Chandler Burr is a journalist, author, and curator of olfactory art. Burr created the New York Times perfume critic's position, which he occupied from
2006-2010. In 2010 he left the Times to establish the world’s first department of olfactory art, at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York
City. His first exhibition The Art of Scent 1889-2012 ran from Nov 22, 2012 to May 3, 2013.
Burr was born in Chicago and raised in Washington, D.C. He graduated from Principia College. He began his journalism career in 1987 as a stringer in The Christian Science Monitor's Southeast Asia bureau and later became a Contributing Editor to U.S. News and World Report. He earned a Masters degree in international economics and Japan studies from the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins.
In 1993, Burr wrote a cover story, "Homosexuality and Biology," for The Atlantic, which became the basis for his first book A Separate Creation: The Search for the Biological Origins of Sexual Orientation (1996), an account of the scientific search for the origins of sexual orientation. The book was published by Hyperion, a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company, and its argument that sexual orientation is inborn prompted a call by Southern Baptists to boycott Disney films and theme parks.
Burr's book The Emperor of Scent, published in 2003, tells how the French-Italian scientist Luca Turin originated the theory about the functioning of the sense of smell. As a result, The New Yorker proposed that Burr describe the creation of a perfume. Burr's March 2005 New Yorker article recounted Jean-Claude Ellena's year-long creation, in Paris and Grasse, of Hermès' Un Jardin sur le Nil. Burr's next book The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry in Paris & New York, based on the New Yorker article and published in 2008, describes Ellena's work parallel to the story of Sarah Jessica Parker's creation of her perfume "Lovely" in New York City under the license aegis of the perfume corporation Coty.
From August 2006 until the end of 2010, Burr was perfume critic of The New York Times. His column, "Scent Notes", appeared first in T, The New York Times' style magazine, and later on the Times’ blog. Upon the column’s creation Stefano Tonchi, style editor of The New York Times Sunday Magazine and T, was quoted, “The Times will be the first to cover the fragrance industry and perfume in the way it does movies, books, and theater."
In December 2010, Burr left the Times to create, and become Curator of, the Department of Olfactory Art at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City. The Museum stated that Burr would create “exhibitions and programs that illuminate scent as an art form" and present “seminal works by some of the greatest scent artists of the late-19th, 20th and early-21st centuries” The New York Times reported that when asked about his refusal to display packaging or bottles, Burr replied "[T]he smell [is] the work of art. I’m opposed to the photon. If you have to see it, I’m not interested."
The Art of Scent 1889-2012 displayed twelve works of “olfactory art” and exhibited and exhibited them as works from “a pure art form born near the turn of the 20th century, like Modernism itself,” The New York Times reported. “The fundamental goal,” said Burr, “is placing scent as an artistic medium alongside painting, sculpture and music.” The works included Jicky (1889) by Aimé Guerlain,, Ernest Beaux’s Chanel N° 5 (1921), and Olivier Cresp’s Angel (1992), which Burr discussed as, respectively, works of Romaticism, Modernism, and Surrealism.
His first novel, You Or Someone Like You, was published by Ecco Press in summer 2009.
Burr conducts a series of perfume dinners around the world.