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Perfumes: The guide Hardcover – 11 Sep 2008

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books; First Edition edition (11 Sep 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846681022
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846681028
  • Product Dimensions: 14.9 x 3.7 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 197,120 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Funny, clever, provocative, utterly wonderful - a work of dazzling brilliance, and essential reading for anyone who has a nose. (India Knight)

What a delicious book. (Stephen Bayley Stephen Bayley 2008-09-02)

Perfumes: The Guide is one of the best books I have ever read. It is dazzlingly good. (India Knight Sunday Times)

Far more addictive than it has any right to be (Guardian)

Quite simply, ravishingly entertaining (John Lanchester New Yorker Magazine)

Luca Turin is a controversial 'smell scientist' and the proud owner of a world-class nose. Motored by this sensitive organ, he has spent the past twenty years explaining science to the perfumers and perfume to the scientists ... here he sets out to do nothing less than reclaim perfume as a great art to rival music, fine art or literature. Together with his wife Tania Sanchez (who seems to possess an olfactory organ almost equal to his own) he catalogues all of today's major fragrances. But this is less a self-help beauty guide than an artistic survey. Perhaps one day it will find a place in the Oxford Companion series ... the descriptions are irreverent, poetic ... the authors are not afraid to be blunt - Turin describes a Jo Malone fragrance as 'fit for an upmarket hair conditioner' - and they are not afraid to take themselves and the perfumes seriously...

Most readers will have to take Turin's descriptions on trust and to hope that he will train us to smell better. It is this enforced trust that makes Turin a potential charlatan but that also makes the book enticing. If we cannot smell the fragrance of the dawn or of a McCartney song we need to imagine them, and it takes a poet to enable us to do so. There is a great tradition of olfactory literature, and in Perfumes Turin confirms his right to be classed alongside Proust or Patrick Süskind as a poet of smell. He promises that a colourful and sonorous world will open up, if we will only follow where he leads.

(Lara Feigel Observer 2008-09-14)

Book of the Week ... The sweet smell of success

Veronica Horwell sniffs out the perfect instruction manual for scent users

Turin's entries in his alphabetical guide to fine fragrances are brilliant exercises in synaesthesia; to him, perfume is a hallucinogenic substance that links everything. Each paragraph awarded to a masterpiece mix covers chemistry, biology, composition (with professional footnote on composer), commercial and political history (the European Union polices ingredients if they put the wearer, maker or environment at risk), personal memories, fantasies, and cross-references to arts, high and low. Consider his analysis of Eau Sauvage, by Edmond Roudnitska for Dior in 1966. He references Garamond type, Prokofiev, Jascha Heifetz and his Guarneri violin, pine needles and rosemary, Vietnamese beef salad, Transformer toys and hedione, aka methyl dihydrojasmonate, discovered in 1962 and capable of moistening florals until they feel fresh as dawn. Such a review could be a dog's dinner, or, worse, all that a dog can sniff the length of a back alley, but it's so exact that it's a kick, a written spritz of cologne. I sprayed on Eau Sauvage again, and for the first time could put a name - that salad - to its lime and coriander.

Now and again I've consulted online perfume blogs, by addicts for addicts, only to give up because of the ineffability that is their common language. Aromas waft; adjectives shouldn't. The dialect of oenophiles (gooseberries, bananas) is grounded in comparison. If there is to be any hope of persuading people to make perfume as much a quotidian reward as wine and food have become these past thirty years, there has to be a way to write about it that excites us, makes us curious, makes us laugh. Turin has found it. I've just blown all my pocket money on sampling an unknown five-star wonder, Guerlain's Habit Rouge, and it's Turin's fault for describing it as "soft and rasping, like stubble on a handsome cheek". (Eau de early Harrison Ford, as it were.) His approach reminds me of the Action Cook Book and Ou est le Garlic?, written and illustrated by Len Deighton in the 1960s and my teen introduction to cuisine. Deighton assumed his readers barely knew where our mouths were and remedied that through gastronomical science essays, comic-strip recipes, and commentaries that shared Turin's multicultural references - fast cars, old planes and actresses who had slept with François Truffaut. A lifetime later I still quote Deighton on the physics of overfrying eggs, and I shall be reciting Turin into old age on Le Feu d'Issey: perfume as a "portable form of intelligence ... fresh baguette, lime peel, clean wet linen, shower soap, hot stone, salty skin ... fly past one's nose at warp speed".

