Serge Lutens is Not Your Bitch

perfumeSerge Lutens is not my perfume bitch. 

Neither is Chanel or Guerlain or Dior.  They don’t have to make the perfume I want them to make or think they should be making.  They make a bottle, and if I like it, I buy it, and I get to use the whole bottle or dump it out or swap it or sell it, but their duty to me ends once I’ve purchased it and the bottle doesn’t leak and the sprayer works reasonably well.  Our relationship is over. They don’t have to make a masterpiece every time they hit the creative perfume bench, nor do they have to make a perfume I like or want to wear.  They don’t even have to make another bottle of perfume ever again.  How they develop and execute their business plan is up to them.  If they’re making money, it’s apparently working out okay, and they don’t need me telling them what to do.

This thought crept into my mind as I was reading this discussion on Basenotes last week (with some help from Neil Gaiman).  Luca Turin gave an interview and said he won’t be updating The Guide anymore (and I’m paraphrasing some of this, you can read the actual comment by following all the links) because he can’t bear to smell so much dreck –  that 1500 out of every 2000 perfumes created are completely inept.

Note that he didn’t say just bad or not to his liking, but inept.  The conversation on Basenotes then delves into what perfume should be, what we expect, are they masterpieces or simply commercial items created to sell.  It’s a good discussion, as many are on Basenotes.  If you don’t visit that site regularly, you should. I just wish their women’s section were as vigorous as the men’s section.  But I thought we could talk about this here too!

We write about 5 days a week on perfume and cover 1-3 perfumes on average per post, sometimes more.  Over the course of 52 weeks, we probably cover 150 or so perfumes a year with at least a short review or impression.  If I were sniffing and writing about 500 of them in a year, it would be a job, not a hobby, and I’m sure it would lead to me feeling very differently about the crap they were making me smell just because they decided to release the fifth Paris Hilton flanker.  I think probably about half of what is released every year doesn’t even deserve a mention.  It’s something some people will buy because they love the celebrity or designer that made it.  Fair enough, but it doesn’t need a review.  It’s like reviewing Harlequin romances or some of the more formulaic science fiction.  If you’re a fan of the genre, you don’t really care much about a review as long as it stays true to the formula.  I’m not bashing either of those things with that statement.  I like a good formula book from time to time, I used to like them more, but I want to get what I’m expecting, and that’s pretty much it.  If that happens, they’ve done their job for what I want and owe me nothing else.

perfume pink fluffAll markets have segments in them that are created for various reasons.  Perfume has a low-end, budget market made for those who just want a little pick-me-up, may be young and plan to throw it away quickly and don’t want  to pay much for it, or they just prefer those types of perfumes, likely somewhat sweet, fruity floral.  I’m not going to judge their taste, people like what they like, and their tastes hopefully grow and improve with age.  If not, it’s okay with me. I can bear being in the elevator with someone doused in Pink Sugar for 5 minutes. Just relax a little and enjoy it for what it is – air syrup.

There’s the mid-range/department store segment that’s really geared  for the younger or professional person with not a lot of time or knowledge about perfume.  They aren’t looking for a masterpiece, they may or may not love perfume, and they don’t spend hours sniffing at Bergdorf’s or Macy’s.  Typically they find out about a new perfume by reading it in Allure or Vogue or from  their Sak’s or Neiman’s catalogue.  They want to find something fairly quickly that smells good.  It’s not that they want to smell like everyone else, but they sure don’t want to smell weird, and becauseof that, they can often be found trailing a trend.  They want to smell businessy or sexy or hawt or seductive, but they aren’t willing to spend a lot of time on this and tend to be swayed by marketing hype  or a name and associate how they want to be perceived with the perfume they wear.  Or they just want a bottle of fragrance that doesn’t suck.

Then there’s us, most of you that read this blog. We are obsessed by scent, and we’ve smelled  it all or are in the process of smelling it all, or we are just starting out on our obsession.  We want great, we want masterpieces. We don’t want dreck, and we often perceive ordinary and mundane as dreck.  We are a little snobby about our perfumes and are looking for the rare, unique, discontinued; the disappearance of the Gobin-Daudes still cause us much angst – more so if we never got to smell them; we swamp some poor Hermes boutique in Istanbul if we hear they have one bottle of Doblis; we have small vials of Guerlain Bouquet des Faunes regular and Jasmine in our desk drawer that we check every day for leakage; and every single one of us have Guerlain Djedi in our Ebay daily search.   Okay, I probably just listed stuff for me there mostly, except the G-Ds, which I did smell and still cry about.

The bar a perfume company has to get over with us is much higher than the casual sniffer that wants to smell good. We’ve sniffed a lot and have a whole catalogue of scents in our head to compare new things to, and we sort and sort and sort and find much of the new entries to have been done before, probably better, or it’s a scent that was never meant for us to begin with. In that case, I simply note it as that and stop the critique in my head. Except with Lola, I’m still not over that.

I don’t find perfumery to be any different from any other commercial market – shoes, makeup, skin care, clothing, books, paintings, music.  There is a target market inside of a commodity, and if the target isn’t me, I don’t really feel disappointed that I don’t like it.   I think the reason Lola made me so mad is because I was its target market.  I thought Daisy was fairly ordinary and somewhat innocent, but an easy to wear perfume that was made well enough that would find a lot of fans. Lola was supposed to be the more daring, floozy sister, and instead Lola was a spoiled, nasty, vain tramp with no taste. {March, de-cloaking: hahaha.  That one really got you, didn’t it?  Here’s the part I added in my review comments that day: “Lola stalked me for the entire evening, threatening to drag me to the food court and make me eat a Big Mac and a Blizzard. I could feel my face breaking out.”}

My bigger problem with Luca’s head-tossing at the horrible state of the perfume industry is the reviews he did of the Be Never too Busy 2 Be Beautiful line.  5 stars?  4 stars?  I’m not saying they were the worst smelling perfumes I’ve ever run across, but the highest I got on any of them was maybe a 3. They were pretty typical Body Product perfumes, what you’d expect to find in scents that were really intended to scent body lotion and hand cream.  I give a lot of allowances for taste and even came to accept that Tommy Girl did break some ground, even if I personally don’t care for it.  One man’s art is another man’s dreck.

I don’t mean any of this as a personal criticism of Luca Turin. I have loved reading what he’s written about perfume, and I wish he’d continue. I’ve learned a lot, tried some things he loved because of the way he wrote about it, disagreed with him, but learned even in disagreement more about what I did like/dislike and why, and I found him to be a source of information and understanding about scent.  He has enriched my understanding and love for perfumery.

I do agree, though, that the minute you do find yourself lamenting the lack of anything great or new out on the horizon for months at a time, the problem is likely in yourself, and it’s not really a problem. You just may have reached end game for your obsession, and it’s time to take a break from it for a while or permanently.

That’s all.  What do you think?

106 Comments

  1. Hey, doll!

    Nice post.

