jenne
I'm not quite sure why I find his books so fascinating--is it the subject matter or his writing? Either way, I finished it in one day, and immediately went online and ordered a bunch of perfume samples so I could find out what he was talking about.
Irene Sauman
I read this for the Aussie Readers group non-fiction challenge. It was already on my to-read list. Chandler Burr is a journalist and the story of the two scents he followed - one for French design house Hermes and the other for Coty for Sarah Jessica Parker - is an eye-opener into the perfume industry. Burr has definite views on some of the colognes and perfumes that are available and details his opinions in no-nonsense language, perhaps to the annoyance of the design houses they come from. The...more
M
YMMV on this one, depending on how much you know about the perfume industry. Since I knew zilch, this was a fascinating read and I couldn't get enough of it. From the super prestige scent-making at Hermes, to the more commercial celebrity scent-selling at Coty, it provided a really interesting, and contrasting, view of how the perfume industry works today. If you're interested in the subject, I'd definitely recommend it, despite Burr's tendency to translate French, etc. immediately after using i...more
Sue
The author is a scent critic for T: the New York Times Style Magazine. He took a year to follow Hermes' perfumer Jean Claude Ellena as he created a perfume and also followed Sarah Jessica Parker as she lent her name, and personal time and attention to the creation of a celebrity scent.
It is quite a fascinating read showing the differences between the French and US perfume industries along with the the hows and whys of using natural and synthetic fragrances, and the laborious route to creating t...more
Alires
I love perfumes and this was a unique view into the industry and the people in it. It made me want to go and buy the two perfumes that are featured in the origin stories. Sarah Jessica Parker's Lovely and Covet - I never would have looked at this celebrity perfume, but knowing that she was hands on from the beginning to the end, really made me take a second look. Though the book you find out that every celebrity and designer name perfumers do not take part in the development of their scents. The...more
Mary Ronan Drew
I just wrote a review three times longer than the one below - and if I do say so who shouldn't - three times more entertaining - and then lost it with the click of a mouse. Dear Goodreads, please find a way to save drafts . . .

In the Perfect Scent, Chandler Burr follows one of France's most eminent perfumers, Jean-Claude Ellena, as he developed Un Jardin de le Nil, his first scent as Hermes' in-house "nose." Meanwhile he spent a year watching Sarah Jennifer Parker work with Coty to develop her s...more
Sophia
Let me preface this review by saying that I don't know anything about perfumes. I had no real awareness of it growing up (my mother never wore scents) and even though I'm always curious, the sheer cost of "getting into" perfume has put me off it for the time being. However, I picked up this book because I love the behind-the-scenes details of any industry and perfume has always been extra mysterious to me.

I'm usually pretty slow when it comes to reading nonfiction but this book just sped by for...more
Jay Kamaladasa
Technically, this shouldn't have been titled "The perfect scent". 'A year inside the perfume industry in Paris and NY' would've been sufficient. If you advertise your book as the Perfect scent, then that would entail giving details into how and why the receptors in our nose become sensitive aromas, and the science behind making a "perfect" scent. The book does not go that far. It doesn't even try.

But having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Being the very secretive industry that it is,...more
Rachael
I feel like this book was worth reading, however it left me bored and uninterested at times, which made it so it took me 2 months to read. I loved the chemistry aspect, but sometimes the long lists of compounds became unnecessary. I haven't worn perfume in years, but I couldn't stop smelling the Lovely bookmark, and now I would love to smell some of Jean Claude Ellena's different works. How these artists of scent become inspired is so amazing to me. I will never look at a perfume bottle the same...more
Brian
A rose by any other name would still be a complex aromatic containing geraniol, linalool, and 3000 other things as listed below on this GC-MS...

Two perfumes: one for a vapid american celebrity, and another for a centuries-old French fashion house. Burr takes us inside the iron curtain of perfumery magic (note: there is a chemist somewhere in the back, but he's almost never seen) and delivers information that with a candor and elegance that belies a position deep enough in the industry to see the...more
Grace Kao
I find it a bit hard to rate non-fiction books, simply because it becomes difficult to distinguish between how well the book is written and how much I enjoyed the subject matter. I personally love reading about perfume - it's almost like food-writing to me, so make of that what you will.

This book follows Chandler Burr, perfume critic for The New York Times, through the creation of two very different scents - Un Jardin Sur le Nil for Hermes, and celebrity fragrance Sarah Jessica Parker Lovely....more
Juliette
I absolutely loved this book, and learned so much from reading it. Chandler Burr is a scent critic for the New York Times. The New York Times has a scent critic? Amazing! This elegantly written book follows the creation of two perfumes, from conception to stores, over one year. Burr was allowed inside access to the creation of Hermes' Un Jardin sur la Nil perfume and Coty's/Sarah Jessica Parker's Lovely perfume. This book is part chemistry primer, perfume dictionary, travel memoir, and art criti...more
Dave Johnson
i loved this book! but i think i need to explain that this book means more to me as a fragrance-lover than it would a casual reader, i think. if you are someone who couldnt care less about fragrances, then this will seem interesting but not riveting. HOWEVER, let me explain my thoughts.

First, i love Chandler Burr and highly respect him as a perfume critic as well as a thoughtful writer. and i think this is his best writing. i had a few quibbles with some things, like his misuse of the word "quix...more
Helena
I am intensely fascinated by perfume so I wasted no time after hearing about The Perfect Scent in purchasing and reading this book. As an insider's view into the perfume industry, this book does not disappoint. Burr relays the conversations in meetings that led to both Hermès Un Jardin Sur Le Nil and Sarah Jessica Parker's Lovely at an almost gesture-by-gesture level of detail. The chapters that explored the chemistry behind perfume blending and the politics of the industry were wonderfully info...more
Kate
A fascinating insight into the world of the men and women who create perfumes. Chandler Burr a NY Times journalist was lucky enough to follow Jean-Claude Ellena (the creator of my most favourite perfume) and Sarah-Jessica Parker and her creative team as they went through the processes of creating two different perfumes - Ellena's Un Jardin su la Nil for Hermes and SJP's Lovely for Coty.

The most interesting thing about this book was its discussion of the process of creating a perfume. What I didn...more
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Chandler Burr is the New York Times scent critic and author of The Perfect Scent, The Emperor of Scent, and A Separate Creation. He has written for the Atlantic and the New Yorker. He lives in New York City.
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