Friday, August 10, 2012

Are there Principles of Perfume Criticism? Or are judgments about perfumes all and only a matter of subjective taste?

Many perfumistas assume that perfumery is obviously an art and that only philistines continue to regard perfume as a toiletry on the same level as mouthwash and deodorant. We know the names of the perfumers who created our favorite elixirs, and we regard some of them in a manner befitting of great artists.

It may seem undeniable that perfumery is an art, once one begins to reflect upon and understand what is involved in conceiving of and producing a perfume. At first, there is nothing but a bunch of random ingredients, and then suddenly there is a masterpiece. Who but an artist could effect such a magnificent change, equivalent to a grand creation act?

Jean-Claude Elléna

Some perfumers, including Jean-Claude Ellénahave published reflections on their own work in book form. Others, including Andy Tauer, offer through their blog entries an intimate glimpse into the life of a perfumer. The way these perfumers regard their own vocation seems very similar if not identical to the perspective of artists in other realms on their own work.

Andy Tauer

I for one am fully prepared to label such perfumers as artists. Do I think that all perfumers are artists? Frankly, no, I do not. I believe that many of the people who produce fragrances under the auspices of huge corporations are industrial chemists who accept assignments to do as their employer decrees, creating the sort of scents which the company would like its products to bear, and permitting the employer to critique and tweak those scents. All of this is done within the bounds of a strict budget fully determined by the profit margin expected from launching and marketing a certain product in a certain way to a certain group of consumers.

There have been industrial chemists working in such a capacity for precisely so long as there have been scented products: laundry detergent, furniture polish, bathroom cleaning products, and also such items as lotions, shampoo and hair conditioner, diapers and baby wipes. 

All of these products have scents and those scents are produced by chemists, who can be regarded as perfumers, in some tenuous sense, but not in the way in which Jean-Claude Elléna and Andy Tauer and all other independent perfumers who run their own houses seem to be dedicated to the production of beautiful perfumes.

Creative directors such as Serge Lutens and Keiko Mecheri work in close collaboration with professional perfumers to produce compositions which realize the vision and reflect the values of the creative director. No less than are salaried chemists working for large corporations, such contracted perfumers are the subordinate employees of their creative director when they are hired for a project, whether a single perfume or an entire series of launches.

I am certainly prepared to assert that figures such as Serge Lutens and Keiko Mecheri are artists whose vision is elaborated through their enlistment of people technically adept at producing perfumes. Are the people who work with such creative directors also artists? The line become finer and finer it seems to me and depends ultimately upon the perfumer's own role in a particular case. If the perfumer is informing the director's aesthetic choices in a significant way, then perhaps he or she should be regarded as a co-creator in the perfume production process and, therefore, also an artist. Christopher Sheldrake would be one example.

Are “creative directors” such as Britney Spears and Sarah Jessica Parker and Paris Hilton and Queen Latifah and Mariah Carey and Jennifer Aniston and Kate Moss and Heidi Klum and Halle Berry and Madonna—and all of the other many celebrities who have launched perfumes or even entire series of perfumes bearing their name—also artists in the sense in which Serge Lutens and Keiko Mecheri seem to be?

This seems dubious to me, in large part because the finished products tend to fit into certain market molds and are probably more reflective of fashions and trends than of the “creative director's” vision. Certainly the perfumes produced in these people's names have met with their approval, in some sense, but whether or not they are actively engaged in the process, and to what extent, will differ from case to case. I myself do not consider any performing artist to be an “olfactory artist” simply for having launched a perfume.

One reason for denying that celebrities are artists when it comes to perfumery is that their intention in launching fragrances seems diaphanously to be not only to make money, but also to further extend and promote their own fame. This primary motive distinguishes celebrity creative directors from those such as Serge Lutens and Keiko Mecheri, whose intention appears to be to produce excellent perfume—in addition, of course, to making money.

Anyone who looks anywhere—whether among the niche and independent, or the mainstream designer and celebrity houses—for pure, non-mercenary intentions in today's perfume industry will be disappointed, it seems to me. The distinction between artists, on the one hand, and businesspeople and hacks, on the other, cannot be that the former have no interest in earning money from what they do. Artists, too, need to support themselves, so wishing to make money cannot be the deciding factor. In addition, entrepreneurs such as Laurice Rahmé of Bond no 9 appear to enjoy not only creating excellent perfumes but also running successful businesses.

What is missing in the case of the non-artists, those who could just as easily be running a supermarket chain as a perfume house, is a priority given to producing a certain kind of perfume. It seems clear to me that many launches are crassly mercenary, as are many reformulations. Those perfumes are a cause for cynicism about the status of perfumery as an art, at least as it is practiced in many contexts.

Companies such as Bath & Body Works and Victoria's Secret offer useful examples. Such “houses”, if you will, regularly generate new perfumes and nearly immediately discontinue them, to the disappointment of the consumers who have come to appreciate them. Consider the Parfums Intimes launch by Victoria's Secret of a series of quite decent fragrances in 2009.

These perfumes were among the best—as far as I've sniffed—ever produced by Victoria's Secret. They were evidently a market flop, however, and were abruptly discontinued not too long after they had been launched—I believe that it was less than two years. Why were these perfumes discontinued? In all likelihood because Victoria's Secret customers are not, generally speaking, concerned so much with having a refined perfumic quality in their fragrances. Many of them, not being perfumistas, were probably not prepared to pay the MSRP of the Parfums Intimes, which was initially $59 for 50ml. The price was lowered somewhat after the initial launch, and two further members of the series, more in line with the fruity-floral tastes of the typical Victoria's Secret customer, were added to the original four launches, but these measures appear to have been too little, too late.

Many Victoria's Secret customers are perfectly happy with the Secret Garden series, the non-prestige eaux de toilette which carry a regular retail price of $12 for 30ml. During sale periods, which occur many times each year, these (needless to say highly synthetic) fragrances can be had for less than $5 a bottle.

Despite the fact that the Parfums Intimes perfumes were really quite good, relative to the Victoria's Secret standard line—and even their other prestige fragrances, such as the Dream Angels series—they were discontinued. Success on the market is the only criterion for perfume survival, and this is why such a company seems to me to be primarily a business, one which happens to offer fragrances, among many other products, above all, in their case, lingerie. For Victoria's Secret, perfume is but an accessory to their primary output: bras and underwear. Accessories are optional and can be changed or eliminated as soon as they prove not to be profit-worthy.

The perfumers who work for companies such as Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works seem to me to be for the most part industrial chemists, although on occasion a famous nose is contracted for a special launch. Whether a particular perfumer is an artist or perhaps more of a chemist or technician will depend upon that person's approach and orientation. Andy Tauer has a Ph.D. In chemistry, but that has not stopped him from being an artist. The question becomes: what are the criteria to apply in order to decide who is right and who is wrong when not everyone unanimously agrees about the value of a particular perfumer's output?

Is Perfumery an Art Like the Others?

In a recent comment here at the salon regarding the status of perfumery at the end of a post on the pre-Socratic philosophers Anaximander and Anaximenes, Christos (of Memory of Scent) posed the following challenge to those who would exalt perfumery as an art:

As far as art, I really do not think that everything can be turned into art. To turn back to the Greeks, they had defined what art is and of course new media have added the moving image in the form of cinema, video, performance to the list. But olfaction has always been there since the beginning of the human civilization. Where is the theory behind it to make it a real art? Of course there are levels of creation and not all perfumers are made equal but I need to be convinced that a common language to express and critique perfume can be created before I believe it is true art.
---Christos (Memory of Scent), July 30, 2012 

The more I reflect upon these incisive words, the more I recognize that there really does seem to be a problem here. Perfume critics and reviewers all seem to have very declarative and forceful opinions about the perfumes which they sniff, but are they ever really offering any genuine aesthetic criticism? Are they doing anything more than expressing their personal likes and dislikes in the manner in which one may express one's personal taste by praising or denouncing anchovies or or a certain brand of black licorice?

My skepticism about this question was further piqued by Chandler Burr's repeated allusion to Alberto Morillas as an “olfactory artist” during the revelation of the identity of S01E02, the second episode of the first Untitled Series, which turned out to be Thierry Mugler's Cologne. I correctly guessed the perfumer's identity in a post at Open Sky in mid-July 2012, and the name of the perfume in a post at Fragrantica, but my reasons for guessing Morillas were certainly not Burr's reason for substituting the locution 'olfactory artist' where one might normally use the term 'perfumer'.

Burr is evidently keen to underscore the status of perfumery as an art to people who might not yet already believe, but I wonder whether he thought through the implications of referring to Morillas repeatedly as an “olfactory artist” during the discussion with Katie Puckrick about S01E02. By saying that Morillas is an “olfactory artist,” not just a perfumer, is Burr not implying that only some perfumers are olfactory artists? In other words, by making this distinction, Burr appears to be claiming that all olfactory artists are perfumers, but some perfumers are not olfactory artists.

The curious thing about this distinction is that Morillas is precisely the sort of perfumer whom one might consider to be an industry hack, someone who has worked for dozens of different companies on many different projects and within the bounds of tight budget constraints imposed upon the projects and according to the specifications of the client. Certainly this sounds much more like a professional craftsman or technician than an artist, at least how we understand that word today.

In the contemporary world, fine artists are typically distinguished from the sorts of people who work for companies in ways intended to increase their profits. So the people who write jingles for television commercials are not generally regarded as poets—at least not for this particular type of textual output. The people who design ads for the weekly grocery circular are not usually regarded as visual artists—though they may of course be in the privacy of their own homes or in other spheres. The people who write music for movies may or may not be regarded as great composers—depending upon what else they do and also the quality of the movies for which they produce scores.

On analogy, the perfumers who compose for Bvlgari, Calvin Klein, Carolina Herrera, Cartier, Giorgio Armani, Kenzo, Thierry Mugler, et al., are clearly helping those companies to fill in their perfume portfolio, so to speak. The paramount goal in hiring a perfumer is to make money, not to produce works of art.

A recent article in Daily Finance, "Behind the Spritz," shows the somewhat alarming breakdown of the cost of a mainstream bottle of perfume with a MSRP of $100. Without delving into the details here, suffice it to say that the bulk of the money is poured into the management and presentation of the product, with only a pittance poured into the actual bottle (which, at $6, typically costs three times more than the juice inside, averaging $2!). All of the effort put into distribution, presentation, and sales is made in order to get the bottle onto as many people's vanity trays as possible, what is naturally facilitated through the use of advertisements which seduce consumers into believing that this is the perfume to use.

What is curious about the identification of Alberto Morillas as an olfactory artist rather than a commissioned perfumer is that he is famous precisely for having created perfumes which have earned billions of dollars for companies in the perfume industry. But does this not suggest that Morillas is closer to a best-selling author than he is to a writer of timeless literary works? Best-selling authors abound at any moment in time—there is, after all, always a best seller list, so someone must be on it! A big part of these writers' success is due to the aggressive promotion of their works by publishers. In reality, only a tiny fraction of even wildly popular and financially successful authors achieve posthumous renown. In the case of perfumery, posthumous renown would seem to be virtually impossible, because perfume, like its creator, eventually evaporates away.

A further problem with the “Alberto Morillas has earned the perfume industry billions of dollars” rationale for labeling him an “olfactory artist” is that, by that criterion, if Britney Spears keeps on her current fragrance launch trajectory, she, too, will one day be hailed as an “olfactory artist”!

Now, one could say that Chandler Burr is simply attempting to shore up his credentials as the curator of olfactory art at the Museum of Art and Design (in New York), which is a cynical but not unrealistic view of the matter. Another tack to take would be to say that in fact all perfumers are olfactory artists, but this seems quite dubious to me, for the reasons given above. It seems quite clear that some persons working in the perfume industry and directly engaged in the creation of new fragrances are consciously catering to and even helping companies to shape certain market niches, in part through the use of marketing surveys and studies, among other techniques.

There are obviously people creating sweet laundry and shampoo and conditioner scents, all of which is a part of what might be termed the “personal hygiene turn” currently under way in perfumery. I wonder whether the house of Clean was not in some ways visionary, if not revolutionary, in predicting what sorts of scents people would be ready to buy in the aftermath of the post-Angel wave of cloying sweet patchouli perfumes. There is only so much sweet patchouli and skank that people are willing to tolerate: at some point they just want to smell clean.

Now, we can call anything we like by any name we choose. But the point Christos made so insightfully is that there is a distinction between an art which is actually susceptible of criticism and one which is not. This leads us directly to the core question: are there or can there be principles of perfume criticism, or are judgments of perfumes all and only a matter of taste?

What might principles of perfume criticism look like?

Here are a few candidates which one might consider from a random selection of entries in The Holey[sic] Book (misleadingly published under the title Perfumes: The A-Z Guide), by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez:

  • Longevity and Projection
  • Weirdness
  • Accuracy in naming
  • Price
  • Ability to evoke the memory of some place visited or thing experienced by Turin during some period of his life

As regular visitors to the salon de parfum are fully aware, I am of the opinion that the negative reviews in The Holey[sic] Book are, in a phrase: 

solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short 

Overeducated readers will immediately recognize that I have indeed invoked, and not without reason, Thomas Hobbes' famous phrase for describing life in the state of nature, that is, before the establishment of civil society.