    I think it’s important that all of us (at least those of us who do not ‘do’ perfume for a living) stop and get a grip every now and then. Perfume is lovely, except when it isn’t – but, at least in my world, I view it as something to enjoy – not something to obsess over (the word ‘obsess’ obsesses me. Is it obssess? of course not – but somehow it looks like it would like to be, if only I would let it…)

    anyhoo – yes, I lust after vintage Mitsy and I will be the first freak off the jetway in Istanbul (poor Jose at Hermes in Chicago – I had him running downstairs to the employee bathroom because he was simple enough to tell a scary monstra like me that there was a bottle of Doblis!!!!! in there (apparently they were just using it as – what? ROOM SPRAY? because it was discontinued). Alas, it was no longer there – or else he was afraid to bring it up to me? What? You think I would’ve snatched it out of his hand and threatened him with bodily disaster, should he try to retrieve it? Moi?

    But I digress….

    Doblis, Djedi (and I have those on eBay, too:-D – whatever – everybody just settle down and enjoy it! Stock up on your faves so you don’t have to adjust to reformulation and….well, have a good time!

    Okay: lecture over. Everybody back to your obssess..erm, obsession!

    xoxox >-)

    • Ha, you think I’m kidding about Istanbul (booking ticket on Orbitz).

      I think that’s what bothered me most, taking it so seriously. In art and all things that are subjective, there is a lot of stuff out there that is crap, but some people love it. Velvet dogs playing poker is a piece of art that need not be reviewed, nor does TJ Swan Mellow Days wine, but it’s brought pleasure to people’s lives, either as a joke or a wine that you could afford and swill down before high school.

      It should be fun, and I think we all have to be selective about what we smell or care about. I don’t care about most perfumes produced now because I know I’m not their target, but occasionally I smell one and am pleased beyond belief. Giselle was one. It was created some time back, I missed it, but I was out of proportion happy when I found it and loved it, and It’s CHEAP!!!!

      Every time i find myself taking it too seriously and not laughing more at Lola than cursing it, I just take a break and rethink things.

      • it…is…just…perfume!

        While I am totally over the top with a ebay coup, or a sniff of something exquisite, I find myself put off by the gravity of some discussion of perfume lately. In particular, one popular chat board has been just ooozing with discussion of what to do if a friend wears your HG, of colleague opinions, and of stabs at vaguely skeevy ebay sellers. Enough, I just want to spray and enjoy 🙂

        • I love fragrance discussion, as in reviews, houses, notes, composition, etc. What’s been happening there isn’t perfume talk. It’s trash talk and it could be about clothing or almost anything. What to do if your friend buys the same blouse (fragrance) as you. Trashing an ebay seller for supposed fakes when you have no evidence, arguments on the board, etc. Ick.

        • Oh, I can’t even do the perfume discussion boards anymore, except Basenotes, and I just read there, and they’re down this week, it looks like.

          but getting upset if someone is wearing your HG perfume? Maybe it’s because I’m such a whore about perfume, it’s not possible for anyone to really get under my skin on that stuff, and I’ve always thought imitation is a really lovely form of flattery.

      • Ha, ha! Velvet dogs!! That’s it precisely. This came up for me last week because of something Avery Gilbert had posted, and I spent a day with my head-voice saying “sometimes it’s a painting, sometimes it’s just paint.”

        • 🙂 Sometimes it’s just smell. Now, when Vinnie’s probiotics aren’t working and he’s farting up a storm and gassing me out while he lays by the couch, I would disagree.

          You know, I read all the wine reviews, and many wines made aren’t $400 and up bottle of wines that you should collect. The bulk of them are made to drink fairly quickly and not at too steep a cost. You keep some of the better bottles around for more special occasions, but I won’t just collect wine, I drink the stuff. Perfume is a consumable too. You can collect it, but eventually it will go bad, it’s meant to be enjoyed. So much as I cherish my Bouquet des Faunes vials, ultimately they will disappear. Everything must die so something new can grow.

  2. I haven’t been here in a couple weeks just because life has kind of intervened, but in taking a few minutes to see What’s Up at the Posse… I just wanted to say that I very much agree with what you’ve written, P, and I think you did a great job in summing it up.

    Perfume IS like any other commodity, and it’s not like the NYT Art Critic is including Thomas Kinkade’s latest piece of crap … I mean ‘OPUS’… in this week’s Lifestyle column, know what I’m sayin’?

    Literature/Film/Perfume/Painting is Dead. Right. See you here Wednesday.

    • Glad you’re back, Joe!

      Not all art is, well, art. Sometimes it’s just stuff you want to sell and make some money on. 🙂

      • Right! And apologies (or condolences?) to anyone who has a humongous Thomas Kinkade hanging over the sofa. Ya just gotta know what you like!

        • i couldn’t afford the O’Keefe. 🙂

          I actually do photography for artwork because I want the really good art that I can’t afford. Pictures I can do and pay to have them blown up and framed.

  3. Agree.

    Not sure why LT & TA can’t just review what they want — focus on niche perfumers that are more likely to make interesting perfumes, and skip the mass market stuff. So it’s not a “comprehensive” Guide anymore? So maybe the audience & book opportunities would narrow, but wwouldn’t it be more fun? Things change…we can roll with that.

    My assumption after the announcement that no more supplements to The Guide would be published, was that _perhaps_ selling the reviews online wasn’t so financially rewarding.

    Couldn’t get on basenotes this evening, their server is down. But I will be interested to read the discussion there later and LT’s comments. He’s at MIT now, right?

    (Those B2BTBB review raves baffled me too! I think LT DOES need to take a break for awhile…)

    • I’m not sure what they intend to do. I know they’re updating the Guide this year with a new edition, which is great. I suspect the regular updating just didn’t justify the time involved. I hope they both stay involved and writing in the perfume world. I just disagree about that 3/4 of the perfumes made are inept. A lot of them do darn well with the budgets they are given. So from a low-end perspective, some of them do better on no money than some do with large amounts of cash for ingredients.

  4. I know for a fact that the newsletter didn’t bring in enough money to jutify all the hard work. That *would* make you resent the dreck you have to wade through to get even to the nice, let alone the jewels.

    I do tend to make forays into the mainstream to find out how the other 99% live, but also to discover new materials that wouldn’t be out there in the niches yet, and, I’m afraid to say, to find out which niche houses have been copying the mainstream.
    And there’s also the hope there’ll be an epiphany. I’ve found some: Rush, Poison, Hypnotic Poison… Admittedly not recent scents.

    I also try to see, honestly, why such and such bestseller is so successful, and I sometimes get it. Miss Dior Chérie, Coco Mademoiselle or La Petite Robe Noire: I get it. Please keep me away from that Light Blue, though. It got skin time, and that was way too close.

    I certainly wouldn’t resent the perfumers for bringing out the dreck-to-meh-to-yeah,nice fragrances. They have to earn a living.

