A book of perfume criticism? And why not? Just as music is art for the ear and painting is art for the eye, perfume is art for the nose. You and I might not be able to distinguish a perfume masterpiece from a dud, but the authors can, and they are at their most entertaining when describing the awfulness of the worst ones:
“Shrieking hair-singeing horror, probably first rejected for use as an industrial drain cleaner.”
“…like getting lemon juice in a paper cut.”
“A vile, cheap, cloying masculine that would be disheartening as the smell of the hotel shampoo in Ulan-Ude.”
The Guide contains brief reviews of about 1500 perfumes, which are rated from one star (awful) to five (a masterpiece). The “smell character” of each scent is described idiosyncratically in a two-word phrase, which will be more or less meaningful depending on your knowledge of perfume materials: classic amber, floral chypre, metallic fruity, floral wreck, trashy raspberry. A glossary in the back of the book will help with interpretation.
Luca Turin is a Name in the perfume world. As a connoisseur of perfume, he has few peers in his ability to distinguish and describe smells. He is also a biophysicist who has proposed a radical new theory of how the sense of smell works—which has brought down on his head the wrath and scorn of some rival scientists. (This rumble in the halls of science is entertainingly recounted in Chandler Burr’s The Emperor of Scent.) In 1992, he shook up the industry with the publication of his first perfume guide in French. This 2008 English edition is co-authored with the perfume critic and blogger Tania Sanchez.
Of course, the first thing to do when you get your hands on The Guide is to look up your favorite scent, hoping that the reviewer does not compare it to the smell of the bathroom in Hell. Next, you will want to dash out to the nearest department store fragrance counter and start sniffing. But even readers who do not wear perfume may find The Guide irresistible. The reviews are witty, almost addictive to read. They’re also written with deep inside knowledge of the perfume industry, opening up an entire subculture for the reader. How best to summarize the book in two words? Nose candy.
Check the WRL catalog for Perfumes: The Guide