Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Diary of a Nose by Jean-Claude Ellena: A Book Review By The Husband

Before we get to the husband's review of The Diary of a Nose by Jean-Claude Ellena (the book came out in French two years ago; the English translation of the American edition will be released on January 22nd), you can still enter the Andy Tauer Advent Calendar giveaway for a full bottle. Now, on with The Blond's review:

Jean-Claude Ellena, the exclusive perfumer for Hermes, tells us in this personal, engaging, and intellectual diary that he is lucky to have complete creative control over the scents he composes. That does not mean he has control over the packaging and marketing of his creation.

I’m pretty sure he did not have control over the cover and inside flap or of the promotional text that accompanies this book. They are as bad as they come and I had to force myself to start reading. More on that later. [editor's note: I  had to force him]

If you get past the aforementioned bombastic statements, the book itself is a candid window into the way Jean-Claude Ellena works. As one of the best known perfumers in the world, he offers a glimpse into this unique world. Ellena tells us about his Grasse upbringing, the shaping influence Edmond Roudnitska had on him, the creative process and where he finds inspiration and other activities from his busy commercial and artistic calendar. As a perfumer best known for his minimalistic style, JCE lays out his philosophy but more interestingly, some of his challenges and doubts: Is he an artist or a craftsman?  the intersection and influence between art and commerce, is perfume related to fashion and should change with the seasons or should aim to be a classic that stands the test of time?

Ellena expands on some of the core elements of the composing process and philosophy: his preference for synthetics over natural ingredients for their consistency, the aspiration for simplicity through use of a small pallet and achieving complexity through juxtaposition of elements. JCE prefers abstract to literal and does not equate quality with depth, complexity concentration and (unfortunately) staying power. I was surprised to learn that  he is concerned about being too pigeonholed in this style, so that his new creations are not eagerly anticipated (he may already be there, in my opinion). The perfumer also laments the arbitrary restrictions on raw materials (IFRA) and admits to panic attacks and bouts of indecision like all of us. And yes, he even reads perfume blogs!

Ellena is almost humble when in response to a question as to if he has a gift, he answers that he does not. He grew up into perfume, discovered in himself a passion for it and was encouraged to go in that direction. Which brings us back to the infamous cover and flap. To quote: “Jean-Claude Ellena has a sublime gift... He elevates fragrances to an art form... his concoctions are as finely composed as a haiku.” And there’s more, which is really not necessary. JCE is already famous and established enough (not to mention has a certain reputation for his ego), thus, the marketing blurb makes you question your desire (and stomach) for a full book of this stuff. The hype does a great disservice to this simple, insightful, and nearly ego-free book that would appeal to anyone passionate about perfume.

 And now you can earn a gold star from Gaia and from me for finding the blatant problem with the cover itself:

The Diary of a Nose by Jean-Claude Ellena (Rizzoli), $14.71 on Amazon (list price is $24.95) was sent for our consideration and review by the publisher.

Photo credit: Richard Schroeder.


  1. Replies
    1. Exactly. Let's hope that if and when Maurice Roucel publishes a book no one will think to put a bottle of Terre d'Hermes on its cover.

  2. Thank you, Mr. Blond! You've convinced me to preorder - one question: are there any illustrations or diagrams that would keep this from being good to read on kindle? Happy holidays, nozknoz

    1. No pictures or illustrations so the Kindle edition should be fine. The pictures in the post were provided by the PR but are not in the book. Not sure why as they would have added a lot.

  3. There is another big problem with the cover - because of the difference in the font sizes, from a distance it says DIARY A NOSE. Say THAT out loud. :-)


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