    But,though I don’t have as many flying hours as Luca, I can feel his pain. “Oh, that’s so beautiful” happens maybe 10 times a year, tops, with new perfumes. Not necessarily the most challenging: recently, the VC&A Gardénia and Iris made me say it. A little while back, it was Eau Première and Beige. Vanille Galante too…

    So I guess I’m not yet blasé, but being a blogger has certainly made me feel, at times, as though cruising the aisles at Sephora was a-dirty-job-but-someone’s-got-to-do-it gig…

    • Oh, yeah, I assumed it wasn’t a financially viable model. Books, even published as a new edition every few years works much better, I would think.

      don’t you think some of it is just the volume you have in your head? I’ve been pretty happy with this year, I’ve found several things I love, which, as you point out, gets harder and harder to do as you have favorites in certain positions, and it takes a lot to blast them out or even to set something close to it. When everything is new to you, it’s easy to find a lot of loves. I have a lot of perfumes loves now, things stretching back over decades. And some of my loves make other people frown and get the ooogies. 🙂

      But I loved the Vanille Galante, the L’Artisan vanilla, the Kenzo UFO, most/all of the VCAs, the new Liz Zorn Aoud Lacquer, the two Kilians, the new Amouage Epic, DelRae Mythique, all of the Le Labo city exclusives, Poivre, Musc and Gaiac. There were a lot of likes in there too this year, the two new Hermeses were nicely done. I’m going to have a hard time at the end of the year doing my 2009 picks.

      It’s like listening your first time to Joni Mitchell Blue, there just isn’t another first time, and you’re always envious of others as they listen to it for the first time.

  5. I was sorry to hear LT is sorta fed up with the whole thing, too. We’re just about to publish a paperback update to the guide with an additional 451 reviews, more FAQs, and and index by label, and the Sanchez-Turins seem to be in great form. Maybe Tania will continue to review, in some format?

    There really is quite a WTF quotient in the LT/TS reviews, isn’t there. Yeah, well, you wouldn’t really want to wear this, but wow, the notes are so interesting and unusual, and the way it develops…

    I loved this post, Patty. I’m very dilettantish when it comes to perfume. I’m so much more interested in it than I ever thought I’d be, but I also don’t have hundreds of bottles and decants of every incarnation since 1947.

    • I’m totally buying the paperback update. I think if that were done every 4-5 years, it could do really well. Not sure if there are plans for it or Luca/Tania want to do it, and would totally get it if they’re just over it. 🙂

      I think a unique perspective is a good thing. He has made me rethink some things or at least give them more thought. I may or may not wind up agreeing with him, but I completely appreciate someone who bonks me on the head and gets me out of what I “believe” to be true and look at something with a fresh pair of eyes.

      The coolest thing I’ve ever thought perfume did was that you could go as far as you want and be just totally random on pursuing what you liked or wanted to smell. Some people are much more deliberate and go through houses or types. I’ve always just sniffed what I wanted, collected what I wanted. It would feel too much like work if I approached it more clinically, but that’s just me. I suspect a lot of people enjoy it more if they order it out somehow.

  6. I think that the problem lies more in the fact that there are so freaking many releases nowadays, and that most of them are dreck. The sheer numbers are overwhelming, and it’s not the same as back in the day when 50%-dreck-level or whatever meant only 20 or 30 duds, not 200 or 300, or more.

    I totally understand where Luca is coming from, and the fact is that he has a tremendously high batting average in my, er, book. Even when I don’t agree with him, which certainly happens often enough, I almost always understand his point of view, even if not right off the bat. With Luca I don’t hesitate to sample his recommendations because I never fail to learn something really worthwhile and therefore worth the investment of time and treasure.

    I also believe that there are far too many shoes on the market. I never thought I’d say that, but there it is.

    • I’ve been reading some of the comments here and just wanted to add that it seems to me that the difference is that professional film, restaurant, theater, music, whatever critics are actually paid to critique. It’s their livelihood, and I know for a fact that they cram in as many films, restaurants or performances into the work week as is humanly possible. A lot of them are burned out, too, but hey, it’s a living and they work hard for the money. LT on the other hand already has a day job and, as CC confirms above, it seems unlikely to me that he makes all that much for the amount of time he has to devote toward staying current. If you asked a film critic for a major newspaper how he’d like to spend his spare time, I doubt he’d suggest going to the movies.

      I am not in the book biz (maybe Francesca can weigh in here) but I also wonder if a publisher would be willing to publish a volume of reviews that consists only of a limited number of niche fragrances that LT has the time or the inclination to cover.

      Given the fact that he seems not to enjoy it all that much anymore, why should he bother? As much as I will miss his feedback and wish he’d continue, he doesn’t owe me anything. He does owe it to himself to have the life he wants, and if it doesn’t include sharing his opinions on perfume, so be it and God bless.

      • I guess what I’m trying to say here is that Luca Turin is not your bitch.

        • “LT is not your bitch” LOL!
          As Denyse says, the point of the Guide is that it would be comprehensive. And I have no idea about sales figs for the hardback; but the paperback is quite a fancy little thing (French flaps on the cover, a different second color, more use of color), so I don’t think we’d have incurred these higher production costs if the powers that be didn’t think the revised edition would do well.
          I think a shorter guide just to niche perfumes would be a hard sell to most mainstream publishers, though, especially these days.

    • I adore Luca’s opinions and mind, I think he’s smart as hell and interesting. I don’t always agree with the snark, but, as you say, and I completely agree, he’s not my bitch. 🙂

      Do you really think there are less good things out there in new releases? There are more of them. If you think that they used to release maybe 100 new perfumes a year, I really don’t think 50 of them were good. Most of them didn’t stick around, so they for sure weren’t masterpieces. I’ve smelled a lot of the old stuff that got shelved from Guerlain. They’re interesting, but I totally get why they were shelved.

      My guess is if 50 perfumes used to be released in a year, less than 10 hung around for years/decades. Now that we are at 1,000, less than 100 for sure will stick around for more than a year or two. If you factor in that 70% of those are in the mass market perfumes, where most of us are not expecting masterpieces, just something new, if we even buy in that market, I doubt if you get even 2% that will last more than a year.

      I think it’s hard looking back, we see all the good ones that stuck around, but we aren’t remembering a lot of the pretty crappy things that disappeared quickly. Add onto that that perfumery with synthetics was in its infancy then, so everything they were doing was new, hadn’t been done. There was a novelty in being first. I mean, I think Shalimar and L’heure Bleue are just crap, seriously. They are just powder and mess, and I despise them personally. I can’t even head fake about admiring them because I can’t imagine on what planet I or anyone wants to smell like powder. That is a baby smell! I don’t want to smell like a baby, I want to smell like a grown woman.

      Okay, I’ve gone and done it now. 🙂

      I think most of us would pay for a book that only reviewed those things that were likely to stick around, and that means doing a book looking back. I love the French Perfume Legends and Roja Dove’s book because they look back and talk about things that stood the test of time.

      But like you, I’m so glad that Luca gave us the time he did with perfume, and if he’s done with it and it doesn’t make him happy to write about it anymore, I wish him all the best, I know he’ll do well no matter what he does.

