Perfumes The Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez

Every year brings us a few thousand new perfumes. When I stand in front of a perfume counter, I’m reminded of something I learned in my university psychology course – too much choice leads to anxiety. Thankfully, there are people who work tirelessly to make sense of the fragrance market and save us from experiencing choice overload. One such individual is Michael Edwards, whose Fragrances of the World, aka The Fragrance Bible, has been cataloguing and classifying perfumes since 1983. Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez are the other brave souls. Their Perfumes: The Guide 2018 includes more than 1,200 reviews of fragrances, along with tips on navigating that overwhelming perfume counter.

I’ve reviewed Perfumes: The Guide 2018 for my FT Magazine column (please click here to read it), but after I finished the piece, I had more to share from my interview with Tania Sanchez. Such as what were the authors’ favorite fragrances as they were working on the Guide, what perfumers do some of the best work today, what would Tania & Luca recommend to someone new to fragrance as well as some of their own favorite reviews.

Favorite Discoveries

“Luca’s were Parfums de Nicolaï New York Intense, Parfum d’Empire Le Cri de la Lumière, and Cloon Keen Atelier Castaña. Mine were Hermès Twilly, Lancôme Jasmins Marzipane, and Cartier XI L’Heure Perdue.”

Perfumers To Notice

“Christine Nagel is ON FIRE. Thomas Fontaine (he did Korrigan), Patrice Revillard (Iris de Fath), Eugene and Amrys Au (the guys behind Auphorie), John Pegg (Kerosene), Marc-Antoine Corticchiato (Parfum d’Empire), Marie Salamagne, Mathilde Laurent, Delphine Thierry, Antonio Verdoni, and Tanja Bochnig (of April Aromatics).”

Advice to Niche Fragrance Newbies

“I would advise them to try a lot of things while hanging on tightly to their pocketbooks, and to remember that price is not correlated with quality. In terms of specific perfumes, for classical richness they can go try Tauer, Parfum d’Empire, Lubin, Bogue; for the unusual, they can try Kerosene, The Zoo, Lush/Gorilla.”

Or you could pick up the Perfume Guide and let it light the way.

Favorite Reviews

Rose Royale (Nicolaï) ★ ★ ★ ★ soapy rose Tomes of perfumery prattle are churned out annually on the subject of the Her Royal Majesty the Rose, Queen of Flowers, and all associated romance and grandeur. Yet when you smell rose soliflores, they do tend to let you down: flat or thin, a whisper of phenylethyl alcohol or a mere goofy fruity fantasy. Patricia de Nicolaï’s take is a perfect soapy-aldehydic white-floral froth with facets of lemon and raspberry. If you are the sort of gold-rimmed-teacup gripping, pinky-finger sticker-outer who will insist against all advice upon a rose soliflore uninterfered with by complicating ideas, here is a beautifully silly one for you. (Note: it might make an irresistible masculine on, say, Drax the Destroyer.) TS

Castaña (Cloon Keen Atelier) ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ floral chestnut
The French gave us many things of greatness at the turn of the twentieth century, among which, in no particular order: the most optimistic road sign ever, “Toutes Directions”; the gunpowder-powered ornithopter; and Crème de Marrons, the genius invention of Clément Faugier who in 1885 found a way to turn discarded pieces of marrons glacés into a vanilla flavored paste. It is to appetite what those gravel beds that stop runaway eighteen-wheelers are to kinetic energy. The first spoonful (or squirt, since they brazenly make it available in a toothpaste-like tube) is heavenly, the second enjoyable. Nobody has done a third one and lived. Castaña means chestnut in Spanish, and perfumer Delphine Thierry (see also Akkad and Galaad for Lubin) was clearly channeling Faugier when doing this. How she did it, however, is very clever and amazingly sugar-free. It turns out in retrospect that candied chestnuts have a woody-leathery angle, and conversely that it is possible to elicit from crème de marrons a silken, lanky Art Déco wraith of a fragrance, not so different from Vincent Roubert’s Knize Ten (1925) but without the contrast between leather and jam, replaced by a smooth, perfectly balanced bittersweet monochrome of floral notes, woods, smoke, and benzoin. Superb from top note to drydown, and still great a day later. LT

For more information about Perfumes: The Guide 2018, please see perfumestheguide.com and amazon.com.

