Friday, March 2, 2012

Luca Turin on the Perfume Houses: “They hate my guts.” A Found Review Reveals Why




In a September 2008 interview for The Independent, Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez talked freely about the attitudes of the perfume houses toward them in the aftermath of their publication of The Holey[sic] Book, better known—albeit less accurately—as, Perfumes: The A-Z Guide.

It emerges through the interview that the authors appear truly to believe that this hatred has to do with the fact that no house receives rave reviews for all of their perfumes. Thus the antipathy toward Turin and Sanchez is, they presume, a result of the fact that, to take Guerlain as an example, the house received not only five-star reviews for Insolence and Mitsouko, but also a one-star review for Champs-Elysées, along with plenty of derogatory remarks about other Guerlain perfumes deemed by the authors to be inferior.

An interesting theory, to be sure, but it's not all that convincing to me and, as a matter of fact, there is a much better and easily accessible explanation for the antipathy of the houses which the authors appear to lament.

Here is an excerpt from the interview (posted in a forum), which I read in its entirety in October 2011:
    Houses such as Guerlain are beginning to get it," concedes Turin. "They hate my guts, but they know I can get them in the store. Perfumes are public domain, so they might as well get me in a good mood as have me trudge to Harrods in driving rain." The day the entire Guerlain range arrived in a giant box was the day the pair danced and sang around the kitchen, says Sanchez.
I must say that when I read that one, I thought immediately of the Sarah Palin Family Neiman Marcus wardrobe coup during the 2008 U.S. presidential election campaign. Isn't that textbook grifter behavior? Probably confirmed everything that the customer service representatives from DelRae and Montale were thinking when they made the “mistake” of refusing to send the Royal[ties] Coup[le] free perfume, a "crime" chronicled for posterity (or until the book goes out of print...) in the reviews of DelRae Amoureuse and Montale Aoud Damascus. Really. I am not kidding. It's all there in The Holey[sic] Book.

I myself have never been shy about expressing my disagreement with the content, quality, and tone of the Turin and Sanchez volume. Ironically, this very blog, sherapop's salon de parfum, owes its existence to none other than the most devoted of The Holey[sic] Book groupies, whose procrustean censorial practices gave rise to the need for me to find a venue where free thought and speech, not duct tape and torches, reign supreme.

Who would have guessed that there are people in this world who actually believe both that the criticism of perfume is permitted and that the criticism of the criticism of perfume is forbidden?! Well, the world is filled with all types of strange and incoherent creatures, and fortunately there is enough room in it for all of us—and all of our words!

As a matter of fact, this very post was inspired by my experience of writing comments critical of The Holey[sic] Book in a thread in a forum in one of the darker corners of the world wide web. The opening post referred to the volume as "the bible", with which I naturally took issue. Some of my critical comments in the thread in question, and another as well, were deleted, to my amazement, though they offered primarily excerpts from the scriptures of The Holey[sic] Book itself. Yes, my citations of the authors' very own words were remarkably interpreted as personal attacks on the authors themselves!

It seems to me that the wielders of duct tape and torches really need to brush up on their history. Yes, you can squelch criticism in your tiny, claustrophobic corner of the world, but it will always pop up somewhere else, in another part of the world, and if the critics speak the truth, then the truth will, in the end, prevail. It has happened many times before, throughout history, and, yes, it will happen again.

My own review of Perfumes: The A-Z Guide (cough, cough) is now posted at Fragrantica, as a comment to a feature soliciting opinions about the authors' first book. Scroll down the page to my avatar, next to which you will find my major criticisms of the book laid out one by one.

Far more compelling to my mind than the individual criticisms which can be levied against Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, as I myself have so gently done, is the following "found" review, which has the added virtue of explaining the “inexplicable” hatred of the houses toward Turin and Sanchez. Without further ado, I now offer to share with you, my fragrant friends and freethinkers, A Found Review, at this duct-tape-free site, for the very first time:



A Found Review
of Perfumes: The A-Z Guide

by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez

With a name like that ... You'd figure they couldn't fuck this one up ... I'd blithely assumed you couldn't screw it up ... A noisy, clumsy composition of no particular interest... Shameless...tedious...No doubt an attempt to rightfully enter the “masstige” market ... Big egos, like gases, expand to fill the space others give them. Nothing to celebrate.

A lazy, shoddy little thing ... Skimpy, dull little composition ... A sad joke... Depressing, poverty-stricken thing ... Harsh and rather empty up close ... The latest version is harsher still ... Aggressively boring ... Awful ... Another throwaway ... Nothing priced like something. Pointless. This was an attempt to copy something interesting, yet I have no idea what.

An embarrassing mess ... A sad attempt to cash in on all current fashions at the same time ... A medley of every drone cliché in recent years ... Hilariously bad ... A total screw up ... Suffers from a total lack of creative direction ... Deeply uninteresting ... Of exceptional banality and unpleasantness ... Dismal piece of cynical dreck ... Nasty from all angles ... The reference example of a design screwup.

This one is loud ... Hilariously misconceived and loud ... So diabolically intense and high-pitched they could be used to make people confess to crimes they did not commit ... Somebody please put a stop to this ... It is enormously rude ... A disastrous attempt ... As pleasant as a chronic toothache ... seems more screechy than fresh ... Hideously screechy ... Like getting lemon juice in a paper cut ... Unmissable, unmistakable, and unforgettable. However, it is also truly loathsome ... Like chewing tinfoil while staring at a welding arc ... Unconscionably hideous.

Everything tends to rise to its level of incompetence ... A competently crafted piece of idiocy... Keeping standards high is a daily battle... Vulgar enough to be interesting but ultimately too crude to work properly ... Baseless ... I hope to live long enough to see this sort of faceless dreck wiped off the face of the earth ... Avoid this one ... 2009 update. Still awful ... Sucker punch follow-up. I am not a cultural relativist, and I say this is a disaster ... Fuggedaboudit.

A bit sleazy ... Borderline false advertising ... Cheaters ... If you like this kind of thing, your thong is probably showing above your jeans ... What do they have in common? They scream like a factory siren at ten paces ... They have acquired such frugal, alley-cat habits ... I don't feel any particular kinship to their tribe ... Clearly delusional ... could only be a cry for help. When in a hole, don't dig  ...  I've run out of things to say.



