The Perfume Lover by Denyse Beaulieu : Book Review

28th February, 2012

“I am a perfume lover trying to think through perfume, both in the sense of thinking the matter through, and in the sense that perfume is one of the language’s I use to understand the world”

Perfume is a language that everybody speaks, whether they are aware of it or not. It is the language of times gone-by and places visited in the past, of lost emotions and beautiful moments. It speaks to us on a primal level and marks the poignant moments in our lives giving each and every one of us our very own scented history full of perfumed memories.

These perfumed memories can be extraordinarily powerful, and in The Perfume Lover perfume consultant and writer Denyse Beaulieu (of 'Grain de Musc' blog fame) shares her most important olfactory memory, one that she professes to be “one of the most beautiful nights of my life”.

Working with one the industry’s most sought-after perfumers, Bertrand Duchaufour, Beaulieu documents the creation of Séville à l’aube (Seville at Dawn) or Duende as it is referred to in its development phases, a perfume based on a beautiful night spent in Seville, with an equally beautiful man during Holy Week. Together Beaulieu and Duchaufor try to capture the sights, sounds and emotions of that night in scented form, relying on her vivid memories and his exceptional talent.

Beaulieu takes the scented strands of her life and interweaves them with threads from the history of modern perfumery as she takes us through Séville à l’aube’s development. This history provides a fascinating insight into how the perfume as an ancient ritual has morphed into the department store-filling behemoth that we know today. The Perfume Lover is not only a tale of the history of perfume; it is above all tale of one woman’s passion for olfaction and for life.

As far as scented histories go, Beaulieu’s is certainly impressive. The native of Montreal, now living in Paris, describes herself as a “scent slut”, she describes her love of such greats as; Chloé (the original), Van Cleef, Piguet’s Bandit, Habanita, Caron’s Narcisse Noir & Poivre, Tubéreuse Criminelle and Carnal Flower. Each perfume is a thread in the tapestry of her life and speaks volumes about her character. Like the perfumes she is drawn to, Beaulieu is certainly no wallflower, nor does she mince her words. She writes with a huge degree of openness and bravura, as she and Duchaufour put it: ”Même pas peur” – “Not even afraid”. But it's this fearlessness that can also, on occassion, be to her detriment.

Since 'Séville à l’aube' is inspired by lustful fumblings on a midsummer's eve, it's no surprise that there is a good deal of erotic subtext to the prose and it’s fair to say that her relationship with perfume is as sensual as it gets; “it was in Seville that I learned about scent in an intimate way”. Perfume – the scenting of the body, and sex are, of course, inextricably linked, but at times the erotic subtext in 'The Perfume Lover' can become too dominant.

Now I’m no prude, but sometimes the relationship between author and reader becomes too intimate, there is, after all, only so many times that you can hear about the author’s knickers before you start to feel that you’re getting to know her perhaps a little bit too well. These clunky, and sometimes cringe-worthy hints of the author’s sexual exploits become quite tedious with time and I can’t help but feel that on occasions they are superfluous to the story.

The really captivating parts of the book are the encounters between Duchaufour and Beaulieu, who have an interesting chemistry, bickering and sparring back and forth during their sessions. “We’re both charmers, that’s our little unspoken war” she says. The two work very well together and the insight they give into the development of a fragrance from the first initial blend to the 128th modification is as fascinating as it is enjoyable.

'The Perfume Lover' is a curious book, it is partly autobiographical and Beaulieu takes us on a journey through her scented past, right from the awakening of her lust for perfume up until full-blown perfume obsession. Alongside all of this is her account of the creation of Séville à l’aube; from concept to bottle and we start the story on that fated night in Seville, which was to stick in the author’s mind forever more.

Curious as it may be, I can’t help but wonder exactly who the book is for. It seems to be trying to please too many types of readers. The interactions with Duchaufour and the development of Séville à l’aube are truly wonderful to read, but the biographical aspects seem self indulgent and unnecessary and one finds that one wants to skip forward for more of ‘the Duchaufour’!

