Last weekend, I spent a wonderful afternoon devouring Chandler Burr's book The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry in Paris and New York. As the perfume critic for The New York Times, Burr explores both the business and creative sides of the fragrance industry. In The Perfect Scent, he writes about his year covering the development of two fragrances: Un Jardin Sur le Nil from Hermès and Sarah Jessica Parker's Lovely.
This is such a well-written, fascinating, and enjoyable book that you'll find much to love even if you aren't obsessed with fragrance. I spoke with Chandler Burr on Friday, and I'll be bringing you some of his wit and expertise later this week. But for now, let me tell you about the book. For the synopsis, read more.
In France, Burr follows Jean-Claude Ellena, an accomplished perfumer who'd just been tapped to be the first in-house "nose" for Hermès. Saddled with the challenge of reviving the luxury house's lackluster perfume sales, Ellena has to maintain a delicate balance between formulating an artistically beautiful scent and pushing Hermès forward in the multibillion dollar perfume industry. (The scent, Un Jardin sur le Nil, launched in 2005.)
You're probably familiar with Lovely, the first scent created by Sarah Jessica Parker. Burr observes the actress over the year, beginning with a walking tour of Sarah Jessica's favorite New York smells and moving forth into the development of her scent. Unlike many celebrities who launch fragrances, Sarah Jessica was highly involved in the development, packaging, and marketing of Lovely. Even ignoring her fame, the story of Lovely would be an interesting one; still, it's difficult not to love SJP after reading about her favorite scents. (They aren't what you might imagine.)
The book is packed with countless fascinating bits about fragrance (did you know that molecules in jasmine have the smell of a corpse?), and Burr's writing is as witty as it is pithy. I could go on and on, but sometimes you just have to read a book. And this is one of those times. Read it; I know you'll enjoy it. And come back tomorrow to read the first part of my interview with Chandler Burr.