Wednesday, 18 June 2008

On Luca Turin

I am an active member of several online fragrance communities. Much discussion and debate has ensued following the release of Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez's book Perfumes: The Guide. So, I decided to see for myself what the fuss was all about. Here is an excerpt from the published book description:

"...a definitive guide to the world of perfume. Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez are experts in the world of scent. Turin, a renowned scientist, and Sanchez, a longtime perfume critic, have spent years sniffing the world's most elegant and beautiful as well as some truly terrible perfumes. In "Perfumes: The Guide," they combine their talents and experience to review more than twelve hundred fragrances, separating the divine from the good from the monumentally awful. Through witty, irreverent, and illuminating prose, the reviews in "Perfumes" not only provide consumers with an essential guide to shopping for fragrance, but also make for a unique reading experience..."

So, I had high hopes.

I was disappointed.

After reading Chandler Burr's "Emperor of Scent", one can't help acknowledge that Turin's understanding of perfume from a molecular and biological perspective, is staggering. In terms of my own edification, I learned much from EOS, and found it a very compelling read. Burr's dynamic writing style in particular, paints a portrait of Turin as a man whose eccentricities and, at times outlandish work practices were often overlooked because of his natural drive and academic aptitude. Thus, one can't help feel Turin is revered as somewhat of a demigod in his scientific profession.
But this unfortunately does not ring true for his abilities as an author or a critic. In fact, I find the majority of the reviews in THE GUIDE self-indulgent, slap-hazard and extremely inconsistent.
I think when one - whose knowledge is revered by a great many - fails to deliver dependable, penetrating insights across the board, and instead, favors wise-cracking remarks or insubstantial criticisms to flesh out the pages; then its best to leave well enough alone. Turin's efforts I feel, are best spent in the laboratory, or out in the field - not between the pages of a book.
To my mind, Tania Sanchez's insights are, more often than not, equally as redundant. I don't feel that simply having a love and appreciation of fine fragrances endows one with the shrewdness and practical knowledge required to consistently write credible, objective, critical appraisals. Her evaluations are peppered with tongue-in-cheek humor and flippant declarations that I feel don't always win out over the sensitivity with which some of these scents deserve to be treated. Comedic one-liners do not make for illuminating reading.
It would also appear that in Sanchez & Turin's world, Cool Water seems to be the yardstick against which all men's commercial scents that have followed, are measured. In addition, I often found myself "tut-tutting" where criticism of a scent was overlooked in favour of criticism of the wearer. Also, whilst certain scents were being reviewed, many others were referenced... very few of which actually made it into the pages of the book! It's precisely this kind of inconsistent subjective claptrap that I find hard to swallow in The Guide.

OK, kudos to them both for upping off their asses and getting out there and walking the walk. No one can deny Turin's passion and contribution to the science, but to the total sum of their "insights" in The Guide, I will absolutely not subscribe.


Mariannetm said...

What a fine weblog this is.

You write very well and your blog looks good too.

I appreciate your critical view on this book for it is becoming a bit of a perfume bible - such is my impression.


Thank you mariannetm, Im delighted you find it a pleasant read. I hope you stop by often. :)

dinazad said...

The Guide makes for nice light reading (and I do enjoy a bit of snark occasionally, but many of the comments in the Guide seem to be snark for the sake of snarking. Not to be taken seriously), but as a perfume guide I'd say it's only one of many (and not the best), and one would do well to own several different guides.... And I agree - it is annoying to read sundry references to Paco Rabanne's La Nuit or to Knize Ten and then find that neither is in the book. This kind of sloppiness definitely lessens the enjoyment! (Can a sloppily written and edited book really be ultimate thing in perfume literature?) Also, of course, I can't take a perfume guide to seriously when its views on a scent so often differ from my one. After all, I'm the supreme scent authority in my own fragrant world! ;-))

nubelia said...

I read it , had some minor laughs,scratched my head in bemusement on many occasions and then put it down and if I were not mixed up in the perfume world of the Interwangle would enver have given it another thought.

It seems to be it is early days of perfume critics* and hopefully this book will spawn more books of this ilk from a variety of authors. I would not mind seeing the likes of Octavian Coiffan published in English and so many out in the blogistanian who are capable ( our own Redolent chap perhaps?.

*that being said I have never looked to critics in any medium, or at least never taken any critique to heart. I have to confess I prefer a more "man on the street" approach , hence my love of the blogs and fora

Peter said...

I enjoyed reading the book. And as usual I think we have to compare with our own view. At least they have the guts to give clear ratings, even 1 star! If we would have more noses who give us such ratings statistics would give us a clear picture. So please, more of such ratings!