Friday, 18 November 2011

The Little Book Of Perfumes - The 100 Classics: My Unclassic Taste, And Judging A Book By Its Cover

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):

Bvlgari Black
Chanel 31 rue Cambon
Chanel Bois des Iles
Chanel Cristalle
Chanel Cuir de Russie
Chanel pour Monsieur (on a man)
Dior Homme (on a man)
Guerlain Apres L'Ondée
Guerlain Chamade
L'Artisan Dzing!
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?

Question time....

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, other photos my own.


Daly Beauty said...

Interesting- especially about the cut of the paper....bizarre. I have put this on my Christmas list, my copy of The Guide is well worn and always on my bedside table....

Ari said...

I thought the Now Smell This interview with Luca and Tania was really, really weird. They seemed to have completely checked out. Hadn't smelled any new releases in years? Sold off half of their collection? I understand that the Guide was a huge endeavor, but...

As for your "unclassic taste", I actually don't think of many of L & T's five star fragrances as classics at all. I think their emphasis was on novelty and innovativeness, which is all very nice but is generally not why someone would actually wear a fragrance.

Anonymous said...

Funny, my European copy is not trapezoid, but fair and square as usual books. Also mine has a hot pink marker band (Lesezeichen), not a yellow one like yours. Very interesting...
I'm probably just as unclassy as yiu are and I'm fine with that. I don't have to love Beyond Paradise and friends. ;)
Like Ari I found the Q&A on NST weird. They don't seem to care a lot anymore...

Erin M said...

I wouldn't have known there were two editions had I not read this. I was a little saddened by the interview, but when you're fully immersed in anything for a great length of time, there must be a point where you reach exhaustion. I hope Luca and Tania get their groove back. Great piece! :-)

lady jane grey said...

After lots of pro & contra & hesitation finally bought it - on my kindle...

Vanessa said...

Hi Daly Beauty,

The cut of the paper is pretty darn strange, it must be said.

And I know what you mean about The Guide being well worn! Mine is full of pencil marks where I have ticked each scent off as I manage to smell it. : - )

Vanessa said...

Hi Ari,

I know what you mean about the Baudelairean sense of "ennui" permeating the interview, if that isn't too Schubert's Winterreise an image to use here... : - ) For people who love perfume as much as they do, I find their jaded state hard to get my head around - you would think they would have recent favourites to mention even if they have completely had it with reviewing.

That said, TS's blog about her new life in Greece (Honey and Thunder) is highly entertaining, so maybe that is a new creative writing outlet for her.

And I also agree about their being drawn to technically complex and what I might well see as wacky scents. That S-100 Love gave me a raging migraine, I vividly recall. This stance reminds me of how my brother likes "difficult" classical music whereas I am happy with a Keane anthem. First and foremost I have to be *moved* by a perfume to love it.

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfactoria,

Your copy is not trapezoid? Might I have the perfume book equivalent of a Penny Black stamp?? I will take great care of my copy in case it is seriously valuable one day...

Now I know why you might have thought the Lesezeichen was yellow, but it is a trick of the binding. If you click on the photo you will see a small section of pink ribbon nestling by Mr Bonker's fist. But that still leaves the atypical paper cut on mine!

Yes, and you don't have to love Tommy Girl either... : - )

Vanessa said...

Hi Erin,

I guess you could buy the edition of your choice, depending on whether you turn to US or UK Amazon, for example!

Yes, I do hope LT and TS get their mojo back too. Many's the time I have been sniffing new releases in the past year and wondering how many stars they would have allocated to a particular scent, and what bons mots they would have used to describe it, even if I haven't agreed with them half the time!

Vanessa said...

Hi Lady Jane Grey,

I am glad you took the plunge and hope you enjoy it!

To be honest, I think half the pleasure for me lies in the feel of the hard copy and its elegant black and gold design. I have a number of friends who swear by their Kindles, but I shall probably be one of the last to convert. That said, the weight of paperbacks in my luggage on business trips is a major drawback, and I tend to give books away to hotel libraries as I read them!

lovethescents said...

I am SO behind. I haven't read any info about this copy yet, yours is the first. I'd love to get my hands on it, though. I'd love to get my hands on a lot of cosmetic-related items, but that's a whole other story :-)

That IS odd about the differences in US and UK copies. The market researcher in you would have thought this through in a better way, I'm sure :-)

Vanessa said...

Hi lovethescents,

I think this book complements The Guide and I am sure lovers of particular scents will appreciate the formulation updates. I get a lot of pleasure from just looking at the cover, as I said! : - )

Like Jane, I would definitely put this on your Christmas list...

Anonymous said...

(Oh, hey, maybe Blogger will let me comment today!)

I have the US version, of course, and I think it's adorable - very 50s with the black and white and shocking pink, cute as a button. The "dotty" pattern as you call it looks, up close, more like beaded curtains, very retro.

Of the 100, I've only smelled 60, including, finally, vintage Chypre, L'Origan and Emeraude. The breakdown is as follows: Love (*****) 8, Like a lot (****) 10, Like but am unmoved by (***) 14, Dislike (**) a whopping 19, and HateDespiseAbhor (*) 8. Oh, and also, I cannot smell Nahema at all. So - my love/like percentage is only slightly higher than yours, and I am positive that genre preferences weigh heavily here. I like a lactonic floral, but lactonic or fruity chypres make me nauseous, and there are a number of those on the classics list. I don't much care for citrus or citrus chypres or bitter green chypres, and there are a number of those on the classics list, too.

The infamous Lauder base ruins every one of the several ELs on their list for me, which does take out a pretty big swathe of the "classics" - seven by my count, all on my "dislike" list.

I too thought the NST interview was odd. Burnout, I assume, but I didn't much enjoy reading it and did not bother to comment there.

Vanessa said...

Hi Muse,

Thanks for persisting with Blogger - I didn't know it had still been playing up since I switched to the full page format.

Was very interested to read your own analysis of your loves and hates. Like you, I am not a fan of fruity or bitter green chypres, and even though I am coming round to civet in certain scents, the more animalic end of the spectrum is also a no-no for me, ruling out more of the classics. So yes, I would agree about genre preferences playing a big part in the degree of congruence between our taste and that of LT and TS.

The beaded curtain design does sound cute, now you have described it in more detail. I might have been happy with either version after all!

Anonymous said...

Oh, very interesting. I like the gold and black cover with green paper inside. Is that an option? I suspect the bias cut paper would annoy me no end. It's interesting that they have put out another book, but I will most likely stick with my original copy and keep that $25 for a bargain bottle on ebay.

Vanessa said...

Hi anotherperfumeblog,

I am sure it is an option if you can tap into a UK/European stockist that ships to the US. The bias cut paper may be a fluke for Olfactoria reported that her European copy is fair and square!

25$ seems a steep price. Mine cost £9.99 from Waterstones, which is our Barnes & Noble.