The Perfect Scent

Perfume — love it or hate it, you probably don’t know much about how it’s made or the people who make it. Chandler Burr, the New York Times perfume critic (yes, you heard me right), would like to change that. Burr’s revealing new book aims to bring consumers “behind the curtain” of the perfume industry, despite that industry’s best efforts to keep its art and science out of public view. To that end, he interweaves the stories of two perfumes — the high-end HermŠs scent Un Jardin sur le Nil, created by veteran perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena, and Coty’s Sarah Jessica Parker Lovely, which the Sex and the City star guided to an unusual degree — from conception to launch. And though Burr insists he’s not a “visceral perfume obsessive” but rather a professional journalist covering a beat, he does show a contagious passion for his subject and a nifty knack for evoking aromas with words. In his hands, a bouquet of chamomile becomes “gorgeous scents of fresh cold and green.” Burr has little patience for artifice and obfuscation, what he calls the perfume business’s “parade of emperor’s new clothes,” and painstakingly explains the chemistry behind the olfactory illusion. “Explaining a jet engine or the wing of a 787 doesn’t destroy the awesome beauty of flight,” he contends. “It doesn’t break the dream. It does the opposite. The more you understand of science, the more you marvel at the magic of reality.” And marvel we do. –