Thomas Hobbes, author of Leviathan

Many—in fact, most—of the negative “reviews” in The Holey[sic] Book are essentially outbursts devoid of any propositional content, so it's not even possible to agree or disagree with the authors. One can only grunt in response—whether in satisfaction or out of exasperation.

Turin and Sanchez certainly have strong opinions, and, like trash talk television pundits, they are not afraid to express them. However, I do not believe that their texts reflect anything even approaching principles of aesthetic criticism. Why not? you may ask. Because their very own criteria change from review to review. This would seem to imply that their judgments are based not on principles but personal taste and loyalties.

So, for example, longevity and projection are good, if the perfume is already liked by the authors. Longevity and projection are bad, if the perfume is disliked. Longevity and projection, therefore, cannot be criteria for distinguishing between good and bad perfumes. (Compare the reviews of Guerlain Insolence edp [5 stars] and Keiko Mecheri Loukhoum [1 star] to see this.)

Again, some perfumes are blasted for claiming to be what they are not. In other cases, such inaccuracy is taken in stride, because the authors already happen to like what they sniff. Truth in naming is therefore not a criterion. (Compare the reviews of Ambra di Venezia [4 stars] and Balmain Ambre Gris [2 stars] to see this.)

Some perfumes are dismissed as substandard for their synthetic materials; others are hailed as masterpieces for the same. Glorious “abstract” florals become “skeletal” when they figure in a perfume disliked by the authors. (Compare the reviews of Esteé Lauder Beyond Paradise [5 stars] and Bond no 9 Fashion Avenue [2 stars] to see this.)

Candyfloss appears at times to be a bad thing, but in perfumes praised by the authors, such as By Kilian Love, created by Calice Becker, suddenly candyfloss is a good thing. (Compare the reviews of Vera Wang Princess [1 star] and By Kilian Love [4 stars] to see this.)

But even having been created by a perfumer praised by the authors themselves as “great” cannot save a perfume which they happen to hate. Dominique Ropion is said in some places to be a great perfumer, yet he created perfumes upon which vicious invective is heaped, above all: Givenchy Amarige and Lalique Le Parfum, each of which amazingly garners one star.

Again, the “great” Alberto Morillas created Estée Lauder Pleasures, considered a masterpiece by the authors, but also Versace Bright Crystal, which garners one star and is denounced as a “nasty floral” and “hideously screechy.” Those four words, in fact, exhaust the full content of the review of this perfume by the “great” Alberto Morillas. 

Bvlgari Blv Notte, also by Morillas, is criticized by Turin thus:

incompletely worked out, as if the perfumer had hurried to the deadline and submitted a pile of Post-its instead of a manuscript.

Of Carolina Herrera 212, yet another Morillas creation, Sanchez writes (and this is the entirety of the "review"):
harsh floral. Like getting lemon juice in a paper cut.

Being a “great” perfumer clearly does not mean, according to the authors of The Holey[sic] Book, that one creates great perfumes. Another example: the “great” Mark Buxton is the explanation for the four-star rating of low-brow juice factory perfume Salvador Dali Laguna. Unfortunately, he was somehow “throttled” to produce the two-star Linari perfume Angelo di Fiume, which, according to Turin, “has little to say and takes ages saying it.”

Even the perfumes of Buxton's own eponymous house are dismissed as two-star mediocrity. But it's his house, for heaven's sake! If this implies (as it seems to) that Buxton is both the perfumer and the creative director, then how could the “great” perfumer make such aesthetic mistakes?

Sophia Grojsman, also repeatedly identified as a great perfumer, somehow managed to produce the one-star disaster Estée Lauder Spellbound, denounced in these genteel terms: “Powerfully cloying and nauseating. Trails for miles. Frightens horses. Gets worse.” The two-word mnemonic which they confer upon this perfume is “medicated treacle.”

If Grojsman is one of the greatest living perfumers (which I do believe to be the case), then how did she manage to produce such a horrid perfume according to the authors of The Holey[sic] Book? That is the question, my fragrant friends.

The identification of so many cases of great perfumers producing allegedly nightmarish perfumes raises two intertwined and rather vexing problems:

  • Should we believe the reviewers or the perfumers when they come into radical conflict with one another about the quality of a perfume? Clearly the perfumers do not regard themselves as having produced dreck and swill. Clearly they do not regard their own creations as “hilariously bad” or “unconscionably hideous.” If the authors' opinions diverge radically from the perfumer's own—say, in a case such as Mona di Orio (may she rest in peace), whom should we, the readers, believe?
  • Why, moreover, should we believe Turin and Sanchez when they say anything? If they are right that the perfumers whom they proclaim to be great are truly great, then how could they produce such awful perfumes? And if they are wrong in their identification of great perfumers, then might they not also be wrong in their judgment of perfumes?

I would like to press this argument a bit further to make absolutely clear precisely what it is that I am saying.

First, there is no sense in which Turin and Sanchez have more expertise about perfume than do perfumers themselves. Strikingly, I recall that somewhere in The Holey[sic] Book, Turin even confesses to having been a failure as a creative director at some point in his personal history of perfume.

Second, there is no sense in which the authors can be said have more passion for perfume than people who have dedicated their very lives to its creation.

Therefore, since knowledge of and enthusiasm for perfumery are the only alleged qualifications of the authors, there is no reason to prioritize their opinions above those of the perfumers whose creations they vilify.

Alas, human beings are like sheep, who from time immemorial have been following the lead of whoever steps forward with a megaphone and yells louder than everyone else. This is how and why the opinions of Turin and Sanchez have reverberated and echoed throughout the world wide web as insecure acolytes parrot their words in an effort to show that, yes, they agree with “the experts”. Sadly, many reviewers have also adopted their snarky, boorish style, mistaking nastiness for incisive critique.

The Question of Credentials and Credibility

The question of credentials was taken up recently in an excellent piece by Bryan Ross at From Pyrgos. Again, the crux of the issue can be summed up in a single question: Why should we believe that what Turin and Sanchez have to say about a given perfume has any objective validity whatsoever?

As I read through The Holey[sic] Book, with little knowledge about either author, I occasionally bumped into remarks which piqued my interest about who they were and what they had done to become world renowned perfume experts. Consider these words written by Sanchez:

in her review of Ellie D Ellie:

Sometimes even the professional reviewer is baffled by too much information.

in her review of Bond no 9 Fashion Avenue:

I'm always sure that some passionate botanist will phone me up on the subject of one of these skeletal florals one day and howl, 'You moron, it's obviously linden,' and my career will end, or something like that.

I often disagree with her most basic judgments about perfumes and believe that some of her reviews contain factual errors (Bond no 9 Little Italy is marred by a big dose of civet???), but when I read the above, self-referential remarks, which clearly indicate that Sanchez is a perfume reviewer with a “career” at stake, I immediately googled her name to find out where she had been gainfully employed as a perfume writer before hooking up with Turin. Was she perhaps a staff reviewer for the Los Angeles Times? Who knew?

In fact, I was unable to locate a single piece of published writing by Ms. Sanchez pre-dating The Holey[sic] Book or any evidence whatsoever that her “career” ever had anything to do with perfume. Although she is sometimes referred to by groupies (in forum threads at various sites) as a “journalist”, I have also been unable to determine which news service or paper she ever worked for—if any—as I could not locate a single by-line for her anywhere.

I imagine that in centuries past, people got away with these sorts of shenanigans far more easily. Having once shamelessly promoted one's self through the use of patently false claims, perhaps no one could complain so long as the marketing campaign had achieved its aim, to catapult the liar to fame.

Without delving into the question of the morality of duplicity and deception, in the age of the internet, publishing the above sorts of misleading—if not flatly false—statements is highly imprudent. The fact is that, as information has become more public, it has also become widely accessible. People who are writers have publications. “Professional perfume reviewers” have been paid to write perfume reviews. If those supposed publications cannot be located anywhere, then they never existed.

Here is an excerpt from a definition in Webster's Third International Unabridged Dictionary:

fraud = an instance of an act of trickery or deceit, especially when involving misrepresentation... a person who is not what he pretends to be

Turning now to Turin, he appears to have attempted unsuccessfully to resurrect someone else's vibrational theory of olfaction. Okay, fine. What does that have to do with aesthetic judgment? Remarkably, Turin himself owns that his nose is “average.” So why in the world should anyone care what he thinks of any perfume? Even if it should turn out to be the case that his pet theory of olfaction ends up being vindicated—against all probability, it seems—this would not have any bearing whatsoever on his status of as an aesthetic critic.

One might wonder whether the credential situation is any better for Chandler Burr, actually. He became famous in the perfume world in part by writing, ironically enough, a book about Luca Turin! The story of a frustrated scientist's obsession with and desperate quest to win a Nobel Prize? Really? Perhaps The Emperor of Scent will succeed in elucidating the source and full extent of Turin's megalomania, but I must say that, although it is on my reading list (I picked up a copy from Amazon for $2), it's not very high up in the queue.

We find ourselves in a situation here, my fragrant friends, where the “experts” are appointing themselves and decreeing who “olfactory artists” are and which perfumes are masterpieces and which are disasters. But what, exactly, are the criteria being used to make these pronouncements? The answer, I'm afraid, is that in each and every case, the criteria are no more and no less than the subjective tastes of those making the judgments, their alleged qualifications being the sheer gumption to don the emperor's new (nonexistent) robes!

What if “The Experts” Disagree?

I was delighted to learn that Chandler Burr had selected Prada Infusion d'Iris as the first perfume for the Untitled series, S01E01. Why? Because I hoped that Burr might thus be able to help to mend some of the damage undoubtedly done to Daniela Andrier's name by the caustic condemnation in The Holey[sic] Book of the entire perfumic output of the house of Prada. (Honestly, if I were an attorney, the slander/libel of perfumers throughout The Holey[sic] Book would be a class action suit waiting to happen.)

But here's the problem, for the question at hand: the few people (essentially two, if we simply admit what by now seems obvious, that Tania is no more and no less than Luca's rib) who have put themselves forth as aesthetic experts in perfumery disagree on the most fundamental question: whether a given perfume, in this case, Prada Infusion d'Iris is any good at all! Let us be clear: Burr and Turin do not disagree about why this perfume is good or bad. They disagree about whether it is good or bad!


Principles or Taste?

Here are the “principles” which I was able to glean from The Holey[sic] Book: Turin and Sanchez like the smell of rubber, sweaty musk, and peaches. They do not care very much for roses. Rather than the golden mean or a refined subtle quality (as found in the creations of Keiko Mecheri), the authors prefer louder, more aggressive and extreme compositional styles (as are exemplified by some of the perfumes of the house of Lush). They seem to be easily bored and would rather smell like sneakers than amber. They harbor a deep-seated resentment toward perfumers who charge prices which they regard as exorbitant (are they really unaware that PERFUME IS NOT MILK?), and they are more interested in originality of composition than they are in the quality of materials.

This is how a low-brow Parlux juice factory fragrance such as Jessica Simpson Fancy can garner three stars and Salvador Dali Laguna four stars while high-quality perfumes produced by Mona di Orio or Hermès—along with many niche houses which use only the finest materials—receive only one or two stars. The niche perfumes rejected by the authors as disasters often have broad followings among perfumistas who regard them as great.

The above gleaned “principles” are not principles of art criticism. They are predilections and preferences. They are statements of the authors' highly subjective tastes, no more and no less. If someone were to read all of my reviews, he would learn that my personal “principles” include a priority toward high-quality materials, complex development, and good longevity and sillage. I appreciate subtlety and eschew histrionic excess. I am much less interested than are Turin and Sanchez in who supposedly first came up with the idea that a certain combination of notes would work well. Frankly, I and many other perfume users could not care less who got there first.

I have a penchant for ambrette, violet, labdanum, benzoin, and roses, especially in oriental compositions. I dislike rubber, plastic fruits, heavy cumin, asafoetida, and sweaty musk. I would much rather smell like amber than sneakers. Another of my preferences—arbitrary though it may seem to some—is to avoid fragrances boasting BHT among their ingredients. In addition, because I appear to have a chemical incompatibility with Alberto Morillas, whom I affectionately refer to as “Chemical Albie,” I no longer blind buy any perfume created by him. Does this mean that he is not an olfactory artist? No, it means that he is not the perfumer for me. I and people who share my perfumic values wish to smell beautiful, well-made perfumes which do not assault our central nervous system and do not degenerate over the course of a wear into some sort of noxious form of chemical waste.

We all have our criteria for determining how to dispense with our perfume wallet share, and those criteria explain why we favor the works of this house or that, and we gravitate toward some perfumers while eschewing others. But are these criteria ever anything more than an expression of personal taste? That is the question, my fragrant friends.

I am fully prepared to be converted, if someone out there can step forward and steer me toward whatever the principles of perfume criticism are supposed to be. To this point, however, I have to say that I'm with Christos: in thousands of years of perfume use, no principles have ever emerged. Why should they now, in the twenty-first century?