Perhaps some readers will find the above review petty, meanspirited, cruel, back-stabbing, and filled with nasty ad hominem attacks. Other readers may find the above text “poetic”: I saw one review written by a particularly zealous acolyte who verily gushed about the “prose poetry” she had found in the entries of The Holey[sic] Book. We obviously have very different ideas about the nature of poetry.

In any case, whether you like the above text or not, your criticism or your praise will be misdirected toward me. You'll have to take the issue up with the authors of the text, Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez, as I found it in their book. Here are the page references of each and every one of the above phrases from Perfumes: The A-Z Guide:



A Found Review
of Perfumes: The A-Z Guide

by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez

With a name like that (p. 146) You'd figure they couldn't fuck this one up (p. 90) I'd blithely assumed you couldn't screw it up (p. 87) A noisy, clumsy composition of no particular interest (p. 113) Shameless...tedious...No doubt an attempt to rightfully enter the “masstige” market (p. 241) Big egos, like gases, expand to fill the space others give them (p. 137) Nothing to celebrate (p. 258)

A lazy, shoddy little thing (p. 241) Skimpy, dull little composition (p. 511) A sad joke (p. 543) Depressing, poverty-stricken thing (p. 114) Harsh and rather empty up close (p. 186) The latest version is harsher still (p. 209) Aggressively boring (p. 325) Awful (p. 323) Another throwaway (p. 127) Nothing priced like something (p. 503) Pointless (p. 109) This was an attempt to copy something interesting, yet I have no idea what (p. 91)

An embarrassing mess (p. 479) A sad attempt to cash in on all current fashions at the same time (p. 453) A medley of every drone cliché in recent years (p. 86) Hilariously bad (p. 413) A total screw up (p. 127) Suffers from a total lack of creative direction. (p. 113) Deeply uninteresting (p. 85) Of exceptional banality and unpleasantness (p. 320) Dismal piece of cynical dreck (p. 156) Nasty from all angles (p.206) The reference example of a design screwup (p. 445)

This one is loud (p. 149) Hilariously misconceived and loud (p. 543) So diabolically intense and high-pitched they could be used to make people confess to crimes they did not commit (p. 480) Somebody please put a stop to this (p. 175) It is enormously rude (p. 488) A disastrous attempt...As pleasant as a chronic toothache...seems more screechy than fresh. Hideously screechy (p. 151) Like getting lemon juice in a paper cut (p. 66) Unmissable, unmistakable, and unforgettable. However, it is also truly loathsome (p. 83) Like chewing tinfoil while staring at a welding arc (p. 107) Unconscionably hideous (p. 114)

Everything tends to rise to its level of incompetence (p. 112) A competently crafted piece of idiocy (p. 553) Keeping standards high is a daily battle (p. 150) Vulgar enough to be interesting but ultimately too crude to work properly (p. 128) Baseless (p. 481) I hope to live long enough to see this sort of faceless dreck wiped off the face of the earth. (p. 434) Avoid this one (p. 452) 2009 update. Still awful (p. 381) Sucker punch follow-up (p. 258) I am not a cultural relativist, and I say this is a disaster (p. 493) Fuggedaboudit (p 152)

A bit sleazy (p. 292) Borderline false advertising (p. 174) Cheaters (p. 88) If you like this kind of thing, your thong is probably showing above your jeans (p. 446) What do they have in common? They scream like a factory siren at ten paces. (p. 449) They have acquired such frugal, alley-cat habits (p. 238) I don't feel any particular kinship to their tribe (p. 451) Clearly delusional (p. 163) could only be a cry for help (p. 493) When in a hole, don't dig (p. 123) I've run out of things to say (p. 300).


So why do the perfume houses “hate” Luca and Tania? I leave the answer to that question as an exercise for the reader.






review of The Little Book

39 comments:

  1. my answer as to 'why they hate us': there's a difference between a constructive negative review, which points out why a person feels that way about a scent, and plain vulgar talk; from the excerpts that you posted, this clearly belongs to the latter category. i never felt compelled to find & read their book and don't feel like missing much :) perhaps these people forget that all this is nothing more but their personal opinions - yes, it influences many in their choices (an image of all those people on perfume-forums asking 'which one is the most seductive', 'inoffensive fragrances' and 'i like this, pick a scent for me' pops up), but it's still no excuse for the bad language, IMO ;)

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    1. Hello, Anonymous, and welcome to the salon! I am glad that you are taking advantage of the capacity to post here anonymously, which I allow so that everyone feels comfortable expressing their true opinions and no one has to worry about any form of negative backlash, should they disagree with "received" opinion.

      Your comment is naturally music to my ears, Anonymous, and very well captures what I regard as the primary fault of "The Guide": it is not a guide to anything but the authors' personalities, it seems to me. Although there is some helpful material shared in some of the positive reviews, the negative reviews are a total wasteland of vituperative outbursts.

      My problem is not that I disagree with the authors. Sometimes I do; sometimes I do not. But let's take the example of Lanvin Rumeur, a large bottle of which I swapped away within weeks of its acquisition (having purchased it scent unsniffed), because I found it utterly unwearable. Here is what the self-proclaimed prophets of perfume have to say about Rumeur:

      "Baseless."

      That is the sum total of the review. It actually tells the reader nothing whatsoever about why the perfume received a one-star rating.

      Rumeur is an interesting case because I've seen a lot of love for it at Parfumo.de. I found it unwearable because the opening just seems toxic to me, but there are obviously people who do not find it so, or perhaps they believe that magnolia drydown is worth the wait. Anyway, my point is: the review in "The Guide" tells us only one thing: that the authors revile Rumeur.

      That sort of information might be useful if one knew in advance that one's tastes overlapped significantly with the authors'. But how likely is that to be the case for any arbitrarily selected reader? The authors completely trash many very popular perfumes, so obviously their taste is not reflective of average consumers.

      You mention the language of "The Guide". I am an arch defender of free speech, so my complaint is not that they pepper their text with vulgar language. My primary criticism of their negative reviews is that they are, in word, vacuous.

