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Review of Perfumes: The Guide (2018) by Luca Turin & Tania Sanchez

October 26, 2018

 

Takeaway for the casual browser

 

To the casual browser who’s wandered in here because the SEO on my site is working – yes, you should buy Perfumes: The Guide (2018) by Luca Turin & Tania Sanchez. Heck, buy the original Perfumes: The A-Z Guide (2008) too. Because whether your interest is casual or professional, there’s always space in your life for a book that explains a subject with equal parts erudition and bitchiness. Reading this book is like being seated next to a scientist who whispers hilarious put-downs in your ear about the hostess’ bottom all night and then gets up and explains Chaos Theory so elegantly you wonder if you’d ever not understood it.

 

Difference between Perfumes: The Guide (2018) and Perfumes: The A-Z Guide (2008)

 

Perfumes: The A-Z Guide (2008) is a panorama of the history of perfume between the last Ice Age and 2008; a university education delivered in one long breath. The authors point out the benchmark fragrances that changed the course of perfumery in general or innovated in some way, giving you a blueprint for self-guided discovery. Most importantly, though, they make you howl with laughter. I’ll never forget the triumphant cackle that my mother let out when she read their entry for Amarige, a perfume worn by her greatest frenemy.

 

Read the original Guide (1998) for context.

 

Perfumes: The Guide (2018) is a broad-lens snapshot of a moment in time, like the full-body diagnostic scan they do when you turn 60. Picture the authors at some remove from the perfume scene, hunkered down in a submarine for a decade, watching things as impartially as God herself. In 2017, they send up a flare, take a photograph, and write an observation on where we are now. No looking back to the past glories of the fragrance timeline, nor much prediction of where we’re going. It’s a screenshot of the thousands of new niche, indie, and mainstream perfume launches that have hit the market in the past 10 years. The image freezes and the authors begin the process of picking it apart and seeing what’s what.

 

Read the 2018 Guide for a current status report.

 

In between the original Guide (2008) and the Guide (2018), there was the perfumesilove.com blogging experiment. The blog was significant because it marked the halfway point between the approach taken by the authors in the original Guide and that of the 2018 version. Perfumesilove.com was set up to shine a light on indie perfumery, which Turin felt was generating most of the innovation in perfumery. Inspired by Miyako, an osmanthus-based perfume by Malaysian indie brand Auphorie, Perfumesilove was the equivalent of a microfinance institution that gives out small loans to people who don’t qualify for bank financing.

 

Read the Perfumesilove.com blog as a spotlight into the indie perfume scene between 2016 and 2017.

 

 

How to Read Perfumes: The Guide (2018)

 

Perfume is so personal, isn’t it? That’s why, when you read a review that trashes your favorite perfume in either the original or the 2018 Guide, it’s difficult not to feel annoyed or defensive. Keep in mind, though, that the purpose of a critical review isn’t to make you feel stupid or conned for having spent $$$ on a bottle of perfume that the authors think is overpriced crap. You’re free to disagree and keep on loving your favorite perfume.

 

But keep an open mind. A negative review from Turin and Sanchez usually contains a wealth of information on the background, context, and technical composition of the perfume that at least tells you why they arrived at their conclusion. Even if you don’t agree with the verdict, keep the door to your mind cracked open a hair to allow you to consider that there might be other perfumes that do what your favorite perfume does, but better.

 

Maybe, just maybe, down the line, after you’ve smelled more of the perfumes they review, you’ll even start to see their point. Will my favorite stand the test of time? Is it copying another perfume that came before it? Can I smell the cheapness of construction that they point out? Do I see (sort of) what they mean by words such as ‘vulgar’, ‘dated’, and ‘nondescript’? Do I like the perfume despite what they’ve pointed out about it?

 

If you can keep on smelling perfumes in a curious, open-minded way – as opposed to immediately rushing to defend a perfume or deride a particular review when you violently disagree – then you’ll get great use out of both the original and the 2018 Guide. If you’re the type of person who can’t sleep because ‘someone is wrong on the Internet’, then neither of these books are for you.

