Friday, March 28, 2008

Perfumes the Guide by Turin and Sanchez: sneak preview and review

The perfume guide being written by odor guru Luca Turin with co-author and his newlywed Tania Sanchez was shrouded in mystery for some time. It has been 15 years since Turin had penned the original, now out-of-print Parfums, Le Guide in French. Since then the eruption of the Internet made English-reading audiences thirsty for his erudition, sporadically catered for through his NZZ Folio column and defunct blog. Finally this new guide is fast approaching. I received my copy in advance and I am in the position to tell you that it is a good read! Perfume Shrine is in fact the first perfume blog to post an actual review of the new Guide.

Although it claims to be “the definitive guide to the world of perfume”, I find that such a task is so monumental in its scope that it might as well be awarded the Everest-climbing seal of effort. It’s simply a Titan feat to accomplish! However, Perfumes the Guide impressed me as being a very pleasurable guide through the opacity of perfume shopping, low on the purple-o-Meter and more importantly one that does not require a former education on the subject while being scientifically elucidating.

How does the book "flow"?
Luca continues to write in his familiar vernacular (references to classical music and sports cars abound) that manages to be witty and caustic most of the time, even if one disagrees, with the admirable trait of laconic delivery. The latter should serve as a lesson to my anal-retentive habit of elaborating on any possible historical minutiae when writing myself.
Tania seems to have also benefited from her stint as editor-cum-muse, not having forgotten her Makeup Alley roots which she credits. Her writing is removed from previous exaggerations and is to the point, sometimes rivaling her prototype in acerbity and realism. They alternatively (identified by initials) take on almost 1500 fragrances -per the book jacket- circulating in department stores, drugstores and niche boutiques today. Something at every price point. The system is easy and relies on a 5 star point scale (from 1 for awful to 5 for masterpiece) ~which is to be expected in any product qualitatively measured these days. Wine appreciation guides as well as cinephile sites have contributed to this system becoming increasingly common. It will do.

The structure of the book is divided into uneven parts:

1. The brief introduction by TS focuses on how perfume is part of culture and criticism is inherent in any art form ~ergo in perfume as well, and everyone should get used to it
2. Essay on how to choose fragrances for oneself and for the occassion
3. Essay on why would men want to wear scent and categories of masculine fragrances with impromptu, fun names like "Lawrence of Arabia" for orientals
4. A brief introduction to the history of modern perfumes' emergence, which to LT is inextricably tied to the rise in synthetics. Somehow like a brick off his previous book but informative.
5. Some answers to frequently asked elementary questions, one of which is the perennial “skin chemistry” affecting fragrances (the short answer is "not really")
6. The reviews, which take the huge bulk of the book in easy to follow alphabetical order
7. A very brief glossary of terms
8. Top ten lists in the categories of: best feminines, best masculines, best cross-gender choices, best picks from floral, chypre and oriental families and the innovatively intelligent best quiet and best loud fragrances; as an epilogue an index by star-rating of all the fragrances reviewed.

What I enjoyed:

~The to-the-point monikers beside the perfumes, instead of general classifications which usually prove so pointless to the reader. Instead the two-word descriptors are uncunningly accurate most of the time. Those range from the merely descriptive (“rasberry vanilla” for Armani Diamonds) to the outright dismissive (“nasty floral” for Bright Crystal by Versace or “fruity death” for Nanette Lepore), through the poetically inclined (“angry rose” for Malle’s Une Rose or “snowy floral” for Pleasures) and the iconically untouchables (“reference vetiver” for Guerlain’s).
I had much fun with the “not X” and “not Y” descriptors besides perfumes which are actually named X or Y something. It is so true, it’s hilarious! It’s refreshing to see that Lauder's Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia gets the “true gardenia” descriptor, because hey, it does smell like it and making it into the best florals category.

~That no perfume is spared based on its former laurels. This is a personal pet peeve of mine, I admit, when reading perfume criticism online; especially on perfume blogs and fora. Too often the illustrious reputation and history of a fragrance earn it a state of grace that is completely undeserved in its present formulation. To their credit, LT and TS dismember each and every one of those old beauties and see just how successful the facelift was: Are there any visible scars? Forehead immovable? Eyes not going beyond the perpetually surprised? Oh, it’s breathing and smiling again, there’s a dear! Or is it terminally confined to Joan-Rivers-land? It’s a great misfortune that the majority belongs to the latter category. Caron fans are in for a bumby landing!

~That two indie perfumers (and people who are trully sweet) received accolades for their work in this tome: Andy Tauer, mainly for his superb L’air du desert marocain (which earned the masterpiece 5-star award, with honorable mentions for Le Maroc, Rêverie and Lonestar Memories). And Vero Kern whose Onda, Kiki and Rubj received each 4 stars. For someone who is mentioned as coming initially from aromatherapy (a no-no obviously in LT’s books), this is not just high praise, it’s being toured round Zeus for the first time ever. Bravo Vero!

