Scent & Subversion – Review

I am walking along the longest path of the world, searching for the book of my heart.

Vien Tuc
Đà Lạt

Imagine a whole world where everyone smells of CK One. You probably don’t have to imagine; you have probably been there as has Barbara Herman from Yesterday’s Perfume. One day Barbara rebelled against office-friendly scents and went searching for the rude, the loud, the odd, the weird and the impolite. What she mostly found was vintage perfume and then some cutting edge 21st century olfactive artists. This led her on a fragrant journey through the 20th century which became her book Scent and Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative Fragrance.


Barbara Herman

Scattered pictures
Throughout the book are pictures like posters for a scent cinema or as Barbara writes…

like movie posters to perfume’s invisible cinema.

These posters have been collected by Barbara over many years and reveal a lot about perfume, society and marketing ‘art’.

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This is not a picture book though there are many full colour pictures. Barbara starts off with the thoughts of Aristotle and Plato and continues through Fliess and Freud to Chandler Burr, Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez. She quotes Olivia Giacobetti, Christophe Laudamiel, and Avery Gilbert. In Part 3 there are interviews with Étienne de Swardt, Antoine Lie, Sissal Tolaas, and Martynka Wawrzyniak as well as a profile on Christopher Brosius.

In Part 1 Barbara courses through the development of ‘Perfume: is it art? I like Barbara’s conclusion that Perfume is a language.

Part 2 is a tour de force of 300+ vintage fragrances, including drugstore, all with back stories that you may have never heard before. I am not a vintage connoisseur so I learnt a lot from this book. If you know your vintage ‘fumes then I imagine you will be delighted with the way they are portrayed in Scents and Subversion.

On Jicky

the personality of a cat… sometimes with perfume more is more.

Barbara Herman
Scent and Subversion

While I know the house Santa Maria Novella I had never heard of Peau d’Espagne – now I have and now I have ordered it on the strength of Barbara’s description…

so strong you can almost taste it.

Barbara Herman
Scent and Subversion

Did you know that Caron released a 1911 perfume called Narcisse Noir , The Black Narcissus?

One perfume is described as…

a sexual flower, one that is at its most fragrant, from a meadow in full bloom on the hottest spring day, visited by the horniest, healthiest bees at the height of health.

Barbara Herman
Scent and Subversion

I won’t tell you which one. Nor will I tell you what Jungle Gardenia by Tuvaché smelt like in 1932 or which perfume house released a Coconut Cuir Chypre.

There are tantalizing ‘notes not known’ under many perfumes. This is bound to provide additional material for the 2nd edition as Vintage Perfumistas analyze and discuss their knowledge and note proposals across The Fragrant Stratosphere. Octavian Coifan and Yann Vasnier are credited with supplying some previously never-before-revealed notes from vintage samples sent to them by Barbara.

Modern vs Vintage

the difference between modern and vintage perfumery is akin to the difference between polyester and velvet.

Barbara Herman
Scent and Subversion

Part III looks at the future of scent and tells the the story of how the author’s nose lost it’s virginity. Perspective on the work of Étienne de Swardt, Antoine Lie, Christopher Brosius, Sissal Tolaas, Martynka Wawrzyniak, and Christophe Laudamiel make for an interesting read as does the chapter called A Brief History of Animal Notes in Perfume.

This week we have had several collector’s items on The Fragrant Man of which Scents & Subversion would be the most affordable one. I think coffee table for the hardcover and the e-book for bedside reading.

This is a book you could read again and again as your own knowledges grows and as vintage bottles materialize on your own fragrant journey. If you already know everything then here it is all in one place. If you are new to perfume appreciation then a glossary and a guide called Perfume 101: How to become an Informed Perfume Lover, will become your reference points as you begin your own fragrant journey.

On Now Smell This, Aleta describes this book as

a worthy flanker to Perfumes: The Guide, one that takes something of the original format in order to build its own point of view.

Now Smell This

Yes it is worthy flanker; a great companion volume.


In this book you will read about perfume set to music; this book is perfume set to words, erudite words that bespeak a mountain of research. Barbara has walked a long path, searching and researching. She has climbed the perfume mountain and found her own spot on the vintage plateau. What a view. This is the book of her heart.

Kindle e-book at Amazon $US9.99
Hardcover Amazon $US24.95

Further Reading
Book Reviews by Dita Von Teese, Mx Justin Vivian Bond, Aleta (Now Smell This), Katie Puckrick and Chandler Burr
Book Review by The Non-Blonde “This is an unparalleled resource for learning about perfumes of the past, both classic and forgotten.”
Yesterday’s Perfume – website
Yesterday’s Perfume – Facebook
Barbara Herman is @parfumaniac on Twitter
Fantastic Voyage through The Fragrant Stratosphere

17 responses to “Scent & Subversion – Review

  1. Hi Jordan,
    I just ordered my book too! Vintage scents are my thing and this book looks like a great read. Thanks for your review.

      • Hi Jordan,
        Yes, thank you. I would love to write about Fidji. My thing? Well, yes “It’s your thing…”, the Isley Bros’ funky late 60’s. Sadly for me I am haunted by lyrics of all kinds of music from Verdi to the Four Tops and even remember Googoush’s melismatic trilly voice. This could be considered a disorder of some kind but it is probably just a result of teaching music for almost 40 years.

  2. I’m going to order it soon. I cannot wait! And a huge Bravo to Ms. Herman for her accomplishment. I have no doubt that this will soon be an essential perfume bible.

    • But I will mention something you already know. It was a shock to me to find out the Opium bottle designer was Pierre Dinand, a shock dear , Ashoka. I just reread your Opium review thinking that this may have been news to you; but no; he is mentioned in your 3966 words on the subject of Opium. Happy reading to you Kafka.

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