A decade ago, when my interest in perfume began to peak, finding information on perfume was near impossible. You had to rely on small articles in fashion magazines such as Vogue or Harpers Bazaar that were initiated by a fashion or perfume house on the eve of their new product launch. This meant the article was more of a product plug than it was investigative journalism. The other alternatives were bland chemistry books aimed at industry professionals, not at all relaxing weekend reading. Thankfully today, perfume houses and independent publishers have seen the spike in public interest; not only in the perfumed product, but also in the story behind it and the journey it took to reach the consumer’s hand. This has resulted in a slow stream of excellent books from authors who aim to take you behind the scenes of what has historically been a very secretive industry.
Elisabeth de Feydeau is an accomplished writer and perfume historian. I recently read her book on Diptyque, a brand that introduced me into the world of niche perfume. Her account is filled with personal stories of the brand’s founding trio that will interest any Diptyque fan as well as small business entrepreneurs who deal in the arts. De Feydeau teaches at the Ecole des Parfumeurs in Versailles and another of her works, A Scented Palace: The Secret History of Marie Antoinette’s Perfumer is now on my reading list. The book received critical acclaim and was awarded a Guerlain Prix in 2005.
Diptyque begins with an introduction to the brand’s trio, Christiane Montadre-Gautrot, Yves Coueslant and Desmond Knox-Leet who in 1961 opened their Parisian boutique at 34 Boulevard Saint-Germain. The book tracks the trio’s backgrounds and the early days of Diptyque, when funded by one of the founder’s father’s, the boutique struggled to find an identity in an unorthodox area of Paris’ Left Bank. In time Diptyque would revive the concept of the chic bazaar-emporium with its selection of tapestries, fabrics and knick-knacks from all over the world. Inspired by English perfumery, the brand launched their first trio of candles in 1963. Today, candles are what Diptyque are mostly known for and perfumes continue to grow in popularity with the same cult following. Desmond Knox-Leet was a self-taught perfumer and held the responsibility of being the house’s official nose until his passing in 1993. De Feydeau shares diary entries and scrapbook notes that show Knot-Leet’s perfumed thoughts. He also contributed to the success of the brand image with his logo and product design; his hand-drawn illustrations are now a key aesthetic of Diptyque.
Travel is a reoccurring theme for Diptyque and each scent in the collection is somehow connected to a memory of travel. From Yves’ childhood memories of Indochine, Vietnam under French rule, the scent of sandalwood inspired Tam Dao (2004) and ivy gardens have been a constant source of inspiration for the trio; L’Ombre dans L’Eau (1983), Jardin Clos (2003) and Eau de Lierre (2006). At its end, the book features well wishes and Diptyque memories from the brand’s celebrity supporters, which includes messages from Karl Lagerfeld, Jane Birkin, Catherine Deneuve, Philippe Starck, John Galliano.
This is an excellent book if you are a fan of Diptyque. It is a coffee table size and provides a beautiful archive of Diptyque imagery. Luckily it doesn’t fall short where many table books do; the accompanying text is comprehensive enough to satisfy perfume fanatics who desire more than just pretty pictures.
English, 199 pages, 2007