Scent & Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative Perfume
Author Barbara Herman
Publisher Lyons Press
Description Dissatisfied with the corporate culture of her 9-5 job, writer Barbara Herman began a quiet but odiferous rebellion: No longer would she dab on polite “office scents,” with their fresh notes of citrus and ocean breeze. “I wanted an anti-office scent,” Herman writes. “A perfume that would flip office culture the bird and throw a smelly Molotov cocktail through the window for good measure.”
So began Herman’s olfactory journey of investigation. The result is Scent & Subversion: a beautiful, provocative, and deeply informative field guide to more than three hundred vintage perfumes and their exotic ingredients, some of which are now banned from use by perfumers.
In addition to descriptions and histories of each perfume, Herman offers a cultural exploration of the scents and their meanings: What do they reveal about cultural and generational shifts? How did the advent of feminism in the 1970s change the prevailing style of perfume? What are the differences between the perfume styles of Baby Boomers, Generation X-ers, and Millennials? How does perfume “speak,” or signify those differences through ingredients?
Indeed, perfume has much to say about women, reflecting, influencing − and often subverting − gender norms throughout the 20th century: Tobacco-scented Scandal was marketed in 1933 to celebrate the scandalous woman who smoked cigarettes; in 1944, gay perfumer Germaine Cellier created a “butch” perfume, Bandit; and Christian Dior’s 1947 perfume Miss Dior smells both ladylike and powerfully sexual through its uncanny evocation of “odor di femina” to give just a few examples.
Beautifully illustrated with more than 100 full-color vintage perfume ads, Scent & Subversion is a reference book, cultural history, conversation-starter and perfect gift book in one.