At the end of March, we gave readers the chance to ask Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez questions about perfume and their then-upcoming book, Perfumes: The Guide. Here are their answers. Note that I threw in two questions of my own at the end, and those of you who read all the way to the last answer, please join me in a moment of silence.
Nam: To both Mr. Turin and Ms. Sanchez: What is your all-time favorite perfume, if you have one? If not one, can you name some that would be in your top 5?
TS: Mitsouko. Even reformulated. For lovers of top ten lists, we include several in the appendix. For haters of top ten lists, please remove them with a craft knife.
Nam: Also to both Mr. Turin and Ms. Sanchez: As many perfume enthusiasts are, I'm on the hunt for the perfect rose fragrance. What, in your opinion, are the best roses?
LT: The ones on the branch. Rose oils are so different from the real thing that asking them to imitate the flower is, as Peter Wilde would say, like asking marmalade to imitate oranges.
TS: The ones in disguise. For example: Rive Gauche, Knowing, Nahema, the old Vent Vert, Tocade.
Erin T: Two respectfully submitted questions, which may be cleared up by up the guide - but I can't wait that long. (Actual cost to me: thousands...) Luca, you once said 7 or so of the (then) 12 perfumes of Frederic Malle were going to be around in thirty years. Which seven did you mean?
LT: My favorite is Noir Epices. I'll let everyone else pick the other six. What I meant was that they were of an unusually high artistic standard.
Erin T: My French is poor, so there may be some previous comment on this that I'm missing, but what is your assessment of the reformulation of Rochas' Femme?
LT: Makes a good masculine.
TS: It's OK, not great. There are much worse reformulations to complain about.
Celestia: Dr. Turin: It has always mystified me that you think Tommy is one of the greatest perfumes of all time. Why?
LT: It inaugurated a novel type of radiant tea-floral that I find very interesting. Its influence has been immense.
TS: You didn't ask me, but I quote Borat: "It is nice! I like!" If it came in a L'Artisan Parfumeur bottle and was called "La Fille Thomas" and sold at three times the price, it would get respect. Be aware there seems to have been a stability problem and most shop testers I smelled seemed off.
QuarryJoy: Dear authors, I like to spray the book I'm reading with a scent I can associate with that book. [Cade/leather scents like Dzing! and Chanel Cuir de Russie are nice.] Would you please nominate a few fragrances you would deem apropos for scenting the paper of your new guide? Thank you kindly.
LT: Cuir de Russie is fine, though with the Art Deco cover design as it is I think some vintage Canoë would be great too.
TS: Here's a better idea: Bring the book while shopping for fragrance so you can use the pages to store your smelling strips and use the reviews to flummox the sales staff.
Joe805: The idea of perfumes rated on a 5-star scale bothers me for some reason. For example, I would never buy an art history book that purported to "rate" the great works of art on a numerical scale. However, I find your qualitative descriptions and criticisms wonderful. Why did you and your editors choose to go with a ratings system? It seems to perpetuate that idea of "Turin and Sanchez say it's 5-stars... what's wrong with me if I don't love it?".
LT: I personally would love everything from physics formulae to music reviews to come with stars so I don't waste time with the dross once I've identified a reliable critic. Life's too short.
TS: Are you kidding? I would love an art history book with star ratings! As for our five-star reviews, if you don't love those fragrances, see your doctor.
Elizabeth: For Luca and Tania: When you review a fragrance, how much do your own personal tastes influence you in how high you grade it?
Suppose that you have before you two perfumes of equally good quality, but one is, say, a rose perfume, and you aren't really fond of roses in general, and the second is a vetiver perfume, and you are partial towards vetiver. Would the vetiver perfume receive more stars than the rose?
TS: I have no impersonal tastes.
LT: I guess.
TS: If we perceive them to be "of equally good quality" the question contains its own answer.
Benoit: Dear Luca And Tania Your book being presented as "Parker for Perfume".
LT: Very flattering.
Benoit, continued: Don't you fear that your single point of view can be too strong in the small world of perfume fan ?
LT: Let anyone who feels that write another guide.
TS: Worse! We have a double point of view.
Benoit, continued: Good review and bad review can be really important for some niche house (mainstream house doesn't care and have ad) ... how do you take it into account ?
LT: Sorry, but if the stuff is out there we'll give our opinion.
TS: We take it into account by giving good reviews to good perfumes and low ratings to bad ones.
Ben: I was going to ask _exactly_ that question.
Robert Parker has a terrific palate and I've learned a ton from reading his books. But I also think that he has, at the end of the day, had a rather negative effect on the world of wine. His numerical ratings are so overwhelmingly important to the success of wines in the US that his particular preferences end up directing the market (compare the effect of a Parker with the entirely positive impact of a great, quirky importer like Kermit Lynch).
So let me ask Benoit's question in a more pointed way: how do you avoid being Robert Parker if your book does well?
LT: I have no wish to avoid it.
