I AM enchanted by fragrance and happily spritz one on before heading out the door. The 2008 book Perfumes: The A–Z Guide, by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez, which celebrated the great scents of the twentieth century, was an enormously fun read with its rhapsodic raves and rants. But 10 to 15 years later, Turin and Sanchez witnessed a dramatic change in the world of scent. Many of the classic perfumes were no longer around (or not produced in the original formulas). So, in their new 2018 book Perfumes The Guide, they review 1,200 fragrances, focusing on new faces—many of them independent, small brands not affiliated with multinational conglomerates. In the introduction, the authors admit that half the perfumes reviewed only rate one or two stars (“not good enough for you.”) But they were delighted to discover 20 that deserved five stars, “which you may not love but which are neither boring nor incompetent.”
And they report on the ins and outs of the fragrance world: the death of the celebrity perfume (no one’s mourning); oud (a rich smell of wood glue and leather that in my humble opinion smells like furniture polish) has replaced vanilla; launching one perfume instead of 20 is so last century (hello, Tom Ford); all perfume costs about $100 or more, despite the small bottle or cheap formula; and masculine fragrances have become too overbearing.
Anyone interested in perfume will value the book for its glossary of terms, its division of top scents into categories like feminines, citrus and retro. There’s a handy index by star rating and by brand; they even include a list of retailers who will send samples for a small fee and a list of places to take classes on how to become a professional perfumer.
As in Turin’s and Sanchez’s first book, the pleasure comes from reading the captivating reviews discussing the virtues and vices of perfumes.
Turin gives Sortilege (Le Galion) four stars: “To someone like myself, brought up in Paris at an impressionable age and an inveterate gawper into shop windows, the pairing of the words sortilege (magic spell) and galion (galleon), unlikely to collide even in the most arcane symbolist poem, became as obvious as steak frites…. This sort of fragrance makes you feel like a taxi is waiting outside to take you to the Opera ….”
Tania Sanchez awards Au Bord de L’Eau (L’Artisan Parfumeur) two stars: “An eau de cologne of paralyzing dullness and a harsh, thin quality that is impossible to interpret as anything other than cheapness. Wear 4711, it smells much nicer.”
Approach the book as you would a box of chocolates. The descriptions are rich, the humor irreverent. Pick the book up, put it down. Savor at a leisurely pace.
Below, a list of six of Turin and Sanchez’s five-star fragrances that are readily available online and at retail outlets.
Au Coeur Du Desert (Tauer Perfumes), $185, 50ml, LuckyScent
Miyako (Auphorie), $7 for a 1 ml sample at Ave Parfum
Narciso, (Narciso Rodriguez), $97 for 1.6 ounces, Nordstrom
Twilly d’Hermès (Hermès), $79 for 1 ounce, Nordstrom
Perfumes: The Guide
, published by Perfuumista Books, sells for $16.99 at Amazon
and $17 at LuckyScent