Can We Talk? About Perfume


  1. What a brilliant essay. Thank you so much for writing this. You have inspired an unofficial response on my blog, soon to be written. I hadn't read that Gilbert review of Burr's book until now, and I must say it is very funny and insightful. Also your comments about perfume criticism needing a "common language" for coherence as artistic discourse was prescient. This leads to my ever un-answered question, why can't people just accept perfumers as being perfumers? Or, if we want to get grandiose about it, designers? After all, they design smells by creating formulas for olfactory perception. Is there some stigma attached to design that I'm unaware of? Or is it just more interesting to use the romantic term, "artist?"

    I'm of the opinion that there are many artists who strive to create for many reasons, and making money is not high on their list of priorities. I once met a commercially successful fine-artist/illustrator named Michael Whelan, who made a career out of painting covers for science fiction and fantasy novels. I asked him what it felt like to be so successful, and he immediately attributed his financial success to his wife, who turned out to be a real business powerhouse, and who was more than a little scary. He admitted that, if left single and to his own devices, he would never have made a penny on his art, but probably would have created the same massive catalog of work that he boasts today. Essentially he needed a business-savvy partner to put his creations to good use. Without her, he would just be a guy in a room painting between shifts at the local grocery store. With her, he is a millionaire.

    I tend to view perfumers differently, as you know. Their impetus for action is profit, based on successful conversions. They convert chemical lists to compositions, and compositions to dollars. Kerosene Perfumes is a good example. Their creator is an amateur dabbler who somehow financed the creation of a handful of niche products, which were then immediately sold online at a premium of $140 a bottle. I see very little artistic drive there. There was no complex inner need to "express" or "channel creative urges." I know those words come dangerously close to being cliches, but in truth, art is the end product of someone's creative, expressive urge. It is a visual and sensory language, interpreted - as you so well pointed out - by another universal language among viewers and non-artists. Perfumery, on the other hand, is a business template. On scented alcohol, salaries ride.

    In regards to Turin/Sanchez - isn't it amazing how impossible it is to find even the slightest tidbit of information on Sanchez? Aside from her blog, which seems to be dead, and a bunch of flattery pieces about The Guide, there is nothing about her anywhere. The woman seems less accomplished than little old me, who gets two pages out of a Google search. I know that in fact she is doing very well with her beauty writing, through word of mouth, and naturally her publications sell and make her mucho deniro, but other than that, it's like she doesn't exist. Perplexing to say the least.

    And Turin . . . well, you said it best. A very interesting man, who is interesting for all the wrong reasons. What bothers me the most about Luca Turin is that he doesn't seem to have the professional chops to back up his extraordinary writing ability. I do feel he is a good writer, sometimes inspired. If he were to release an autobiography, or a novel, I would be very inclined to read it. However, reading The Guide in any of its incarnations leaves me with a feeling of ennui about him. I want to know that this solid voice comes from a solidly-impressive figure, and not just some metrosexual scientist standing on the sad side of burned bridges. All well. Thanks again for the great read!

    1. Thank you so much for the praise, which means all the more to me coming from Bryan "No Bullshit" Ross. (-;

      I find your idea about "perfume as design” quite intriguing. I read one of your posts on that topic, but I need go search the rest of your blog so that I can read the others as well. I think that it is an original and provocative idea. I certainly have not seen anyone else espousing such a view. Why is your view so appealing? Above all, because it covers the data: that perfumery as we know it exists ESSENTIALLY in a business context. We only have access to perfumes because of businesses. This suggests that while a person might have an aesthetic attitude toward scenting himself—say, by mixing essential oils together in a creative way in the privacy of his boudoir—that seems a lot closer to selecting accessories and socks and jewelry to match one's outfit for the day. Does it not?

      In the very same pithy citation from Christos, he mentions that not everything is art, and I think that maybe the fact that I always select lingerie for the day to complement my clothes—though no one else will know—does not alone qualify me as an artist!!! (-;

      I *love* your penultimate sentence:

      "I want to know that this solid voice comes from a solidly impressive figure, and not just some metrosexual scientist standing on the sad side of burned bridges."

      BEAUTIFUL! I hope that I can figure out a way to weave it into a future post so that I can lift it out of this comment! (-;

      Your remarks on Kerosene are very interesting as well, but I'll take them up below in my response Christos, since he disagree with you.

      Thank you so much for your insightful contributions both here and elsewhere, Bryan!

  2. I too believe perfume reviewing, or writing about it generally, is extremely subjective, and that is actually the most interesting thing about it. I have no credentials myself, but have ended up writing about perfumes and their effect on me on a regular basis, as a way of sharing my enthusiasms with others who care about the perfume experience, and to explain to others with a more distant relationship why it is worthwhile and rewarding.

    I appreciate that this post took on a "big name" and basically said, well, so how did this person come to be considered the Emperor of Scent? Possibly by caring passionately, and trying so many and paying it a lot of attention, but there are many others who do that too. Doing all that early on and being written about in detail gets you some special attention, but over time that unique position has become less so. I agree it is painful to read casually sarcastic dismissals of beloved perfumes by someone held up as an authority, but I don't think too many perfumistas take such pronouncements from "on high" all that seriously anymore. It can have a bad effect for the perfume(r) on the more general public though, and so their market. Sometimes I suspect there is a bit of tactical establishing of authority in such casual dismissals. Would that be paranoid or cynical? Still not sure.

    And I agree this talk of whether or not to call perfumers artists isn't really all that useful or relevant. Perfumer itself is a beautiful title. However, I believe that people want to reference the concept that a perfumer indeed has the potential to be something like a poet, or an artist, only working with olfactory materials instead of words or other materials. They have the potential to create even within small moments of a perfume an experience of emotional resonance that can be large and contain worlds of complex associations and references for the like minded, if not everyone.

    The world of perfume is changing and there are more perfumers in charge of their own creations, and as there are fine and commercial artists, and everything in between, so there are fine and commercial perfumers, and some switch back and forth between the two.

    Some of the perfume companies who employ many perfumers remind me of the practices of the old guilds. In the past, such as the European Renaissance era, many artists and artisans worked in a similar way. They had ateliers where they would train the younger talents who would work in the manner of the commissioned artist or artisan, who worked to something like a brief, and employed apprentices to fill in backgrounds or drapery or make up the ground colors and tools, doing more as they learned and perfected their technique. Some very beautiful paintings were made that way.

    I think some wonderful perfumes are produced in a similar way today. In the end, it's the perfume and how it affects you, personally, which is a subjective experience. It's refreshing that you have clearly defined your own criteria for quality, and state it. I think more of that among perfume bloggers and writers would be very interesting, though I know also that it is possible to have eclectic taste in perfume as in music or books, which is very difficult to explain in a concise logical way. I love a wide range of writing and music too, from literature and classical to pulp and pop. There are perfumes that were basically mass produced and had an influence on a wide audience that have become classics. There are perfumes made completely by hand by one person that resonate very deeply with a developed base of fans.

    It is so interesting to see a perfume blogger really delve into and explain their thinking. Whether we agree on each point or not, the main thing is the discussion actually is one and gets past the superficial.

    1. Hello Lucy, and Welcome to the salon!

      You have made so many worthwhile points here, and I think that my sequel to this post will have to commence from this idea:

      “Perfumer itself is a beautiful title.”

      Bryan Ross (see above comment) agrees. Why the push for “olfactory artist”? Is 'perfumer' supposed to be a dirty word? Maybe Burr thinks that perfumers are like cooks and “olfactory artists” are like chefs? No, he would probably think that 'chef' is too insulting, too, although it seems clear to me that perfumers mix materials together in just the way that a gourmet chef does in his kitchen... The thing about food is that it is more evanescent than even perfume! But both food and perfume are consumed. We destroy it through the act of appreciation, and that is not the case for the beaux arts, it seems to me. Hmmm... maybe that's a crucial distinction? Anyway this is a mystery which needs to be pursued further! Thank you for underscoring that 'perfumer' is not a dirty word! (-;

      I think that there is a lot of truth to what you say about the “tactical establishment of authority”, and that topic will be treated in my upcoming discussion of the Sophists of ancient Greece and their analogues in the modern perfume world. No, it's not a cynical or paranoid take. What you're alluding to has been going on for thousands of years! It's obvious in the case of politics (remember Sarah Palin?), but it happens in many other realms as well...

      Your comparison of perfume companies to the guilds seems very apt to me. In fact, the art world itself has changed SO much since the days when artists all had patrons. Are we perhaps clinging to a romantic (thanks again, Bryan) conception of artist? The truth, like it or not, is that today's successful artists are either super savvy self-marketers, or they have someone close to them who is, as in Bryan's example above. Now that I think about it, the changing nature of the art world under capitalism may be bringing art closer to design again. This is a very rich topic which I can see will be ramifying radially! Thank you so much for bringing up the guilds and the question of the status of an artwork—or perfume!—versus its provenance. One can ask, after all, whether the artist's intentions are relevant to the value of whatever he produces. A masterpiece is a masterpiece. Does it matter why or under what conditions it was produced?

      Thank you so much, Lucy, for stopping by and sharing your ideas! I hope to read you here again soon!

  3. Thank you so much for this thoughtfully presented essay; I've certainly enjoyed reading it. Lovers of any type of art certainly benefit from cultivating knowledge that enable us to go beyond the limitations of our emotions and personal state of mind. Those of us who deeply love and care about perfume as an art need to develop the skills and vocabulary required to make sense out of the olfactory qualities that permeate everyday experience.

    In this sense, I believe that reading (and writing if one is so inclined) about perfume is supremely valuable, as well as, and as importantly, enjoyable.

    I have absolutely no allusions that perfumers (in the artistic sense you've described) are not only artists, but astute businessmen/women in an extremely competitive field, working in a dismal economy, within the bounds of various regulations and laws. Perhaps this is true for most modern artists? Although my romantic soul yearns to believe it, I doubt there are any Perfume vanGoghs, feverishly producing anguished and illuminating masterpieces in obscurity, and selling nothing. In this sense, the Ellenas and Duchaufours share the goal of the chemists who decide how Tide will smell - make something that smells good that lots of people will want to buy.

    I have become disenchanted with most perfume review and critique. I have found much of it to be increasingly lazy and dull, relying on the company's own advertising or worse, regurgitating reviews of other writers, almost verbatim. I will not give examples or specifics, as I have no wish to offend.

    I find Dr. Turin to be a very talented writer, often witty and skilled with allegory, and I enjoy his perfume writing much more than that of many who criticize it. As for Ms. Sanchez, I believe she needs to develop more as a writer. I take all of their reviews as I do all others - with a grain of salt, healthy skepticism, and a sense of humor.

    Although this is the first time I've commented on your blog, I'm happy to tell you that it is one of the few I read regularly and enjoy. Thanks!

    Mary Stephens Mitchell

    1. Greetings, Mary, and Welcome to the comments section of the salon! I'm very happy that you have stepped forward to add your voice to the conversation!

      You point out, correctly, that perfumers are laboring in difficult economic times, attempting to woo consumers just to stay in business while also being constrained by the IFRA restrictions. In this sense, they are, I agree, more like the chemists for Tide than they are like van Gogh. But I think that your primary point is that perfumers, as a group, were NEVER like van Gogh. That romantic image of a perfumer was floated in the film Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. Unfortunately, the “tortured” artist was really just a serial killer in disguise. Well, that's my take anyway! (-;

      I have been amazed over the last few years by the near exponential increase in the number of new perfume launches not only by mainstream but also niche houses. I think that perfumers may be undermining themselves and perhaps even permanently digging themselves into a “toiletries hole”.

      In an earlier post, I compared flanker madness to the generation of proliferating and ever-more-meaningless Twitter texts. With niche perfumers joining in on that game, I fear that they are going to lose. But how to withstand the forces imposed by corporate giants and still stay afloat? That is the question.

      I think that you are not alone in your disenchantment with much of the perfume blog world. There is a lot of bold expression of opinions, and a kind of pseudo-elitist bashing and general snarkiness which I really do not enjoy. I rarely visit Creednotes anymore (they banned me for criticizing The Holey[sic] Book—believe it or not), but on the rare occasion where I end up in the threads there, I am saddened by the tenor of the discourse. It seems that there are lots of little emperors running around in invisible robes who would do well to take a quick glimpse into a three-way mirror.

      I will at some point get my hands on a copy Turin's French language reviews. Maybe they'll improve his image in my eyes, since I'm such a francophile. (-;

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Mary, and I do hope that you will join us in the comments section of the salon again!

