Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Perfumes: The Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez- A Book Review


The amount of mental energy I've spent over the last three weeks deliberating if I should review the book or not, could have been spent on something far more productive or inspiring. Like catching up on email or organizing my shoes by color. At first, even before actually buying the book, just from being aware of the concept and reading the marketing hype, I already knew (more or less) what to expect and have concluded that while I was certainly interested to read it, it was not "A definitive guide to the world of perfume" (direct quote of the back cover). It's a book of opinions about scents. How is it different than any of the major perfume blogs?

The answer to that is approximately $20. That's what you pay for the book (if you're a B&N member), while we, bloggers, give our opinion for free.

My original suspicion was correct. There's no way one could refer to this book as a definite guide to anything but the authors' tastes and preferences. While Dr. Turin is highly educated in the science and structure of perfume, and Ms. Sanchez has obviously smelled her way around the block, in the end of the day, their reviews are not a perfume encyclopedia. I had a little chat about it with Marina of Perfume Smellin' Things, where I told her that I'd just as much be happy to read a book that collected the best reviews by a bunch of bloggers. Now that I think of it, such a book could be extremely fun to read, and probably very educating, considering the different angles and perspective we all bring to the table.

Entertaining is a key word here. The book is a fun read, full of quips and at its best, razor-sharp observations. At its lower points, the snark crosses into personal insults. I'm not one of those who took offense when some of my favorite scents (Miel de Bois and Mechant Loup) got panned just as I didn't gloat or feel especially validated when scents I dislike were dismissed (save for one little moment of schadenfreude at the expense of D&G Light Blue and Donna Karan's Cashmere Mist, two bestsellers that have never worked on my skin). I would probably have been less amused had my two favorite perfumers, Andy Tauer and Vero Kern, and their creations, received a similar treatment to the one poor Mona di Orio got. But how seriously can you take a bad review from the people who wrote odes to Tommy Girl, Beyond Paradise and the barfalicious Missoni? All I can say is that MdO Carnation, which I have always liked, was just bumped several notches up in my "to buy" list. I wish the authors had remembered the difference between a big, cynical company that releases scents created by a committee and tweaked according to focus groups and the work of independent perfumers who put their hearts in their bottles. You can hate the juice, just don't take it out on the artist.

That said, I'm glad that Dr. Turin has made it a point to drag into the spotlight the problem of cheap and sloppy reformulations, like the ones that killed my beloved Lauren and brought down the mighty house of Caron. People still waste money on these perfumes and they need to be aware that the juice is not what it used to be. The companies are trying to cover up and deny, but a credible voice saying that the Emperor is not only naked, but also has a hairy back is what we all needed.

Perfumes: The Guide is available from Amazon and Amazon.uk, as well as from just about every bookseller. I bought my copy at Barnes & Noble.

18 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. I agree with you completely.

    Also posted a short review - check it out if you're interested.

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  3. Gaia,
    Cheers to a most excellent review. A fellow perfumista/blogger and I were just speaking on exactly some of the points you make. I agree with mandypandy, a book compiled by the blogging community would serve as a great alternative to the perfume enthusiast.
    Roxana
    (Who use to wear Lauren during her art school daze.)

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  4. I respect Mr. Turin's ability to pick out hydromethylquinotpronounceable-12 as the ingredient responsible for what I smell as tangerine peel. I like that he's pointing out when a scent has been destroyed by reformulations. I'll even chuckle a bit at the cheap shots against the likes of Paris Hilton. But in the end it's a bunch of opinions.

    Why didn't I know you love Miel de Bois?

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  5. I'm afraid to read it at all, for many reasons.

    I think you're idea is grand as can be. You could call it the Perfume Bible, as that was written by many authors as well. ; )

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  6. Mandy- I won't admit to half the stuff I used to wear as a teenager. Remember that I grew up in the 80s.
    I'm going to check your review. It's always fun to compare notes.

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  7. Always In Style- Thank you. I'm very interested in reading your review.

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  8. Roxana- Thank you so much! It's such a shame what they did to Lauren. I feel a need to haunt eBay and stalk up on old bottles, even though I rarely feel like wearing it nowadays. I just don't want not to have it.

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  9. Tom, I thought you heard the story about my husband reached for his Gris Clair (he wears it as one of his everyday work scents) and instead found himself spraying MdB with abandon. It was a day he took the train and the PATH to the city, and boy, did he get some looks...

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  10. Dain, I'm really starting to think there's some merit to this idea. Of course, anyone trying to figure out Serge from reading both your reviews and mine would end up totally confused, as I think we're polar opposites on his scents, right? But that's exactly the point and the fun in such a project.

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  11. Actually, though I wouldn't say we're exactly scent twins, I believe we enjoy the same ones. You may have me confused with someone else. ; )

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  12. Dain- Sorry I wasn't more clear. I'm pretty sure that when it comes to Serge we are opposites. You didn't like any of my favorites, If I remember correctly.

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  13. I'm surprised no one else mentioned how poorly organized this book was, it's very frustrating to use. The index is arranged by stars, all of the five star fragrances grouped together, and on down to the one star scents.So if you don't know the rating of the fragrance you're looking for you have to wade through the different groupings until you find it. I was disappointed in the book, especially after reading the marvelous book by Chandler Burr about Luca Turin. So many fragrances were left out that I love and including the Paris Hilton/Britney/Mary Kate&Ashley crap was so unnecessary. It seemed there was confusion about the audience this book was intended for, serious perfume fanciers don't need the fragrance Curious reviewed but it would have been very nice to have the Biehl Parfumkunstwerke perfumes included. I give it two stars.

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  14. Barbara- You're right. At first the sloppy organizing didn't bother me too much, because the perfumes are listed alphabetically. But having to remember that Jil Sander no. 4 is listed under No. 4, right before Chanel no. 5 and not under Jil is very annoying.

    As for the choice of which perfumes to skip and which to include, my only guess is that they tried not to position themselves as over-elitists and supposedly gave a fair chance to everyone. But you definitely got a point about serious perfume lovers not buying this to read about the latest Paris Juice. I'd be much happier with more Parfumerie Generale reviews.

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  15. Good review! And thanks for the laugh! "But how seriously can you take a bad review from the people who wrote odes to Tommy Girl, ......" While I'm a Luca fan, his earlier blog rhapsody about TG forced me to sample it. OMG! I was repulsed. Confirming that we may all smell the same thing, but we don't all like the same scents.

    Porcini

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  16. DJ- Thanks! I have a lot of respect for Luca's work, even when I'm wondering what exactly he was smoking while testing some of the scents. Generally, we can't all agree about everything. Occasionally even my scent twin smells or interprets things differently than me.

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  17. Exactly! I know what you mean. I deeply respect Luca Turin - I clamoured to get the book, waited a whole year - and have gone out to try a lot of the perfumes in the book now I have the chance to try whatever page I turn (I have moved to central London)... yet, yet I don't like the feeling that I am so wrong! Am I wrong? Am I? Some I
    just don't agree...I. Just. Don't. I tried! And yet I respect him immensely... argh! I can't stop having this argument in my head. It's this thought process that lead me to your blog...Ah, what an adventure!

    Love your blog btw. All the best, xjmd

    www.winewomansong.com

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  18. The book has something interesting to read indeed, but I was so shocked to see (well, I'm not a professional, but I like perfumes like crazy) that many high-end scent (Tom Ford's line) were rated so low whereas Victoria's Secret sprays get relatively good reviews.... Again, it might be my opinion, but I find it a bit unfair...

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