Sunday, July 20, 2008

Stories in Perfume

I'm reading Chandler Burr's The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry in Paris and New York and I've come across an image I love. Céline Ellena, the daughter of parfumeur Jean-Claude Ellena, is remembering the scents that her father would conjure for her and her brother while they were growing up. Here's Burr's account of their conversation:

Ecris-nous une histoire en odeurs, they would say to him. Write us a story in smells. She once asked him for the smell of cloud, and he created it for her. 'We asked him for bizarre things. We ordered up the smell of winter, of the snow, because we lived in the South of France, where it rarely snows.'

When he got home and, with a flourish, unveiled for them this magical scent of snow, she got the idea, she said, that she could do anything, that there were indeed no limits, because here her father had gone and created a scent of a thing that had no scent. You had the story. The story
of snow on the Côte d'Azur, say. You simply went and found the elements to tell your story.

'When I was a child, he didn't tell me about princesses; he told me about scents. We didn't have Cinderella. We listened to his stories in perfume.'


  1. This is wonderful. I'm also reading a book by Chandler Burr right now, The Emperor of Scent: A Story of Obsession, and the Last Mystery of the Senses. *Reading* about perfume is wonderful because, like food reviews, it's all about the encounter with language.


  2. Karina: You're my first commenter on this blog! And what a great comment -- makes me think we should swap the Burr books when we're done, respectively. You're right, absolutely, trying to describe a sensory experience like eating good food or smelling/wearing good perfume (or reading that description)is to encounter language at an elemental place.