There are thousands of perfumes on the market. They're as manifold and distinct as wines but far more important to get right. Which, after all, is more likely to spoil your meal: a bad cabernet in your own glass, or a bad perfume or cologne on anyone in the room? Besides, the mystery of wine is mitigated by an enormous wing of writing: histories, guidebooks, magazines, Web sites. Not so with scent; there's almost nothing to steer the novice. At least, there hasn't been until now.
— From The Sweet Smell of Success: The mysterious art of writing about perfume, a review of Perfumes: The Guide (by Luca Turin & Tania Sanchez, for anyone who hasn't been paying attention) at Slate. Many thanks to Ruth for the link! If you missed it, here is Marcello's review, and our recent Q & A session with the authors.
the article is a bit 'glowing' (being polite here, as I found the book somewhat boring) but the few comments posted are really interesting. I don't detect any rabid perfumistas – the responses are more about biology, when they touch on the concept of smell, so it's worth a look to see what non-perfume readers think.
From what I have seen, the mainstream press has been mostly glowing, the perfumistas — mostly cranky.
I'm a bit puzzled by all the negative reviews of Perfumes: The Guide; like the Slate reviewer, I think the book accomplished what its authors set out to do: Provide an updated translation of Turin's previous guide for the American market. Moreover, the book is just Turin & Sanchez's opinions, not some sort of final say on perfumery as a whole. Sure, they seem to prefer chypres as a group, and Guerlain Mitsouko in particular; that doesn't mean I or anyone else has to as well!
More generally, I look forward to the day when perfume criticism has the same cultural presence as film criticism. With blogs like NST, Perfume Posse,, Bois de Jasmin, etc., I think there is an established internet presence, I'm just waiting for the larger public to catch on.
I have to say I'm puzzled too. People keep saying “it's just their opinions” and “you have to take it with a grain of salt”, but c'mon, ALL criticism is opinions. Do people read other, non-perfume criticism like obedient zombies? Every critic I enjoy reading, whether in movies, music, whatever, has their own viewpoint, and I can enjoy reading (and find it helpful) even if their viewpoint is not my own. I would really think people would be happy to see serious evaluations of perfume published in a book for the first time, even if they didn't agree with the evaluations.
But the negative reviews I've seen have been from perfumistas, not the mainstream press. And as I said to someone else this morning, hey, if John Lanchester said something — anything! — nice about me in the New Yorker, that would be it, I could die and go to heaven happy.
I wonder if the negative perfumista reviews are due, in part, to high expectations–especially the expectation that Turin & Sanchez would “validate” their favorites by endorsing them?
I like to read all kinds of perfume reviews–for instance, Victoria at Bois des Jasmin is more fond of elegant florals than I will ever be, but I still like to read her reviews, despite my love for all things sweet, gourmande and oriental. Good criticism helps you understand something better, which I think Turin & Sanchez do with the Guide;.I mean, I love Flowerbomb, Addict and Pink Sugar, and no one star review is going to stop me from wearing them; just as I won't be stopped from seeing a Will Ferrell movie even if Roger Ebert, who is my favorite movie critic, gives it one star.
Sometimes I wonder, as a longtime MUA member, if the backlash is a result of Turin & Sanchez's poor reviews of some much-hyped $$$ niche brands, while they give positive reviews to say, Estee Lauder, a brand which gets little love on MUA. On the whole, I think its fantastic that they highlight some widely-available gems that 99% of people can actually try & buy at their local mall. So, a part of me wants to think that the backlash against the book is a result of the “anti-dept. store” vein within MUA culture. But who knows?
Oops–I meant to say “Bois de Jasmin”–sorry Victoria!
I'm waiting with baited breath for it to finally make it over this side of the Atlantic (and Amazon hates my plastic so it'll have to be real shopping *horror*), but I have noticed a little bit of vitriol on some forum discussions.
I'm another who doesn't get all this apparent anger. Does it really matter if say, one of my favourite scents makes them both retch? Nope, not to me at least.
I agree with HopeB that it seems some were hoping that a much lauded expert would endorse their choices. Also I do wonder if in a minority of cases the wanting niche scents to be top of the pile is about wanting to be obvious trend-setters.
I haven't read the book yet – ordered from Amazon a few days ago so this article is very timely for me. Without having read it I can say that I already know I wholeheartedly agree with the above comments about why “perfumistas” as a generalized group might be cranky about this book. I'm just genuinely thrilled that perfume is being taken seriously enough to have reviewers!! I don't care if the authors don't like my favorite perfumes – in fact – maybe I'd prefer that they don't so everyone else doesn't smell like me!! In the end, I think this is “All Good” and I think the perfume industry is at the beginning of a revolution of sorts. And I'm excited.