 

 

Yeah, well, you know, that’s just like, uh, your opinion, man.

 

You might be wondering if it is possible, or even desirable, to be objective when talking about what something smells like. In fact, the authors themselves addressed this in their introduction, calling what they do “informed subjectivity”. Informed subjectivity is a term that recognizes that it is impossible to speak about perfumes with absolute objectivity, because the way we perceive smells varies so widely from person to person.

 

But even if there is no consensus on how a perfume smells, surely the background of the people who are speaking about a perfume matters very much. You’re free to blather on about the way a perfume smells, and well, you know, that’s just like, uh, your opinion, man. Anyone with a nose and a voice (and, these days, a blog) can throw their opinion into the fray. One significant change in the perfume scene since the publication of the original Guide in 1998 has been the mushrooming in the number of voices on the Internet discussing perfume. And that’s great – the more the merrier.

 

But an opinion on perfume does not equate to perfume criticism. Without knowledge to back it up, an opinion is just flotsam and jetsam bobbing around on the sea of other opinions. An opinion on perfume coupled with a background in science and history and a rare talent for writing = perfume criticism. Oh, and perfume criticism delivered with humor, insight, and occasional outbursts of spite, bitchery, and meanness? That’s what sells books.

 

 

B..B..But Bias!

 

Oh yes, Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez are biased. You better believe it. All great critics are. A.A. Gill, my favorite restaurant critic (may he rest in peace) wrote a famous column for the Sunday Times called Table Talk, during which he would dedicate 10% of the space to how the food tasted and the other 90% to the things that were pissing him off in one way or another. Do you think I was reading him for that 10%? Was anyone?

 

In perfume terms, it’s the same. Turin might dedicate 10% to giving you the objective facts about how Coco Mademoiselle is constructed and the historical debt it owes to Angel, but it’s that other 90%, his subjective feelings about the perfume (“These fragrances are as difficult to tell apart as the ladies at a Scala first night: all tan, makeup, and hair.”) that I’ve come for.

 

If personal bias in perfume criticism bothers you, then either don’t buy the book or learn to screen for it. If you know, for example, that Turin adores osmanthus or industrially-smoky perfumes (which he does), then you can use that knowledge as a sort of filter, straining out his bias and emerging with a better idea of whether you would like it or not. For example, if you like osmanthus but don’t have quite the passion for it that Turin does, you’ll be able to read his Miyako review without immediately feeling like you have to rush out and buy it.

 

After reading most everything the authors have written over the years, I feel I have a good handle on what their leanings are. Luca Turin likes: classical music, osmanthus, iris, complex sound systems, really experimental perfumery, the smell of metal, smoke, and heavy industry, but also classic chypres and fougeres. He loves anything that perfumers Calice Becker and Christophe Laudamiel make. He gives major side eye to Roja Dove. He dislikes: pretentiousness (in general), repetition and the rise of me-three-ism in perfumery, outrageously priced niche, bad ad copy, lack of sense of humor, and the constant dumbing down of the great classic perfumes. Apply those filters where and when needed.

 

Sanchez’ bias is not as easy for me to pin down, which of course might mean that she doesn’t have as many or that I’m misreading her entirely. Her personal taste in perfumery does seem to be generally more Catholic than Turin’s. I think she is his true north, pulling him back when he strays beyond the pale.

 

One major difference I see between the authors is that while Turin is deeply invested in the artistry, construction, and history of perfume, Sanchez is a democrat through and through, hooked up to the IV of what we Joe Schmoe perfume folk are thinking. So, while Turin’s disdain for an overpriced niche perfume has a clear artistic or historical focus (‘it’s badly made, look at the seams!’ or ‘there’s no way that Creed was making perfume for Napoleon in 1982’), Sanchez is just outraged – on our behalf – that it costs $140. She holds no truck with perfume companies that are clearly out to pull the wool over our eyes. I love that about her. I feel like she’d make the best girlfriend ever, the kind that stands behind your shoulder at Sephora and hisses at the SA when she tries to sell you a $300 eye cream.

