The Greatest Perfumes Never Made part II, Tove Jansson ‘The Summer Book’


One thing that Scandinavians have in common is the childhood memories of their dearest authors. We grew up best mates with Pippi Long-stocking, being able to say “General Headquarters-Hindquarters-Gives-Orders-Front-and-Rear-Sergeant-Billygoat-Legs”, and we would have learned melancholy by the descriptions of the lonely winters in Moomin Valley.summer book

Tove Jansson is famous and beloved all over the world for her wise and eccentric stories and illustrations of the Moomins, however, she also wrote books for adults which hold the same sense of warmth, love, and knowledge of character.

Set on an island in the Finnish archipelago, ‘The Summer Book’ is a story of a grandmother, granddaughter and the island. The three get to know themselves and each other, and their travelling is a journey of love and understanding in a beautifully underplayed way. Nearly every page of the book is filled with mystery and fragrance. I could have picked many places in this book, but the one I chose, is for me also quite quintessentially Scandinavian in its vapours.

Tove Jansson

Tove Jansson

Writing this post, I realised that I couldn’t not also make a comment on the lack of true Scandinavian perfumery. Let me start in Sweden where they have some excellent brands, which have managed to manifest themselves internationally; Byredo, Agonist, Friedmodin… However, these are really international perfumes with no hint to their origins, and no attempt at a Scandinavian scent profile, it seems only the design angle is allowed to be Scandinavian cool. When it comes to Denmark, the story is sad indeed; Henrik Vibskov’s Type C (for Copenhagen) is nothing but a grim citrus-ozonic that is as far from the smell of the sea air of Copenhagen as you can get. Or for the new brand Zarkoperfumes, just go to Serguey Borisov’s reviews at Fragrantica to read what I couldn’t have said better myself.


In fact, so far the best Scandi-inspired fragrance that I have ever come across is by Neil Morris called Dark Season. Undeniably Finnish/ Swedish in its expression and made from a fond memory, sums up how to do it without becoming the equivalent of a fragrance ‘fancy dress’ party. What I mean is that these days, with ‘New Nordic Cuisine’, which uses all our very special ingredients and flavours, why not do the same in fragrance?

“Sophia made a path through this jungle with a pair of shears. She worked at it patiently whenever she was in the mood, and no one else knew about it. First, the path circled the rosebush which was large and famous and had a name, Rosa Rugosa. When it blossomed, with its huge, wild roses that could take a storm and fell only when they wanted to, people came from the village to look. Its roots were high, washed clean by waves, and there was seaweed in its branches. Every seven years, Rosa Rugosa died from salt and exposure, but then her children sprang up in the sand all around, so nothing changed. She had only moved a little. The path led on through a nasty path of nettles, through the spiraea and the currant bushes and the loosestrife under the alder trees, and up to the big bird-cherry at the edge of the woods. On the right day, and with the right wind, you could lie under a bird-cherry and all the petals would fall at the same time, but you had to watch for aphids. They held on to the tree if left alone, but if you shook the branches the least little bit they fell right off.

After the bird-cherry, there are pine trees and moss, and the hill rises up from the beach, and every time the cave is just as much of a surprise. It is so sudden. The cave is narrow and smells of rot, the walls are black and damp, and at the far end there is a natural alter covered with green moss as fine and dense as plush.”79550

One could probably make many different fragrances out of this description, but how about this:

The Summer Book-fragrance

Top: Currant, bitter cherry, salty air

Heart: Wild rose, white flowers (from the spiraea), almond (currant bushes), nettle.

Base: Roots, moss, pine and seaweed.

What do you think is this how it would smell to you?

skandi forfattere 1 - Kopi


Feature picture by me, with characters from the Moomin books, Elsa Beskow’s books, the Snow Queen, the sandman (Ole Lukøje), and Pippi and Brothers Lionheart.

Translation of The Summer Book is by Thomas Teal.

24 thoughts on “The Greatest Perfumes Never Made part II, Tove Jansson ‘The Summer Book’

  1. It actually sounds really good to me. 🙂
    Now we just need to find someone to make it… 😉

    • Ha, Ines good point 🙂 perhaps one day…

  2. What a lovely post! I would be interested to read this book – is it in print in English?
    I think the fragrance would be very evocative of the “sharpness” of the sea air, but also earthy and damp – like the smells along the cliffsides. I spent a lot of time in Cornwall when I was a child – wild roses and currant bushes were abundant there and this post brought that back to mind.

    • Hi Sally, thank you, I’m happy you liked the post and that it brought back memories. Yes, the book is in print, mine is from publisher ‘sort of books’ and I think with those childhood memories you would really enjoy it. It’s a magical book. I agree completely that this fragrance should evoke sharpness of the sea air, earthy and damp, that captured would be amazing.

  3. Asali, what a magical post! I’ve said it before, on the post you did with the café drawing, but I have to say it again: your drawings are so, so good! I truthfully think you would make a great book illustrator.

    As far as the fragrance you described, yep, I think you pretty much hit on all of the notes that would evoke the Scandinavian sea. Having been to Sweden’s Sandhamn on a beautiful midsummer day, I couldn’t believe how brisk and fresh the air smelled in a pine tree kind of way. Your inclusion of berry notes is perfect too, not only for the description from your book passage, but because that’s another thing I think of in regard to Scandinavia. In Sandhamn there were lingonberries growing in the middle of the island. If anything, I might add a mineral note to your fragrance, for the sunning that takes place on those big, smooth slabs of rock (which struck me as very Scandinavian!). 🙂

    • Dear magical Suzanne, you make the world a better place with your wonderfully supportive comments. It makes it even more fun to do the illustrations when I know that they are appreciated.
      I am so glad that you actually went to Sweden and know that vibe and ‘scentsation’, and you’re so right a mineral note is missing to make it truly Scandinavian. The way the elements hit those rocks, the sun, the water the wind, all bounce off that mineral.