  4. You spoke so eloquently of all the things I had in my mind. As I was reading this I was actually trailing my own thoughts on this subject. And I believe the touchstone for art is the motive behind the artist. Every artist starts his or her work with one thing in mind: expressing their thoughts, their ideas, their views on things. Architects, musicians, painters, dancers, actors and directors, poets, writers in ancient Greece created their works with this in mind, not to create “beautiful things”. Everyone who starts to create a “beautiful thing” they do so to gain recognition from others and eventually sell at a good price. Extrapolating this to perfume clears a lot of the misconceptions I think. In this sense Alberto Morillas is not an artist while every little amateur perfumer mixing juices in his kitchen is probably closer to the artist's laureate. And I wrote this sentence in parallel with my reading of this post, without having read Bryan Ross's example of Kerosene fragrances. I disagree with his rationale not only because I find most of his creations very interesting and quite difficult to be commercially acceptable but because I genuinely think that one would have to be crazy to start a line of fragrances just hoping that they would be rich. With the thousands of new releases every year, the huge names already created in this market and the marketing giants they are up against with I am prepared to consider dementia or megalomania as more plausible motive for John Peggs's creations than profit.

    Mugler Cologne is an amazingly beautiful perfume! I love it, I wear it, it is one of my “go to” summer fragrances. I agree with Chandler Burr's description of it. Would I call it a “work of art”? Not in a million years!

    As far as Luca Turin and Chandler Burr, they are very interesting, very intelligent people and excellent speakers. Luca Turin's negative reviews will certainly make you lough if you don't disagree. Luca Turin's and Chandler Burr's reviews and work in general are products themselves. They are created to be charming, to sell, to polarize. I really do not think that they should be taken more seriously than this. I have enjoyed reading snippets of The Guide and as such it is quite useful. But I would never go as far as considering this as my personal Guide. It is more of a catalog and I also find it extremely silly when people want to have a justification for liking things. There are many cheap perfumes, in terms of price and in terms of construction, that I like and I really do not think that I should apologize for this. Because it is just perfume! It is not high art. I often think that if Pierre-François Pascal Guerlain could hear all this talk about perfumery as an art and perfumers as artists he would lough his heart out.

    And I would also like to make another point. The Olfactory Art Exhibition is a lovely idea. I wish I could visit it. But there are two kinds of museums. Art museums and historical museums. A philatelic museum exhibits stamps and this does not make stamps a work of art. Let us not make the logical mistake to assume that just because there is a history in perfumery perfumes are works of art. I hope that the Olfactory Art Exhibition will concentrate more on the historical aspect and less in trying to tell us which perfumes are works of art.

    In closing I cannot but also comment on the principles of writing about perfume. They do not exist. There are no guidelines for perfume reviewers and this really weakens our reviews. Can we create guidelines for perfume reviewing? Please...

    1. Greetings, Christos, and many thanks not only for these comments but for having sparked this entire discussion. Your previous remark (cited in the post) was so profound that it served the function of an epiphany to me: pushing me to follow my thoughts in new directions. I honestly had no idea that I was going to produce a 5K text when I sat down to write, but I followed the paths illuminated by your wise words, and this is where they led.

      It's amazing really, how we can talk about art so flippantly and never penetrate the surface. You have prodded us to do so, and I am grateful to you for that, as is, I am sure, everyone who has read the above post. Bryan Ross said it best in a recent response post at his blog From Pyrgos: your words are the sparkling gem in the above text, embedded though they are in a rather lengthy discussion.

      Art--Schmart! What does it mean to be an art, after all? I've found that even suggesting that there may be a question about the status of perfumery incites overt anger among avid perfumistas. I have received replies here and there to such a suggestion (even the gentlest intimation!) which have the very same emotional quality which accompanies righteous anger: as though denying that perfumery is art (or even suggesting it!) is some sort of moral abomination on the order of torturing small children.

      This is why your insights are so helpful. In a calm, serious, sober and incredibly pithy little text you have delved beneath the superficial use of the term 'art' in a purely emotive or approbative way. Is everything that we cherish art? Your answer is "no". And what is wrong with that? Bryan Ross, too, has posed this question, along with Lucy. And it is such a valid point: what is supposed to be wrong with being a perfumer, after all??????? 'Perfumer' is not a dirty word!

      Your theory of art (again, amazingly pithily presented) is fascinating, and it makes a lot of sense to me. Let's take the case of writing: the best essays are never the ones produced through someone's filling in the blanks in an outline. Those are actually the worst essays, in view. They read like tedious homework assignments. That's probably why so much academic writing is so horrible. Same story, then, with other forms of expression: if the creator has a pre-ordained telos in mind, the path to that telos ends up smacking of tendentiousness. It's not produced organically, and the quality of the final product suffers as a result. This is also why genre fiction is not really art, in the strict sense. The author churns out books to please a market niche according to a certain template. This distinction separates literary writers from hacks.

      I think that you are right: thinking about art in these terms clarifies the situation of perfumery enormously. What are perfumers, after all, doing? They are attempting to achieve a certain goal within predelineated constraints (of which there are many). In this way, they are much closer to the writer who fills in the blanks of an outline or the genre fiction author who runs through a checklist of items needed to satisfy his readership.

      This is just so profound, Christos! Are all Greeks as philosophical as you, or are you some kind of fluke? (-; Well, I guess not: Parmenides, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Thales, Heraclitus,... the list goes on and on, with Christos the latest member of the series!!!! (-;

      more to follow...

    2. Oh my God what have you instigated! My partner who is an artist (in the strictest sense of the word: video, performance, doing his PhD on Artistic Research) just disagreed with me!!! He thinks that perfumery is an art! I am trying to get him to write his arguments here :-)

    3. Please do! We need to hear his voice here, too! Now I'm starting to become very confused. I was on the verge of capitulation... But there are arguments going the other way?!

      By all means: Bring 'em on!!!! (-;

  5. Eric Asimov, the New York Times wine critic, has written that people ask him all the time, "How can I learn more about wine?" His advice: "A) Buy wine. B) Drink it." I think the same applies to perfume. As my interest in perfume grew into an obsession, I too read and enjoyed "Perfumes: The Guide" and "The Emperor of Scent". Then, I went out and smelled the fragrances, and quickly realized that Turin and Sanchez' reviews were merely their persoal opinions. Maybe more informed opinion than mine, based on many more years of smelling perfumes, but subjective nonetheless. Anyone can learn a lot about perfume just by smelling many different kinds of fragrances. Reading some of the history can be fun, too, if you are into it. My nose is now much more refined than it was when I started out. I may know more about perfume than the person in the cubicle next to mine, but an expert? The only people in the perfume world I'd call experts are those who have studied at the Grasse Institute of Perfume (or one of its equivalents elsewhere in the world) and are working at creating perfumes. I don't want to give short shrift to those perfumers who are self-taught; the point is that these people are in there "getting their hands dirty", working with the actual materials, and creating, seeing what works and what doesn't. They aren't standing on the sidelines, claiming they are experts because they have opinions.

    From the beginning, I did not agree with Turin's statement that perfume does not smell different on different people, that everyone smells every scent the same way. That just doesn't make sense, biologically speaking. Each person is unique. Besides that, what if you have allergies, are anosmic to certain odors, are taking medication, are a carnivore or a vegetarian, if you ate garlic for lunch? These and other factors influence your personal smell, and will in turn react with the fragrance you put on your skin. That gave me my first hint that he was just a guy with a lot of (very strong) opinions.

    I've never considered perfume as an art. To me, perfume is a consumer product. I like Bryan Ross' description of perfume as design, because all consumer products, from clothing to toasters to cars to Barbie dolls, involve design. We may feel that particularly outstanding design raises a product to the level of art, but the item is not unique, like a Renoir or Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. As long as you can produce hundreds, thousands, or millions of identical perfume bottles filled with identical juice to be sold to the public, you're making a product, not art.

    Just my opinion. This is a good and thought-provoking post!

    1. Hello, Patty, and welcome to the salon!

      The story of your evolution through the stages of perfumista-hood is inspiring, and I hope that many others will achieve higher strata of understanding through the direct experience of a wide range of perfumes. I actually do not understand when I read that someone has bought a perfume on the basis of someone else's recommendation. But it does happen, and I'd be surprised if there were not big market effects—both good and bad, depending upon the house and perfumes in question—in the aftermath of the publication of The Holey[sic] Book.

      The story strikes me as very similar to the one relayed in the film Mondovino (which I have reviewed here at the salon). People want to heed the advice of experts. They are so intent upon doing so that they ignore all of the important foundational questions such as: why should this critic's opinion be more valuable than yours or anyone else's?

      Perhaps this uncritical attitude toward self-proclaimed critics in matters of value (as perfume and wine both clearly are) arises out of the habit of deferring to experts in more factual realms. It would be ignorant and stupid not to heed the opinions of the experts in factual realms. But perfume is not such an objectively analyzable and understandable thing. Yes, we can understand a lot about perfumes, but the most important aspect of it, our experience of it, is intrinsically subjective.

      I, too, was flabbergasted by Turin's denial of the relevance of individual difference or "skin chemistry". You might like "The Myth of the Skin Chemistry Myth." If you read the comments on that post, you'll find that I have sometimes toyed with the idea that Turin is playing the devil's advocate and cannot really be denying what seems so obviously true: that different people have different smells naturally. Anyway, please feel free to join in on the conversation in that thread. The comment sections here at the salon are never closed!!!! (-;

      Your final point is really excellent and more grist for the Bryan Ross "perfume as design" mill. He probably already thought through the replicative aspect of products versus the uniqueness of artworks, but I had not and find it fascinating and very compelling, in fact. There are tokens of musical pieces and poems, but the musical piece and poem are distinct from those tokens. In perfumery, in contrast, it seems that the tokens exhaust the perfumes. There does not seem to be a Platonic form, so to speak, of the perfume.

      True, the people L'Osmothèque appear to wish to believe that there is. But is there, really? There is a post here also on the Osmothèque, and I argue somewhere else that perfume is precious precisely because it is evanescent--just as persons are.

      Christos, in his comment just above yours, brought up the distinction between art museums and historical museums, and that seems like an apt and relevant distinction for the case of perfume. I would argue that perfume museums and exhibits are even closer oenological museums—not only because both perfume and wine are consumable liquids but also because both are underwritten by companies in the business of selling those liquids. Doesn't seem as though that could be very conducive to the dispassionate quest for truth—whether aesthetic or historical!

      Thank you very much for contributing to this discussion, Patty, and I look forward to reading your further comments on skin chemistry and other topics as well! (-;

  6. Reply to Bryan Ross and Christos regarding "The Question of Kerosene"

    Hi Guys, it turns out that coincidentally I received my Kerosene samples (ordered from MinNewYork) only a few days ago. In order to have some basis from which to address your dispute about what Kerosene is up to, I have spritzed a bit of Copper Skies on my left side and R'Oud Elements on my right side. Based on this very preliminary test (not a review!), I have to say that I'm leaning toward the "dementia or megalomania" hypothesis. (-;

    Is it my imagination, or does Copper Skies smell rather like Pfeffernüsse? Maybe I've been spending too much time with the Germans over at Parfumo! (-;

    1. In this case, I will defer to your experience with his fragrances, as the man is clearly quite talented and driven. I've always liked John's Youtube reviews. If he has a productive sense of dementia, he is alchemy incarnate.

    2. Hmmm... I'm no expert on men's fragrances, but R'Oud Elements reminds me a lot of Dirty English. I have a bottle and did a quick side-by-side. Am I the only one who thinks this? Looking at the notes there are some significant overlaps, but I don't see anyone else making the connection.

      Let's forget about my preliminary impressions of the fragrances. (Que sais-je? (-;) I think that the main point made by Christos is that in the current crazy perfume world climate--with a new launch every nanosecond, and discontinued perfumes at about the same rate--it's going to be hard for any small house to stay solvent. With that I definitely do agree. Someone looking for money is much better off going into nearly any other kind of business, it seems to me...

    3. What I find interesting about his perfumes is that they are extremely evolving at least on my skin. I too think he is very talented. I have smelt tons of niche and designer perfumes with much less imagination and creativity (artistry?) put into them. John Pegg is a writer/musician/perfumer/mechanic/designer, in one word a very strong creative need. Actually it was him I was thinking of when I wrote that an amateur is much closer to being characterised as an artist than Alberto Morillas (or Jean Claude Elena). And this has nothing to do with the value of the work the produce. I think John Pegg is driven by a need to express himself and not by profit. Anyway if profit is on his mind he would be much better off participating in American Idol than launching Kerosene.

      A suggestion on Kerosene line, Creature is very creative. It will take you a couple of hours to reach the drydown which is very green so a good idea would be to spray it on paper first and forget about it. Copper Skies is an amber overdose and I do not like those.

      I think I will also address open another philosophical question: you say you are no expert in men's fragrances. Do you really think this is valid statement? Is there a real difference between masculine and feminine scents? Do we need different standards to critique masculine and feminine scents? And why a male perfumistas are expected to talk about feminine scents while female perfumistas rarely talk about masculine scents? It is also interesting to note that outside the ranks of perfumistas women are more likely to wear men's scents than men to wear feminine scents.

    4. Well, Christos, I was speaking loosely when I said that I was no expert on men's fragrances (see above post on the very concept of aesthetic expertise in perfumery, lol), but I'm glad that you called me on it! Perhaps I wrote that in subconscious response to Bryan's recent post at From Pyrgos lamenting the dearth of reviews at perfume blogs of men's fragrances. Let us say, more modestly: I am even less of an expert on men's fragrances than I am on women's. Why? Because I have reviewed relatively few of them.

