Last week, we gave readers the chance to ask Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez questions about perfume and their new book, The Little Book of Perfumes: The Hundred Classics. Here are their answers.
Karin: Hey Luca and Tania – we miss you!!!! Would love to see an update of The Guide. Is that a possibility?
TS: Thanks for asking. We’re both burned out on the subject at the moment. Sorry!
Angela: My question is, in your opinion which perfume house has had the most heinous reformulations? (My money is on Dior.) Which house has had the most respectful reformulations?
TS: The most heinous would be Caron. Respectful—this may not be a fair question. Dior has been abominably unlucky. (See below.) I do think that Piguet’s reconstructions of Fracas, Baghari and Futur were perfect examples of how one can do legacy perfumery with integrity. (Of course, Cravache and Visa were perfect examples of how not to.)
Robin: Angie, I have a side question that relates to yours — in their review of Diorella (2011 update) they say “No one can blame Dior’s head perfumer, Francois Demachy, for allergen regulations that have made citrus, jasmine, and oakmoss tricky to use’, but it seems to me that you’re spot on, Dior has done the worst job of any house. Just figures that they had all the iconic Edmond Roudnitska fragrances. I’d like to know if there is something about those fragrances in particular that makes them harder to update than, say, the fragrances in Chanel’s back catalog.
TS: That’s just it. The core accords of Edmond Roudnitska’s fragrances rely heavily on restricted materials: citrus, oakmoss, jasmine (Eau Sauvage, Diorella) and hydroxycitronellal (Diorissimo). These are essential to the soul of those perfumes. Neither Polge nor Sheldrake nor Demachy (who came to Dior from Chanel) could do a proper Diorissimo with the palette allowed today. Of course, Chanel is also fortunate in not falling under the umbrella of a large publicly-owned corporation like LVMH, which I suspect gives their decisions a different emphasis. Note that the parfum of No. 5 that we retested is absolutely not the No. 5 of yore, though it is still very good.
Tulip: If one takes a 3 year old ‘best of’ list of wines and updates the same list three years later, wouldn’t wine lovers feel cheated? … I think their concept of the top 100 is great; I guess I wish they had done it 3 yrs ago and updated it with possible new additions for this edition. But, perhaps they found no new 5 star perfumes?? Or, are they disenchanted and avoid sniffing new releases or new houses? (I’m only going on hearsay, so I may need to be corrected.)
TS: This is a function of the way this book was conceived, as a derivative work compiling just the best of the previous guide. Since our publisher planned to have copies ready for Christmas, our deadline was way too tight to do new perfumes, and they didn’t ask for any.
Elise: Yay! Ordering my copy now! Question: what restrictions/regulations have most affected (or affected the most perfumes!) the industry…and how about a list of “now it is garbage” reformulations?
Lil: Yes, I’d very much like to hear their version of “Greatest Reformulation Crimes.” Like others, I personally believe Diorissimo should top the list.
TS: You’ll find that information in the books. I don’t want to think about it anymore. They killed L’Heure Bleue.
Bchant: The L’Heure Bleue review is very favorable; however, it would seem the formula is noticeably different. I have a fresh bottle from about a year ago and it is quite beautiful. Could this be the reformulation to which you refer or has there been further revisions?
TS: I’m sorry if the L’Heure Bleue review seems favorable. Perhaps I should have been more direct. That perfume is dead.
Ceelouise: Here’s my question, probably too specific, but I’ll ask: is Theo Fennell Scent in the EdT concentration similar to the EdP? The latter is not really available, and unfortunately I fell in love with the sample of it I ordered. That’s the skank I’ve been looking for.
TS: If I recall correctly the PR told me it was a different scent. We haven’t tried the EdT.
Fernando: My question is in lieu of the obligatory request for an update: have any perfumes released in the last three years come close to making the “top 100″ list? If so, which? If not, is something keeping perfumers from coming up with great new ideas?
Pinkster: To avoid the sadness and disappointment that comes from longing after rare or just disappeared reformulations, I would be interested to hear about your favorite new perfumes from the last three years or so. Forget how they compare to the old classics- which ones were great on their own merits? Anything that shocked the pants off you with its quality or innovation? Bonus points if it’s something in the affordable range for us mere mortals.