TS: The wines available now to buyers of every budget are so much better than they were fifteen or twenty years ago that it is amazing anyone outside of France would fear such a thing. That said, the main complaint with Parker seems to be that he has a huge effect on the demand and therefore the price of wines. But wines by their nature are limited in supply: only so much of each winemaker's vintage is bottled per year. If everybody wants White Linen after reading our guide, they'll make more White Linen, same reasonable price as before.
MFfan310: Dear Mr. Turin and Ms. Sanchez: Let's say, hypothetically, that one or both of you were vendor representatives for a major perfume company at a big national department store chain. Your boss for the perfume company wants you to sell a bunch of bottles of a one-star rated perfume, even though your company also makes a lot of four/five-star rated perfumes. But if you met or exceeded the sales goal for the one-star perfume, you could win a shiny new MacBook Air.
What would you do... would you try to sell the one-star perfume to your customers just to win the computer, or would you forgo the computer in favor of selling the four/five-star perfumes?
LT: MacBook Air!!!!
TS: Can I work for this company? Are positions still open? That thing is so sweet.
GalileosDaughter: Dear Dr. Turin and Ms. Sanchez, I am curious about the behind-the-scenes production of the book. I read that there are over 1200 reviews in the book, but were there any reviews that were “left on the cutting room floor” so to speak? Any amusing tales of the writing of a particular review? I suppose I’m asking if you could favor us with a few anecdotes.
LT: None of it felt like work to me. Yes, there were entire lines we omitted because they were too boring.
TS: There are about 1,500 fragrances. We overshot. Though we didn't leave out any reviews we wrote (except for one by LT I deemed too mean even for us), in the drive to complete the manuscript, we did somehow leave out some major fragrances. This happened mostly when people sent little sample vials. Those things inevitably end up in the same place where all the lost pens and socks go and, I believe, may constitute a large proportion of what is considered dark matter. Anyway, we plan to fill in those gaps if the book sells well enough to merit an update. On the writing of the book: we read each other's reviews daily and raised objections regularly. If one could not convince the other to satisfaction, we issued a split review. The whole thing was an exercise in one-upmanship. Each time one of us wrote a particularly good review, it caused the other to holler bloody revenge and approach the laptop with fire in the eyes. I did get schooled. Early on in the writing, after I'd ranted passionately against the five stars he'd awarded to Tommy Girl, Pleasures, and Beyond Paradise, Luca did a very sneaky thing: he wore each one on the sly and caught me when, in passing, I said, "That smells good. What is it?" I was cured quickly of whatever snobbery I brought to the project and found my job far easier afterward. Trust the nose only.
GalileosDaughter: One more question: Please name the most promising new male and female perfumers. Thank you!
LT: New to me: Stéphanie Bakouche (Invasion Barbare), Alexis Dadier (A Travers le Miroir).
inkdarkmoon: A question for Dr. Turin: Do you believe there is a physiological basis for any positive effects of aromatherapy, or do you think it is just placebo affect? (This makes me think of the perhaps related physical effect of some odors actually causing vomiting...)
LT: What positive effects?
TS: I'm not a doctor, but I play one on the internet. I believe smelling nice things makes us happy. Buy L'Heure Bleue.
Santemon: Dear Luca and Tania, Given your joint love of perfume, this joint venture publication and given you are now matrimonially joined, how do you handle a perfumed life together? Do you try and coordinate what you wear? Does Tania say I feel like Shalimar today and Luca responds, OK hon I'll spritz some Habit Rouge? And do you make sure you are freshly scrubbed before retiring at night in case Luca retires with Joy and Tania with Jules and you both wake up with the weirdest dreams ever?
LT: Jules et Joy!
TS: Stop spying on us. I will call the police.
ErinT: Just a sub-question to the above: do you ever disagree on perfumes and how did this play out when you were writing the reviews?
LT: Yes. Domestic violence.
djsflynn: For either/both Dr Turin and Ms Sanchez: We've had just over a century of the 'modern perfume era' (which most agree began with 1882's Fougere Royale). It seems like much of that has been dominated by the larger brands and houses, compared to the relatively recent growth of smaller 'boutique' brands.
Do you believe the big players can surprise and delight us any more with truly 'different' perfumes, or do you consider the sharp end of the business will increasingly belong to smaller players who may be willing to take more risks and think a little outside the 'safety zone'?
LT: Everybody is doing niche lines these days, and that's where much of the creative action is. Talent will always find a way out, even if it's out of the can of some Lynx deodorant. But don't get your hopes up for as long as stuff like Light Blue sells well.
TS: Chanel recently showed it can be done.
ahtx: Folllowing up on Djsflynn's question, how do you feel about independent perfumers' ability to influence (or have their ideas co-opted/stolen) by mainstream commercial perfumery?
LT: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery: just ask Marc Buxton and Bertrand Duchaufour, both relentlessly copied these days.
TS: I'm not exactly sure what makes a perfumer dependent or independent, but I would be thrilled if big firms picked up good ideas from little outfits. Good ideas should be spread around.
ahtx, continued: And on the business side--many independent perfumers depend heavily on word of mouth and direct internet sales. Do you have any hope that the mainstream sales model, in which the money is spent on ads and bottles instead of juice, will change in our lifetimes?
