Though American readers may be more familiar with Tom Robbins’ Jitterbug Perfume, almost every student in Western Europe instead grew up reading Patrick Suskind’s Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. Set it Rococo, putrid 18th-Century France, the novel tells of the arc of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, an obsessive hero who, shall we say, kills to find the world’s most beautiful, virginal scent.
Redolent with intense imagery, human desire and descriptions of the alchemy of perfume-construction, the story is not only one of love and death, but also a useful learning tool for anybody who wants to know more about the olfactory world. After years of failed attempts, the book has finally come to the big screen, directed by Tom Twyker (Run, Lola, Run) and starring Dustin Hoffman, Alan Rickman and young, English Shakespearian star Ben Whishaw. A movie that poignantly reflects the viscerally passionate implications of scent, it is one whose themes are so universal, not a nose will be left untouched in its trail.
But as luck would have it, the movie is not only extension of the novel. When French enfant terrible of contemporary perfumery Christophe Laudamiel learned that his favorite novel was finally making it behind cameras, he and his colleagues at IFF (International Food and Fragrances) proposed a novel idea: to re-create scenes of the movie in scent. And, with the help of Thierry Mugler, Laudamiel created a coffret of 15 perfumes that match to some of the more pungent scenes from the movie. Perhaps the most captivating is Aura, built as a second skin to mimic your own natural scent; however the mind-blowing collection of beautifully psychological scents travels through the novels’ most odiferous nooks and crannies, from the scent of a baby, to the sea, to a cave, to the streets of Paris (not for the weak of nose!), to the smell of lust.
The movie alone is a riveting, beautiful display, but along with its accompanying set of scents what simply started off as a book (written by a man who has no experience in perfumery whatsoever) has now made for a once-in-a-lifetime sensory experience.
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer opened in theaters December 27. Buy the limited-edition coffret at Thierry Mugler