My Favorite Books

Whenever a new obsession strikes, I get online and buy every relevant book I can find.

In perfumery, this isn’t easy. There are a million aromatherapy books, but there aren’t many on perfume to begin with and those that do exist are often outdated or too technical.

These books are expensive. I paid very dearly for Stephen Arctander’s book, Perfume and Flavor Ingredients of Natural Origin, now in a new edition for about a 20th of the price.

Since many of us don’t have these books or access to them, I want to discuss them in upcoming posts.

My earliest books are from the 19th century, more curiosities than anything.

My first important book, The Practice of Modern Perfumery, acquired for $150, by Paul Jellinek, was published in 1949. For those eager to make vintage-style perfumes or who want to recreate the classics, this is a boon.

First, there is a discussion of smelling technique, compounding technique, and methods for matching, but the book doesn’t get exciting until we reach, “Tables of Perfume Complexes,” formulas for mostly floral perfumes. At first glance, I’m struck by the percentage of naturals, sometimes up to 60%.

Narcissus, one of the simpler formulas, has only 14 ingredients of which only two are naturals, petitgrain (“Grasse”) and ylang ylang. It contains many of the classic synthetics, still used, but, nowadays, in conjunction with modern compounds such as hedione. Hydroxycitronellal, with its muguet notes, makes up 20% of the formula, while heliotropin (cherry pie) contributes 10%. Funky indole makes an appearance at 1%. There is also phenylacetaldehyde (hyacinth) and the usual suspects: terpineol (woody/green), geraniol (geraniums/rose), linalool (handwipes), benzyl isobutyrate (fruity/floral) and isoeugenol (cloves).

But the aroma of narcissus cannot be made with these compounds and naturals alone. It needs para-cresols, strange and dissonant substances that can lend a minor key.

More about these to come.