Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Scent Trail by Celia Lyttelton

book cover

The Scent Trail
by Celia Lyttelton

Trade Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: New American Library
First Released: 2007

Source: Bought from Half.com.

Book Description (from publisher's website):
Lyttelton’s passion for fragrance inspired her to have a signature perfume created just for her—and then to embark on the ultimate olfactory odyssey. Armed with a list of ingredients, she tracked down each component of her scent, tracing its origins, history, and culture.

From the iris fields of Tuscany to the vetivert distilleries of India, from the nutmeg plantations of Sri Lanka to the shores of the Arabian Sea, Celia gives readers a glimpse into the world of scent that few people have ever experienced, providing delicious details on its place in history—for example, how Casanova added small amounts of ambergris to chocolate mousses to aid his amorous adventures, and how Charles Dickens carried a monogrammed pocket nutmeg grater in his waist coat at a time when nutmeg was used to ward off evil and to spice rum.

The Scent Trail is a travelogue focused around finding the ingredients for the author's custom-created perfume. The first chapter talked about the process she went through to decide which scents to have the perfumer put into her perfume. She then traveled to France, Morocco, Turkey, Italy, Sri Lanka, India, Yemen, and Socotra to personally buy the ingredients for her perfume.

Along the way, she gave snippets of interesting history and information about the perfume trade. We also learn about the countries (especially as regards the perfume trade) and the history of the perfume ingredients: mimosa, neroli, petitgrain, damask rose, iris, nutmeg, jasmine, vetivert, frankincense, myrrh, and ambergris. She also summarized the conversations she had with several perfumers and described tours of several buildings where the ingredients are distilled or made into concentrate or absolutes for the perfume trade. While there was a lot of interesting information, she rarely went into any depth on a topic.

Her love of scents and travel came through strongly and made me want to smell the scents she described. However, I would have found some pictures helpful as I had a hard time picturing some of the places and things she described.

People who are interested in both foreign countries and perfume will probably find this memoir/travelogue interesting.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
There are only a handful of Bespoke perfumers in London, and Anastasia Brozler, the founder of Creative Perfumers, is one of them.

When I asked her to concoct a formula for my own bespoke perfume she immediately drew me into the world of scent and the magic that smells can conjure up. When I first met her, before she'd founded her own company, we sat down together in front of a cabinet modeled on a Chinese medicine chest which had about one hundred tiny little drawers. From these drawers, she randomly took out lumps of balmy myrrh, earthy orris (iris) roots, vanilla pods--which smells mouthwateringly like chocolate--exotic Iranian saffron, heady Indian sandalwood, spicy nutmeg oil, aromatic cloves and bergamot, basil and even tomato oil. The smell of those last three together reminded me of al fresco suppers on Greek islands.

Some of the ingredients Anastasia held under my nose I'd never imagined making up a perfume: tomato oil, for instance, and guaiac wood from the Holywood tree of Paraguay; and some smells, such as ambergris, musk and civet, I had never smelled before. In parts of the Middle East real musk and civet are still used and sold, but covertly, because the trade is illegal. Ambergris--which comes from the vomit of sperm whales--can still be bought, but it is exceedingly rare, as the whales are difficult to find. So most perfumers use synthetic substitutes.

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