      You two have raised an excellent question: "Is there a real difference between so-called masculine and feminine scents?" Although I want to say "No," in reality, I find that there is a line beyond which lies a group of fragrances which I simply would not choose to wear. Is it because they are too masculine, or is it just because they are bad? My impression is that many people make this distinction—albeit in different places from case to case.

      So, for example, I own bottles of Prada Infusion d'Homme and Prada Homme, and also Juicy Couture Dirty English. I also own tons of colognes, some of which are said to be "for men". I often wear the Prada men's fragrances and colognes in hot weather. I occasionally wear Dirty English, which I originally thought was completely and utterly unisex. After having acquired a bottle, I had a wearing experience where it seemed to be wafting of Paul Bunyan after chopping a plot of firewood. Not something I want to smell like. Then I began to wonder: is this what other people smell on days when I think that Dirty English smells clean? Hmmm....

      Of course, I have the very same problem with ELdO Putain des Palaces, which I love and think smells beautiful, but according to some reviewers, it smells like dirty private parts! So is that what I smell like to others when I wear it? Whoops! (-;

      Returning to the question raised by both of you: why the disproportionate attention given to “made for women” (or “marketed to...”) versus “made for men” fragrances? This is just a hunch, but my impression is that many female perfumistas may agree with Tania Sanchez when she complains about cheap men's sport fragrances: they all smell very similar and pretty yucky to people who don't like aquatic fragrances to begin with.

      It is true that the worst Bond no 9 fragrances, in my estimation, occupy the vague territory of nondescript male colognes. My impression is that many guys may have sampled a couple of those and been turned off by the house forever. Are they bad because they are made for men? Or are just mediocre fragrances? I think it's the latter. So the question is : Is Luca Turin right that more attention and care by perfumers is accorded to women's than men's fragrances? Was I Love New York for men slapped together as an afterthought to fill a bottle because most men are not that exacting in their cologne choice anyway? Let's face it guys: you (Christos and Bryan) are in the minority. While it is true that most female fragrance wearers are also ignorant, the small percentage of the much larger female consumer niche ends up being significant. I hate to say it, but you guys are a part of a nearly statistically insignificant elite group of male fragrance wearers.

      Nonetheless, you are right: there are plenty of complex and worthy men's fragrances at the higher echelons—and even at the lower. I myself purchased the Sephora coffret of men's fragrances last winter (where one buys the coffret and samples ten different fragrances and then exchanges a certificate for a free bottle of one of the ten). What did I do? I sampled only the Prada and traded my certificate for Prada Amber (which is why I have a bottle). So why did I not review all of the other perfumes? Probably a combination of operant conditioning and Pavlovian aversion. lol

      Inspired by both of you, I am now going to review all of the men's fragrances waiting in my queue! Thanks, guys! Way to arouse me from my dogmatic slumber!!!!

    5. Thank you for tackling that part of your wardrobe! I only hope other female bloggers follow your lead.

    6. I just donned Burberry Brit for Men. Okay, it's true: I have a bath on the horizon. Actually this isn't bad. Is that perhaps iso-E-super I smell in the background, mid-ground, and foreground? Hmmm... I see that this was designed by Antoine Maisondieu. I smelled a touch of Morillas-esque (Kenzo Flower) diaper scent in the opening. Now there's some minty freshness going on....

      All in all, this seems to be an office-ready scent. (-;

  7. Men's new releases are indeed even more boring than their female counterparts. To begin with, the concept of sports fragrance is ridiculous and totally marketing derived. I do not see how anyone would want to wear perfume while doing sports. But by neglecting the best of men's fragrances we perpetuate this notion that men are OK to splash on something that smells as irrelevant as Chanel AlLure Homme Sport Eau Extreme. Chanel Egoiste however is near extinction. And it was initially designed as a feminine scent.

    1. What a name: "Homme Sport Eau Extrême"! So the next flanker will be:

      "Mon Homme Sport Eau Extrême" and, of course, the summer limited edition for 2013:

      "Mon Homme Sport Eau Extrême d'Eté"!


  8. I can't understand why you indulge in this kind of "Turin-Sanchez-bashing" and even go out of your way in order to demonstrate all their shortcomings. You're such a talented writer yourself - time for you to publish a book of your own. Don't waste your time on "Turin" et. al. Them guys just want to vent their highly subjective opinions on perfumes they happen to like or dislike and earn money, but they don't reflect upon the subject as profoundly as you do. I think that some of their stuff is entertaining and witty for the sheer subjectivity and "bile" contained in some of their remarks. Your book would be so much better...


    1. Dear Anonymous,

      Welcome to the salon (your namesake, my beloved troll, would not have written the above message, so I assume that you are someone new...).

      Thank you very much for the apparently triple-expresso-generated and well-meaning admonishment—and also for the big fat compliment!

      Please rest assured that this blog represents only a small fraction of my total text output (hmmm... is TTO already an acronym?--if not, it should be! (-;).

      Also note that, although I do occasionally indulge in Turin-Sanchez bashing, most of the posts here do not refer to them. The above post did not start out to be about them at all. I was working through a response to the challenge posed by Christos. Yes, I ended up bashing the Royal[ties] Coup[le] a bit, but that was not really the point. It's just that they are the only example to date of anyone who claims to have published perfume criticism. Well, and Chandler Burr, but he seems like such a gentleman, so I let him off easy. (-;

      Believe it or not, people out there in the wider world take Turin and Sanchez quite seriously. I saw a review by Rachel Cooke in The Guardian of Jean-Claude Elléna's new book. Here is a direct quote from the review:

      “Ellena has yet to compose a truly exquisite fragrance: a Jicky, a Fracas, an Eau Sauvage. Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez, the unimpeachable authors of the unsurpassable Perfumes: the Guide, remain mostly unimpressed.”

      Here is the link, so that you can read the review in all its glory:

      So what is my point? The Guardian is not the National Enquirer or even the New York Post. It may seem to you that my discussions of the “work” of Turin and Sanchez is "self-indulgent" and "gratuitous", but I think that it is not.

      You ask why I bother with them. Why indeed? Perhaps I have a Socrates complex? Or perhaps we can deduce an answer from the wise words of Anaximander:

      “They give justice and reparation to one another for their injustice
      in accordance with the arrangement of time.”

      I may or may not end up publishing a book on perfume. Can I or anyone else really compete with “Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez, the unimpeachable authors of the unsurpassable Perfumes: the Guide?”

      (Oh my goodness, how emetic can something possibly be?)

      One of my friends has been goading me to turn the History of Philosophy Refracted Through Perfume idea into a book, but I only just started it and have not even finished the pre-Socratics yet! I do appreciate very much your words of encouragement, and if you happen to be a literary agent, by all means, let's talk! (-;

      In closing, let me assure you, Anonymous, that your refreshing frankness is always welcome here at the salon de parfum!

  9. I agree that current masculine releases are fairly substandard and dull. The "sport" trend is tiresome to say the least. I can understand female bloggers dodging those - although ironically their compositions are largely unisex and would work better on women.

    My one ginormous complaint though is that there is a vast back-catalog of masculine fragrances to explore, much of which is quite good, or at the very least, interesting. It's rather slim pickings as far as '60s frags go, but the '70s and '80s are chock full of good things. I want to know what women think of things like Grey Flannel, Royal Copenhagen, Nino Cerruti, Quorum, Krizia Uomo, Esencia Loewe, etc. No one can say those fragrances are weak, sporty-citrus nothings. There are many woody-floral leathers, musky fougeres (similar to Kouros), and dry chypres that would smell gorgeous on today's gal. But sadly, I don't see much exploration of them from today's female bloggers. I'm not entirely sure why, because many of them tout how unisex perfume is, in general. Yet there doesn't seem to be an interest in getting into retro perfumery that was initially marketed to men.

    1. Hello, Bryan!

      Although in theory, I'd love to try all of those classics, if what is happening in the men's category is the same as what has happened in the women's (massive reformulation of everything), I fear that it would be prohibitively difficult to get my nose on the "real" thing!

      I do not believe that companies are more careful with their (usually) economically motivated reformulations of men's fragrances than they are with women's. Why should they be? If anything, for the very reasons which some have said that the men's category has been slighted, the reformulations should be even worse!

      I cannot tell you how many times I have discovered a gem via a sample provided by a fellow fragrance traveler, only to later learn that what is being fobbed off under the same name is no longer even close to the same. More like a muzak version of the original...

      Under the circumstances, I am focusing more on new perfumes, because at least I know that the samples match what's in the bottle! If you can point me toward men's classics which either have not been reformulated or have been but competently so, I'll be happy to check them out!

      Thanks so much!

    2. The only masculine scent that was very badly reformulated, very recently, is Azzaro Pour Homme. Kouros and Grey Flannel have been reformulated, but the new versions are not "failures," just toned-down versions of the older formula. Still very much worth trying out. Quorum, Drakkar, Molto Smalto & Francesco Smalto PH (discontinued), Lomani, Cool Water, Tsar, all are still great. Also Krizia Uomo is still being made, but not nearly popular (or expensive) enough to warrant any reformulation. I'd be surprised if it were reformulated, although I can't attest to that firsthand. Royal Copenhagen has been slimmed down a slight bit, but is still a commanding powdery-floral oriental. Worth checking out also. Some women have reviewed Yatagan by Caron, and that one hasn't suffered the famous "Caron reformulation bug" as far as I know. My last bottle still smelled quite strong and bright. These may be worth looking into.

  10. Ah sherapop !!!......You are surely a wordsmith and one of the reasons I stick to truncated, ham 'n' egg reviews. lol....

    Nice article in substance and aesthetics. Personally, I never held much stock in "the books" since my opinion, rudimentary as it is, differs on most of theirs. I'm persuaded to believe that each person involved in this hobby ( as a purchaser ) needs to trust their own nose. Olfactory needs to be sharpened by repetition like most activities in life.

    Still, I read reviews as much as I write them and naturally gravitate towards those I have found share a similar sense of perception. Like other blogger-reviewers who have been doing this for awhile, I would like to believe I have gotten better at throwing an opinion out there and more important, being as fair as possible while being true to thyself.

    I no longer care about reformulations like in times past. If it smells good and wears well, then that's all that matters. If it doesn't, then let others know about it. We blog and review because we love the hobby. The only left to do is be as accurate and truthful as possible.

    You have always been a straight shooter. You also have class when not in agreement with someone or something. I tip my cap my friend.......

    1. Hello, Aromi! Very nice to read you around these parts!

      You are a fundamentally fair-minded and decent guy, Aromi, but you also just have a good head on your shoulders. Yes, with practice, we can improve our ability to assess perfumes, just, as you say, is the case in all other things!

      Again, you are right: why obsess over reformulations? What's done is done. If it smells good, wear it. If it doesn't, don't!

      I also agree that honesty is the best policy. Although some people dislike negative reviews, as long as they are written truthfully, and with no ulterior motive, it seems to me always to be a good thing to let people know that there are others in the universe who may not like the perfume being criticized. (But there is never any excuse for slandering the perfumer or others who may disagree! (-;)

      Thanks for stopping by, Aromi, it's always a pleasure to read you!

  11. Hi Sherapop, well written argument. To begin with, on reading Bryan Ross' first reply Frank Gehry came to my mind. His first wife was extremely dominant and Gehry's psychoanalyst told him to leave her if he ever wanted to be successful as an architect. He got a divorce et voilà ... uninhibited creativity. Allegedly many artists later on frequented this analyst hoping that he would make them famous as well :))))) I don't know if the business savvy wife/partner is always a good solution.
    Which brings me to my next point. In one of her prefaces Tania Sanchez badly trashes psychology. What an accomplished lady :))) and thus I ask myself: Can one ever be over-educated? Having read Gilbert's critique I understand what this lady is aiming at. Gilbert publishes a lot in psychology magazines. So trashing psychology is, in fact, trashing Gilbert. What a sophisticated move. :))))) However, I do get the impression that the two, i.e. Gilbert and Turin via Sanchez/Burr have a "feud" going on. And I do not quite agree that teaming up with Sanchez/Burr did Turin (the scientist)a favor. Currently I'm reading two French books by J.C. Ellena and I find lots of reference to people there, but so far none to Chandler Burr. Go figure. I'm European and thus supposed to be ironic, so I can say that Burr seems to be the 21st cent equivalent of the Renaissance accomplished men. Couple of years ago he was writing about Japanese cars, then about homosexuality, then perfume and now, alas art. Please keep in mind he went to business school. He did not study art history, philosophy, philology ... nothing of that kind. And what he has to say about art history sometimes upsets me. Things such as: All art is artifical. 50 years ago photos were not considered art. I only say: Man Ray, Doisneau et al. (And let's keep in mind that with the advent of photography painting has changed. Schiele,e.g. paints the way he does precisely because photos portay the human being more precisely. He shows us naked ugly bodies.)
    And I completely agree that behind art there's some philosophy. Something that I would like to call the transcendent. The deeper and hidden meaning that will still be true in a hundred years. I think it was Joseph Beuys who did something with rotting meat and other unpleasant smelling things. Exactly to remind us of transciency. When I'm dead this is what my material side will become. Decomposing and smelling. We forget about it because we have locked out death. People die in hospitals. But just because we don't experience death anymore doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. Now in such cases I'm more than willing to agree that the sense of smell is adressed in an act of art. (And what is more natural than letting meat rot??? So far for "All art is artificial".)
    (to be continued, Girasole)

    1. Hallo, meine liebe schöne Sonnenblume Schwester, Girasole!

      As usual, you have swept in to fill in all sorts of missing details and impart order to chaos! (-; To begin with, you are right that Bryan's example may be anomalous. I'm not sure exactly how to interpret your example, however. Couldn't we just do the most simpleminded Freudian analysis: less sex = more creativity? Actually, I know nothing about Gehry, so I probably shouldn't even speculate. It's possible, after all, that he succeeded while married to someone else (-;!

