Every fragrance tells its own story. Here, innovative perfumers share the books that inspired them to craft their own scented narratives. 

Editions de Parfums, Frederic Malle

Frederic Malle prefers to be called a ‘perfume publisher’ rather than a ‘perfumer’. It’s a title he attributes to his unique role as a cultivator of other perfumers’ talents – commissioning and nurturing their creations until they are ready to enter the Frederic Malle scent library. Since founding Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle in 2000, Malle has added some of the most beloved scents in modern perfumery to his catalogue, including Dominique Ropion’s ‘Carnal Flower’ and Olivia Giacobetti’s En Passant. 

Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur perfumer in glass bottle with black label, next to old edition of Marquis de Sade book with green cover

What is one work of literature that takes you on an olfactory journey?

‘Marquis de Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom.’ The infamous 18th-century erotic novel tells the story of four French libertines on the hunt for sexual gratification.

When reading this book you should wear: Musc Ravageur

‘It should absolutely be read wearing Musc Ravageur.’ The heady blend of bergamot, vanilla, and musk is ‘another way to prove that sex is the most timeless smell.’

Maison Francis Kurkdjian

One of the most prolific and renowned perfumers of our time, Francis Kurkdjian’s creative process draws on a variety of narrative inspirations. ‘Behind each fragrance I have created, there is a story that gathers inspiration from many different fields: literature, arts and culture in general.’ 

What is one work of literature that takes you on an olfactory journey? 

‘The French novel Bonjour Tristesse.’ Written by the then 18-year-old Françoise Sagan, the 1958 novel scandalised readers with its story of a young girl’s summer romance in the South of France.

When reading this book you should wear: Absolue Pour le Matin

Absolue Pour le Matin evokes the story’s light, sun-drenched atmosphere, ‘it is about light and sun, sleeping-in late, cotton sheets and linen pillows.’

Perfumer H

Since she co-founded Miller Harris in 2000, Lyn Harris has been know as ‘a storyteller in scent.’ ‘I guess for me every book gives me an olfactory narrative’ Harris says, ‘that’s just how my brain works.’ 

What is one work of literature that takes you on an olfactory journey? 

‘One that’s stays with me Laurie Lea’s As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning. In the first chapter, there’s the line ‘as I tramped through the dust towards the Wiltshire Downs a growing reluctance weighed me down. White elder-blossom and dog roses hung in the hedges, blank as unwritten paper, and the hot empty road – there were few motorcars then – reflected Sunday’s waste and indifference.’ ‘Even the blank white paper evokes a smell,’ says Harris, ‘this is all so beautifully filled with olfactory narrative for me.’

When reading this book you should wear: Rain Cloud

The fragrance’s orange blossom, Angelica root, white and amber musks combine to evoke ‘the humidity of a hot day [brimming] with summer flowers.’ 

Vilhelm Parfumerie

Jan Vilhelm Ahlgren’s Vilhelm Parfumerie recreates scents from his own personal narrative, with each fragrance reminiscent of past people, place or moments from his life. ‘I’m inspired by stories and by heroes of these stories’ says Ahlgren. ‘If some scents are silences, these are tales.’

What is one work of literature that takes you on an olfactory journey? 

‘I was strongly impacted by the book Nureyev: An Autobiography with Pictures. Rudolf Nureyev story impressed me a lot: His life, his demons, his journey from Russia to become the world’s best male ballet dancer and one of the world’s biggest stars. His charisma, his talent, his sex appeal, his determination were incredible. There is no direct link with the olfactory journey, but for me his life has strong moments of going through hard, almost ascetic ways of living in Russia to the opulence and luxury in Paris. I can imagine the bitterness of hard work through the sweat mixed with the further gourmandise and excess of his life in Paris. It’s a more subtle connection. 

When reading this book you should wear: Black Citrus

I tried to capture this in Black Citrus. It’s a gothic citrus, that despite the lightness can pull one down to earth. 
In the fragrance I tried to capture the different characteristics of Nureyev and to translate this into a perfume. There is this strength of bergamot, cardamom and violet, tempered by birch tree and a dusting of patchouli. For me it’s a good description of Rudolf Nureyev life and personality.’

MiN New York 

‘A well crafted fragrance is a journey that should enable you to transcend both time and place’ says Chad Murawczyk, founder of MiN New York. ‘No different than a book that reveals the journey chapter by chapter, fragrance should lead your nose on an olfactive journey to a curious and exciting yet somewhat unfamiliar place.’ 

What is one work of literature that takes you on an olfactory journey? 

‘I tend to like to read about ‘the impossible’ which document what people can achieve when pushed to the limit.’ Space, from Ziggy Stardust to Apollo 11, has always been a particular fascination. ‘Our flagship in Soho is not 50 meters from where David Bowie lived and he would walk by our shop every once in a while. His last album was recorded in a little studio on our street and when he passed away, it struck me quite hard that we as people lost a space traveler that was here for only a short time. When I started Scent Stories a number of years ago, I was reading about the Apollo 11 mission,’ and that, as well as Bowie, inspired a new way of thinking about the scents that exist in worlds beyond our own. 

When reading this book you should wear: Moon Dust

‘The description of what the moon smelled like, something that honestly never crossed my mind before, sent me on a mission to create that scent which I named Moon Dust. It is challenging and, of course, otherworldly, and perhaps a bit polarizing, but I wanted to bring that creation forward as my effort to recreate this sensory experience for all of us yet to explore space.’

Timothy Han

Since its launch, Timothy Han has sought to ‘craft olfactory stories that unfold on your skin over time.’ Each genderless fragrance is inspired by an iconic work of literature, with a box the size of a literary paperback perfectly suited to every bookcase. 

What is one work of literature that takes you on an olfactory journey? 

‘Joris-Karl Huysmans’ Against Nature is the obvious answer. The protagonist spends a lot of time crafting his perfect world, of which scent plays a major part. The whole concept of the perfumer’s organ, which is widely used today is something which Huysmans first created for his character to compose scents from. There are no known references to one before this time.’ 

When reading this book you should wear: Against Nature

‘Against Nature is a blur between the natural and the artificial, ultimately echoing an alternate beauty. This gender neutral fragrance features leafy green foliage, moist soil, and earthy mosses underscored with notes of cold metal, blood and lacquer.’ 


Austrian fragrance brand WienerBlut creates scents inspired by stories of turn of the century Vienna. Drawn from history, mythology, and literature, WienerBlut’s scents refract a past time through a modern day prism to create unique olfactory tales. 

What is one work of literature that takes you on an olfactory journey? 

‘Freud‘s Interpretation of Dreams.’  The touchstone text of psychoanalysis breaks down the meaning of our dreams, introducing Freud‘s theory of the subconscious for the first time and changing the world forever. 

When reading this book you should wear: Freudian Wood

‘We discovered that wood (in dreams), according to Freud, symbolizes the woman, specifically the female bosom, and in extension, the comforting, nurturing aspect of the breast. So in the fragrance, we chose to highlight these themes with a milky, creamy aspect, that comes from lactones and sandalwood, but also an intimate, skin like warmth that comes from cumin, ambrette, ambergris mimosa and musks.’ §