Book Review: Perfume, The Art and Craft of Fragrance by Karen Gilbert

This is a superb book which will be of interest to those who are new to perfume as well as those who are aficionados. Author Karen Gilbert teaches perfumery courses in London and is a former IFF (International Flavours and Fragrances) evaluator. She was also a formulator for Neal's Yard Remedies.
The book starts with the Psychology of Smell and moves on to the History of Perfumery and Fragrance Icons. There is also a chapter on Fragrance Classification and Natural and Synthetic Fragrance Materials. Karen has worked at both ends of the spectrum – niche and mass market, and been involved with perfume and cosmetics since the 1980s. Her view on celebrity scents?
“Lady Gaga's 2012 fragrance Fame reportedly sold six million bottles during the first week of its launch. The fragrance campaign had her creativity stamped all over it, but in my opinion the black juice, which was marketed to her young followers, smells to me like a Body Shop shower gel that has leaked into a bag of sticky candy – this just goes to show how personal the choice of fragrance is.”
Where this book is so useful is that it sets out the fragrance families: Citrus, Floral, Oriental, Chypre, Fougere, giving key descriptions of the categories. There then follows a basic, simple formula for making such a perfume up. It's a great way to learn about the building blocks of perfumery, either for those who want to know how individual ingredients work in a perfume, or for anyone who would like to have a go at blending themselves and would like an easy way to start.

Another very useful part of the book is the recipe section for making your own skin care products. If, like many perfume lovers, you are tired of using shampoo that smells of bubble-gum, sun tan oil or strange apple, then without the investment of much kit, you could be making your own combinations. (Shampoo is suprisingly easy to make) One of the recipes I tried for the purposes of this review was the one for solid perfume, great for when you are travelling. I also made myself a patchouli and rose shower gel which was a great success. In addition to body lotion and creams, there are also directions for home fragrance – reed diffusers and room sprays (both water or alcohol based), so if you want to control how your world smells, this is how to do it.
My only criticism would be that I wish the publishers had a gone for a larger and longer format, thus giving Karen some more space. She writes very well and I wonder what more she might have put in if she had been given the chance. The chapter on Natural and Synthetic materials is very good and breaks down smells into categories, Karen also gives the key aroma chemicals for each type of smell – which is handy since there are hundreds of them. If there had been more space she might have been able to develop this fascinating topic more fully, given a list of key ones to buy and perhaps even have incorporated them into recipes, which at present includes only naturals. My second point would be that the book, although well designed (in that 'soft-focus 'hobbyist' kind of way), is clearly pitched to attract women, which is a great pity, since again, publishers obviously don't read Basenotes and forget that men are just as interested in perfume. So, don't be put off by the cover if you are a guy, the information contained therein is sound and is an essential addition to any perfume lover's library. All in all, my favourite perfume book of the many released last year.
Perfume The Art and Craft of Fragrance by Karen Gilbert is published by Cico Books and is available on Amazon.

For further recipes for products that you can customise the smell of (did you know that patchouli works in a face cream and is actually very good for the skin?), Natural Beauty by Karen Gilbert, (Cico Books) is also a useful addition.

About the author
Lila Das Gupta is a London based journalist with an interest in all things olfactory. Website:
Organise Perfume Lover's London group in association with Basenotes:
Follow me on twitter @olfactoryevents also @fragrantreviews and @liladasgupta

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