 

 

The Opening Act

  

If you’re dithering over the purchase of Perfumes: The Guide (2018), then you should know that the opening essays by the authors alone are worth the price of admission. Turin’s essay ‘The Shifting Shape of Fragrance 1918-2018’ gives us a complete tour of the major developments and events in perfumery from 1918 to 2018, and is a perfect illustration of his unique ability to knit complex trends, facts, and movements together in a way that reads cohesively. Although I mentioned at the start of this review that the original Perfumes: The A-Z Guide (1998) delves more into the context and history of perfume, in truth, Turin gives us a brilliant recap here too.

 

However, my favorite opening essay remains Tania Sanchez’ one, which is called ‘Ten Years Later’. In this hugely entertaining essay, she outlines everything that is currently rotten in the state of perfumery and maps out the road that got us here. From the craze for oud to the sad-sack uniformity in niche releases, Sanchez dissects the scene with brutal honesty, managing to convey both sympathy to her fellow proles for having to put up with such outrageous price gouging and some major eye rolls at companies that oughtta know better. The whole piece reads as a ‘must do better’ manifesto to a money-crazed sector that probably isn’t even listening. Well, Tania, for what it’s worth, I’m listening and nodding my head while reading your essay. So are the other genuine fragrance fans.

 

 

The Star System

  

Just as in Perfumes: The A-Z Guide (2008), each perfume reviewed in Perfumes: The Guide (2018) is awarded a star rating, from 1 to 5. The important thing to realize about the star system is that it’s kind of unreliable; far more a publishing hook than a serious critical tool. According to a writer friend of mine, star ratings are what sell review books, so you just got to have them.

 

The most significant things to watch out for with the Guide’s star rating system are:

 

  • The 5 star reviews, of which there are 96 in the 2008 Guide (because it covered a period of 100+ years) and 20 in the 2018 edition (covering 10 years). These reviews are interesting because they tell you what the authors see as the real standouts are in a broad field, based on technical, historical, social, and artistic merit. In the 2008 Guide, the 5 star reviews mostly highlighted the achievements of the past, like Jicky or Mitsouko, but also included a few newer niche highpoints, like Tauer’s L’Air du Desert Marocain. In the 2018 Guide, the 5 star reviews are all for modern perfumes. Interestingly, very few of Turin and Sanchez’ 5 star reviews, whether for the original or 2018 Guide, are unaffordable or inaccessible to the general public.

 

  • The 1 star reviews. Read these for the prose, which is usually brief, biting, and a showcase for the authors’ witticisms and one-liner putdowns. Or, if you’re as contrary as I am, smell the 1 star perfumes because the authors hate them. After all, if you’ve already screened the reviews for the authors’ known bias, then you’ll already know that Turin’s worst nightmare could be your nirvana, and vice versa.

 

  • The 3 star reviews. The weirdest star ratings are the ones in the middle. The widespread distrust for either glowing or immensely negative reviews in the wider beauty industry (due to the scandals over paid reviews) has led to people interested in the latest glycolic peel or lipstick being advised to trust only the 3 star reviews, because all the paid content is either a rave or a bash. But the belief that the authentic opinions reside only in the middle doesn’t hold true for perfume criticism, and especially not in the case of Perfumes: The Guide (2018). In Turin and Sanchez’ world, the 3 star rating is a sort of catch-all category that sweeps up all the perfumes in the grey zone, ranging from “I hate this perfume/perfumer but it’s not technically bad, I guess” to “Ooh this is rather good but we already have 20 four stars, sooooo…”. If you’re on the fence and don’t know your footing with the authors, then my advice would be to start with the 3 stars – there’s a lot of really interesting perfume in this bandwidth.

 

  

Whom does perfume criticism serve anyway?

