The Fragrance of Books

Very seldom do I talk about my passion for perfume. It’s hard to explain how fragrance can alter a mood, created a unified thread through the day, bring back memories in a powerful way, but perfume does all that and more.

Image: Luckyscent

I have a collection whose size both delights and embarrasses me. The scents I buy are ones I like–that may sound odd, but many perfumistas buy fragrances that “challenge” them or that you can’t wear anyplace but in the studio. Me? I buy fragrances that I like, whether store brands or niche fragrances. But I have to like them top note to bottom.

Noses (perfume designers) are artists. They work with ephemeral and shifting materials that blend and shift over time. Scent is four dimensional, in addition to top, mid- and bottom notes, there is an element of time that makes them glow or fade.

Gutenberg bibles in the Yale Rare Book Library. There are no windows in the library to prevent the breakdown of paper and parchment. Light comes in through marble slabs cut so thin they admit light, but no UV rays.

Paper Passion is a perfume that evokes the smell of books. Yep, paper books. I’ve stuck my nose onto paper and inhaled deeply from the time mimeographs were fresh out of the machine to the time I stood in the Yale Rare Book Library breathing the smell of brittle and fragile history and art.

Paper Passion comes packaged in a hollowed out book. The idea of a book fragrance in a book doesn’t strike me as being clever, although the design has gotten a lot of print. Personally, I would have wrapped it a cover made of incredible handmade paper. But no one called me to ask.

Paper Passion is a collaboration of Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld, Göttingen book designer and publisher Gerhard Steidl,  perfume nose Geza Schön, and Wallpaper* magazine.

Luckyscent, the internet store for hard-to find niche perfumes, lists the notes as: “osmanthus, copaiba balsam, amber accord, air accord, paper accord, musk accord.”

This may be the first fragrance I purchase, not to wear, but just to sniff for memories. It’s been accused of smelling like glue, old books, and appropriately, paper. Can’t go wrong.  Even if I don’t want to smell like a book, I would love to smell a book whenever I want.

Paper Passion is available from Luckyscent and Aedes in 1.7 oz. bottles for $98.00 Luckyscent has samples available.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer who has bottles stashed in the linen closet and her dresser. She can time travel on the scent of a perfume.

20 thoughts on “The Fragrance of Books

  1. Sorry if I have left multiple comments, WordPress is giving me a little trouble for some reason!
    I just wanted to drop in and say that I love this post and to thank you for sharing the fun. I want to get my nose on a sample of this…

  2. It’s fascinating how smell is very important for many people. It doesn’t seem to work for me, possibly because I have a very weak sense of smell. I’ve noticed my dogs though — funny how a dog’s nose is far more sensitive but for the most part there’s no value judgement. A smell isn’t “good” or “bad”, it’s just a smell (Cricket the dog, reading over my shoulder, would like to point out that “bacon” is one exception.)

    • You don’t have a good sense of smell because the thinking part of your brain squashed the smelling part, Pete. And Cricket probably doesn’t think much, so she can spend time sniffing.

        • She’s been writing to my cats, who are interested in world domination, too, but inherently lazy. Tunuki wants a guarantee there will be enough cat food, and Aretha won’t work on world domination during the day.

          • Cricket isn’t lazy. She does her daily workout without fail: tail wagging = 10,000 reps, dash up and down stairs = 100 reps, and when going anywhere, run. Same routine for 140 years (20 in human counting).

            By the way, it might be just around here, but there’s this monotonous, constant sound outside at night. I didn’t think anything of it until I found out it was called “crickets”. Clearly this is a bioengineered program of subliminal persuasion.

          • In another few years, you won’t hear the crickets anymore, as your ears age. And yes, they are calling you to oncemore join the Children of the Corn and Dogs. Or Corndogs, I forget which one, exactly.

  3. I enjoy and learn from your posts every day, Quinn. This one brought back memories of the first time I bought a scent for myself with my very own money (so it was cheap!), while shopping with my mom when I was about 11. Many years later, I discovered something so similar (but much more expensive!) that it became a “new” favourite. It’s discontinued now, but I still have a few drops left in a bottle – it never fails to bring back the memory of that long ago little girl going “grown-up shopping” with her mom (she’s gone now).
    I like to wear a light body mist on those rare but special times I babysit my granddaughters – and I hope they will recall that scent and those happy times years from now. Scent really is a time-travel vehicle!

    • You know I’m going to ask this Lorraine–do you remember the name of the scent? I remember my first explorations with scent, my mother would have beat me if she knew how I spent my allowance! I’ll bet your grandkids will have strong memories of the scent you wear while you are with them. That is a gift they will appreciate later.

      • Quinn, the original scent was “Tosca” (eau de cologne), and I bought it in 1965 in the basement of the old Army & Navy store here (it was probably a discount price). It just occurred to me to google it, and apparently it’s a 1921 vintage scent, very “European” from an “Old House” and can still be found. I will have to order a bottle now! 🙂
        The newer scent that reminded me of it is “Navy” (I think it’s discontinued but I haven’t googled it yet.)
        Thanks again for this post on fragrance and the memories!

        • Yep, Tosca is perfect for a young girl. It was originally made by the House of Maurer and Wirtz, who also makes the original Cologne (in Koeln, Germany) called 4711, which is the address of the company. They spun of Tosca to another production company (I don’t remember which one anymore). Tosca is still in production and one of the most popular light colognes sold in Germany. It’s available from It’s sort of embarrassing that this kind of information is taking up room in my brain! Wear it and love it!

  4. You know, that is probably why I do not have a kindle. If I am going to take the time to actually READ a book (as oppossed to listening to a book on tape as I quilt, ride in the car, etc) I want to handle it and smell it! Even a cheap book has that certain book smell…Thanks for clarifying…

  5. Aloha e Quinn! I shared your post with some of book-lovin’ friends. We talk about this all the time… that magical smell in a library or used bookstore. Heaven. I’ll bet some bottles of Paper Passion will be sold today.

  6. I ordered your book and at last got it yesterday..and last night inhaled it’s loverly new book ink smell before I went to sleep! How weird. The same day I saw someone on the beach searching through some old books at a beach shack,one of them being PERFUME by Patrick Suskind. I read it years ago and loved it,the smell of the world sends your senses into a spin whilst you are enjoying his descriptions! Funny coincidences!

    • Oh, Jain, that’s just a wonderful thing to hear–when I got the advance copy of my book from the editor, the first thing I did was smell it, too! And the book Perfume was the most amazing experience to read–I keep inhaling even when I knew it was just the book I was smelling. Loved that book!

  7. This sparked a train of memories for me (just as perfume does – I agree about the time travel!) Inhaling the scent of the Rare Books Room of Cambridge University Library… Incidentally, around this time I first tasted retsina (heady memories of a classical student!) and claimed that it reminded me of the scent of old books – in a good way!

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