Luca Turin & Tania Sanchez

The A–Z Guide



Google Books has scanned the
2007 hardcover edition.

Or click the following links to read the first pages
of these introductory essays:

Masculine Elegance 1st page LT.pdf (37 KB)

Feminine Fragrance 1st page TS.pdf (37 KB)

Chemistry and Art 1st page LT.pdf (37 KB)

FAQ 1st page LT TS.pdf (45 KB)


Timbuktu (L’Artisan Parfumeur) ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ woody smoky $ $

When I first encountered Timbuktu during a visit to an Artisan Parfumeur shop, I made the mistake of smelling it after revisiting some of my favorites from the firm’s distant and more recent past, like Dzing! and Vanilia. By the time I got to Timbuktu, my nose was tired, and I found it nondescript, almost odorless. Nevertheless, I took some home for further inspection. How wrong I was! Timbuktu is probably the first true masterpiece of what, by analogy with nouvelle cuisine, I would call nouvelle parfumerie. This school, whose chief exponents are Jean-Claude Elléna and Bertrand Duchaufour, is characterized by complete transparency, an unusually high proportion of high-quality naturals and what might best be described as the absence of a brass section in the orchestra. This strings-and-winds orchestration gives perfumes that never shout. Timbuktu has a tremendously melodious and affecting start of vetiver, sandalwood, and incense that seems quiet until you realize that, like modern sound systems that can pipe music into every room, one spritz fills a house with an odd, distinctly perceptible, but almost infrared shimmer of woody freshness. No perfume has ever privileged radiance over impact quite to this extent. The central accord in Timbuktu achieves what I thought impossible: a durable dry-woody note without the electric drydown screech of modern synthetics. Bertrand Duchaufour explained to me that part of this effect is due to the use of a rare essential oil from India called cypriol. Having obtained samples from Robertet, I can testify that cypriol, extracted from the sedge Cyperus scariosus, is quite something: a smoky note without a trace of oiliness or tar, the smell of crisply burned dry wood on a bonfire. But Duchaufour was being modest: no single raw material ever “made” a fragrance, and he should take full credit for a masterly composition. Timbuktu is the only modern fragrance that replicates, albeit by a completely different route, the bracing, euphoric freshness first bottled in 1888 by Paul Parquet as the defunct but immortal Fougère Royale. LT

Knowing (Estée Lauder)★ ★ ★ ★ ★ mossy rose $

Of all the big fruity roses from the seventies and eighties, Knowing is perhaps the most polished and most wearable. At the time, synthetic fruity rose materials like damascones and damascenones had changed the landscape of rose perfumes, making them bigger, brighter, stronger, practically glow-in-the-dark. The great idea of the rose chypres, beginning with the now-discontinued Sinan, was to set these intense materials against a classic resinous mossy base—rubies against green velvet—to make these mutant roses seem more civilized and less like the rose that ate Tokyo. The results were striking but sometimes exhausting in their power. Knowing (1988) came late in the game and learned the lessons of its ancestors: it piles on the mossy, woody stuff and lets the pink simply peek out. Worn in small doses, it’s just right. TS

No. 22 (Chanel) ★ ★ ★ ★sweet aldehydic $ $ $

No. 22 is above all an exercise in heavy lifting. Aldehydes are said to give “lift” to a fragrance, meaning they offset the sweetness and heaviness of whatever else is in there. Like its Antonov namesake, Chanel’s 22 goes for the maximum-payload record as follows: (1) Determine the largest dose of aldehydes a human can stand without fainting. (2) Load it up with as much sweetness as the aldehydes can bear. (3) Round it off with a note of iris to make it look easy. (4) Stand back and watch the whole thing lumber off into the sky after a three-mile takeoff roll. LT

J’Adore (Dior) ★ ★ ★ peachy rose $

When J’Adore was first released in 1999, it felt like a departure for Calice Becker, whose Tommy Girl was a fresh apple-tea floral that made every day feel like a morning after a rain. In contrast, J’Adore passed the snow glare of Becker’s usual floral style through an amber filter, via a beautifully dark candied-plum note. The fragrance went from golden sunset to purple dusk by coming surprisingly close in the drydown to the dark, incense-like rose of Parfum Sacré. I use the past tense because things have changed, perhaps because LVMH no longer simply buys the finished perfume oil from Givaudan but now makes part of it in house, under the management of François Demachy, formerly of Chanel. Today’s J’Adore is a perfectly nice peachy, soapy rose floral with none of its former late-afternoon glow. It smells like one of its own knockoffs. J’aime bien, mais j’adore pas. TS

Magie (Lancôme) ★ ★ ★ aldehydic chypre $ $

I do not have access to old samples of Magie, but Lancôme’s revived “Collection” version smells plausible, i.e., a plush, elegant, and some- what dry aldehydic chypre in the classic French manner. It brings to mind a pouting model, hands on hips in opera gloves, wearing a hat, a spencer jacket, and a pencil skirt, with her feet at right angles to each other as if she were going up a ski slope. LT

Happy (Clinique) ★ ★ ★ milky floral $

The peculiar thing about Happy is how unhappy it appears: on the box, the lowercase type with the full stop brings to mind Droopy Dog with his tented, saggy face intoning, “I’m happy.” The press agent at first seemed reluctant to send a sample, asking me anxiously when I requested it, “But what do you do if you dislike a fragrance?” At that point, I fully expected it to be terrible, but it isn’t. Happy is a lovely, mild floral with soothing, milky tones of papaya against the hale, clean musks from Pleasures: nothing brash, nothing too manic, but I suppose people wouldn’t buy it if it were called Sedate. TS

Midnight Rain (La Prairie) ★ ★ fruity amber $ $

Another Angel without the jokes, this is a cloying grapefruit oriental in memorably tacky packaging best described as evil disco. TS

Vera Wang for Men (Vera Wang) ★ soapy nightmare $

Smells like something that might be called Mountain Glen, which you’d plug into a wall socket. LT

Flowerbomb (Viktor & Rolf) ★ sugary floral $$$

Post-Angel sweet-tooth fantasia that smells like a shop where you buy gummies by the pound. Someone will object, “But it’s rosy!” True. TS