As promised, today´s a revisit of Perfumes: The Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez, now that more of you have had a chance to read it. For my earlier review of the book, click here. I propose a free-for-all discussion of any aspects of the book that interest you, with the gentle reminder that we are all adults, theoretically, and we can disagree and still maintain some civility. Please don´t make me come on here and moderate.
The Guide has been a hot topic and occasional source of hard feelings since its release. Obviously I don´t agree with everything in it. My personal approach is the grain-of-salt angle; if I´m in agreement with LT and TS, well, then – we are all genius. If I´m in disagreement – someone is wrong, and it isn´t me, is it? I´m grateful someone thought the topic was of sufficient interest to publish a book on it, and I welcome any converts to the brave new world of perfume obsession. Lurkers – today may be the day to let your hair down and post your first comment! I´m also sending a shout-out to Mercedes and other commenters on The Guide over the past couple of weeks to reiterate your criticisms.
I probably spend a little time each day, often before bed, browsing the book. I´ve folded down the corners of various pages, with the earmarked perfume reviews falling into three general categories, and here are a few examples:
Vindication. I´m going to leave aside reviews of classics like Chanel No. 5 and Mitsouko, which would have shocked me had they awarded anything less than five stars. More rewarding to me is to see scents I think of as underdogs get a little love from the authors. This is especially true when my admiration for a particular scent comes with a small but (I´m being honest here) persistent fear that my love for that scent indicates I have crappy taste. Gucci Rush would fall into this category. It´s a wonderful, weird, brash scent – warmly human but surreal, hairspray and milk. Having TS award it five stars (“… it smells so new, so confident, so reckless, so of-the-moment, Rush manages at every stage to feel cozy and alive…”) gives me an absurd amount of pleasure. A different kind of vindication is seeing LT give Serge Lutens Rousse two stars and call it “one fine mess” from “the periode bizarre.” Heh. Another example is Dior´s Hypnotic Poison (four stars, LT), the “almond” Poison, which I´m wild for, almost as much as the original, and which LT describes as “dark, velvety and autumnally muted, and … radiates in a way that only a great perfumer could have arranged… it was done by Annick Menardo, which explains everything.”
Provocation. Having the authors pan something I like, or love something I hate, doesn´t send me into the spasms of fury I´ve seen elsewhere on the boards and blogs. My reasoning: if I start with the construct that criticism is opinion, no matter how well- or ill-informed, and I disagree with that opinion – then I guess we have a difference of opinion, and I´m okay with that. I am sure it would feel more personal if I were the actual perfumer (and more about that in a bit), but as someone said elsewhere, if you put your creation out there for public consumption, someone, somewhere is going to hate it. Anyway, LT gives Hermes Hiris one measly star (lots of lame stuff got at least two) and manages to pay Hiris creator (and one of my favorite perfumers) Olivia Giacobetti a backhanded compliment at the same time, lauding two of her other fragrances as “great insofar as she manages to break with her usual manner: delicate florals with a pale, sour note reminiscent of clothes washed with unscented fabric softener.” Yeow, that smarts. And while we´re on the topic of perfumers, LT seems to have his favorites and not-so-favorites. Further, I generalize that he is not a big fan of pared-down, minimalist compositions. I could go on for paragraphs citing examples of ratings I totally disagree with, but will name just a few: Marc Jacobs Men (one star); MoslBuddJewChristHinDao (five stars, and puh-leaze), Serge Lutens Sarrasins (five stars), Secretions Magnifiques (ELd´O, five stars, kill.me.now), Apothia Velvet Rope (one star.)
Revelations. Perhaps my favorite part of the book, these are reviews of fragrances I have tried that highlight some aspect I hadn´t noticed or appreciated. Or, they are fragrances I haven´t tried and now want to try, desperately. A random sampling from My Must-Retry list:
L´Artisan Vanilia (“unfettered, hilarious, boisterous, totally devoid of chic” – that last bit is a compliment in context.) LT gives it five stars and makes it sound like a riot, which I totally missed.
L´Artisan Patchouli Patch – four stars from LT and an ode to its development, which he says includes my BFF helichrysum (everlasting flower or immortelle) in the middle. Wow, really? I’ll check it out.
Hermes Osmanthe Yunnan – this may be the only Hermessence the authors liked. TS gives it five stars and talks about the milky aspect of the fragrance, which gets my attention, and calls it “a perfume of pure happiness.” Need to unearth my sample.
A random sample of the New To Me and Must Try category:
Etro Gomma (LT, three stars) “a classic leather in the Knize Ten mold, but more floral, composed by the great Edward Flechier.” Never heard of it.
Profumo.it Grezzo (LT, four stars). “A beautiful woody-fruity confection based on an accord that smells like cedar and apricots (osmanthus?)” He goes on. I want it.
Lady Stetson (TS, four stars). She compares it favorably (and actually prefers it) to Chanel No. 22, which I like very, very much, and no, I am not kidding, although she describes the bottle as hideous. Buy It Now at your local CVS.
Mauboussin (LT, four stars). “An oriental situated somewhere between the first Kenzo Jungle and Fendi´s Theorema, with a skilful combination of warm, mouthwatering dried-fruit notes and clean, uplifting woody-resinous incense and olibanum,” done by Christine Nagel. What was that? Oh, look, and there goes my credit card levitating out of my wallet for an unsniffed purchase.
A couple more thoughts and I´ll shut up and let you dive in. First, I have a relatively high tolerance for snark, and I believe I heard/read that the authors axed a couple of their reviews as too mean. Furthermore, perfumers have to suck it up and take the criticism of their oeuvre just as other artists do. Having said that, LT´s reviews of Mona di Orio´s line seem so vitriolic I can´t help but wonder if there´s a personal element in there. This from a review of Carnation (LT, one star): “She also says she studied with Edmond Roudnitska, but her creations suggest she paid little attention.” Lux – one star, LT, “dire citrus.” Nuit Noire – one star, LT, “a hilariously bad fragrance” with “a loud civet fart.” Oiro – one star, LT, “third-world air freshener.” I spoke of respecting others´ opinions, and LT´s got me beat on any level of technical knowledge of perfumery, but … seriously, come on. One star? For all of them? Did their PR drone make LT mad? This is the only set of reviews that taken together make me uncomfortable.
And last — Do fragrances change according to the wearer´s chemistry? This is a question in the interesting Q&A in the book. TS starts her answer, “For a long time, LT believed the answer to be absolutely no, and that all assertions to the contrary were marketing ploys” etc., and reading that, one expects a paragraph later on in the question explaining how LT´s changed his mind. I´ve now read that question several times, and it´s never clear to me in what way he´s changed his position, which I think he´s held firm to on the various talk shows and interviews. If I read this right, they concede that skin maybe creates nuances in the top notes, but that all drydowns are equal. I am in no position to argue with LT on the technical merits – but, as almost anyone has experienced in a group sniffing situation, fragrances seem to smell different on different people. I know that´s not a reasoned argument; it´s merely a statement. Most folks who´ve sniffed fragrances simultaneously on other people would agree with me, science or no science, and I´m not just talking about the top notes. Fragrances go inexplicably wrong – sweet or sour, musky or strange – on various people at various times. For another educated view on skin chemistry, see Victoria on her recent post on Bois de Jasmin (and so wonderful to see you back, V!)
Enough from me. The floor´s open. Your thoughts?