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68 Comments

  • Annie: I love their reviews! I’m planning to buy a copy for my dear friend who just started getting into perfume. 🙂 December 10, 2018 at 10:14am Reply

    • Victoria: That would be a nice gift. December 11, 2018 at 4:49am Reply

  • Dorothy Van Daele: Loved this column. Thank you for revisiting Turin and Sanchez and their fascinating book. I ordered a sample of Cartier’s 11th hour, confirmed its loveliness and was interested to see that shortly after publication, sampling houses stocked all the other Cartier fragrances but were cleaned out of this one. Also love Alaia: 5/4 stars in the book and reasonably priced too!
    In Canada, a small market, it’s often very difficult to find a store or obtain samples made by niche companies, April Aromatics, Cloon Keen Atelier, Aphhorie, for example. December 10, 2018 at 10:15am Reply

    • Victoria: I also appreciate their attention to smaller brands. I also hope as they will keep updating the guide, they will cover more. As always, it’s great to see reviews of fragrances from different corners of the market–and the world. Cloon Keen Atelier, for instance, was a discovery for me. December 11, 2018 at 4:51am Reply

  • Cyndi: I purchased this book about a month or so ago and, as always, I enjoyed reading their reviews. For me it was enlightening because I have very little experience with the niche lines. I want to try Cartier’s 11th hour and I also thought Gorilla/Lush Kerbside Violet sounded interesting. I tried Lancome’s Jasmine Marzipan, and while I loved it when I first sprayed it, unfortunately, it only lasted a very short time on my skin. December 10, 2018 at 1:56pm Reply

    • Victoria: I did like Jasmins Marzipane very much. It was one of my favorites from this year. December 11, 2018 at 4:52am Reply

  • Joy Erickson: Thank you for this review of books on perfume. Your description on the multitudes of fragrances that come out each year is so true. Sephora is one of my only options where I live in winter. I Can spend an hour in a store and find nothing that is inspiring nor pleasing enough to purchase or even sample. My best bet is to read reviews and purchase samples from sampling companies, then order online.
    The photo is quite lovely. I wish my perfume storage could be so artfully arranged. December 10, 2018 at 2:00pm Reply

    • Victoria: I try to keep my table neat, otherwise things get out of hand! December 11, 2018 at 4:52am Reply

      • spe: Which Chanel is that, please Victoria? December 11, 2018 at 7:27pm Reply

  • Sandra: No thank you. I skimmed through the first edition and it was meh to me.
    I will pass
    I would rather spend my time reading something else..my book list is long and I am running out of shelves! December 10, 2018 at 2:08pm Reply

    • Victoria: Whatever works for you! December 11, 2018 at 4:53am Reply

    • spe: Agree. And I’m just not a fan of most niche (Vero Kern excepted). December 13, 2018 at 12:57pm Reply

      • Sandra: I know I am the minority of not liking that book..glad I found a kindred spirit! December 13, 2018 at 1:12pm Reply

  • Filomena: I purchased the book recently but have barely gotten into it. I don’t always agree with them, but it’s fun to read their reviews. December 10, 2018 at 2:43pm Reply

    • Victoria: I also think that one need not agree with their ratings to enjoy the book. They’re such good writers, so just reading the description is enjoyable. December 11, 2018 at 4:54am Reply

      • Filomena: Victoria, I agree. December 11, 2018 at 7:21am Reply

  • zephyr: Thank you for your review of this book, Victoria! I downloaded it onto my Kindle a few weeks ago and am savoring every second of reading it. I have the first book that is now a decade old, and enjoyed it thoroughly then. I was wondering if they’d come out with another! The authors’ analysis and thoughts of the current fragrance industry are so interesting – and I think, spot-on – and their reviews of fragrances are often wildly entertaining! December 10, 2018 at 3:40pm Reply

