The Perfect Scent, Chandler Burr

The vernal equinox has to be one of my favourite days of the year. Doesn’t matter if it’s rain or shine – always makes me happy to mark the shift from winter to spring.

The weather here has turned much more conducive to being outdoors. So, I’ve done more cleaning up – weeding, planting, cutting back, putting down grass seed in bald spots. To my joy, the wisteria has settled in its new spot and is producing new growth, and one of the clematis I thought was gone completely has resurrected itself (I think this is the one I rooted myself, rather than having bought the plant). Oddly, the passionflower, which has chugged along for years, has gone dormant. I guess one never knows with plants – they do what they want to do. Like cats.

Watched the season’s first episode of Gardeners’ World (welcome back, Monty, Nelly and Paddy et al). It made me want to buy yet more plants, but I’ve still got some things coming and really once they are in the ground I need to let the garden decide what it wants to do post its horror experience last spring through autumn when the builders were in (and stomping all over it – the garden is the only place they could store stuff and do things like carpentry – I live on a main road, have a very small front courtyard, and park around the corner in the church carpark). And, finally, Chris, the DIY guy, removed my old garden bench and has said the refurbed one should return at some point this week. Happy spring!

Portia’s post last week about a completely synthetic perfume sent me off looking for my copy of The Perfect Scent which has some interesting material about the structure of a natural molecule vs a synthetic one. Burr can be irritating because he clearly thinks Burr is the best thing since sliced bread. But, he writes well and engagingly about perfume, so I metaphorically bite my tongue and read on.

I really enjoyed The Perfect Scent — a sort of parallel trip through the development of a mainstream fragrance, SJP’s Lovely, and a more idiosyncratic one, JC Ellena’s Un Jardin sur le Nil for Hermes. The concept, the process, the end-product. Very different journeys but both fascinating.

In any case, molecules. Burr discusses the sort of snootiness that can be found regarding natural vs synthetics and the argument from some regarding a preference for natural only. I was certainly leaning towards the ‘naturals are superior’ camp at one point years ago. However, the only perfume I’ve ever (ever) had a skin reaction to was an all-natural. So that sort of resulted in me getting off my high perfume horse and adopting a somewhat more measured approach. Also, I was reminded, as I grew up with scientists, about better living through chemistry.

When Burr laid out the structures of the natural and the synthetic molecules, the list for the former was hugely long; for the latter, much shorter — the point being that the more ‘stuff’ in a molecule the more potential for a reaction to something included.

I’m not saying that thus all synthetic is better – I certainly don’t believe that and I’ve gotten less pedantic, at least about perfume, as I’ve aged. It’s just interesting and worth taking note of, to my mind. Lots of truly beautiful stuff leans one way or the other, but I think most of the best takes a middle road, using a mixture.

I’m not sure if The Perfect Scent is still in print, but I expect it’s available from used book providers. It continues to be among my favourite perfume books, along with another Burr, The Emperor of Scent, and Turin and Sanchez’s Perfumes: The A-Z Guide (ie, the first one they published).

So, have you read TPS and if yes what did you think? And did you mark the equinox?

  • Dina C. says:

    I haven’t read any of Burr’s books, but I would be willing to give him a read. I enjoy perfume books and like learning more about it. I have a few hyacinths blooming in my backyard now. We’re finally warming up.

    • Cinnamon says:

      Even given all the comments about his self-absorption (which is major) the books are definitely worth reading. There are some wild hyacinths in the banks here. I don’t have any in my garden. I think that will need to be addressed next year.

  • VerbenaLuvvr says:

    I have read both of the Burr books, and there was so much I learned (in between hard eyerolls). I did not care at all for his You or Someone Like You fragrance. I do plan to get ahold of the Turin books, that is long overdue and I shall seek them out today. As far as the equinox, I have been spending every spare moment out on our property, fixing the fence, cleaning up the yard for spring, and enjoying listening to the birds. I am quite worried, though, it is so extremely dry, our yard is dust with not much grass coming up. There was zero spring runoff from non-existent snow and nothing more than a light sprinkle so far. We have had a burn ban for weeks and numerous grass fires in the area. Who ever heard of such a thing in March.

    • Musette says:

      VLuvvr, that sounds awful! Hope you get the much-needed rain. We’re expecting some tomorrow, so I’m going to sow some grass seed in anticipation (meant to do it in Autumn but didn’t get around to it).

      Fence Fixin’ – yup. That’s on my to-do list as well. sigh.


    • Dina C. says:

      I love the Turin- Sanchez perfume guides and his collection of essays is great, too. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him at a couple of perfume events, and he is so articulate, witty and insightful. I don’t always agree with him about specific perfumes, but I really respect him!

    • Cinnamon says:

      yes, that, the eyeballs (enough already, Chandler, we know how great you are). that’s really unpleasant on the lack of rain. I hope things shift soon.

  • Portia says:

    Hey there Cinnamon,
    Glad my post got the grey matter humming.
    Yes, I loved the Chandler Burr books. They opened my eyes a lot. In the same vein have you read The Perfume Lover by Denyse Beaulieu? The story of the origin and creations of L’Artisan Seville a l’Aube? Another excellent read.
    On the natural V created issue I’m not fussed as long as it smells good to me.
    We are now headed into autumn and have been rained on incessantly for well over a week. Fortunately our area has been safe but many nearby and the poor farmers and coastal livers have been inundated. Jin and I spent the equinox hanging together but today I’ve cleaned the house, done all the washing and am ready for a cuppa. Just to drink in the cleanliness before Jin comes home and it turns into a shit fight again.
    Portia xx

    • Cinnamon says:

      I was thinking about you and the floods. Sounds very unpleasant and hope it all passes soon. I liked the perfume parts of The Perfume Lover; the personal stuff not so much. She seems to have stopped writing her blog which is too bad.

    • Dina C. says:

      I read “The Perfume Lover” last summer and bought a bottle of Seville a L’Aube as well. It was the highlight of that season for me. Loved both! I’ve always been a fan of Bertrand Duchaufour’s scents, so this a great peek into how a scent is created.

  • Kathleen says:

    I have Burr’s books but haven’t read them yet. I adore Turin and Sanchez’s Perfume books, particularly the first edition and the update; I browse them both constantly. I enjoy both natural and synthetic notes it seems and really think both are necessary from what little I understand. Here in Colorado we are waiting for the second big snowfall in the past week, this is spring for us in the Rocky Mountains!

  • Tara C says:

    I read that book many years ago and remember enjoying it.
    My wisteria is going great guns, it is almost in full flower here in southern California. The red lilies are looking great too. Summer is coming!! We will be buying a new house this summer and very much looking forward to having a real garden after living in a flat with a tiny balcony for many years.

    • Cinnamon says:

      I am hoping the wisteria takes off. it is on the same side as the jasmine and a clematis. it would have friends. best wishes on house purchase — and having proper garden.

  • Musette says:

    I’m marking the equinox right now, cleaning up little bits and pieces in the garden on this windy, glorious day, and looking at new growth (these teeny little blue irises are giving me JOY!). Burr worked my last nerve, alas, and I allowed myself to be swayed enough that I gave his writing short shrift. That was a mistake. He’s a pain – but an excellent writer. I should reinvestigate.


    • Cinnamon says:

      there is something hugely satisfying about getting the garden in shape. good for the soul. I think it would be worth trying again with Burr. there’s a lot of interesting stuff amidst all the Burr-self-love.