There is a second voice in this book, that of Tania Sanchez. Both authors point out that fragrances aren't aphrodisiacs or sex pheromones, and sulk at the narrow definitions of sexual identity standard in the fragrance trade, but their contributions are terrifically gendered, and that's a compliment. She provides the advice for novices and the true confession that starts with the "belief that Old Spice/Brut/English Leather is the natural odour that God caused fathers to emit after shaving" and ends with enlightenment, Chanel's Bois des Iles, equivalent to a little black cashmere dress, which she wore whenever she "needed extra insulation from the cold world".

For a while I thought she was playing Eva Marie Saint to Turin's Cary Grant, but her voice is faster and wackier than that, more the young Barbara Stanwyck, and there's screwball comedy in their interaction. They disagree about classics; he quotes her approvingly (that salad interpretation is hers), she quotes him disbelievingly; they spar through hundreds of one-word or two-line dismissals of inept pongs - "burial wreath", "grim floral", "canned fruit".

Nobody is meant to begin this volume at the dedication, as I did, and keep on going to the glossary, but should you do so, you'll have witnessed a witty courtship conducted through competitive discernment: when I learned they were married, I wasn't a bit surprised. Not after Sanchez's wicked whistle at a slug of Stetson, which is promoted as quintessence of manly Montana but is "as rugged and masculine as the lingerie level at Saks Fifth Avenue ... I'd truly love a man who wore this, but in the absence of one, I'll gladly wear it myself."

Romance with brains needs adversity to flourish, and to create this guide Turin and Sanchez gallantly went through odorous hell. About 40 per cent of concoctions were classified awful or disappointing and another 40 per cent only adequate. High prices, movie star ads, prestigious houses, gifted creators, sculptural flacons, historic longevity, massive sales: none guarantees that the liquid won't smell of mall rat effluvia, sports sneaker juice ("bloodless, gray, whippet-like, shivering little things"), Paris Hilton's Just Me ("barf-bag floral") or absolutely nothing with a faint hint of melon in the case of L'Eau d'Issey. Sanchez claims everybody knows at least five people who wear this: we may not move in the same circles. Contrariwise, cheapness is no deterrent to sublimity, since 150 years of research have rearranged enough molecules to supply superb macro cyclic musks to manufacturers of laundry detergent. All the way through this book I was saddened, as I am when I see a beautifully designed plastic milk bottle, that we don't respect the scents, dyes and objects created from carbons bequeathed by long-set suns, just because they've been dirt cheap for forty years.

Turin and Sanchez are not conventional snobs. Besides the Guerlain family, who have been getting it mostly right since Jicky, the most laudatory entries are for Estée Lauder, "faithful keeper of one of the most consistently high-quality lines of fragrances ever created". I'd never thought of sniffing her commissioned brews until I wrote her obituary and wanted to understand why Youth Dew, which she spilt on the carpet at the Galeries Lafayette as an olfactory calling card, had made her fortune. I bought samples of Lauder greats, which turned out to be Paris as imagined by the art department at MGM, a distillation of yearning more potent than the real thing.

The least expensive preparation in this book rates its most tender, five-star review: Caldey Island Lavender, by Hugo Collumbien, now in his nineties, for the South Wales monastery. Turin says its gently handled linalool, lavender's 10-carbon alcohol, results in "endlessly blue daylight air": it reminds me of Vermeer's use of the precious pigment ultramarine, made from lapis lazuli and traditionally reserved for the Virgin Mary's robe, on the apron of a servant pouring milk. A blessing for the daily round and common task, anyway: £7.75 a bottle.

(Veronica Horwell Guardian 2008-09-20)

Page after page of wonderful, evocative, poetic prose ... that will get the most diffident sniffer salivating - and often laughing (Suzi Feay Independent on Sunday 2008-09-21)

Endlessly browsable, partly because the writing is funny, partly because it is so extraordinarily illuminating ... this book is nothing less than an essential possession. (David Sexton Evening Standard 2008-09-19)

Forget everything you have read about [scent] and grab a copy of Perfumes ... a work as gripping as any thriller (Jan Moir Daily Mail 2008-09-22)

Kate Colquhoun hails a magnificent book that could do for the perfume industry what the best guides do for wine.

Turin has teamed up with his wife, Tania Sanchez, to review almost 1,500 fragrances in a hefty and beautifully produced book that will perhaps do for the perfume industry what Jancis Robinson's works have done for wine. Honest perfume reviews are conspicuous by their absence. Few editors are willing to risk publishing a negative review and jeopardising the advertising money of a Gucci, Guerlain or Estée Lauder. Instead, we take our chances at the checkout, influenced primarily by bottle design, packaging, celebrity endorsement and the puff from publicity departments.

Turin and Sanchez point out the absurdity of this situation. Like any intensely creative process, the production of scents requires years of patient trial. The good ones possess structure, texture, character and history, and the best redefine what we thought possible or good. Fashioned by the masters of their trade (and a few upstart newcomers), the authors argue, perfumes can promise and satisfy expectations as much as any other work of art. Liking or loathing, in other words, have nothing to do with admiration for a job well done.

