Monday, January 29, 2018

Perfect Pair: The City of Dreaming Books and L'Artisan Dzing! Perfume

The City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers and Dzing! perfume by Olivia Giacobetti are a perfect pair. The novel and the fragrance are infused with the aroma of Biblichor—the smell of old books. Moers' novel visually engages the sense of smell using the printed word, hand-drawn illustrations and a bibliophilic plot. Dzing! utilizes aromatic molecules in solution to create an olfactory presence redolent of antiquarian books and wood. A third dimension emerges when the novel and perfume are experienced together.

This dimension has less to do with what the two creations have in common and everything to do with what sets them apart. Books are physically tangible. Perfumes worn for enjoyment are sensed, but cannot be seen. Perfumery and literature were not intended to meet beyond the creative concepts that lead to their manifestation and yet, they fit together like a lock and key. How can that be?

Personal use of perfume and literature require permission to enter human imagination. The interaction of memory, emotion and imagination defines the experience of reading and smelling perfumes—it's how we form pictures in our mind and allow past, present and projected understandings of truth and beauty to interact with each other. When experienced in the right combination perfume and literature can amplify each other's essence and expand the notion of what it means to be human.

International Circus published by J.F. Schreiber  (published in the late 19th Century) via Theirault's

The City of Dreaming Books takes place in Bookholm, an urban setting inhabited by a carnival of imaginary creatures devoted to literature. Books line the walls of personal libraries, bookshops, cafes, and secret spaces hidden in the city's catacombs where the forces of good and evil battle over books. Bibliophilia reigns in Bookholm. The perfume of old books and the desire to acquire them can be smelled everywhere.

Dzing! by L'Artisan Parfumeur is a fragrance inspired by a pop-up book featuring an old-time circus. The wearable liquid zylotheque embraces different forms of wood, reminding perfume lovers of the smell of dusty leather-bound books filled with sweet aging paper. L'Artisan's website describes Dzing! as:
...a magical evocation of a circus. There is the scent of warm hay, cardboard cutouts, sawdust on the ground, and saddle leather as pretty girls ride by. Dzing! is a circus with a bohemian soul captured in a fun theatrical pop-up book. As the book closes so do the last notes of the paper waft gently. 

Optimus Yarnspinner, Narrator and Protagonist, by Walter Moers

Wearing Dzing! perfume while reading The City of Dreaming Books enlivens the text and human imagination. The experience is highly evocative when combined with Optimus Yarnspinner's description of the bibliosmic paradise of Bookholm:
You can smell the place from a long way off. It reeks of old books. It’s as if you’ve opened the door of a gigantic second-hand bookshop – as if you’ve stirred up a cloud of unadulterated book dust and blown the detritus from millions of mouldering volumes straight into your face. There are folks who dislike the smell and turn on their heel as soon as it assails their nostrils. It isn’t an agreeable odor, granted. Hopelessly antiquated, it is eloquent of decay and dissolution, mildew and mortality. But it also has other associations: a hint of acidity reminiscent of lemon trees in flower; the stimulating scent of old leather; the acrid, intelligent tang of printer’s ink; and, overlying all else, a reassuring aroma of wood.
I’m not talking about living wood or resinous forests and fresh pine needles; I mean felled, stripped, pulped, bleached, rolled and guillotined wood – in short, paper. Ah yes, my intellectually inquisitive friends, you too can smell it now, the odor of forgotten knowledge and age-old traditions of craftsmanship. Very well, let us quicken our pace! The odor grows stronger and more alluring, and the sight of those gabled houses more distinct with every step towards Bookholm we take. Hundreds, nay, thousands of slender chimneys project from the city’s roofs, darkening the sky with a pall of greasy smoke and compounding the odor of books with other scents: the aroma of freshly brewed coffee and freshly baked bread, of charcoal-broiled meat studded with herbs. Again we redouble our rate of advance, and our burning desire to open a book becomes allied with the hankering for a cup of hot chocolate flavored with cinnamon and a slice of pound cake warm from the oven.    
—The City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers1

Perfumer Olivia Giacobetti

Anyone who reads The City of Dreaming Books can envision Optimus Yarnspinner having Bookholm bee-bread and mulled coffee with a perfumer. They would exchange words for scents and scents for words, occasionally disagreeing on which species in Zamonia is best at describing smells, but in complete agreement that supersmellers are equally creative, psychic and neurotic.

Let's engage imagination and pretend that the perfumer conversing with Optimus Yarnspinner is Olivia Giacobetti, the creator of Dzing!. The two sit at opposite sides of a table inside a Zamonian cafe. As an inhabitant of Bookholm Giacobetti takes the form of an erudite reptilian crossed with a slow loris.

The Slow Loris

The slow loris in Giacobetti exudes a cautious languid beauty. The perfumer has an incredible sense of smell and the skill to communicate using odor alone. She also possesses the lethal weapon of all slow lorises; the capacity to manufacture and issue poison through her body in self-defense. She can do this by biting or applying slow loris poison by touch; she is known for the latter.

Optimus Yarnspinner picks Giacobetti's brain with characteristic braggadocio, but it's not long before the writer finds himself tongue-tied by a bee stinger. It's the fugu-esque risk associated with eating Bookholm bee-bread, which consists of roasted bees slathered in peppered honey on freshly baked rye bread.