      Now, the question of Chandler Burr. Okay, it's true: I really did let him off easy. Japanese cars, homosexuality, the perfume industry, art, why not? What's next? I suppose that poetry is the only thing left! I think that Burr is very similar in his eclectic tastes to many perfume enthusiasts. Lots of us have a variety different interests. But how many of us are professional curators of olfactory art? lol

      I do understand why you are taking Burr to task, given what appears to be his lack of familiarity with the history of art and some of his proclamations about artifacts, etc. As indicated in the above post, I myself did not understand his grounds for characterizing Morillas as an artist or Mugler Cologne as a masterpiece. But when you've been appointed the curator of olfactory art, I suppose you have to come up with something, in order to keep your job!

      A propos of your remark about Sanchez and her flippant dismissal of psychology: You are right (and, yes, I was joking): one cannot be overeducated relative to the quest for truth. That does not, however, stop one's erudition from annoying other less educated people and even running you out of town or attempting to serve you a goblet of hemlock.

      You and Christos are definitely on the same page when it comes to art. As I mentioned to him in an email, I myself believe that philosophy itself is art, with the medium being ideas. This flies in the face of all of the scientistic-analytic logic choppers of the twentieth century who wanted to believe that philosophy is more akin to science. That's okay, they can continue to logic chop all the way to their trivial graves and nonexistent legacy. Lol

      I'm glad that you mentioned an artist who used scent as a medium. Christos is working right now on a project to look more closely at such artists...

      Turin as scientist versus Turin as perfume critic seem to be two different people, and I agree that these not-so-holy alliances may not be helping him to achieve whatever it is that he is after... I did buy a copy of his book The Secret of Scent, which I'll definitely read before The Emperor of Scent because I am very interested in what the arguments for his seemingly preposterous position on skin chemistry/individual differences are supposed to be. I have not read any of it yet, but I did note that he credited Sanchez with editing help on that book, although it appears to be dedicated to his former wife? Hmm... Thinking now again about the Gehry case...

  12. (argument continued -- as promised:))
    I have a hunch that this whole "perfumery as art" is not only about marketing, but also about social class. "My perfume is art and yours is not. Therefore I belong to a higher class. And by the way it's me who decides what's art and what not. Ätsch" That sort of (childish) argument. :)))
    Besides I think that most modern art is also about social criticism. Pray, what social criticism is there in perfume? But I can think of olfactory art with social criticism. E.g. (I don't know if anyone has ever done it, but) you could compose an olfactory map of a city. And then ask yourself: Why do certain areas smell of chemicals? And others do not? Maybe because the chemical industry was allowed to use certain areas to dump their waste and later on the area was declared building land?
    And something else crossed my mind: All perfume has to be beautiful. Maybe not to me, but to someone else, and we can argue about ingredients, but at the end of the day, as long as someone wears it, it must be beautiful. Schiele's human beings are not beautiful, a novel by Jelinek is not beautiful. Art is not about beauty. If art were only beautiful it would be kitsch. (In German there's the popular explanation that: Kitsch ist Schönheit in der Abwesenheit von Scheiße.)
    Liebe Grüße, die Sonnenblume, Girasole :)))


    1. This is such a great argument: if the essence of perfume is to be beautiful, then does that not refute the claim that it is art? Of course, many (ignorant...) people cling to the pre-twentieth-century idea of art as beauty, but what you are saying is that perfume as we wear it is, at best, a form of design. Come to think of it, design is fashion, is it not? And our judgments of perfume do seem to be context-dependent in just the way that our judgments of fashion seem to be.

      Wearing high-waisted, bell-bottom jeans today just looks stupid and wrong, though it was considered quite fashionable not too long ago. Perfumes such as Giorgio and Carolina Herrera (which I am coincidentally testing today), smell "very 1980s", as we say in reviewing perfumes. Why? Because our tastes have been molded to reject those sorts of scents today... Who out there is wearing Dior Poison? Okay, someone is, but none of my friends. (-;

      Now, people who want to say that ELdO Sécrétions Magnifiques is an artwork, can still do so, but is it a perfume? It seems as though these are two entirely different topics, and this was one constant source of frustration and consternation in reading The Holey[sic] Book: at times, the authors seem to be attempting to dictate hoi polloi taste; at other times, they seem to be attempting (unsuccessfully...) to do art criticism.

      Thank you so much for opening up all of these avenues of thought, Girasole, meine liebe schöne sokratische Sonnenblume Schwester! (-;

    2. Dear Sherapop, thanks for your compliments. Always glad if I can help :))
      over-educated: yes, I'm aware of that. But on the other hand, I have the impression to live in a society in which only those are right that make the most nasty, loudest remarks. Or in other words: The one who makes the loudest and smelliest farts is the one who's right. (On this issue there's a wonderful essay in this week's Der Spiegel) I think that erudition (at least for me) has only one goal: Herzensbildung, to understand (and protect) the humane.
      Gehry: well, I think it's more about a partner who understands and shares the artist's visions instead of critisizing them or inhibiting them. I think Gehry's first wife was just completely dissatisfied with him and Gehry, presumably, spent more time pleasing and appeasing her than with what really mattered to him. One might ask: Why share your life with someone who doesn't like and accept you the way you are? And I think if this is the case it's best for both to seperate. You need someone who supports you and whom you can support in their lives' journey.
      ELdO: yes, there's a certain trend to declare design that doesn't work "art" when the piece in question was made by someone famous. :)))) there's a chaise-longue by Corbusier. It's completely uncomfortable, but what's worst: in order to use it you better chop off your arms, because sitting in it you don't know what to do with your arms. now, had this chaise longue been done by a joiner, people would have critisized him/her. They would have told him/her to find another trade because as a joiner s/he didn't amount to much. But as the chaise longue had a famous creator, it was declared art. Don't get me wrong. I don't mind, as long as people are aware of the implications. (Think about dresses. When girls don't find dresses that fit they don't blame the industry. They put the blame on themslves and go on rigid diets. Similarly, when you don't know what to do with your arms it's not your body's fault. The chaise longue doesn't do its job properly)) I think Corbusier was a very good architect. (But he didn't understand much about sitting in a chaise longue).
      Chandler Burr: well, I guess he was looking for a job and he found/created himself one. Some of the things he does are fairly interesting. e.g. when he makes people smell ingredients and then asks them whether according to them the ingredient was natural or synthetic. I found that very illuminating because one can be dead wrong about that. I am also curious about the untitled series. That (so far) looks like an interesting project to me. But at the end of the day he's a salesperson. And as such he needs to things: something to sell and someone willing to buy. As long as there's awareness about that, I don't have any problems with it. He could sell anything with pretty much the same enthusiasm. Currently it happens to be perfume :))).
      Bis zum nächsten Mal, Girasole.

    3. You are so right to bring up the "dysfunctional craft becomes an art" issue. What an interesting take on ELdO Sécrétions Magnifiques. We discussed that case a while back in two posts called "The Tower of Babel".

      The problem I found was that the people who stand by SM seem to want to say that it is a wearable and even good perfume! This really muddies the waters. As someone who finds it a failure as a perfume—a non-perfume or a smell/stench—I was prepared to concede that SM is a conceptual work of art. But then, to my amazement, people went to the mat to defend the perfumic beauty of the thing! Even Turin describes that perfume as a perfectly respectable aquatic floral. Of course, if it's true that he is anosmic to certain musks, then he probably does not smell what those of us who find it repulsive do.

      I would like very much to explore this idea of perfume versus design/craft and see where it leads to. Lots of perfumistas who love perfume and appear to think that it is an art also invoke folk adages such as "Perfume should smell good" in their reviews. This makes me think that the best analogies are things like genre fiction or haute cuisine. Just as it's a part of the very concept of cuisine that the end product be edible, so too, must perfume be wearable! But people seem to resist the comparison of perfumery to cooking, which is supposed to be a "mere" craft, I guess.

      Anyway, I'll post on the topic of art versus crafts soon!

      Thank you for these excellent follow-up remarks, meine liebe sokraticsche Sonnenblume!

  13. First of all, how cool that I can comment as anonymous without the need to log in, I really like that, makes responding to a blog thread feeling way more accessible than to delurk on a blog where I need to sign in first. And since I already have so many different usernames and passwords, oh well maybe I'm just lazy but I definitely like the hassle free type and post feature :)

    On to the subject of fragrance: My argument for perfume not being art is that it gets discontinued/reformulated, so yes design would be the fitting term if you ask me. But who am I? I am a consumer who simply loves some wood and incense and a bit of skanky musk, so the niche business serves me as a customer better than the mass market (tho I have my favorites but I tend to think that me wanting another bottle of Stella is more out of nostalgia/melancholy than anything else)

    The snobbery and pretentiousness I find in the niche lovers world (not all the time, but every now and then) is more of a sociological fenomenon to me.

    No one wants to be pointed at and hear " you listen to THAT?! You eat THAT?! You wear THAT?! Simple need to belong I guess.

    SO besides the holier than thou there is the more sophisticated perfumista than thou, not as in your face but more subtle.

    Then there are the going against the grain, people who want to shake things up, some with a friendly tickle, other with short and very black and white statements like BAD, period.

    When I first started out with participating at a fragrance messageboard, I felt overwhelmed and an absolute beginner. I wanted to become just like them, so knowledgeable, but now I have started to realize that just isn't me, I am not that passionate about fragrance in general, I am only passionate about the one that I would really be kicking and screaming if it ever got discontinued or reformulated beyond recongnition.

    Comment in the guide was "soiled underpants" but with a good amount of stars anyway. I thought that was rather weird, contradicting.

    Have they smelled Untitled #8 by Brent Leonesio for Luckyscent...?

    Context! It is all about context. What is your referential frame for good, bad, love it, hate it, mwah, superclean, very dirty, sexy, sexless unisex or ambiguous multisex (I think it was Francis Kurkdjian who opposed to the term unisex, saying that to him that implied "without sex".

    And to me fragrance is very much about sensuality, I want to satisfy my nose, have it touch me in some way, and of course I would not like it if people saw my fragrance collection/record collection/wardrobe/bookshelves/content of fridge and pantry and go "you have no taste!"

    But honestly, does such a thing exist? NO taste? Or BAD taste? And who is the judge, and on what ground? I say context again, we might want to be unbiased without prejudice totally independant and foremost objective in our view but it is always from a certain perspective. Nothing wrong with that! But something to keep in mind when striving for objectivity.

    Being aware of context and perspective makes for more authenticity than telling yourself that the ultimate objectiveness is the best.

    I have absolutely no idea whether my rambling makes ANY sense, but I am glad I got it off my chest ;)


    1. Dear Anonymous, welcome to the salon de parfum! I'm happy that you're happy to be able to post here under your lurker cloak. The only comments which I delete are those which are irrelevant to the topic of discussion. People are free to express themselves here, but not to sell viagra. Lol (whoops now I'm going to draw porn traffic with that word). Whoops, now I'm going to draw porn traffic with both of those words …) (-;

      You have made a number of interesting points. One is that the reality of reformulation establishes that perfume is design rather than art. That is a very fruitful idea, it seems to me (and Sun agrees, as you can read in the below comment). Reformulation sometimes seems like minor editing, but other times it is much more drastic, creating an entirely different perfume. So how can a new perfume continue to bear the old name? That is the question. There is no (other) area of art in which this happens, so your idea is very helpful. The "olfactory artists" who create perfumes lose all control over what happens to them subsequently—except when the perfumer is also the creative director, as in the case of someone like Andy Tauer.

      That's the rare exception, however. The rule seems to be that companies own the perfumes and can do with them as these please. As profit-making entities, they generally base their decisions not on artistic but economic considerations. Perfumes owe their birth to perfumers but their continued existence to the companies which decide to sustain them. They can withdraw that support abruptly by discontinuing the perfume or transforming it into something else. All of this coheres better with the picture of perfume as design than with that of perfume as art.

      As far as the contradictions in The Holey[sic] Book are concerned, my impression is that the authors did not really think through what they were doing. This is why they oscillate between comments which seem genuinely intended to help shoppers decide what to buy and comments which seem to be making lofty proclamations about art.