      • Suzanne does make the world a better place and I’m sorry I didn’t clock that main picture was drawn by you, Asali. Wow! You really have a talent. Hope you do more – and that I notice next time.

        • Yes, she does, and don’t worry Tara, I enjoy when people enjoy it, but am certainly not expecting praise, but just drawing a bit for the fun of it 🙂

      • I want to sign under your words about Suzanne’s comments! She always understands what exactly I tried to say (and in many cases describes it back even better than I did initially 🙂 ).

  4. Yes, this was a really beautiful and interesting post. You make a good point about Nordic cuisine. Noma is the supposedly the best restaurant in the world so it shouldn’t be too much of a leap to transfer those flavours into perfume surely.

    I loved the extract from The Summer Book and i think your composition strikes the perfect balance between the land and the sea.

    We watched The Moomins TV series as children here and I adored it. A bit scared of the Hattfatteners though!

    • Yes, I was exactly thinking of Noma being the front-runner. Ines commented when she was here, about how much you smell the sea everywhere, I think it counts for most of Scandinavia, where the sea is never far away. And I do think that all those herbs and weed, bushes and trees that mostly grow here would make great new notes.
      I remember being scared by the Moomin TV-series too, but I adored the books.

  5. What a charming post, and an equally charming illustration – I am a big Moomin fan and narrowly missed a chance to visit a Moomin museum in Tampere (it was night time, the museum was closed!). I do, however, have Moomin kitchen towels and a Hattifattener mug. I am not scared, me. ; ) As for the Tove Jansson book, I was aware of it but haven’t read it. I think I may have bought it for someone as a present though.

    I’d be curious to give this scent a sniff, though I am not sure how it would smell. Seaside perfumes are in my thoughts at the moment, since clocking Thomas’s review of the new Jo Malone.

    • Thank you Vanessa. Another Moomin fan, yay. I must check out the post you mention, although the Jo Malones, although many of them perfectly nice, also a bit synthetic for something like a seaside perfume I imagine? But perhaps I’m wrong. The hattifnatter mug is great, I thought of including a picture of my Moomin-mugs, but since that was not what the post was really about, that’ll have to wait 😉

    • Am wearing the new Jo Malone now in fact – just from an impregnated scent strip thing. I normally dislike the herbal notes in her perfumes – basil, I’m looking at you – but this is all right actually, if a bit fleeting. And not overtly salty!

      • It actually looks quite interesting this one, even if I’m not sure I’ll ever get to terms with the brand; who said something about thinking of them more in terms of a life style brand? I think that’s right. I do love my white lilac and rhubarb though 😉

  6. Oh you have just reminded me of a hotel I stayed in in Finland, where the three breakfast juices on offer were: orange, apple….and…drum roll…sea buckthorn juice. But of course! 😉

    • Oh yes, seabuckthorn exactly, wonderful smell.

  7. I am a big fan of your illustrations! You should do a header of your blog in that style – it will be very unique!

    I haven’t been to Scandinavia (hopefully – yet) and I have no “vision” as to what would be a good representation for the region in perfumes – so I’ll gladly take your idea. The only note from the suggested pyramid that I don’t care much for is almond, everything else sounds right up my alley.

    • Thank you Undina 🙂 Perhaps I will at some point, I even started doing one but wasn’t contend.
      Yes, hopefully at some point you’ll get to travel to Scandinavia and smell for yourself, and the almond note (to my mind) was meant as a kind of ‘softener’, so the pyramid wouldn’t get too harsh. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if scents and flavours from around the world don’t get used, just because it’s not traditionally used?

    • Undina, you really need to come to Scandinavia. I’m looking forward to hanging out with you in Stockholm 🙂

  8. I’ve often wondered why Scandinavians aren’t more innovative and experimental utilizing the atmosphere and native flora, when it comes to scent making and cooking. Hopefully things will get better in the future, with the “New Scandinavian Cuisine” getting recognized, and home growing vegetables and herbs gaining popularity. I partly blame protestantism, looking down on anything that is lustful or more abundant that it could be. I also think there is some inferiority complex at work, we don’t have a general tradition of elevating ourselves, endlessly talking about ourselves and showing off as certain other nationalities.

    But enough of that! This is the loveliest post I’ve seen in a long time, with the loveliest illustrations. I think your suggestion for a perfume is absolutely spot on. I visited an island, very much alike the one in the pic where Tove Jansson is swimming, this summer and when I close my eyes I can feel the sweetness of nyponrosor (rosa rugosa), green nettles, moss and twigs on the ground, all immersed in salty sea air. Very much like the perfume you’re suggesting 🙂

    • Hi Sigrun, thank you so much for your enthusiasm 🙂 and for the thumbs up on the imaginary perfume, greatly appreciated from a fellow Scandinavian. I agree wholeheartedly on the Scandinavian issue, but I’m thinking that also the very anti- bourgeoisie is playing a part, and another thing that hit me was that because of our cooler weather and coastal lines everywhere which make for nearly always windy weather, I think perfume hasn’t been as necessary to prevent stinking ( over the last 100 years) as further south??? Just a thought…
      I suppose if we want Scandinavian perfumery, we’ll have to do it ourselves 😉

Comments are closed.