Most perfumistas familiar with The Holey [sic] Book—published under the title Perfumes: The A-Z Guide—appear to be aware that the “latest” Turin & Sanchez contribution to perfume writing is largely a reprint of the purple pages, the five-star reviews. The Little Book of Perfumes: The Hundred Classics is diminutive indeed, with a physical size measuring only 4.5 x 8 inches and spanning a mere 107 pages, including the slightly modified but mostly reprinted glossary and ever-so-slightly amended “best of” lists. For the benefit of those readers planning to embark on a three-hour cruise with one or the other of the authors, each has also included a handy list of top ten “desert island” perfumes.
The bulk of this not very bulky text, logically enough, reads as though its entries were literally ripped out of the original and essentially rebound to re-sell—which, of course, they were. So, for example, the review of Cacharel Loulou still ends with the sentence “This is one of the greats,” and several reviews end with the word 'masterpiece', though this is supposed to be a book of only “the greats”.
The good news is that much of the slander and snark, the rampant allegations of plagiarism, along with all of the vacuous negative criticism which never gave any reader any reason for steering clear of the perfumes despised by the authors—beyond the fact that they happen to despise them—have been omitted from The Little Book. As a result, Turin & Sanchez come off sounding more like adults and less like Beavis & Butthead, which is surely a good thing for all parties concerned. The snarling mongrels have been muzzled and the howling hyenas kept at bay in this reprint of reviews of their favorite perfumes, making this slim volume a short list of recommended fragrances which readers will surely be buying—well, except for a few.
Some of the perfumes included in this volume, notably Yohji Yamamoto Yohji Homme and Issey Miyake Le Feu d'Issey, are identified as “discontinued”. This makes the refusal of the authors to review all sorts of other discontinued great perfumes in their former volume somewhat difficult to understand. Apparently when they published The Holey [sic] Book, they believed themselves to have reviewed fresh samples of perfumes in production. Of course, they reviewed only about 10% of the perfumes in existence, but they excused themselves by saying that they had reviewed everything of which they were able to acquire samples.
It seems that they meant all of the perfumes of which they were able to acquire free samples, as I, for one, can attest that samples are readily available for many of the houses not represented in The Holey [sic] Book (hence its true name...). In any case, although the snark is largely gone—or at least tamed down to a tolerable percentage of the text, with the authors taking aim primarily at the IFRA—the arbitrariness remains.
To her credit, Sanchez explains in the introduction that
The fragrances reviewed in this book are not the greatest of all time—instead, they are those that struck us as far above their peers in quality, inventiveness, or straightforward beauty when we surveyed nearly 1,900 during the writing of Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, ignoring all publicity, packaging, and the feelings of friends and neighbors and concentrating solely on the scent.
This caveat does not prevent Turin from continuing to proclaim that Chanel 31 Rue Cambon is “One of the ten greats of all time,” and Guerlain Après L'Ondée “One of the twenty greatest perfumes of all time,” while hailing Guerlain Derby as “One of the ten best masculines of all time.”
Where, pray tell, was the editor during the production of this book? Such claims remind me of people who offer four significant-figure answers to the question what they regard as the likelihood of rain. “I'd say there's an 86.54% chance!”
It is unclear, given Sanchez's caveat, why the subtitle of this book, The Hundred Classics, remains just as misleading as that of their first book, The A-Z Guide. The Holey [sic] Book is not “The” guide to anything beyond the authors' taste ("they" have only one...), which is great if you happen to be interested in that topic, but since most readers will never be sharing a space with, much less marrying, either Turin or Sanchez, the value of that information is rather limited.
It would have been more accurate to subtitle The Little Book (which it really is), One Hundred Classics. Of course doing that would be an admission that Turin and Sanchez are not the world-renowned aesthetic experts their publisher has marketed them as being, and which has had a self-propagating effect, as houses and decanters purveying what is said by the couple to be a “masterpiece” naturally quote them in their marketing materials as “the experts”, and then, because houses and decanters say that they are experts, this must, it seems, mean that they are. A vicious circle of deception, indeed.