    • Victoria: Their description of the market and notes on smelling and exploring were indeed on the mark. It’s refreshing to read something so honest and also so full of passion for fragrance. December 11, 2018 at 4:56am Reply

  • Old Herbaceous: What fun to read their additional comments! I have enjoyed the first and latest guides immensely; they make me laugh, sometimes out loud, and I’ve learned a lot from them too. I still like some scents that they have rated poorly, and can’t embrace others they rate at the top, but I always learn from their insights. Instead of saying, “I like it, it’s pretty”, I now have more vocabulary to say WHY I like (or dislike) a fragrance. December 10, 2018 at 4:36pm Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, you’ve put it really well. Knowing how to explain to yourself why you like or dislike something is very important. It really changes and improves your ability to approach perfumes, your enjoyment of them and your scent vocabulary. December 11, 2018 at 4:57am Reply

  • Debby: I really enjoyed the first one, and the new one was on my Christmas list so hopefully will be reading it soon!
    I was just disappointed that it’s a paperback; my original Guide is a rather lovely hardback (sorry, total book snob!). December 10, 2018 at 5:18pm Reply

    • Victoria: The costs of self-publishing a hardback are prohibitive. I’m thankful that the book exists in a paper form. December 11, 2018 at 5:00am Reply

    • Carla: My understanding is that the original hardback is, like they said, a general review of perfumes, to sit on any thorough bookshelf next to the wine guide and the jazz guide. It was published by one of the big houses. This paperback is a self-published review of recent mostly niche ones, for perfume hobbyists (nay, lovers!) who would like to know what they think of what has been created since then, and more editions will be coming. December 11, 2018 at 6:15am Reply

  • Neva: I’ve put it on my Christmas wish list and I hope Santa aka my daughter will bring it 😉
    I’m very excited and looking forward to The Guide 2018. December 10, 2018 at 5:24pm Reply

    • Victoria: I hope so too, Neva! 🙂 December 11, 2018 at 5:00am Reply

  • Carla: Falling on their original book in a bookshop in 2008 is what got me into perfume. I needed to experience perfume via words it seems. December 10, 2018 at 6:31pm Reply

    • Victoria: What a great story! December 11, 2018 at 5:01am Reply

  • Figuier: Great review, Victoria. Like Carla, finding the first guide in a bookshop circa 2008 was the start of my full-blown perfume obsession, & I did very much enjoy this guide too – though I thought some reviews were more carefully considered than others (occasionally it felt like the perfume had barely been tested & was merely a pretext for holding forth on random hobby horses – which I don’t mind in principle, but it in this guide it veered close to self-indulgence).

    Also, I’m so glad you liked Castana too! I fell in love with a sample & bought a bottle last March, since when I’ve worn it regularly. I have an aunt in Galway who’s been telling me for years that I should check out the shop there for the candles, and although I’ve yet to visit my experience with the brand so far is very positive. December 11, 2018 at 5:07am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m someone who has several cans of crème de marrons in my pantry, so Castana was a great discovery. It smells of candied chestnuts and yet avoids the heavy, cloying finish that many other chestnut-inspired perfumes have. December 11, 2018 at 5:10am Reply

      • Figuier: You’re absolutely right – it’s the lack of ‘cloy’ that makes it feel so elegant and modern. Have you tried Lune de Givre from the same brand? It’s a very ethereal angelica, but pretty. December 11, 2018 at 2:34pm Reply

        • Victoria: I haven’t, but it’s on my list. Your description sounds enticing. December 12, 2018 at 8:25am Reply

      • OnWingsofSaffron: One question: I love Caron‘s Nuit de Noël, and am lucky enough to have a few vintage bottles waiting for me 😚
        Nuit de Noël—especially in the EdC and EdT versions—is a sumptuous crème de marrons dream with everlasting longevity.
        Is Castaña sufficiently „different“ so as to pursue? I know it‘s difficult to give advice on such a vague question; therefore, let me add: Mont blanc always has been a definitive favourite as a dessert! December 12, 2018 at 1:50am Reply

