I remember first opening the pages of Alain Lesieutre's "The Spirit and Splendour of Art Deco" and being completely overwhelmed. The cover of the book was different to the one pictured below. It was metallic gold rather than brown; a lush, rich cover. This was my introduction to the extraordinary style of arts and crafts produced in France from the 1910s to the 1930s. Nothing had prepared me for the richness, the sophistication and the extravagance of what I found inside these golden covers.
The book itself, first published in 1978, is a lovely publication; beautiful photographs and elegantly produced. But the one thing that made this book sink deeper into my psyche, even more than the lavish photographs of Ruhlmann's furniture, was the smell of it.
I had borrowed the book from my local library (I borrowed this so much that they may as well have just given it to me) and the previous borrower had left a cigar butt wedged between the pages. A repulsive idea, I know, but having blown the debris out of the book, what remained within the glossy pages was a distinct smell of tobacco, not smoke, but fresh tobacco. The paper and ink melded with the tobacco to produce an exciting and distinctly masculine smell. I'm not one for saying 'this is a girl's colour and this is a boy's colour', but what I mean is that the smell reminded me mostly of what men might want to smell like, or, more particularly, what a gentleman might want to smell like.
I have no idea what this refined and aloof gentleman from Melbourne smelt like and I must say, I don't really care! What I am interested in is the nature of that complex smell that came from the library book, one which conjured up so much in my mind and was inextricably linked to the sumptuousness of the content and subject of the book. How I'd love to recreate that smell; tobacco, paper, wood. I guess I could take up smoking a pipe and surrounding myself with old books (halfway there), but I just can't justify taking up what I know to be a high risk habit for the sake of smelling like "The Spirit and Splendour of Art Deco".
In the meantime, I must content myself with the occasional sniff of a pipe, or leave a notably fragrant book open on my lap with no intention of reading it.
Vintage photograph from my private collection.