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

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3.8  ·  Rating details ·  938 Ratings  ·  166 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
Audio CD, 0 pages
Published April 13th 2008 by Tantor Media (first published January 22nd 2008)
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Community Reviews

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Petra Eggs
Dec 31, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Petra Eggs by: M
I finished this book a while back. I'm not sure what to say except that Chandler Burr knows the perfume industry inside out. Knowing that, it seems odd to me that there are no scandals, everyone behaves perfectly well and fairly. This just isn't how business works, this is how PR works. Another revenue stream for the author?

Additionally Sarah Jessica Parker has far, far more input into 'her' perfume than any of the other celebrities who have no input at all, they are just advertising faces on n
...more
Kelly
Nov 27, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Time on To-Read List: 1 year (5 months on physical pile, given by a friend)
Reason for Still Lurking on To-Read: Not What Fingers Spasmodically Reach For
Motivation For Finally Picking It Up: I read the first few pages (and then didn’t stop).



Man, if you would have told me that I would read, much less enjoy, much less THROUGHLY enjoy and insist upon reading aloud from on multiple occasions, what is essentially an industry analysis book, I would have held out my hand and said, “Hi, I’m Kelly. Nice
...more
Jon
Nov 16, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Molly Ringle
Jun 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Melody
Mar 27, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jennifer
Jan 04, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jane
Mar 04, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jamie
Mar 12, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sophia
Feb 09, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Cathy
Apr 01, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Paul
Sep 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Perfect Scent takes you deep inside the perfume industry on both sides of the Atlantic, where we get to be voyeurs through the creation of two distinctive products - one for a celebrity in Manhattan, one the arcane art of a traditional french perfumer.

This is an excellent book that leads the reader into the strange world of an industry, tradition and set of skills that most of us would know nothing about. It makes no apology for getting into extreme detail, or for not dumbing-down the story
...more
Christian West
Apr 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The story alternates between the development of two perfumes; Un Jardin sur le Nil, and Sarah Jessica Parker's Lovely.
Un Jardin sur le Nil was developed for Hermès by their new in-house perfumer and his story contains information about the history of the modern perfume industry as well as information on the French aspects of perfumery.
Sarah Jessica Parker's story was fascinating as she is one of the few celebrities to have proper creative input into the design of a scent featuring her name. Her
...more
Andrea
Jan 19, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
M
Mar 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Kate
Mar 11, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: foodwriting
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
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
Owen
Jul 31, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
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! ;)
Amelia
Jan 07, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 25, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Danny
Aug 17, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-book
I enjoyed the glimpse into this industry, the little I've heard of before was in a novel, Perfume: Story of a Murderer, which took place in the late 1800s.  Scent is a difficult thing to write about, probably, and the novel did an excellent job.  Chandler Burr, author of The Perfect Scent just does okay. The book also needed an editor, I felt, because I swear I was told what the molecule for the scent of cotton candy was 4 times.  And each time it seemed as if it was supposed to be new informati ...more
Alberto Lopez
Feb 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
More a narrative than a business tool, this book is light for any one with experience in product development. In any case, it is still plenty interesting to hear stories about famous scents.
Rebecca
An interesting insight into the fragrance world, and it follows the creation process of Hermes Un Jardin Sur Le Nil and SJP's Lovely. I could have gone without reading page 248-249. What was that all about? It was so in depth and explicit. Isn't there a better way to describe an unusual musk instead of saying it smells like an anus or an uncircumsised penis?
Grace Kao
May 15, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Lori
Feb 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2011
I picked this up on a whim thinking it would be fun "research" for a trip to Paris. I had no idea how much fun Chandler Burr would make my "research" even though I didn't get my interlibrary loan copy until the day after I got home! Expecting to return this rather quickly along with all my other over-due research books, I couldn't resist after reading in the preface where he discusses the memory of his grandmother primarily as, "a fragrance: of fresh citrus and the green leaves of the poisonous ...more
FicusFan
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Katie/Doing Dewey
As the New York Times perfume critic, Chandler Burr was able to spend a year behind the scenes watching two perfume firsts unfold. First, Sarah Jessica Parker wanted to be involved in creating her own perfume, far more than most celebrities or brands that get their names put on a perfume. Second, the famous perfumer Jean Claude Ellena was about to make his first perfume as the head perfumer at Hermès. Both had many reasons for wanting to get their perfume just right and this book is one of the f ...more
Brian
Aug 18, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jackie
May 08, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club-books
I would have never picked up this book to read, except it was suggested for book club. I don't often wear fragrance because most female fragrances give me a terrible headache (which runs in my family, on my father side).

I found this book to be fascinating. I really never thought about what makes a fragrance, or how it is made, but is explained as a piece of art that tells a story. After reading this book, it totally makes sense.

I wound up switching from the hardback book to the audio edition in
...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
Oct 17, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2009
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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“I know someone who believes that Hugo Boss scents constitute proof that God does not exist.” 0 likes
“They asked Picasso, "What do you do when you're inspired?" Picasso said, "I work." They asked, "What do you do when you find yourself blocked creatively?" Picasso said, "I work.” 0 likes
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