        • Figuier: Hi OnWings, it’s a very long time since I smelled Nuit de Noel, so I probably would have to leave the comparison to Victoria. I would say though that Castana feels very modern to me, or at least – its floral classicism (cassie) to me brings it closer to the spareness of a Chanel than a Caron or Guerlain. Also, I know that the creme de marron has been the reference-point for both Luca Turin and Victoria and I can definitely see why, but although I love that stuff (the tubes are awesome!) I was never struck by the resemblance. The creator’s own story is about chestnuts cooked on a brazier, and for me there is almost zero sweetness or creaminess, just powdered roasted chestnut smell done in a ‘perfumey’ register. December 12, 2018 at 4:50am Reply

          • Figuier: There are some lovely aldehydes at the start as well, giving an effect a bit like the opening of Bois des Iles. December 12, 2018 at 4:52am Reply

          • OnWingsofSaffron: Dear Figuier, thanks very much for your description: I now know for sure that I‘d very much like to try Castaña! Good news, and bad as I seriously don‘t need any more perfumes! But I somehow know how it‘ll work out in the long run …! December 12, 2018 at 11:41am Reply

        • Victoria: Figuier’s description is spot on. To be precise, Castana is less creme de marrons than cooked chestnuts, but it has the decadence. Like you, I love Mont Blanc in all of its forms. December 12, 2018 at 8:27am Reply

          • OnWingsofSaffron: Thanks for the info. I always feel that Nuit de Noël has a slightly boozy, syrupy and rose watery quality too. That is certainly different to cooked chestnuts which, if not gilded, can be a wee bit mealy. But you mentioned decadence! December 12, 2018 at 11:46am Reply

            • Victoria: Castana is quite different from Nuit de Noel, but I think you’ll like trying it. I’d be curious to hear what you think. December 13, 2018 at 11:59am Reply

          • QWendy: Hi V, when next you are in Paris the Muscade Patisserie in the Palais Royale does an amazing Mont Blanc with Passionfruit! I can’t wait to have it again … what a good perfume idea! Happy New Year! Q January 4, 2019 at 12:22pm Reply

    • Silvermoon: Hello Figuier!
      Like you, the first guide became the trigger for my perfume hobby (obsession?). I already was very interested, owned some 6-7 perfumes, and had discovered Fredric Malle well before it. However, the book not only delighted me with its reviews (some laugh out loud, others stirring the desire to smell them asap), but also seemed utterly focused on the perfumes themselves. Like you, your words reviewing the second book are absolutely spot on. So much so, I simply want to write: ditto (for your first paragraph, first comment). The new book still has some great observations, but also often veers off or doesn’t stick to reviewing the perfume per se.

      I would like to add that LT’s review for Maai (Bogue) was 100% what I felt. First smell and pretty much immediately sold to me. I remember being introduced to it and buying it in a lovely perfume shop in Bologna – the Antica Profumaria al Sacro Cuore. December 15, 2018 at 6:14am Reply

  • Austenfan: I’m still dithering about whether I want to get this a a paperback or e-book. Even if I don’t always have the same preferences perfume wise, and that is only normal, I mostly really enjoy their reviews. I hope there will be gems in the style of the reviews of Sacrebleu, New York, Vanilia etc. December 11, 2018 at 6:36am Reply

    • Victoria: I think that having a book of this size in a paperback is always easier for browsing.

      Castana was my main discovery so far. December 11, 2018 at 9:24am Reply

      • Austenfan: Love the name of that one.
        I give full credit to The Guide for opening my eyes to a fair number of mainstream gems, that I had somehow never tried. Aromatics Elixir, White Linen, Beautiful, Calyx, the male Carons, and I’m sure a lot of others.

        And you are right about a paperback for browsing.

