Fearless Fragrance

perfume guide

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PERFUMES  THE GUIDE By Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez

You’re probably asking yourself  “how interesting can a list of perfume reviews written by a biophysicist from the university of London and a perfume expert be??” (BTW, can I be a perfume expert in my next life?)  The truth is it’s positively gripping! It’s fantastically entertaining! It’s Marie Antoinette running wildly through the palace trailing the scent of powdery violets at dusk unputdownable!  I couldn’t possibly love this book anymore if I had written it myself.  The Guide, which was published in 2008 and lists close to 1,500 perfumes, is the funnest (word? I say yes dammit) non-fiction thing I’ve read in ages.   In addition to the reviews and the ratings ( 5 stars being a “masterpiece” and 1 being “awful”) the book also includes chapters on A Brief History of Perfume, How to Connect Your Nose to Your Brain, Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about perfume, and 9 Top Ten Lists (Best Orientals, Best Loud Fragrances, Best Masculines for Women, to name a few).  Honestly I wish I had the time and patience to type several for you.  Unfortunately I don’t because every time I pick up the book I waste too much time reading it, so I will just give you a few snippets:

Iris Silver Mist ( Serge Lutens )  (*****) iris root   “…The story goes that Lutens pestered the perfumer to turn up the iris volume to the max…The result was the powderiest, rootiest, most sinister iris imaginable, a huge grey ostrich feather boa to wear with purple devore velvet at a poet’s funeral.”

Iceburg Homme (Iceburg) (*) sad shampoo  “That’s him alright.  Now put him back in the freezer.”

Dzing! (L’artisan Parfumeur) (*****) vanilla cardboard    “….Dzing! smells of paper, and you can spend a good while trying to figure out whether it is packing cardboard, kraft wrapping paper, envelopes while you lick the glue, old books, or something else.  I have no idea whether this was the objective, but I have a few clues as to why it happened.  Lignin, the stuff that prevents all trees from adopting the weeping habit, is a polymer made up of units that are closely related to vanillin.  When made into paper and stored for years, it breaks down and smells good.  Which is how divine providence has arranged for secondhand bookstores to smell like good quality vanilla absolute, subliminally stoking a hunger for knowledge in all of us. L’Artisan is, for reasons unknown, planning to discontinue this marvel, so stock up”

Individuel (Mont Blanc) (*) citrus green  “A laundry-soap formula, apparently for individuals who can’t yet afford the Mont Blanc pens.”

This book has really changed the way I appreciate perfume.  Now I was always a lover, but I used to sprint through the perfume section of department stores like my sons through the kitchen when it’s time to empty the dishwasher. Now I’m proffering up my wrists to any sales person who will have me and wandering about trying to discern vulgar fruity “top notes” from lush and powdery “heart notes” while anticipating a lactonic woody “drydown” that unfortunately thins at the end.  It’s the best!!   I even downloaded the book on my iPhone Kindle app. so I can reference it while I’m shopping.

So go forth and smell the ambergris (a substance produced in the stomach of a sperm whale, which coughs the material up into ocean-seriously) and damascone (powerful materials with rosy-apple smells, related to the ionones of violets) and be happy.

Further reading suggestions:

The Secret of Scent Luca Turin

A Natural History of the Senses Diane Ackerman

The Perfect Scent; A Year Inside the Perfume Industry in Paris and New York Chandler Burr

The Emperor of ScentA True story of Perfume and Obsession (about Luca Turin) Chandler Burr

Perfume.  The Story of a Murderer Patrick Suskind

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