We're All Led Around by Our Nose

Our sense of smell. Our nose. Our reason for reading blogs like this, or obsessing about perfumes, some of us so finely-tuned to our scent receptors we sniff wet metal, rotting wood, paint, everything funky and sublime, no barriers. We just sniff. We love to stimulate and pleasure our nose. And think about what we've just sniffed. And think about what there is out there to sniff. There may be a blog titled "Lipstick is my Crack" but in my opinion, the perfume lovers need a "Perfume is my Crack" site. We spend a lot more than the lipstickistas, and heck, we can spray our sheets with our adored perfumes, setting the mood for our nighttime reverie. And the lipstickistas don't remember their first shade of gloss -- but I bet they do remember the scent of it. The nose rules all.

The Smell Culture Reader is a must read. This anthology only covers perfume slightly, but it does delve and swim and luxuriate in the full world of scent, blending the funny with the intellectual, the gross with the sublime, the dry history with modern poetry.

Click here for the Table of Contents

Sense and Sensibility by Helen Keller illuminates the personal scent, our own olfactive fingerprint, as perceived by someone without sight, and how she defines the owner of a scent. Jump to Eros and Thanatos of Scent for examples of literature that intertwine the sex act and death. Stinkey cities, stinky bodies, sublime scents of heaven and the afterlife, and a wonderful bit by John Steele on perfumeros in South America, who use perfume, fragrant plants and cultural beliefs to create altered states of consciousness. Luca Turin's review of perfumes, most of which have not appeared in print before, except for some in the Emperor of Scent book, reflect a kind of altered consciousness also -- how the perfumes, whether lovely or damned, have the ability to transport the person experiencing them to another place, via his imagery.

If you have a vial of jasmine grandiflorum absolute or concrete on hand, sniff it while reading natural perfumer Mandy Aftel's description of her life-changing discovery of this gorgeous scent, and the obsession that resulted.

The book is comprehensive in scope: no scent or thought about scent, from the beginning of time, seems to be skipped, or at least is seems that way. There's a lot to take in here, many nights of reading, curled up by a cozy fire, perhaps, differentiating between oak or applewood or another fragrant molecule filling your nose with its particular fragrance. Sniffing the wool in your sweater, absorbing the lovely scent of tea, The Scent Culture Reader will help you understand, and perhaps better enjoy, the smelly world around you.


  1. Anya, hi -
    Yes, reading this now, as you know...
    I am supremely fascinated, too, with the descriptions of the South American fragrance shamans, and I have read elsewhere that the Egyptians had a similar use and attitude to fragrance and its uses as a direct spirtually significant conduit to the soul and the supernatural and to "heaven" or the afterlife. I am not of that opinion myself but there is a certain "straight to the brain" aspect to the sense of smell which is so primal and yet so ethereal at the same time. It's really great to have such a compilation and I did read the Luca Turin perfume reviews, which are the essence of worldly and urbane and European in their sensibility. It almost inspires me to go out and get some Chanel No. 5 -- even though I don't feel quite the same way about it as LT does...the sense of smell seems to be the most individual and idiosyncratic of all the senses. Such vast differences of taste and opinion are not nearly as prevalent, I don't think, for the other senses

  2. I remember Chanel 5 as my sister's favorite back when I was very small, pre-school, there was always a bottle around and of course in the manner of all devious little girls I went around and tried all my older sister's perfumes when I would not be caught...in those days everyone felt it was their duty to choose a signature scent and that was hers. My next oldest sister down in age chose Shalimar, which she still uses religiously. Yes, I will go back and try C#5 again; a couple a years ago trying it again it was not what I remembered/imagined it would be, so now that you tell me of the different versions, perhaps that is the explanation. I am awaiting my copy of "Emperor of Scent" to arrive. I used to read LT's site when it was still going, I get the impression he has started a new venture and we will be the audience for something astonishing soon...
    great post, Anya.

  3. Hi Luccia
    John Steele has been involved in the natural perfumery world for some time, and I didn't know he was an anthropologist, so it is good to see how he is able to connect it all. I'll bet he knows more of the Egyptian (and other cultures) use of aromatics for altered states. Perhaps I should call him and introduce myself -- I did find out it was he and another person who told Robert Tisserand about the yahoo group, and encouraged him to join.

    But I digress..as usual!

    Luca's reviews are amazing, and he has quite a cult following because of them, and you'll find out more about how the Perfume Guide (1992) got him entry into a world previously unknown to outsiders -- the perfume industry's inner workings.

    Smell is individual and idiosyncratic. That said, I do love how he and others describe scents. I have built up a scent library based on their writings, and refer to it when rereading their reviews. It is quite illuminating, even if I don't share their love of certain perfumes --it's all educational and fun.

    Synchronistically, he wrote me the other day and when I replied, I asked about the Smell Culture reviews, as I have read so much by him I wasn't sure if they had appeared in print before, and I got the info posted on the blog.

    If you sample the Chanel No. 5, be sure to get some parfum extrait, and compare it to the Edt and EdP and cologne -- all different songs.


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