Lil: Here’s my question: Of the niche lines that have debuted since the publication of the first edition of The Guide, which seem most promising?
Bonbori: My questions are already mentioned above: Which new releases (since the last PTG) merit 5 stars? Or a list of their top ten to have come out since The Guide. Name a few niche houses, esp. those not included in The Guide, have they have found to be worth exploring. And, which are all hot air and hype?
LT: I have not paid attention to new releases for a while.
TS: You tell us. We’re out of it. We haven’t kept up with the new niche lines at all. Futur would have been five stars.
Erin: Love this question, too. LT gave OJ Tiare a glowing, glowing review in one of his last Duftnotes – I believe he committed the supposed heresy of calling it better than Cristalle or something – so I was surprised to not see it in the book. Since a few of the 5-star scents from the 2007 guide have crapped out in the meantime, I didn’t think it wouldn’t mess with the numbers too much to simply add previously written reviews of new superstars. Maybe it’s a copyright issue.
LT: Tiaré is great, and in some ways better than Cristalle. But it is unquestionably derivative. The Little Book was meant to be a sample, not an update, and we did not get additional advances or royalties for it. We nevertheless decided to have a look at some of the reformulations, so readers would not rush to buy a damaged thing.
Anita: The original books have introduced many wonderful scents that I would not otherwise have known. Many thanks for that. One question, Is there any way the “reformulations” can be undone and the original formulas saved? As far as allergic reactions are concerned, people who are allergic to an ingredient or scent should just not buy that one. There have been several I can’t wear, including “Pleasures” which makes me sneeze like crazy. Fortunately, I don’t mind ignoring it. “Le De” which smelled great on my BF was a terrible sneeze inducing substance for me. Not hard to avoid it. Best wishes and thanks for the new book.
LT: The reformulations will not in my estimation be undone. As I have said previously, the problem is that insofar as fragrance is thought to provide no measurable benefit, the acceptable level of risk associated with it must be zero. It goes almost without saying that I don’t hold this view, but the corporate suits clearly do. Also, if you’re a developed-world aromachemicals manufacturer spending scads of money on R&D trying to sell captives and specialties as opposed to commodities [generics], isn’t it handy to see many of the most common materials, long out of patent, banned?
TS: If dermatologic testing is redone and previous restrictions are found unmerited, then maybe. Something like that happened with the damascones. But I’m not holding my breath.
Elizabeth: I have a non-reformulation-related question. If Tauer’s Incense Rose is Mendelssohn, Le Parfum de therese is Mozart, and Mitsouko is a Brahms Concerto, what perfume is Schubert’s Winterreise? How about Schumann’s Dichterliebe?
LT: I’m not a fan of vocal pieces, so I’ll pass.
TS: Is that anything like Amy Winehouse?
Lil: Oh, and another question: How do M. Turin and Ms. Sanchez feel about the rapidly escalating perfume price points?
LT: Are they getting more expensive? Not sure. But I rather think they’re getting crappier, and worse value-for-money by the minute.
PekeFan: It seems that so many fragrances are now released containing similar “fad” notes (e.g., pink pepper, oud). My question is, has this always been the case – with perfumers jumping on a bandwagon to use the note of the moment? So many perfumes have disappeared over time, leaving mostly the classics, and it makes me wonder what the mainstream used to be like. Do we, today, complain too much about ingredients like “pink cupcake accord”? For all I know there could have been a million EDTs with similar crazy notes during the 1940s, and they just didn’t stand the test of time. Can’t wait to read the new book! The A-Z guide is my favorite travel companion.
TS: Perfumes have always been faddish. A new material (base, aromachemical, extract, etc.) arrives; a perfume using it becomes a sensation; copies appear; the bad are weeded out; the good (you hope) remain. Repeat. That said, analysis makes it so easy to copy a perfume today that beneficial errors, which can be a creative source, crop up less often. Also, the disconnect between what’s in the bottle and what’s in the press release is, as readers of NST know, a sustainable source of comedy.
Annemarie: ...is [there] anything about the IFRA regulations that has pushed perfumers in positive, innovative directions? Are there benefits coming out of the restrictions?
