I was thumbing through Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez's Perfumes: The Guide 2018, and I was struck by a few oddities. What really leaps out at me is the fact that the review breakdown is pretty asymmetrical compared to their previous guides. The 2008 edition featured a fifty-fifty balance of reviews by both Turin and Sanchez, with nearly every review alternating between the two. This is also true of their 2009 update, which was the same book with some additional fragrances that were previously overlooked.
The 2018 edition is 90% Luca Turin. Sanchez barely contributes, which suggests she wasn't as enthusiastic about diving headfirst into another perfume guide. The new book departs from its predecessors by focusing entirely on expensive niche fragrances, and if memory serves me, Sanchez's impressions in the previous books weren't all that snobby. One gets the sense that while Turin sneers at anything under $30 an ounce, Sanchez is open-minded and prone to enjoying something as long as it smells good. She wrote the greatest line I've ever read in perfume writing: "The great secret of the nonluxury perfumes is that the only allure they have for the buyer is their smell."
Another interesting thing is that many of Turin's reviews in the 2018 book were pulled from his column for Vogue Arabia, so I wonder how much work Turin actually put into writing it. He tweaked his thoughts and editorialized at length, but it's unclear as to which reviews are exclusive to the book (I am not an avid reader of Vogue Arabia).
Some things of interest to me:
- Roja Dove is the new Creed. Turin rates every Roja Parfums entry as "routine," and says little else about them. Reading between these sparse lines, it seems he's annoyed by the brand's pretenses and its price-to-quality ratio. As with Creed, I wonder how much of his opinion is fueled by personal bias instead of an actual distaste for the perfumes.
- Turin makes an interesting observation about several niche brands and what he suspects are perfumes made by A.I. (Artificial Intelligence). He concludes that some of these newer fragrance lines, which smell "samey" and bland, are being formulated by computer algorithms instead of people, and he points out that most of them don't even smell finished. If true, this is disturbing.
- Inexplicably, Turin rates Kerosene frags highly. This poses a credibility problem, especially when considering his history of trashing Creed. I've only tried two Kerosene frags, and they were both so indescribably awful that I remain rueful about trying any others. To call them "amateur" would be an insult to amateur perfumers everywhere. Copper Skies is an unwearable blotch of terpenic foulness, and Creature was a degraded version of Crest toothpaste. I'd rather bathe in a vat of Love in White than wear a single spritz of Copper Skies. Reading Turin's reviews of this house were the biggest WTF moments.
- Perfumery has become perfunctory. Edmond Roudnitska, great historical perfumer, has thirteen perfumes to his name, while Alberto Morillas has over four hundred. People are just churning them out these days, and it's impossible to see how this degree of output could be worth it. The perfumery explosion has proven to be a supernova, and when it started back in the 2000s, people had no idea that it would continue into the twenties unabated. At this point the question of "newness" is worth a look, because how much of what we smell is innovative and interesting and not superfluous and conformist?
Ultimately this new Guide is as fun to read as it is well-written, and I appreciate the new edition to my library. But I go forth wondering how much of what I've read is honest opinion, and how much is Turin trying to steer the ship, so to speak. By uptalking Kerosene and browbeating Roja, is he attempting to persuade us into exploring indie micro-brands and dissuade us from buying from larger and flashier "luxe" houses? If so, why? The folks who like niche perfumes tend to enjoy both worlds. Me? I think that a good designer, especially a vintage designer, is probably leagues better than a new niche frag any day.