Perfume is ubiquitous in Grasse, a medieval town in the south of France that produces many of the flowers used to concoct the earliest fragrances. As demonstrated by the three books below, the industry has inspired much analysis, and these writers offer readers insight into the back-room deals, ingredients and people involved.


The A-Z Guide

By Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez

400 pp. Viking (2008).

If you are looking for your next perfume, you might turn to this useful guide by Luca Turin, who has been called the “emperor of scent,” and Tania Sanchez. In “Perfumes,” they categorize scents into groups such as “best citrus” and “best bang for the buck.” They also give a glossary of ingredients and explain their methodology for critiquing scents. It is an essential road map for consumers or perfume aficionados.


A Year Inside the Perfume Industry in Paris and New York
By Chandler Burr
340 pp. Henry Holt and Co. (2008).

In this insider account of the creation of two perfumes — Hermès’s Jardin sur le Nil and Coty’s Lovely by Sarah Jessica Parker — Chandler Burr, the former perfume critic for The New York Times, gives unfettered access to his world. Burr offers insights into his journalistic process, including how he arranges anonymous sources and his conversations with key players, as well as plenty of behind-the-scenes information about the industry, which he writes is “as obsessed with the best-seller lineup as Hollywood is with the international box-office scores.” By juxtaposing the stories of the two perfumes with that of the corporate giant Coty Inc., he paints an informative portrait of the multibillion-dollar business.


The Intimate History of the World’s Most Famous Perfume
By Tilar J. Mazzeo

281 pp. Harper/HarperCollins Publishers (2011).

This book looks at the life of Coco Chanel as seen through the creation and success of her best-selling signature scent, referred to as “the monster” by industry insiders because of its unprecedented success. Chanel introduced Chanel No. 5, which smells of jasmine flowers and roses from Grasse, at a dinner party in 1921. She sprayed the perfume in the air around her and kept quiet as all the women sniffed the air, wondering about the source of the intoxicating smell. Chanel “pretended not to notice.” The author recounts how the fragrance came to be and how, though Chanel would later broker a more advantageous deal, she lost her business to Pierre and Paul Wertheimer, the two brothers who handled the iconic scent’s manufacturing and distribution.


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