The first thing you need to know before you read this review is what I thought of the two earlier perfume-review books by these authors: I own both, frequently refer to them, and occasionally read them for fun and enjoyment, finding the snarky reviews as naughtily delightful as the lyrical ones are angelically so. My early forays into perfume sampling were in some cases guided by Perfumes: The Guide, with mixed results. I would never have ordered a sample of Parfums de Nicolai Le Temps d’une Fete – which has been on my Top Three All-Time list ever since – without reading Dr. Turin’s description of it as being “something close to perfection, rich, radiant, solid”. On the other hand, I’m not quite ready to forgive him for the rave review of S Perfumes 100% Love, which I hated. And I’m not even going to talk about Secretions Magnifiques, which positive review had any number of perfume fans preparing to come after him in a mob bearing torches and pitchforks. Suffice it to say that as a strict guide to perfume choice, the earlier books were as controversial as they were helpful. I’m writing this book review from the perspective of one familiar with the authors’ earlier works, as it’s my belief that most of my blog readers will also be familiar with them.
If, by some chance, readers are not familiar with the authors and/or their previously published fragrance review books, here are a few facts: Dr. Luca Turin has a PhD in biophysics, has spent many years studying olfactory science, and authored The Secret of Scent. Tania Sanchez is a writer and perfume aficionado well-known for her reviews on MakeupAlley. The two are married. For more information, please read this interview with the authors on Now Smell This, dating back to shortly after the first edition of Perfumes: The Guide was published in 2008.
The new, hardcover book is slender and handsome, measuring about 8 ¼” by 4 ¾”, with an attractive black dust jacket embellished with white. The endpapers are bright pink, an elegant 1950s-retro color combination that makes me, for one, smile. The book is 107 pages long, including indices, and includes the following features:
Authors’ Note states that they “judge formula changes based on side-by-side tests of previous years’ bottles and new samples, direct from the firms whenever possible.”
A new Foreword by Tania Sanchez points out that “the fragrances reviewed in this book are not the greatest of all time – instead, they are those that struck us as far above their peers in quality, inventiveness, or straightforward beauty when we surveyed nearly 1900 during the writing of Perfumes: The A-Z guide,” and also that this smaller book eliminates the one-line, snarky reviews for which the authors caught so much ire in earlier editions. (The two-word review for Paris Hilton’s Can Can comes to mind here: “Can it.”) I’m glad to see that the reviews that remain are all thoughtful, well-expressed, and darned helpful if you are trying to place a fragrance along the timeline of historical development, or trying to figure out its structure.
The bulk of the book is, of course, the Perfume Reviews. Essentially, this book is comprised of the five-star reviews from the earlier, lengthier editions, with updates for the 2011 version of those fragrances wherever e possible. Some of these fragrances – usually due to IFRA restrictions on raw materials – are no longer the works of magnificence that the authors felt that they were in 2007. Many of the reformulated scents, about 40%, have 2011 updates. I’ll list a few for you here: Guerlain Apres l’Ondee, Chanel Bois des Iles, Chanel Cristalle, Dior Diorella, Robert Piguet Fracas, Guerlain Habit Rouge, Jean Patou Joy parfum, Chanel No. 5 edt and parfum, Yves St. Laurent Opium, Dior Poison Guerlain Shalimar, Caron Le Troisieme Homme. Nearly all the reviews for fragrances known as “classics” do have updates. I was extremely pleased to see – finally! – a dissenting opinion from Ms. Sanchez following Dr. Turin’s rave review of Etat Libre d’Orange’s divisive scent Secretions Magnifiques. I’ll quote that one for you here (and only that one update, since I don’t want to discourage sales to curious people).
[Secretions Magnifiques] 2011: Smells exactly the same. For the record, there always should have been a dissenting view from me on this one: one star, absolutely revolting, like a drop of J’Adore on an oyster you know you shouldn’t eat. Whatever you do, do not allow any to touch your nose when you smell it off a paper strip. I know Luca is a convincing proselytizer, but trust me.
(Amen, sister. Not for nothing is this fragrance generally known among my perfumista friends as Secretions Gagnifiques…)
The authors also note that some of their chosen fragrances have now been discontinued, such as Theo Fennell Scent and L’Artisan Vanilia. Further, the few already-discontinued scents reviewed in the original, such as Le Feu d’Issey and Yohji Homme, are noted as still being discontinued.
