Every month or so I log into amazon.com in search of new releases or secondhand books about perfume. There are only a handful of books that cater for today’s perfume fan. Most are either chemistry textbooks that are dry and cumbersome to read or they cater towards the naturopath and aromatherapy community. This is slowly changing with authors such as Chandler Burr, Luca Turin and perfumer turned author, Jean Claude Ellena writing for the English-speaking world (an English translation of Ellena’s book, Le Parfum is due for release in November) giving an insider’s tour of modern perfumery. French readers have the luxury of choice with a number of books available. Edmond Roudnitska’s series of texts from the 1970s are worth reading si vous pouvez parler français.
This weekend I was doing some spring-cleaning (yes! Spring is finally here for residents of the southern hemisphere) and I came across a book I read in 2009. Della Chuang’s Kyoteau Bottled Memories is a rich account of a designer and perfumer’s journey through the creative process of fragrance design. Della Chuang is an Asian-American designer based in New York. The former art director of Ralph Lauren Fragrances and freelance design consultant for Tom Ford Beauty documents her travels as she drafts the concept of her new scent with the help of IFF perfumer, Christophe Laudamiel. Not only does the book give insight into the collaborative process olfactory and visual artists go through to launch a new fragrance, but also there are beautiful accounts of sensory journeys the pair encounter exploring the ancient city of Kyoto.
Kyoto is a place that holds personal meaning to Chuang. Her book is an interesting view of Japanese aesthetics with western eyes. The concept of mono no aware, “the Japanese awareness of the transience of things and the bittersweet sadness at their passing” and Iki, a concept born from the Edo period (1603-1867) that speaks of an understated elegance both objects and people transmit.
Christophe Laudamiel gives a personal and frank account of a perfumer’s life. The reality of writing perfume formulas, many of which end up in the trashcan having passed through the hands of those who, in Laudamiel’s opinion, “cannot smell or cannot judge but who think they belong to the happy few!” The role of the perfumer who roams the jungle of the laboratory, pulling ingredients from the thousands that exist, deciding on and balancing over eighty that communicate the designer’s brief. Laudamiel concludes, “indeed, there are many halves in a perfumer’s job, but they constitute the many facets to create the magic formula”.
Chuang and Laudamiel’s magic formula takes form and the reader is rewarded with a finished sample at the end of the book. The fragrance, Kyoteau is described as 11 naturals and 19 molecules. Jasmine absolute, tree moss, frankincense, patchouli, Himalayan jatamansi and cypriol are blended with a chrysanthemum and hinoki wood accord. Laudimiel also recreated a rice and igusa accord as no natural extract exists. Chuang writes, “The scent of Kyoteau had to have a nice watery (fresh and yet subtropical), non-intrusive entrance, which develops into a dark robust core”.
After reading her book I made contact with Della Chuang. I was eager to find out if Kyoteau was going to be commercially launched. Unfortunately, with the cost involved in successfully launching an independent project like this, Della suspects her fragrance will not see the light of day. This is a shame as it is truly a unique and beautiful scent. I have seriously considered buying up a number of copies to combine the 1ml samples into a standard bottle size.
Perfume and contemporary design fans will enjoy this book. It makes for a great weekend or long-haul plane read. The content is full of images as well as text in both Chinese (Della’s heritage) and English.
Readers can follow Della Chuang at www.dellachuang.blogspot.com
English, 384 pages, 2009