Two years ago, I became fascinated with perfume and fragrance. I was writing a screenplay about two rival perfumers and was doing research to capture some of the details and nuances of those characters’ thoughts and actions. I picked up Chandler Burr’s book, The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry, and I was hooked. It is the story of the development of two perfumes, Hermes’ Un Jardin Sur le Nil, and Coty’s Lovely, created with and for the actress Sarah Jessica Parker. The book follows the perfumers as they work on their assignments, or “briefs”, all the while explaining the arcane workings of the perfume industry.
The book also describes a journey, a form of “perfume tourism”, taken by Hermes’ then-new in-house perfumer Jean Claude Ellena and a team of Hermes executives to Egypt, specifically the Nile river, to try to capture the atmosphere of a “garden on the Nile”, which was the chosen theme for the new perfume. As poets and others have noted for centuries, fragrance and scent seem to link directly to human memories and emotions in a way that only music approaches; even so, scent is the more visceral line of communication between our senses and our memories.
My own perfume journey has been more like a tumble down a rabbit hole, as others have described it. I am also fortunate enough to have frequent opportunities to travel, so I have become a committed “perfume tourist.” What does that mean? I seek out unique opportunities to experience fragrance in my travels, including visiting independent perfume-makers and perfume boutiques. In hindsight, I have actually done this off and on for decades; on our honeymoon, my husband and I visited Grasse, the birthplace of fine French perfume, and toured more than one of the Grasse-based perfumeries (Molinard and Fragonard). When we went on a family trip to Bermuda several years ago, we visited the lovely Bermuda Perfumery, home of fragrance house Lili Bermuda, in the historic old town St. George’s. I am very lucky that we set a pattern early of my husband indulging me with perfume souvenirs!
Now, however, perfume tourism is a more deliberate choice on my part. It has proven to be a novel way to experience cities: seeking out independent perfumeries, perfume museum exhibits, even perfume-oriented arts. I have loved discovering independent perfume boutiques like Scent Bar in Los Angeles. And of course, nowadays my souvenirs of my trips are usually perfumes; I look for “niche perfumes” made in that country, but sometimes I just buy a nice fragrance that reminds me of that trip. A recent trip to Switzerland resulted in the purchase of three lovely niche fragrances in different cities, but also an inexpensive small bottle of eau de toilette from Victorinox Swiss Army (yes, the maker of Swiss army knives).
This year so far, I’ve pursued perfume tourism in Barcelona, Spain, and in several cities in Switzerland. What’s next? Somerset House in London will open an exhibition this summer called Perfume: A Sensory Journey Through Contemporary Scent. I’m hoping I can get to London this summer to see it, as I’ve enjoyed other arts exhibitions at Somerset House in the past. And the ever-fragrant summer gardens of London are a must! Dreaming dreams of fragrant flowers and sweet perfumes …