Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE SCENT TRAIL by Celia Lyttelton


How One Woman’s Quest for the Perfect Perfume Took Her Around the World

by Celia Lyttelton

Pub Date: Feb. 3rd, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-451-22624-2
Publisher: NAL/Berkley

A tantalizing introduction to the world of fragrances.

A few years ago, British artist and journalist Lyttelton got the idea to have a perfume created for her. The memory of her grandmother’s “rich peppery and rose scent,” coupled with her own sense of adventure, inspired the author not only to have her own “bespoke” (custom-made) scent developed but to trace each of her fragrance’s “notes,” or elements, from their countries of origin to their finished state in her perfume. Lyttelton’s journey started with a perfumer in London and ended with the arrival from the lab of her personal fragrance, blended from the exotic ingredients she’d collected: “granules of frankincense and myrrh from Socotra; Indian vetivert and jasmine; the finest attars of roses from Turkey; a mimosa absolute from Grasse; Moroccan vials of neroli and petitgrain; Tuscan orris butter; Sri Lankan nutmeg oil; and, rarest of all, ambergris from the Arabian Sea.” The author’s olfactory odyssey provides the perfect forum for presenting an encyclopedic overview of the history of perfumery and introducing the layperson to the wonderfully sonorant lexicon comprising the language of the nose. No other context would be so apt for her provocative description of scents—the “buttery pulverulence” of mimosa, for example—and fascinating assemblage of perfume-related trivia. “Napoleon poured an entire bottle of cologne over his head every morning,” Lyttelton informs us. Later, we learn that “in the New Testament, Mary Magdalene anoints Christ’s feet with spikenard; the repentant prostitute became the patron saint of perfumers.” The author also conveys what she has learned about the cultural and literal value of her various scents in their native locales. In Socotra, “toddlers had pouches of myrrh pinned to their bibs to ward off illness and evil spirits”; in Morocco, the very rich literally eat perfume, “so that their whole body smells of scent from within”; and in Tuscany, orris absolute costs about $40,000 per kilo, “three times more than its own weight in gold.”

Intimate and robust.