      • No, those figures were based on absolutely nothing. My point, which wasn’t very well expressed, was that nowadays anyone who wants to review perfumes and at least attempt to keep up with what’s being released has to smell, say, 1000 per year, rather than, say 100. For someone like Luca, who has not only a full-time *real* job, plus a new job in a new country and a relatively new relationship, it must just be too much, particularly when he isn’t finding the quality to be what he feels it should be or had become accustomed to expect. I’m not saying he’s right about the latter, simply that I see the difference between spending x amount of time on a hobby at one point, and xxxx amount of time today. And for those of us who, unlike you blogger guys and critics, are not comped and purchase samples from our own funds, testing this stuff is waaay more expensive than it once was. So it stands to reason that one could become disillusioned pretty quickly when you are spending $3-4-5-7 a pop and smelling a bunch of stuff that makes you not only not want to wear it, but to hurl it against the wall.

      • Oh, and per Francesca’s answer to my question above, the question isn’t whether we dedicated perfumista types would pay for a book of niche reviews, but whether or not it could ever find a publisher. Just because we’d buy it hardly means that it would make a profit.

        • That’s what I meant–a hard sell to a publisher, not a hard sell to the fragrance-addicted.

      • ha ha ha! You *have* gone and done it now, and I’m allowed to laugh, because I like L’Heure Bleu. I guess in Joe’s calculations, it’s my T.Kincaide. 😉 Let’s see if anybody else notices what you buried in all that good thinking .

          • Oh, baby! I SO feel your pain on L’HB. Shalimar not quite so much (as long as it’s extrait or beyond). But L’HB, especially in perfume, is like being trapped in a box of face powder (and not in a good way). La Belle E says I might like it better in a lighter concentration….I dunno.

            Oddly enough, I LOVE L’Origan (though I don’t wear it out much – I get really odd looks when I do). Huh.

            Okay – see what I did here? I took the heat off you – folks can sling and arrow me for awhile! 😉

            xoxox your blasphemous >-)

            • “Extrait or beyond”…lmao…that’s why I love you, baby. And why we won’t kill each other over fleaBay searches. For me, when last I checked, the edp or beyond of Shalimar is a whomp you upside the head Willie Wonka dressed in drag vanilla chloroform mickey that sends me into the beyond.

              There, now who’s taking the heat? 😉

            • Nice try! Actually, once I recovered from the initial blow to my Guerlain-lurving sensibilities I realized that it’s all good. More for moi! Ahahahahahahahaha!!!!!!

        • I saw it and bit my tongue because I figure I’ve been yammering on here quite enough for one day, thank you very much, but it was SOOO HAAARD 😉

        • Oh no, Shelley. Not me. I would seriously cut anyone who compared the masterpiece of L’Heure Bleue to a Kincaide painting. If Patty and Anita don’t want to appreciate what’s good, that’s their own problem. 😀

      • “Trapped in a box of face powder.” LOL! Oh, you guys are wonderful! I’ve gone back and tried my L’HB sample again and again, hoping to love it, to finally get it… but all I get is baby powder. There’s nothing alluring about it – just brings back one step in the baby-diapering process, and recalling the rest of that process (particularly the other scented parts) really doesn’t do my olfactory memory any good. I love the romance ideal of L’HB, but the perfume and image have yet to meet for me.

        • Wow! Powder? From L’Heure Bleue? I get a titch of powder under a huge dose of anise snuggled into some almond. Extrait is amazing!
          OK – I must have mutant skin since I adore L’H B, especially in the heat when the anise predominates. So just send your reject L’H B my way!! (muttering to self – such heresy on this here board. hrmph)

  7. I’m sorry that he doesn’t want to update “The Guide” but I would buy it more (literally as well as figuratively) if he just said he wanted to sell me another volume.

    I mean, he’s a critic. Pick and choose. Architecture critics don’t review everything from Frank Gehry’s latest to the addition to the public library in Ferd, New Jersey. It’s not incumbent upon him to slog through EVERYTHING, and frankly insulting to people working in the industry to sulk off into a corner stating it’s all dreck.

    If that was the case every movie, theater and TV reviewer would immediately retire.

    • I’d buy additional volumes for sure! It think it’s probably smarter to do a paperback edition, like they are doing this year, but do it every 3-5 years or so. I think reviewing for posterity is a lot easier when you are looking back. I’m not sure how big the perfume book market is, though. I suspect it’s getting bigger, and maybe Francesca knows how many units they sold/are selling? I wish it were larger so people could justify investing the kind of time necessary to write and sell enough books to make it work.

      Books, movies, art, all of it, there’s a lot of crap to slog through everwhere, and that’s why I appreciate the critics, they help me get through it, or at least start the sorting.

  8. Sometimes I wonder if it is harder to shut off our nose than our other senses, so we hit overload in a different way. We can close our eyes, refuse to touch, decline to taste, cover our ears…but we can’t stop breathing. And being limbic, there are ranges of response we can’t control/quantify…I’m rambling a bit, but the idea is that I wonder if the potentially unique status of olfactory processing is a factor.

    That, and what Musette said…sometimes, you just need time out. A sabbatical. A cleansing. A chance to approach things from a fresh perspective. Heaven knows *I* feel that way… I’ve been through that twice in my short fascination with perfume, and my fascination is a hobby, without a large audience or employer expecting regular dispatches.

    Joe’s point about the NYT art critic is a valid one, too, when it comes to “professional” critiques…a critic isn’t obligated to respond to everything. OTOH, maybe the dude can’t help it. As our own tendencies to, um, collect perfume experiences show, sometimes curiosity gets the best of us–we become a bit compulsive with our urges to find out what this and that and that smell like. I think anyone who spends an amount of time marching through samples like Sherman through Georgia needs to take some time to just be. Otherwise, it becomes all about *more,* and you lose sight of what *is.*

    I also agree with your point, Patty, about the value in hearing what others’ opinions are, and locating yourself in relation to their thoughts. Good post, btw. 🙂

    • I think there is some of that. We do get nose weary from smelling, but when we are reading/viewing/listening, we are able to sort through more things, I think.

      Doesn’t smell hit a much deeper memory bank in the brain? I’ve always though that smell is the gateway to memory and emotion. I was walking by the empty field going to yoga last week, and whatever is growing wild out there is the same thing I used to smell at this time of year in the ditches in Kansas when I was growing up. When that hit my nose, I felt lik I was 10 again, riding in the back of the pickup (well, we weren’t exactly using car seats back then either) down a Kansas dirt road, with the wind in my hair and my heart totally free and happy.

      I take time off every now and then and just wear my “old” favorites. Sometimes I get weary of testing and trying and need to just be with things I love and know, it helps me reset.