LT: If you like Concertos for the Left Hand, you’re in luck. A smaller palette is never a good thing unless a perfumer chooses to restrict herself for artistic reasons, etc. I am sure the destruction of , for example, chypres has wiped out some boring fragrances as well as the masterpieces, but that’s scant reason to celebrate.
Krizani: My question is whether anyone, we, can DO anything about the restrictions. They seem to be getting more and more ridiculous as they get more and more, well, restrictive. Who the heck oversees this regulating authority? Is it something that might respond to consumer feedback? The sense I get is that everyone is feeling intimidated and helpless in the face of this which is pretty discouraging.
LT: I think it’s fair to say that in the EU in general, a lot of decisions have been delegated to centralised regulatory agencies that have a lot of power and little direct accountability to the public. Uncoupling technical decisions from the political arena sometimes helps push through reforms that would otherwise be mired in special interests, and the EU has done a lot of that for the greater good. I think this is a temporary stage to be endured until EU democratic institutions improve. Give it 50 years. In the meantime, if you want to address your complaints to someone, try the fragrance firms.
Krizani: Second question: are these restrictions being applied to functional cosmetic fragrances too? After all, we absorb so much through our skin that wasn’t previously thought to be the case. I get a heck of a bigger dose of, say, body lotion which, if unscented, has scent suppressors which are chemicals or fragrance chemicals if scented. It would be interesting to find out if the restrictions are being applied selectively. Everyone I’ve talked to about this issue that loves perfume says the same thing – if you get a rash, don’t use it! Just like any other product.
TS: IFRA Standards make no distinction between functional and fine fragrance, only whether the product will be in contact with skin or not, and if so, whether it will be rinsed off or left on. There are different standards depending on these categories.
nozknoz: I’m fascinated by the Desert Island lists, which are entirely new. I guess my question would be, why Paradox and Talisman? They weren’t reviewed in The Guide, so I’m curious about what makes them wonderful. OF COURSE, I’m already arranging to sniff them myself, but I’m dying for LT’s analysis.
LT: I’m fond of these two for their directness and lack of aspirational claptrap. Paradox is a trashy fruity-floral fragrance that predated the recent fashion and achieved in my opinion a sunny simplicity that is hard to beat. Talisman was a cheap party dress made smell, and had a faux-classy glitz to it that recalled the ‘fifties, but without quoting them explicitly. Both were instances of superior skill applied to workaday projects.
nozknoz: Although people’s tastes simply differ, sometimes I wonder if we aren’t smelling different perfumes from the same bottle due to anosmia and hyperosmia. For example, I really wanted to love Vetiver pour Elle, and I think I would if I could get a customized bottle with about one-tenth the level of the modern musk note. To me, what I smell is a mere suggestion of vetiver and floral notes, overwhelmed by a not unpleasant but truly gigantic chemical musk. That’s not what you smell, is it?
LT: No, it’s not. I’m pretty sure the musks, ambers, woody-ambers and some aquatic notes are perceived differently by different people, as is indicated by the frequent anosmias to one or more.
mikeperez23: What fragrances (if any) did either of you strongly disagree on, that should NOT have been part of the Top 100 Classics book? Oh and you two still living in Boston – I thought I read that you were in Europe now? How’s the perfume shopping there?
TS: Sécrétions Magnifiques was an LT favorite for which I had always meant to write a one-star warning, which now appears in the Little Book.
LT: You’re correct, we’re in Athens enjoying insanely great Greek produce and my favorite smell of all: kebabs.
TS: I really object to the kebabs. Also, we don’t shop for perfume.
Celestia: How do you feel about the direction Guerlain fragrances are going now that there is no longer a blood relative nose at the helm of creation?
LT: In my opinion the rot started long ago with Samsara. Still, they could fix it by hiring Patricia de Nicolaï.
olenska: I adore the snark! Would LT & TS ever consider doing a “dark matter” version of “The Little Book”, in which they a) reprise their discussions of the worst perfumes ever, b) devise anti-Desert-Island lists (perfume Superfund Sites, perhaps?) and tell the tragedy of Diorissimo’s fall from grace?
