Old Books Become Fashion Accessory

Image of mid-1960s perfume set from the Soviet Union via WikiCommons

Image of mid-1960s perfume set from the Soviet Union via WikiCommons

Fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld is reportedly working on a new fragrance based on the smell of old books. The German designer is a famous bibliophile - it’s thought that he owns 300,000 books in his collection (it’s the photo in the top left-hand corner).

The fragrance won’t be a first - there are already several fragrances on the market based on the smell of paper. They include Demeter’s Paperback (“sweet and just a touch musty, a lot like [British writer Barbara] Pym’s world”), Zadig & Voltaire’s Tome 1 (“wraps the soul and the heart in a delightful and innocent whirl”), and Penhaligons' Hammam Bouquet (“warm and mature, redolent of old books, powdered resins and ancient rooms”).

English novelist George Gissing loved the smell of books. He wrote, “I know every book of mine by its smell, and I have but to put my nose between the pages to be reminded of all sorts of things.” Research into the smell of old books has found that it’s caused by the release into the air of hundreds of volatile organic compounds ‘off-gassing’ from the paper. Matija Strlic, a chemist at University College London, has described the scent as a “combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness”. The smell is, in fact, the smell of the paper slowly decomposing, and can be quite useful to antiquarians seeking to preserve a rare book.

Related posts