      I’m absolutely fine with Luca taking a break from it for a while or forever, I will miss him. I think my bigger point is there’s a lot of dreck in everything. Hair shampoo is mostly dreck. I’ve only found one shampoo ever that I can use over and over again that my hair never gets tired of. Everything else is just a mess after two uses. Most skin care is overrated and overpriced and just really emollients. Shoes, well. I adore Laboutins, they are works of art, I have three pair, and I wear them maybe 2x a year each. I know Uggs are horrible, but they are the things I wear all winter long on errand and to yoga and the grocery store. Artistically they are crap and look horrible, but I don’t care, they keep my feet warm and are easy to get in and out of.

      • Patty–about that shampoo problem–it’s not the shampoo, it’s the chemicals in the water. Put a filter on your shower or use a clarifying shampoo every few days and you should see a huge difference.

  9. I agree with the above poster who pointed out that there’s no earthly reason why Lucatan have to review every darn fragrance that comes down the pike, and I agree with you, Patty, that there’s no point in bitching about the middlebrow-ness of middlebrow scents. No one’s forcing us to partake of them, although one could argue that we help them out anyway, since the relationship between niche perfume and the downmarket stuff is at times akin to the relationship between haute couture and ready-to-wear: while haute couture makes much less money and has a much smaller clientele, its influence and prestige lend cachet to the mass-market offerings.

    However, I do think that from a business standpoint, the industry is doing itself no favors by cranking out 500 iterations of basically the same fragrance (and I think the numbers bear me out — aren’t sales of high-end niche fragrances doing much better than those of department store scents?). And for those of us who don’t live in NYC, Paris, etc., it sure would be nice to have something interesting to smell in Sephora. Another counterpoint is that some perfume houses that used to put out interesting stuff are now catering more and more to the mass market, and it’s only natural for perfumistas to be disappointed by that turn of events — the problem is less the snapshot of current standards than the ongoing deterioration of standards, i.e. the ever-increasing catering to teenybopper tastes by houses that used to put out perfumes for grownups.

    As for “one man’s art is another man’s dreck,” I’ve really been wondering lately about the concept of perfume as an art form. IS there an objective canon of great perfumes, or is it just too personal and too commercial a field for that? You’re a hopeless philistine for not appreciating Caravaggio or Debussy, but am I just as bad for not “getting” the Guerlain classics?

    • I’m not sure how the niche stuff is doing in relation. I think its sales have been going up, where mass market is flatlining or declining, but I’m not positive on that. I think that was the case a year or so ago.

      Mass market has worked themselves into a problem. People expect something new every year or 2x a year from the big design houses, and they have to put something out. If they go for a completely new fragrance, they have to brand/market it from scratch. If they do a flanker, they cannabalize some of those sales, but they can use the branding they already have, and it probably costs a lot less.

      I don’t envy them the problem, I totally get it from a business perspective. I think the way Cartier and VCA are going is probably the direction they are going to go, Tom Ford and Chanel have been very successful with that model. Launch a high end, niche product with your branding. Don’t spend a ton on marketing, just try to get it placed in mags and catalogues, get samples out, and hope word of mouth makes it successful. If you’ve put a lot less money into the marketing launch, it takes less sales to make it profitable. If you position it right and you’ve made a great perfume, it should be good for years going forward and something you can build on. Unfortunately, that price tag is higher because you have to differentiate by cost and exclusivity.

  10. Oh dear – philistine poster here!! (Give me Back over Debussy any day!)
    I too agree that a critic is not required to review everything – and that I have learnt just as much from those times when I disagreed with Turin & Sanchez as when I agreed.

    But I can also relate to becoming jaded – once I smelled vintage Shalimar, I was saddened by what we are losing with all these reformulations – wonder if that is part of it for the critics?

    But I haven’t lost the love! I almost swooned when I walked by the Chanel counter at my local Nordstrom and there was the entire line of Les Exclusifs right in my back yard – bye bye budget!
    OK, they aren’t all new this year but there is still beauty being made out there!! And selling very well according to my Chanel lady so there is hope for what we like to call the masses.

    • I’d rather have Mozart than either Bach or Debussy… but given my druthers, I’d take all three (plus Chopin) in place of Justin Timberlake.

      And that’s tangential to the discussion underway today, too, isn’t it? – most of us here want bone china instead of styrofoam coffee cups. Yet there’s a time/place for styrofoam. Aw dang. I’m getting incoherent.

      • nope – totally coherent and your analogy is excellent and makes the point. I hate styro cups and only use them under the direst of circumstances. But hey, if they work for you, go for it! Same with perfumes. And I also want to hear opinions about why styro is or isn’t better or worse….. again, same with perfumes. I actually WANT the dissenting opinions please! It’s how I learn so much from everyone here. But is like Luca Turin you aren’t into any more – then I say move on to what makes you happy and thanks many times over for what the contributions to date.

      • As a dance fanatic, I would take Justin Timberlake *and* Mozart, Chopin, Bach, Debussy. I don’t think that the choice is between styrofoam and bone, but rather apples and oranges. Fred Astaire thought that Michael Jackson was the bees knees.

      • Hey, I picked Debussy only because Bach and Mozart seemed too obvious! No one has taken issue with Caravaggio, though…

    • I think it gets harder to have your skirt blown up, but it can still be done. It’s just the risk we all run with having a big perfume smellcabulary, we have a lot to compare to and more to have it come up wanting against.

  11. Bravissima, Patty! Very well said. I think poor LT must pretty burned out by now! I agree with several of the other commenters – they don’t have to review everything! That would be like a film critic watching every straight-to-video release. I do appreciate a lot of perfumes that are simply not meant to be great works of art, they are just plain fun. (The entire CSP line comes to mind.)

    I do find some of the Guide ratings very puzzling – Sisley Soir de Lune gets ONE star yet Angel is a masterpiece? Really??

    • Well, I’m thinking if I smelled some of the mass market releases that he did, I might feel the same way, but I can happily ignore most of them and just occasionally dip my toe in that water if I hear good things about one. of them!

  12. Adding this: you *do* have to smell a lot of fragrances to review even a handful, because you never know what will seem worthwhile to cover — you might find something great in a mainstream, obscure or unexpected line, there’s no rule about this game. Also, the very principle of The Guide was pretty democratic as far as which brands were covered. Unlike bloggers, who pick their fights and darlings, LT and TS *did* aim for a very comprehensive coverage, and that does mean smelling several fragrances a week for very little financial return (for the newsletter at least), with a day job to boot.

    • Agree. They have been much more Democratic than I have been. I probably smell twice or 3x as many perfumes as I comment on. So many I just don’t have any feeling about good or bad, just have nothing to say at all.

  13. Great post, Patty.

    Youse guys have already commented on many of my reactions.

    Just adding that I suspect that LT had more reasons to not continue with the Guide work than nose fatigue. He has tended to move from project to project, and does what pulls him most at the moment. No More Guide is consistent with this pattern-but might change at some point.

    I enjoyed the Guide as bedtime fluff, and a bit more. But with the availability of really good online reviews of new and older scents, I have no need for any guidance in what to sniff.

