In Brief

Barbara Herman's new treatise on 20th century perfumes is also a history of American femininity.

Despite our comparatively weak human sense of smell and limited vocabulary for describing our sensory experience in this area, advertising companies trying to come up with innovative ways to sell scents have tried their best – and occasionally left us dumbfounded. As Barbara Herman, the author of the new book Scent and Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative Perfume and an expert on perfume and scent culture, has discovered in her research, the commercials and the attitudes that spawned them range from shockingly backward to surprisingly progressive.

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