 

The job of a critic – any critic – is to evaluate a product for the person who’s considering investing in it, rather than the person or company who made the product. Most reviews you read, whether it’s Yelp reviews for a restaurant, an Amazon review for a book, or a Pete Wells review of a restaurant for the New York Times, exist to help you, as a consumer, to make a decision. Naturally, there are schills and conmen all around, and you have to use your critical thinking skills to screen each critic for bias, but when we’re talking about the preeminent critics like Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez, there’s no doubt that Perfumes: The Guide (2018) was written for your benefit and not for the brands that want to sell you perfume.

 

However, there’s been a shift in the trust we place in reviews. One of the signs that something has happened is that, increasingly, when faced with a negative review, the perfume fan aligns himself with the brand or perfumer under review rather than with the critic reviewing the product. In other words, perfume buyers consider reviews to be so shady that they’d rather place their trust with the company that’s trying to sell them $150 worth of smelly water over the critic who writes about whether that perfume’s worth their money in the first place.

 

It’s an odd situation, so let’s take a look at what’s changed in the reviewing scene since Perfumes: The A-Z Guide (2008) came out.

 

  

The Poisoned Well of Online Reviewing

 

The authors of Perfumes: The Guide (2018) don’t really address the issue, but social media and the rise of influencers has changed the landscape of perfume criticism beyond all recognition. When the original Perfumes: The A-Z Guide (2008) was published, YouTube, Instagram, and the social influencer crowd were but a twinkle in some Borg’s eye and there was great respect for the word of people who clearly were experts in their genre. Fast forward to 2018 and we have a new Guide dropped into the white noise of thousands of YouTube channels, Instagram accounts, lifestyle gurus, Patreon accounts and Go Fund Me’s, and blogs or platforms powered through quid pro quo arrangements with the brands.

 

Recently, there was a scandal when a former employee of Sunday Riley, an upscale indie skincare brand, released an internal email instructing staff how to leave fake reviews for their new acne cream on Sephora. Everyone was dismayed – nobody was surprised. Beauty influencers regularly demand between $20,000 and $85,000 for positive mentions of their brands on their social media channels, and one beauty insider revealed that it costs a brand between $75,000 to $85,000 for a “dedicated negative review of a competitor’s product.” With this kind of blurring of the lines between reviews and PR, it’s easy to see why consumers in the wider cosmetics market[1] don’t trust reviews in general.

 

I mention this because, for a book like Perfumes: The Guide (2018) whose critical and commercial reception rests on the credibility readers give to the reviews contained within, it’s worth knowing what the current review environment looks like. Although the pay-per-review sleaze of the wider beauty industry hasn’t infected perfume blogging to the same extent it has the YT, Instagram, and Facebook communities – mostly because blogging isn’t the sales generator that other channels are – it’s still difficult for the reader to figure out which online review content is genuine and which content is the result of some commercial agreement with a brand.

 

The rise in social media has also had a curiously ‘flattening’ effect on perfume criticism over the past 10 years. Fans, buyers, small brands, marketing professionals, schills, bloggers, and vloggers are increasingly thrown together into the same tight social spaces on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. And with all these brand owners and reviewers following each other and marked as ‘friends’ in each other’s contact lists, the desire to be frank melts away in the face of the desire to be nice.

 

Like Kevin Bacon, it’s all about the six degrees of separation. Every reviewer feels safe criticizing the belly fluff that is Mon Guerlain because nobody has to face Thierry Wasser personally. But what if you want to write a review for a perfume made by someone in the Facebook group you visit every morning? What about a negative review for an independent perfume maker you see around on Reddit, for whom a review can make or break their business? You’d have to be inhuman not to admit that that’s a different ballgame. This kind of social intimacy between brands, bloggers, and end users can be enormously useful for information flow, but in terms of maintaining critical autonomy, it’s a disaster waiting to happen.

