The Perfume Lover

A perfume needs to fulfill three fundamental criteria so that it lives, and lasts, and goes on gaining recognition as time goes by. Bertrand Duchaufaour

I come from a long line of noses. My maternal grandmother was known for her acute sense of smell. I remember one summer day when she proclaimed something was amiss in the house. My cousins and I went along our merry way as she went from room to room, finally locating the small bird that had died in the chimney.

My mother has the symbolic nose of Cyrano de Bergerac. Recently we were on the beach watching the kids play in the surf when she said she smelled chocolate. I blew her off, what chocolate could there be on this hot Florida beach? 3 minutes later, a lady walked by, a frozen chocolate-covered banana in hand. I should have known better, my mother has made a life of being fragrant and perfuming everything within her path. Most of my childhood is an olfactory  footprint as I remember vividly Charles of the Ritz, Anais Anais, L’Air du Temps to the larger than life Bijon and of course that classic of the big shoulder 80’s, Giorgio of Beverly Hills. My mother is the easiest woman to shop for-I just head to the perfume counter. A junior high English teacher, she was known for smelling delicious and all the boys had a crush on her, or at least were intoxicated with the smell of her. I can’t tell you know many times my secret crushes told me how wonderful my mother smelled. When you are in junior high, that is just not cool. She may not have been Stifler or Stacy’s mom, but she left a pile of teenage boys in her path nonetheless.

As a result I became a little bit of a fragrance nerd. It was inevitable, as I had to tag along as she bought gifts for her family, including her 6 brothers and sisters. All uncles received fragrant soap on the rope (Google it) and sisters, neighbors and friends received gift packages with perfume, lotion and talc. In those days, the saleswomen were knowledgable and had plenty of time to educate us on top notes, base notes and the art of layering scents. Everything became an olfactory database in my head, and today I can note musk, vetiver or minute traces of amber with one whiff.

As inclined as I am to geek out on a subject, perfume is a natural fit. The Perfume Lover by Denise Beaulieu was that perfect combination of romance, biography and science. If that’s right in your wheelhouse, than you will be lifted along on her fragrant adventure. Beaulieu was living in Paris as a fragrance writer and mistress of the blog Grain de Musc. As she recounts a wonderful night in Seville with perfumer Betrand Duchaufour, she begins a fragrant journey of both recollection and new discovery.

I was entranced with this book, especially Beaulieu’s lessons in the history of commercial fragrance. The way perfume has changed with the times, just as fashion has, is interesting for the perfumanista and fashionista alike. Throwing in an aside about the fragrance that Michael Jackson wore was not wasted either. The perfume minutiae was wonderful catnip for my obsessive self and I couldn’t wait to see what the end result would become. And eventually, there was a flower bomb of an ending with the perfume Seville A L’Aube. Produced by L’Artisan Parfumeur, it is an exciting culmination for the end of a book. Some books inspire you to travel, but this one leaves you inspired to explore the world of scent, one antique French atomizer at a time.

 

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