Perfume: A Century of Scents
By Lizzie Ostrom
When you read that fragrance aficionado Lizzie Ostrom (aka Odette Toilette) has been described as ‘the Heston Blementhal of perfume’, you know that this isn’t going to be your average history of the art of scent-making reference book. And it isn’t. As you might expect from someone who runs anarchic Scratch ‘n’ Sniff events events – including one enticingly themed ‘Dirty Perfumes’ and hosted on a bed – this delve into the olfactory world is very particular.
An irreverent romp through one hundred years of fragrance, beginning with 1900, she tells the story of one fragrance at a time. They’re not necessarily the best (and it may be that the reader’s own favourite isn’t among them) but they are all significant in their own way. They have played crucial roles in the evolution of scent – whether it’s to with the ingredients or whether it’s because they somehow captured the zeitgeist.
Some are still loved, some are loathed and others are simply lost masterpieces and Ostrom tells their stories with wit, charm and pace. Along with the facts about the formulas, discoveries of synthetic ingredients and the people behind them (or wearing them), there’s the anecdotes, gossip and unsubstantiated rumour – just for extra flavour.
And it’s not all about the girls. As you might hope, Perfume also offers an insight into a few men’s classics – names so redolent of their time that if you’re a chap of a certain age, you can pretty well summon up an image of yourself putting on your best velvet loons for a night down at The Cat’s Whiskers as you read about Brut (‘The Neanderthal Perfume’) or ‘The Playboy Perfume’, Eau Sauvage if you were a bit posh.
This book would make a great gift for anyone who loves perfume and/or style and social history in general – but I would have a quick flick thorough first before you wrap it up!