Book Review: The Perfume Lover, Denyse Beaulieu

| 10 August , 2012 | Reply

From aldehydic to zesty, from Chanel No. 5 to Sarah Jessica Parker’s Lovely, there is something in perfume for everyone. Denyse Beaulieu’s memoir The Perfume Lover is essential reading (no pun intended) for anyone who wants to understand more about how a perfume is composed, how the base, heart and top notes interact, and how perfumes have evolved – from something to cover up the smells of the tanning industry to the most luxurious, high-end, expensive ephemeral consumer goods in the world.

Perfume’s story is a long and complex one, in broad terms and in miniature. Denyse Beaulieu takes us on a journey from the very start of her own personal perfume exploration with Bertrand Duchaufour, an inspired, brilliant, humble and demanding genius of the perfume world. Together, they compose an entirely new perfume based on Denyse’s recollection of a crazy, mad, luxurious night in Seville – Séville à l’Aube, soon to be released by French niche perfume house L’Artisan Parfumeur. The delicate, involved, sometimes precise, and sometimes chaotic steps taken to create Denyse and Bertrand’s “baby” mirror the history of perfume itself. And along the way you will pick up no small collection of perfumery terms and facts to amaze and amuse. For instance you might learn that the sought-after African Stone ingredient in perfume is a form of petrified rabbit pee. Or that perfume houses make more money developing fragrances for detergent than for the beautiful and expensive glass bottles you can get in boutiques.

Writing about perfume must be singularly difficult. For one thing there is the very subjective nature of perfume’s appeal. But if you step past that there is the barrier of language. For as Denyse points out, how many words are there to describe smells? Really we fall back on words that evoke other senses, like fruity (taste), velvety (touch), or light/dark (sight). The perfume devotee must learn new terms and new forms of expression to be able to share their observations, and in this book Denyse Beaulieu has succeeded, I think, in bringing to light a wealth of vocabulary that will instantly broaden your smell horizons. At times challenging, but in the end very rewarding, this book is a marvel and is inspirational and indispensable reading material for anyone who wears, smells, or desires perfume in any form.

Available now: HarperCollins RRP$23.99

Diane

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