A red Powell's by Powell's book on a wooden table.
Courtesy Powell’s City of Books

A Unisex Fragrance That Smells Like Old Books, Created by a Portland Bookstore

Powell’s City of Books released the perfume Powell’s by Powell’s after the pandemic forced its temporary closure.
By Brian Libby
January 9, 2021
2 minute read

The poster child for the gray-skyed Pacific Northwest, Portland is perhaps America’s most book-loving city. Reading is a perfect rainy-day activity, after all, so it makes sense that the town is home to one of the world’s largest independent bookstores: the four-story, block-long Powell’s City of Books. When the pandemic forced its temporary closure last year (the space has since partially reopened), the retailer was surprised to discover, through customer surveys, that what its patrons missed most wasn’t the books themselves. It was the bookstore’s smell.

Hence the company’s recent introduction of Powell’s by Powell’s, a unisex limited-edition fragrance, currently available to preorder for a Jan. 18 release after the first bottles promptly sold out last year, meant to evoke the musty scent of titles and shelves. In a tongue-in-cheek commercial for the perfume, with the cinematic style of a 1990s Calvin Klein ad, a bookish woman crisply describes its aroma while tinkly piano music plays in the background: “The scent of romance and graphic novels, with a hint of comparative religion and maps. Personal finance. Nautical history. Web development. Pools and hot tubs. Juggling,” she says, before the scent’s tagline appears on the screen: “If you can’t be there, at least you can smell there.” The bottle looks great on a bookshelf, too.