About The Little Book of Perfumes: The Hundred Classics

May 3, 2011 § 9 Comments

At Amazon US: The Little Book of Perfumes: The Hundred Classics

At Waterstones UK: A Little Book of Perfumes: The 100 Greatest Scents (old title, I think it will be updated soon)

There has been a little Twitter action on this book, so before everyone goes thinking the new book is something it is not, lemme ‘splain. Penguin and Profile, our publishers in the US and UK, approached us with an idea for a derivative work: 100 Great Perfumes, taken entirely from reviews we’ve already written, save for a small number of new ones to bring the number up to a round 100, since if I recall correctly there were only 96 five-star reviews. This book, slender and adorable, would be for people who cannot bear to read us ragging on their poor deceased relative’s favorite or for perfume shops and counters that would like to be able to sell such a book along with a nice perfume at Christmas, and who found the original too bitey.

We always thought, and still do think, that good things said about perfume mean absolutely nothing if you only ever say good things. Also, we thought it might be dull to read rave after rave without a palate cleanser. Yet we were assured an entirely positive tribute to the glorious art of perfume was in the making. On consideration, we saw an opportunity.

First, we could fill in the missing spots with appreciations of fragrances from the actual historical past, as reconstructed in loving accuracy by Jean Kerléo for the Osmothèque in Versailles. After discussing the possibility with Patricia de Nicolaï, the current curator, when we met up at the Smithsonian for a weekend of joint presentations, we settled on reviewing these four: L’Origan (TS), Chypre (LT), Emeraude (LT), Iris Gris (LT). My essay on L’Origan is in my best diligent schoolgirl fashion; LT’s essays on the rest are in his inimitable style of describing metaphorically exact, vivid hallucinations. Me, I prefer his stuff, and that’s why I let him write nearly everything this time. We considered doing Fougère Royale but both Penguin and Profile were resolutely against 101 fragrances, so it fell by the wayside.*

Second, and this is the part which may be of interest to the aficion, we resmelled as many of the five-star fragrances as we could. We couldn’t get as many as we wanted before our publisher deadline, due to difficulties of getting our hands on authentic fresh samples dating from 2010 or 2011, especially in Santa Fe, where we happened to be parked during this period. (We were in the middle of moving house to Greece.) We did our best and added current smelling notes where relevant, and also noted which reviews referred solely to a fragrance from 2007 or 2009. This was necessary since important compliance deadlines had passed for fairly destructive IFRA regulations, and several fragrances of the past had been rendered very different or unrecognizable. There are good news and bad news in these re-smelling notes. But my heart was broken several times.

At any rate, the book is almost entirely derived from existing material and is intended for people who didn’t buy the previous editions and who want a very short and pretty celebration of great perfumes, without hundreds of pages of griping and sniping. A gift book, in other words. It is subtitled The Hundred Classics, but really it is A Hundred Fragrances We Found Exceptional When We Compared Them to Over 1,800 Other Things Going at That Time. All the same, there may indeed be some new material of interest to the fanatic, who may be curious as to what we think of the current incarnation of Joy, or L’Heure Bleue, or Opium, for example, all of which, among others, we did manage to re-review in time. —TS

* I would just like to say that the current keepers of the Houbigant brand should die of shame for calling that new thing they’re selling Fougère Royale. Is this a prank? There is also someone selling an Iris Gris, which I dutifully checked, since there seems to be no actual regulatory or aesthetic reason you couldn’t compound the old thing now. But soon it was apparent someone entirely anosmic, with a brutally distorted sense of proportion, had committed a mess. I gently pointed this out to the owner who, admirably undaunted, said everyone remembered it differently and what version was I comparing it to? A sample from the Osmothèque, I told him, but he seemed unimpressed with that authority. Startlingly, several testimonials offered by this company indicated that people believed that their new Iris Gris smelled exactly like the old. Possibilities: (1) Questionable veracity of witnesses. (2) Users are comparing with a bottle that has gone off. (3) Distortions due to hope or poor memory. (4) My sample of the new thing had gone desperately off in a way that made it smell like a Mona di Orio. (5) The Osmothèque’s Iris Gris is a pure invention of Jean Kerléo, the best thing he ever did. (6) Widespread insanity. (7) Marketing guff. I will let you choose.

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