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The nose who knows: Fragrance expert Chandler Burr

Words by Rob Chilton

Perfume critic and writer Chandler Burr reflects on the scents that mean the most to him

“I never buy fragrance – it's an advantage of my job,” smiles Chandler Burr, a former perfume critic for the New York Times and curator of olfactory art. The experienced nose set up the world’s first department of scent art at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City. EDGAR had a word with Burr at the elite Perfumery & Co department inside The Dubai Mall.

When did a fragrance first have an impact on you?

I’ve never even thought about this before. I don't know if this is the first, but it is certainly the strongest, and it is completely cliché – it seems everyone gives this answer – but everyone gives this answer for a reason. My grandmother lived in Corpus Christi, Texas very near the Gulf of Mexico, and I remember the very precise smell of the city.

What was it like?

It was humidity and the sea air, the smell of her car from the 1960s, the smell of her house, her air conditioning.

Perfumery & Co in The Dubai Mall

What fragrance are you wearing right now?

Rose Of No Man’s Land by Byredo, which was created by the prodigious scent artist Jerôme Epinette and creative directed by Ben Gorham. It is a work of Photo Realism but of course all art – photography, painting, scent – are by definition crafted to communicate a subjective point of view, which is why art exists.

What does it smell like to you?

It’s the powerful illusion of a perfected, light, contemporary rose with no trace of decay, no leaf, no blemish, just a pure Keatsian Grecian urn of a rose. When I put it on I feel utterly defenceless against it, as if etherised.

Burr's chosen fragrance

Is there a fragrance that has a sentimental meaning to you?

I suppose Un Jardin Sur le Nil created by Jean-Claude Ellena, who was one of the most important two or three scent artists of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

How did you come across it?

The New Yorker asked me to write a feature on the creation of a perfume. I spent a year with Ellena, inside Hermés, as Ellena was Hermés’ perfumer, while he created Nil. I saw every part of its creation. Its story became my third book, The Perfect Scent, and this fragrance was the scent track of years of my life.

Apply fragrance to the top of the wrists, says Burr

There are a few theories about how best to apply fragrance. What’s your view?

Top of the wrists and a big shot down the back of the shirt. Personally, I don't wear perfume on my neck; when it’s continually that close to your nose, it habituates you to your own scent, and you can’t smell it anymore.

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