The Perfume Lover: A Personal History of Scent

The Perfume Lover: A Personal History of Scent

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by Denyse Beaulieu

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The Perfume Lover is a candid personal account of the process of composing a fragrance, filled with sensual scent descriptions, sexy tidbits, and historical vignettes.

What if the most beautiful night in your life inspired a perfume?

When Denyse Beaulieu was growing up near Montreal, perfume was forbidden in her house, spurring a

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The Perfume Lover is a candid personal account of the process of composing a fragrance, filled with sensual scent descriptions, sexy tidbits, and historical vignettes.

What if the most beautiful night in your life inspired a perfume?

When Denyse Beaulieu was growing up near Montreal, perfume was forbidden in her house, spurring a childhood curiosity that became an intellectual and sensual passion. It is this passion she pursued all the way to Paris, where she now lives, and which led her to become a respected fragrance writer. But little did she know that it would also lead her to achieve a perfume lover’s wildest dream: When Denyse tells famous perfumer Betrand Duchaufour at L'Artisan Parfumeur of a sensual night spent in Seville under a blossoming orange tree, wrapped in the arms of a beautiful man, the story stirs his imagination and together they create a scent that captures the essence of that night. As their unique creative collaboration unfolds, the perfume-in-progress conjures intimate memories, leading Beaulieu to make sense of her life through scents. Throughout the book, she weaves the evocative history of perfumery into her personal journey, in an intensely passionate voice: the masters and the masterpieces, the myths and the myth-busting, down to the molecular mysteries that weld our flesh to flowers.

Now, just to set your nostrils aquiver: Séville à l’aube is an orange blossom oriental with zesty, green and balsamic effects, with notes of petitgrain, petitgrain citronnier, orange blossom, beeswax, incense, and lavender, and is now available at fragrance outlets in the U.S.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
When a Parisian perfume designer, Bertrand Duchaufour, invited blogger Beaulieu to his lab, one of her memories launched their collaboration on an actual fragrance. Their process provides focus for an intoxicating book that interweaves both perfume's and the author's personal histories. While Duchaufour teaches Beaulieu, she draws upon a perfume fascination founded in her suburban Montreal upbringing and gradually developed via her childhood style-muse neighbor, school and university friendships, travel to France and Spain, and her lifelong relationship history. Beaulieu makes brilliant use of such diverse subtopics as prerevolutionary France, 20th-century fragrance icons, their products, and later-generation fragrances, changing gender ideas and their connection to perfumes, the relationship between perfumes and fragrances in other products, and the contemporary mania for celebrity scents. Agent, Homa Rastegar, A.P. Watt. (Mar.)
author of the national bestseller What French Wome Debra Ollivier

The Perfume Lover is a gorgeous romp through the history of perfume and a personal exploration of its role in Beaulieu's life as a woman and world class sensualist. In lush prose that is as evocative as its subject, Beaulieu describes the alchemy of perfume: its intriguing manufacture, its delicious seductions, and the potent mnemonic rhapsodies ignited by the mystery of olfaction. A thoroughly delectable and passionately intelligent read.
author of What the Nose Knows: The Science of Avery Gilbert

Denyse Beaulieu captures the intimate pas de deux between perfumer and creative muse. We see a new fragrance brought to life amid a revolution that has transformed the nature of perfume and made stars of perfumers. Denyse Beaulieu is a keen observer, a thoughtful guide, and a graceful story teller. The Perfume Lover enchants and seduces as effortlessly as it teaches and entertains.
author of Fragrances of the World and Perfume Lege Michael Edwards

The Perfume Lover is more than the story of the making of a perfume; it is the story of perfume, a blogger's saga written with wit and passion, insight and elegance. I read it first with interest, and then again, for pleasure. Denyse Beaulieu is a rare muse.
author of The Widow Clicquot and The Secret of Cha Tilar Mazzeo

A uniquely personal--even intimate--story of a love affair with perfume and with Paris. Chatty, gossipy, and charming, The Perfume Lover draws aside the veil on the secret world of scent.
author of The Bombshell Manual of Style Laren Stover

Femme fatale Denyse Beaulieu undresses the art of perfumery with a sensual, scintillating striptease.
Los Angeles Times