        Hope you are adjusting to grey Brussels after such a colourful trip! December 11, 2018 at 11:33am Reply

        • Victoria: It was rather chilly in Lahore in the evenings, but during the day it was mild, sunny and full of rose perfume. The tiny roses grown there are so fragrant. December 11, 2018 at 11:57am Reply

  • Kathleen: I’m excited to read this one – I’m deep into the first Guide and it has made me laugh out loud in public more than once. I’ve only smelled a few of the things in the first Guide, but it’s inspired me to go digging through my box of samples, which I haven’t in months and months. I look forward to seeing if they reviewed (and what they thought of) my favorites from years past – I have strong opinions but not much experience, I’ve been taking the less expensive classes at the Institute for Art and Olfaction in LA, which means I can even understand some of what they say! December 11, 2018 at 8:06pm Reply

    • Victoria: I also end up revisiting old favorites, which is something I appreciate and like to do more often. December 12, 2018 at 8:25am Reply

  • patuxxa: I just opened the Cloon Keen website and discovered the brand is sold at a perfume boutique in Lisbon! Castaña, here I go… my nose (and my wallet) tremble in anticipation… December 12, 2018 at 8:53am Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, please let us know what you think of the perfume! Also do try Lune de Givre, which is another perfume that received good reviews. December 12, 2018 at 10:34am Reply

  • Katy McReynolds: I got to meet Luca at a little perfume shop in Northern Virginia. He signed my book and did a delightful talk about how he reviews perfumes and what he is looking for. I picked up the first guide in the bargain section of a local bookstore and have been a perfume junkie ever since! December 12, 2018 at 8:04pm Reply

    • Victoria: Luca is a great speaker and very charismatic, so I can imagine how well his talk was received. December 13, 2018 at 1:35pm Reply

  • Jessica: Oh my, my heart is fluttering knowing they have released a new book. I’ve been waiting. December 13, 2018 at 12:29pm Reply

    • Victoria: I hope that you enjoy it! December 13, 2018 at 1:36pm Reply

  • B.: So excited, just ordered it. Ten years is a long time. I remember reading Turin’s French reviews 13 years ago, and hoping for more. It is nice to be a part of history and having sensual, sensuous mile posts to refer to.
    Nice to see you are still faithful to #19. It always reminds me of crossing the “iron curtain” in 1984 to buy Chanel 19 at the train station Friedrichstrasse in East Berlin. Times change but passions stay the same. December 14, 2018 at 10:08am Reply

    • Victoria: Enjoy it!

      Yes, No 19 is still a favorite. In all of its versions. And I enjoyed reading your story! December 14, 2018 at 5:01pm Reply

  • gunmetal24: I appreciate that Luca is doing new reviews on the perfumes guide website. Felt there were a lot of houses he/ Tania didn’t manage to cover in the 2018 book.

    Just finished reading his dismissal on Xerjoff. Just gotta love his brashness although i’m sure the owner must now regret sending samples to Luca 😀 December 16, 2018 at 1:13am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m sure Luca can get a hold of them by himself. 🙂
      I understand that they will be adding a yearly version of the Guide. December 16, 2018 at 4:46am Reply

  • Toni Kennington: I tried to email you but I didn’t get a response, so I hope this works.
    Last year I inquired about the promotion with Doctors Without Borders perfume donation and you mentioned to check this year. Since I haven’t read about it, did it not happen this year? Thanks. Toni December 17, 2018 at 2:56pm Reply

    • Victoria: I haven’t received your email, Toni. At any rate, this year I don’t have a chance to organize it. I hope to hold it next year. December 17, 2018 at 9:07pm Reply

  • Tara C: I love reading and re-reading the Guides, so much fun. My only frustration is being unable to locate a stockist of Cloon Keen in North America. I am desperate to smell Castaña! December 19, 2018 at 6:40pm Reply

  • nozknoz: Thanks so much for this, Victoria—I can never get enough perfume talk from Tania and Luca!

