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
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
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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
Page after page of wonderful, evocative, poetic prose ... that will get the most diffident sniffer salivating - and often laughing (Suzi Feay Independent on Sunday
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
Forget everything you have read about [scent] and grab a copy of Perfumes
... a work as gripping as any thriller (Jan Moir Daily Mail
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
A bigoted, snarling, monomaniacal, subjective, triumphalist and quite magnificent book. (Weekender, South Africa
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