Perfumes – the ultimate guide

When Perfumes: The Guide was first published in 2008, I’d never read anything like it.

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Probably because of the importance of perfume advertising, you don’t often get to read really strong criticism of multi-million-dollar-earning fragrances. However, this independent review of about 1500 fragrances, written by husband-and-wife team Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez, contains some of the most acerbic descriptions of perfumes I’ve ever seen. But its fearless honesty with regard to, let’s face it, some of the pretty awful fragrances on the market today, is not why this is a great book.

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It’s a great book because it brilliantly combines technical knowledge (Turin is a professional biophysicist and principal in a company that develops new-smelling molecules) with evocative, poetic and often laugh-out-loud-funny prose to provide incisive, vivid and honest criticism of all perfumes – from the ‘staggeringly bad’ to the ‘deeply divine’.

Indeed, it’s not just the bad reviews that are fun to read; the good ones are even better. With their promises of incredible olfactory experiences, they’ll have you reaching for your post-it notes so you can bookmark yet another ‘towering masterpiece’ or ‘purest emanation of luxury’ to add to your must-have list.

In essence, Perfumes… opens up a colourful, sonorous world where the book is your tour guide, and like any journey where there’s something new round every corner, it’s compelling. But while it’s helped me discover some fantastic new scents, one of the book’s most satisfying elements – assuming you trust its authority – is when you already know and love a perfume, only to find out that it’s been given five stars (the top rating) by the authors. It kind of validates your good taste. (NB: All the perfumes in the picture above have been awarded five stars.)

An updated version of Perfumes: The Guide (£12.99, Profile) is published today and with over 400 extra scent reviews, a pricing guide and some new top ten lists, it’s just like the gripping original, only better. If you want to open your mind to the intricacies of scent – and enjoy a brilliant, entertaining read along the way – I can’t recommend it enough.

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