~That Luca Turin has relaxed his stance against perfumes that use only natural essences and included creations by Dominique Dubrana, who will be featured on these pages soon. A small step for one man; a huge step for a whole artistic movement.

What I did not like as much:

~The impression that fragrances created by friend perfumers are seemingly described in more raptured tones. The fact that some of those perfumers are actually mentioned as friends leaves a little bit of hesitancy to the reader in ingesting the opinion proferred. Not that I doubt the best possible intentions, mind you.

~The idolatry surrounding most of Sophia Grojsman’s scents down to 100% Love (formely known as the artwork named S-Love). Do I read her referred to as trismegista? I can’t explain why. I trust it does not fall under the previous category. The comparable disparagement of Jean Claude Ellena’s and Olivia Giacobetti's aesthetic with sporadic exceptions.
Celebrity deathmatch indeed of two diametrically antithetical worlds.

~In fact there is a tendency of formed opinion regarding brands more than individual perfumes (By Killian is "good" while Le Labo is "bad", although to me they seem to be equally poseurs). I might attribute that to opinion on the concept of a line, however.

~The glossary provided is very poor in a guide that purpots to be “the definitive” one. Perhaps they meant it as a help through the lingo used throughout the reviews. For the perfume enthusiast it is formulaic and not offering anything new.

In essence (pun intended), Perfumes The Guide is not going the exposé route that Chandler Burr did with his The Perfect Scent and therefore perfume lovers will not find out as many revelations either, but it is an absorbing, very entertaining read that will be referenced from now on on every possible online venue. Rookies especially will have a field day with the latter activity (bound to grate on the nerves of the rest of us). More seasoned perfumephiles can disagree from time to time... Oh and Luca, please drop the Keen fishing sandals over socks.

Perfumes the Guide is officially coming out on April 10. You can preorder it clicking Perfumes: The Guide

Pic of book jacket courtesy of Amazon, pic of LT and TS courtesy of the perfume pilgrim. Pic from the Terry Gilliam 1985 film Brazil courtesy of


  1. Hi Helg, thanks for your great review! I am looking forward to read the book, though it probably won't affect my opinions too much I hope to find some background infos in it.

  2. You're very welcome Elysium, thanks!
    It's an entertaining read to be sure and does provide a good timeline of some reformulations of classics (if only there was a way to actually tautologise specific vintage with specific bottle batches, we would all die happy)

  3. God love you, girl.
    Thoroughly candid, which I SO appreciate.

    The 'Brazil" photo is a jewel- one of DH's favorite films of all time, and mine.

    The man is surely an original.
    I'd love to be his brainworm, some time....

    Please, take better care of yourself, Hellenic honey.

  4. Thank you, Helg! A wonderful review. I look forward to reading the Guide and seeing where/how/if I agree with you!


  5. Thank you dear I for all your wishes and kind words.
    I love Brazil too and that photo in particular I always found to be prophetic ;-)

  6. You're very welcome, dear J and thank you for your compliment.
    I'd be interested in your impressions when you do!

  7. Can't wait to get my hands on this! I wonder which one's I will agree with and disagree with (actually you already mentioned one). Thanks for the preview.

  8. Anonymous15:37

    Thank you for the preliminary review! Look foreward to the book, since I find Turin's vibration theory of olfaktion interesting, and like his writing in his at times highly subjective reviews of perfumes. By coincidence, I also belong to the lovers of Brazil! Nice, and reveiling (of a kind of madness), picture! :)

  9. Thanks for the review Helg. I have to say I cannot agree with you though when you say that especially perfume blogs and fora do not comment on new formulations of classic, laurel-covered fragrances. In fact, I do not understand what you mean by that? If there are places where people criticize and question reformulations, it is in these venues. Where else could you find discussions about these topics? I mean if I remember correctly you even called attention to my mentioning lousy Guerlain reformulations and many people commented on that too.

    Are you referring to the (reported) Creed mania on Basenotes (I haven't experienced it first-hand) or the niche snobbery elsewhere?

  10. Jen,

    I am waiting to hear your impressions.

  11. SP/sol,

    thank you. It's interesting to check and see when one agrees and when one doesn't.

  12. Dear Marie-Helene, thank you for your comment.
    I didn't say that reformulations are not talked about on perfume fora and blogs, I said that too often there is reverance for the concept and history of a said classic with no provision of exact data on tracing the vintages through the years (a task that I admit is rather daunting).

    Basenotes Creed mania was at the back of my mind, but also discussions on Makeup Alley in which many unsuspecting novices are getting the urge to try out -say- Cabochard and do not find the liquid gem described by us who have known its true glory. Yet they somehow feel obligated to comment on its greatness despite the lack of such in its current versions. That was also at the back of my head.