      I myself do not happen to care a great deal about the personal opinions of this married couple, and I do not believe that their tastes in perfume are any better than anyone else's. This book certainly did not do anything to convince me that they are experts about anything beyond their own idiosyncratic opinions.

      There are so many factual errors in the volume, and so many of the reviews appear to have been hastily dashed off, that I have a hard time taking them seriously at all.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, Anonymous, and please join us again soon!

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    2. dear sherapop
      how i admire your ability to express the thoughts with appropriate words! <3 yes, freedom of speech absolutely, but considering most of people reading it would expect to find the scents actually REVIEWED, rather than downright written off, i think it would've been much more helpful to describe WHY they thought the composition was 'f**ked up, clumsy, dull, aggresively boring, disastrous, enormously rude' and all those other expressions: did it feel dilluted? artificial in the plastic-fantastic way? does the amber lack depth, does the incense feel cold, is it dusty, musty, perhaps it doesn't live up to the 'standards' that one would expect from certain houses; simply WHAT they thought was 'wrong' with it, and what was done in a wonderfully 'right' way. as you say, the whole point is that it doesn't tell the reader anything new, or useful.
      always enjoy reading you :) keep up the wonderful work!
      karina

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  2. The dedicated fashion designer Wolfgang Joop is a man of multiple interests. He is well known to perfume lovers – but only few people got to know him as a writer. Actually, a few years ago he released his novel „Im Wolfspelz“ in German.

    Once I heard a comedian on the radio who made a great 20 minute appearance that consisted exclusively of quotations from that book – nothing else! The reason why these lengthy quotes were so funny was: they only contained elaborate descriptions of the clothes the persons in the novel were wearing. Personally, I did not get past p. 103, and I think it was a good idea for Mr. Joop to get back to what he is really interested in.

    If we presume that most authors cannot hide away behind their words and so inevitably tell us a lot about themselves – what conclusions do we have to draw in case of Turin / Sanches?

    I think, writing a book with perfume reviews is a bit outdated in this millennium. The perfume communities on the net contain numerous reviews of excellent quality by truly committed perfume lovers. And I do not see a sense in presenting oneself as a “perfume expert” which is of course inevitable if you choose to publish a book for your thoughts.

    I can tolerate different opinions and styles of writing, and I also enjoy slating reviews that I do not agree with. But I suppose Turin/Sanches had to deliver a certain number of pages to the publisher, so they pimped it up with lots of short, hardly serious reviews. I somehow feel that in many cases there is not much more behind than a short sniff on a paper strip. In the end, the A-Z Guide is simply unfinished work. Considering economical aspects, I doubt if such a project can be handled by only two authors.

    At Parfumo.de, we have been approached by a publisher who wants to release a book with our best perfume reviews. I am not sure if anybody finds the time – and more important, the pleasure in it – to do this job. So far, the Parfumo users both on the German and the international site have done much better than Turin/Sanches.

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    1. Guten Morgen, Apicius, and thank you so much for your insightful comments!

      I love your example of Wolfgang Joop's ill-fated career as a novelist. Perhaps Turin and Sanchez will get the memo. Not sure what Sanchez was doing before she hooked up with Turin (I was unable to locate any publication of hers that pre-dated The Guide), but Turin is an academic biologist who has resurrected and championed a vibrational theory of scent. I also hear that he is trying to construct an artificial nose. Those projects should be enough to keep him off the perfume-reviewing streets for quite some time. (-;

      I cannot agree with you more, Apicius, when you say “most authors cannot hide away behind their words and so inevitably tell us a lot about themselves”. Genau. That is one of the points I meant to convey through A Found Review. As I indicated in my reply to Anonymous, above, I think that “The Guide” is a fine guide to this couple. But why should I or anyone else care more about them and their opinions than, as you point out, those of the many eloquent reviewers who share their experiences of perfume online at Parfumo.de, Parfumo.net, and other fragrance websites which emerged right about the time of the publication of this book?

      Yes, I agree with you that there is something outdated about the volume—it seems very twentieth century to me. The authors and their publisher have made a big point of emphasizing that this is the first and the only book of its type. Well, if it is the only book of its type, it is both the best and the worst, is it not? And does not the fact that no other perfume bloggers are publishing their reviews in book format mean something?

      Yes, it means that they recognize the absurdity of claiming authority about such a topic: taste in perfume. If we want to learn about receptions to perfumes, we are much better off taking a look at a range of reviews, compiled together at a site such as Parfumo. Only then does it emerge how vast differences in opinions about perfume really are.

      Knowledgeable, experienced perfumistas simply disagree about perfumes. Not because some of them are supposedly better than others, but because they have different tastes and different notes are more salient to them than are others. Turin and Sanchez themselves admit to being selectively musk anosmic, so why in the world would their opinions be of any help—or relevance—to people who are not musk anosmic?

      You astutely observe that “In the end, The A-Z Guide is simply unfinished work.”

      This was certainly my initial impression, although you seem to be a bit more charitable toward the authors than I am, as I am not convinced that given more time they would have produced anything better. Their latest volume, “The Little Book of Perfumes” is essentially a reprint of their five-star reviews, with apparently about a dozen new remarks about reformulation.

      The authors had three years in which to write something new, but they chose not to, so they obviously have better things to do. Can it really be true that in the past three years not a single new five-star perfume has been launched? The authors seem not to care and are perhaps living in the past, with little attention to new developments in the niche world.

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    2. Reply to Apicius, cont'd.

      Given the hastily dashed off reviews (exceptions are the perfumes highly praised and promoted by the authors, especially those which receive five-star ratings, along with anything designed by Calice Becker (-;), it seems to me that they must have sat down with a bunch of vials and paper strips and conducted a sniffing marathon. I sincerely doubt that many of the perfumes reviewed in “The Guide” were given the benefit of a full wear. It seems equally obvious that some of the vials were mislabeled or confused, given the preponderance of factual errors in the book.

      I agree with you that few people would think to publish such a collection of reviews in book format today, given the resources readily available online. Only someone truly delusional would interpret the dearth of such books as evidence that this one is so great that no one can compete with it. I have no doubt that this book was a money maker for the authors, but it has nearly no value as a work of criticism, it seems to me.