TS: Bad perfumes tend to be bad in the same way, which would make such a discussion monotonous. As for Diorissimo, the trouble is hydroxycitronellal, which is a weak odorant and must be used in high doses to get the effect. There is hope: a replacement exists that smells not only very like hydroxy but better and far more powerful. However, though it has been safety tested, it is not yet in production, though it is not currently under active patent and is in the public domain.
RossM: This question may be similar to one asked above, but I was going to ask if there were any perfumes they had to concede as ‘classics’ and include in their book but they personally don’t like?
TS: No. But don’t wear Gucci Rush in small closed spaces, ‘kay?
Gilty: Is there anything you’re stock-piling, together or separately? Do tell…! And for Luca (dumb question from a non-science person): with all your chemical analysis equipment, couldn’t you just whip us up some Iris Gris…? And for Tania: Have you had a change of heart about poor Hiris?
LT: We’ve just given away most of our perfume collection, because we were sick of carting it round the world. I’m trying not to think about all the marvels that are disappearing. I have enough New York to last me the rest of my life, and I think there will always be a wearable lavender. As for the rest, just memories, but isn’t that how it always goes? Iris Gris: going from a gas chromatograph/mass spec to a composition formula is very skilled work, because naturals are complex and it is often hard to figure out which set of peaks belong to which material. Even a correct identification doesn’t mean you can source the stuff. In the case of Iris Gris the formula is known to the Osmothèque and is rumored to be simple, less than a dozen components. But then why has nobody done it? No idea.
TS: No. It still reminds me of overcast skies and migraine and grated carrots. Also, there is an awful perfume being produced that calls itself Iris Gris and says it is a faithful reproduction. Avoid that. By the way, when he says we gave away most of our perfumes, rest assured the number of bottles remaining is in the four digits.
marko: Although this is a tired controversy, I’m curious about Luca and Tania’s philosophy on the”genderfication” of fragrance in Marketing and design. Why can’t ALL fragrances be listed as unisex (regardless of notes) instead of being deemed “feminine” or “masculine”? Is this an industry decision? Is it a cultural decision?
LT: Does it matter how they’re listed ?
TS: Dudes are afraid of wearing things that might be for chicks because they think it will make their junk shrivel up or they’ll grow noticeable breasts or their friends will laugh. So you have to create a safe space clearly labeled “FOR DUDES” in the store and then they can go there and buy stuff that smells like candy and wear it by the ton and nevertheless feel like Bruce Willis in Die Hard when he’s wearing that undershirt that looks like it’s been marinated in hamburger grease.
Sariah: Do you have any plans to do another event similar to what you did at the Smithsonian a few years back, with or without the Osmotheque? Do you know if there’s any chance of the Osmotheque opening a branch location in New York? What fragrance were you most impressed with in the past year? Biggest disappointment?
LT: I’d be happy to assist the Osmothèque in any capacity.
TS: Please see [here]. I was really cheered by a Speick body wash I picked up in Germany. It’s like bathing in Unterberg! I thought Shalimar Parfum Initial was a disgrace.
Kismet: My question for both authors may be too simplistic for a complicated topic, but anyway: if the IFRA-forbidden ingredients that make it impossible to duplicate the great classic perfumes are specific to the European Union, why not just manufacture the perfumes elsewhere? The formulas still exist, the ingredients still exist, right? (Somewhere, although I understand from the Basenotes interview with Thierry Wasser that they may now be difficult to find.) This would seem to be a perfect opportunity for the major perfume houses to license the production of the “real” older perfumes to a small production facility or to create a subsidiary to manufacture them themselves. Then market the product with a warning label or something (Danger! Contains oakmoss!!). New perfumes that comply with the regulations could continue to be created as they are now. Hey, it could even catch on with the non-perfumista public–bring it out as a “new” release!
TS: Why go to all that trouble and risk getting sued by someone with red itchy bumps? Anyway, perhaps such perfumes could be created in China, but they couldn’t be sold in the US or Europe. I couldn’t even get a bottle of a particular Aveeno lotion from the US through Greek customs because I didn’t have any paperwork showing it was approved for sale in the EU.
Santemon: If the Vera Wangs are the fragrances de choix for a female/male wedding (well I guess for some), how would Luca and Tania fragrance two gentleman marrying from their 100 classics?