Episode 26: Perfume

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

‘Let us then blend everything: love, religion, genius, with sunshine, perfume, music and poetry’ (Madame de Stael, Corinne, Book 10, Chapter 5, 1807). For this episode let us join the guardian of generations, Dr Sam Willis, and the jester of journals, Professor James Daybell, as they put their noses to good use to produce, for our auditory and olfactory delights, the unexpected history of perfume. Our expert perfumers will combine the scents and delight the senses as they evoke and convey you on a journey from sperm whale vomit and the history of whaling to Gervase Markham’s The English Huswife published in 1615, from advertising and female consumerism in the nineteenth century to the Reformation and medieval Catholic rituals, and from plague masks in the seventeenth century to poisoned gloves.

Sam and James will blend the links to discover that this unexpected history is actually all about: memories, power, culture, secrecy, competition, commodities, industry, medicine, status, myth, insecurities, fear, knowledge, change, and death…among other things. For those of you lucky enough to find some ambergris, current estimates value it at $29 per gram – happy beachcombing everyone!

I shall leave the last word to Pope Julius II, ‘The smell of gunpowder is sweeter to me than all the perfumes of Arabia’, not something you find on many department store shelves.

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