      That “The Guide” has garnered so much attention is a reflection not only of the fact that it is the only book of its kind, but also that it was aggressively marketed by the publisher, beginning with the erroneous and misleading title. Yes, it is the best, but it also is the worst book of its kind, and comparing it to other works of criticism in other areas of art, it just seems to me to be something of a bad joke.

      Thank you, Apicius, for sharing your thoughts here once again at the salon! Please drop by again soon! See you at Parfumo, too!!!! (-;

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  3. Nice blog sherapop. Allow me to say that I know you were treated rather shabbily on basenotes and yet you still were a supporting member. That, in itself, amazed me to no end because I am a completely different animal than you. You were removed from that site because of a heavy handed moderator and you still act with more class than him. I, on the other hand, was of the opinion that he could go pound sand up his ass. He's also why I had my account deleted.

    I don't feel one way or the other about Turin and company. All of us are at liberty to throw our opinions into the ring and most of the time we do it without reservation. I admit to not liking that paragraph about the Guerlain samples. That is a bit beyond egocentric, but hey.....if Luca wants to send me some leftover atomizers, I have my address handy......

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    1. Perfumed Knight in Shining Armor, Aromi, so nice to see you riding about these parts! Everytime I think about the messages you sent to me when I was contending with ochlocracy run rampant, I smile. Yes, there is hope for humanity, I know, because of a few shining stars such as you, flickering even in the darkest corners of this vast cosmos.

      I'm definitely with you, Bro, on the freedom of speech issue. Say whatever you like, people, just don't expect me to stand by and gush over the Emperor's New Clothes!

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  4. I'm so very happy to ready you here. I've long admired your review asthethic and have always hoped to see you work in a broader fourm! thank you for expressing so many things I'm thinking!

    xox marlen

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    1. My dear Marlen, thank you so much for your support! I do hope that you'll be visiting often and sharing some of your many perfumic insights with us! (-;

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  5. Hi Sherapop - interesting, thank you for this! I always enjoy your reviews. I'm fairly new to perfume obsession world, so bear with me and thank you, perfume experts, for allowing me to share my opinion.

    It's pretty obvious that calling this book "THE" guide is a misnomer. It is "a" guide, one "guide" amongst the large volume of online perfume criticism, as you note.

    As a newcomer, when I'm looking for information on a perfume, I consult both "The Guide", Basenotes, parfumo and Fragrantica. I know the communtities all have their individual character and I take that into account when reading and processing the reviews.

    I don't mine Turin and Sanchez's language - in fact, I find it widly entertaining. It may not give me all the information I need, but it's the only perfume criticism that makes me laught out loud, often. I like that aspect of it. It may sound exceedingly harsh, but outside of the internet perfume world, the only thing that's ever written about fragrance in the mainstream media is PR flunkie crap in beauty magazines ("It's spring! Marc Jacobs new Daisy Blush Green Spring Flowers l'Eau Fraiche is awesome and oh so spring-y! Buy it NOW!"). After years of that, I honestly find Turin and Sanchez's snarky tone to be refreshing.

    No, it's not all the information I need about the perfume, but there are other places where I can get a more complete picture. I don't expect one short review to be able to 1. describe the fragrance 2. draw analogues with other works of art 3. flesh out historical background 4. meticuously describe notes and progression etc. etc. If Turin and Sanchez had done that for each and every review the book would have been like 5,000 pages long - they were limited by the format. The format may indeed be out of date, as others have noted.

    When they are particuarly vociferous, what I hear is anger, and I totally understand that. Not long ago I was at a Lancome counter, naively looking for Cuir. There was none available at the counter, but there were giant, ugly advertising displays for Tresor Midnight Rose. When I asked about Cuir, the saleslade was 1. super snotty and condescending, in the typical manner of mall rats slinging cosmetics and 2. had no idea what I was talking about. Then she sprayed Midnight Rose on me.

    I hated it - it smelled cheap, hastily done, cliched, boring and again CHEAP (it would have been more appropriate as a drug store body spray priced accordingly) and to me, demonstrated a contempt for the consumer on the part of Lancome (and the saleslady was rude, poorly trained and didn't know about any other fragrances!). I was angry! If I were a perfume reviewer, the review I would have written immediately following would have been a highly insulting one, which I think is what L'Oreal/Lancome (and others) deserve a lot of the time for pushing cheap, sub-standard crap on an unwitting public.

    In conclusion, I think the perfume criticism revolution, both the controversial "Guide" and the plethora of online activity can ultimately only be a positive thing for consumers and I embrace all of it, even if individual perfume critics have their problems.

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  6. Welcome to the salon, 10jflow, and thank you very much for this excellent essay! (-;

    I am delighted that you have brought up some counterpoints to my criticism of The Holey [sic] Book. Yes, you are right, many people have found the snarky style of the Turin & Sanchez volume quite funny. I myself regard it as a symptom of a greater cultural trend now that we're in the midst of the Century of Snark. But I do agree with you on this: a good chuckle is always a good thing. I do not personally find more than about 10% of the authors' intended humor very funny, but then again, I often do not "get" cartoons, as I am always looking for some deeper meaning behind the slapstick façade. Seriously. (-;

    As I mentioned in my own review of The Holey [sic] Book (posted at Fragrantica and linked above), if the authors had stuck with their original title, which was something like "Song of Pongs", then I would have no issues with the text. Of course, I also would never have read it, nor would have the vast majority of people who now own copies!

    As for your gratitude that the authors offer negative remarks rather than p.r. boilerplate: I think that what they offer is primarily the strict antithesis of p.r. boilerplate. Much of what they say seems like gratuitous, empty denunciation.

    Take the house of Mona di Orio, for example. I do not know the perfumes of this niche house, but I cannot believe that a woman who dedicated her life to perfume (may she now rest in peace) deserves to be excoriated in terms equivalent to those applied to the house of Paris Hilton, which everyone knows is a joke.

    So there is a question about the effect of all of this emotive ejaculation on the part of the authors. Does it really help perfumers and houses—or anyone, for that matter? That, of course, was the point of this post!

    Thank you again so much for these wonderful counterpoints! I really enjoyed reading your eloquent response to the criticisms presented above of The Holey [sic] Book, and I hope that you'll return to post more comments soon! (-;

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  7. Hi Sherapop, thank you for taking the time to reply!

