Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Scent and Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative Perfume” as Want to Read:
Scent and Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative Perfume
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Scent and Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative Perfume

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  204 ratings  ·  37 reviews
Let Scent and Subversion take you for a whiff on the wild side of 20th century perfume.

Perfume has been -- and continues to be -- subversive. By playing with gender conventions, highlighting the ripe smells of the human body, or celebrating queer and louche identities, 20th-century perfume broke free from the assumptions of the prior century, and became a largely unrecogni
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published November 5th 2013 by Lyons Press (first published January 1st 2013)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Scent and Subversion, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Scent and Subversion

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.94  · 
Rating details
 ·  204 ratings  ·  37 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Scent and Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative Perfume
Nov 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: perfumery-books
If you're a serious 'fumehead, a word of warning about Scent and Subversion: it will make you insane from craving what is reviewed in this book.

It will make you stay up late at night, hitting refresh on eBay looking for the perfumes listed, and for the gorgeous artwork this book includes as illustrations.

It will make you don black clothing and mourn the state of perfumery today, compared to what it once was in the 20's, 30's and 40's.

It will make you realize with sudden clarity that blowing 4
Jordan River
Nov 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I am walking along the longest path of the world, searching for the book of my heart.

Vien Tuc
Đà Lạt

Imagine a whole world where everyone smells of CK One. You probably don’t have to imagine; you have probably been there as has Barbara Herman from Yesterday’s Perfume. One day Barbara rebelled against office-friendly scents and went searching for the rude, the loud, the odd, the weird and the impolite. What she mostly found was vintage perfume and then some cutting edge 21st century olfactive artis
Dec 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Jan 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I've been fascinated by scents for years now—not perfumes, but everyday scents: cedar closets, wet earth, cement, tea leaves, tree leaves, fir and pine needles, pencils, basements, matches, old books. When I started learning about perfume, my interest was really more solipsistic than academic: I dreamed of finding the perfect concoction that somehow perfectly expressed my thoughts and moods. Barbara Herman says we can “see perfume as instructive, a bridge between the world and our oft-neglected ...more
Jan 03, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2015
So, I never complain about the price of books. Books are magical and necessary and I would no sooner complain about the price of them than complain about the price of a critical medication.

Having said that, I'm a little irritated that I paid $18 dollars for this on Amazon (the cover price is $24.95!!) There just isn't enough to it to justify the cost. Herman analyses (briefly) 20th century perfume trends, from 1910ish to 1990. She lists maybe a dozen perfumes from each era with a brief descripti
Jun 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
If you are a fumehead like myself, you owe it to yourself to read this book! I had to keep a little notebook next to me to add all of the new scents that I wanted to try!

A very well-written and lighthearted review of fragrance that is documented throughout with those gorgeous vintage perfume ads. I thought I knew a great deal about fragrance but I learned even more from this book.

There is also a chapter for vintage fragrance lovers that is so on target for newbies that I would highly recommend b
Apr 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Scent and Subversion is essentially a catalog of vintage perfumes. Herman reviews both the classics--Shalimar, Chanel No 5 and so on--as well as a lot of more obscure perfumes and even some drug store brands like Jovan's Wild Musk. Arranged by decade and then by year within each decade, this is a wonderful look at a century of perfume. The book is lavishly illustrated with gorgeous vintage perfume ads.

Herman's a good reviewer with an obviously well trained nose--obviously no perfume review can
Dec 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I received the book for free through Goodreads First Reads.

At first, I thought Barbara Herman's book Scent and Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative Perfume was just a collection of notes on various scents, nothing more than a catalog of perfumes or colognes and Herman's reviews of them. But as I read more of the book, I came to understand the context Herman was using for this information, the idea that these scents are an embodiment as well as a subversion of current mores. She focuses
I bought this after hearing an interview with the author on NPR. I have to admit, most of the information in the book about how perfumes changed over the past century was shared in the interview. The new information consisted of a short "biographical" sketch of all the perfumes the author tested, the fragrance notes, and once in awhile, some interesting trivia about it. Her thesis is that perfume types changed as the role of women changed - from the intentional, but subtle, seduction fragrances ...more
Nov 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: scent-subversion
I was so lucky to win a copy of this book from Goodreads. If you are a perfume lover, or if you know someone who is, this is a must-have book. It is a work of art, with wonderful descriptions of vintage fragrances, along with original, colorful print ads throughout the book. i have a passion for fragrance, so I love reading about them. I am finding myself lost in the pages of this wonderful book!
Dec 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I vacillate between wanting to construct a shrine to this book that is filled with violet posies and clove-studded pomanders, and wanting to buy all remaining copies so I can bury them in a 60-ft. deep pit so the peasant Osmothèque in my linen cupboard can grow and grow and grow and grow forever and ever and ever unimpeded.
Saatwik Katiha
Jul 17, 2018 rated it liked it
A major part (part II) of the book is constituted of the idea of reviewing select fragrances in a decade wise manner. This structure is attractive but the reviews themselves are often verbose to the point of boredom. Notes fly thick and fast in the descriptions, making many scents seem over-analyzed. That said, the smaller parts I and III are much more insightful and digestible.
Deborah Wickham
Dec 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very enjoyable and informative with loads of vintage scents I hadn't heard of. Not likely to be smelling them any time soon either as a lot of them have disappeared!
A celebration of the glory days of perfumery, we'll never see (or smell, even) the like again thanks to the draconian IFRA.
May 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: beauty-theory
god, i love perfume so much, and this book is a fascinating and educational read for anyone who does too. i did find myself wishing for more theoretical analysis, considering how inaccessible so many of the perfumes listed are now, but overall this is a must-read for any perfume lover.
Dec 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Wonderful assessment and catalogue of historic 20th century scents by decade. Wish I could smell them all!
Alysa H.
Nov 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
I received this book through Goodreads First Reads.