      The high rating given to “soiled underpants” does not seem to me to be so much of a contradiction as it is an expression of taste. Turin seems to love every perfume that reminds him of sex. (Latex rubber, anyone?) He even says that the packing of EldO Sécrétions Magnifiques made him drool. And, yes, it received five stars and was lauded as a masterpiece. So, on that point, I'd have to disagree with you, Anonymous. Turin seems genuinely to like the scent of soiled underpants and related things. (-;

      I agree that snobbery and pretentiousness is a sociological phenomenon—and it won't be going away anytime soon! But you are right that once one comes to appreciate the intrinsically subjective nature of perfume experience, then it doesn't make a lot of sense to issue sweeping decrees about absolute goodness and badness. Honestly, I find remarkable the way Turin and Sanchez basically dismiss the issue of quality materials. How can a niche perfume crafted of beautiful, high-quality materials receive one star and be rated lower than a chemical soup? That I will never understand. Those judgments make me wonder whether their nerve endings are fully functioning. Another possibility is that the whole production is about the shameless promotion of certain products and the “dressing down” of certain perfumers....

      The disagreement between Turin and Burr on Prada Infusion d'Iris basically sums up the problem. If two people deemed to be expert perfume critics cannot even agree on a question so basic as whether a given perfume is any good at all, then I think that we have established that such judgments can only be subjective. That would seem to imply that there are no experts in this area, because the objects of critique are simply not susceptible of objective judgment!

      Thank you so much for these interesting comments, Anonymous! I hope to read you here again!

  14. As a pure answer to the question above, the second one, I think that judgmentes and/or opinions about perfume are subjective. So is taste in general, regardless of the nature. Whether it is clothes, wine, coffee. I mean it is an endless list. Fragrances are perceived individually. the only part that is defined are the notes, the category. And that is about it. Whether you think the rose fragrance of xyz is great or not, whether I think it is great or maybe lousy? subjective and based on the individual smelling it. thus said a specific fragrance can be good on me and even bad on me. I myself as the "wearer" of a specific fragrance can drool over one fragrance and the next time I dont like it as much as I did the other day. To me the writing of Luca Turin and Mrs Sanchez is for my own personal judgement and perception as necessary as a hole in my head. I received the book as a present a while ago. I flipped through, what I noticed doing so were personal opinions of either one of them or even both of them. And that is it. Why would I buy a fragrance based on them? Yes, I do read blogs and reviews. I find them interesting even though they are subjective as well. Some of the reviews, depending on the context, may have the intention to sell a fragrance. Is perfumery an art? In a way yes. There is a creative process upfront and without this process there wont be the fragrance as a result of it. And even with the creative process in the beginning art can turn into mass production given the quantities thrown onto the market.
    Maybe we all have an approach to fragrances, perfumery etc that is to complicated. does perfume have to be a piece of art? And what is the definition of art here? I like a fragrance or fragrances out of the so called maintream sector. So what does that tell about me? I have a bad taste? I like mass production because usually mass production goes together with a good (maybe cheap retail price)? Am I a real connoisseur or can consider myself the same if I only like Haute Perfumerie? Who defines who I am or do I just define who I am based on my likes and dislikes? Personally I see it more or less simple and easy. There are fragrances out there which I like and which I dont like. from the so called niche perfumery or artitistic perfumery and out of the mainstream sector. I like the notes of a fragrance, I like the development, it gives me a certain feel, it enhances a certain mood and most of all it brings back memories. all this makes me chose and judge a fragrance. I have not read the Emporer of Scent as of yet. I dont think I will. I am obviously not interested. The LT and TS "bible"? Not sure about the whereabouts, somewhere on a shelf. obviously not important to me cuz then I would know the exact whereabouts.

    I like the part anonymous above pointed out with perfume not being an art based on reformulation. very valid point. Maybe perfumery is just a creative/artitistic process from the idea/inspiration to the final product.

    I know I am rambling here back and fourth. My initial thoughts and 2scents to this topic

    1. Hello, Sun, and welcome to the salon! Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts on this topic.

      You are so right that different people have completely different approaches to fragrances! I've been planning to post something on this topic soon, "The Many Uses (None of Which are Abuses) of Perfume".

      Sometimes in our perfumista microcosm we begin to lose sight of the hands-on reality of perfume use--even our own! It's simply a fact that people use and appreciate perfume in very different ways. When we obsess about perfumery as an art, we forget that it really does play a variety roles in people's lives. As an example, this summer has been very hot in Boston, so I've used a ton of cologne. I am using it in a very practical way: to cool myself off! Is there anything wrong with that? Am I disregarding the aesthetic value of the colognes which I use in this way?

      A propos of your remarks on Turin and Sanchez: Well, as you know, the notion of a "Bible" of fragrance never flew with me. I think that as The Holey[sic] Book becomes progressively more irrelevant with the launch of thousands of new perfumes, people will follow your lead and stow their copy in the attic or use it as a netbook stand, which is the primary use I've made of my copy. (-; You are right: the only thing that matters is what you like.

      I agree with you about the point made by Anonymous regarding reformulation as evidence for the design hypothesis--see my response, above...

      I think that you are really on to something when you say that "perfumery is just a creative/artistic process from the idea/inspiration to the final product". I would go further and say all the way to the experience and how we interpret it. So we can react to perfumes by writing creative reviews and thus extending the process even further!

      Thank you so much for sharing your ideas with us here at the salon de parfum, Sun! I hope that you will join us again soon!

  15. People in certain "communities" ( cough, cough, cough ) have ostracized you, in the past, for voicing your opinions about authors of what they perceive as Grail books. I suppose it's their choice to view the ramblings of a select few as the voice of reason and authority. I have always followed my own nose ( like you ) and attempt to persuade others to sample and decide for themselves. These authors may be very knowledgeable and highly respected in the "industry". Bottom line however is if something they eschewed smells terrific to you, then it's good to go and to hell with opinions.

    1. So true, Aromi: only your own nose knows what's best for you! xxxooo

  16. Bail with me because I am sure my thoughts will be rambling more than a bit. I thought about various things in connection with the discussion here while I was doing some chores in the house. Means I run back and forth to jot down a few notes. I come more and more to the conclusion, in accordance with anonymous, that perfume is not an art. at least not in the definition of art on the same level a painting by Rembrandt is considered to be art or Michelangelo statue is considered to be art. It would be a blasphemy to put a perfume on the same level with Mona Lisa in the Louvre. now furthermore if perfume is not art, is perfumery a form of art or would it ever be right to use the two words "artitistic perfumery"? I tend to lean towards saying "the creation of a perfume is like designing a car". Bluntly said and very simple. So now we got rid of "art", got rid of the "artists" aka the perfumers. Now what is left? A talented person with an idea, a vision, capable to mix natural and synthetic compounds. Who either had the luck and attended an accredited school or institute or is even self taught. So who is this person then after we or in this case I excluded: artist? Is a perfumer still an artist even though we/I said a perfume is not a piece of art and mixing some compounds is not an artistic process more a design process?
    What is his or her intention? Is perfumery or the "design" of a perfume a means of self expression? Or is it, depending on the context, a means to generate cash. Cash for the individual or cash for the big company behind the perfumer for which the perfumer just might be contracted once, twice or have current employment.

    With what anonymus said above: art is never an object of alteration or modification. Art is only an object of restoration in order to preserve it for a longer time, and/or in order to keep its original looks. So the reformulation of a fragrance then could be the equivalent of adding a Pinocchio nose to Mona Lisa. Doing this Mona Lisa would never look the same. A reformulated fragrance does not smell exactly like the first version ever launched.
    I know I am leaving the path here and am offtopic.

    Another thought. With all the perfumes being released month after month, year after year: is the quest of the so called perfumistas just an artificially created desire that can be expressed/lived and exist best in a capitalistic society, in its present extend? Where would perfumery and all the perfumers be without the world wide web? Just wondering. Just bringing a few thoughts which are in no particular order and for sure off topic onto this screen

    1. Dear Sun,

      Thank you so much for these incredibly insightful observations. Yes, you're right: there does seem to be a problem with denying outright that perfumery is an art. Is any medium excluded a priori from use by artists? If not, then why can a perfumer not also be an artist? This is an excellent point and probably explains part of the resistance of people to the idea that perfumery is not an art, taken all together.

      Looked at as a whole, perfumery is obviously an industry and a profession, and it does not make sense to say that all perfume is art anymore than it does to say that all writing is literature. In fact, most writing is *not* literary at all. It serves a function, a purpose. The more I think about this question, the more I'm leaning toward comparing perfumery to genre fiction (as I mentioned in a reply to Christos, above). I need to develop this idea further but I'd like to thank you here for pointing out that sweeping generalizations—whether for or against the claim that perfumers are artists—may all be false! Maybe we just cannot make grand categorical claims in this case. Although, for the reasons I give in the original post above, I myself do not believe that the people who create scents for laundry detergent and furniture polish and diapers, etc., are artists anymore than I believe that the people who design the grocery store circular advertisements are.

      Your final point, about the state of perfumista-hood is also excellent. I've been wondering whether we have not created a monster by this frenzy of testing and reviewing everything, which provokes houses to produce more and more perfumes more and more rapidly. It seems to be spinning out of control. Are we to blame?

      I've been noticing that there is a new breed of perfumista out there, who appears not to buy any bottles of perfume! They test samples acquired from decanters and friends, but are they consumers of perfume? What a strange phenomenon... I recently read a review of a perfume by Histoires de Parfums at the end of which the reviewer said that s/he was considering the possibility of buying samples from the house! Not a bottle, but samples! The *possibility* of buying *samples*!

      Thank you so much Sun for raising these important questions! I look forward to reading more of your insights here! (-;

  17. There's a quote in Hebrew which says (translated): "There's no point in arguing over taste and smell." Which suggests that the subjectivity of how these senses perceive flavors and odors precludes meaningful discussion and debate from happening. It seems to put them on the same bar stool as conversations about politics and religion. I disagree with this idea, BUT, must point out that Luca Turin must not be much of a Frank Zappa fan, as Le Labo initially refused his request for samples by stating, "Writing about perfume is like dancing about architecture," which he admits went over his head. But one has to wonder if Le Labo had a point. If you can't write anything meaningful about perfume, then your words are as redundant as submitting Frank Gehry's designs to ballet. Le Labo was apparently skeptical about the legitimacy of Turin & Sanchez's endeavor, but eventually relented based on a commercial fear of having something starkly bad written about their products. This entire transaction between Le Labo & The Guide's writers leads me to think that there is a disconnect between the true industry players, and those hovering on its outskirts, who indulge in commentary with the pretension of being cultural critics. Is this disconnect any different from the divide between film critics and Hollywood royalty? Or lit reviewers and novelists? Baseball players and commentators? Not really, it appears that Turin and Sanchez are perfectly aligned and within a cogent sphere of thought with their ideas, just as the industry holds them at arm's length is unsurprising. But there was a hint of a key difference in Le Labo's statement to Turin. It suggested that the company expected people to misunderstand their professional position by attempting to align perfumery with art. Their comparison was between dance (an art) and architecture - which is pure design. So the message wasn't borne of ignorance, but rather of stating their self, their identity, to "pre-empt" the predictable attempt by those in Turin's world to do the defining for them. Naturally, this went over his head as well, as he follows this explanation by saying that he let "Tania sort them out," which assumes they needed sorting out in the first place - which they had assured him in one simple phrase, culled from Zappa, they didn't.

    My point in this line of thought is to say that few people bother to ask the suits what their self perception is. The press kits send out fluff; what about going to the heart of Estee Lauder's company, and asking the execs what they think their concern peddles in? If it's culture one is after, then they will know that. If it's practical commercial design, product placement, pop-culture references that are the goal, this will be the unabashed company line, which can then be supposed as compatible or incompatible with an outsider's more-aloof overview. I don't see that happening with Turin, Sanchez, Burr. I see an attempt to define things without even bothering to ask the real product-makers (those who dictate what gets made) what exactly their objective, their very purpose is. Puzzling.

    1. These are all excellent points and questions, Bryan. To begin with, I don't attach too much importance to Turin and Sanchez because I do not believe that they are rigorous thinkers. To me, they seem closer to Sarah Palin than to critics of any stripe--about any topic, whether aesthetics or otherwise. Their so-called cultural criticism, for example, of the likes of Paris Hilton, Kate Moss, and Britney Spears, is just hackneyed beyond belief and seems very petit bourgeois to me.

      Related to this is their pseudo-populist attempt to tear down “expensive” niche brands (including Creed...), as though such houses were insufferably monarchical and somehow undemocratic. It's really quite absurd (see PERFUME IS NOT MILK for more on this...). The truth is that the difference in cost between "expensive" niche brands and moderately priced mainstream designer perfumes (at least when purchased at MSRP) is pretty trivial, in the grand scheme of economic things. Perfume is a luxury product. There are no human or natural rights to perfume any more than there are human rights to Rolex watches!

