Denyse Beaulieu is respected author of the perfume blog, Grain de Musc. Most readers of perfume blogs would have stumbled on or been guided to her pages at some point. The announcement of this book must have created the same shrill amongst her followers as one let out by fans of Carrie Bradshaw when the feature length film of Sex and the City was announced. Or perhaps I should say fans of Samantha Jones, given the frank admissions Beaulieu provides of her somewhat adventurous sex life. Beaulieu’s feature length book runs past the usual word count of her Grain de Musc blog posts and takes you off-road on her own personal journey of scent. The story begins in her native Canada where 11 year-old Beaulieu encounters her first perfume; Yves Saint Laurent’s Rive Gauche. The story ends with the launch of a perfume inspired by a story Beaulieu recounts throughout the book. Her story of being locked in the arms of a Spaniard under a blossoming orange tree in Seville.
It is important you take the entire journey with Beaulieu as she cleverly weaves small details of her past into the creation of this scent. From the coquettish overtones of Moulinard’s Habanita, a boisterous oriental created in 1921 to the modern Carnal Flower by Frederic Malle, a tuberose scent she wears for Monsieur, Beaulieu’s version of Carrie’s Mr Big.
Aside from her affair with Monsieur, it is her passionate connection with Roman one evening in Seville that sparks the interest of perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour. His work for L’Artisan Parfumeur, Comme des Garcons and The Different Company are all tales of travel and charge the senses with emotion. Beaulieu lures him with this memory:
“I am in Seville, standing under a bitter orange tree in full bloom in the arms of Roman, the black-clad Spanish boy who is not yet my lover. Since sundown, we’ve been watching the religious brotherhoods in their pointed caps and habits thread their way across the old Moorish town in the wake of gilded wood floats bearing statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary. This is the Madrugada, the longest night of Holy Week, and the whole city has poured into the streets: the processions will go on until the dawn sky is streaked with hunting swallows. In the tiny whitewashed plaza in front of the church, wafts of lavender cologne rise from the tightly pressed bodies. As the altar boys swing their censers, throat-stinging clouds of sizzling resins – humanity’s millennia-old message to the gods – cut through the fatty honeyed smell of the penitents’ beeswax candles…. And there is no need for Roman to take me to bed at dawn: he’s already given me the night.”
Duchaufour comments on all the smells, “Now that would make a very good perfume.”
Unlike Chandler Burr’s book The Perfect Scent, a story Burr authored with access to the team at Coty, creating Sarah Jessica Parker’s Lovely perfume and Hermes perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena during the creation phase of Un Jardin Sur le Nil, Beaulieu’s contact with Bertrand Duchaufour is different. In The Perfume Lover, perfumer and writer (or muse as Beaulieu jovially refers to herself) meet to discuss. Then Duchaufour disappears out of view and does not resurface until the next meeting where he presents the latest modifications to the perfume. This method of working slants any reader’s hope of a backstage pass to see how the perfumer creates. At times the pages in between meetings are like conversations that take place in a doctor’s waiting room or at a train stop where you fill the silence with pleasantries until the doctor calls your name or the train arrives. Beaulieu fills this silence with her wealth of perfume knowledge providing readers with her own personal history of scent. You can read the tension as Beaulieu taps her watch glass waiting for her next opportunity to check in with an extremely busy Duchaufour. These additional tangents add interest but at times they unhinge the momentum building in the story because the elements she adds are not relevant to the project with Duchaufour. I wonder if it would have been a different read if her history of perfume was proposed as a preface instead of being fragmented into fillers between meetings with Duchaufour?
The end result is a perfume launched by L’Artisan Parfumeur, the niche brand Bertrand Duchaufour has worked with on numerous occasions over the past decade. The perfume now has a name and has been advertised as a limited edition- Séville à l’aube (Seville at dawn).
The Perfume Lover is a great read for any lover of perfume. You can see why Denyse Beaulieu is such a respected writer on the topic of perfume. Her depth of knowledge and experience is undeniable as is her skill for drumming up into words the emotions perfume can create. Although I found it tough going at times, it is certainly a book worth adding to your reading list if you haven’t already.
I’m looking forward to smelling the scent after reading the book!
ISBN-10: 0007411847, ISBN-13: 978-0007411849
English, 320 pages, 2012