Monday, 20 March 2017
I'm not sure if I read the (in)famous Luca Turin book before, after or just at the time when my interest in fragrances switched up a gear. But without any doubt it was a seminal influence on me. before you go away tutting in disgust, let me assure you that I don'ty take The Guide as a bible. Or, since I am not of religious persuasion, I don't take it as an equivalent of a Rough Guide.
But the whole thing is delightfully readable, entertaining and honestly informative if idiosyncratically opinionated. And it made me realise that it is possible to write - and think- about fragrance in a way that goes beyond, and occasionally entirely bypasses the whole notes/chemicals part.
Also, I do like Luca Turin. I often don't agree with him (not just on perfume - I read a collection of his very enjoyable columns whose half had nothing to do with perfume ) but both his style, and his GENERAL sensibility, if not necessarily his particular preferences appeal to a part of me. There is another part of me that thinks he's a pretentious wanker with head up hiss ass, but then the same part of me thinks that the first part of me is a pretentious wanker with head up my own ass.
Turin writes about perfume the way the best music reviewers write about albums, or the way Jane Grigson writes about fruit: with knowledge and with 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 manages to capture the essence, the idea, the sheer soul of the perfumes he reviews. He's opinionated and clever, but most of all he is 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. Sometimes, though, the history and eulogy takes over the description, and I ended up with many words that told me nothing about the scent itself. I forgive the good Doctor because he is intensely passionate about fragrance: he accepts no holy cows and seem to have 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 very few - celebrity fragrances). His personal taste is extremely diverse and sluttily promiscuous and he gives an equal attention and admiration to the loudly vulgar and to the subtly elegant, provided both are made well.
You might notice that I focus consistently on Turin here. It's not an ellipsis but a conscious choice. In a book like this, the personal click, the imaginary rapport one develops with the columnist (excuse me, the reviewer) is crucial. And for some reason, I can relate to Turin's notes much more than to Sanchez's ones. I know that they claim they agree on the star ratings. But I don't really care that much about star ratings (of which in a second)|. What I do care about is the impression of the fragrance I get from the few words or few paragraphs, and while Turin's mostly do it for me, Sanchez's don't.
It's not that they are not entertaining to read -- they are, even if a tad too bitchy for my liking (and that's the positive ones), or maybe bitchy in a way that doesn't appeal to me -- but it's more that I don't seem to share Sanchez's emotional and cultural vocabulary. She writes of notes as well, if tad differently, than Turin, but it's in the around-scent, associative realm that I don't quite get her. It might be as simple as the fact that Sanchez is American, and a few years younger than I am, which together probably create an equivalent of something more like a fifteen-year gap. It's interesting, though, that absolute majority of the five-star reviews in the Guide are Turin's.
Still, as uneven and crap as it might be as an encyclopaedia, The Guide is a tremendous source of inspiration. Witty, lyrically creative and honest, this book doesn't claim to be a reference volume or even really a proper guide to the olfactory delights of modern perfumery but it's an immensely entertaining collection of set pieces that can't fail to both amuse and inspire.
Do I have any qualms, aparat from the fact that some highly rated fragrances are still not described and that I prefer Turin to Sanchez? Well, no, not really. The star ratings are subjective, as any star ratings, and Turin and Sanchez don't claim anything else, so I don't have a problem with them.
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 nearly all of my favourite scents were given four or five stars. And many a time I looked something I felt distinctly ''meh'' about in The Guide and it was there with two or one star.
Still, it's worth remembering a few things in addition to the essential subjectivity of ratings.
Both Turin and Sanchez like originality bordering on weirdness. This applies particularly Turin: Sanchez is a bit more concerned with actual wearbility. This actually isn't an issue for me. In fact, I can't think of any fragrances they gave five stars (or four, of the ones I tried) that I thought were carp, even if some were not for me.
But as a consequence they both despise clones or uncreative ''versions'' and derivatives. They down-grade ''me-too'' scents almost as a rule. A more casual user might be perfectly happy to wear a me-too of the original scent, which The Guide rated 2* simply for its lack of originality not original,
The corollary of the above is that they are passionate about perfume which means they - particularly Turin - rate high for artistry and construction, which are not necessarily usability criteria. and they certainly rate some very controversial scents as 5* ones. The fact that I personally ''get'' this, and can imagine spending money on them, is neither here nor there. Although Turin talks about the ''must smell good'' imperative, I feel that ''must smell original'' he holds in as much esteem.
Having said all that, I still consult my copy of the dog-eared Guide on a nearly daily basis and I really wish Turin started to write about fragrance again!