Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The scent of work

Just returned from vacation and a chance to read. Right now I'm finishing up "The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry in Paris and New York," by Chandler Burr. He's the New York Times Style Magazine's scent critic. Scent Critic!!!!!! Wow.

The scent of work


Just returned from vacation and a chance to read. Right now I'm finishing up "The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry in Paris and New York," by Chandler Burr. He's the New York Times Style Magazine's scent critic. Scent Critic!!!!!! Wow.  

Maybe it's the reporter in me, but I tend to be drawn to books that are long looks at behind-the-scenes worlds, especially focused on the work involved. Two years ago, I was enthralled with a book about lobstering. Over the years, I've read so many others, including a year in the life of a church and another describing small town life through the eyes of a policeman.  We've all been inspired by "Freedom Writers," the story of a teacher who lifted her class's spirits through writing.

In his book, Burr describes the creation of two perfumes, one for Sarah Jessica Parker called "Lovely," and the other for Hermes, the fashion house, called Un Jardin Sur le Nil (Garden on the Nile). He talks about perfumers who have such highly developed smelling abilities that they can quickly list the scent ingredients in a towelette offered during an airline ride. He said that hanging around the perfumers is like being with speaking Labrador dogs. Can you imagine what happens to them when they step into a crowded elevator on a hot day. An orchestra of odeurs..... 

The creator of Un Jardin Sur le Nil, the legendary Jean-Claude Ellena, used to entertain his children by bringing them smell creations made to their order. Son Herve requested and received a perfume that smelled of sweaty socks. His daughter said that's not a perfume. He replied, no, it was an odor, that there were no good and bad odors, that it was a work and had to be respected as such. For them, he also created the smell of madeleine cookies and, because they lived in the south of France, the smell of snow. His daughter, Celine, also became a perfumer. The craft tends to run through families and many come from the area around Grasse in France. The industry has two main centers, New York and Paris.

I recommend this book for a great look into a world of work that most of us know nothing about. My husband, a photographer, commented that it must be difficult to live in a world where one's sense of smell is so acute; the amount of stimulation would be overwhelming. Of course, I disagreed. You wouldn't say that about the sense of sight.


Inquirer Staff Writer
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About this blog

Jobbing covers the workplace – employment, unemployment, management, unions, legal issues, labor economics, benefits, work-life balance, workforce development, trends and profiles.

Jane M. Von Bergen writes about workplace issues for the Inquirer.

Married to a photographer she met at her college newspaper, Von Bergen has been a reporter since fourth grade, covering education, government, retailing, courts, marketing and business. “I love the specific detail that tells the story,” she says.

Reach Jane M. at jvonbergen@phillynews.com.

Jane M. Von Bergen Inquirer Staff Writer
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