    • Right on, Louise! (And Patty, too – great post!) I lurv Luca, but I think it’s rather well known by this point that he’s, well, difficult, and moves on to a similar but different project when he’s peed off at everybody – usually after having a tantrum. I am delighted he came out with Perfumes: The Guide, but I survived the period between the beginning of my perfume obsession, when I slogged through his original guide in French, and the release of the LT/TS version. I bought all the newsletters and will continue to read any writing on perfume that he does – I think the guy’s a genius – but I am not suddenly in despair about all the crap that’s out there. I was well aware of the crap before. As Tom said, if you’re a critic, it’s your job. I haven’t heard A.O.Scott, or for that matter Chandler Burr, grousing about it. If the job doesn’t pay, man, and you and your wife are bored, move on.

      • Perhaps he has decided to move on because people who don’t actually know him or all of the pertinent facts behind his decisions apparently feel quite free to characterize his behavior as “difficult” and his strongly-held opinions as “tantrums”. Or perhaps not. We don’t really know anything other than what he says, which is that he believes that there is too much inferior product out there and that he doesn’t enjoy reviewing it any more as a result.

        A.O. Scott and Chandler Burr aren’t grousing about their jobs because they’d be fired, and one assumes that, in this day of failing newspapers and cut-backs, they enjoy feeding themselves and their families. LT has to answer to M.I.T, but not about whether or not he feels inclined to continue review perfumes as a sideline.

        So, to sum up, Luca has lost his passion for reviewing perfumes, Luca has every right to grouse about it, and Luca doesn’t need our permission in order to change his mind about what he wants to do, either for a living or for fun.

        • Whoa carter, there’s no need to get worked up! I think Luca himself might say that it’s difficult to work with him. Chandler Burr certainly wrote that it was and he spent a year with him. Given his history, it’s plain fact that he’s moved from project to project – as he’s entitled to do. And I wrote that. I appreciate very much what he has done, I love his writing and wish him the best with the biophysical side of his life. He is not my bitch. He owes me nothing. But somebody’s personality affects their decisions, and it’s perfectly reasonable to speculate what is motivating him. He put himself and his work out there to be judged.

          • I meant “his job in biophysics” of course. I’m sure the biophysical side of his life is just fine 🙂

          • Gotcha! I thought what you had said was that he moved from job to job because he couldn’t get along or always have his way, rather more like a child that a serious professional. My bad.

            • Well, when you consent to have many personal as well as professional parts of your life turned into a book, as with “The Emperor Scent”, then you could argue that you’re putting your life and ideas out there for judging, too. And if people knew personal details about, say, A.O.Scott again, they would get talked about, as well. Being brilliant doesn’t protect your privacy – especially if you have not guarded it particularly assiduously. I’m not faulting him for that, by the way – not being the invisible man. I like knowing where the writing comes from…

              • So what you are saying is that you like to be able to base your opinion of LT’s opinion of fragrance on what Chandler Burr and others believe to be true about the man? Interesting. Well, whatever works!

                • Indeed. Though I hate to be a cynic, it works about as well as believing what one guy says about himself, I would venture.

    • I can relate. I tend to move on a lot with different things or they move to different phases. I’m not nearly as swoony about perfume as I was three years ago. I still love it, I’m probably less critical about it because I know it takes a lot of work to create something, even a bad something. I’m probably way less critical of Luca’s opinions than I was too. More of a, yeah, sure, why not, but I’m just not agreeing with him sometimes thing.

      Lola, however, is swill, and I am intent on beating that nasty thing up for the rest of the year. It deserves to die. 🙂

      • Oh man, I move on really often. It’s the “P” part of my Myers-Briggs type, the part that prefers a work-in-progress, that flees from the complications of maintaining a project. I’m difficult, me. 🙂 It means though, too, that I can appreciate the dedication it takes to come up with blog posts for three years, or run a successful business (or businesses!) like you do.

        • Well, my business head knows how to set things up so they can run on autopilot, then I can move on to the next thing that interests me.

          I’ve felt really fortunate in my life that I’ve been able to try my hand at most of the things that interested me in some way. I have no perfuming ability at all, but I like writing about them. Some days are way harder than others just to come up with a topic!

          That’s the grind of anything, doing it on the days when you really don’t feel like it.

  14. I agree with everything you said. I’ve enjoyed the Guide enourmously eben though we differ on some issues. But it’s fun to read, it’s informative and I still find new things in there to try. But maybe they (or just Luca T) need some time off. I wouldn’t want to think that sometime in the future I’ll need a permanent break (very scary thought) 🙂

    • I think going through big projects, sometimes when they come to an end, maybe you just feel like moving on? I mean, that makes sense to me. I’m really sorta surprised that we are still writing about perfume here after three years. Yikes!!!

  15. I LOVE this post! My perfume obsession is running at full-tilt at the moment. It took my years to amp up what was merely a keen interest into a complete and utter obsession and it makes me very very happy to be living this way! That being said……my husband owns a “Record Store” (well….that’s what we used to call them, remember?) and for as long as I’ve known him ( 22 years) music has been an obsession for him. He has a mental catalog of artists and albums and sales record and concert dates. He was always thinking music. He knew what song was playing on the radio within in Name That Tune-like time. Lately,, that’s all changed. “It’s all crap!” he’ll proclaim when one of our pre-teen daughters begs for a disc to be brought home to her. “There is no good music anymore” he laments. If I ask him what new releases are making their way to the store this week he says he’ll check his list…..he no longer is interested enough to wait with baited breath like before. It’s Oldies stations or Sport Talk in the car during road trips. Ask him what’s playing on Top 40 and he’s clueless. He claims they all sound the same. It makes me a little sad because I still like some of today’s music……it’s Daisy perfume to me……nothing staggering but pleasant enough. But to him……the Golden Days are over and everything is commercial dreck. I tease him and tell him that a hallmark of aging is hitting the “I don’t understand young people and their music today” wall that everyone eventually reaches but his sadness over the decline is more than that….. it is disgust over the ready acceptance of Average and Below Average that seems to have happened while noone ( or almost noone) was paying attention.
    I am not looking forward to the day when my nose decides the same.

    • Yes. But I don’t think that it’s merely a function of growing older, although that is definitely a factor. As with the perfume market, the choices we have and the immediate access to them is very different now — it is at a level that we could never have imagined even 15 years ago. Online buying has exploded the market for everything, and the producers and consumers of goods and services have gone somewhat mad as a result. It stands to reason that with everyone and his brother (or sister) getting into the act, the level of quality is going to go down, and that goes for the arts, too, and separating the wheat from the chaff becomes more and more difficult every day.

    • Weirdly enough, I keep finding new music I like. I remember my parents telling us the stuff we liked was just crap, and they were right about a lot of it. 🙂 I mean, Seasons in the Sun was a huge hit, and it was utter crap.

      I find some rap I like, some punk, lots of alternative. It’s harder to sort through, but I think once you appreciate music, if you keep your mind open, you can always find something new that you can like, even if it’s not the same level of love.