I do not know if that is it or not, truly. I think it might have more to do with the book's tone, but then, I'm surprised that anybody was surprised by the tone.
But do agree about the “anti-dept store” vein, although can't say I don't have a touch of that illness myself. I did think last year was a better year for mainstream than niche, but this year, so far, no.
Whew, there was a LOT of vitriol on Perfume Posse on Monday. Plenty to go around.
I'm in the “all good” camp too, and hope you're right about the revolution — I'm just afraid it is going to be an all-synthetic revolution with the way things are going.
I just got around to reading some of it, after I posted a brief note–actually, agreeing with the authors that niche should be held to the same high standard as mass-market, but disagreeing with them on Light Blue and some others— and I was really surprised to see that level of hostility as the thread grew.
I've been a MUA member for something like 5 or 6 years, and I remember a real warmth towards Turin and a widespread desire for an English-language version of the guide several years ago.
My fragrance board participation has decreased over the years, as I've been busier and especially as really great blogs like NST developed out of people wanting to discuss perfume in a different format. It sounds as though “the worm turned” at some point–I don't know why, perhaps there are reasons I'm not aware of—but it does seem like a very heated discussion for something that is supposed to be a fun “hobby”!
you mean perfumes that are synthetic fragrances instead of all-natural essential oils and that sort of thing? I've seen so many niche perfumers cropping up that are solely focused on organic/all natural ingredients that I can't imagine this will go away. If anything I imagine it will increase. Just like electric cars, things take time, and the mainstream perfumers will likely catch on – but ONLY if the public/customers demand it.
I agree it's “all good.” When I bought my copy at B&N, the cashier asked, “Is this really a book about perfume? I thought from the cover it was just about the bottles.” I said, “Yes, it's reviews of perfume” and he said, “That's unusual.”
Well, yes it is. Why we need reference books on perfume. I took it shopping with me last weekend – not for the star ratings, but for the descriptions. Herbal? Amber? Aldehydic? Gives you something to go on. Plus, with the book tucked under my arm the SAs tended to leave me alone and let me browse.
I disagree with lots of the reviews. And as I said to someone else this week, I did a scientific study and determined that when they agree with me, they're right, and when they don't, they're wrong. HA!
There was a real desire for an English language version of the guide. I think 2 things happened — this is a different sort of guide, since it tries to be more comprehensive, and therefore many of the reviews are by necessity (I'm assuming there were limits to how long they could make the book) very short. People seem put off by seeing scents dissed in 3-4 words. Also, perhaps many of those who wanted an English guide did not read French well enough to understand what they were getting, and/or had never read Luca Turin's blog. So yeah. The worm turned, for at least some people. But as is always the case, those who are unhappy w/ the book are talking the loudest.
I mean all the new IFRA restrictions on the use of naturals in mainstream perfumery. Do an “IFRA” search on the right sidebar and you'll see what I mean. The latest threat is to citrus oils.
Yes, and anyway, it is fun to disagree with! Way more fun than if you agreed w/ every word. I do hope we'll see more books like this!
Sorry to be a behind-the-times dunderhead! Thanks for pointing me in the right direction. I just caught up on the IFRA isses and am AGHAST. What is their angle, what do they hope to gain by this? Who benefits? Oy vey.
My copy came really fast from Amazon US, so I am sure yours will be with you soon! I have two books of reviews now – the Turin and Sanchez one and one by John Noakes – sorry, I meant Oakes! – called The New Book of Perfumes. Pretty much every single review is positively gushing and reverential, which I found far more irritating than the potshots T and S take at some of my favourites. I would much rather have someone express a clear opinion, even if it is contrary to my own. Just as in a restaurant, if I am hesitating between two dishes and am only going to eat there one time, it is great if the waiter will help you make a definite pick rather than sitting wishywashily on the fence and saying: “Well, they are both nice!” Also, culd it be that we Brits are more comfortable with dark and nasty humour? We have some very cruel sitcoms over here – Little Britain, Nighty Night, Pulling. Just a thought!
Seriously, I don't get their angle.
I have the John Oakes too, and Jan Moran & a guide by Susan Irvine. Yes, they're all what I'd call “boosters”, and while there is a place for that too, I too would much rather hear an honest opinion even if I didn't agree with it.