Category Archives: Books

An Informal Book Review:The Diary Of A Nose – Jean-Claude Ellena

After reading great things about this book, I bought it today – full retail price by the way!
I finished it in one day – as it’s so short, and was left pretty gobsmacked.

“This… this gets published?!”

I hope I don’t come across as too immature in my points, but here we go:

The book begins in the middle of numerous fragrance related projects of which we never really hear anything about. It also begins just after the completion of his latest iris for Hermessence, which apart from the choosing of the name Iris Ukiyoe, is never discussed. (The choosing of the name is mainly informing us of the difficult decision as to name it Ukiyo – or add on that extra e).

The projects which he mentions starting – including a mint cologne, and a women’s fragrance with a pear note up top (which is ironic considering Ellena consistently pushes forward that he doesn’t believe putting a gender on his fragrances in the book) – never get completed, we never fully hear of their development other than one or two lines as to what worked and what didn’t. These exerts are exceptionally brief and never anything but a couple of lines long. Nothing like for example the fascinating in-depth progression of Duchaufour’s work on Seville A l’Aube in The Perfume Lover. There is very, very little to do with life as a perfumer in the book.

So what is the book filled with? A mundane inner monologue.

In the middle of the book, we get almost a page worth of appreciation for a bowl. Yes, the bowl you eat soup out of – he begins to describe how perfect the shape is, the fact that “you can draw a bowl in one brush stroke”… It didn’t quite convince me and I wasn’t too sure what I was reading, but hey I went with it.
Also in his description on how he writes his formulas – oh wait, before I go into this, don’t think for a second you’ll get something scientific, or something that’ll make you go “wow I never thought of that”, or “what a great perspective!” – no, the way he writes is far more literal – with a pencil! He describes how he likes to use a pencil and paper, and that’s about all the insight we get into that.

However, he does bring this up again later on in the book near the end (when obviously there is little more to discuss), where he talks about his Moleskin notebook. He tells us he “likes how it fits into my pocket” and how the “elastic keeps the pages together”
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I’m sure I shouldn’t be writing this review becuase I’m struggling to quote anything directly (you’ll find out why in a bit) – the point is, the book would lead into numerous stories, and then end before anything happens. This happened in every diary entry – nothing came to a finale or a conclusion. Some diary entries were literally a short paragraph that at the end left me completely baffled as to it’s purpose in the book.

So towards the end of the book, after reading the LITERAL day-to-day activities of a perfumer (which I’m surprised didn’t include “Woke up and had a wash – was deep in thought”, I wait for some magic to happen – a fragrant revelation, an ingenious new idea that will leave me eager to find out more. Unfortunately it ends on almost a blank, there is no ending – it just happens.

What you are left with in the last few paragraphs is a list of accords and how to make them (oh brilliant, I have all these obscure aromachemicals at home…) – gardenia, different variants on chocolate, cherry etc. These pages fill about 1/10 of the book at the end. Reading these aroma chemicals means nothing to me.

And yes, abruptly, the book ends. Ermmmmm…. ok so I didn’t get any detailed insight into any fragrance this guy makes, none of his history (which I didn’t expect anyway), no back story on his most recent work, no completion of his ideas briefly discussed – or even insight into his experiments with the ingredients.
At the top of the page where the date is written, it would often state what country he was in… how did he get there? What else is he doing in Hong Kong and Japan other than appreciating the sliding doors? He mentions how one of his Jardin fragrances – he considers one of his most beautiful floral compositions… Why? Tell us why?!

What I discovered about Jean-Claude Ellena is he likes his Moleskin, pencils, bowls, japanese calligraphy, and questions he can’t answer (he does attempt to answer a difficult question in the book regarding “What makes a perfect fragrance”, but to no surprise, he does not quite manage).

I hate to be a kill joy – but this book is not for me. I think it’s always fair to read an alternative point of view – everyone is too nice these days!
Thankfully the suckers at Waterstones took my book back at the end of the day after I claimed it was “Clearly the wrong one…” >:D

Sorry guys.

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