Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez
I had expected this book to be fascinating. I had not expected it would be hilarious, brilliant, entertaining with undertones of well-placed sarcasm and a lingering hint of sheer sensual grown-up reading pleasure. It advertises itself as
"A Definitve Guide to the World of Perfume," and "The First Book of Its Kind." I believe that even if you have never used a perfume (parfum, cologne, eau de cologne, eau de toilette, deodorant, body spray) you would still find something that catches your attention in the elegant, fresh scent of this attractive compendium.
The authors (one male, one female) are experts. Luca Turin has a PhD in biophysics and is a leading scholar in the field of olfactory science; Tania Sanchez is a perfume collector and reviewer. They are both writers of extraordinary talent, as they would have to be. To the ordinary person, a perfume smells good or it doesn't. You like it or you don't. To an expert, every aroma has multiple levels of meaning.
Here are some of the many ways that Turin and Sanchez talk about
"hybrid between a spritzy masculine and a bright floral"
Having worn mostly drug-store scents all my life, I thumbed through the dictionary and was surprised to find that even my low-level tastes were catered to. They mean it when they call this THE guide. I was not surprised to find that my inexpensive odors were considered, if not exactly eau de alley-cat, certainly not in the range of say,
31 Rue Cambon by Chanel, which gets 5 stars from both reviewers - a perfume, Turin states, that gave him "an instantaneous impression of ravishing beauty at first sniff."
Tabu, which I wear because my mother wore it and because it has strong associations of happy childhood, is rated as "cheap oriental: break a bottle in your luggage and you won't need the Golden Horde to clear your way." While this amusing analysis won't keep me from liberally spraying myself with
Tabu, the book did provoke my interest in many other products which I've made a mental note to try:
Amethyst, "rose, black currant...pleasantly dense, peppery, sweet and savory, like a good chutney," sounds like me on a romantic weekend, while for weekdays I might enjoy the more office-friendly
Sampaquita, "with a soapy lily of the valley playing lead in a grassy fresh white flowers accord."
"melancholy, metallic, and reminiscent of swimming pools"
"a strange, moist powdery yellow narcissus accord"
"rooty as much as woody, with a carrot seed and iris combination"
"archaic frgrance of biblical directness"
"mixture of citrus friendliness and resinous austerity"
I found myself in stitches reading what the authors had to say about another of my mother's stand-by scents,
White Shoulders: "so unbendingly maternal that if Harvey Keitel sprayed it on, he would spontaneously sprout a ruffled apron and ask you if you wanted another cupcake."
Men's perfumes are also rated. The commentaries will be helpful to dudes who often have no idea what smells good or may be reluctant to wear cologne or aftershave if it's not
Old Spice ("powdery oriental") or doesn't have a picture of some suitably masculine icon on the label. The gamut runs from
Delicious Closet Queen (no, really) which is "supposed to be masculine for guys who wear pink silk undies," to
Kouros: "it smells like the tanned skin of a guy with gomina in his hair who just stepped out of a shower." Who could help but love this analysis of
Nautica Voyage which begins "Smelling NV is a bit like finding out that your local Chevy dealer just landed the part of Evita at the Met."
NV, we are told, "keeps up a reassuring baritone patter"
but "forgets itself at odd times to break into snatches of soprano arias from Donizetti." Men, if you want to be sure of your approach to the world, scent-wise, you could do worse than
Fleur de Male, a curious cross between "very gay" and "imperturbably straight."
Well-blended science, history and bon mot make this dictionary a must-have, a great gift, and a great trip read, especially if you're traveling by plane and have a chance to duck into the duty-free shops and try out some of the fragrances that are so artfully detailed.
Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Barbara Bamberger Scott, 2008