My favourite perfume books

My research on perfumery has involved a lot of reading, ranging from textbooks to novels. Here are the books I think you’ll enjoy, and that aren’t too technical (I’ve also read a lot on production and chemistry). I’ve ranked them in descending order of how easy they are to read if you’re not familiar with this secretive world.

The Diary of a Nose
Jean-Claude Ellena

“No, I do not smell perfumes the way you do.”

A wonderful book by one of my favourite perfumers, filled with musings and stories about his life in this fascinating industry.

My Story
Jo Malone

“I was going to be a shopkeeper, and was proud to regard myself as such.”

Rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches autobiography of a British icon of perfumery and cosmetics.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Patrick Süskind

“Odours have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odour cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it.”

The enthralling and often disturbing fictional tale of a young Frenchman with a perfect sense of smell and a murderous lust for the perfect smell. My copy is on loan to a friend, so this shot of the German edition will have to do for the moment.

Perfume: In Search of Your Signature Scent
Neil Chapman

“With a dense, medicinal, almost creepy take on a tropical flower, it is hard to imagine what the monks were quite thinking of as they checked the macerations in their cellars; nodded ‘si’, and sagely began to pour the tarry liquid into bottles.”

This book is a lot like Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, but more approachable for those not yet initiated into the perfume world. Chapman also introduces an unusual but more approachable system of classification, working with main smells rather than olfactive families.

Perfumes: The A-Z Guide
Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez

“It [perfume] wasn’t science but art, though both rely heavily on a combination of inspiration and happy accident.”

Pretty much the definitive guide to the fragrances you can currently buy, written by the most delightful duo in the industry. It’s opinionated and irrelevant, but that’s why so many people in the marketing-saturated perfume world love it, myself very much included.

Perfume: The Alchemy of Scent
Jean-Claude Ellena

“It is through the use of memory, through the remembrance of shared fragrances, that I create the seductiveness of perfumes.”

This one gets a little more into the specifics of how perfumery works, including things like the basics of perfumery training, the industry, and marketing. It’s hardly in-depth, but it’s an interesting appetiser and very interesting.

The Emperor of Scent
Chandler Burr

“Once you smell dead octopus, you never forget it.”

Luca Turin, mentioned above, is also a biophysicist. This is the surprisingly intense, and often quite funny, story behind how he perfected a still-controversial theory about the mechanics of the human sense of smell.

I highly recommend reading any one of these books if you haven’t already. Each one offers a unique look into the wonderful world of perfume and olfaction. If I’ve missed something important, let me know in the comments below – I’m always keen to learn more.

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