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A Lie that Tells the Truth: Chandler Burr Peeks Behind the Curtain of the Fragrance Industry

By: Jeb Gleason-Allured, Editor
Posted: December 21, 2007, from the January 2008 issue of P&F magazine.

page 3 of 3

“… [Jean-Claude] Ellena wasn’t [at Hermès] to create nature. As an artist, he was principally an illusionist … ‘Picasso,” Ellena liked to say, ‘said, “Art is a lie that tells the truth” That’s perfume for me. I lie. I create an illusion that is actually stronger than reality.’”

It’s here, in his intimate reportage of perfumers’ creative philosophy and processes that Burr’s book shines brightest. Following the creation of Un Jardin sur le Nil from a loose concept (rivers) to a hastily sketched formula in Ellena’s notebook to expertly tweaked mods on a conference table—“The interaction of materials is more instinct than science”—to a finished fragrance, the author leads the layman with clear eyes through the invisible art of olfactive storytelling.

Says Ellena: “The most difficult sentence to write of any novel is the first.” 

Have you read the book? We’d love to hear your thoughts at jallured@allured.com.

*Though estimates vary as to how much of a formula can be identified via “shooting the juice,” Burr cites figures as high as 99%.