    One thing I especially appreciated about the new guide is the inclusion of small brands that I had either never heard of or not yet tried. My tastes don’t always match theirs, but I find that anything they recommend is well worth trying. With so many thousands of launches every year now, that’s invaluable prioritization. Another reason I come here, too! December 20, 2018 at 9:59pm Reply

  • Gordon: This is not a reissue of the original, but an entirely new book? The original looks to be out of print, which is a mystery to me? December 22, 2018 at 6:40am Reply

    • Silvermoon: Hello Gordon,
      Yes, it’s a completely new book. So, no repeats (and both are very good/useful and entertaining. However, do see Figuier and my comments above too. December 22, 2018 at 11:05am Reply

      • GORDON: excited to get this one–and I need to somehow replace my copy of the first one which is literally falling apart. I wonder if it will ever be reissued or it’s more of an ephemeral thing for them. bless you guys and happy holidays from montreal! December 22, 2018 at 11:17am Reply

        • Qwendy: Try bookfinder.com for used editions! January 4, 2019 at 12:24pm Reply

  • Lydia: I’m late commenting here, but just wanted to say something (even late) because I’m such a fan of these books.

    I have 3 editions of the guide – a hardcover of the first one, which is filled with notes in the margins and the front and end pages (and pretty much any empty space between sections). That one taught me to pay attention. The second edition, in paperback, was so well-used that it’s now in four pieces (and I’m still referring to it and writing in it).
    I ordered this latest edition as soon as it was on Amazon and I’ve ordered as many new samples as I could afford of their best reviewed scents.

    What I learned from the guides, and from blogs like yours, was to start paying more attention, identifying notes (that were actually in the perfumes, not the ones in the advertisements), and to trust my own reactions to perfumes. I was SO happy to have my disgust with most men’s “sport” scents confirmed as legitimate. (I got into a conversation with a nice couple on line recently, & after they realized how opinionated I was about scent, the husband asked me for a recommendation. I went completely blank – so much for all that reading – but did manage to tell them to avoid like the plague anything with the word “sport” in it. 😉 )

    What I love about the Turin-Sanchez guides:
    – The humor and intelligence.
    – The strong points of view (no industry sucking up blandness), and especially when they don’t agree with each other about a scent (it’s interesting to read those reviews).
    – The associations and metaphors and images they connect with different perfumes.
    – Again, the humor. I’ve never laughed so hard as with those reviews. They’re guaranteed to pull me out of almost any funk.

    I don’t agree with all of their opinions, especially in the latest guide (probably because I’m not as keen on modern niche perfumes), but that’s made me define my own opinions more. There are some scents I’ve really loved that they panned, and quite a few that they enjoyed that I disliked. I don’t share Turin’s love of the burnt/smoky note, and I don’t think the highest complement that can be given to a woman’s perfume is that it would make a good masculine. I do like to smell like a flower – soliflores don’t bore me at all (less and less so as too many current perfumes become cheaper and thinner and more unpleasant smelling). I’m not as in love with the unisex perfume genre as they are, although I share the belief that either gender can and should wear whatever they like.

    I’ll buy anything that either of them publishes (except for scientific texts from Turin that I’m unlikely to understand). I really enjoyed Turin’s Folio Columns 2003-2014 and I’d love to see a solo publication by Sanchez someday, too.

    I’m always tempted to buy The Guide for people I know who don’t even wear scent, but love good writing. (I wonder if anyone’s ever been converted from anti-scent to pro-scent using this guide.) I think we’re lucky to live in a time when there’s so much wonderful perfume writing. Now if only all those silly IFRA restrictions on perfume ingredients would be lifted. Bring back our oakmoss! February 10, 2019 at 3:17pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. You’ve pointed out something very important about these books–they’re about helping you learn to appreciate perfume, not to be the final word on the topic. And their writing, as you say, is a delight. February 11, 2019 at 5:27am Reply

  • Lydia: p.s. Compliment, not complement. Always typos when I’m rushing at the library computer. Sorry. February 10, 2019 at 3:21pm Reply

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