Fragrant Reading: A Perfume Lover's Book List

I'm a reader.  Always have been, always will be.  As a child, I decided when I was an adult I would work with books.  One of my favorite places to visit was the library and I guessed I would become a librarian.  No matter how small or rural the town I inhabited, I could escape at the library.  I could visit exotic places and read about exciting people.  Books provided an education I wasn't able to obtain from my surroundings.

My first job out of college was working as an editorial assistant for an educational publishing house.  I beat out a hundred other applicants for the position and felt I must have mastered the interview and assorted proofreading tests.  After I was hired one of the senior editors revealed that I had been chosen for my hard-working scholarship driven background and more important, my sense of humor.  When asked during the interview where I saw myself in five years, I earnestly described a scenario where I worked for Random House, had a cushy corner office, sent my assistant out for complicated coffee drinks, and made verbal notes using a mini tape recorder.  These notes including quips like, "Note to Jackie Collins--Chapter 12 needs more sex!"  The editors thought I was hilarious.  I wasn't kidding.

Fast forward many years, and my career path has changed.  While I no longer work in publishing my heart still belongs to books.  I love the smell of them.  The feel of the pages.  And while I appreciate the ease of digital reading, nothing will ever replace the feel of holding a book in one's hand.

I'm often asked by budding perfumers which books I recommend they read to learn more about natural perfumery.  I've learned what they are often seeking is an instructional book, a magic guide, a detailed tutorial that will teach them exactly how to create a masterful perfume.  Alas, no such book exists.  Perfumery is an art that must be studied and practiced and practiced some more. A deep familiarity with the essences, the structure and nuance is required and this only comes with experience . . . and making many terrible perfumes along the way! The following list includes some of my favorite perfume related books.  Some are specific to natural perfumery, some are not.  Many are beautifully written books, with some instruction on perfumery.  I've separated the books into two sections.  The first group of titles are more instructional and non-fiction, the second group more fun and fiction.


1. Artisan Perfumery Or Being Led By The Nose by Alec Lawless.
One of my favorites. Chock full of information on creating natural perfumes. Late perfumer Alec Lawless breaks down many natural essences, their usage and describes their scent profiles. The author describes his unique blending method which breaks notes into categories he calls heart, nuance and intrigue. This book can be hard to find. I've heard rumors this book is selling for $100 on amazon. Skip the crazy mark-up and order directly from the Essentially Me site: (You will have to pay the conversion from pounds to dollars, but it's still much less than amazon.) Highly recommended reading!

2. Essence And Alchemy by Mandy Aftel.
The book that started it all. This to me is often referred to as the natural perfumers bible. My copy is worn and well loved. If you haven't read it, go get it at once! A beautifully written book that chronicles the legacy of natural perfumery and its evolution over the years.

3. Perfume: The Alchemy of Scent by Jean-Claude Ellena.
Penned by the uber-famous perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena who is best known for his masterful creations for Hermes. Check out the chapter on Materials of Natural Origin and Jean-Claude's limited list of ingredients he sanctions when creating fragrances. While I found it interesting to read, please know the focus is not on natural perfumery.

4. The Scent Trail by Celia Littleton.
The subtitle "How One Woman's Quest For The Perfect Perfume Took Her Around The World" really describes this beautiful book. Imagine tracking down every ingredient in a perfume and tracing it back to its source! We follow Celia on a whirlwind tour around the world from nutmeg plantations in Sri Lanka to fields of Haitian vetiver. Peppered with interesting factoids such as Casanova's use of ambergris--he added it to chocolate mousse and fed it to his date as a romantic aphrodisiac--it's sure to be a fascinating read for any interested in perfumery.

5. The Little Book of Perfumes: The Hundred Classics by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez
Witty critiques of many mainstream perfumes. Check out the revised reviews of many classic scents post IFRA reformulation. My favorite 2011 revised review of is of the reformulated L'Heure Bleue by Guerlain (see page 38.) Read it, you won't be disappointed.

6. The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry in Paris and New York by Chandler Burr
Ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of a glossy big budget perfume launch? Ever wondered why celebrity scents are less than err, wonderful? If you enjoyed the BBC documentary on Perfume, you'll enjoy reading Burr's book on the fragrance industry.

7. Coming To My Senses by Alyssa Harad
Love this book! I've decided that Alyssa is my scent twin. We share a favorite natural fragrance. We also share a fondness for comfortable shoes, expensive perfume and books. Coming to My Senses was a pleasure to read and Harad's lush descriptions of fragrances and the emotions they evoke is well worth reading.


1. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind.
Translated from German, this macabre tale of murder and "scentual" obsession is a must read. You'll never think about the scent of skin the same way again. The movie version of the book Perfume was widely panned, but I enjoyed it.

2. The Book of Lost Fragrances by M.J. Rose
A terrific suspense novel that starts off with a bang! On vacation this summer, I found myself in upstate N.Y. Super Upstate New York. More deer than people upstate New York. It was beautiful but very isolated: spotty internet, no t.v. or phone service. Realizing I was hopelessly "plugged in" and facing internet withdrawal, I read an excerpt of The Book of Lost Fragrances one evening on my ipad. Cleopatra? A magical ancient perfume formula? Now, we're talking! I was hooked and immediately decided to download the book (fingers crossed) when I lost the internet connection. My horrified scream of "NOOOOOO" echoed through the woods. Instead I spent the evening with a sunburn playing Boggle with the family . . . again.