      As for why they didn't give a damn what Le Labo said, well, as you point out: they didn't even understand it! Sounds like Le Labo made a good call though, in relenting, rather than suffer the embarrassing fate of having been exposed for the crime of refusing to give them free perfume. Yes, the authors really let DelRae and Montale have it—that'll show them!!!!!. My goodness, there is a whole lot of spitting in the wind in The Holey[sic] Book.

      I think that Anonymous, above, summed it up best: the bottom line was always money, so trying to find any deeper significance in their ramblings is bound to be an exercise in frustration. I give up! Time for us to philosophize about perfume rather than try futilely to make sense of inconsistencies, incoherence, and what is manifestly pseudo-criticism.

      Now, what do I think about the companies—about what they are doing? Well, I think that the big companies are completely and only profit driven, just as I describe in the post above in discussing Victoria's Secret. Yes, EL has their pseudo-niche "Private Collection", and, indeed, the EL Group even includes Tom Ford, but all of this is about garnering as much of the market share as possible. Let us not forget that EL controls Clinique and thus exerts close to hegemony over upscale women's cosmetics and facial care in U.S. department stores. Business, business, business. That is the end of their story, I think.

      Where I start to wonder about art is in cases involving independent houses which really seem to have a vision. It seems to me that, more generally, this is what perfumistas who insist that perfume is art are thinking about. Does anyone think that Coty is doing much "olfactory art" these days? Hmmm...

      I've been thinking about the bigger and rather vexed debate about art versus crafts, and will be posting something on that topic in the days to come.

      Thank you very much for bringing these fascinating issues to our attention, Bryan—it's always a pleasure to read you!

  18. Thank you Sherapop for welcoming anonymous me (crazyaboutlairderien on Fragrantica)

    I've thought about what it is then, and came up with the comparison of music. There is an piece of music, an orchestra to play it, and a conductor. I think noses are like conductors. Which seems at first sight a not fitting comparison, because people tend to speak of chords in a perfume, but I still believe it makes some sense :)

    You can ask thousand music afficinados (sp?) who their favorite conductor is and you will get different answers, different strokes for different folks right?

    Then there is the question of quality of the orchestra, in fragrance terms, the ingredients. You cannot give a well respected nose crap ingredients and expect them to create a masterpiece. Then there is the question of what is considered a quality ingredient! All natural? I LOVE Molecule 01 so I would say no :)

    Very interesting thread by the way, really gets my brain moving, I like that :)

    1. sherapop's salon de parfum
      Philosophical reflections on perfume and perfumery: An exploration of aesthetic, epistemological, metaphysical, moral, and ontological issues. Relevant comments are most welcome—whether you agree or disagree.

      HOWEVER...she is a liar that censors and deletes.

    2. Keyword, Trollman: 'relevant'. (-;

    3. Here's a helpful link, Trollman:

  19. Hi darling, I am profoundly emotional! You are a true passionate for fragrances. Who on earth would take so much time to write such beautifully written and well researched articles? I wish I had the time to try...
    Anyways, I have some comments to make about some of the issues you raised:

    I see perfume as a combination of 3 crafts: fragrance creation; bottle design and package design.
    I don't think you can separate the elements like Chandler wants to do, or rename perfumes with numbers and letters.
    I also think that perfume is a product - one develops a fragrance to sell.
    It can be elevated to a state of art, like a car or a wine could - for its uniqueness, quality and creativity.

    Even small brands, niche brands such as Andy Tauer's are making perfume to sell - he is not selling as much as SJP or any other celeb because he is a small brand that has found an strategic market called "niche".
    I agree with master Ellena - niche perfumery just has a different approach of marketing advertising.
    And why the hell you mentioned Andy Tauer??? So many brilliant perfumers out there and you remembered him????

    So, it is a product that can also be referred sometimes to art IMO. regardless the profit from it or who is commissioning it.


    1. My dear Simone, what a pleasure to read you here! Welcome to the salon de parfum!

      You've offered so many insights--quel embarras de richesses, chérie. I see that we agree on many points, including the “package deal” quality of perfumes, with bottle design and packaging an inextricable part of the whole production--at least as we encounter perfume in reality. Let me respond to your questions:

      You are right that I might have drawn on any number of perfumers to illustrate my point. So why did I pick Andy Tauer? The answer is that he exemplifies the truly independent perfumer. He does everything himself, from start to finish. He's the perfumer and the creative director. He even does his own production, as far as I've seen from his posts on Facebook. So basically he seems like a really good test case for the question whether any perfumer is an artist. He is beholden to nobody but himself. His values determine every property of the final product. If any perfumer is an artist, then he must be one.

      Yes, there are many other possible examples. I think that the “artisan indie” perfumers (I hesitate to say only “indie”, now that By Kilian won the Fifi award for “best indie” release), are closest to the idea of an artist. The question remains in their case, too, whether they are not accepting beauty as a necessary criterion. Beauty dropped out of the beaux arts picture--did it not?--in the twentieth century...

    2. He does everything himself because he is a cheap little man. And this is as far as I go concerning this matter. But it is ok if you like him. I used too in a very remote past of my life. I guess it is a phase, just like loving ponies, Celine Dion and barbie will pass.

  20. About Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez -
    I do have a problem when I read things like "what were they thinking?' - this provides no technical information about a fragrance at all. This is simply a joke - this is not a professional review of a fragrance.

    The smell of a russian cab... - also not technical - just an olfactive memory of a man who loves to show where he has been or lived. Snob and not professional.

    Sanchez - only Luca loves her insights. I don't believe the rest of us does.

    I know for a fact that one brand received bad "reviews" from the couple only because they refused to send them the perfumes - the owners told me so.

    I agree with you that the book is more like a kilt of memories, personal tastes or even likes or deslikes of people (here I mean brands, perfumers)in a personal level - like in the above mentioned example.

    I won't extend my comments about TS because I told you in facebook what I think. This has no intellectual value here.

    About perfume professional criticism:

    I researched the meaning of the word critic and I found the following:

    A critic according to Merrian Webster is:

    1. one who expresses a reasoned opinion on any matter especially involving a judgment of its value, truth, righteousness, beauty, or technique - in this case, I believe we all are. N'est pas?

    2. one who engages often professionally in the analysis, evaluation, or appreciation of works of art or artistic performances

    - in that case, Mr. Luca Turin and all other blogs having sponsorship or gaining $ to write the blog.

    according to the dictionary...

    A critic is a respectable professional who makes a living selling their value judgments concerning the avant garde from the perspective of the people. Ideally the critic is the mentally endowed jack-of-all-trades but master-of-none, and they see some real, big picture, but only fuzzily. The engine of the critic is philosophy, but criticism in its informal aspect is a general term that refers to a common aspect of most human expression, and it need not necessarily imply the judgment of a visionary.

    1. Dear Simone,

      A propos of The Holey[sic] Book: I think that there is nothing wrong, per se, with publishing a motley assortment of ramblings ranging from vignettes about one's past to one-liner jokes. What I dislike and take issue with is fobbing off such a work as a reference book. The title under which the Turin & Sanchez texts were published—a collection which strikes me as far more autobiographical than anything else—has had the effect that they are referred to now as “experts” by ignorant people the world over.

      In the recent Wall Street Journal review of “The Art of Scent” exhibit, the book is described as “the Oxford English Dictionary of perfume”. Another journalist, reviewing Jean-Claude Ellena's new book, referred to the Turin-Sanchez book as “unimpeachable”. Clearly, these journalists have not read the book. I wish that they would all read “A Found Review” (here at the salon), at which point they would discover that they are heralding as a reference book a text which is brim with ad hominem attacks and insults, not arguments and facts.

      Alas, hype works, and the publishers were savvy when they renamed the work (I read somewhere that it was originally titled “Songs and Pongs,” which is a perfect title, in my opinion) to make it sound as though it were authoritative, comprehensive, and even exhaustive. None of those is true, but that's what ignorant people who wish to sound as though they know what they are talking about assume when they call it the OED, etc.

      Is it a serious work of scholarship? No, of course not. But it has done well because there are no other books like it (claiming to be a “Guide”) and because perfume lovers are thirsty for any possible book on perfume (there are so very few). I am sorry to have to say this, because it sounds snobby, but it is nonetheless true: the people who get excited and rave about it do so in some cases because they have absolutely no idea what criticism is. Calling Mona di Orio “clearly delusional” is about as far from a reasoned critique of her work as a text could possibly be.

      Viewed soberly, the book is something of a joke, but the authors are enjoying a modicum of fame and, I imagine some pretty decent royalties, as a direct result of how it was promoted by their publishers.

      That's really all that I have to say about this particular topic. Let's move on to something more worthy of discussion...

  21. IMO a professional critic must:

    1. be a person who is publicly accepted and to a significant degree followed, having graduated from some course of recognized study or profession - that said - IMO only a PERFUMER can be a PROFESSIONAL critic of perfumes. Since there is no such degree offered by any university called perfume criticism or other training. The rest of us are a "social reviewers" that happens to like to give our opinions about fragrances in public. This is not a professional level thou. We could call ourselves "informal evaluators". Luca is included here, he is just making more money than the rest of us...
    2. be a person who offers reasoned judgment or analysis, value judgment, interpretation, or observation -
    That said, IMO pooping comments like "what were they thinking?" is not a professional evaluation of a fragrance. It does not contain anything but humor. So in that case LT could look for a stage in a standup comedians' club.

    So, having a huge collection of fragrances does not qualify anybody to be a professional perfume critic.
    Loving fragrances since the age of 12 or 7 or 3 does not qualify anybody to be a professional perfume critic.
    Being married to a self denominated perfume critic does not qualify anybody to be a professional perfume critic.
    Launching a book called the guide - means "I made a compilation of many fragrances I have tried in my life and according to my taste I gave subjective opinions about them. It does not qualify anybody to be a professional perfume critic.
    Not receiving a nobel prize does not qualify one to be a professional perfume critic. Writing a book about someone who did not receive a nobel prize also does not qualify one to be a perfume critic.

    I also have notice that they have contradictions in the guide and sometimes it seems that they have no method or no principles - but as far as I know he began to write the guide in 1994 and one is entitled to change opinions or consider something good at one point of life and later have a different opinion about it. So I think the guide lacks dates maybe...he should have completed each review with a date or tell his updated opinion about the fragrance - one knows that many perfumes were reviewed in the past and copied and pasted in the last issue of the same guide. This is why you found these contradictions.


    As Per Burr - same observations above. Just because the NYT called him a perfume critic it does not mean he is one - it means the NYT had him in their payroll and the position of that job was entitled "perfume critic" to the public - when in fact this was just a journalist position in a life style column.
    He has no degree in perfumery to have a professional skill to be a true critic.
    Writing about LT theory is not a degree in anything, but a journalistic job of research and writing.

    Anyways...I will come back for more opinions...

    1. Dear Simone,

      You raise the issue of credentials. Yes, it seems that because there is no “school of perfume criticism”, where one can earn a degree or even a certificate of competence, that there's something of a free-for-all. People stand up and proclaim themselves to be experts, or talk other people into conferring impressive-sounding titles upon them and then pretend that the conferral had nothing to do with their very own self-promotion campaigns.

      It's a rather clever act of sleight-of-hand, but it does not mean that the person is what the title implies. It just means that the person is a savvy marketer of himself.

      In my opinion, expertise in perfume criticism is an especially tricky case because people vary so much in their sensitivities to the substances of which perfumes are comprised. It seems quite clear that two equally knowledgeable and experienced people may arrive at completely opposite opinions about the value of a perfume simply because they smell different components to different degrees. To someone anosmic to certain musks, Serge Lutens Muscs Koublai Khan and Frédéric Malle Musc Ravageur may smell like manna from heaven. To a person who is hypersensitive to musk, they may both smell repulsive. So who is right? The only way that someone can serve as a guide to another wearer is if they happen to perceive the salient components (for example, musks) to a similar degree.

      So it can be helpful to read the reviews of people whose perceptions generally cohere with one's own. It can also be informative and useful to know that others perceive the perfume quite differently. I'd like to know, to be honest, whether someone out there somewhere is going to find a perfume repulsive, though I happen to love it. It is not my intention in wearing perfume to offend the people around me, so I like to know if a perfume causes other people discomfort or strife. That is one reason why I love to read reviews written by people who disagree radically with me. The other reason is that negative reviews can be highly entertaining.

      What becomes misleading is to pretend that one's own idiosyncratic tastes are authoritative in any way, and that is what the self-appointed critics do by publishing their works under misleading titles (suggesting that they are authorities and that people should heed their advice, when in fact the authors are effectively serving as product shills), and presenting themselves as experts about something (taste) about which no one is or can be a universal expert. Yes, we are all experts about our own tastes, but that's a far cry from being qualified to tell other people what they ought to like—and buy.

      Thank you so much for joining in on the conversation, Simone! I very much look forward to reading you here at the salon again soon, and I hope that you will comment on all of the posts! xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

  22. People should start using the words scent, fragrance and perfume in a different way.
    Perfume has a fragrance +bottle + package (in the past some didn't, but today they all have) + name (they all do, even if they are just numbers).
    While scents and fragrances don't have these elements.
    :-)taken all the kisses and hugs with me in my purse because i am kinda having the blues today!


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