    • Your husband sounds a bit like the narrator in Nick Hornby’s “High Fidelity”. There does seem to be a link between musical preferences and age — a big portion of peoples’ musical tastes are formed in the teens to late twenties, along with slang and other vocabulary. (Will try to refrain from saying, “Freak me out!”)

      Here’s hoping that the perfume-smelling part of the brain is different from the music-listening part of the brain and our noses keep developing new scents. It’s fascinating how personal, not to say emotional scents, are. From an emotional aspect then there is no right or wrong. Vetiver for instance smells to me like citronella and I will never wear anything reminding me of bug-repellent, no matter how well-crafted.

      My main complaint about the tsunami of new perfumes is that so many smell like one other and are utterly interchangeable. That aspect can be seen as either timidity or contempt for customers on the part of the companies.

  16. Thanks for such a thought-provoking post. I don’t blame Luca for tiring of an endeavor that, as Denyse points out, brings in little money for seemingly so little satisfaction. As for his statements about dreck and ineptness? Well, 1500 out of 2000 is a hard number for me to fathom in a short period, but I certainly walk right past 15 out of 20 in a typical sniffing trip at a high-end department store.

    That said, as a critic, one needs to wade through mainstream to high-end, and to sample the good, the bad and the occasional masterpiece. I appreciate the bloggers who can find merit in a mainstream fragrance along with the niche and the bank account-busting upscale. We can live without the updates and I’m sure that Luca will find other ways to contribute to the field.

    • I know I weed out a lot quickly, but I’m not sure I think they’re inept. I think they just don’t suit me or weren’t really targeted to me.

      If forced or felt like I had to sniff a lot of mass market and designer stuff that I ignore, I might be singing a different tune, but I wouldn’t ever agree to do that because I know how it would impact me and my opinions.

  17. I still look up LT’s old blog and will miss the Guide updates, no question about that, but when a passion becomes a commercial project, it has to make commercial sense. Does anyone know how many copies of the Guide were sold ? Just out of curiosity.
    Great post Patty and great comments too.

    • Silvia, I don’t know how many copies were sold. I assume a decent enough number that they are going to do the update.

  18. I think I would be disheartened too if I felt I had sniffed, well, PRACTICALLY EVERYTHING. Where do you go from there?

    Additionally, I tallied up some of the 700 releases from last year and found that about 178 piqued my interest and I found “worth sniffing” and only about 80 of those I actually LIKED or would wear again.

    • 178 out of 700 is pretty good! That’s like 20% on the try list. I’m sure I try that many, maybe like half of what is released, maybe, but a lot of those I just don’t have much interest in.

    • Okay, you two are talking, and I stand impressed by your ability to keep tabs, KV. In my perfect world, I am able to do that on demand, but otherwise pay no attention to it. Unfortunately, I’m not so good at the maintenance on that kind of project…kind of like Erin T referred to earlier…though I don’t know if I’m ENTJ or PRIM or DOPE or what. 🙂

      I do know I weeded out a lot of chaff just by reading bloggery, then had fun exploring more than my official spreadsheet might reflect. I’ll forever be “catching up” anyway, so the paying attention to “this year” vs “previous years” gets mushy…and “vintage” can be a mutating concept, too…

  19. I’m not sure. Luca/Tania got me started in investigating perfume, and they did it both by their wit and by their passion. That made their guide compelling to me. They were committed to perfume, to minimal standards of quality, to telling it as they saw it; but they did it with intelligence and they made it clear that they cared deeply. His use of “inept” is an illustration of that passion, and it doesn’t bother me in the least. And given that emotional involvement, I can see that one might get exhausted with the process.

    I don’t buy the “it’s all just a matter of taste” argument. Clearly there’s well-made and there’s sloppy. We’re free to argue about criteria and all that, and we disagree on specific examples, but it’s just not true that everything is equally competent. Mozart really was better than Salieri.

    The typical guy or gal who wants into Macys and wants to quickly buy something acceptable is certainly within his or her rights. But I think it’s true that some companies out there are trying to exploit them, designing perfumes that play to their weakness: a charming but not too exotic top note, for example, that might be all they smell before they buy.

    Of course, anyone reviewing masses of examples of anything comes to value novelty. If it smells different in a significant way, then at least it’s not boring.

    I hope Luca and Tania do decide to put out occasional updated versions of their guide. And I also hope that bloggers everywhere will continue to argue with them.

    • F, I think it’s likely they’ll do updates – maybe just not as often or as comprehensive as we’d like. I think we only want the guy to write when he’s feeling enthusiastic and like he has something to share. I completely understand stopping the updates if they take up too much of his time and he is not adequately compensated for them. But he wrote his awesome blog for free – and hey, we’re not supposed to mention this, but he got a wife and writing partner out of doing it, so surely the writing part of his life is not without its compensations.

    • No, I don’t think it’s all taste, there are a lot of things that are poorly made. Not always because of the perfumer’s talent, or it may be, but perhaps because of the budget and guidelines they were given.

      but I think people will disagree on inept. I thought the B never things were completely inept as perfumes, perfect as Lush-type scents for body products or shampoos. Luca loved them. I completely disagree with him on that. So I’ll assign it to his personal likes, that something about those scents or how they were made or who made them appealed to him. I think they were inept from my vantage point, and I suspect he completely disagrees with me on that.

      I freely admit that I am biased to like anything by MDCI because I like Claude so much. It helps that most everything he does is made well, even if it’s not always or ever ground-breaking.

      so, yeah, there are probably some perfumes many of us could agree on were inept, but I don’t hold a new Antonio Banderas drugstore scent to even remotely the same standard for quality materials as I do MDCI or Guerlain. So it may smell cheaper, and I may not care for it, but it may be made as well as it could be with the budget they were given. Is that inept?

        • Exactly!

          That’s my whole point in this post! We could have summed it up in one sentence. If the perfumer has done their best with the budget they have been given and produced a perfume for a market that will probably like it, it may be made with inferior ingredients to the way perfumes should be made, if money were no concern, but I wouldn’t describe them as inept.

          Now, for me, when a company has complete control over the cost and can set the price point they sell at, pick the perfumer, the sketch that is approved and what they produce, like MDCI or B Never 2 Bewhateverwhatever, they bear the full blame or kudos.

          Not all perfumes are superior. if they were, there would be no such thing as superior. It’s like that joy/sadness thing. You would never know or fully appreciate the joy of inhaling vintage Mitsouko parfum if you had not sniffed a lot of Paris Hiltons on the way.

  20. Good post. I remember Gaiman’s post on how readers didn’t own him, and am amused that made its way to Basenotes. [Neil, does this mean you won’t be writing any more Holmes/Lovecraft pastiche? Would you if we got Amanda to ask you? Pleeeeeeeese???]

    I’m not a total fume obsessive, and at heart I still want to smell good (even if good = wood fire or tobacco or Mitsouko, which scares some people).

    But I totally get the “gems have lost their luster” feeling and don’t know what the remedy is for that but time. About 2 years ago I started having a LOT of trouble with the music, poetry and literature I’d always loved. All seemed flat, dry, tasteless. I got into fumes, took a lot of walks, got into some other things. The fog started to lift…but it was definitely about me. Maybe LT needs some time off and a lot of birdwatching hikes?