[Beaulieu] writes with penetrating intellect about perfume, gender roles, cultural signifiers, the boudoir and her Bohemian life in a style that marries Jacques Derrida with Anaïs Nin.

fascinating insight . . . The Perfume Lover is not only a tale of the history of perfume; it is above all tale of one woman's passion for olfaction and for life.
Library Journal
Beaulieu (Gas Bijoux), the Quebecoise daughter of perfume-hating parents, recounts her collaboration with Bertrand Duchaufour, one of France's premier perfumers, on an experimental scent that was to encapsulate a memory of Seville—orange blossoms, incense, and lust—in effect translating memory into perfume. She also traces the history of perfume and its philosophical implications. Beaulieu suggests that perfume making relies on precise chemical combinations, but that it is ultimately an art. Indeed, she proves her point by layering this book with a discussion of scents—citrus, tobacco, almond, hay, manure—that, taken together, constitute what is both messy and beautiful about memory and about life. VERDICT With its evocative language and thought-provoking perspective, this book will likely appeal to a wide audience, including readers of literature, history, travel-writing, and biography.—Talea Anderson, Ellensburg, WA
Kirkus Reviews
A memoir and ambitious tour of the perfume world by a Quebec-raised Parisian fragrance writer. "Memories are the ingredients of perfume-making," writes Beaulieu (Gas Bijoux, 2010, etc.). At the heart of this book is the story of her collaboration with perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour to translate one of her most voluptuous memories into a perfume. Beaulieu mixes juicy personal anecdotes and lush descriptions with an introduction to the history, techniques, industry and culture of the perfume world. She demonstrates how perfumers think about the components of fragrance and how scents can be combined to create complex perfumes that develop through layers and interact with individual chemistry as a form of ephemeral art. For example: "The honeyed melon sprinkled with mandarin, bergamot and clove exhaling a tender jasmine breath; the spiced rounded plum kissed with green tartness; the radiance that keeps unfurling until the dark moss and leather base, anchored to the skin by a warm, creamy base as the jasmine deepens into over-ripe fruit…." Beaulieu also discusses the scents of human secretions and fossilized hyrax urine and does not shy away from perfumes that evoke old ashtrays and cured horse manure. Despite a few stumbles into cliché and kittenish vanity, the overall effect of the writing is seductive, intelligent, friendly and down-to-earth. One flaw is that the book lacks a strong narrative structure; it rambles and circles around. The central story vanishes for as much as a few chapters, and readers may wonder when the collaboration with Duchaufour will reappear. However, it does come around again, and its significance ultimately finds illumination. For knowledgeable perfume lovers, serious novices and those who love an entertaining expert introduction to an arcane subculture.

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St. Martin's Press
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The Perfume Lover

A Personal History of Scent
By Denyse Beaulieu

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2013 Denyse Beaulieu
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781250025012