LT: It already has.
ahtx: And a few more (greedy thing that I am): What was your co-authoring process like?
LT: Like the famous situationist slogan: "Ne travaillez jamais."
TS: It looked like a Sephora blew up in the front room and we were trying to catalog the evidence.
ahtx: What was the funniest/most outrageous bit of ad copy you came across?
LT: The fragrantbodyoilz blurb quoted in the review for Paris Hilton's Just Me.
TS: I chucked that stuff in the trash whenever they sent it to me.
ahtx: When are you going to have a book release party so you can meet all your adoring fans?
LT: Can my kids come? They are beginning to doubt the existence of the fans.
TS: We decided to have a party in Zurich, due to its central location. Time and date TBA.
Kelly Red: What direction do you see the perfume industry going in the future? How much influence will the banning of more and more natural frag ingredients have on future perfumes?
LT: A disastrous effect on legacy fragrances, very little on new ones. I think fine fragrance and functional fragrance nearly collided a few years back and are now drifting apart again, as they should.
smelltheglove: I have too many questions so I will ask the most silly ones - these are for both of you: What perfume or perfumes have ever made you cry?
LT: Cry, none. Laugh, many.
TS: Once I accidentally sprayed Bulgari Black in my eye.
smelltheglove: Have you ever dreamed of a perfume, and what did it smell like?
LT: Thanks for the question, smells appeared in my dreams only a few years back. Until then I'd be smelling something and thinking it was pretty weak. Then in a dream I smelled perfume and it was exactly like Jeffrey Dame's Wanderlust: big, old-fashioned and very nice.
TS: Only a couple of times. I can't remember the smell, only that it was powerful. It's like when you dream you're reading something, a message of prophetic and possibly global import, and you remember everything about it (tone, typeface, paper, degree of eloquence) except what it said.
smelltheglove: What perfume would go well with Satie (Trois Gymnopedies)? or Glenn Gould? how about Radiohead?
LT: Satie: Odalisque (de Nicolaï). Glenn Gould: Unkempt by Bach Remedies. Radiohead: now that I've heard Christopher O'Riley play Scriabin better than anyone alive or dead, I think vintage Emeraude will do fine.
smelltheglove: This last question may be too personal (I guess the other ones were, too), but if not, I am very curious: what was it like to write a book with each other? Gimme dirt.
LT: Infinitely better than writing two books while apart.
TS: I never laughed so much.
Marianne_winia: Hello Luca and Tania, Can perfumes really smell feminine and masculine or is that merely dictated/decided by our culture and society?
LT: Nothing is ever completely dictated or decided by culture and society. There's always boredom, technological change and weirdos.
TS: Time for a plug. Please see the essays on masculine and feminine fragrance, respectively, in our book.
bt: Dear Mr. Turin and Ms. Sanchez, - Which reviews for your new book did you agree or disagree on the most?
LT: Like the Chinese Politburo: Unanimity Always.
TS: He thought 31 Rue Cambon was a chypre and I said bullshit.
bt: Was there any consideration for the (possibly perceived) cultural differences in the perception of perfumes? (E.g. Asian markets prefer lighter scents.)
LT: No consideration whatsoever. I believe in the Carlos Ghosn approach: suck it up!
TS: In Vietnam last month, an aunt let me smell her favorite perfume. It was a Tabu-style leather oriental. In other words, no.
donanicola: I would like to ask the authors for confirmation (or otherwise) that E Flechier was responsible for the latest reformulation of Mitsouko and whether they think its any good?
LT: Yes and yes.
TS: Not as good as the original in the drydown, in my opinion, but nevertheless still the greatest.
donanicola: Also - what is your favourite scent molecule/which synthetic has made the biggest impact in modern perfumery? Thinking of Iso E super and Hedione just off the top off my head.
LT: The top of my head is in the same headspace as yours.
TS: Synthetic musks changed everything.
donanicola: Do you think there will be a good substitute for oakmoss?
LT: No: complex mixtures are always hard to replicate with synthetics, and Evernyl smells nothing like oakmoss.
robin/nowsmellthis: I’d love to hear your comments on the proposed restrictions on citrus oils in fragrances. And why are we not hearing any kind of outcry about the increasing restrictions on the use of natural materials other than from natural perfumers? Do the larger fragrance & flavor companies and the perfumers not mind?
LT: I think almost all restrictions on fragrance are bullshit. The fact that the fragrance industry is cooperating in its own destruction is a complete mystery to me.
TS: To think of all the tangerines I peeled without knowing the danger!
robin/nowsmellthis: What were your criteria for inclusion? Obviously you cannot include everything, but I was surprised by some of the omissions. And please tell me DK Black Cashmere was not left out because it is discontinued.
LT: OK, this is a first edition: some things we left out because we just forgot (shame on us). Some because we did not receive them in time. Some because we thought they were so boring we didn't even feel like saying bad things about them. We will do our best to rectify the first two by the time an update appears.
TS: Sorry, Robin. Per Lauder's PR, it's discontinued.
Note: image copyright Raewyn Turner.