To return to the question of arbitrariness, Sanchez pokes fun at the publisher for their having added four perfumes to the ninety-six which received their highest accolades in The Holey [sic] Book:
To make up for our arbitrary, ahistorical approach and to satisfy the preference of publishers for multiples of ten, we add, to the ninety-six top-ranked fragrances from our previous book, four brief writings on long-gone fragrances of historical importance.
That remark was apparently intended to be amusing, but nowhere is the choice of Coty Emeraude, L'Origan, and Chypre explained, although the fourth perfume added to bring the total to one hundred, Jacques Fath Iris Gris, created by Vincent Roubert, is pronounced to be “a possibly perfect composition.” So that's, I guess, the explanation: that Turin likes it.
Of course, none of these four perfumes exists anymore, so they were sniffed at the Osmothèque (where the painstakingly reconstructed liquids are housed) and reviewed, why, exactly? Perhaps this was another one of the publisher's schemes (along with t.v. appearances, magazine features, etc.) to shore up the claim that the self-appointed experts are such experts that they are allowed to sniff perfumes at the Osmothèque. Which, again, confirms the claims by the houses featured in The Little Book, that its authors' judgments are indeed authoritative.
The Ce Soir ou Jamais—Eternity—Jardins de Bagatelle Connection Elucidated
To my mind, the primary value of The Holey [sic] Book lies in its provision of an answer to the question: How many insults can be squeezed into a single syllogism? Here is the answer:
1. Annick Goutal Ce Soir ou Jamais is an “Eternity wannabe”
2. Calvin Klein Eternity is “a copy of something not worth copying, Jardins de Bagatelle”
3. Guerlain Jardins de Bagatelle is “the very best of a lousy lot,” created in “a race to the bottom”
Therefore, Sophia Grojsman is a plagiarist with bad taste, and the perfumer who created Ce Soir ou Jamais is an incompetent plagiarist with even worse taste.
Perhaps you did not see the word 'plagiarist' in The Holey [sic] Book, but every authored perfume condemned as a "knock-off" or "copy" or "clone" implies the existence of a named plagiarist. If you missed this the first time around, you might consider heading on over to your local community college and enrolling in a course on critical thinking or elementary logic. You will then discover that Turin & Sanchez commit every fallacy in the book. Literally.
The Little Book, happily, is largely devoid of such nonsense, although Turin labels the members of the IFRA “traitors” in one of his lamentations about a mangled reformulation. He also calls the perfume houses (rather more vaguely) “vandals and thieves” in his introduction of the Osmothèque. But, overall, this book is far less thuggish and ugly than The Holey [sic] Book, as the perfumers and perfumes disliked by the authors are simply omitted, rather than being subjected to the authors' pseudo-righteous ire and toddleresque tantrums.
Turinia Mathematics: (1 + 5)/2 = 5!
I did find one passage in particular of The Little Book to be rather depressing. At the end of Turin's review of Etat Libre d'Orange Sécrétions Magnifiques, Sanchez writes:
2011: Smells exactly the same. For the record, there always should have been a dissenting vote from me on this one: one star, absolutely revolting, like a drop of J'Adore on an oyster you know you shouldn't eat. Whatever you do, do not allow any to touch your nose when you smell it off a paper strip. I know Luca is a convincing proselytizer, but trust me. TS
Please correct me if I am wrong in the math here, but I believe that the average of 1 star and 5 stars would be 6, divided by 2, equals 3 stars. So there you have it: a bald demonstration of what some of us suspected all along, that Tania really is just Luca's rib. The books both bear copyrights to Luca Turin, and she has no veto power to his decree of masterpieces. Should we be happy that our suspicion has been confirmed? I have to confess that I was depressed.
