Feb 08, 09
Read in February, 2009
** spoiler alert **
A non-fiction book that looks at the inside world of perfume making. Burr tackles both American (New York City) and French (Paris/Grasse) methods. He tracks two perfumes as they go from concept to a range of test scents to market.
The American perfume is Lovely by Coty, a celebrity perfume for Sarah Jessica Parker. The French perfume is Jardin sur le Nil for Hermes.
The writing is good and there are patches where the book is very interesting. Unfortunately he tries to cover too much ground, and he seems to include everything that passes before his eyes.
He spends too much time on people who are not really important to the story. We learn about their clothes choices, their sexual orientation, their personal history and sometimes that of their grandparents ! I suspect he is trying to make interesting characters, and not being a fiction writer, doesn't know how.
He seems to mention too many people too often, as though he is currying favor, paying off debts or building up future goodwill he can trade for favors.
He is the Perfume critic for the New York Times, so these people are his bread an butter in terms of access. I get the impression he actually wrote this, not for the public, but for the handful of people in-the-know in his industry.
It strikes me as a name dropping fest and not just for Sarah Jessica Parker. He almost can't mention her without listing her people. though he makes her out to be a replica of the blonde kook she played on TV: Everyone loves the smell of body odor, but is afraid to say so. He goes on and on about how wonderful she is, how thoughtful, how involved in the actual scent creation.
The subject itself bounces around from business meetings, labs, marketing ideas, packaging, testing of the fragrance, options for delivery of the scent, chemical composition, store placement, launch parties, and sales results. Its just too broad. I never felt the book tied anything together, because he was darting here and there, then from America to France and in some spots he went back in the time line. Very muddled, and lacking in focus: is it the people, is it the business, is it the chemical, is it the marketing illusion?
He might have been able to pull it off, if he kept to a straightforward time line, picked only one country/perfume, and trimmed the name dropping.
The other issue is there is way too much French in the book. He mentions all the time he lived in France, so he has whole sentences, which are sometimes translated, and sometimes not (and not always accurately). Its very annoying because the names are already heavily slanted to the French. Just too much work for too little return.
I can't say I would recommend this, and I will probably not read any more of his books. In fact if this wasn't an Early Review book, I probably would have given up on it before the end.
The final horror was the book came with a scented book mark. It was the perfume Lovely, which smelled like Industrialized Lawn Clippings. It really should have come with a machete.