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Entries in Books (8)

Tuesday
Nov032009

Perfumes: The Guide 

Not being a perfume expert (or critic for that matter), I've been heming and hawing about posting my review of Perfumes: The Guide for donkeys. The gaggle of perfectly wonderful perfume blogs already have and now that the paperback version is available (along with quarterly guides), here's to hoping (to the shagrin of the perfume houses), that it becomes a widely read and utilized reference in the beauty world.

THE DETAILS

Perfumes: The Guide is first and foremost an encyclopedic view of available (some no longer so) fragrances out there. Secondly, it acts as a primer on perfumes... perfumes for him, for her, by scent type, from an academic point of view, from a sensory point of view... it's to help us learn the language of scent and then apply it to their encyclopedia. Each scent has an entry and a star rating, and there are useful indices in the back that list the scents by name and house and shortlists of the best, in Turin's and Sanchez's collective opinon, and worst of the lot.

The design of the UK hardback is wonderful -- sparse and geometric, which is in contrast to the vivid language and descriptions of their endlessly entertaining entries between the covers. Why book covers for Americans assume the same roll as pub signs did in 11th century England is beyond me (and a touch worrying). Perhaps we're too literal of a people. Anyway, I digress...

The book, nevertheless, is beautiful and their writing is so undeniably candid, bitchy, honest and spot-on that I go back to it regularly just for a chuckle. What an entirely different world of words this is from the fawning advertorial we suffer in magazines, for which of course we must not shoot the messenger (editor). Perfume advertisements must, after all, make up the bulk of any magazine's ad revenues. To give you a flavour of the candor with which these two have ripped apart the flowery and ineffectual mother tongue of perfume speak, here's a nibble on a few brilliant crumbs of their fabulousness:

'[Very Sexy For Her] and Givenchy's Very Irresistible lead one to believe that very is actually perfume industry jargon for "not at all".'

'If you are reading this because [Amarige] is your darling fragrance, please wear it at home exclusively, and tape the windows shut.'

'Allure has since become the reference for women who wear fragrance not for private pleasure or to advertise their tastes but merely to signal that their status dispenses them from being pleasant.'

cK IN2U Her: 'OMG. PU'

Cristalle (CHANEL): 'There is a business-like briskness that suggests waking up from a night spent with a gorgeous stranger and finding her fully dressed and made up, ready to leave after nothing more than a peck on the cheek, leaving only a cloud of Cristalle as a contact address. Beautiful, and a little scary.'

They are endlessly funny and wonderfully technicolor (I can see the man's expression in the last excerpt) in both their praise and criticism.

THE GOOD

The writing, the pithy precision with which they attack each entry, inclusion of perfume history and chemistry (breakdown of scent types), sheer volume of reviews, the ability to make one think about perfume as something other than just a beauty counter purchase (thank f**k, seeing as we shouldn't ever think of it as an insignificant purchase. The collective population spends piles of cash on it every day).

THE BAD

I hate to be this way, but I honestly can't find too much evil in this manuscript. If I must, perhaps, one could argue that this compilation of slams and praises is just the work of two minds and therefore not comprehensive (although, I don't think it ever claims to be as such anyway).

Clearly not every perfume in the world is listed, but they do offer a quarterly supplement, and this probably is the most comprehensive list you'll find out there in the murky written world of perfume.

They don't like one of my favourites from Ormonde Jayne, Orris Noir ('a rare misstep for the wonderful Ormonde Jayne line')! Not bothered (and neither should you be if they don't like yours!). As they say, perfume is/can be about personal pleasure and I find mine in this (and their Frangipani. Yum).

They do write about perfume from an almost academic perch and prefer interesting scents, which might not appeal to the masses. Keep that in mind when reading! It can be hard to turn off the auto-tune in our brains for fluffy filler copy mode when it comes to fragrance. 

THE SURPRISING

The write up and 5-star rating on Theirry Mugler's strangler of a scent, Angel.

THE PRICE

UK Perfumes: The Guide (hardcover), £12.00 on Amazon.co.uk

USA Perfumes: The Guide (hardcover): $18.45 on Amazon.com