Those who are interested in the creative process involved in the development of a new perfume, particularly one created by renegade perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour, will most definitely find some interest within 'The Perfume Lover'. Denyse Beaulieu offers an insight in to the secretive world of perfume, and whilst it may have been more effective as a series of blog posts rather than a book, 'The Perfume Lover' certainly is unique amongst the legions of perfume books that precede it.

Séville à l’aube – The Perfume

After reading The Perfume Lover, it’s incredibly difficult to smell Séville à l’aube (Seville at Dawn) and not think of Denyse Beaulieu’s account of ‘that night’. It is a perfume steeped in romance, erotic fumblings and holy rituals.

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[TD]Séville à l’aube opens with a bright, almost tart orange blossom note that is as rich and honeyed as it is bright and breezy. The strong indole, that filthy note that is a by-product of all white flowers, is hard to miss and it says that this perfume is about the pleasures of the flesh. There is a flash of lavender in the top notes that, mixed with the orange blossom, gives Séville a cologne-like feel, but it is very much short lived.

For this perfume, Beaulieu and Duchaufor have chosen notes evocative of that night, including orange blossom, beeswax and incense, laid over a base of vanilla, tobacco and musk. It is a delightfully filthy perfume, but not in an animalic way - no, it is completely human in its filth and brings to mind images of warm, sweaty bodies in the stifling evening air.[/TD]






My opinion of the book may be lukewarm, but my thoughts on Séville à l’aube are red hot. It is a truly beautiful perfume and it has Bertrand Duchaufour’s name stamped all over it. I cannot wait to get my hands on a bottle.

Séville à l’aube will be released by L’Artisan Parfumeur in July.

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About the author: Thomas Dunckley

Thomas Dunckley is a self-proclaimed perfume nerd and is the writer of perfume blog


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    • Persolaise | 28th February 2012 19:30

      Thanks very much for this thoughtful and considered review. It'll be interesting for me to compare this book with Burr's two perfume-related tomes.

    • Guest05 | 29th February 2012 02:20


    • jazzypom | 4th March 2012 14:07

      I read the book - and your review is accurate. I thought the book did it's best when the author and BD were trying to come to terms of what the scent of the night should be. I also appreciated the notion of *anything* being perfume, and how scents in nature tend to echo one another (the notion of some flowers smelling like sperm and death was interesting). I also appreciated her insight on the notion of the celebrity fragrance (for instance, when she speaks about the fact that they only have 'top notes' so the scent is what it is- there's no dry down or development as the scent segues from first spritz to blooming on the skin hours later), and what it meant for the industry.

      Like you, I agree the erotica - didn't really have its place in the book. I didn't really care that she had an affair be it long running or short. Intellectually I can understand her notion of scent as memoir, but she thinks she's writing for her erotic magazine instead of introducing the concept of scent to a layperson/ interested party.

      Fair play to her though, I'm definitely intrigued by the scent - and hope that it's long lasting, and I hope with the first spray I'm transported back to Seville, too.

    • Prince Barry | 13th March 2012 07:21

      I actually love the book. The erotic content is all part of the unfolding story. Bravo to Denyse for sharing her love of perfume and her life.

    • kccparis | 9th November 2012 16:43

      I loved the book. Could not put it down as it took me through the history of the industry in such an entertaining way. Yes I was entertained! Is that not the objective most writers want to archieve?

    • vegangirl | 24th April 2013 19:22

      I agree the erotica was so bad like reading a very cheap version of The Sexual Life of Catherine M.

      I didn't like the perfume either, given the story I expected something a lot more sexual like a modern take on vintage Caron Narcisse Noir or even something close to Serge Lutens Fleurs d'Oranger, something that has a bit of torrid passion mixed in with dramatic feel and emphasis on the darker side. It's not offensive or bad but it's just so blah, very run of the mill orange blossom that failed to impress me.