Turin!


I have had a really rough bout of stomach crud today, and am finally able to sit upright, have the computer to myself, so I am getting caught up on blog entries – don’t try and stop me. Seriously, I am unstoppable.

A few years ago, my dad bought me a really cool biography of Luca Turin called the Emperor of Scent. (My dad and I have always had a passing interest in scent, mixing up concoctions from his store of essential oils – some really good and some really bad.) I was transfixed by this book! It chronicles how Turin is trying to find the secret to how we smell – and how many tried to sabotage his work. His theory is that the nose works to smell by sensing the vibration of molecules. This flies in the face of the standing theory that scent works like taste – where we have lock and key molecules. Turin doesn’t think that makes sense – because we can smell many more things than we can taste, and molecules that have very different shapes smell very similarly. This is a very poor explanation of his theory, if you have any interest at all in perfumery or senses, I highly recommend reading this book. The biography has lots of great information about his life, his obsession with old perfumes (like searching for fine wines), and his fascinating feminist mother.

So we (my dad and I) were THRILLED when Luca Turin came out with his own book which described his theory – The Secret of Scent. It is a charmingly written book about his theory and his search for perfumes, including gaining access to smell some things that only a very few people on earth have been allowed to smell. The scientist in me loves how he is trying to deconstruct the fragrance industry from being something that is smoke and mirrors to being something that is based on science and thought. This book gave me my answer to the question “What would I do if I could do it all over again?” I would pay better attention in chemistry, learn French, and study to be molecular chemist perfumer. Hello, dream life! This field seems to be the perfect marriage of science, art, passion, and luxury.

Side note: Luca Turin made some basic chemistry errors in his book. None of which affected the soundness of his theory, but piqued my father who is a chemist. (Chemistry is not Luca Turin’s original field of study.) My dad sent him an e-mail citing his errors (along with noting how he appreciated his book and his work), and Luca Turin thanked him and said he would incorporate the changes in the UK edition of the book!! That was a very proud moment for me as a daughter.

On my birthday, I received the latest book from Luca Turin, and it is revelatory! He and a woman from the states have written a review book of perfumes. The reviews are pure genious, and the book provides lists of top ten perfumes. I think it is my new favorite anything. Here is why I love it:

(list 24) Why I love Perfumes: The Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez

1. My two favorite fragrances in my life get good reviews – so I think it is brilliant. 😉 Each perfume gets a star rating, up to 5 stars.

Dune, which I wore in college, got 5 stars, here is an excerpt from the review:

Forget suburban-gothic names, forget all the phony “noirs”, from Angelique to Oris. True, menacing darkness is not to be found in upset-the-parents Alice Cooper poses, but in this disenchanted, ladylike gem.

I was disenchanted, not a lady or a gem in college, but I love the review. And I love that there is the picture-in-words for something that was such a part of my life then – my scent. (I adhere to the adage that a woman isn’t dressed without perfume, even when I was in doc martens and a college sweatshirt.) I love you, Luca Turin.

And then there is the review for what I wear now, when I can afford it, Butterfly by Hanae Morii. It received four stars (not bad). Here is an excerpt from that review:

HM is a bomb-shell gourmand, incredibly rich and strong, projecting far distances and intensifying with time.

Again, that doesn’t at all describe me, but it describes what I aspire to be. And I love the picture-in-words of scent, my scent.

There are several perfumes I own or have purchased for loved ones that were panned by Luca Turin. It doesn’t make me like them any less, scent is deeply personal, but now I have a guidebook for my minor obsession. And a review I can attach to the gift, as a scent calling card.

2. Both the authors are really good writers. Really good. And I love good writing almost as much as I love a good scent.

3. The book has lots of lists. Best male perfume, best female perfume, best chypres, etc. And the book itself is a big long alphabetical list of perfumes. And I love lists almost as much as I love a good scent.

4. The snarkiness is to die for. I leave you with some of the best passages for the one-star perfumes.

China Rose (Floris) * syrupy “rose”
The name must refer to a Chinese takeaway in Newark, the cloying smell to the air freshener in the ladies’ toilet. TS

Echo (Davidoff) * woody citrus
To borrow John Redwood’s description of his political friend William Hague, a perfume made for a “train-spotting nonentity with a surface gloss of management theory.” LT

Paris Hilton (Paris Hilton) * silly floral
Competent but depressing woody-fruity-floral aimed at ditzes. LT

Miss Rocaille (Caron) sour peony
For the young who apparently deserve no better: tart peony top note, green aquatic midpart, and I couldn’t get to the drydown to report without washing.

This is just the smallest smattering of the reviews, I encourage you to get this book and find your new fragrance, or book some time with me and we will review my copy together. I can’t think of a better way to spend a few hundred hours.

To summarize, here are the books on amazon.com, if you are interested:

(list 25) Books by or about Luca Turin

1. The Emperor of Scent by Chandler Burr

2. The Secret of Scent by Chandler Burr

3. Perfumes: The Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez

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