top of page

Olfactory beauty and obsession - “Perfume: Joy, Scandal, Sin” by Richard Stamelman (2006)

Dear readers, this March is all about perfume; firstly, the annual perfume expo, Esxence, is just held earlier this month in Milan, then, the UK National Fragrance week is going to take place starting 18th til 24th Mar, the charm of perfume is almost irresistible throughout this month! Here in MMD, we love perfume too especially from a gentlemen grooming, perfume connoisseur and luxury lifestyle’s perspective, while I didn’t participate those two prominent perfume event physically, I do have a little something here today to celebrate this month about fragrance.

Back in the days during the peak of the pandemic when we spent most of our days staying home, I had developed a special hobby of doing some online treasure hunt, among all the ‘junk’ I have browsed, there’s one particular item that I have the greatest impression about, and it was a copy of vintage book about fragrance titled “Perfume: Joy, Scandal, Sin - A Cultural History of Fragrance from 1750 to the Present”, I guess it’s the cover of the beautiful Lalique vintage perfume bottle that appeals me at the beginning, but I was always fascinated by what has been written inside this book as I only read the brief description about it online. While I placed the order back then, somehow the book was lost in transit which ends up I didn’t get it except the refund from the seller; fast forward to around a month ago, this book popped up to my mind once again, and lucky enough, I can finally able to get it despite it’s a second-hand copy! Perhaps it might sound a bit crazy, and you may even ask “what is so special about this old book anyway?”, well, the answer actually lies in my deep interest of vintage books and perfume – both its art and history, and most importantly, style.

Published by Rizzoli back in 2006, and written by Mr. Richard Stamelman, a literature professor and inducted as an honorary member into the Société Française des Parfumeurs, this book lays out the story and fascinating history about how perfume and the pleasure of scent interplays its role in the creation of modern culture, starting from the beginning of 18th century France with detail about how Napoleon obsessed with this perfume during his reign and exile, and then stepping into the 19th and 20th century to explain how the perfume came to symbolizes luxury and eroticism, also, with the resourceful photos, letting the reader to see how the advertisement and other elements, from the art to music, poetry to culture, that revolves around the orbit of a perfume, it’s inseparable relationship and artistic chemistry that makes this little bottle of scented juice becomes so enchanting to our lives, even as a form of self-expression about who we are, and the secret charm of the perfume makers who works behind.

Unlike any of perfume books that released in recent years which mainly dedicates context and reviews about perfume produced from each prominent or niche brands, the characteristic of certain ingredients and notes, this book stands out on its own as it has almost nothing to do with the author’s review about perfume (even back then, perfume review is not as explosively popular kind of culture as we are nowadays, and, if you are literally looking for a perfume review book by a popular perfume critique, this book might not be for you.), but pretty much spending a lot of chapters to explain the evolvement of perfume, stretching from the second empire to fin de siècle in France for instance, how it represents and associate with legendary artists, poets and musicians etc., even a way of living, and how its artistic value that serves and inspires people, in particular, people in the arts, who are not directly involved in perfume creation nor perfumer themselves, but creates something artfully and beautifully that takes this invisible olfactory works-of-art as a source of inspiration, echoes such beauty back to the perfume itself and create a much greater impact, to allure, to seduce and enriches the experience and the beauty a fragrance, along with other artistic elements, at the same time, marking their literature existence in their time.

As a vintage lover, perfume collector and creator, a luxury lifestyle connoisseur, this book did fascinate me in multiple ways, not only it enriches my knowledge (although I barely had a glimpse of each chapter only) about the history of perfume and its association with certain important figures in European history (well, perhaps I should mention the legendary French poet, art collector and dandy - Robert de Montesquiou, as there’s a section dedicated about his art and association with perfume), but more importantly, it proves how significant and tight-knot it is that a perfume associated with style and art of living, which once again that validates something that I believe in even before I started my very own fragrance creation, the ultimate beauty of a perfume is not just solely about the ingredients, nor the workmanship, but it’s also the aesthetic and artistic philosophy of the creator, the seamless collaboration with the perfumer, the impeccable and tasteful interpretation from the packaging, the image, the bottle and the communication materials etc., these are something that makes a perfume even more intriguing, valuable and unique.

Speaking as a fine book collector, this book is definitely a great copy especially for those who are into European history, perfume history and art, which not only it’s beautiful cover is good to look at, its resourceful and timeless context serves a great reference, to ignite one’s mind to appreciate a perfume in a different way, a more literature perspective, that rises above those hot-brand or hot-perfumer chaser’s tendency, and truly letting one to select, and understand the art of perfume in a more profound and sophisticated way.


bottom of page