    • Oh, the Gaiman post was more recent, not found on Basenotes, but he was talking about George R.R. Martin, who is long overdue to get another book out in his series, and people are getting really crabby about it as Martin goes and does other projects and attends conventions, and isn’t working on the book we want him to finish and get in our hands.

      And he’s absolutely right. We only get to judge what is put in our hands to judge. We can’t want things to be a certain way or expect an author, beauty company or artist to produce “our” masterpiece. If we aren’t liking much of what is being produced, it may be that quality is declining, and probably is in some areas, but there is better quality than in the past in some areas. I figure it yin/yangs out somehow. 🙂

  21. I totally agree with Louise’s first comment up there. Patty, thanks for a concise painting of who buys what and where we fit into things. There have been some heated discussions on Basenotes regarding the modern market, and I’m constantly surprised at how many people are truly angered by what’s coming out now. There are so many things in this world to be outraged about, to be proactive about and direct our energy towards, why allow yourself to get so upset about perfume? You guys said it best, if you start taking this too seriously….:)

    I like reformulated Caron, and I like certain department store offerings, too. That being said, I tried a ‘fume yesterday that was so bad it could have potentially out me off perfume forever! I had to take an alcohol-soaked cotton ball to it at the end of the day to rid myself of it. I actually felt like I had missed out on something because I chose to wear this when I could have worn one of my fbs. I sort of got the disgust– it is from a venerable house, but literally smelled of sacharrine to me (or maybe Nutra-sweet? Aspartame?). It had absolutely no development. I pictured a mid-20s, rich, trendy urban-dwelling non-perfumista wearing this with pride. I thought of two more dept. store ‘fumes right off the top that smell very similar. And I, too, realised how much of it is all about competition.

    Vintage Tabac Blond is my daily ebay check. 🙂

    • I like reformulated Carons too. I don’t know when they were reformulated and how many compounds they had to ditch to be in compliance, but I think most of them are fine.

      What in the world did you smell? I need to know what it was.

  22. Someone once told me that if I received my Ph.D. in Literature, I would never be able to read a book again. That thought ran through my head many times when I read and/or listened to Luca Turin’s opinions on fragrances. When you’re as stupid-smart as he is, the bar is usually unattainable.

    Perfume is like anything else one chooses to immerse one’s self in. If you’re hardcore, of course there is going to be a lot of “dreck”. But, the beauty of it is that it is always subjective dreck. Like literature. I know plenty of literature profs who read all the formulaic science fiction, etc. I’d rather read good fiction and watch trashy reality shows. To each is own.

    • Yup, I still love me some formula reading from time to time. But I do think once something becomes your work, it is easy to become more critical of what is out there and being produced. You want the best for an industry you love.

  23. OK, let me try posting this again–evidently it got dumped the first time….
    I’m going to take issue with that opening statement: perfume houses are very squarely in the pocket of their consumers. Most perfume houses are owned by conglomerates, who outsource the creation of the juice to other conglomerates, so it’s in their collective best interest to make something that sells well. You as a consumer form part of a trend, and it’s the trends that the perfume houses follow, hoping to end up in the $$$. You can blame the ignorance of the perfume-buying masses for the proliferation of the marine/fruityfloral/pinkpepper/clean/roseberrypatch trends in perfuming. Niche houses may arguably be more interested in the artistry of their products, but it also comes down to the bottom line for them too (hence the Gobin-Daude tragedy). To ignore your customer means death in the retail world, all artistic ideals aside.
    I like to use my patented gun analogy when discussing the state of modern consumerism: modern businesses pepper the field with their products much like machine guns. Machine guns are inherently good at shooting while requiring less skill; bullets are cheaper than highly trained marksmen with good rifles. Most modern industries have embraced the machine gun mentality: get as many products out as possible while keeping them as cheap as possible. Quality, durability, artistry, individuality all end up falling by the wayside becuase, in the end, it doesn’t matter how good the product is if you can’t sell it. I’m willing to believe that the majority of perspective perfume buyers are, as you rightly mention, uninformed, and since they’re not looking for art in a bottle, any old cheap thing will do. Isn’t just unfortunate that mentality has proliferated into almost every aspect of modern life, being driven by corporate profits?

    • You know, I think people like what they like. Clearly if this wasn’t working, we’d be seeing changes.

      I’ve never lamented the lack of taste in people because I really find that to be exclusionary, saying that if people just appreciated the finer things, we’d get finer things for everyone, which would also cost a lot more. That’s just not reality. A lot of people’s budget won’t allow for more than a $14.99 bottle of perfume 1x or 2x a year. That’s a luxury for them, but it makes them happy, and it smells good to them because they haven’t been exposed to anything else. I think that’s great!

      People’s taste and likes are what they are, and I think industry should serve all of us and not insist that we all want things to be the best. There’s a lot of room for lousy and mediocre in the world. It makes us appreciate what is really good all the more.

      • Of course the consequence is that the the bar gets set lower and lower every time there’s a sucessful product down market, and products that require actual work and quality materials get phased out. For example, once upon a time couture used to refer to clothes that were made for you, now they’re off the rack and not much better sewn than the stuff you find in your average department store. If you don’t know the difference between a well-constructed seam and some [email protected] serging that’s fine for you, but I prefer my $500 pants not to split at the crotch. I personally think it’s businesses taking adavantage of ignorant customers, not that the consumers themselves aren’t at fault for not bothering to learn anything about the products they buy.

        • I think there is always a market for luxury goods. At that point, though, if the consumer has the cash to buy luxury goods, they should know whether what they’re getting is worth it, like you clearly do.

  24. Wasn’t his previous guide published in 1994? So there was a gap of many years between the guides. I’m totally okay with that – I’d prefer to read something he wrote because he felt like it, not like he was pressured to crank something out.

    As for perfume obsessions, mine has waxed and waned over the years and when I start getting too obsessive, it stops being fun, so I back off for a while. Out of 100 perfumes I’ve smelled this year maybe only 10 were interesting enough to want to purchase, and that’s fine with me.

    • That was the French one? I can’t read French, so I missed it! I think once every ten years is a good goal.

      I think finding less to love has been good for my budget. 🙂

  25. So much food for thought here, but my favorite line of all is “Luca Turin is not your bitch.” I’m waiting for Tania to pop in and say, “Actually, Luca Turin IS my bitch!”

  26. I get a little (okay, a lot!) steamed when people earnestly profess to be artists, but then go about creating and selling something that is clearly less than art. This is doubly true when the art in question is supposed to be a luxury item, thereby supposedly eliminating some of the constraints that the artist is supposed to be under (i.e. budget, lack of resources). I’m not saying that you can’t make something beautiful using low-quality materials in 2 weeks, I’m saying that, in what is still a luxury market (you certainly don’t need perfume to survive, despite what some of us perfumistas may think :O ), that should not be the norm.

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