Books: The Book of Perfumes

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The Independent Culture
IDENTIFY the following perfumes: 'sinister on the elderly, laughable on the young'; 'it cares not for seasons or ages, gliding with innate elegance and assurance through the years, giving away no secrets'; 'it's strictly evenings only, and only for the worldly and predatory'; 'it doesn't give a hoot whether it's day or night, and is so friendly and ingratiating it can go anywhere with confidence'; 'spectacular on not-so-innocent brides'; 'it's certainly X-rated, so keep Granny well away from it, in case she gets ideas beyond her capacity!' Answers: Christian Dior's Poison; Arpege by Lanvin; Calvin Klein's Obsession; Cabotine by Gres; Joy by Jean Patou; and Estee Lauder's Youth Dew.

The Book of Perfumes (Prion pounds 8.99) is a neat golden handbook designed to fit in the pocket during beauty-counter forays. Though author John Oakes reveres the classy Guerlains and Chanels, he's certainly no snob. He seems to have an especial fondness for the creations of Ms Lauder ('Pronunciation: ESS-tay LOR-da'), and even has a good word to say for such chemist-shop brews as L'Aimant, Tweed and 4711. He analyses 150 scents and, in his enthusiasm, comes across a bit like the parfumeur's Jilly Goolden - except, of course, the heliotrope, leather, moss, pineapple and pepper he identifies in the depths really are there. Rather more frivolous are his recommendations of how and when to wear celebrated scents: it seems very few can be carried off by the young, and this is one territory where blondes don't have more fun: for them he prescribes Carven's Ma Griffe (and they're welcome to it).

Oakes mourns the passing of some giants - Diorama, Caron's Poivre, Noa- Noa (known as Krakatoa by non-fans) - and hails returnees like Vent Vert, and revamps like Patou's Sublime (the reincarnation of Thirties scent, Colony). More vanished beauties are celebrated and illustrated in The Art of Perfume: Discovering and Collecting Perfume Bottles by Christie Mayer Lefkowith (Thames and Hudson pounds 18.95), which demonstrates that packaging is an essential element. Above, the bottle for Marcel Guerlain's 1926 scent Rolls Royce, with Bakelite base and ornamental stopper.