    It is true that I have referenced your testing reformulated Mitsouko for two reasons: 1)at the time I had not tried any newer batch than my own pre-1997 bottles 2) there was a lively discussion on POL on whether said perfume had already been reformulated and there was a lack of tangible, trusted data from someone who had tested the thing (the later corroboration through Guerlain highlighted the exact batches and made everyone's life easier...)
    I trust your judgement hence I quoted you.

    Sometimes there is a certain niche snobbery on this arena in general, but the book is covering bases on every price and avaialability level which is refreshing. Of course I don't always agree, but that's the fun part of it!

  13. I see what you mean now, but going back to your original formulation, it seems that you are saying something more general.

    Yes, this was sort of indirectly reproached to me for my review of Le De reformulation for example. I did not make the effort to get a vintage formulation for this one to compare it to the new one because I really liked the new formulation and etc. Also, I buy vintage perfumes and I rarely experience a state of regret, quite to the contrary actually. Nombre Noir for example I really wanted to smell, but once I did, I did not think it should be necessarily resurrected for the market.

    I think that Luca Turin is more likely to be weak with friends than weak with perfume snobbery:)

  14. I am glad the clarification has been transparent to you MH.
    Of course I did not have personally you on mind when commenting such or your Le De review (btw, I must have missed that one, off to go check when I get a minute). I only know the vintage someone sent me (unspecified date, alas!), so the new would be something I should get my hands on at some point for comparison.

    You know, when there is specific mention that "hey, I am reviewing the new, curent batch" or "hey, I am reviewing the old, 50s batch/pre-90s batch/unspecified old stuff someone sent me" the reader gets a clearer message and is less confused when testing by themselves at home.
    I'm sure you'd agree.

    On whether "Luca Turin is more likely to be weak with friends than weak with perfume snobbery" I can't possibly comment. Perhaps he could.
    In any case it's fun to read his thoughts.

  15. Thank you for the early and thoughtful review.

    Could you expand a bit more regarding Turin's "disparagement" toward Ellena and Giacobetti? I was not aware.

    Thank you.

  16. Well, my comment about friends and perfume snobbery was a follow-up on what you said about his work and is meant to be understood as a comment about his work too (which I know less than you do BTW): he tends to praise more effusively perfumes made by perfumers he personally knows and he is not a perfume snob. I tend to agree with you here.

  17. Figure5ingold,
    welcome and thanks for the comment.

    Indeed I can reference some examples on LT's disagreement with the aesthetic of Ellena and Giacobetti.
    I quote just a highlight, because I wouldn't want to give away the plot:

    "Before JCE caught a severe case of minimalism and never recovered, he engineered full-figured French florals in the most baroque high style, as here in First"


    "Olivia Giacobetti is responsible for several masterpieces including Dzing and Premier Figuier [...] Those are truly great in so far as she manages to break with her usual manner: delicate florals with a plae, sour note reminiscent of clothes washed with unscented fabric softener. Sadly, Hiris is part of this contingent, with the rooty iris note adding a remote, pinched temperament to the overall effect. 'Orrible".

    I got the inferred impression that he disagrees with their aesthetic vision (at least currently for JCE). I might be wrong :-)

  18. MH,

    I am glad we agree. This is what I thought as well.

  19. Anonymous18:44

    Did he mention Amouage?

  20. Yes, he did. POsitively :-)

  21. Thank you for posting this very helpful review! I am definitely getting the book as soon as it comes out.

    But I must say, I am wondering why the Carons fared so poorly. I remember that on his blog, Turin listed a number of them that he liked, and he didn't refer to them as being specifically vintage. Can you give an example of what was written about them in the guide. Thank you!

  22. "Before JCE caught a severe case of minimalism and never recovered, he engineered full-figured French florals in the most baroque high style, as here in First"

    Actually, that was written by Tania Sanchez

  23. Elizabeth,

    you're welcome.
    I too remember that Carons faired excellently in previous days, but there must have been some recent reformulation. The closing of the NYC boutique on Madison and them being hidden at the back of -what I understand is now- a hair salon doesn't help either.

  24. Luca,

    ooops...this is what happens when one is bigger than life! One tends to attribute everything to him! :-)
    I'm sorry for the mistake and thanks for coming aboard and correcting.

    However the point stands in your own reviews on Paprika Brasil, Poivre Samarkande (that was exceltionally vitriolic and funny at the same time!), Rose Ikebana (another one), Kelly Caleche and Un Jardin sur le Nil.

  25. Ohh I'm so anticipating this book! Helg, thank you for the lovely photo of Luca and Tania.

  26. You're welcome Mary :-)
    Hope you like it when you get it.

  27. Anonymous23:38

    Hi Helg!

    I pre-ordered the book. I am not really familiar with Luca Turin or his book(s) but I hear alot about him through your site and at POL.