    "Does it really help the perfumers and houses?"

    Well...it's not really supposed to help them. A music critic isn't trying to "help" the music artist and neither is a perfume critic. It's supposed to help the consumer. Perfumers and houses are already supposed to know what they're doing and they're making buckets of our money doing it.

    I think an element of perume critcism has to be holding the houses to account for their product. Perfume is maybe distinct from, say, music and movies, in the amount of sheer nonsense that goes on in the promotion and PR - so some of the harsh criticism they are now facing is a backlash resulting from the unreasonably high expectations they propogate with their PR nonsense, pricepoints, manufactured sense of exclusivity and so forth.

    But, I , for one, am also not an appreciator of snark for snark's sake. Maybe we're reading and processing the book and its language differently! None of the excerpts you posted sound overly or unnecassarily (sic?) harsh or abrasive to me. I certainly disagree with the authors about many, many things.

    In terms of "does it help anyone?" I dunno - it depends on who and what is in need of help. I'll think about it and write more later! Thank you for having me!

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  8. Hello, 10jflow, and thank you for these provocative rejoinders!

    You raise a fascinating question: What is criticism? I guess that I think that there are different types of criticism. Certainly artists can learn from constructive criticism. I don't think that categorically denouncing their work in essentially empty terms constitutes constructive criticism. Nor do ad hominem attacks such as accusing perfumers of plagiarism or of being "cheaters" or "delusional". Those are all just insults, tout court.

    Now, is criticism intended to help the consumer? Sometimes it is; sometimes it is not. Consumer Reports, for example, offers concrete, detailed advice about products and evaluations of the functions of those products so that consumers can make sound judgments about which among the many competitors they should actually buy. I recently used Consumer Reports online to decide which breadmaker to purchase. I definitely followed their advice, and I am very happy that I did!

    The question in the case of The Holey [sic] Book is: to whom is their advice actually useful? I do think that if one shared their values, then their exhortations to "Avoid" or "Stock up" might be helpful. However, I do not believe that most readers of the book, or consumers of perfume, share their values. If I followed the authors' advice, I'd have a stockpile of L'Artisan Parfumeur Dzing!, which to me smells like bandaids and dung.

    I would also avoid many perfumes with a lot of merit. I would buy Jessica Simpson Fancy instead of the perfumes of the house of Hermès which they denounce (e.g., Hiris, which was given a one-star rating), despite the fact that the quality of anything from that house is leaps and bounds better than anything produced by Parlux, including Jessica Simpson Fancy (which garnered three stars).

    Were I to follow the authors' advice, I would invest in gallons of Beyond Paradise, which is plugged regularly throughout the book, despite the fact that I myself think that it smells like a pile of dying flowers and rotting fruits. So, the point is: I believe that the most of the criticisms are empty, and therefore of no use to perfumers, and most of the buying advice is just wrong, according to my nose.

    Furthermore, there seems to be no rhyme or reason beyond their own subjective likes and dislikes. Some perfumes are denounced as toothache material for being so sickeningly sweet, but when Calice Becker produces a perfume which is said to be a facsimile of meringue ( = egg whites, sugar, and vanilla, last time I looked at the recipe), it is lauded as “brilliant”. Again, synthetic iris is no-no, but the synthetic flowers of Beyond Paradise a veritable God-send and celebrated as “abstract”.

    I do think that criticism can be valuable to artists and consumers alike, but I do not find the criticism offered in The Holey [sic] Book very good. If I had reasons for believing that the authors were authorities about taste, then I suppose that I might want to tutor my tastes to match theirs. But this book gave me no reason for believing that that is the case, and lots of reasons for believing that it is not. (Annick Goutal Ce Soir ou Jamais? is an “Eternity wannabe”???? Say what???) Again, it's not merely a matter of agreement or disagreement, my criticism of their criticism is that it lacks coherent content.

    Thank you again very much for dropping by to contribute your incisive thoughts to this debate! We look forward to reading you here again soon!!!

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  9. Thanks for this Sherapop. I'm rolling around on the floor laughing because I LOOOOVE Dzing! and am totally stockpiling samples of it (seriously: find me on parfumo and swap me all of your Dzing samples!). I get what you're saying - the book is probably most useful for those whose tastes match up with the authors'.

    I, too, had mentally drafted this whole reply that I was too busy to type out that mentioned Consumer Reports and so forth so I think we're on roughly the same page.

    I've heard before and totally agree with the Calice Becker thing - but all critics have their quirks and once you start following a critic the audience is more savvy to the critic's preferences. (Remember Siskel and Ebert? After awhile I learned that Siskel was usually a bit too hard on a film and Ebert was a bit too easy - whatever their critiques were, my opinion would have usually been in the middle and I took all of that into account when hearing their reviews). Likewise, I know and am aware of Turin's Becker prejudice - for me, I mentally subtract 1 or 2 stars to whatever his rating of a Becker perfume is (and I hated By Killian "Love" am completely baffled by that review BUT if I apply my rule of subtracting 1 or 2 stars from his four star rating of it, it's pretty accurate, you know?).

    Thanks again for having me here!

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  10. Welcome back, 10jflow!

    I think that the problem with your idea of subtracting one or two stars from the over-the-top gushing about Turin's friends is that it seems that one should also add one or two stars to the houses/perfumers whom he (and his wife) trash mercilessly. Honestly, I feel as though in some cases there is something like a vendetta in play. So at the end of all of this recalculating process, it all becomes too confusing to be very helpful, especially since, as I observed in my previous remark, different criteria are applied in opposite ways depending upon whether the authors wish to promote or demote a given fragrance.

    To offer another example (in addition to synthetic flowers and super-sweetness, which are either virtues or vices not in and of themselves but depending upon which perfumer deploys them...), in the By Kilian perfumes designed by Calice Becker, the house's guiding principle to use only the best ingredients is cited as a reason for the exquisite quality of the products. When By Kilian perfumes are designed by other perfumers (who receive much lower evaluations), no mention is made of the top-notch ingredients. It all seems very arbitrary to me.

