Cathy's Reviews > The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry in Paris and New York

The Perfect Scent by Chandler Burr
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's review
Apr 06, 09

bookshelves: nonfiction
Read in April, 2009

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, about whom he's a bit starstruck) and with Ellena that he developed personal relationships with them and wanted to present them in the best light. This is understandable, but it also makes the book less interesting, because he's quite circumspect about how he discusses the process. The book is much better when it digresses from its supposed topics and Burr talks about natural vs. artificial scent materials, how trends affect perfumery, and the byzantine way the industry works. He is very, very funny when he holds forth on, for example, the evils of Hugo Boss' fragrances.

I can't say I wasn't interested in the creative process that went into the two perfumes, but I think that this would have been stronger and more entertaining as a book if Burr had just written a general treatise on perfumes and left his two case studies as long, stand-along magazine articles -- which they originally were. I wanted to hear more about how an ingredient that reeks of corpses or feces, added in tiny amounts, makes a perfume more beautiful, or about the meaningless distinction between masculing and feminine scents -- and less about how lavish Hermes press parties are.

Still, this is good fun to read, and I know a lot more about scents than I did going in.
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