Perfumes: The A - Z Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez

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Perfumes: The A - Z Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez

Category: Lifestyle
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Magda Healey
Reviewed by Magda Healey
Summary: Delightfully readable, entertaining and honestly informative if idiosyncratically opinionated guide to fine fragrance. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 624 Date: October 2009
Publisher: Profile
ISBN: 978-1846681271

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Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. The only thing that could be conceivably better than reading Perfumes would be to read it while sampling the scents it reviews, but even without the olfactory component, Perfumes is a delight: Turin (a lyrical scientist) and Sanchez (an analytically enthusiastic collector) not only treat perfume creation as high art, but turn perfume criticism into an art form (or at least a sophisticated genre of writing) too.

The bulk of the book is made up of alphabetically listed reviews of scents: from 5th Avenue to Z Zegma, there are around two thousand scents (the paperback edition contains over 400 new fragrances): each perfume is given a star rating from one to five, a two-word description that gives a basic idea of the fragrance and a review proper. This can range from one word (repellent) or a short phrase (dreadful little thing), typically meted out to 1-star performers, to an elaborate account, more typical of accolades reserved fro the 5-starred masterpieces or 4-starred recommendeds.

Turin and Sanchez write about perfume the way the best music reviewers write about albums, or the way Jane Grigson writes about fruit: with knowledge and love, treading a precarious path between technically accomplished, analytical criticism and impressionistic playfulness. The scents are described in a heady combination of technical perfumery terms, real-world references, pop-culture analogies, high-culture metaphors and personal associations. Turin and Sanchez manage to capture the essence, the idea, the sheer soul of the perfumes they review: they are opinionated and clever, but most of all fun. The short hatchet jobs are devastatingly effective while the longer eulogies will make you want to go and buy one (or two, or five) now.

Dazzlingly witty, lyrically creative, often painfully honest, this book is a perfect reference volume and a guide to the olfactory delights of modern perfumery (only current fragrances are covered) as well as a very browseable, immensely entertaining collection of set pieces that can't fail to amuse and inspire.

Turin and Sanchez are intensely passionate about fragrance: they have no holy cows and seemingly no prejudices either, doling out scathing criticism to weaker offerings of the most esteemed brands and unafraid to praise the unexpected (including even some - admittedly few - celebrity fragrances). Their personal tastes are beautifully promiscuous and they give an equal attention and admiration to loudly vulgar and to subtly elegant, provided both are made well.

They both like originality bordering on weirdness (particularly Turin: Sanchez is a tad more concerned with actual wearbility), they both despise mediocre copies and are both somehow ambivalent about loud fragrances.

I suspect that even if you disagree with their judgements, you will find reading the reviews stimulating: personally I ended up feeling smugly satisfied that most of my favourite scents were given four or five stars while the ones I disliked were thoroughly dissed.

I also suspect that some readers would be disappointed with an almost entire lack of bottle descriptions: Turin and Sanchez are concerned with the juice while some collectors care as much about the packaging as fragrance - this is not a book for them.

The reviews are followed by several top-10 lists by style, price and gender (the reviews themselves don't always specify whether the fragrance is masculine or feminine) and a useful glossary of terms and materials. The book starts with a number of introductory essays which seemed rather haphazardly put together, including an illuminating intro to Sanchez and Turin's philosophy of perfume criticism, a fascinating account of the history of perfumery and a wonderful guide to masculine fragrances by style (where is a feminine equivalent?).

I am greedy and thus would like some more: most of all, I'd like a summary run-down of major brands/perfume houses, as, although the individual fragrances vary enormously in their quality, there are certain things that can be said about Guerlain or Chanel (or, to pick the other end of scale, Burberry or Clean) as a whole, and as the guide itself is alphabetical, it's sometimes hard to get an overall impression of a brand (insomuch as such a thing is even possible). I would also like page numbers in the reference index by brand as well as in the top-10 listings.

But these are just requests for gilding the lily, really. Perfumes is brilliant as it is and will be indispensable to anybody with an interest in fragrance, from budding collectors to those simply looking for inspiration for their next purchase (or three).

Highly recommended.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Those with interest in the marketing side of luxury fashion might like Luxury Fashion Branding: Trends, Tactics, Techniques by Uche Okonkwo ...but in my library Perfumes will be joining a mixed bag of volumes on my handy dip-in shelf: the Rattlebag poetry anthology, the Jane Grigson Fruit Book, the science delights of Cosmic Imagery: Key Images in the History of Science by John D Barrow, What is Your Dangerous Idea? by John Brockman and Herbert's essays on art and history.

Booklists.jpg Perfumes: The A - Z Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez is in the Bookbag's Christmas Gift Recommendations 2009.
Buy Perfumes: The A - Z Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Perfumes: The A - Z Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Perfumes: The A - Z Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Perfumes: The A - Z Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez at Amazon.com.


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