    Which leads me to a huge difference between The Holey [sic] Book and Consumer Reports: although I said above that I followed Consumer Reports' “advice” in deciding which breadmaker to buy, that was a slight misstatement. Consumer Reports does not actually shill for any products. They lay out the similarities and differences and rank the products but leave the final decision of what should be purchased to the consumer based upon his or her needs and desires. In my case, I did not buy the #1 ranked product because it cost three times more than the #3 ranked product, which had all of the features I was looking for and was said to perform equally well on the relevant tasks of interest to me. So, for me, the #3 ranked product was the best choice, because I did not need a machine which, for example, can be programmed twelve hours in advance, etc.

    The Holey [sic] Book, in contrast, explicitly shills for some products and anti-shills for others, despite the fact that people's taste in perfume varies radically and what they are looking for in a perfume also varies from case to case. It is difficult to dispel the suspicion that the authors are trying to get their readers to buy Beyond Paradise, for example, given the number of times that the perfume is alluded to in the reviews of other perfumes. All of this leaves this reader with the sense that I cannot really trust the authors, even if I happened to share their taste, which I do not.

    So, in the end, since you enjoy reading it, while I do not, and you find it helpful (mutatis mutandis to the star ratings...) while I do not, I guess that we just have to agree to disagree about the value of The Holey [sic] Book!

    Thank you so much for sharing your insights, which segue quite nicely into the next salon topic, to be posted in the next day or two... (-;

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  11. Hi Sherapop,

    First of all I have never read the guide. I asked people who own it to look up the number of stars on certain fragrances, but that did not spark much interest in the book itself.

    Picture this: A focus group of perfume makers, perfume lovers, anyone who has a strong tie to the world of scent, be it amateur or professional, and then 100 unmarked bottles.

    No year, no nose, no brand, no nothing. Not sure whether they should split up or work as a group, although a group of professionals/highly skilled sniffers in one room and the fragrance passionate consumers in another might seem like a good idea to me (I remember a wine tasting of rosé wine, one group consumers, one group wine experts. The top ten had 1 overlapping high ranking which I bought to try lol! Must say I don't really care for wine, but my boyfriend hates to drink alone :)

    They will have to score on several points. Does it smell pleasant, strike them in their underbelly, does it seem complete, original, etc

    Then a ghostwriter sits down with them and discuss the results, and makes it into a book. You will find per perfume info about the nose, the brand, and a fully described scent, let's say each member of each focus group votes on what is the best description and one can not vote for themselves.


    Now there is a book that has one word description?! Just "baseless"...?
    How on earth do they sell that book is beyond me.

    Again I do't know much about the movers and shakers in the fragrance business, but I do know that people can be as childish as they come and there is jealousy and all those nasty things. You're friends with this person from this company, you hear about a dropped deal on certain fragrance ingredients, et voila camp A vs camp B is born!

    I can imagine you got a rough deal at Basenotes, especially anonymously online it can get very spiteful and vicious and totally unfair and hard to defend against, but please don't let them get to you, don't stoop to their level :)

    I read a great signature from someone on a fragrance board:

    "Don't try to argue with an idiot, they will beat you with experience"


    crazyaboutlairderien

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  12. I see I can not edit my post, I think the last phrase needs to be "Don't try to argue with an idiot, they will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience"

    ReplyDelete
  13. Thanks for this gorgeous post! Duct-tape-free yet polite, detailed enough to not write the book off by just saying something like 'Baseless.', both unlike the book talked about.
    I bought it, read most of it and could't wait to sell it again. For basically the same reasons you already so perfectly expressed here and in your fragrantica review. Besides I'm glad I'm not the only one throwing paper-books' authors off their thrones by saying that the independent, detailed reviews by countless passionate parfumistas online are just so much more valuable.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello, 2espresso, and welcome to the salon de parfum!

      Thank you so much for your comment. I see now that caffeinated minds think alike! (-;

      Delete
  14. Thank you Sherapop for bringing this debate forward.

    It seems to me to be one as much about the nature and purpose of reviews and criticism as about a single book.

    Personally, I feel that the role of criticism is both creative and nurturing as well as reflective and analytical.

    These goals or functions can only be achieved with time, care and imaginative spirit. For me to review a fragrance is to attempt the impossible to place a net around a butterfly made of air, to capture fleeting experience.

    In this sense it is nearest to criticism of the theatre and live music and least like visuall art, film and literary criticism, but to my mind no less valid.

    These are a few incoherent thought that I will now go away an coalesce into something hopefully a little more coherent.

    One last thing, I'm not sure that a book of criticism is as obsolete as a guide. I hope that distinction is clear in and of itself.

    Yours ever

    The Perfumed Dandy
    theperfumeddandy.com

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    1. You are most welcome, The Perfumed Dandy.

      Yes, there is a bigger question here: what is or should be perfume criticism?

      I have been delighted to find your positive, creative approach at theperfumeddandy.com. You seem to have a much deeper appreciation than Turin & Sanchez for the fact that perfumers themselves find value in their creations, so it behooves us to make an effort to figure out what that might see in their works rather than brusquely dismissing the fruits of their labor because we do not immediately grasp what they were doing or because they use notes which do not happen to agree very well with our own idiosyncratic tastes.

      The distinction between a "guide" (which in the case of perfume doesn't make much sense to me, as you have gathered) and a work of criticism seems an important one to me. I agree that many excellent books about perfume are waiting to be written, published and read!

      I look forward to your further elaboration on these ideas! Thank you again for sharing your insights.

      Delete
    2. I have yet to see a butterfly made of air.

      Delete
    3. Hello, Interlocutor Man!

      Is this a comment on the post? I wasn't sure what to make of it, which is why I did not respond. Let's please keep the comments here at the salon de parfum relevant and on topic. If you would like to have a private discussion with me, please use the email function at the bottom of the page.

      Thank you,

      sherapop

      Delete
    4. Dear Sherapop

      I do hope you are receiving my responses as blogger seems to be taking unkindly to me today.

      After your fine piece provoked me, I went once again to look at the text in question and I find - why I should have doubted I don't know -that there are some errors and some pefumes that have perhaps been given a very 'light' sort of testing.

      Again this confirms me in the view that this is a 'guide' as in 'guidebook' and as such not a work of criticism at all. As such in its search for comprehensiveness some degree of inaccuracy has crept in.

