Lizzie Ostrom might be better known in perfume circles as the brains behind the glorious “Odette Toilette” website, which runs inventive and exciting perfume-themed events and excursions thoughout the year. I’ve written about several of them here, having visited both the Osmotheque in Paris with Odette and been to the re-run of that event when the Osmotheque visited London earlier this year. That visit to Paris was an important turning point in my life coping with being smell-disabled, but I’ve been going to Odette events for years, even before I realised just what a big deal fragrance was going to be in my life. Lizzie is a lovely, and well-respected member of the UK perfume scene and seeing her name in print is a thrill.
I’ve known this book was on the way for ages, easily over a year, and I’ve had it on pre-order at Amazon since last April, so to say I’ve been dying to read it would be a mild understatement. Perfume books can easily slip into the either incomprehensibly pretentious or overly-florid (I’ve read some shockers over the years, believe you me) and Lizzie sidesteps these issues with the judicious application of a delightfully playful sense of humour and by allowing a real sense of love for fragrance – and by firmly acknowledging the occasional absurdity of the business itself – to rise from the pages.
The story of 100 fragrances, organised into ten each per decade of the previous century, Lizzie selects perfumes that best exemplify each era (whether good, bad or indifferent – they just need to be important, not necessarily good), and tells the story of each in just a couple of pages. Putting each into the context of the time it was released, and discussing the impact of ingredients as well as the pop culture of the time makes this read slightly unlike any other history of fragrance that you may have read before. By not just focusing on the classics (you’re likely to find the “great smell of Brut” discussed alongside the merits of Shalimar in here) Lizzie has found new tales to tell, and it’s all the more fascinating to read as a result.
Beautifully bound, and prettily illustrated A Century of Scents is that rare beast, a coffee-table book that is wonderfully absorbing. For anyone with even the slightest interest in fragrance, this is a perfect Christmas present. At only £16.99, it’s a bargain, too.
Look out next week when I’ll be giving away a copy of the book to one of my readers.
The Fine Print: Purchase