You see, nothing is more immediate, more complete than the sense of smell. In an instant, it has the power to transport you. Your olfactory sense connects not to the memory itself, but to the emotion you felt when that memory was made. To recreate a scent memory is one of the most challenging, eloquent pursuits possible. It’s poetry, in its most immediate form.
–from The Perfume Collector
At the advice of the one and only Sharla Bush, I picked up a copy of The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro–quite simply because I come from a huge family of readers (and writers!) and reading is one of my most favorite hobbies. However, as I delved farther and farther into the characters and story, I quickly realized this book is nothing short of a blog post and that my readers would enjoy hearing about it. The language is smart yet not too difficult to read. I find it so frustrating to sit down with a new book, only to discover the writer must be waaaayyyy more intelligent than me because their sentence structure and word choice requires me to take Language Arts again as a refresher.
Part mystery/party love story/part ‘that one fabulous adventure in Paris we all wish we could have,’ The Perfume Collector follows the story of Grace Munroe, a young Brit trapped in a loveless marriage of convenience. We watch Grace as she travels from London to Paris in the Spring of 1955 after she receives a telegram stating Madame Eva d’Orsey has passed and left Grace as the sole heir of her estate.
“…I’ve never met Eva d’Orsey. I have no idea who this woman is.”
As Grace arrives in Paris to meet Edouard Tissot, Madame d’Orsey’s attorney, her desire to know and understand the woman who would leave all her earthly possessions (which includes an exquisite garden apartment and a hefty stock portfolio) to a complete stranger catapults her into the past where she embarks on a mission of discovery spanning forty years. With the help of the [obviously] handsome Monsieur Tissot, Grace learns of Eva’s beginnings as a hotel maid in New York City during the roaring 20s, as well as her career as a gifted card sharp in Monte Carlo a decade after. However, it is Eva’s time spent in Paris as a muse to a genius perfumer that has Grace the most intrigued, and it is three distinct fragrances and their notes which hold the key to Grace’s past…as well as her future.
While reading The Perfume Collector I began to obsess a bit about the concept of perfume and scent, and did a little research into their classificaitons. In 1983 the former international fragrance director for Halston, Michael Edwards, created a revolutionary system for classifying and comprehending scent. The Fragrance Wheel groups perfumes by family as opposed to brand or perfumer. Whether we realize it or not, most of us have a favorite family or two and identifying your preferrence is the simplest way to discover fragrances you’ll love.
I have several favorite scents, Bond No 9–‘The Hamptons’ being the first. Laurice Rahme, the Parisian perfumer responsible for bringing Creed to the United States, was living in New York City in 2001 when the twin towers fell. Laurice was so distraught over the burned stench on the streets she decided to create a perfume line all about New York. Making Scents of New York is her philosophy and she has made it her mission to give every New York neighborhood a scent of its own while returning artistry to perfumery. Bond No 9 has a 60% perfume count which helps the fragrance stay with you 8-9 hours.
Each fragrance is named after a different street, or neighborhood or even a city-wide sensibility; and each fragrance is full of notes reminiscent of that area. I wore The Hamptons on my wedding day. First note is lime blossom. Then bergamot, white jasmine, magnolia, amber and sandalwood. I would consider this my signature fragrance although I like to change it up and layer different perfumes depending on my mood.
Another favorite comes in a .25 oz imported French flacon. Ginger Ciao by YOSH was introduced to me in 2007 while working at Sharla’s. It is one of six fragrances in Yosh Han’s Luxury Elements Collection, meaning it is made of 100% essential oils. Don’t be scared off by the use of Essential Oils–you won’t smell like dirt…or a hippy. Black Coconut, Night Queen, Tiger Lily, Neroli, Ylang Ylang, Ginger and Basil are the notes found in Ginger Ciao. The result is both relaxed and intense. It is a sumptuous and expensive-smelling scent that truly takes you on an adventure each time you wear it. Emotion is Yosh’s goal with her fragrances. Her artform displays the connection between scent and the human spirit, and is rather extraordinary. It seems only fitting that the Chinese character for Yosh literally means ‘fragrant.’
I think it’s important we don’t get stuck wearing the same fragrance every day. I just told you about two of my favorites, but I have several more in my collection and am hoping to snag a bottle of Jo Malone Peony and Blush Suede for Mother’s Day. Have fun with your fragrances. Like fashion, they can dictate your mood and how you chose to face the world each day. And have fun reading The Perfume Collector!
Madame protested. ‘Think of a man, dancing with a beautiful young girl, in a crowded ballroom. He presses his nose into her soft hair and inhales. Then, two minutes later, he’s dancing with another girl who smells exactly the same. What’s the point? Perfume should tell a story – the story of who you are, who you might be, perhaps even of who you fear becoming…all of these things are possible. It’s a very intimate element of a woman, just like her signature or the sound of her voice. And it conveys feelings and states of being that have no name, no language. Its very ambiguity makes it truer than words because, unlike words, it can’t be manipulated or misunderstood.
–from The Perfume Collector
-(ginger) ciao for now-
photo credit: Patrizia Montanari