      The problem perhaps is with the way in which this guide has come to be seen as infallible as much as anything else.

      Just a thought.

      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

      Delete
    5. No worries, Perfumed Dandy, your messages have arrived! Thank you so much.

      I think that the book in question plays on an ambiguity, at times presenting itself as a source of authoritative information, at other times offering shopping advice. Both perspectives strike me as confused, as the authors have very idiosyncratic opinions and likes and dislikes--in addition to industry loyalties.

      In the end, both their "criticism" and their shopping advice appear to derive from their personal tastes which, strangely enough, appear nearly always to coincide, making the book effectively the work of one rather than two distinct authors. Then of course there is the question of authorial credentials and expertise, which are simply assumed to be valid (and to have been antecedently legitimated) by purchasers of the book. I have found no evidence that Ms. Sanchez did anything beyond shacking up with Mr. Turin in order to earn her reputation as a perfume critic. I have also found not a shred of published writing by her which pre-dates the publication of this co-authored volume. I find it sad, to be perfectly frank (quoi d'autre), that still today, in the twenty-first century, women achieve their fame through such means.

      When I first began reviewing perfumes online, back in December 2009, I saw people referencing this book all over the place, above all, to bolster their own estimation of or disdain for a perfume. Many people seemed to think that their own opinion was validated by agreement with Turin & Sanchez. Happily, this trend has abated in the four years since the publication of "the only book of its kind", which has already become rather dated as thousands of new perfumes have flooded the marketplace and countless others have been reformulated.

      I'll probably attempt to avoid saying much more about this outdated work anymore at the salon de parfum, as it was never in line with my tastes in either perfumes or writing of any sort, above all, criticism. I have no real interest in the opinions of this particular author (and his wife).

      Thank you for your most civilized assessment of the situation, The Perfume Dandy!

      Delete
  15. My comment was for something the Dandy said.
    Now though you are making rules.
    This saddens me. :(

    ReplyDelete
  16. I know, late to the party yet again...

    The comments about receiving the box of fragrances sent to him (versus trudging to Harrods) was in my view very telling: make me feel good, stroke my ego, bribe me in some way, and I won't take nearly as dim a view of your line. But Heaven forbid you 'force' me to hob-knob with the proletariat at Harrods, and you'll certainly be reviled.

    Q: What's the difference between a porcupine and Luca Turin riding in a taxi?
    A: The pricks are on the outside of the porcupine.

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    Replies
    1. My theory is that being followed around by adulating Chandler Burr for four years (for lusting after a Nobel Prize which he never even came close to winning?) induced in Turin incurable megalomania. Now he sends his goons out all over the internet to quash criticism. Real thinkers don't do that kind of thing... And then of course there was fobbing off his concubine (young enough to be his daughter) as a world-class perfume expert. Sad to say, it's an old, hackneyed story: aging academic looking for a way out of a bad marriage drags some young nubile starry-eyed acolyte with promises of wealth and fame.

      Am I really supposed to take him seriously?

      Delete
    2. Apparently there are people who do. I'm not one of them.

      After all, anyone can write a book these days. ;)

      Delete
  17. There are many, many, MANY people who need others to think for them. Once The Mixer of the Kool Aid is crowned, nothing short of martyrdom can satisfy followers' rabid need for EVERYONE ELSE to share these "opinions".


    It's the same with Paula Begoun, the self-titled "Cosmetics Cop". When reading her reviews on, for example. Howard Murad's products, you'd think Dr. Murad is a a snakeoil salesman who nightly sends his employees to dig up plants that grow by the freeways so he can use them as "cheap fillers" in his company's formulations. Begoun's reviews of some of Dr. Audrey Kunin's Dermadoctor products outright accuses Kunin of lying about ingredients in her product lines. The fact that Begoun, who is not an MD or a PhD, or a Cosmetics Chemist, would not have access to propriety information/intellectual property owned by cosmetics manufacturers does not occur to her groupies. The fact that the ingredients she derides have "no documented studies" means merely that a cosmetic component has not been researched for medical purposes, completely escapes her readers. Instead, like Turin's fans, her followers continually repeat her inaccuracies as though they are privy to secret information unbeknownst to the Medical and Science communities. Paula Begoun brags to any living thing that will listen, "Cosmetics companies hate me." Her spin is that they hate her because she "exposes" them. In actuality, if they think of her at all, they probably find her annoying, at the most.


    It seems Turin has fallen into this type of thinking. Ages ago, I was a "veteran" perfume poster on Makeupalley. Tania Sanchez was a beloved and very popular poster there at that time. I always enjoyed her humor, and her love for and fascination with fragrances was evident.

    As blogging became popular most of the "groundbreaking" posters on Makeupalley relocated to their own cyber spaces. Lucin Turin had a blog, and Tania Sanchez began to post there all the time.

    The next thing I knew was that Turin had married Sanchez, and they wrote their "Guide". At first, I think the book may have been intended for those of us geeks who followed each other around on perfume blogs, and in different "chats" all over the place. It's a shame so much nastiness came out of it. I began to observe the nastiness on Turin's blog (really, he seems to revel in insulting others at times), and I was quite turned off by the what began to emerge as an argumentative, judgmental community there.


    I stayed away from all this for a long time, eventually tentatively testing the waters at Fragrantica. Thanks to Fragrantica I found you, Sherpop!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Scarlett,

      Welcome to the salon de parfum, and thank you so much for sharing this back story on Turin & Sanchez. They have tried to make it seem as though they both are professional perfume critics, but as you point out, Sanchez was just another forum participant like thousands of others--except that she married Turin, who is a scientist who dabbled in writing about perfume on the side. A while back, I tried to find Sanchez' blog, but on her newer blog (which now appears also to have disappeared), she wrote that she deleted her earlier blog because she got sick of her writing--or something to that effect. My impression is that she wanted to remove all traces of her opinions aside from the ones in The Holey[sic] Book. I actually found that some of the reviews initialed by her are versions of reviews earlier written by Turin. The whole thing is a con job, to make a long story short.

      Thank you also for that telling comparison of Turin to a cosmetics guru with what sounds like a parallel case of egomania or megalomania--or both.

