November 26, 2016
The International edition of Perfume A Century of Scents by Lizzie Ostrom Odette Toilette
I admit that I am a pretty fervent history buff. I absolutely love reading about different takes on history through different lenses of perception. I find it fascinating to see how one in the same thing can be interpreted in a myriad of ways depending on one’s particular viewpoint at the time.
Lizzie Ostrom aka Odette Toilette Can you name the perfumes in the photo
It’s certainly fun to go back and reflect on things long after the fact to garner another perspective and just plain reminisce on the fact as well as the “woulda coulda shoulda” that may come along with it. In her book Perfume: A Century of Scents, Lizzie Ostrom (also known as Odette Toilette) sets out on a adventure to give a more cultural based account on the glorious fragrances that accompanied everyday life throughout the last century. Each decade is put under the lens and examines 10 different perfumes created during the said decade. What I found most interesting about the book was the “history lesson approach” to a more “personal” accounting of each passing decade. Ms. Ostrom’s musings are quite engaging and more often than not, smile inducing.
CHANEL NO 19 ILLUSTRATION photo MC from Perfume a Century of Scents
The chapters are named with a tongue in cheek identity dennoting each decade in history through 1999: “The Bountiful Belle Epoque” (Guerlain’s Mouchoir de Monsieur created in 1904 actually means Gentleman’s handkerchief, who knew?). Next up is “The Theatrical Teens”, 1910-1919 and the chapter on Ess Viotto by Bronnley, 1913 is subtitled “The Working Woman’s Perfume”, and amazingly is an anagram of “Vote Tis So”. “The Roaring Twenties” chapter follows with an interesting introduction about the precarious state of perfume as the decade opened, especially in the US. Those familiar with the modern version of Isabey Gardenia, will delight in its history … the woozy perfume.
Dali Paintings and Shocking! collage by MC
“The Threatening Thirties” include Schiaparelli’s Shocking, 1937 and Ms Ostrom notes that it is a technicolor perfume and yes, you have to grope it’s boobs to spray it. The Insubordinate Forties portrays Fracas as “The Noir Perfume”, Rita Hayworth as the terrifying seductress in the movie Gilda. I loved learning that Grossmith’s White Fire’s ad in 1954 touted, “You meet the nicest people wearing White Fire”, as one of the ten fragrances featured in “The Elegant Fifties”. There is a mix of the iconic, the familiar… CHANEL no 5, Habanita, Wind Song and quite a few often overlooked or unknown to the population, such as Dri-Perfume (1944), Black Satin (1946), Huile de Chaldee by Patou (1927) Lynx Africa (1995).There are 100 illustrations for each fragrance and reading 330 pages just fly by.
Eau Sauvage The Playboy Perfume
The “Swinging Sixties” names Jean Desprez’s Bal a Versailles as the maximalist perfume and Eau Sauvage as The Playboy Perfume (the sexy ads of Rene Gruau combined with all that Hedione). The ten fragrances of the “The Spangly Seventies” include Yves St Laurent Opium and “The Egotistical Eighties” feature Giorgio and Kouros.
CK 1 collage 1994
The Naughty Nineties interestingly draws a correlation between boy bands and teenagers.
The Elegant Fifties Youthdew 1953 photo by Mc from Perfume a Century of Scents
Perfume a Century of Scents is well researched and “fun” (we absolutely mean it). This book is witty and charming and it only grows with each passing decade. We start with a fun romp into with the glorious eccentric and “too good for thou” Gibson Girls (those up fashion and arguably rule breaking ideal women of the early 20th century ) and what that ideal eventually wrought upon society. Most importantly we are given a very briefly stated look at how the ultimate feminine starts to morph into the emancipation of women, and how it also related to the changing role of men exploring how a “dandified” man could still encapsulate masculinity. It’s an interesting ride to be sure and, frankly, I would like to have seen it expanded upon a bit more. Nonetheless, we get the jist of the story and it is indeed an admirable one. How the male/female descriptive eventually comes around full circle (think back to CK One) to today’s idea of gender roles says a lot (as anything goes/unisex largely becomes the norm at the time of this writing).
Pierre Dinard’s illustration of Of Opium 1978
One of my favorite subjects we also explore is the idea of perfumes relationship to celebrity and drugs through the years. Is perfume like heroin? Opium you say? Cocaine? Would she/he do that? Through these pages you get a feel of covetousness for the forbidden that “celebrities” and “subversives” alike might (or might not) do.
You will simply have to read the book to understand and fully appreciate this very interesting subject ‘cause I’m not letting the cat out of the bag. No, not me. II will simply say this, it’s fascinating…and like any good history book should do, it made me learn something.
Topaz by Avon
On the serious side we see how big business developed in concert with changing views and increased technological breakthroughs to usher in the era of modern thinking and how ultimately American it all was. From Sears and Avon to modern distribution we get a glimpse into how the masses were exposed to products that made pretty much everyone an equal (provided they had money to spend). We further explore the rise of retail and marketing without going into long boring details. Instead we get a sense on how naff it really all could be…and still is. Just think of all those ads, ads, ads and more ads you see everyday. Then we have the online sites touting stories and what inspired what stories and how this was bottled for your nose, etc. Moreover, what faces you walking into many a department store this holiday season! Buy me! Try me! You need me! Well…sometimes it’s enough to make you want to block it all out and just take a moment to sit back and laugh at it all. If one is looking for a book solely on perfume and perfume only, this is not the place to look. However, for those wanting a look into the state of the world and how perfume helped shaped it, then, like me, this book is for you. Truth be told, every perfume is encapsulated history; there is so much to be told in those bottles that we might not ever think about (be it a dime store or celebrity cheapie or exclusive niche or bespoke fragrance). In this book we are provided a gateway to that exploration in the wittiest of fashions. Prepare for a smile of reminiscence with each page turned. If you are like me, laughter (to and at yourself) just may ensue – along with more than a little bit of astonishment.
I received this book for consideration for review; Opinions my own
-Aaron Potterman, Contributor and Vintage Perfume Expert with contributions from Michelyn Camen, Editor in Chief who wrote the paragraph describing each chapter and did the art direction
Photos: Michelyn. I have the newest version for the USA and Aaron reviewed from the UK original, thus the different covers.
Perfume: A Century of Scents will be released in its US version Dec. 6th via Pegasus Books.
The US edition will be $26.95 list price…Michelyn’s copy
Thanks to Ms. Ostrom we have a hardcover book for a REGISTERED US or Canada reader. To be eligible please leave a comment with what appeals to you about this book, and where you live. Is there a fragrance mentioned you want to learn more about? You can buy the book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and on the Odette Toilette site. Draw closes 11/30/2016