Thursday 3 March 2016

Perfumes: The A to Z Guide, by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez - One Day All Wine Books Will Be Like This

So I must be the last person on the planet to have come across Perfumes: The A to Z Guide, especially since it originally came out in 2008 and now needs an update, but better late than never (and thank you to the, yes, female, friend who introduced me to it quite casually one evening as if it was the most natural thing in the world) because Perfumes is such a virtuoso mixture of comedy, polemic, full-on High Style and sheer vindictiveness that it transcends time and mere utility. Does it matter if you don't care about fragrances? Not a jot. Does it matter if your grooming regime is basically a spritz of something from a can after the morning shower, followed by sixteen hours of kidding yourself that you don't smell like a train seat? No. Does it matter if you care even marginally about the way we try to render our perceptions through language? It does.

How can I be so sure? Well, try this assault on something called Lulu Guinness: 'Thin screechy floral, a version of Beyond Paradise made for Moldavian railway stations, packaged in an opaque glass baby-perfume white bottle nearly identical to the one made (by the same firm, a year later) for Nanette Lepore. Nice creative work all round.' Or, more briefly, this microassesment of Armani Mania Pour Homme: 'The smell of Home Depot hammers and lumber'. That's it, that's all Armani Mania Pour Homme merits! The thunderclap of rhetorical concision! Or Bleecker Street, from Bond No. 9: 'Green, watery...a dreadful hiss like cheap speakers'. These are words urgently at work, not lounging around regarding themselves pettishly in the mirror or paring their nails.

Are Turin and Sanchez capable only of hatred? Not in the least. TubĂ©reuse, by Annick Goutal, gets this hymn: 'A tuberose for purists, this floral presents the material in all its unrepresentable glory: rubber tyres, steak tartare, Chinese muscle rub and all' - a review both stern and wistful at the same time, florid but unsentimental. And indeed my review of their review catches something of that tone, I like to think. Givenchy III (five star rating) is 'A wonderful thing, quite a bit drier than the original but none the worse for it, and quicker getting into the strings-only leafy-green heart': flirting dangerously, yes, with elements of wine writer deep gibberish, but just about getting away with it. Elsewhere and on the other hand, the two authors burnish their credentials by being as candid and down-to-earth as you like, and winning you over that way. Sanchez: 'It's an axiom that the more hideous you find a fragrance, the more tenacious it is'. Turin: 'Being a guy is not always pleasant, but at least, like balding and belching, it does not require much work'.

Best of all, their critiques, like all the best criticism, are capable of making you want to go right out and try the thing being critiqued. Who'd have thought that Old Spice would have made it past the selectors? But it does, being called, rather brilliantly, 'A delicious Tabu-like oriental, whose claim to be a masculine is based entirely on its transience. A man is a woman consisting entirely of top notes'. Why did I ever throw away that old bottle, with its white plastic bung and its square-rigger on the front and its top notes? Where can I get some more?

You can see where this is going. Most, if not all, wine writing is pompous or self-serving or ludicrously self-regarding or just lame, and I do not exclude Sediment from these strictures. But how fantastic would it be to find a directory of drinks which contained even half the vigour, invention, learning and corruscating mirthfulness of Perfumes. PK and I are too old and ignorant and stupid to get anywhere near, but there must be someone out there with the same kind of animating genius as Turin and Sanchez, some person or persons capable of writing a definitive, literate, heart-stoppingly offensive wine guide. Yes, wine is a much bigger and more diverse subject than scent, but come on. Just consider this, about Ralph Lauren's Romance Men: 'The fragrance is so unmemorable that the only appropriare review is "It has a smell"'. What about that on your least favourite Gevrey-Chambertin?



  1. Brilliant. I await the day that others push through the door you've opened here.

  2. I, too, wish for that day to come, but there's no sign of it. If anything, it seems to be more distant than ever...


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