When the advanced copy of Denyse Beaulieu's The Perfume Lover arrived here I was trying to finish that supersized serving of junk food known as Breaking Dawn, so The Husband got the book first. He also was first to sample L'Artisan Parfumeur's Séville à l’aube, the perfume that's in the heart of the book. Séville à l’aube smells so much deeper and better and wonderfuller on him that he'll be the owner of the fragrance when it's finally launched (July in Europe, closer to September in the US). I'll (or rather we'll) review the perfume closer to its launch date. But today's all about the book (Harper Collins, release date: March 15th), and the review was written by The Husband:
A few years ago, Gaia and I had the pleasure of spending a June afternoon in Paris with the author, Denyse Beaulieu. We went sniffing at the faux-provocative perfume store of Etat Libre d’Orange and then chatted while munching on pastries at a street side café.
Reading the book feels like extending that afternoon into a weekend with Denyse. The book pretty accurately reflects the way she is in real life: charming, talkative, gossipy, knowledgeable, boastful, fascinating, name dropping, provocative, self-deprecating and delightful. Yes, all at the same time. The Perfume Lover is just like that.
The raison d'être of the book is the creative process behind a perfume, Séville à l’aube from L'Artisan Parfumeur. I’d like to applaud the concept of sending a perfume sample with the book. I hope that the publisher will find a way to do it for the general public because it elevates the experience. Reading through the evolution process: from a memory to a complex and beautiful fragrance is very enjoyable; I found myself dabbing and smelling while reading, trying to identify the different elements, materials, facets within, as well as trying to imagine how the various revisions smelled.
Now, the concept of documenting the creative process behind a perfume is definitely not new and was done quite successfully by Chandler Burr in “The Perfect Scent”. Denyse Beaulieu ‘s story is far more personal and depicts how a perfume lover charmed one of the world’s most talented noses, Bertrand Duchaufour, into making a perfume based on her memories of one perfect sensual night in Seville. The book also follows the author’s personal journey from a muse to a creative partner. The perfume creation storyline and the relationship between the artist and the muse is the most enjoyable part of this. There are quite a few other threads woven into the narrative, giving a somewhat rambling impression, but the core story is what has kept my focus and interest.
What else do we have here? Some autobiographical stories that are a bit flat and strangely feel more like fiction. There are perfume history bits that are a bit arbitrary in the periods and perfumes they cover. Also included: conversations with perfumers that are interesting although do not provide enough new insight beyond satisfying the curiosity about some of our idols.
Sometimes it feels like the author, unsure of her audience, is trying to please everyone: the beginner as well as the fragonerd, but the few more basic parts thrown in for the newbies don’t suffice to make this book really accessible to the masses. About half way through the book you start to ignore the distractions and start to connect with the love story to perfume that we can all relate to: forbidden infatuation, voracious exploration, happy discoveries and heartbreaking reformulations.
Who will enjoy this book? Most chances are that if you are here on this blog, reading this post, you should get the book. If you are a perfume lover yourself who enjoys fragrance reviews, your beloved uncles are named Serge and Frederic and have a favorite Bertrand Duchaufour perfume, The Perfume Lover will be an interesting if uneven read, as well as a great sniffing companion.
The Perfume Lover By Denyse Beaulieu (£8.99 on Amazon UK, where it's already available for pre-ordrer. Amazon.com has yet to set a price) will be available starting March 15th. I was sent a copy by the publisher.
Art: detail from Hesiod Listening To The Inspiration Of The Muse by Edmond Aman-Jean