Suppose you want it all: a comprehensive read on the history of perfume, biographies on the greatest noses of the past, insights in the creation of fragrances and fragrance bottles, a smart guide with addresses and perfume classifications, and perhaps even some tips on how to create your own fragrance wardrobe. Is there a single book that covers all these things exhaustively? The answer is no. But The Book of Perfume by Elisabeth Barillé and Catherine Laroze comes very close.
This lavishly illustrated work combines all the ingredients to capture the attention of any fragrance enthusiast, from the curious novice to the dyed-in-the-wool perfume adept. It’s an accessible introduction to the most important aspects of perfumery, featuring countless fragrance facts and anecdotes that bring perfume history to life in all its splendor. While the authors are not insiders in the perfume trade, the result of their collaboration is a well-written and authoritative book, built on accurate research and genuine passion.
As one would expect from an all-round book, it comes with a few inherent limitations: it covers a rather narrow historical timespan (from the late 17th century onwards), and avoids complex technicalities in the chapter on perfume creation. The perfume guide in the back is very informative, but it’s clearly showing signs of old age, and can hardly substitute for a dedicated title in this specific area of interest. Nevertheless, The Book of Perfume remains a joy to own: each time I browse through those brilliantly illustrated pages (pictures of factory interiors, famous noses at work, rare perfume bottles), I discover new details, small things that instantly reawaken my love for fragrances. I’m not a great fan of the authors’ overly romantic narrative ("What would the world be like without scent or smell? Unbearable!"), but it’s a peculiarity of coffee-table books in general – and in this case, I can easily live with that minor dissatisfaction. Definitely a wannahave.
New copies of The Book of Perfume are still largely available, but prices vary considerably (40.00 to 75.00 US$).
Catherine Laroze is a philosopher turned journalist, with a special interest in the aesthetics of gardening, fragrance, and perfume. Elisabeth Barillé is a prolific novelist, and author of booklets on Coty, Guerlain and Lanvin.
The Book of Perfume
Elisabeth Barillé and Catherine Laroze
Original title: Le Livre du Parfum
Translation: Tamara Blondel
Paris/New York: Flammarion (1995)
Hardcover, 224 pages