I have had The Little Book of Perfumes for some time now, and a number of excellent blog posts about it have already appeared on the likes of Olfactarama, Perfume Shrine and Now Smell This. Additionally, Robin of NST hosted a readers' Q & A session with authors Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez, which made fascinating reading, even though my own - admittedly rather trivial - question wasn't featured(!), of which more anon.
So given that there are a number of reviews of The Little Book of Perfumes in circulation, most people will have caught up with the fact that this compilation of 100 classic scents is a sample of previous reviews featured in Perfumes: The Guide, and has not been revised to include any new five star perfumes which may have impressed the authors since, which I suppose I had half hoped it would. Turin and Sanchez weren't given any "additional advances or royalties" apparently to produce The Little Book of Perfumes, though I assume they will get royalties of some kind for this latest reworking. I am sure the new publication will do very well for them: it is such a slim and attractively produced volume that I can see it making a perfect stocking filler for perfumistas and "regular" perfume wearers alike.
In her introduction to the book, Sanchez explains the premise on which the featured fragrances were selected:
"The fragrances reviewed in this book are not the greatest of all time - instead, they are those that struck us as far above their peers in quality, inventiveness, or straightforward beauty..."
In addition to the introduction, the extra content includes a few new lists, such as Turin and Sanchez's ten "Desert Island" scents, plus lists called "Best bang for your bucks" and "Best big ticket splurges". I wish! (And instead of star ratings - for these perfumes are of course already the crème de la crème - there are handy $$$ codings to indicate price bracket, like the ones you might find in a restaurant guide.) Then there is a chapter on The Osmothèque museum, together with reviews of four extinct and much lamented scents that the authors would love to see revived, and a chapter on how to beg, borrow or buy perfume samples prior to taking the full bottle plunge, complete with useful names of sources like Luckyscent and The Perfumed Court.
But the main difference between the presentation of reviews in Perfumes: The Guide and in The Little Book of Perfumes is that the wicked humour is confined to some of the updates on reformulations, which have been added beneath a good third of the reviews. So for anyone missing the glorious trademark vitriol of Perfumes: The Guide, they will still find the odd gem in here:
"It's not Joy, but it's not sadness either."
Plus there is Sanchez's dissenting view of Etat Libre d'Orange's notorious Sécrétions Magnifiques, which she would have excluded from the book, but was overruled by her other half(!):
"...absolutely revolting, like a drop of J'Adore on an oyster you know you shouldn't eat".
For the most part, though, the tone of The Little Book of Perfumes is appreciative, and the authors do in fact consider some of the reformulations to have been a change for the better; then with other scents they feel that the perfumers in question have done a good job of "damage limitation" in difficult circumstances (ie working within the constraints of the IFRA restrictions). And in some cases the fragrance may have been radically - and on balance regrettably - altered, yet Turin and Sanchez judge the new version still to have considerable merit.
So as you can imagine the market researcher in me couldn't resist totting up the scents in The Little Book of Perfumes to see to what extent I have "classic" taste. First of all, I had to take out the 15 perfumes I have never tried, and the four included in the Osmothèque section, which obviously I couldn't have tried either, which left 81. Of these, I like just 26 (c32%), split equally between "like a lot" and "actively like but am not that wowed by".
Now I know there are quite a lot of men's fragrances in here, but still... This means that out of the universe of scents I know, I only love 16% of the ones Turin and Sanchez do, which isn't a very high number for someone purporting to be a perfumista. And of only one of them do I own a full bottle (Bvlgari Black). But I am not troubled by this - I like what I like, and there it is.
For what it's worth, here is my "like a lot" list (which is not totally set in stone and also includes one or two perfumes that I probably "admire a lot" rather than love as such):
Chanel 31 rue Cambon
Chanel Bois des Iles
Chanel Cuir de Russie
Chanel pour Monsieur (on a man)
Dior Homme (on a man)
Guerlain Apres L'Ondée
Ormonde Jayne Woman
Parfums MDCI Promesse de L'Aube
Tauer L'Air du Désert Marocain
And finally there is the matter of my unanswered question over on Now Smell This, which relates to the covers: they are different in the US and UK editions, plus the lining paper inside the cover is lime green in the UK version and hot pink in the American one.
"What was the thinking behind the two covers/liners then? Why would two versions be necessary? Was this focus grouped in advance? : - ) "
This question continues to puzzle me - did someone take a stylistic decision that Americans would prefer the dotty design, while Europeans would appreciate the gold squiggles and etchings of perfume bottles? Are Americans more drawn to shocking pink than acid green? The most likely answer is simply the fact that the publishers are different: Penguin US and Profile UK respectively, so perhaps each house wanted to "leave its stamp" by differentiating its version of the book from that of the other company.
Would the authors have preferred a uniform "livery", or didn't they have any strong feelings on the matter? I have to say that both designs look attractive, though I prefer the European version. My promised complimentary copy from Penguin US never made it through, so I haven't been able to take close up photos of the alternative design.
Also, what was the thinking behind cutting the paper of the book on the bias (which I assume happened with both editions)? The paper is shaped like a sort of trapezium, which I have never seen before. Is this a random mould-breaking act? Does it perhaps connote Incan temples and associated notions of worship and gods, as befits these classic, "best of" fragrances? Or did the chappy at the printer's operating the guillotine (in both continents) simply have a wonky eye, much like the proof reader who failed to spot "DAZZINGLY" in the quote from India Knight on the UK cover?
So for those of you who have a copy of The Little Book of Perfumes already, what % of scents that you know do you like/love? Which are they?
And for anyone reading, which design of the book do you prefer? Is it the one available in your part of the world, or do you have intercontinental leanings?
Photo of US copy of The Little Book of Perfumes and photo of Bvlgari Black both from Amazon, photo of Sécrétions Magnifiques logo from faconalmode.blogspot.com, other photos my own.