I’ve read plenty of fashion history books charting the evolution of apparel over the twentieth century but never a narrative of perfume. This beautiful book choses ten fragrances that captured the zeitgeist of each decade. We travel to the belle époque Paris and her court perfumers to the 1980s corporate power perfumes to the sugar-scented and celebrity perfumes of today.
Smell, the most neglected of senses is also the one most closely linked to memory and emotion. Reading this lovely book certainly left me nostalgic. There were chapters on my first school-girl perfume, Body Shop’s White Musk, to the more daring scent of my university days, Opium. It’s fascinating how perfume can tell a story. Chatting to my girlfriends about this, I was struck by how their chosen scents varied not just on the stage of life but for their purpose. “Now I have three favourite ones for different occasions.” said one friend, “Two by SJP – Covet which is sweet like vanilla for fun nights out and Lovely which is light and delicate for going to restaurants or family occasions. I also have the green Prada perfume (infusion d’iris) for special occasions as it is light and delicate – more than the SJP one and I use it for weddings, special meals etc!”
Perfume expert, Lizzie Ostrom, aka Odette Toilette, looks at perfume within cultural context drawing on advertising, anthropology, psychology and even philosophy while remaining witty and warm. As a reader, you get a sense of pure passion for her subject. I would have loved to read advice from Lizzie on choosing a scent, the science of perfumery and perhaps to have seen a study of advertising imagery. This is a wonderful book though and will appeal to readers of fashion biographies and fashion history and anyone will a love of scent.
Fashion Bookworm is grateful to Penguin Random House for an advance copy of this title