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Perfumes: The A-Z Guide [Paperback]

Luca Turin , Tania Sanchez
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 27 2009
Pompous names, bizarre ads, hundreds of new scents a year?the multibillion-dollar business of fragrance has long resisted understanding. At last the first critical?and critically acclaimed?guide to perfume illuminates the mysteries of this secretive industry. Lifelong perfume fanatics Luca Turin (best known as the subject of Chandler Burr?s The Emperor of Scent) and Tania Sanchez exalt, wisecrack, and scold through their reviews with passion, eloquence, and erudition, making this book a must-have for anyone looking for a brilliant fragrance?or just a brilliant read.

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Perfumes: The A-Z Guide + The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry in Paris and New York + The Emperor of Scent: A True Story of Perfume and Obsession
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Less a guide in the sense of helping people choose the perfect fragrance than a wide-ranging, critical review of some 1,200 perfumes, both famous and obscure, this comprehensive book is unfailingly entertaining. A collaboration between Turin, a well-known olfactory scientist, and Sanchez, a perfume collector and critic, the book brings their exquisite connoisseurship to life in a contagious manner. Their passion for a few scents and their outrage at the others' failings make for entry after entry of hilarious, catty comments interspersed with occasional erudite, eloquent disquisitions. French perfumery Guerlain is subject to both: Jicky is an object lesson in perfumery... a towering masterpiece, while Aqua Allegoria Pivoine Magnifica is like chewing tin foil while staring at a welding arc. Other startlingly evocative metaphors abound, especially those comparing perfumes to people, whether someone real (Amy Winehouse, Paris Hilton) or a general type (socialites, someone ill with bronchitis). This will be a must-have for anyone who already loves perfumes, though many of the reviews will cause violent disagreement, and those who aren't utterly perfume-obsessed will still appreciate the opening essays on olfactory science, the history of perfume, general types of fragrances and how to choose perfumes. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