Nonetheless, The Little Book is a much more pleasant read, albeit a repetitive one to anyone familiar with The Holey [sic] Book. The reviews have hardly been touched, so it's the same old anecdotes about memories from the authors' idiosyncratic lives which supposedly justify the claims that these particular perfumes are not just the authors' favorites, but truly great.
I never quite grasped that connection before: Smells like an office Turin used to work in? Or a car that he rode in as a boy? Is a perfume his dad wore? Sanchez experienced an eschatological deliverance during her fourth sniffing?
The problem with those sorts of reviews is that they are valid only for the people who had those experiences and retain those same memories. For others, L'Artisan Parfumeur Dzing! may simply smell like bandaids and dung, whatever the contents of Turin's memory bank happen to be.
The reviews of The Hundred Classics nearly all relay stories from the authors' past experiences of these perfumes, revealing that they have worn them in some cases many times before—Turin ends his review of Parfums de Nicolaï New York with these words: Reader, I wore it for a decade. Apparently this is supposed to constitute a reason to buy the perfume for readers non-identical with Turin and likely to have divergent tastes from his own.
The autobiographical nature of the contents of these reviews strongly suggests that many, if not most, of the perfumes were pre-selected by the authors for inclusion. How many of the two- and three-star perfumes identified in The Holey[sic] Book left the authors cold or indifferent in just the way that Sanchez explicitly claims she failed to recognize what she came to regard as the greatness of Badgley Mischka the first, second, and even third time she smelled it? Only on her fourth smelling did she “grasp” that this perfume belongs among The Hundred Classics.
In order for this list to have any real merit—beyond autobiographical value—the testings would all need to have been conducted in blind trials. Of course, then the anecdotes would have disappeared, and the authors would have needed to comment on the perfumes rather than sharing memories and stories from their personal lives.
That the judgments were made independently of the packaging and the circumstances under which the perfumes were acquired seems equally dubious. Turin spends easily half the review of Amouage Gold describing his interest in the origins of the house and the packaging of the perfume. About Amouage Homage, he writes:
At the impossibly swank launch in Muscat of Amouage's two Jubilation scents, guests found, upon arrival in their hotel rooms, a limited edition bottle in a plain white box labeled simply Attar; i.e., "fragrance." When sampled, this anonymous thing turned out to be breathtakingly beautiful: at once lofty, tremendously radiant, and dizzyingly rich.
If such factors as "impossible swankness" were not taken into consideration in the evaluation of the perfumes, then why are they included in the reviews? Can anyone, Turin included, truthfully claim that their evaluations of a perfume are completely divorced from their encounter of its presentation in reality?
These favorable reviews, while arbitrary, do have content, which is more than could be said for the bulk of the reviews in The Holey [sic] Book—which follows from the fact that only 96 of the 1800 perfumes reviewed there garnered five stars. Many of the two-, three-, and even four-star reviews from The Holey [sic] Book give the impression of having been hastily dashed-off notes, as though Turin & Sanchez sat down with a pile of paper testing strips and a table covered with perfume bottles and had a sniffing marathon. It is painfully obvious that many of the perfumes were not given the benefit of a single full wear—much less four (or ten years' worth!). One can hardly resist the impression that all of this was a kind of “get rich and famous quick” scam which happened to pan out pretty well.
Perhaps, in the beginning, Turin & Sanchez didn't ever really believe that they'd be taken seriously as art critics. After all, hardly anyone in Western culture regards perfumery as one of the beaux arts. This might explain their sloppiness in talking about perfumes not reviewed in the volume and bestowing star ratings in what sometimes appear to be utterly random ways, driven entirely by caprice and even mood. Turin himself actually admitted as much when he told a reporter from The Independent:
They [the houses] 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.In The Holey [sic] Book, perfumes which garner praise are sometimes rated with only two stars, while perfumes scorned for one reason or another may receive three or even four. Perfumes are trashed for being misleadingly named or too sweet or for not containing natural this or that, but it emerges in other reviews that those “reasons” were only pretexts.