I’d have never imagined that some day I’d be telling Bertrand Duchaufour about my nights in Seville. When we first met in a radio studio in May 2008, I hadn’t even liked him much.
I’d only been writing about fragrance in earnest for a year at that point and I’d been very much looking forward to meeting Duchaufour. His off-beat, deeply personal compositions for edgy fashion labels like Comme des Garçons or the pioneer niche house L’Artisan Parfumeur had earned him star status among perfume aficionados as well as a reputation for artistic integrity. He was one of the people who’d eased fragrance out of its traditional set of references as projections of feminine or masculine personae: many of his compositions were olfactory sketches capturing the spirit of the places to which he’d travelled: Sienna in winter; a seduction ritual in Mali; a Buddhist temple in Bhutan; the Panamanian rainforest; a church in Avignon …
With his rectangular glasses, shaven pate and forthright demeanour, the forty-something perfumer certainly looked more like one of my artist friends than the sibylline master of a secret craft, and I was sure we’d get on fine. I was mistaken. Throughout the broadcast, Duchaufour was gruff and snappy. The host’s faux-naïve questions seemed to irk him; he let on that self-styled critics like myself or our fellow guest, the perfume historian Octavian Coifan, had better leave the thinking to the pros. It turned out he had good reason to be annoyed. He’d been led to believe he’d been invited to speak about his work. Minutes before going on the air, he was told that the topics of the day would be the high price of perfume and the absence of proper fragrance reviews. I understood why he was disgruntled and respected the fact that he didn’t try to ingratiate himself with us or the public, but I was disappointed just the same. Clearly, we weren’t going to be buddies. Still, the man made great perfumes and that was all that mattered. I didn’t have to like him personally to appreciate his work, and I certainly didn’t need him to like me.
So when I spotted him the following November at the raw materials exhibition organized by the Société Française des Parfumeurs where I had just been accepted as a member, I wondered whether I should even bother to say hello. But since we’d met, I’d managed to slip a foot in the door of a few labs: some of his colleagues seemed to think I was worth talking to. And more significantly, I’d fallen in love with his recent work. I felt he was shifting towards a more sensuous style I could actually connect with, and I’d just written a review of his latest fragrance, Al Oudh, an ode to Arabian perfumery pungent with sexy animal notes. ‘I love it when a man plays that kind of dirty trick on me,’ I’d concluded teasingly. It hadn’t occurred to me that he would ever read those words.
Duchaufour recognized me as I walked by: I was somewhat conspicuous with my apple-green coat and silver bob. Much to my surprise, he grinned and kissed me on both cheeks before congratulating me on the accuracy of my review. I hadn’t written it to please him, but I wasn’t about to let such an opportunity pass me by, so I instantly improvised a white lie. I was teaching a perfume appreciation course at the London College of Fashion in a month’s time, I told him (which was the truth), and I intended to discuss his work (also the truth, as of one second ago). It was the very first time I was to teach the course, which I’d been offered on the strength of my writing and talks I’d given to students in Paris. At first, I’d felt pretty confident I could swing it, but as the time to shut myself inside a classroom for three days with fifteen eager perfume lovers drew nearer, I was feeling a little jittery. I kept that to myself, but I did tell Duchaufour I’d appreciate his input (if anything, I’m a quick learner). Much to my relief, he nodded, still grinning:
‘You’re ready to learn more. Come over to the lab whenever you want!’
*   *   *
I wrote to him the very next day to take him up on his offer. After we’d exchanged a couple of emails, he suggested the use of the more familiar French form of address, tu, slyly adding, ‘It sounds more serious.’ So here I am, six months after our first, inauspicious encounter, perched on a chair in his tiny lab above L’Artisan Parfumeur’s flagship store and very ready indeed to learn more. The staid sandstone façade of the Louvre looms across the street; the searchlights of a bateau-mouche sweep from the Seine over the Pont des Arts. A three-tiered array of neatly labelled phials, each containing one of the hundreds of raw materials of the perfumer’s palette, throws amber, topaz and emerald glints under the desk lamp. A paper sheet lies next to a small electronic scale: the forty handwritten lines of the formula he is currently working on. At his feet, three shopping bags bulge with dozens of discarded phials – less than one per cent of his work, he says, ever makes it to the shop shelves. I’ve just tucked into my handbag a tiny atomizer of a scent of his due to be launched next spring, a tuberose perfume whose working title is ‘Belle de Nuit’. Though it was conceived long before we met, it feels like a sign: the tuberose resonates deeply with my life and loves, though he can’t possibly know it …
The churlish man who’d snubbed me has turned out to be warm, friendly and almost disconcertingly straight-talking; an intensely focused listener given to boyish bursts of enthusiasm. About the story of Seville I’ve just told him, for instance. He loves it, he says it would make a good perfume, but I don’t know him well enough to ascertain whether he’s the type to follow through or if this is just a perfumer’s version of a chat-up line. And certainly not well enough to ask him straight out if he’ll do it. Why would he bother with what must be, for him, just one of a hundred different ideas? On the other hand, why wouldn’t he? His ideas do have to come from somewhere. I didn’t tell him my story because I thought it would inspire him. It just came up as we were swapping tales of far-flung journeys. But now this idea is hovering between us and I realize I want this perfume to happen more than I’ve wanted anything in a very long time. Why couldn’t I be a perfumer’s muse? I’ve come such a long way in the realm of scent, Bertrand, you couldn’t ever know … In fact, I was never really meant to poke my nose into it.

Text © Denyse Beaulieu 2012


Excerpted from The Perfume Lover by Denyse Beaulieu Copyright © 2013 by Denyse Beaulieu. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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