As scintillating as it is comprehensive...this pungent, entrancing book is a wake up call for the nostrils. The Independent An unexpected classic of criticism -- Philip Hensher Spectator (Books of the Year) If you are at all interested in perfume, one of life's greatest sensual pleasures, this is an essential possession -- David Sexton Evening Standard This husband-and-wife team has produced a work of perfume criticism that is as gripping as any thriller. -- Jan Moir Daily Mail I loved it and bought it for all my friends. I have to say that this is certainly my favourite non-fiction book ever and is very likely my favourite book of all time! If I had to take only one book with me onto a desert island for an indefinite time, it would be this one. Joanne Harris - author of 'Chocolat' The perfect gift for the scent addict in your life...witty and informative - and, occasionally, deliciously bitchy. The Times Brilliant writing... I shall now spray on my favourite scents in quite a different frame of mind! -- Joanna Trollope By email hugely engrossing...the writing is brilliant...gorgeous. Evening Standard Lyrical and acerbically witty compendium. The Times From riotous one-liners to elaborate reviews, fragrance experts Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez have written an authoritative guide to the best and worst scents. Daily Express It's a great book because it brilliantly combines technical knowledge with evocative, poetic and often laugh-out-loud-funny prose to provide incisive, vivid and honest criticism of all perfumes - from the 'staggeringly bad' to the 'deeply divine'. If you want to open your mind to the intricacies of scent - and enjoy a brilliant, entertaining read along the way - I can't recommend it enough. Elle consistently entertaining...scathingly inventive bitchiness. Sunday Business Post astonishingly brilliant and witty companion to all things fragrant. Spectator dazzlingly comprehensive compendium...the writing is the olfactory equivalent of mouthwatering. Observer genuinely wonderful...the authors's sense of smell is amazing. Daily Telegraph I was fascinated... a description of every perfume known to man, which sounds peculiar, but is mesmeric. -- William Leith Evening Standard (Books of the year) a staggeringly complete compilation of perfume reviews...ridiculously entertaining. Daily Mail For any fragrance indispensable beauty bible. Norwich Evening News Highly entertaining critique which had me both fascinated and laughing out loud in equal measure... addictive and informative. -- Phyl Clarke Irish Times It's scents-sational! -- Rochelle Warner A wise investment and an addictive read. -- Gillian Nelis Sunday Business Post The authors' evocative and vivid writing style convinces us that perfume isn't a science but an art. Never again will you be able to walk past a perfume counter with quite the same nonchalance... if you have a nose for a good book, buy this one. -- Anita Sethi Independent on Sunday They're funny, bizarre, weird, hilarious writers. -- Alex Heminsley BBC Radio 2 It's an eau-de-must-have. If it came in a bottle we'd wear it. The City Weekly Magazine (Australia) As riveting as a novel and as therapeutic as a recipe book. -- Jan Masters Reader's Digest --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved this book but my wife did not..... Feb. 26 2012
By Faisal
Quite a few of my favourite fragrances are the authors' top choices too, like YSL M7, Azzaro, and Cool Water. Almost none of my wife's favourites are listed in the book. A book like this is obviously very subjective. But I learned a lot about how to describe fragrances, how to apply them, and what goes into them. All in all, a lovely book, really enjoyed reading it. It is now a reference every time I want to try a new perfume.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A bible for scent lovers! May 7 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you've read "The Emperor of Scent" about the brilliant rebel scientist, Luca Turin, you must have this book. Even if you haven't, and you have become interested in our least understood sense, 'smell'....this is a fabulous book. It doesn't matter whether you agree with his ( and his equally nose-worthy partner's) choices for favourite perfumes. What's engaging about the book is their commentary. The descriptions of their perceptions of the various hundreds and hundreds of perfumes they review, can be ruthless, funny but always enlightening and extremely perceptive. Learning to actually 'describe' a scent, has been the most interesting aspect of this book. I find smells generally hard to describe....either they're 'nice' and I like it, or they're 'bad' and I don't like it. To learn to identify chemical components or categories (spicy, floral, citrus, woods, aldehydes etc) and then to articulately describe feelings and more abstract qualities around these scents, opens up a whole new world of appreciation. Our society emphasizes being articulate about visual and aural perceptions but not about our primal sense of smell. This is a great book for taking a new journey and educating yourself about how we 'smell' and enjoying two people who are obviously masters in the art of understanding 'scent'. Highly recommended.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremey Happy Feb. 10 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A great compendium of scent and perfume descriptions.
Some are funny and others biased but overall, a great reference book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  169 reviews
297 of 317 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth Buying, But Beware May 9 2008
By spheremusic - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Turin argues in his earlier book, _The Secret of Scent_, that smell is not so much about memory and biology, as is widely believed, as it is about beauty and imagination. He believes, furthermore, that one of the highest achievements in perfumery is what he terms "abstraction," that is to say, the creation of olfactory accords that, while perhaps alluding to natural smells, are novel and resistant to definition. These aesthetic axioms (which he presumably shares with co-author/wife Tania Sanchez) are the basis of the evaluations in this book, and we, as readers, have no choice but to take them or leave them. These axioms lead the authors to prefer complex fragrances over simple ones, fragrances that develop over time to linear ones, original and/or unique fragrances over skillful executions of old ideas, "interesting" (even if vaguely unpleasant) fragrances over boring (even if pleasant) ones, etc. In a nutshell, they apply the same standards to perfume that other critics usually apply to other arts. They want perfumery to be taken seriously as an art form, and say as much.

This is a legitimate view, and one to which I am highly sympathetic. That said, I think the authors overlook (or deliberately ignore) some of the factors that render the purely aesthetic appreciation of perfume difficult at best. First of all, perfumes are made to be worn. The final aesthetic effect of a fragrance is inseparable from the time, place, and person(s) involved. Of course this "framing" or contextualization effect is at work in all art forms, but it is arguably more important for perfumery than for others. Given the fact that perfumes are mixtures of chemicals, factors such as temperature, humidity, skin pH, decomposition, underlying body odor, age-related hyposmia, differing olfactory thresholds, etc., make this state-dependence even more crucial. And, regardless of what Turin might say, it is simply impossible to separate a fragrance from the associations (read: memories) it may evoke. Perhaps it's possible to "see" the Platonic form of a perfume behind all of these contingencies, but I highly doubt it. Our reactions to smells are visceral before they're intellectual or aesthetic, no doubt because our sense of smell is our primary sentinel against many toxins and pathogens. Individual differences in sensitivity to certain aromatic chemicals are highly significant and render any kind of objective discussion of fragrances impossible. We're not even working with the same equipment--it's like a society of people who are all partially blind to different colors trying to discuss color coordination. The fundamental variability of our olfactory apparatus, even before differences in taste are taken into account, makes the arrogance of some of the pronouncements in this book a bit galling.

People *wear* fragrances (as opposed to sniffing them on strips--decidedly a minority pastime) for a variety of reasons: to make a statement, to find comfort or stimulation, to complement a particular ensemble, to seduce (and here the tastes of the quarry count far more than Apollonian meditations on beauty), and even, in some parts of the world, to mask the fact that they haven't bathed (it's no wonder that perfumery reached its pinnacle in Europe, where people didn't--and sometimes still don't--bathe regularly). Most people simply want a fragrance to make the day a little more pleasant for themselves and for those around them, not because they want to wear a work of "art" whose complexity and depth are going to make heads turn or spark a discussion about the relative merits of gourmand chypres and aromatic fougeres. Hence the incomprehension and hurt feelings that have greeted some of the harsher reviews in this book.