The authors are not really opposed to misnamed perfumes: Ambra di Venezia, they joke, should be named “Tuberose di Las Vegas” and has “nothing ambery or Venetian in sight,” but nonetheless receives four stars. Nor are the authors opposed, in principle, to confectionary perfumes (By Kilian Love, a meringue facsimile composed by Calice Becker, is said to be “brilliant”) or synthetic flowers (Estée Lauder Beyond Paradise—also by Becker—is said to be a masterpiece not despite but because of its “abstract” flowers). It is hard to believe that Turin would have raved so favorably about By Kilian Love, had he tested it blind, without knowing the perfumer's identity, at least judging by the strident condemnation of “candy floss” perfumes throughout The Holey [sic] Book.
In the end, there really seems to be no rhyme or reason to all of this beyond the authors' personal tastes and loyalties, and maybe that's fine. Perhaps that's all that perfume criticism can ever aspire to be, given that the meanings we find in and ascribe to perfumes derive directly from our idiosyncratic histories, our past experience, which is necessarily unique to ourselves. Everything you've heard and read about perfume is true!
The force of the authors' prescriptions—Avoid or Stock up!—presumably derives from their superior taste, or so some naïve readers apparently came to believe, having accepted that Perfumes: The A-Z Guide really was what it claimed to be. The deception campaign continued in the late summer and fall of 2011, when the imminent publication of The Little Book was announced and discussed at all of the fragrance community websites.
On her blog, Sanchez, in an effort to drum up excitement (and pre-orders) alluded to the “new essays” to be penned by Turin for the volume. The hyped new material did not materialize, aside from a plug for the Osmothèque and the four reviews of discontinued, reconstructed masterpieces entirely inaccessible to readers, as far as I am aware.
One odd feature of The Little Book is that the authors seem in the short emendations (post-reformulation) to presume the reader's familiarity with The Holey [sic] Book. Perhaps, this, too, is part of the grand marketing scheme to sell as many copies of these books as possible, before anyone else finds out that much better resources for perfume lovers are now available on the internet—for free.
Are The Hundred Classics The Hundred Classics?
In the approximately 1,000 word new introduction by Sanchez, she takes aim at the IFRA, and in the short updates on some of the perfumes, the IFRA is blamed, again, for the damage done to some of the perfumes, apparently rendering them less than classic. It's all a bit confusing: are these The Hundred Classics? Apparently not anymore—not even to the authors themselves.
But the creation of new perfumes also did not come to a screeching halt in 2008, as the entries in this volume, published in late 2011, would suggest. The Parfumo.net database includes 1,031 perfumes launched in 2009; and 1,169 perfumes launched in 2010. Some of the perfumes included among The Hundred Classics are discontinued; four are reconstructions preserved under argon gas at the Osmothèque, and a few of the former masterpieces are said to have suffered as a result of reformulation. The authors did not remove them, however, apparently because they did not want to take the time to find any replacements to bring the number back up to one hundred again.
All of this gives the impression, once again, that Turin & Sanchez had better things to do—in this case than to explore the possibility of new masterpieces launched since 2008. It's odd, in a way, given that quite a few of the perfumes included in this volume (Guerlain Insolence, Amouage Homage, LUSH Breath of God, Chanel Cuir de Russie, Chanel 31 Rue Cambon, and others) were launched after 2006.
This would seem to suggest, would it not, that others have certainly been launched since 2008. But no, perfume history appears to have ended on the day when Turin & Sanchez published The Holey [sic] Book, and they seem not to have much more to say. Which is fine with me. Maybe they're too busy dancing and singing around the kitchen table.
I do believe that this text has now surpassed the number of new words in The Little Book, so perhaps this would be a good place to stop.
review of The Holey[sic] Book