Books, News, Perfume

Fetch Your Fainting Chaises and Clutch Your Pearls: A New Edition of Perfumes: The Guide Is Upon Us

Since I first started getting into fragrances, there are few things that have consistently brought me as much joy as Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez’s seminal work from 2008, Perfumes: The Guide. It’s served me as a invaluable point of reference while researching new perfumes to add to my collection, an easy-to-pick-up casual read (pick a page, any will do!), and as of late, a ritualistic part of my subway commute. It’s a book that reads like my idea of dinner party conversation porn: one page we’re talking Michael Curtiz quotes, and the next we’re calling Paris Hilton’s Just Me a “barf-bag floral.” Perfumes: The Guide is pithy and informative, erudite yet easily accessible, the rare book written that’s so thoughtful and witty that I think about at least one passage from it each day. Et tu, Bible?

I mean, seriously, how much do I love this book? Here, let me count the ways.




Yes, I bought three copies, because in my defense there have been some revisions and additions since it was first published, and I’d be loath to miss a single, saucy bon mot from Mr. Turin and Ms. Sanchez (this is my own personal FOMO, apparently). Besides, I tend to handle my books like I treat my romantic relationships (poorly), so I’d hate to all but literally devour my copy without a back-up (or two) in reserve. Moreover, the last time this book was published was in 2009, and today’s perfume writing and criticism seems to inextricably tethered to the internet (for better and for worse) that it’s easy to imagine publishers having little interest in keeping such a niche item in print.

Honestly, I was so worried this would go the way thing always do whenever you find out your new favorite fragrance is long-since discontinued that I was already scouting hooking spots and looking up trade-in prices in Rumpelstiltskin’s Blue Book for New Borns, until, as if by the hands of some well-perfumed god, I received the one Twitter notification I’ll ever truly appreciate:

Well amen emoji hands, y’all, ‘cos that’s some news that makes me want to all-caps-with-an-exclamation-point REJOICE! Details are about as scant as my willingness to do anything more than the most cursory investigation (if it ain’t a top hit in a Google News search, is it even happening?), but judging from a few other of Luca Turin’s tweets, it looks like we’ll have a 2018 edition of Perfumes: The Guide as soon as June with future editions to come. Oh, and there will be an ebook as well! (I’m particularly excited about this last bit because I’ll finally feel free to highlight choice phrases and passages willy nilly, plus I could’ve sworn there was a perfume that was compared to Karen Carpenter’s alto, but I’ve never been able relocate that passage, and I’m starting to wonder if it’s real or a fever dream, so an easy “search text” would be ideal right about now.)

Now, to be perfectly reasonable (a rare moment for me, I assure you), I don’t mean to suggest that Perfumes: The Guide is some infallible be-all-end-all in perfume criticism. It is, at its heart, essentially a labor of love by two perfume aficionados, and two people are but a drop in the bucket of this highly opinionated, passionate lot of fragrantophiles. Still, Perfumes is no less singular work in rather gaunt genre, and Turin and Sanchez have enough bonafides on the subject to have earned their considerable opinions. Read enough of their reviews and you get a sense of their perspective, a foundation upon which you can develop your own metric to determine where your tastes do and don’t align. Read some more and you’ll glean a sense of the history, art and architecture behind great perfume. Great criticism isn’t about affirming that you have “good taste”, after all; it’s about learning what makes your “good taste” tick, and that’s what makes Perfumes: The Guide so essential.

And, if for nothing else, I think there’s just enough mineable camp in this tome that it really takes flight when you read in the dry tone of your favorite sharp-tongued drag queen. That, or you imagine Raul Esparza’s Dr. Frederick Chilton responding to The Guide‘s zingiest rejoinders:

But maybe that’s just me? Regardless, reading may be fundamental, but it should also be fun, and Perfumes: The Guide is blessedly, blissfully both.

The 10th anniversary, 2018 edition of Perfumes: The Guide is coming soon, and you’ll probably know whenever that is from all of my uncontrollable flailing and screaming.

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