The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry in Paris and New York by Chandler Burr
While many luxury items -- cars, handbags, designer sunglasses, and the like -- seem utterly gauche to me, there's still something genuinely elegant and luxurious about a bottle of good perfume. Because unlike those other fetish items, a good perfume doesn't scream "Notice me!" (though a bad one does); it turns your head without giving you whiplash.
For this book, Chandler Burr, the scent critic for T: The New York Times Style Magazine, was granted access into the highly secretive world of perfume creators and manufacturers, and follows two very different fragrances from the planning stages to the retail counter. The first is the second fragrance in a series produced by legendary French perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena for Hermes, Un Jardin sur le Nil. The second is a celebrity fragrance, Sarah Jessica Parker's Lovely, for Coty, which is unique in that Parker played an active role in all stages of the product's creation.
And though I have no real aptitude for chemistry, no interest in marketing, don't speak French, and have not purchased a bottle of perfume for myself since the 8th grade*, I still found this book completely fascinating.
Burr is extremely knowledgeable, yet also accessible and delightfully opinionated. The discreet, yet barbed comments of industry insiders are fun, but some of the book's best moments come when Burr tells us how he really feels, with the bulk of his contempt reserved for men's fragrances on the market, Hugo Boss in particular. He describes Hugo Boss Number One as follows: "If a cat had morning breath, then ate kible, then licked its anus, then licked your hand, and if you then smelled your hand, it would smell like this."
If you liked...: Bringing Home the Birken: My Life in Hot Pursuit of the World's Most Coveted Handbag by Michael Tonello, this book is for you.
* Granted my favorite scents in the 8th grade were Cover Girl's Navy and Revlon's Xia Xiang, I also had a thing for Ralph Lauren's Safari. But alas, I could not afford it on my babysitter's salary, and had to settle for stealing squirts from department store testers. I think this is when I gave up on perfume -- I couldn't go back to the cheap stuff, but couldn't afford anything better.
After reading Burr's book, though, I've decided to use some of my tax refund to go out and purchase something good. I dislike florals, am wary of musks and spicy fragrances, so I think I'm leaning towards something green -- perhaps Estee Lauder's Private Collection, if it's not too WASPy.