First of all, the hardcover version of this book is a beautiful thing to behold. With its 'femme fatale' (Marlene Dietrich?) dust jacket, its purple boards, and plenty of full-color images of vintage perfume ads, the book as an object is as seductive as some of the perfumes it endeavors to describe. I half-expected it to smell like a Dior concoction itself! Kudos to Lyons Press for this presentation.

Now for the contents. Herman, as a perfume blo
Oct 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is fun and interesting. Perfect for perfume lovers
Mar 16, 2017 rated it liked it
I really wanted to love this book, since I love vintage perfume and Barbara Herman's blog, "Yesterday's Perfume." But, I found this book quite disappointing. Many (most?) of the perfume descriptions are taken straight from the blog. I don't have a problem with that; it would be fine to have a hard copy of the information in the blog, and support the author.
But, the book's descriptions of perfumes are shorter and less in-depth than the blog posts! IMO, many of the most interesting anecdotes and d
Sara Shakouri
May 22, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I started reading this book hoping to look into evolving of perfumes from a cultural aspect, but nothing of the sort was expecting me.
The book starts we an introduction chapter, which is essentially a preface gone too long, and more than anything points out that a more adept editor was needed.
Chapter two, which makes the body of the book, is a catalogue of perfumes, arranged chronologically, with a paragraph or two at the beginning of each decade for describing the "spirit" of that decade and
May 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a great book for a beginner perfume collector. I say "beginner," as much of the information in this book would have been a lot of fun for me when I was new to this whole thing. Barbara Herman does a great job covering the history of commercial perfume in the Western world in a way that is concise, interesting, and easy to follow. For those who have read Turin and Sanchez's The Guide, any of Chandler Burr's work, or just plain spend all day on perfume blogs, most of this will not be new i ...more
Nov 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I received this book from Goodreads First Reads, and I'm very glad that I did. This is a wonderful book with vivid and detailed descriptions of perfumes both familiar and obscure. As evocative as the history and perfume details are, I have to admit that what I like best about "Scent and Subversion" are the reproductions of perfume advertisements. Again, some are very familiar and others are ads I would not have been likely to see if it were not for there inclusion here. I used to love wearing pe ...more
Becky Shaknovich
Mar 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
On the first page, this book mentions my most favorite -no longer available- perfume ever, 1998's L'Feau De Issey (sorry if I butchered the spelling. I don't speak French) and calls it a masterpiece. I was immediately won over. Reading a bunch of little blurbs about vintage perfumes that I will probably never be able to smell, while interesting, is sort of a tease. I wish there were more modern niche perfumes described. Even so, it was an enjoyable read for a fragrance-obsessed person like mysel ...more
Feb 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is far more than a list of perfumes, it is a journey into olfactory delights. I loved the style of writing, the author's enthusiasm for perfume is infectious and I found myself getting back up to raid my dressing table and see if I agreed with the descriptions of the perfumes I have. I loved the inclusion of old perfume ads and the descriptions of smells are great.The downside to this book is that I think I have found a new and expensive hobby! ...more
Nov 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
I LOVED this! The connections between the social attitudes and events of each decade and the great perfumes that were created in each are so interesting. I loved finding out more about so many of my own favorites and remembering those of women in my past. Also, all the ads which illustrate the book are wonderful. I will go back and read this many times, I'm sure. ...more
Feb 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
Essays in the front & end of this book are fascinating, provide anecdotes and primers on the essential components of perfumes throughout history.

The bulk of this book is just a catalog, divided by decade. It doesn't grip as much. Only so many times a writer can list the notes. There MUST be a way to create a story from a scent map.
Oct 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I checked this out from the library first and I was enjoying it so much but it was so overdue I ended up buying it. She's a great writer but also there are lots of ads of old perfumes and I found it fun just browsing the book and remembering all the old perfumes of the 80's. This goes back further than the 80's though and I've found some of these old fragrances on Ebay and other places. ...more
Jul 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: my-library
A little dry, but well written. Barbara Herman breaks down hundreds of perfumes in the last century; occasionally taking you through her perfumery memoir. If you're passionate about perfumery and history, I'd recommend this book. It's perfect for perfume obsessives. ...more
Aug 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Love that this book was both and interesting and fun read. The 70's and 80's section was funny because there are a lot of fragrances I remember my mom and grandmothers wearing. If you love perfumes, this is a great read! ...more
Apr 11, 2014 added it
Intelligent commentary and analysis of perfume through the decades.
Nov 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is more of a reference manual for a would-be "nose" than something to read straight through. But it's fascinating! If you like perfume, which I do. ...more
« previous 1 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Perfume: A Century of Scents
  • The Secret Commonwealth (The Book of Dust #2)
  • Flow, Gesture, and Spaces in Free Jazz: Towards a Theory of Collaboration [With CD (Audio)]
  • Sexual Harassment of Working Women: A Case of Sex Discrimination
  • The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction
  • Beauty Imagined: A History of the Global Beauty Industry
  • The Erotic Life of Racism
  • The Society of the Spectacle
  • Coping with Infuriating, Mean, Critical People: The Destructive Narcissistic Pattern
  • The Image of Man: The Creation of Modern Masculinity
  • The Cinema, or The Imaginary Man
  • Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence
  • The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character
  • Caliban and the Witch
  • Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche
  • Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World
  • Sorrow and Bliss
  • Valuing: Poems
See similar books…

Related Articles

For more than a decade, Neil deGrasse Tyson, the world-renowned astrophysicist and host of the popular radio and Emmy-nominated...
86 likes · 17 comments