      It's great to read you here, Scarlett! ;-)

      Delete
  18. Hi Sherapop,

    I recently bought and read the entire intro and many of the reviews from the Turin-Sanchez book. I am a professional biologist at the University of Washington and I have worked on the genetics of olfaction. One of Turin's claims to fame is his theory of "vibrational" olfaction, which never made much sense and is now completely ignored by real scientists.

    As for the book, I am amazed that it was published. The reviews are bizarre at best, seemingly more concerned with clever word play than with actual scents. I frequently came away from a review with almost no idea what the perfume smells like. The introductory parts of the book are equally bad. Turin's sections are particularly poor - turgid, pompous, and remarkably uninformative given the number of words written. For example, the "Brief History of Perfume" is actually an undocumented series of proclamations about the introduction of various synthetics.

    I suspect there is a market for a good book on perfumes and it is a shame if this is the only book that fills the market.

    - James

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    Replies
    1. Dear James,

      Welcome to the salon de parfum and thanks very much for your comments. My impression is that when the book was published bloggers and other perfumistas were like people dying of thirst in the desert. They welcomed with open arms any printed publication on perfume, as there were (and still are) so very few.

      Despite the popularity of book among some bloggers, I've noticed that serious intellectuals tend to have little tolerance for the sort of nonsense being fobbed off as criticism in The Holey[sic] Book. People with no or little experience in what counts as serious criticism among intellectuals (whether of art or literature) seem to like the book. To me, it's really something of a joke (I have degrees in chemistry and philosophy), but to my amazement, people continue to heap praise upon it as though it were a serious work!

      I have heard that Turin's (appropriated) theory of olfaction is thought of as "junk science" by people who investigate these matters closely. I also recently heard that he's planning to write perfume reviews again, so perhaps his science funding is running out, and he has finally come to terms with the fact that he will never be the recipient of a Nobel Prize.

      Thanks again for weighing in, James!

      Delete
  19. Dear Shera,

    The discussion of Luca's book, whether is good or shitty, seems to be endless, no?
    I think there is a positive way of looking at Luca's "work": he was one of the first perfumistas to write about his passion for fragrances and to describe them as he felt like. That inspired many. We can't say boo to that.
    That said - I don't really see this as a guide to fragrances. Comments like "what were they thinking?' gives almost none information about the fragrance, and since the taste for fragrances is personal, what Luca feels it is a complete disaster, may smell wonderful to others. So it is practically saying nothing about a fragrance.
    A complete guide would give info about the launch, the structure, the house that developed it, a comparison to other launches of the same kind, the context of it, etc, etc, etc...
    That book could be a compilation of "Luca's random thoughts on perfumes" maybe?
    Tanya S. is a way Luca found to continue his work "postmortem", after all, he will not last forever. Correct me but I think he is around his 60's already... He married her and she will need to bring the bread after he is gone - after all, the gap between their ages are huge. he just acted like any sugar daddy would.
    But he is loved and praised and the book is selling and now he is in a new project...so we didn't get rid of him...
    You know what I think Shera?
    The world is full of Luca Turins. Brazil has Paulo Coelho. The Luca of phony books. But he sits in his palace in Switzerland... acclaimed to be a best seller and amazing author...
    So you can stay here filling pages about how much you deslike Luca Turin's Guide...that will only bring him more rating and more cash to his bank account. Believe it or not, many who have never heard of the book, will read what you wrote and buy it just to prove you are wrong or out of curiosity. You are a good PR, and for free.
    Tata lovely lady - I know you won't like it, but this is how it is...
    love ya, Simone - never anonymous because I don't agree with the freedom that comes with the title. I believe it is a weakness of character...but that is me, no offense to others.

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    Replies
    1. Hello, dear Simone! You may have noticed that I have not posted any new provocations on these matters in recent times, but the above text (which dates from about a year and a half ago) does continue to provoke responses, and I do continue to reply to comments posted here--such as your own!

      Yes, the world is teeming with poseurs and charlatans and frauds of all stripes. C'est comme cela!

      As for my pseudonym, I hate to have to say this, but the sad reality is that people in the larger world beyond perfumistas do not take perfumistas seriously at all, and I have other plans and projects which I do not wish to be dismissed on the grounds that I am just another OCD-afflicted perfume fanatic! ;-) I also see nothing wrong with using pen names for parts of one's oeuvre. Plenty of people in the past did the same, why not today?

      The deliverances of your searching intellect are always welcome here at the salon de parfum, Simone! I for one find your honesty refreshing.

      Sincerely,

      sherapop

      Delete
    2. Baby I was not referring to your pen name. I was referring to comment as anonymous, as some prefer to do it here at the salon. Never place you name or family name because some weirdos who have nothing to do in their lives but stock you have even the nerve to come to my blog to stock YOU via me!!! How crazy is this????

      Delete
    3. No worries, Simone. I may have been reacting in part to a derogatory comment made a while back by Chandler Burr over at Blake Gopnik's blog about my pseudonym. I recall that Chandler finds the use of pseudonyms childish. Perhaps he should dip into a bit of literary history--while he tries to fill in some of the gaping lacunae in his understanding of art history. lol

      Delete
  20. Dear Sherapop, I'm Narboni from Fragantica. I'm from Spain and I ask You about orange blossoms perfume. I liked a lot reading about Villoresi, really as my fellow, ima on Fragantica, Dilmun was a wonderful orange blossom perfume (I don know now, with reformulations)
    About afffaire Villoreis-Sanchez I Knew about it Thanks to rewiew of Garofanno, how in Spanis say " la ignorancia es atrevida" and is true put te same level to Paris Hilton to a niche house can be the end. To a big brand a bad joke bud an artisan brand, really not unforgivable.
    It happens and it is my opinion that what you say well look like that lady trying to copy your partner and will go wrong. Maybe you were not misguided in vendettas, my sister for her work knows that Villoresi has a difficult character and his wife who has a charming character that rough lime. Maybe a bad meeting, Mr. Villoresi is an intellectual and Turin have training but Mrs. Sanchez .. that is another story, as a bad answer and then these valuations as absurd.
    Dear Sorry my English, I love your reviews.
    A.

    ReplyDelete

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