Chandler Burr at PopTech 2008

The Perfect Pairing of Taste and Scent: Chandler Burr is the perfume critic for The New York Times, and the author, most recently, of the book The Perfect Scent. If you didn’t know this, it would be pretty easy to mistake him for a scientist. He ably throws around terms from organic chemistry — the language of aldehydes, esters, and carbon dioxide distillation. Burr also possesses a keen nose, with the seeming ability to identify any perfume, no matter how obscure. In his very funny and informative talk today, he had the audience smell a number of different scents in rapid succession. He then offered a story about each one — from an analysis of the different grades of patchouli, to a detailed explanation of orris butter, to the tale of some of Chanel’s most storied scents. Some might think of scent as a mere frivolous luxury, but perfume is a lens for looking at culture and commerce. “Every bottle of perfume contains the world,” Burr said to the audience. “It contains every country you can imagine, farmers, smugglers, botanists, chemists, artists…bad economic policy, good economic policy, climate change…if you lost your hearing and your vision, you would still be connected to the world through the art of perfume.”