Eat. Pray. Love. Spritz.
It's only May, but 2012 is already shaping up as the year perfume wafted from the lively online blogs and into mainstream publishing in a big way.
FOR THE RECORD:
Perfume books: A May 20 article on books about perfume identified Frederic Malle as the brother of Louis Malle; Frederic Malle is Louis Malle's nephew. In addition, the article identified Angelika Taschen as the wife of Benedikt Taschen; she is his former wife. —
These days, new fragrance releases are greeted — and critiqued — with the intellectual sophistication formerly reserved for Paris fashion shows. Perfume is an art form and the "noses" who compose cutting-edge fragrances are rock stars.
Writers, always hip to the zeitgeist, are avidly chronicling this renaissance and some books have even inspired their own perfumes.
Recent months have brought a well-reviewed thriller set in the perfume world. A memoir of love, secrets, wedding frocks and sensual awakenings. Witty, erudite reviews of 100 top fragrances. A coffee table-sized fragrance manifesto with black-and-white portraits of top perfumers. And the story of how a world-famous "nose" joined forces with a sensualist writer to create a perfume.
My review copy of Denyse Beaulieu's new memoir "The Perfume Lover" describes her collaboration with French perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour and was accompanied by a tiny black bottle of their new perfume, Séville à l'aube. It's an intoxicating scent of orange blossom, incense, smoke, beeswax, flowers and musk that went through more than 100 iterations before everyone was happy. It also caught the eye of L'Artisan Perfumers, a major player in the boutique fragrance world, which plans to release it commercially later this year.
Beaulieu hails from Quebec but long ago fled Canada to re-invent herself as a Left Bank Parisian sophisticate. She is a writer, translator, instructor and perfume blogger — the bilingual Grain de Musc. She writes with penetrating intellect about perfume, gender roles, cultural signifiers, the boudoir and her Bohemian life in a style that marries Jacques Derrida with Anaïs Nin.
"I've come to think of perfumes as my French lovers — a way for gifted artists to seduce me, parlez-moi d'amour me and reflect the many facets of my soul in eerily perceptive ways," she writes.
Another book released this year, "Scent of Triumph," by perfume consultant and author Jan Moran, also features its own perfume — Chimere — a "floriental" based on the scent the heroine creates in this sprawling World War II epic.
In "The Book of Lost Fragrances," author M.J. Rose spins a heady tale of reincarnation, soul mates, ancient Egypt, a French perfume company and a fabled lost book that sparks international intrigue.
The paranormal thriller, published in March, adroitly weaves in lore about perfume distillation and enfleurage; the lavender fields of Grasse, France; the ancient world's long-lost kyphi perfume; the 18th century scented gloves that gave rise to modern perfumery and the industry regulations that — alas — have banned many raw perfumery materials today.
Rose's fictional Maison d'Etoile is a mash-up of dynastic French perfume companies such as Guerlain. One character was inspired by French perfumer (and jeweler) Olivier Durbano, whom Rose befriended while researching the scented world.
But I was most charmed by the author's evocation of the sprawling wooden laboratory desk known as the "perfumer's organ."
"She would sit … and watch the light play on the small glass bottles … [g]iving up ugly and strange and beautiful and powerful smells… Going back over two hundred years, her ancestors had sat there mixing up elixirs from the ingredients.… [S]ome of the oils … were so rare that once [her brother] finished them, he could replace them only with synthetics."
In "Coming to My Senses: A Story of Perfume, Pleasure and an Unlikely Bride," Alyssa Harad recounts her Kate Chopin-like awakening to the sensual joys of perfume and the fulfillment, happiness and fragrant friendships that follow.