Assuming that one buys into the premise that perfume is a pure art, the authors, in general, seem to have excellent (i.e., informed, refined, and considered) taste--except when it comes to reviewing the work of their friends. Turin, for example, rates Calice Becker's Beyond Paradise Men as one of the top ten masculines currently in production. Since it isn't very expensive I decided to take a chance and buy it blind on his recommendation. The highly synthetic headache-in-a-bottle I got stuck with isn't terrible, I suppose, but if it's one of the top ten masculines that money can buy in early 2008, then I'm Jacques Guerlain. In a different part of the book I discovered that Turin is good friends with Becker. Ah ha... I don't mean to suggest that Turin was cynically shilling for a friend, but rare is the man who is immune to the tender, insidious persuasions of friendship. I'm certain no one else on the planet would rate that fragrance quite so highly. Such are the dangers inherent in taking the word of a consummate industry insider without a huge grain of salt. Turin also awards points for historical importance to fragrances he can't even stand to be around--Opium, for example. This, I think, is taking the "perfume as art" shtick a little too far. When reviewing fragrances that knock their socks off (especially a fragrance saturated with some deep personal significance) both authors (but Sanchez in particular) tend to wax poetic and come off the rails in terms of actually describing the fragrance. Some of this lyricism is quite affecting, but alas too much of it sounds like an exercise for a creative writing workshop, and the straining for effect turns tiresome. The humor, too, is witty in spots but tends consistently towards juvenile mockery and inane plays on perfumes' names.

All of these caveats aside, this is a very informative and often entertaining book. If you love fragrances, it is clearly a must-buy because it offers an excellent idea of which to sample next. If it educates consumers to stop buying and chides producers to stop making the cheap and and often hideous potions flooding the market, it will have done its job. I've learned a lot from the book and am grateful to the authors for having written it, but in the end it's more trustworthy as a Baedeker than as a Michelin.
71 of 72 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Kindle Version Outdated April 15 2012
By rob brown - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The only way to get the newer, updated edition of this book is to buy the paperbook edition.

The Kindle edition is actually taken from the older, outdated hardback edition; which is to say it does not contain the numerous updates, new reviews(~450) and new Top 10 lists.
98 of 111 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Hunter S. Thompson Field Guide To Perfumes April 14 2008
By Cologniac - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I bought this on a whim and am *very* glad I did. This book is both extraordinarily educational and deliciously funny. Along with some nice, straightforward teachings by obvious experts, the book is filled with hugely entertaining mini-reviews of fragrances. The classics are hailed but dissected for the benefit of the class. The mediocre are called on the carpet and judged for both their virtues and their sins. And the trivial and forgettable are dispatched with short but laser-like descriptions of their one failed mission. Prepare to see your guilty pleasures nailed to the cross, and your true loves frisked rudely for shoplifted items. But trust me - it's not like a single Joan Rivers gag photocopied over and over - there's tremendous variety in the reviews. Many recommend superior but lesser-known fragrances that "did it better" - extremely useful to newbies. A lot of history is woven into the reviews - right where you need it. In fact, the education factor is at least two stars of my review. There's even a too-short glossary for people who might be put off by "aldehyde", "fougère", or "woody-amber". I would have loved to have seen more.

I enjoyed the fact that fragrance classifications were toyed with - and with extreme precision. For every "woody citrus" there's something like "evil tuberose" or "sad shampoo". But the authors don't spare themselves from the microscope, either - and hilariously so. [Spoiler: Tania admits to falling in love with one of my wife's favorites while drunk in the store, only to regret her romantic mistake upon sobering up.]

I would not call the reviews mean, but compared to the faux-art BS of the PR flacks, and the generally courteous and literary treatment by fragrance blogistas, these reviews are short and honest to the point of a football tackle - American style. They demonstrate beautifully that the sense of smell is weighted differently for everybody. I found myself fist-pumping and yelling "hallelujah" in agreement with many reviews, but bewildered by others. In a few cases, the authors didn't even mention my personal "love notes", while trashing off-notes that I didn't even know were there. I think this demonstrates why one needs to view it like a trip to the comedy club. Your particular race, religion, or political party is gonna get some heat. They may even pick on your spouse a bit. But it's OK. If you keep a sense of humor, you'll have a good time.