Following the reviews, there is a section written by Luca Turin on the Osmotheque, the only perfume museum in the world. It stores and displays discontinued fragrances of “artistic significance,” and allows visitors to smell samples of these otherwise-unavailable joys. The Osmotheque was founded by perfumer Jean Kerleo and is currently directed by Patricia de Nicolai (who created my dear darling Le Temps d’une Fete, included in The Hundred Classics). Dr. Turin suggests that the Osmotheque should sell their reconstructed beauties, with “no reference to the original name, compounded according to the proper formula. The aficion will know its own. Label each bottle with a skull and crossbones and the warning ‘Do not put on skin’ to avoid IFRA trouble. Maybe if they did this they would shame the brands into reintroducing classic fragrances. I’m not holding my breath, not least because I need to sniff my strip of Iris Gris.” I agree. I do love my 1970s Coty Emeraude parfum de toilette, but I’m sure the recreation of the original parfum would put it to shame.
The Osmotheque section includes reviews of four scents only smellable in original (recreated) form at the museum: Coty L’Origan, Coty Chypre, Coty Emeraude, and Jacques Fath Iris Gris. I’d love to compare the Osmotheque’s version of Coty Chypre (not, you understand, the 1980s eau de toilette rerelease, which is pleasant enough) to my DSH Perfumes version of Chypre, which takes my breath away. And Dr. Turin also touches on the reason I love Emeraude so much: “the two halves of the fragrance [minty-fresh topnotes and lavish oriental accord] are so carefully welded together that they form a single deep saturated, transparent hue, not so much an emerald as the name would suggest, more the green starboard light of a ship gliding by in the dark.” I’d have put it more simply: to me, Emeraude smells like itself, top to bottom, all the way through. You can remark on its similarity to Shalimar, but Emeraude does not smell like Shalimar, it smells like Emeraude – a warm, smiling, bosomy presence, plush but clear.
The section following discusses Sources used by the authors to obtain samples: the Osmotheque, samples sold online, major brands, niche firms, specialty retailers such as Lucky Scent and Aedes de Venustas, department stores, and independent decanters such as The Perfumed Court. The authors also recommend, for perfumery raw materials, exploratory kits from The Perfumer’s Apprentice.
The last few pages are made up of a Glossary, Top Ten Lists, and an Index of Brands (fragrances listed by perfume house). These should look familiar to you if you’ve read the earlier books, except that I don’t remember seeing the “Desert Island” lists of each author before, and that was a fun read.
As I mentioned before in the “book review coming” post, I very much doubt that anyone who owns either of the two previous books will find it necessary to own this one as well. The material in it that you haven’t read before is good stuff, from Foreword to updates to Desert Island lists. However, if you haunt the perfume blogs as I do, you probably already know that, for example, Diorella has been messed with recently, as have most of the classic Dior fragrances – and not for the better (except perhaps Poison, which probably needed to go on a diet, at least by my standards). You probably already know that IFRA has forced changes to the classic Chanels, and although they seem thinner and lack the lovely sandalwood of yore, the reformulations are still in the spirit of the earlier fragrances. You probably already know that Guerlain’s reformulations of their classics are uneven, with a few smelling slightly better these days due to a rebalancing of the formula, a few fragrances noticeably different but still very good, and a few having had the soul stripped from them.
I’d love to keep this book, but I have plans for it: I’m giving it to my local library. That’s my advice for those of you who are still wondering whether you need a copy: buy one (or two, or four), skim it lightly for the new bits, and then give it as a gift to people who are completely nonplussed as to why you love perfume. Buy a copy for your local library – or for your favorite sales associate, if you are so lucky as to have one of those. It’s short enough to be a quick and entertaining read even for people who have little interest in fragrance, and compelling enough to, perhaps, change that.
Not to mention, I want to encourage supporting people who write about perfume for a living. The book is fairly inexpensive, at $18.00 retail and $12.24 at Amazon. It will be released on October 27, 2011, exactly a week from today, and it is possible to preorder it. (Please note, if you go to Amazon, the associated reviews are actually for Perfumes: the A-Z Guide, which confused me momentarily.) A publicity copy was provided to me for review from Viking, free of charge. Please note: Reader Nina clarifies for us that authors receive better royalties when books are purchased from independent booksellers than they get when we order from Amazon (and, presumably, other online sellers). Keep that in mind when making a decision to buy books.
Also see Dimitri’s review of The Little Book of Perfumes at Sorcery of Scent. (I love his blog pictures.) Book image from Viking.