The story of modern perfumery would be incomplete without a chapter on Caron. It's a name that evokes a world of sumptuousness and distinction, founded on an impressive list of classics ranging from Narcisse Noir (1911) to L'Anarchiste (2000). The history of one of the most venerable brands in perfumery is presented in this bilingual, lavishly illustrated monograph by Jean-Marie Martin-Hattemberg.
Caron was published six years ago, and is undoubtedly the most comprehensive book available on the subject. It covers a timespan of almost one century: from the early beginnings, with Ernest Daltroff and Félicie Wanpouille (1904), to the acquisition by current owner Patrick Alès (1998). It has all the characteristics of a coffee-table book, featuring stunning pictures of old bottles, powder boxes, poster ads, and other pretty specimens; but the luscious imagery aside, it paints a picture of real people, involved in a real business, against the backdrop of troubled times. The relationship between Ernest and Félicie plays a crucial role in the first part of the book, which at times reads like a romantic novel: it even features the full transcription of a letter written by Ernest to Félicie in 1913. Perhaps not the most romantic prose ever, but we'll assume it came from a good heart.
The true forte of this book is the author's attention to the Caron classics: you get the complete story on how they were conceived, and who contributed to their creation. Did you know, for instance, that Nocturnes (1981) was initially named Zelda?
Despite the great attention for detail and the beautiful pictures, I'm a bit reluctant to qualify this as the definitive book on Caron. I'm not familiar with Grégoire Colard's Le Charme Secret d'une Maison Parfumée (1984), but my overall impression of Martin-Hattemberg's book is that it could be improved in some areas. The English translation cuts more than a few corners, making the French original far more rewarding to read; but there are also unclarities in the original text which I think could be smoothed out. All things considered, a very nice book to own, that will hopefully inspire other perfume writers in the future.
Jean-Marie Martin-Hattemberg is a marketing and legal consultant who regularly works for perfume companies. He co-wrote Précieux effluves (1997) with Freddy Ghozland, and is the author of several books on perfume bottles.
Toulouse: Éditions Milan (2000)
Hardcover, 208 pages
translation: Anne Mote, Susan Baines