Author: Sigrid van Roode
Publisher: BLKVLD, 2020
Format & layout
160 x 210 x 9 mm (6.3″ x 8.27″ x 0.35”)
Text and images on a white background
Photos, Illustrations & Diagrams
The book is richly illustrated with colour images, as well as a few historical sepia and black-and-white images. The photos depict individual items, people wearing or using these items, as well as more scenic or contextualised images. Most spreads contain at least one image, with some photos accompanied by text and others being full-page. The book contains one map of the Arab world as an introduction.
Scent has always played a major role in personal adornment in the Arab world. It is powerful and evocative, but as it disappears over time fragrance is often not included in studies of personal adornment.
This book introduces the invisible aspect of personal adornment. Starting from a historic background, it explores the rituals, traditions and customs across the vast region and offers insight into the social and spiritual values of fragrance. The uses of scent in personal appearances such as jewellery, hairstyles and body aesthetics show how these values were reflected in material form. This exploration into the world of scent is vividly illustrated with objects like silver perfume containers, beads of sumptuously scented paste and fragrant clove necklaces alongside both historic and current-day photographs.
The book takes the reader on an olfactory journey into beliefs, traditions, innovations, and meaning, expressed by scent.
Quoted from the book’s back-cover blurb
The book starts with an introduction called The World of Scent, explaining a few key concepts and terminology, then explains the different purposes of scent as well as its intangible heritage. The author explains how scent is studied and how she approached writing this book.
The content is divided into six chapters covering the history of scent, scent and the invisible world, the social meaning of scent, scent and personal adornment, scent and body aesthetic, and lastly, scent in the Arab world today. Each chapter concludes with a list of endnotes for clarity and further study.
It also contains a short chapter on songs and poetry referencing scent, confirming the importance of oral tradition in telling the full story. The book concludes with a list of books for further reading and study.
The book is deceptively small, belying the weight and density of information contained within. Don’t be fooled.
Even though scent is an inherently invisible and elusive substance, the author succeeded in bringing it to life, giving it substance, and making it both visible and understandable to the reader. Her style of writing is clear yet illustrative, and her narrative is both scholarly and approachable.
The six chapters capture the role of scent in all spheres of life – past and present, intangible and tangible, physical and spiritual, and both as an object and as an experience.
This is book is the perfect introduction to the role of scent in the Arab world. As with most perfumes it is contained in a small package, but its aroma and allure spread far beyond, carrying innuendos of past lives, spiritual values, and promises of future possibilities.
About the author
Sigrid van Roode is a jewellery historian and archaeologist with a MA in Egyptology. She works with museums and private collections. Is the author of ten books, exhibition curator, and speaker. Sigrid is a creative advisor and regular contributor to The Zay Initiative. To learn more about her books, research, e-course, and services visit her website and Instagram account.
- Sigrid’s series on jewellery in the Arab world on The Zay Initiative blog
- Sigrid was a guest speaker on The Zay Initiative’s webinar series Dialogues on the Art of Arab Fashion in June 2021, on the topic of Roses, Musk, and Ambergris: Fragrance, Jewellery and Dress. Recordings of past webinar episodes are available to Friends of The Zay.
- Jolanda Bos’s blog post Painted Black. The story of Kohl Containers
- Review of Sigrid’s book Desert Silver – Understanding traditional jewellery from the Middle East and North Africa.