Saturday 24 October 2015

Lizzie Ostrom's Century Of Scents

When Lizzie Ostrom (aka Odette Toilette) first told me that she was writing a book about perfume I remember thinking, how will you get the character of this eccentric into print? Lizzie is anything but predictable, and she has made her reputation by taking perfume and turning it on its head. Anyone who has witnessed her in action knows that her quirky style and approachable manner is what keeps you coming back for more. So, would this translate into print? There have many dry, dusty and pretentious books about perfume over the years which use language that even Countdown's Dictionary Corner would struggle with, but this is not one of them.

Perfume: A Century of Scent is a roller coaster ride through one hundred years of fragrance. The good, the bad and the downright ugly are all in here, and that is what makes the book such a compelling read. It was fascinating seeing some of the scents that I work with every day being given a totally new spin. I have heard EVERY Guerlain story a thousand times, but Lizzie manages to make everything sound fresh and new, and even educate this 'old rascal'.

Rather than just choose one hundred perfumes and write about them in depth, Lizzie cleverly sets her choices against the historical background of the time. You get one fragrance from each year, from 1900 to 1999, and you will be amazed at what she has selected. You've got the big hitters like Guerlain, Chanel and YSL, but room is also made for a few forgotten gems. I'm going to let you discover these yourself, because that is part of the fun of this book, but the fact that Lynx and Avon are bedfellows with Piver and Caron shows just how diverse Lizzie's selections are. Around each corner you'll find lost loves, current playthings and maybe even some naughty memories.

Let me be clear, there is a lot of information about the perfumes in there as well, but you never feel as though you're being lectured to. One of the highlights for me was the appearance of the Grossmith company, who have two mentions in the book. It's the entry for White Fire which really made me happy though. A superb post-war fragrance, the company recreated it in 2014 to celebrate the scent's sixtieth anniversary. Unfortunately they didn't release it commercially, so I will have to make do with my ever dwindling sample and revel in Lizzie's wonderful writing.

It is a pretty safe bet that in the future you will see quotes taken from Perfume: A Century of Scent whenever fragrance is written or talked about. Lizzie has managed to let perfume reach out to any reader, and by including the historical settings, anecdotes and wonderful illustrations by Cynthia Kittler, has created the ultimate coffee table book. You can read it from cover to cover or you can dip in and out, but the one thing you must do is READ IT!

I'll let the last words go to Lizzie, as usual ... "Read and reminisce".

Perfume: A Century of Scent is published in hardback by Hutchinson, and is also available as an ebook on Kindle.

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