 

And that’s why we need something like Perfumes: The Guide (2018). This book cuts through the white noise to give us an uncensored evaluation. The sudden rush of color into a reviewing scene that’s been bleached to a pastel nothingness over the past ten years is thrilling. But, naturally, too rich for the blood of those who drained the pool in the first place.

 

 

Reviewing Indies

 

A big difference between Perfumes: The A-Z Guide (1998) and Perfumes: The Guide (2018) is the inclusion of indie and artisanal brands. Previously, one got the impression that Turin clubbed most indies together under the ‘faith-based disasters’ subject line; come 2018, following increasing corporate-ification of the fragrance world and the depressing growth of luxury ‘masstige’, both authors are firmly on board with the idea that the indie sector is where it’s at. The Perfumesilove.com blog and Turin’s astonishment over Miyako by indie brand Auphorie is proof enough of a healthy appreciation.

 

But in the 2018 Guide, the authors made it clear that indies, artisanal brands, mainstream, and masstige brands would be all examined under the same microscope. In Turin’s opening essay, he marked out his thinking on this issue as follows: “In this guide we have tried to treat the largest and smallest firms roughly equally, because both pretentious mediocrity and talent seem to be about equally distributed throughout the fragrance world.” In other words, the gloves were off.

 

Reviewing indies is tricky, though. Given that they’re usually one-man shows with no PR professionals to act as buffer between creator and critic, indies have had to figure out how to handle a poor review all on their own. It’s a huge learning curve, and let’s just say that some people were not born to be front-of-house. Terse DMs, FB blockings, and public putdowns can and do occur in the heat of the moment. When the review is about a product into which they’ve poured their heart and soul (and possibly life savings), things can get a little tetchy. I get it.

 

Temptalia, the most famous (and honest) beauty blogger in the business, wrote an excellent post recently about truthfulness in reviews. She noted that, over her 12 years of blogging, that she never received pushback from the major brands like MAC or Bobbi Brown for a negative review. Instead, the majority of her negative experiences have been with “smaller, indie brands”. While my own experience with indies has been mostly positive, I agree with Temptalia: pushback is a feature of the indie reviewing scene.

 

Another issue in reviewing indies is the culture of relentless positivity that has sprung up around the sector, thanks to the great melting pot that is social media. There’s a belief amongst social media users that in order to be helpful, a review should be as positive as possible. Temptalia notes that this type of attitude “exists within some who merely consume review content; that an influencer should be happy and thankful they received a product rather than speak critically (or “negatively”) about it”. Part of the problem is mistrust in reviews; the other part is the (rational) fear is that the reviewer won’t be sent any more samples and the reader will be left without access to the information they need to make a purchase decision.

 

That leads to a vicious cycle of: critical review = no more samples from that brand, or positive review = helpful to brands, thus more product, but less honest reviews provided to users, leading to less general trust in reviews. At some point, you have to make a choice. None of us write in a perfect vacuum, unconcerned for the feelings or livelihoods of others. As a poor man’s compromise, many reviewers find themselves drifting into the practice of only giving glowing reviews to indies and small brands, reserving their sharper criticism for the big brands sitting in Paris or New York that care only about whether the arrow on their quarterly reports is pointing up or down.

 

Authors Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez are comparatively free to say whatever they want to say. Because they are the recognized experts in this field, and also because they’ve successfully insulated themselves from social media, there’s a sort of purity to their critical voice that’s easy to recognize. When knowledge, erudition, and wit join hands with the kind of “zero fucks given” honesty that’s rare on the perfume reviewing scene, what you get is a win-win for the end user, i.e., the ordinary man or woman who just wants to buy some really good perfume and not waste time or money on duds.

 

 

The Perfumesilove Problem

 

If Perfumes: The Guide (2018) was written purely with this end user, i.e., you, in mind, it’s only fair to point out that Turin’s Perfumeilove.com blogging experiment was not, and that came first. That’s important, because much of the harsh reaction to the Guide (2018) can explained away by the suddenness of this switch.

