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on 5 November 2009
170,000 bottles of perfume are sold in France every single day. Chanel 'No.5' is known to some in the fragrance world as 'le monstre' because of its unshakeable hold on bestseller lists. Christian Dior, Guerlain and Givenchy are owned by the same parent company, LVMH, which incidentally, also owns Sephora, Louis Vuitton, Moët and Hennessy. If you didn't know these facts - and if such things interest you - then you really ought to pick up a copy of 'The Perfect Scent', Chandler Burr's fascinating and thoroughly engrossing account of the creation of two very different perfumes.

On America's East Coast, Sarah Jessica Parker - standing at the front of a surprisingly large team - is the public face of a convoluted process which eventually results in the production of the well-regarded 'Lovely'. Meanwhile, in France, one of the undisputed masters of the craft, Jean-Claude Ellena, starts mixing his fragrant potions to put together what becomes 'Un Jardin Sur Le Nil' for the house of Hermès. Burr is granted complete access to all the key meetings which lead to the creation of these two very different scents and uses his insights to tell the story of how an idea eventually becomes a packaged bottle on a shelf in a department store. He intersperses this tale not only with well-summarised and readable accounts of the industry's history, but also with discussions of the merits of chemical ingredients versus natural and an examination of the current structure and state of the perfume market. Needless to say, he finds time to throw in a fair amount of glamour too, with acerbic descriptions of glitzy parties, lavish launches and deliciously eccentric characters.

Burr certainly makes a very knowledgeable and trustworthy guide through the elusive, fiendishly difficult-to-describe world of scent and this book is a must-read for anyone with more than a passing interest in the liquid poems that millions of people around the world spray on their skin. His prose is well equipped to convey the olfactory sensation of experiencing perfumes, especially when he's describing those he doesn't particularly care for, like all of Hugo Boss' products: "If a cat had morning breath, then ate kibble, then licked its ..., then licked your hand, it would smell like this." However, his ability to create unusual imagery does sometimes lead him astray and there are several ill-judged descriptive passages, not least one in which smoking rooms in French workplaces are called "filthy little Dachau gas chambers." More importantly - and this is a problem which Burr tacitly recognises - he doesn't always remove himself from the story as much as he should. His set-pieces tend to work better - and are less nebulous - when he adopts the stance of a fly on the wall, but when he indulges in lengthy descriptions of his own activities - as in the case of a pointless account of arriving at a Paris hotel - he loses sight of the fact that we're much more interested in the subject than in the writer.

One could also argue that the story of 'Lovely' isn't necessarily typical of celebrity fragrances: Sarah Jessica Parker was - unlike other famous names - genuinely interested in the creation of her perfume and had firm ideas about its construction. But 'The Perfect Scent' contains enough intelligence and clear-thinking to render this problem unimportant. From start to finish, it is an absorbing dissection of a little-known world where the tension between artistry, chemistry and economics frequently manages to produce ravishing, memorable beauty.
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on 20 July 2010
Chandler Burr is definitely knowledgeable about the perfume industry as a whole and, when writing this book, had a tremendous advantage above many other journalists in the same field by being an involved onlooker in the creative process from the very beginning. He got to know the teams at Hermes and at Coty, interviewed Jean-Claude Ellena & Sarah Jessica Parker, and observed the fascinatig process of the creation and marketing of a fragrance from the inside - and in detail; however for me this was not enough.

An essential aspect of any book of this nature is the impression one gets of the impartiality of the author however, although I am convinced that Chandler Burr started the process which culminated in this book with a totally impartial approach, it soon appeared to me that he soon developed a closer working relationship with all those involved in the creation of 'Lovely'. To me this was not surprising. Most of the Coty team, SJP and Chandler Burr himself were American, with a shared (and rather more open) approach to publicity; Hermes is a French company with strong family roots and, I suspect, an instinctive wariness concerning the dangers of letting a 'stranger' in on their deliberations. Coty were aware of the advantages of getting CB on side and one of the results was a free bookmark, scented with the perfume they had created and were wanting to sell - so I (and thousands of other people) have smelled 'Lovely' but not 'Un Jardin sur le Nil'.

'Lovely' is indeed lovely, a charming, well-constructed feminine fragrance. Maybe 'Nil' is equally lovely but I don't know, I haven't yet had a chance to test it.

Buy this book if you want a really good inside look at the workings of the perfume industry, and note the differences between the European (specifically French) and the American way of doing things - all this was quite fascinating - but you will be aware with every sentence that it is written by an American who could not help but be more comfortable working with his compatriots.
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on 14 July 2011
This book is a brilliant introduction to the arcane world of perfumery. A must-read for any perfume or cosmetics enthusiast, and very funny and at times shocking. Let down by the godawful style of writing - the author would clearly rather be a novelist and there are acres of self-aggrandising rubbish and hip street talk to wade through. But read it for the information it contains, not the style.
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on 25 February 2014
I've long been interested in fragrance, & I read Luca Turin's 'bible' with great interest (it confirms my thoughts on how many lovely fragrances are 're-formulated'). This is a remarkably open account of a highly secretive industry, and a really fascinating read. Hermes fragrances are now on my wish list (I understand about the exclusivity, but oh how I wish they weren't quite so expensive!)- & while I never usually purchase any 'named star' fragrance, I might make an exception in this instance! One final thought: I am filled with curiosity over those fragrances that didn't make the commercial cut...
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on 26 June 2013
Until a few weeks ago I knew nothing about the perfume industry.
I have an interest in 'business biographies' ... books that explain the initial concepts, developments, marketing and growth of everyday products. I am not talking text book stuff here, just lively and informative journalistic style that entertains.
This book delivered for me. Next time my lady takes me through the 'cosmetics hall' at the front of a department store or we are waiting for our flight to be called as we loiter in the departure lounge perfume shops I shall have more idea of what went on behind the scenes. I never did see Sex in the City but, after reading this book I wish I had as Sarah Jessica Parker sounds an absolute delight.
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VINE VOICEon 13 December 2010
I have had the pleasure, a couple of years ago, to attend a conference within the perfumery industry, where Mr.Burr was one of the speakers. His intervention was sharp, concisive, knowledgeable and utterly spot-on. The same pleasure I have experienced in reading this book which literally draws you into a reality not every perfume lover may be aware of. A very interesting, intelligent snapshot of the current "scented" panorama. We will hopefully be reading more by the same author, of no-nonsense, able journalists we are in need!
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on 4 August 2008
A great insight into what the perfume industry is about; in particular how they go about creating a scent (the best bit) and the myriad of marketing and other people who shape what they think we would like to buy. And the fact that a really good perfume is really about happiness and love!
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on 26 October 2015
Delivery time was longer than expected. Book was fine, as promised.
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on 13 March 2016
As described
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on 16 February 2015
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