Scent and Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative Perfume

Barbara Herman. Globe Pequot/Lyons, $24.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-7627-8438-7
In her first book, blogger Herman, founder of, offers a well-written glimpse into “an aesthetic of pop culture that is worthy of analysis, shaped by and shaping the culture in which it’s embedded.” Indeed, the 20th-century scents she focuses on—in their olfactory personalities and advertising—were often a reflection of the politics, social mores, and evolving sexual identities of their time, and serve as sensory snapshots of history. So 1912’s L’Heure Bleue, with its “melancholy” blend of soft, sweet notes “evokes a prewar, romantic Paris, before darkness descended upon the city,” while flappers of the ’20s were dabbing on smoky, traditionally masculine scents like Habanita (to mask the smell of cigarettes) and musky Arpège, a perfume that Herman likens to a “sensual beauty, slightly corrupted, at the end of a night of dining and dancing.” Rosie the Riveters redefining their post-WWII roles could reach for scents that were “butch” or aggressively feminine, while the 70s brought perfumes that imparted a sense of “loosening up,” and the ’90’s, which ushered in the zenith of AIDS awareness and technological advances, saw “clean, uncomplicated” scents like CK One. Illustrated by vintage ads, Herman’s decade-by-decade study is followed by engrossing interviews with “scent visionaries,” and tips on boosting expertise and creating a collection of classic scents. The book will delight perfume lovers. Full-color illus. throughout. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 10/21/2013
Release date: 11/01/2013
Genre: Nonfiction
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