"Reviewer Heaven" By Luca Turin
Tania Sanchez (my co-author) and I have started work on a perfume guide to come out next year in the US. On the minus side, there are several hundred not-even-wrong fragrances to get through. On the plus side, it is wonderful to get packages containing entire collections all in one go. Firms have a soul, and you need to see it entire to understand it. You then realize that Guerlain, Chanel, Hermès did not get where they are by accident.
Smelling the Guerlain collection shipped fresh from the factory in Orphin, near Paris, was a revelation. Guerlain, like food firms, should put dates on bottles. I had often heard, and never believed, that fragrances made with naturals change a lot in the first six months, as wine does. The family resemblance of fresh Guerlains is even stronger than usual, as if the Guerlinade base that is common to all of them was the first to fade. Some are so rich and complex that we decided to let them sit in a dark room for a few months, till they calm down and pull themselves together.
Another surprise was that some Chanel open secrets came our way. They first sent No. 5 Eau de Parfum, and it smelled completely wrong. I assumed another act of vandalism had taken place and was already planning a “Free the Chanel Five” campaign. Then the Parfum and Eau de Toilette arrived a few days later. After checking with the Chanel engine room, I finally understood that all the while No. 5 was actually three different perfumes: the Parfum is the 1921 original, and smells fresh as paint and unchanged from day 1. The Eau de Toilette is what I thought No. 5 was, all soft and peachy, a fifties mom in a fur coat coming to tuck you in bed before going to the theatre. The Eau de Parfum is, in my opinion, an eighties lapse of judgment.
It’s early days yet, but in six weeks the size of my perfume collection has doubled to about 1400, and the postman rings almost every day with a wry look, hands me a parcel and says wearily “More perfumes for you” as if praying I will soon find an aftershave to my liking. A few days ago came a big parcel from the small but fiercely dedicated Omani firm of Amouage. They make the fabulous Gold, once the most expensive fragrance in the world, for what has now become a reasonable price. The bottles are lead crystal, and the box was almost too heavy to lift. Was there ever a better job?