It's an eerie experience when combined with the presence of a perfumer with slow loris blood. Yarnspinner knows he hasn't been bitten or touched, but he's paranoid nonetheless. His only reassurance is that he can still smell and that means he's still breathing.

A few intellectual touch├ęs from Ms. Giacobetti follow the encounter with Yarnspinner. She returns to her lab and creates an olfactory representation of Bookholm's bee-bread, as it is nothing like bee bread in the human world (including the use of a hyphen when the word is spelled out).

The perfume formula includes Szechuan Buttons for a tasty electrical "zing" effect, followed by a hint of caraway and ergot floating on a background of warm butter, honey and musk. The ergot is mildly psychoactive. Its inclusion in the formula is not enough to cause poisoning or hallucination, but it's enough to make one feel lighthearted and giddy. Perfume critics in Bookholm call this aspect of Giacobetti's formulation style "the transparent effect", but it's not meant to be taken literally.

Booklings Illustrated by Walter Moers

A few days later Yarnspinner receives Giacobetti's Bee-Bread perfume by bookling post. He smells it and remembers that he was stung in Giacobetti's presence, but survived the bee sting and avoided what he feared most—the gift of slow loris poison in exchange for being a pompous ass. He smells the perfume and tells himself that meeting the perfumer was worth the risk.

The imaginary chapter is now closed and we return to Dzing! to find out why this bookish perfume smells the way it does.

Dzing! By L'Artisan Parfumeur

The notes in Dzing! include: Leather, Fur, Wood, Talc, Iris and Caramel. One could easily find these smells in the aroma profile of books (as researched by scientists) and Yarnspinner's aforementioned description of Bookholm's scentscape (an account that would make smell researcher Kate McLean green with envy).

Does this mean that these ingredients are literally in the formula? Yes and no. There are naturals, nature-identical molecules and synthetic molecules in the formula for Dzing!. Think of the ingredients as olfactory synonyms, antonyms and homonyms with different colors. They create complementary contrasts and beautiful harmonies when the alchemy is just right.

Bee Bread by Chris Tonnesen / Nordic Food Lab

Intrigued by the idea of combining literary passages with perfumes? Make it a reality. It's an experience that will change the way you think about literature and perfumery (especially the latter if you've never experienced olfactory curriculum inclusive of the arts, which is the case for most people who've been educated in the United States). Combine the right literary passage with the right scent and you'll have an analog version of virtual reality. You can add flavor to the mix if you include food and drink, which is the formula for a memorable dinner party.

Aromatize your imagination and read The City of Dreaming Books under the spell of Dzing! perfume. It's a great #SmellLiterature experience and one you can replicate using other books and perfumes. Make sure you have a few slices of warm rye bread slathered with peppered honey at the ready. You can skip the roasted bees unless eating bugs is something you enjoy. Just watch out for the stingers.


Zamonia is an imaginary continent that deserves exploration. The following books are a passport for English readers as author Walter Moer's native language is German: The 13½ Lives of Captain BluebearRumo and His Miraculous Adventures, The City of Dreaming Books, The Alchemaster's Apprentice, and The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books. Visit the Walter Moers page on Amazon for details. P.S. Follow The City of Dreaming Books with The Alchemaster's Apprentice on your reading adventure as the latter is about food and magic!

True "bee bread" is a fermented bee product consisting of pollen mixed with nectar and digestive fluids that are stored in empty honeycomb cells sealed with honey. It doesn't include "detoxified" bees that have their stingers removed prior to roasting. That twist is the work of author Walter Moers' imagination.

The story about a meeting between Optimus Yarnspinner and perfumer Olivia Giacobetti is purely fictional, and inspired by every Walter Moers book translated from German to English. There are a few truth-inspired elements that fragrance lovers will recognize as writing this was an exercise of imagination. I plan on making the Bee-Bread perfume described in this post for a future Smell & Tell event. It will be tamer than 2017's Simulacra of Rat, which was quite memorable.

Dzing! perfume can be purchased online from L'Artisan Parfumeur and various luxury fragrance boutiques. Affordable sample sizes of perfume can be purchased online at Aedes de Venustas, Lucky Scent, and The Perfumed Court (request vintage Dzing! if it's available).

Olivia Giacobetti's fragrances are known for an unusual quality of transparency that magnifies the quiet and sublimates the loud. Mark Benkhe reviewed a number of her perfumes on Colognoisseur and all of them are worth reading.

Glass Petal Smoke created the hashtag #SmellLiterature and uses it to tag aromatic passages in literature on the blog and Twitter. It inspired Nosetalgia: The Smell of Books and Aromatic Passages in Literature, a 2016 Smell & Tell program at the Ann Arbor District Library (AADL) focused on literature and scent pairings, as well as the smell of books.

Spoiler Alert: Nosetalgia Part II is in development as Smell & Tell celebrates its sixth anniversary year in 2018. Smell & Tell is the longest running program in the history of the Ann Arbor District Library. Where else would you attend an event called Haute Skank: An Olfactory Menagerie of Animalic Ingredients in Perfumery or The Plague Doctor's Cabinet of Olfactory Curiosities? Only in Ann Arbor, Michigan and only at a five-star library like AADL.

1Walter Moers, "To Bookholm" in The City of Dreaming Books, (New York: The Overlook Press, 2007), 10.