Book Review by Sapphire Ng
Copyright April 2008
Perfumes is a primarily valuable and practical book for the budding perfumista looking to venture into the richly sensorial world of perfumery. Predominantly informational, the book could be a great starting point for aspiring fragrance writers and even perfumers. The abundance of fragrance reviews that make up the majority of the book qualify as a decently rich source of reference of the myriad possibilities and formulations of scent varieties currently available in the market.
The chiefly entertaining editorial writing style adopted in a substantial portion of reviews distinctly enlivens the subject matter; aspiring fragrance writers might even be inspired to emulate the linguistic rendering and descriptions of the perfumes.
Distinctly engaging use of metaphors, analogies, or even personification techniques are examples of which strongly invigorate the reviews. Undoubtedly making for a rather pleasurable reading experience, the reader would come across such delightful analogies such as Choward's Violet Mints noted as “the closest one can ever get to edible Art Nouveau.”
In a fascinating use of personification, Climat by Lancome—created in 1967—was described as being “born old, a laggard latecomer to the Ma Griffe tweedy-floral category.” On the other hand, there are instances whereby the fragrance Eau de Cartier, for example, was creatively noted as exuding “the feel of full-range electrostatic speakers,” or CK One being intriguingly noted as “not so much a perfume as a chemical time machine.”
The reader would appreciate the instances where lucid and authoritative commentary propels the substance of the fragrance reviews. A*Maze by People of the Labyrinths for example, was beautifully described as delivering “an excellent, bright, powerful, liqueur-like spiced rose in its top note,” with “the clove aspects of rose dominat[ing] and the woody amber get[ting] ever louder” with the passage of time, whilst L'Ame Soeur by Divine was lyrically outlined as “this combination of dry, talcum-powder wood and a slightly metallic, sweaty cast” the author found “classical in feel and pleasingly aloof.”
Though minuscule in comparison to the bulk of fragrance reviews, the selection of fundamental information on perfumery included in the book is no doubt educational. The reader would read about the distinguishing feature of orientals—“sweet, amber, vanillic accords enlivened with woody, animalic, or floral notes.” One could learn about the differentiation between natural raw materials versus aromachemicals, or synthetic ingredients; the former expounded in greater detail in terms of for example, extraction techniques of solvent extraction or steam distillation, and the latter exemplified in the case of the discovery of “a synthetic route” to coumarin.
There was also rather interesting coverage of for example, the fougere genre and the chypre genre—the “sonata form of fragrance” with the basic accord of “bergamot-labdanum-oakmoss;” distinctions established between feminine versus masculine perfumery along with intriguing examples furnished; allusions to, or mentions of, notable figures in the perfumery world—for example, the perfume taxonomist Michael Edwards, or perfume impresarios like Vera Strubi and Chantal Roos—that may inspire the reader to conduct independent research beyond the book; most significant would be the insertion of captivating details, historical or otherwise, on certain perfume designers, perfume brands or companies. The review of 28 La Pausa by Chanel for example, was fronted by a fascinating piece of information—“iris root is the dominant theme of Chanel's boutique fragrances.”
A strong distinguishing feature of the book is the incorporation of a concise two-word summary encapsulating each reviewed fragrance's “smell character”—such as “fruity patchouli,” “spicy vetiver,” “metallic citrus,” “aniseed musk,” “leather chypre,” “apricot suede,” “lemon verbena,” and certainly countless more. Reading the book would no doubt acquaint the reader with the great abundance of fragrance terminology and materials. Further examples of the latter consist of the likes of ambergris, aldehydes, sandalwood, civet, and isoquinolines.
Having acknowledged the merits of the book, it is imperative however to highlight the highly unfortunate morsels of distracting writing interspersed in an otherwise flawlessly enjoyable book.
There were multiple instances of displays of lack of professionalism on the part of the authors in formulating the reviews. In a rather incredulous instance, and perhaps a negative display of emotionalism, there was the incredibly annoying use of texting and chat abbreviations within the reviews itself, unimaginable in the context of a supposedly professional text, and more so in an educational source of information heavily dependent on credibility.
In the one-liner review of cK IN2U Her by Calvin Klein, the author went, “OMG PU. Insanely strong fruit meets insanely strong woody amber. KTHXBYE. TS,” immediately followed by the “review” of cK IN2U His by Calvin Klein which went, “IM IN UR BOTTLE BORIN UR GF. TS” which is blatantly incoherent. These not only betray an attitude of unwarranted irreverence and carelessness on the part of supposed experts, but also screams at the dismal editing process the book underwent.
In another instance of the review to L'Air de Rien by Miller Harris, the commentary actually began with, “The prodigiously airheaded Jane Birkin (terrible singer, lousy actress, thirty years in France and still sounding like she got off the Folkestone ferry yesterday) apparently never could find a fragrance to her taste...” The expression of sarcasm and insults are best reserved for a casual hangout or meal with friends. When inserted into this perfumery book however, it rather effectively turns the reader off.
In another separate occasion, irrelevant commentary absolutely contradictory to the quintessence of the book gave the impression of the author treating the book as a platform akin to social media sites where ranting is permissible. The review of Curious by Britney Spears began in such a manner, “Before I go on, let me get this off my chest: I loved Britney. I loved her uncomfortably inappropriate...her funny, slightly strangled-sounding...the photo of her slouchy barefoot walk...the shaved head...the umbrella attack on the paparazzi...”
The review of Aldehyde 44 by Le Labo again demonstrated an excruciating lack of focus. The immensely critical and sarcastic tone employed in addition to specific pieces of “information” forefronted and emphasized, only magnified the impression that the review was merely an extended platform for the author to express displeasure, criticize, and even to avenge the brand's initial refusal to send them samples.
The authors are clearly very opinionated and are unrestrainedly candid in their reviews, perhaps occasionally inserting too much of their emotions, personalities, and themselves into the book that may be endearing to some, but alienating to others. Certain comments are certainly boldly critical; a particular review began with “this egregious screwup...” whilst in another instance, fragrances for men are said to be “mostly identical crap.”
Understandably, the book is co-authored and the authors insist upon the very manifest attribution of articles, chapters, paragraphs, or even sentences to the respective authors. In certain instances however, the over-attribution distracts the reader from the actual content of the book, and thus affects the readability and overall enjoyability of the book. This is especially pronounced for short and especially one-liner reviews whereby nearly every complete sentence on the page would end with an initial.
Done on the extreme, the superfluous attribution in addition to the drastic difference in writing styles between the two authors paradoxically consistently reminds the reader that majority of the book is merely a slipshod assembling of disjointed pieces of writing, and therefore undermining any priorly conceived notion of overall cohesion in the book.
Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the author of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.