    I am anticipating its arrival.

    Have a lovely weekend.

    Dawn :)

  28. Dawn,

    I hope you enjoy! It's a good read!

  29. Anonymous19:20

    Great scoop, Helg! Apart from learning directly off your blog, I get lots of reading recs too.
    Thank you.


  30. Thanks Abigail. Book recs: love them myself :-)

  31. Did Luca and Tania say anything about Indult? That is a line that really gives me mixed feelings.

  32. I just checked the book and I don't see the Indult scents included (Tihota, Isvaraya, Manakara).

  33. Thanks Helg for helping me looking up! Indult keeps me intrigued, the formulas are so simple but yet I can't really just dismiss them as being boring, in fact I like Isvaraya very much. But somehow I would like to understand that price tag, I mean for a Guerlain or Chanel I do sort of understand it.

  34. Dear,

    you're welcome :-)

    Re: price and concept ~you have given the explanation yourself: "for a Guerlain or Chanel I do sort of understand it". They're aiming at entering that club, of course!

  35. Anonymous10:57

    Wow, this was wonderful to read. I can't wait to get my hands on this too. So, do you think he needs that "bullet proof vest" he referred to at the talk in London? Thankyou for kindly crediting me with the photo of them both. I deeply appreciated them permitting me to take it and they look good!

  36. I guess you are right, it's just that I can't help thinking "Shouldn't there be alternatives at lower prices out there?", the brand does really try to target at higher levels than average niche lines. But on the other hand, every other brand is trying to put all sorts of exclusive stuff on the market nowadays...

  37. Rita,
    I am glad you didn't object to my using the pic. It is a great one. Of course I should credit you!

    I think some people will be a little irritated with his frankness/opinion on some things, but surely it doesn't make much of difference for the major companies, more for the smaller ones...

  38. Dear L,

    I think it was just a novel idea on their part (limited supply for an exclusive club only) which fell this side of "covetable". They can't all do the same things, I guess!

  39. Anonymous16:07

    I believe the Carons fared poorly because they 've been badly reformulated.
    Being a Caron lover here since 1990 I can assure you my favorite perfume has been horribly reformulated by Richard Fraysse in the early 2000s. Now En Avion resembles more like his own creation Lady Caron, very recognizable by that heavy oily texture and wet band aid note than the original En Avion vintage or at least the one I used to buy in the 90's.
    I was fortunate to find testers from the 90's, they smell great, just like I remember this perfume used to be like and when I compare the current version and the older ones, these are two different perfumes, different quality, the new version 's topnote spicy orange and heart florals are toned down a lot, the basenotes are mossier and less ambery, the powdery notes not as refined.

  40. Anon,
    if true, it's sad what you say there. But is Richard Fraysse so incompetent? I wonder.
    Lady Caron is indeed rather a vulgar perfume (and I don't like it at all), but seeing as many other vulgar perfumes rate high in the compilation I am a bit confused as to the creteria employed to rate them. I believe we should just take them as individual takes.

  41. Anonymous19:44

    Shrine, Richard Fraysse is incompetent but let 's forget about Lady Caron and other vulgar fragrances on the market, we are talking about his horrid reformulations of classic Caron perfumes such as Narcisse Noir, Tabac Blond and En Avion. It 's such a shame to see that. At this point I 'd rather see Caron go bankrupt or find a new responsible owner.

  42. Anon,

    I really can't profess an opinion on versions I haven't even tried yet. I used to love En Avion from the ones you mention: It'd be a pity if they're indeed so much destroyed.
    But till I try them out myself I can't really say.

  43. Anonymous00:41

    When was the last time you tested En Avion? Although to me all throughout the 80's and the 90's I never saw a difference, between 2000 and today Fraysse 's changed it a few times already. Each time for the worst, the latest one is mossier and more leathery than ever, you hardly smell the florals anymore and this "thickness" is just horrible. Caron in-house Richard Fraysse or how to turn a timeless classic into an old-ladyish perfume...

  44. Anon,

    sorry for being so late in replying, just saw the comment.

    I vividly recall last time was last year, but it was a vial a friend of indeterminate vintage (circa 2000-2001? can't be really sure)by a friend who knows I like it.

    With people commenting like that I shall probably have to obtain new samples of the whole Caron range just to satisfy my scientific curiosity on the matter! (LOL)

  45. Anonymous17:20

    Mr Turin, have you tried any of the indult scents, will you and if you have what are your thoughts; price aside. regards Linda pol

  46. They are a beyond repulsive looking couple, and they are as ugly on the inside as they are on the outside. I've only had social media interactions with them, and I pity anyone that has to even share physical space with these trolls.


Type your comment in the box, choose the Profile option you prefer from the drop down menu, below text box (Anonymous is fine too!) and hit Publish.
And you're set!

This Month's Popular Posts on Perfume Shrine