But the heart of this book lies in their reviews, often more enjoyable than even the finest food writing. Jo Malone's Vetyver cologne, for instance, "reminds me of British sausages which should carry the warning May Contain Traces of Meat", while Herrera's 212 is "like getting lemon juice in a paper cut". Others are "hilariously vile".

Some are an exercise in memory. Remember the heavy hitters of the 1980s (Poison or Opium) which, however well done, could ruin the enjoyment of fine wine, music, food or even sex, by causing the air behind you to "shimmer like jet exhaust"? Or the moment you caught on to Anaïs Anaïs ("chrysanthemum-bitter, squeaky clean, soapy and utterly memorable")? But it is the four- and five-star-rated perfumes (such as the complicated, long-lasting Mitsouko and, in a choice that would have delighted my teenage self, Tommy Girl) that are the most compellingly poetic.

We read that the synthesised scent helional "smells like a sucked silver spoon... deathly pale with a silvery sheen that made such marvels as Dazzling Silver possible"; Diorella is "as fizzy and bright as cold 7UP" and L'Air de Rien - made by Miller Harris for Jane Birkin - "smells of boozy kisses, stale joss sticks, rising damp and soiled underwear". Amouage, like Bruckner's ninth symphony, is "about texture rather than structure, a hundred flying carpets of scent overlapping each other ... as if Joy had eloped with Scheherezade for a thousand and one nights of illicit fun". Doesn't that make you want to smell it for yourself?

Perfumes is a pioneering book packed with the promise of hours of pleasure. It opens the mind to the vivid intricacies of scent and is a cracking good read. Prepare to cringe and laugh out loud.

(Kate Colquhoun Daily Telegraph 2008-10-11)

This year has brought Perfumes: The Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez, which I breathed in, rather than read, in one delighted gulp; opinionated, knowledgeable, sharply written and surprisingly comprehensive, it's a purely enjoyable book, but guaranteed to cause arguments - what could be more apt, for a Christmas book? (Hilary Mantel Guardian 2008-11-29)

It's a hardback hunk of almost 1,500 alphabetically ordered perfume reviews, ranging from lyrical raves to laconic one-liners, each as deliciously descriptive and unremittingly honerst as the last ... a roaringly good read. (Alexandra Friend Zest 2009-01-01)

There's never been anything before about perfumes to compare with this wonderful book, not only delivering incisive and authoritative explanation and evaluation of the perfumes currently on the market, but also conveying in between the lines a whole aesthetic attitude to life. All alone, it's enough to claim a whole new status for the art of perfumery - and is also one of the most browsable books ever. (Katie Law Scotsman 2008-12-23)

Engaging ... Perfumes: The Guide shines a bright, revolving searchlight over an extensive, potentially limitless smellscape, and offers much to contemplate, even to regret and most importantly alerts you to the need to set aside some fairly solid prejudices ... a provocative and hugely entertaining book. (Angus Trumble TLS 2008-11-21)

Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez are the F R and Queenie Leavis of smell. For F. R. Leavis there were only six novels worth reading; for Turin and Sanchez there are only a handful of classic smells ... Perfumes: The Guide is part essay, part guidebook, part list and part conversation between the two authors who occasionally disagree on a smell ... Harold Bloom, our greatest living critic argues that the difference between those texts tha have achieved canonical greatness and those that have not lies in what he calls "strangeness". Beyond strage, Perfumes: The Guide will, in that case, last longer than a heady waft of No. 5. (Frances Wilson Literary Review 2009-02-01)

On one level this is a serious, instructive tome. On the other it is an addictive, dip-in-and-outable romp through some of the greatest and worst scents ever produced. (Caroline Jowett Daily Express 2009-10-24)

A bigoted, snarling, monomaniacal, subjective, triumphalist and quite magnificent book. (Weekender, South Africa 2009-08-17)

Informative and great fun, almost like reading a hot gossip book, but one that will be beneficial in the long run, as it points out which to go for and which to avoid. (Pretoria News, South Africa 2009-04-20)


`Far more addictive than it has any right to be'