 

Perfumesilove.com was founded to give much-needed encouragement to indie perfumers who were doing amazing work but weren’t getting recognition. The blog’s manifesto was clear: hey, send me your stuff and if I love it, I’ll write about it. If I don’t love it, the worst you can expect is silence.

 

Perfumesilove was therefore a zero risk proposition for indies and fantastic for anyone who missed Turin’s prose in general (like me). But that’s not to say that there weren’t problems with the model. First, the basic premise of only ever saying nice things was quickly put to the test by the author’s own personality. For people such as Luca Turin, A.A. Gill and Jay Raynor, being forced to say only nice things about a subject they know more about than 99.99% of the general population is like setting a starving lion down in the midst of juicy gazelles. (I like to imagine Turin had a Post It stuck to the top of his computer that read ‘No biting, Luca!)

 

I don’t think that grading indies on a curve is wrong. On the contrary, indie perfume brands deserve and need the light Turin shone onto them. But when a critic grades on a curve, the reader is left unsure of whether the criticism holds up outside of the echo chamber. Were the perfumes Turin rated very highly on Perfumesilove.com that brilliant or did they only appear to be so because they were being judged against a lower baseline? Like, if I’m fed a diet exclusively made of Smarties for 5 months, I know eventually I’m going to declare the orange ones haute cuisine. This is a problem with the nature of blogs in general, which let you drop a series of reviews into the white noise with little context to link them all together. But still, there’s no escaping the fact that the narrowness of the premise (‘say only nice things about indies’) plots everything on a very, very tight bell curve. Thankfully, it appears that Turin himself corrected for the curve by re-evaluating, and in some cases downgrading his assessment of a perfume from the blog to the book.

 

The most immediate problem with Perfumesilove.com, however, revealed itself when Perfumes: The Guide (2018) was published. Many indies, perhaps unaware they were being graded on a curve on the blog in the first place, didn’t know what had hit them when the curve grading screeched to a halt with the Guide. Although Turin had declared (publicly) that ‘the gloves are off’ and there was to be ‘no more Mr. Nice Guy’, it appears that some brands missed the memo. Hence the nasty little riptide of aftershocks that ran across the surface of the scene when Perfumes: The Guide (2018) dropped.

 

 

An Equal and Opposite Reaction

 

Reaction to Perfumes: The Guide (2018) has been intense. Let’s take a look at how each portion of the fragrance community reacted.

 

First – and this is the easy one – bloggers and fellow fragrance critics love it. Kafkaesque, the most influential fragrance blogger operating today live-tweeted their delight at several passages in the Guide and followed up with an extensive review on the blog itself (here). Victoria Frolova of Bois de Jasmin wrote an equally positive review in her column for the Financial Times, How to Spend It (here). No real surprise there; people who write for the love of fragrance and have no financial stake in it freely celebrate the contribution of fellow enthusiasts. Even more so when the writers in question are also considered the parents of modern fragrance criticism itself. Members of Basenotes were also hugely supportive of the authors, and the Guide (see mega threads here and here).

 

The big brands like Chanel, YSL, Thierry Mugler, Dior, and Estee Lauder reacted to the book not at all. They were all too busy printing their own money.

 

Indie brands and small artisanal niche companies were the ones with most skin in the game, so most of the reaction came from this quarter. While most small brands reacted with grace and humor to negative reviews, some had an arterial bleed that could be seen from space. Perfumers that normally pump Instagram full of pictures of jasmine distillations spewed petty little put-downs about Turin. One indie filled his personal Facebook page with language so vicious I’m surprised Facebook’s normally sensitive hate speech alarms weren’t triggered. The owners of Fragrantica even engaged in a nasty little Fracas (sorry) with Turin over a review of a fragrance art-directed by one of their staff writers, with little thought given to how it might look to the site’s own users.

 

It wasn’t pretty, y’all.

