cover image In Search of Perfumes: A Lifetime Journey to the Source of Nature’s Scents

In Search of Perfumes: A Lifetime Journey to the Source of Nature’s Scents

Dominique Roques, trans. from the French by Stephanie Smee. HarperVia, $28.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-329795-1

This immersive debut by Roques, a former head of sourcing for perfume developer Firmenich, examines how fragrances are derived and cultivated. He recounts tales from his career tracking down essences and extracts for the perfume industry, exploring how scents are made by nature, as well as in the lab, and profiling the people who harvest the ingredients. Discussing his time in the Andalusian countryside of El Andévalo, he explains how cistus flowers secrete a fragrant resin called labdanum gum that protects the plant from summer heat, and he describes enjoying the town’s religious celebrations with a farmer who supplies French perfumers with the gum, which is used for its aroma by such perfume houses as Guerlain. Roques expounds on lavender (“France’s favorite scent”), telling how it’s been harvested in France for centuries, but has recently been supplanted by its “cousin,” lavandin, which is more productive and durable. Other chapters chronicle the author’s travels to India, Madagascar, and Somaliland, in search of frankincense, jasmine, and vanilla. With detailed accounts of his trips and vivid descriptions of the scents he’s encountered (Indonesian patchouli is “exotic and heady, sensual and mysterious,” while bergamot oil is “fresh and potent, green, floral and zesty”), this rich travelogue will transport readers. Photos. (May)