My Favorite Perfume Book

Perfumery: Practice and Principles, by Robert R. Calkin and J. Stephan Jellinek, is my favorite perfume book. First published in German in 1954, it came out in English 40 years later. I use it so much, my first copy fell apart and I’ve had to order another.

Chapter 12, “Selected Great Perfumes,” breaks perfumes into families: Floral Salicylate Perfumes, Floral Aldehydic Perfumes, Floral Sweet Perfumes, “Oriental” Perfumes, Patchouli Floral Perfumes, Chypres, and A New Style of Perfumery. Each of these sections includes about five perfumes. We see how they’re related and how they’ve descended, one from another.

The chapter opens with an analysis of the floral salicylate perfumes, starting with the great classic, L’Air du Temps, which they describe as “one of the most important perfumes ever made.”  Calkin and Jellinek break the perfume’s aroma into accords starting with a carnation accord, which forms the heart of the perfume and “dominates the perfume throughout its evaporation.”

The accord contains eugenol (cloves), isoeugenol (stronger cloves), ylang ylang (sweet, tropical flowers), and a trace of vanilla. Benzyl salicylate, a classic floralizer, which doesn’t have a very strong smell of its own, completes the accord.

The base note is comprised of methyl ionone (violets), vetiveryl acetate (like vetiver, but less broad, more focused), sandalwood (a deep, but subtle green woodiness), musk ketone and musk ambrette. Musk ketone is rarely used anymore because it collects in the environment; musk ambrette is forbidden. I’m not sure which musks are used in newer versions, but they give the perfume a different character. The original version would no doubt have been made with natural musk. It must have been unimaginable.

Jellinek and Calkin emphasize that the original version contained naturals such as jasmine and rose absolutes, in amounts that would horrify a modern CFO.

Next, we’ll talk about the middle and top of the perfume and how it all comes together.