The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Globe Life

September 19, 2008

Book review: Guide a sweet-smelling primer on fragrances

‘Perfumes: The Guide’

By Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez

“Perfumes” is a unique book, a primer on fragrance and reviews of almost 1,500 fragrances. Turin has a doctorate in biophysics and is a leading expert on olfactory science, while Sanchez is a fragrance collector and reviewer and avid fan.

The first 50 or so pages are devoted to the whys and wherefores of fragrance. There is a fascinating chapter on the history of fragrance, explaining the chemistry involved and the evolution of the sources used for fragrances and an explanation of how perfumes are made. The difference between perfumes and eau de toilette and other types of fragrance is outlined and there are sections on women’s and men’s fragrances, including classifications (beyond the usual chypre/Oriental/floral/fougere). The authors are nothing if not opinionated, which is what makes this book so much fun. Agree or disagree with them, the writing is informed and informative as well as witty.

After that first section, there are the reviews. Fragrances are rated from 1 to 5 stars, followed by a two-word “character” note, like “sweet woody” or “smoky carnation.” Some are more than descriptive — they’re indictments, like “floral mess,” “hideous oriental,” “floral abomination” or “Godzilla floral.” I could go on all day with those.

The actual review comes next, and those vary from a sentence or two to a bit over a page for some. I found the reviews terrific reading, although some of the allusions and references (not to mention the French phrases and whatnot) were a bit over my head. Maybe it’s just me, but I tend to enjoy negative reviews more, perhaps because they give the writer a lot of room to move. A couple of my favorites: “212 by Carolina Herrera, 1 star, harsh floral. Like getting lemon juice in a paper cut”; and “Cumbia Colors Woman by Benetton. 1 star, sour flower. Ghastly little squeaky-clean stunted floral.” It’s amazing how well they can convey what something smells like with a few well-chosen words.

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