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Scent and Subversion: Decoding A Century Of Provocative Perfume Hardcover – November 5, 2013
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"I believe that the effective use of perfume is a vital stepping stone in the art of creating glamour, and I've always sought out rare and distinctive perfumes. In Scent & Subversion, Barbara Herman weaves an enchanting tapestry of words about the world’s most spectacular perfumes, a must read for any sensualist or maestra of glamour." --Dita Von Teese, the queen of modern burlesque and creator of the fragrances Dita von Teese, Rouge, Fleurteese, and Erotique
"It's impossible to overstate the importance of scent in your glamour arsenal. In Scent & Subversion: A Century of Provocative Perfume, Barbara Herman tells you how to slip into multiple identities, define your narrative, and star in your own life." --Mx Justin Vivian Bond, international cabaret superstar; author of Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels; and co-creator of The Afternoon of a Faun perfume for État Libre d'Orange
"Scent and Subversion collects Herman’s reviews, but its genius lies in putting them in chronological order based on when each perfume was first produced. This allows Herman to develop a theory of perfume’s evolution in the course of the past century: review by review, evidence piles up. The story is about evolving gender roles and societal norms, from the smoky, sharp, groundbreaking fragrances of the twenties all the way to the watery, unisex 'office smells' of the nineties, and beyond . . . . According to Herman, when you pay attention to the narrative of how perfume actually smells, rather than how it is marketed, the story becomes delightfully non-linear." -- Emily Gould, The New Yorker
"Barbara Herman is an oracle of social history, and her sacred vapor is vintage perfume. For Herman, perfume is a time machine that reveals each decade's particular obsessions with gender roles and sex. Scent & Subversion explores how in the space of a century, women went from smelling like animals while behaving like ladies--to smelling like detergent while pretending they weren't animals. A rip-snorting olfactory perspective on 20th century culture, Scent & Subversion is entertaining reading for fumeheads and casual sniffers alike, and destined to become a classic of perfume research." --Katie Puckrik, journalist, broadcaster, and perfume writer of katiepuckriksmells.com
"Like writers who have understood history through painting, architecture, and music, Barbara Herman has laid out the 20th century through one of the most fascinating, personal, and innovative of lenses, the evolution of its olfactory art." --Chandler Burr, author of The Perfect Scent and creator and curator of the Department of Olfactory Art, Museum of Arts and Design, New York City
“Illustrated by vintage ads, Herman's decade-by-decade study is followed by engrossing interviews with 'scent visionaries,’ and tips on boosting expertise and creating a collection of classic scents. The book will delight perfume lovers.” --Publisher’s Weekly
"Barbara Herman’s Scent & Subversion (Lyons Press) is a tidy overview of perfumes and their marketing." --Cathy Horyn, The New York Times
"Herman is a deft and inventive writer whose talent is to make the scents come alive in your mind’s nose. To a literary genre still hung over after an early overindulgence in bitchy snarkitude, her approach is welcome as a fresh breeze. This splendid little volume (it fits easily in the hand) is beautifully produced and generously illustrated with original color advertisements.” --Avery Gilbert, FirstNerve.com and author of What the Nose Knows
“Barbara Herman has written a delightful book that offers a great value to anyone interested in perfume of the past and present. She educates us without preaching . . . and provides a treasure trove of information, both in prose and in images, as she has included a large number of vintage advertisements that are entertaining, revealing, and often very satisfying for those of us who are interested in design and culture of decades past.” --Gaia Fishler, TheNonBlonde.com
"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. This is the book of her heart." --Jordan River, thefragrantman.com
“Barbara's book may be one of the more informative as well as entertaining books on the subject of perfume to come out yet. She covers many aspects: why the siren song of vintage fragrances spoke to her senses, aesthetically and viscerally; how she became embroiled in the Perfumed World; her examination of trends in the twentieth century, with examples/descriptions/impressions of several benchmark perfumes; the future of 'scent subversives,' including the more avant garde scientists/perfumers/seers among us; a beginner's guide to animalic notes from an historical perspective--and pointers on how to start one’s own vintage collection.” --Ida Meister, Fragrantica.com
About the Author
Barbara Herman has been the go-to expert on vintage perfume since she began her blog, Yesterday’s Perfume (yesterdaysperfume.com), in 2008. She’s a senior writer for sparks & honey advertising agency in New York City and has written for Newsweek, Elle.com, EsquireUK, Refinery29.com, IntoTheGloss.com, and International Business Times. She lives in Brooklyn.
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You will know Barbara Herman from her popular vintage perfume blog, Yesterday's Perfume, and her mouthwatering descriptions and delightful turn of phrase are captured beautifully in the book's reviews. For example, this is from her review of Balmain's Vent Vert: "It sounds off with a bitter, verdant blast of galbanum like a trumpet's call, and shortly thereafter other flower notes run and swirl onto the stage like a ballet dancer in a production of Nijinsky's paganistic 'The Rite of Spring.'"
Gorgeous, such an evocative description...
The book also includes appendices including interviews with people in the perfume industry, a guide to animalic ingredients, a glossary of terms, and various other articles placed as bookends to the meat of the book, the reviews. As a vintage perfume wearer and lover, I'm so happy to have this resource. I strongly recommended it!
But, the book's descriptions of perfumes are shorter and less in-depth than the blog posts! IMO, many of the most interesting anecdotes and descriptions are missing. The book is pretty and fun to look at, but the blog has more depth and is a better resource.
But the best thing for me is the abundantly evident enthusiasm, curiosity, and enjoyment with which the author approaches her subject matter. Writing about perfume isn't the easiest thing in the world (no matter how effortless Turin & Sanchez make it seem), but Ms. Herman has a deft touch in making these scents jump to life off the page ... and making at least this reader start prowling eBay and vintage decant websites for samples of the perfumes she so lusciously describes.
An essential addition to the small but growing library of perfume reference works, and a book which I know I'll be dipping into for years to come whenever I need to remind myself that perfume is indeed "the most portable form of intelligence".
Like "The Guide," by Turin and Sanchez, it discusses the virtues of fragrance as a wine connoisseur discusses wines--without shame. Fragrance can indeed be enjoyed like fine food or wine--as a sensual pleasure. One may not agree with all the comments and observations Herman makes, but this book is a great writing on the great perfumes of history since the advent of commercial perfumery. Her writing is tongue-in-cheek and informative, hilarious at times, and never boring. A must for every perfume aficionado!