 

 

The Power and the Glory

 

Reaction by some indie brands to the Guide (2018) is partly whiplash from being whisked from the love-in on Perfumesilove.com to cold, hard inspection in the Guide (2018), but it’s also partly worry over how a negative review impacts the sales revenue of the brand. Turin and Sanchez are hugely important figures in the fragrance world, not only because their opinion is respected but because their reviews have been shown to drive sales. This book has power. So, of course it matters.

 

For indie perfumers, the health of their bank accounts at the end of the month is the realest feedback on their work. If people like the perfume, they’ll buy the perfume, but if they don’t, they won’t. I respect any small brand that suits up every day knowing that. But reviews also have impact. If reviews are signposts, directing traffic to (or away from) a brand, then a review from Luca Turin or Tania Sanchez is a signpost hammered out in ten-foot-tall neon pink letters. Turin’s reviews cast way past the tiny inner circle of die-hard perfume fans to snag on the jacket of the most outlying of perfume outliers, the ones who wander into Sephora once a year for deodorant and emerge twenty minutes later dazedly clutching a bottle of Sauvage.

 

So. A glowing 4- or 5-star review in the Guide is almost guaranteed to be rocket fuel for a brand. Liz Moores, the owner and perfumer of Papillon, told me that her perfume Dryad (2017) was a slow burn for the brand until Luca Turin awarded it 4 stars in Perfumes: The Guide (2018). In the first 3-4 weeks after the book’s publication, Papillon sold more Dryad than it ever had before, and in fact, the perfume is now completely sold out.

 

If a 5 or 4 star review can result in huge sales for a brand, can a 1 star review or one of Turin’s famously barbed one-liners sink a perfume? While I feel very sorry for the perfumers and small brands whose work got the D- and not the A+ they were hoping for (and sorrier yet for people like Sven Pritzkoleit, Hiram Green, and Sarah McCartney whose perfumes received high marks on the blog and were excluded from the book), I wonder if a disappointing review in the Guide (2018) really means poor sales for that particular perfume. I’d like to believe that old adage of ‘all publicity is good publicity’ still pulls some weight.

 

It’s natural to feel hurt after an evaluation goes wrong. But that’s the price of admission. Liz Moores summed it up neatly as “If you’re going to stick your head in the lion’s mouth, you might get bitten”. In the business world, people pay big sums of money to consultants to come in, look at your business, and tell you which product lines to cut, which to improve, where you’re going wrong, etc. It’s really not that different here, even if there’s a lot of quibble room in a review of a product like perfume that’s, say, 10% objectivity and 90% subjectivity.

 

My advice to brands is to let the purely subjective stuff roll over you and focus on the objective parts. If you can use the authors’ feedback to actively weed out the fluff, the ill-made, the ideas that didn’t quite work, or just tighten up technical performance, then you’d be doing the indie sector (and buyers) a service. Alternatively, if Turin chides you for churning out 25 mediocre releases a year instead of one good one and making 25 perfumes a year is what makes you happy, then own it. We all have our own style, and just because it’s not to the taste of one critic doesn’t suddenly negate everything you do.

 

Just please don’t complain about it on social media. Brand image is long-term and so is brand damage. Those 3 people rushing to agree with you publicly are not helping your brand, while the 20-30 people silently observing might be thinking they don’t want to enable your bullshit by buying your product. Look at Brandon Truaxe and the whole The Ordinary debacle.

 

 

Conclusion

 

The new Guide is fantastic – erudite, witty, entertaining, with the essays upfront worth reading and reading again. The real point of the Guide, both the original and the 2018 version, and the answer to the question ‘Why should I read this book?’ is (a) the incredible writing, and (b) the unique ability of the authors to contextualize perfume. Every time Turin or Sanchez says something like, “Perfume X is a twist on Perfume Y, with a nod to the aldehydic lift of Perfume Z”, you get a sense of where the perfume fits in the grand scheme of things. And there’s really no substitute for that.

 

 

[1] In industry classification terms, perfume belongs to the cosmetics market, which comprises the following segments: skincare, haircare, make-up, perfume, and hygiene.

 

 

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