Michael Edwards is the author of Fragrances of the World, the ultimate industry reference book, now in its 32nd Edition. To put it simply, he is an authority on the subject.
Published in 1996, his book Perfume Legends:French Feminine Fragrances sought to chart the evolution of French perfumery chiefly from the perfumers’ perspective and is the result of 150 in-depth interviews. In 164 pages, it takes us chronologically through 44 French perfumes starting with Jicky in 1889 and ending with Angel in 1992.
He used the following criteria for choosing the fragrances that feature in the book; firstly, that they inspired other perfume compositions, secondly, that they started a new trend and thirdly, that they have an enduring appeal which surpasses fashion.
I loved reading The Foreword which was written by Edmond Roudnitska, the great perfumer who created many of Dior’s classics including Eau Sauvage and Diorissimo as well as Rochas’s Femme. Funnily enough, he mentions that when he visited Sydney (Edwards is Australian) he was stuck by its similarity to his own Côte d’Azur.
I was particularly interested to see what Roudnitska had to say about a favourite (if not my very favourite) perfume, “Jacques Guerlain’s most modern composition was probably Vol de Nuit which was not given the full appreciation it merited from the public or from the House.” He also states that Chanel’s best composition is not Chanel No.5 (which he feels benefited from clever marketing) but in fact “the magnificent” Bois des lles
After The Foreward there is an introduction entitled “The dawn of modern perfumery” which leads up to the creation of Fourgére Royale by Houbigant in 1882. Then we get to the perfumes…
Each individual entry starts with a brief summary of the time and gives the context for how the perfume came into being. This is followed by a piece about the specific fragrance explaining how the perfume was developed, usually with quotes from the perfumer, his relatives or associates.
These aren’t reviews but offer up what are usually fascinating tales which try to get to the facts about how the perfume came about and why it became so great. The chemical components aren’t shied away from but aren’t overwhelming for the non-scientifically minded, like me. It’s a nice mix of anecdotes and technical information.
Before ending with a section about the bottle, there is a pyramid diagram detailing the “Head, Heart and Soul” accords and epithets for each. In the case of Miss Dior these are “Spicy, Flowery and Clinging”.
Here are a selection of the perfumes featured in the book from across the 20th Century: L’Origan (1905), Mitsouko (1919), Tabu (1932), L’Air du Temps (1948), Cabochard (1959), Calandre (1969), First (1976), Loulou (1987) and Tresor (1990).
I really like how Michael Edwards gets to the root of the story behind the perfumes by going back to the source. Iconic fragrances are often surrounded by myths but you feel that Edwards gets to the truth wherever possible. It’s a large, beautiful, coffee table-style book but unlike most in that genre, it is full of content. Perfume Legends really is a wealth of insider information, facts and stories from the relevant protagonists or those closest to them.
Unfortunately it’s a spendy purchase with the hardcover currently on Amazon UK for £149.01.
Many thanks to Lila for lending me her copy.
Do you have any non-fiction books about perfume to share?
6 responses to “Perfume Legends: French Feminine Fragrances by Michael Edwards”
What a splendid book – expensive as you say, but a fascinating read. I loved the bit about the ‘Head, Heart and Soul’ accords. In the case of Miss Dior, I guess that would be ‘clinging’ in the sense of ‘lingering’, rather than needy, as I remember it as being quite a kick ass scent.
I was pleased to hear that Roudnitska rated Bois des Iles above No 5 – it is my favourite Chanel for sure.
Also interested that Roudnitska thought Sydney was like the Cote d’Azur. I would agree from the point of view of the dazzling light and brightness, and the feeling of being permanently on holiday! Not on the flora, fauna and architectural fronts, obviously.
Yes, you almost get your money’s worth just by reading the Foreword – okay, maybe not exactly. 😉
LOL at Miss Dior not being the needy type, V. I quite agree.
The Foreword is pure gold and I think it shows how much Roudnitska thought of Michael Edwards that he compared Sydney to the Cote d’Azur. Very sweet.
I have read Jean-Claude Ellena’s Journal d’un parfumeur. He has some good observations about scent in that small volume book. The book is also available in English, as far as I know. No fancy layout and no pictures, but I would still recommend it. For me it was perfect for starting to read in French again, since each entry is short and can be read on its own.
I also have Le Snob: Perfume by the perfume blogger Persolaise and enjoyed reading his take on some perfumes.
I have on my shelf a book by Elisabeth de Feydeau: Les Parfums: Histoire, Anthologie, Dictionnaire which I have so far only had a quick look at. Also rather modest in looks, but I think it is a mine of information.
I do lust after some of those larger coffee table books, I think one can find books about Chanel and several others?
Thanks for sharing some of your finds, Ingeborg. I admire you for reading Jean-Claude Ellena’s book in French and it does sound interesting. He is the most articulate speaker on the subject, I feel.
I hadn’t heard of the Elisabeth de Feydeau book before so thanks for the tip.
Oh yes I’ve seen that Chanel book. They do look impressive but then again, I don’t own a coffee table 🙂
Hey there Tara,
Michael Edwards is a superstar. I’ve not spent a lot of time with him but what little I have found him charming and gentle. He was friendly but quite aloof, if you can be both. I liked him instantly.
That book has been on my Want-List forever. When I see it I’m cash strapped and when I’m rich it’s never around. One day I’ll walk into a second hand book store and it will be sitting there for 20 bucks, then I’ll grab it.
I can imagine him being both aloof and gentle, funnily enough. Nice to hear your first hand experience, Portia.
I hope you do find the book for 20 bucks one of these days.
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