One Thousand Scents

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Molecules

This elegant creature is thujone, the molecule supposedly responsible for the deleterious effects of absinthe, which I've put here for no other reason than that I liked the look of it.

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Reader DJ writes the following:

Way back in May you reviewed Perfumes: The Guide and mentioned that one of its major failings was the lack of an index, a shortcoming mentioned in every write-up I saw.

One of their readers did something about it. If you head over to http://perfumestheguide.com and poke around, you'll find not only an Excel-spreadsheet-format index (on the "Corrections" page), but also a quarterly newsletter with 16 pages of new reviews.

I hadn't heard about it until today, so I thought I'd mention it in case you've been similarly out of the loop.


I had heard about it, but somehow neglected to mention it. Thanks!

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This is a mosquito beating its wings against an elephant and fancying the beast can feel the breeze, but I have to say that the bloom is off the rose for me regarding "Perfumes: The Guide", particularly since I read that update. It's true that Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez have a fun writing style and that they often have something interesting to say about fragrances; they're deep inside the industry and they give us information that nobody else does, and for that I'm thankful. The problem for me is that, like The New Yorker's Anthony Lane in his movie reviews, they sometimes seem to value the effect of what they're writing over the literal truth of it, which is to say that sometimes it seems they write the material first and only then apply it to the nearest fragrance.

I'm not talking about merely disagreeing with their opinions; that's always going to happen when writing about something as intensely subjective and personal as fragrance. I'm talking about writing things that actually seem to be wrong, or astoundingly misguided. Turin and Sanchez can give four stars to Baldessarini by Hugo Boss or Salvador Dali Laguna (which I despise so much I can't even write about it); fine. They like them, I don't. But sometimes they'll write something that makes me think, "Did you even smell it and think about it, or did you just read about it?" And I hate to think that, because it's just a cheap tactic that disgruntled authors use against bad reviews ("I don't know what book your reviewer was reading, but it clearly wasn't mine", or "Did your reviewer even read my book?", they will querulously begin). And I don't even have a personal stake in the fragrance in question! But when I write about scent, I take a long time to think about exactly what a particular fragrance means to me (which is why I went down to one review a week), and it bothers me to see a review that appears to be dashed-off and even incorrect.

Last week I wrote about Lexington Avenue. The Guide's two-word description is "almond nailpolish", which is silly, because the almond-marzipan note isn't a dominant characteristic of the scent and if there's a nail-varnish element, I didn't find it. They might as well have called it "fennel shoepolish" for all the good that would have done as a descriptor. Worse, Turin calls it, in part, a "screechy peony floral", which just doesn't sit right with me for a number of reasons, primarily that the scent isn't screechy at all; a peony naturally has a sharp characteristic which comes through in Lexington Avenue, but the scent itself isn't harsh in any way.

Worst of all, from the point of view of an editor rather than a fragrance junkie, is the fact that yet again he uses the word "screechy", which is second only to his/their use of the word "hissy". I'm not going to comb through the entire book to count the number of uses of "hissy", but in the update, which covers 100 scents, it's used four times. The book is said to cover 1500 scents, and if that ratio holds true, then the word could well appear sixty times, which wouldn't surprise me at all and is far too many. I know that writing about scent is hard, but Turin and Sanchez need a bigger vocabulary or a more insistent editor.

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Here's a Salon.com article that readers may be interested in, about the use of fragrance in marketing. There isn't anything in it that's new, but at least it's all in one place.

The article is sloppily composed and not altogether accurate, though: the sentence "Halifax, Nova Scotia, has declared itself a completely fragrance-free city" is nonsense on the face of it, because you can still buy fragrances there, as you can anywhere, and in any event it would be impossible to make any place on Earth "fragrance-free", considering the broader definition of "fragrance". Halifax did enforce at least one law nearly a decade ago declaring various public places to be scent-free zones, which got a lot of international media attention, and sales of perfumes actually did decline there, but it's no more fragrance-free than anywhere else. I was in Halifax last fall and I can testify to that. Mills Brothers, a high-end downtown clothing and cosmetic boutique, had been completely revamped, with a fragrance department carrying such sort-of-niche lines as L'Artisan Parfumeur and Annick Goutal. I bought a bottle of Mugler's Pure Coffee at The Bay, which had a fragrance department as big and diverse as ever. In short, not a scent-free city by any possible definition of the word. Given the number of times I've knocked Salon on my other blog for its apparent lack of editorial oversight, this sort of inaccuracy is par for the course.

2 Comments:

  • I felt the samer way as you did and I think the reviews are getting sloppy enough that the careful reader can't miss the trick they try to pull.

    this is my entry on basenotes from a thread I had started.

    http://community.basenotes.net/showpost.php?p=1295965&postcount=31

    great blog sir

    tip of the hat'

    By Anonymous fredricktoo, at 2:04 AM  

  • So I'm not the only one who felt that way!

    I like what Turin and Sanchez are attempting to do; to make people think critically about fragrance, to try as many as possible so as to form a coherent body of personal opinion. (You can't think about film clearly if you've only seen romantic comedies.) But they're starting to get on my nerves.

    Glad you like the blog.

    By Blogger pyramus, at 11:09 AM  

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