What primal understanding did author Patrick Süskind tap into with his 1985 novel with the English title of ‘Perfume: The Story of a Murderer’? The world went mad for his hybrid of lessons learned from Proust and essentially a crime story with a twist; the story of Grenouille, whose skill at creating perfume was matched only by the homicidal lengths to which he was prepared to go to distill the essence of his object of desire into a small bottle.
The world paid far less attention more than two decades later when Hollywood finally trundled out the big-budget picture based on the novel. Why? It had all the right things in place; the big name stars and the high-end production values. And yet is passed without too much fuss and relatively few remember it today.
Was it simply a matter of Süskind’s skill as a novelist surpassing that of the filmmakers? Or was something specific about how the written word is better able to conjure up the immediacy of the human olfactory faculty? We may never be certain.
But, what we probably can say for certain is that the human sense of smell, something that links us to the primordial behaviour of beasts, should never be overlooked. The fragrance industry is today a multi-billion dollar global industry as we all show how eager we are to become something that gives off a whiff that improves on nature.
It’s not like it’s anything new. For millennia humankind have sought out nature’s most pleasing fragrances and the means by which to improve on them; harnessing them, blending them or prolonging them and finding ways to attach them to our bodies. Should we then understand fragrances less as some attempt to mask our base animal selves and more as an attempt to express an idealised self; a superego articulated through fragrance? Certainly, there are plenty of crossovers between the traditional functions of the priests and guardians of spiritual faith and the production of perfume down the centuries.
So, whether it’s an ancient desire to uplift oneself through how one smells or something far more random, one thing is certain: the rarer and more complex the fragrance, the more we appreciate it.
So why not try these top ten hotpots from around the world the next time you fancy uplifting yourself through the scent you give off.