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Perfume Notes: Perfumes: The Guide
by Dorothy

I finally sucked it up and bought Perfumes: The Guide, after probably a half-dozen trips to various bookstores to thumb through it furtively.

I think this book has suffered from its marketing. The book jacket proclaims it to be the "definitive" guide to perfumes, which is understandable (who, besides a confirmed perfume addict, would buy a non-definitive guide to perfumes?) but also silly, and when you read the reviews, you realize Turin and Sanchez aren't trying to be objective. They're presenting their own opinions, sometimes with elaborate metaphors, sometimes with funny but hardly illuminating quips, sometimes drifting off into personal anecdote.

I love this. I think they are both hugely entertaining writers; I love their bitchiness, I love Turin's arrogance, and I love their willingness to sum perfumes up with lines like "If you drive a Moscow taxi at night, this one's for you" and "If you like this kind of thing, your thong is probably showing above your jeans." Consider the image that came to my mind the first time I smelled Fracas:

Followed by this image:

And it's not that I don't like or appreciate Fracas; I do. But I don't wear it, simply because no matter how beautifully orchestrated the peach-and-tuberose combination, no matter how lovely I find it on others, it feels like a fragrance for someone else: a bombshell, a sexpot, "a blonde to make a bishop kick a hole through a stained-glass window". There's nothing technical or intellectual about this response; it's all memory and emotion -- but isn't that why most of us wear perfume?

Since I'm new to perfume, I'm not really concerned about what reading Turin and Sanchez might do to my own critical judgment. At this point, I don't feel I have much, and fragrance is such a very intimate, personal thing that I think it's hard to be too much swayed by others' opinions. It's one thing to muscle your way through a book you don't like, quite another to live with a smell you don't like. I have smelled Bulgari Black and Dior Homme, both of which get raves from Turin, and...well-composed they may be, but they both give me an instant headache, and that is that. Estée Lauder Beyond Paradise, which Turin has called "the perfect floral", was another headache-inducing scrubber for me, calling up images of Mystic Tans and all-inclusive resorts. I don't think Annick Goutal Eau de Charlotte smells like a "soapy green" at all; I think it smells like mimosa, jam and several types of powder (baby powder, cocoa powder, icing sugar), and I'm clearly not alone in that. And on a more general note, my personal experience doesn't bear out Turin and Sanchez's assertion that skin chemistry is unimportant.

I think this book could have been edited a little better; for example, it's odd to see Turin and Sanchez repeatedly reference perfumes they don't review in the book (Knize Ten, YSL Champagne/Yvresse). And again, I don't consider it "definitive" in any way. But it's enormous fun, often hilarious, and a good resource for a relative novice like me, someone learning the basics of perfume history and trying to decide what to sample next.

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10/02/2008 [5]

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