For me, the thing which ultimately sells the book is the frank, intelligent writing. The authors open up the way the best fragrance journalists do - with 100% honesty, and allowing their points to wander into beautiful and effective analogies and sidebars. You will learn to have an effective opinion of fragrances by observing these two masters at work. These two authors have forgotten more about perfume than I will learn in the remainder of my life. And I now have literally dozens of leads on scents that I'm very likely to really enjoy. Just think how little a $10-20 investment is next to a single good bottle. People should get this for the good steers, even if they can't stand to read harsh reviews of their favorites.
110 of 128 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars not perfect but wonderful May 11 2008
By Julie H. Rose - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I got an e-mail from Amazon (not that it's personal) to write a review of this book. After looking over the others, I don't really see what I can add, but here's my four cents:

1. It's a bit sad to me that folks are so insecure. So what if Turin and Sachez have a different opinion than you? I have heard people say they were devastated that The Guide doesn't say "their scent" is great. It doesn't say some of my favorites are either, and I could care less.

2. Why is everyone saying it's bitchy? Yes, it's scathing, but it's not bitchy. There's a world of difference. Turin and Sanchez love scent and this comes through. They are having fun, I would imagine. And what do we do when we're having fun? Make jokes. Overstate. No, it's not bitchy, for it's never mean just for the sake of it.

3. These folks are professionals in their field. Dr. Turin designs new scent molecules. It is no wonder that they both go for the unusual and even the unwearable. The vast majority of the mid-scale department store scents smell the same: how would you like it if you had to test these on a regular basis? I'm sure your taste, too, would become more refined and gravitate to more bang than, say, yet another quiet white floral.

4. Folks, have some faith in your own opinions and just enjoy. The bottom line is this: this book is a great deal of fun. If you're looking for a list of ingrediants, google it.
35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Use this book As An Interactive Guide to Exploring and Collecting Perfumes Oct. 7 2008
By D. Summerfield - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I'm older now, and I have a little more disposable income (and a lot more self-confidence), so I have had great fun using this book's witty reviews to guide me in trying and purchasing perfumes. I never had more than one or two bottles of perfume on my vanity table before. Now I have several dozen because this book has made me see perfume in a whole new way.

Yes, the book is a delight to read, but I have found it much more fun to actually use. Interestingly, I discovered just how interactive this book can be because I am a book lover.

I was intrigued by the book's description of a perfume by L'Artisan Parfumeur called Dzing! The authors likened the perfume's scent to a "secondhand bookstore." I purchased a bottle on a whim when I happened across it on a trip to New York. It was only when I was browsing at my favorite used bookstore days later that it struck me. The vanilla overtones in this fabulous scent do indeed evoke the wonderful aroma of old paper. I smelled my wrist, I sniffed the terrific, familiar book-laden air around me, I felt a happy sense of discovery and I was hooked.

Since reading this book, I have stuck it into my tote whenever I plan to be in a major department store. The book's vignettes ignite my curiosity and imagination.

Take, for example, Thierry Mugler's Angel. The authors deem this scent a masterpiece. They tell the reader the history behind the scent -- that it started as a joke which combined the elements of a masculine and a feminine fragrance, but that in making that joke the perfumer came up with a truly new kind of scent. The authors point out that Angel exists in a "high energy state of contradiction. Many perfumes are beautiful or pleasant, but how many are exciting?" Then the authors deliver the zinger, which gives me a mental image for placing the perfume into my own life context. They say that Angel evokes that " woman in a film who seethes "He's so annoying!" and marries him in the end." I got that! I could then smell the contradiction and the attraction in the scent. I purchased a bottle because the scent now "speaks" to me in a way it never could have before I read this book.

Is perfume necessary to my existence? No. When my children were small and we had meager time, money or energy, perfume was simply that handy bottle of Chanel No. 5 my mother had sent me for Christmas which I sprayed on to feel pretty on those infrequent dinner/movie dates with my husband (when we could get a babysitter.) Do I agree with everything the authors say about the various perfumes? No, but that's part of the fun.

This book has opened a pleasant door for me. Perfume has become a fascinating foray into sensual exploration. I enjoy reading the metaphors and similes, the creative adjectives and backstories describing these perfumes, and then experimenting with the truth of them for myself.

The authors have done something wonderful with this book. They have taken the mystique which advertising has always made sure surrounded fragrance and swept it away. But they have replaced that mystique with something better -- little personalities, if you will, for the different scents. Now browsing at the perfume counter has become like attending a cocktail party filled with famous people. Some will speak to you immediately. Some will stand back, but become friendly if you approach. Some are dull as dishwater. Some you will dislike. But being an insider at the party is exciting. I love that I have an invitation.
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