The Scent of Empires
Karl Schloegel, Jessica Spengler
Can a drop of perfume tell the story of the twentieth century? Can a smell bear the traces of history? What can we learn about the history of the twentieth century by examining the fate of perfumes?
In this remarkable book, Karl Schloegel unravels the interconnected histories of two of the world’s most celebrated perfumes. In tsarist Russia, two French perfumers – Ernest Beaux and Auguste Michel – developed related fragrances honouring Catherine the Great for the 300th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty. During the Russian Revolution and Civil War, Beaux fled Russia and took the formula for his perfume with him to France, where he sought to adapt it to his new French circumstances. He presented Coco Chanel with a series of ten fragrance samples in his laboratory and, after smelling each, she chose number five – the scent that would later go by the name Chanel No. 5. Meanwhile, as the perfume industry was being revived in Soviet Russia, Auguste Michel used his original fragrance to create Red Moscow for the tenth anniversary of the Revolution. Piecing together the intertwined histories of these two famous perfumes, which shared a common origin, Schloegel tells a surprising story of power, intrigue and betrayal that offers an altogether unique perspective on the turbulent events and high politics of the twentieth century.
This brilliant account of perfume and politics in twentieth-century Europe will be of interest to a wide general readership.
"Schloegel is a master storyteller." Frankfurter Rundschau "A fascinating journey through scent." Neue Zurcher Zeitung am Sonntag "This book demonstrates once again Karl Schloegel's remarkable ability to make the whole of society visible in the most inconspicuous details." Suddeutsche Zeitung "Schloegel has captured the scent of the 'Age of Extremes' - too much may give you a headache but a short burst is stimulating and intoxicating." Deutschlandfunk Kultur "No historian I know combines creativity in conception and fastidiousness of research like Karl Schloegel. This book is a surprise and an education. It is also a great pleasure to read." Timothy Snyder, Yale University "'A drop of perfume can hold the entire history of the twentieth century', writes Karl Schloegel - and so it does. In this elegant, enticing, slim book, Schloegel, one of the great historians of the Soviet experiment, shifts his gaze to the world of luxury scents. With grace and intent, he moves the reader between a convent orphanage in France and an impoverished shtetl in the Pale of Settlement, between Parisian salons and Politburo meetings at the Kremlin. Bolshevism, Nazism and Stalinism emerge as olfactory experiences, in which the fragrant and the putrid are not easily uncoupled." Marci Shore, author of The Taste of Ashes: The Afterlife of Totalitarianism in Eastern Europe "Engrossing" Morning Star
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