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

74 of 77 people found the following review helpful By Colin Roth on 27 Sep 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Quite apart from its sheer range and depth in tackling its subject, this book is really entertaining. It blows a welcome blast of fresh air through the fragrance business, exposing some of its frailties ('We *never* change our fragrance formulas' is the lie you hear most often) and gambolling in the glittering light of enthusiasm when reviewing favoured scents. The fragrance reviews are splendidly opinionated, but it's always clear that what's being praised is quality, coherence, balance, rather than 'niceness', so you're still free to exercise your own preference when you're shopping. I'm particularly impressed by the authors' recognition of the part appearance and presentation play in our enjoyment of fragrance, so they tell you when the packaging is the best thing about a scent, and when the opposite is true, too. They're also very good at pointing out that where fragrance is concerned, you very rarely 'get what you pay for', because some of the cheapest products on sale are very good, and some of the most expensive are not. Even if you fall into the least favoured category of person - someone who wears fragrance because they're frightened of smelling of themselves, rather than because they actually like what they're wearing - you'll find constructive suggestions here, with splendidly direct warnings about pitfalls you might want to avoid. A splendid read, and a reliable guide - which will need updating with new editions every few years!
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45 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Becky Sharp on 9 Sep 2008
Format: Hardcover
A danger to credit cards everywhere! This book is so evocative - descriptions of the good perfumes make you want to rush out and buy them without even smelling them first and reviews of the bad ones are screamingly funny. It's absolutely beautiful and a perfect present - also a brilliant way to drop a hint to your boyfriend, either because you want one of the scents or if you don't like his.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Simon Savidge Reads TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 13 Dec 2009
Format: Paperback
I was then dubious about giving my book thoughts as I haven't read it from cover to cover. I was dubious about reading this book at first as I thought it would just be for girls... I was wrong. Could I be converted into the world of smells and scents by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez????

The answer is a resounding yes. From what I have read so far I know this book is one that I will be treasuring for quite sometime, hopefully for life. I am not the biggest perfume addict in the world and so really I am coming to this book from layman's terms. I would say that I've no idea about perfumes whatsoever, I like what I like and don't like what I don't like it's that simple. Imagine my thrill when the aftershave/cologne I wear gets a full 5 stars and the comment "buy it even if you never put it on" mind you its quite pricey so would be a waste just sitting there.

The writing of the book from Luca and Tania is brilliant, it's honest, blunt in parts, comic in others but most importantly it's accessible. There is an introduction to perfume criticism, a look at what male and female scents work, a history of perfume and also a whole twenty pages of readers questions answered. Whether you know nothing about perfume or heaps about it you can't help but be charmed by the reviews. One which had me in hysterics was a review of Paris Hilton's `Can Can' was simply "can it, by all means". The experts are never patronising and though some reviews are a little OTT you just think it's fabulous and carry on wanting to read more and more. And this book hasnt just been a hit with me, my partners loved it, guests have loved it... its a household hit!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Discerning of Yorkshire on 8 May 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
My go-to Bible - I am addicted to scent so discovering this book has been a further education .
I love the pithy descriptions of some of the more dubious scents, the history of perfumers , the description of the Osmotheque in France .
I dont necessarily agree with some of the critique , I love Caleche , its not IMO a "wan aldehyde" its gorgeous and I have worn it for years but , each to his own , Luca didn't have the pure perfume , just the de soie .
My one criticism is that its now 4 years out of date Luca and Tania - so if you cannot be bothered to update , you are doing your readers a disservice although I know that book royalties to authors are pathetic - however, we, your fans , would appreciate your views on what is happening now in the fickle world of fragrance .

Keep it up Luca & Tania , but don't keep us waiting too long , no one will buy a book 4 years out of date for much longer .
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Purpleheart TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 29 Dec 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've never quite tipped over from perfume lover to perfume fanatic but this fascinating book could be the tipping point!

Both writers know their stuff but what makes this such an engaging read is their wit and their passion for perfume, which is highly addictive. I've been haunting the department stores (braving Christmas time crowds!) to try out the rave review items, I gathered all my perfumes together for a review and to follow the move from top note through to `dry down', I have so many bookmarks in my copy that it's bristling with paper. Luca Turin is a biophysicist who makes molecules for the perfume industry (who knew!). He is extremely knowledgeable and erudite and embellishes his descriptions with references to books, films and music - it's a sensory experience to read his critiques and you feel you are learning about perfume. Tania Sanchez is a sharp-witted blogger with a lust for perfume - she is very much the junior partner but provides some street cred. The pair met when Sanchez commented on Turin's well known perfume blog and have since married after collaborating on the book.

My only issues with it are:
i) there is that there is little indication of price in the book - except occasionally when they say that something is cheap or expensive so the danger is that you can fall in love with the description of a perfume and then find it is way out of your price range and
ii) the 1500 perfumes are entered in alphabetical order by name but then not indexed or grouped by maker.

These are small points but would make the browsing when out much easier.

I'm grateful to the guide for pointing me at trying fragrances that perfume snobbery would have kept me from trying - eg Estee Lauder and Tommy Girl and for exploding some myths.
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