3. Damage Control by Denise Hamilton
O.K. to be honest, this has just a few perfume references BUT the main character is a perfumista with an Adderall addiction working for a glossy Los Angeles PR firm embroiled in a murder mystery. Sounds pretty good, right? It is! Very well written with a great attention to detail, particularly aromas and the memories they trigger. Keeps you guessing right up to the last page; a book you'll want to devour in one sitting.

I love reading, and love perfume. When I can combine the two I'm even happier. If anyone has any other suggestions for fragrant reads, please send them along. Leave a comment and let me know what you recommend. Happy reading!

Providence perfume Co. makes and sells natural fragrances.

Rose Petal Oil Winners

A rousing thank you for all who left comments and participated in the rose petal oil giveaway.  Because we received so much interest and support we shall give away four samples of the incredible Rose Petal Essential Oil instead of the original two we previously offered!

Sherry Rooney

Please email: with your full mailing address.  Congrats and thank you all for participating!

Robertet Rose: Elements Showcase Workshop

When I was approached by Robertet to speak at the recent Elements Showcase in New York on utilizing rose in perfumery, I was thrilled.  We natural perfumers love to talk about beautiful essences; how to source them, how to use them, how their unique scent profile inspires.  I am particularly drawn to new exotic ingredients that expand our natural perfumery palette. Robertet's new rose petal distillation does all of the above and I welcomed the chance to wax poetic on it's virtues.

Robertet held two workshops titled "Celebrating 160 Years of Roses."  The first day the panel included Mandy Aftel from Aftelier and Olivia Jan, a Senior Perfumer from Robertet.  I attended the workshop and was impressed by the audience participation.  Samples of Rose Absolute, Rose Essential Oil and the new Rose Petal Essential Oil were passed on blotters to audience members.  Afterwards blotters of each of the natural perfumes created with the rose petal distillation were sampled.

One of the highlights of the first day workshop was listening to the perfumers describe their creation process and how they utilize rose in their fragrances.  After the workshop I met Mandy Aftel and her husband Foster.  I found them funny and down to earth and I enjoyed speaking with them.  My husband Dan snapped a picture of us.  You can tell Mandy and I were laughing in the photo.  Did I mention I found her charming and down to earth?

Arnaud Adrian and Jennifer Powderly from Robertet led the workshops both days, and their presentation outlined the commitment Robertet has to ecological farming of the Turkish damask rose.  Despite the rose harvest lasting just a few weeks from May to June, Robertet employs 60 families year round in Turkey to tend the farmlands.  All the water used for distillation is reused and the petals are composted post distillation.

The actual description of Robertet's Rose Petal Essential Oil is as follows: The Rose Petal Essential Oil utilizes all the natural extraction methods developed by Robertet are used in this natural extract in order to capture the genuine scent of the flower itself: hydrodistillation, molecular distillation, fractionation... Odour: Cosmetic, modern, quintessence of the Rosa Damascena flower at a lower price than the essential oil. Floral, spicy, peony odor.

The essential oil is clear colored, powerful and full bodied.  I was impressed with it's clean, precise rose aroma and sheer strength.  When using the rose petal essence I was able to use a much smaller quantity to obtain the crystalline rose note I was seeking.  The distillation of the rose petal oil was described in detail which was complex.  The result is a rose that smells quite different (and quite beautiful) than any other rose essential oil I've experienced.  Arnaud mentioned that the price of rose absolute and essential oil will increase 25% this year.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Sigh.  One of the selling points of the rose petal oil was it's price point--placed just between rose absolute and rose otto.

The second workshop included myself, Anne McClain from MCMC Fragrances and Jerome Epinette, a Robertet Senior Perfumer.  Being the only natural perfumer on the panel made me all the more determined to convey my passion for naturals to the audience.  I spoke on the power of natural essences, their unduplicated beauty, their primal ability to transport the wearer.  I discussed my Rose Boheme perfume, and the challenges of I encountered with getting the rose to pop in a base note heavy composition.  I described the rose petal essential oil as possessing the qualities I associate with both Turkish and Bulgarian rose.  I described a childhood memory of hiding in a thicket of wild rose bushes next to our home.  How I found a cool dark spot underneath the tangle of thorns and roses.  I would go to this spot when I wanted to be alone, and smell the dark fertile earth and rustle the boughs of miniature roses above my head as I lay on the ground.  The pale petals would fall on my face and I would pretend it was "snowing" in June.  This memory is fond and the inspiration for my perfume Rose Bohème.

All in all, it was an opportunity to introduce the audience to the power and beauty of natural perfumes and the incredible natural raw materials available to the perfumer.  While many in attendance may have never smelled a natural perfume, they have now!  I enjoyed getting to meet the other perfumers, and hearing how each perfumer composes his or her creation.  It was interesting to note that many of the perfumers on the panel (mainstream, niche and natural) were inspired by particularly evocative materials.  

If you would like to receive a sample of the new Rose Petal Essential Oil I worked with, please leave a comment or question.  I'll choose two winners.  Trust me, it's gorgeous!