Book Club: The Perfect Scent
Book in Review: The Perfect Scent
by Chandler Burr
Print Length: 340 pages
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; Reprint edition (January 22, 2008)
Publication Date: January 22, 2008
I must admit, I have never really thought much about perfume. I own perfume. But, initially, it wasn't a purchase I made particularly thoughtfully. My cousin, who is ten years my senior and thus was the epitome of cool to my teenage self, used a certain scent- so I wanted it too. During these teenage years my father travelled overseas often and was able to buy the perfume for me Duty Free. He would return from every trip with those huge, packaged, super-saver boxes of perfume. I am honestly still using some that same perfume he bought me 15 years ago.
I always wanted to have a distinctive smell. I don't know why that was important to me but I remember lots of people by their smell and I wanted to be distinctive too. It's ironic that this desire for uniqueness actually came from wanting to be more like my cousin, who is one of the most beautiful women I know and has always seemed to be effortlessly stylish. But my scent, Carolina Herrera's 212, was not something that could be easily obtained in '90s Sydney and so it became MINE.
I'm very loyal to 212. But recently, it got relegated from my only perfume to my every-day scent. Because I now have a weekend scent too.
After my first child was born I searched for a place to belong. The transition from full time work to stay at home motherhood was jarring and dislocating for me. Mothers' groups didn't do it for me. I found the conversations about bodily functions inane and depressing. And so I started a book club. Initially it was with other women, but they too all became mothers and this book club sustained us in friendship and sanity. We followed the books read by the ABC's Book Club. Two books per month; one modern and one older. It exposed us to a whole variety of books we would never have picked up otherwise. There were definitely misses but there were lots of hits as well. And one of them was the book The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry in Paris and New York by Chandler Burr.
The Perfect Scent is a perfect non fiction book. It tells the stories of two perfumes. One blockbuster perfume made with Jessica Parker in New York and one high end perfume made for the fashion house of Hermes. It is fascinating. It takes you through the science and economics of perfumery in a way that is relatable and approachable. It takes you (literally) inside Jessica Parker's house in New York and then into the most esteemed (and most snobbish)perfume school in Paris. It made me laugh. It made me think. I couldn't put it down. And when I did, I ran to the nearest department store to smell both of the scents. And for my birthday, my Book Club bought me the Hermes perfume. And it's now my weekend scent.
I like the symbiosis and the symbolism of my two scents. I love my 212. I love that it's mine and that people recognise me for my scent. I love that when I do think about it, it makes me smile nostalgically at my awkward lanky teenage self, wanting to be like others and eventually growing into my own skin and owning it. I love my new perfume too. Love that it's a more adult scent. That I know the story of its making and how that story helped me in a very vulnerable time.
I highly recommend the Perfect Scent. Chandler Burr is a very engaging writer. The book feels both intimate and personal, while also gossipy at times. It is a fun read and I would highly recommend it.