Wednesday, January 13, 2016

"I Don't Actually Wear Anything" - An Audience With Luca Turin At The Perfume Society [part 2]


No event involving Luca Turin would have been complete without a sniff of some perfume. So once both speaker and audience were warmed up, Jo Fairley of The Perfume Society began spraying blotters with a few, pre-selected scents. Needless to say, they all elicited strong reactions, as you'll discover below. First up was Heeley's Sel Marin...

LT: Heeley is a good firm. He does rather stylish things. It is, in a sense, what Penhaligon's should be, in my estimation. But Penhaligon's went hideously chemical some time back. I don't think this is a superlatively great fragrance, but it's nice to have a complicated, light fragrance with a marine note which is not calone-heavy. It's not going to move mountains, but it's a good smell. The salty thing is hard to get right. Salt has not much smell, so how you get a salty effect is kind of mysterious.

[Next was Knize Ten.]

LT: Knize is a boring gentlemen's outfitters in Vienna that sells very tweedy stuff. In the 1920s they did this thing, which was composed by the dream team of François Coty, Vincent Roubert and Ernest Beaux. You can't get better than that. And in my opinion, it still is, in many ways, the reference leather. It's the great-grandfather of all the leathers. And what I like about it is that it's transparent. I like leathers, so I would wear this, although I don't actually wear anything.

Why don't you wear anything?

LT: Okay, what I'm going to say will upset some people, but I think guys should smell of 'clean', and only close up. I think it's okay to have a sillage if you happen to be an oriental satrap, but if you're just a normal dude, keep it quiet. This is not an absolute rule, but I feel uncomfortable when I know that other people can smell me before I get there or after I've left. A perfume should be like an aura. It should follow you very, very closely.

[Next perfume: L'Air Du Desert Marocain from Tauer.]

LT: Leather fragrances are, in essence, a search for bitterness, which is a vastly under-appreciated taste. Almost every liqueur that was bitter 50 years ago is now cloyingly sweet. They've added sugar to everything. This perfume is a modern interpretation of the leather theme. It has lots of other things, but in my mind, it still has the same general direction as Knize Ten. More ambery. More complicated. It really is an amazing composition. It goes on forever. And it's done by a guy who never went to perfume school. There's hope for all of us. Andy Tauer is a case of somebody who would not have been able to run a viable business 20 years ago. And he richly deserves to run a viable business. I think this is a classic on a par with Shalimar.

[Next perfume: Oud Velvet Mood from Maison Francis Kurkdjian.]

LT: This is good stuff. I don't think it's a great fragrance, but what I like about it is that it exemplifies the fact that you can use oud like patchouli. Oud does the same job as patchouli, in a more complicated way. And also, in my opinion, oud has replaced cigarettes. Remember the days when people smoked? It was wonderful. So many fragrances smell better, in my opinion, against a background of fag ends and smoke. In a way, oud is concentrated ash tray absolute. Triple-distilled fag end.

[Next up: Portrait Of A Lady from Frederic Malle.]

LT: Dominique Ropion is a genius, in the manner of Ernest Daltroff, the guy who founded Caron. In other words, he is a genius at achieving a peculiar effect in perfumery, which is the cancellation of equally huge and opposite things. Instead of building a perfume with small things, he builds it with gigantic materials, that somehow don't feel gigantic when he assembles them. Okay, he committed Amarige. Nobody's perfect. But even Amarige is interesting. His fragrances have a power, a clarity, a structure which is always monumental. Portrait is what he did when given high formula cost and free rein, I assume, by Frederic Malle. It's a very classical fragrance. It has a lot of musk. It's an expensive, animalic musk; muscone, I believe. And musks, by the way, have become exceedingly shrill. All the way to detail, this thing works. Ropion is a supreme technical perfumer. Every transition of his perfumes makes sense. When you smell this on skin, there's never a point when you think, 'Uh oh, this is going wrong.'

What do you think of Malle's contribution to perfumery?

LT: To be perfectly honest, I'm not impressed. I think with his clout, with the star crew that he assembled, he could have done better. He didn't get a single 5-star in our guide, because they're all good, unquestionably, but they're not art directed with the degree of adventurousness and fanaticism that you need. He could've done better. There's no masterpiece. They are good fragrances, but in my opinion, there isn't a single Frederic Malle that's a keeper. I'm a little disappointed. But that's just my point of view. Acknowledging the perfumers is unquestionably a big deal, and he was one of the first to do it. And he had a great designer design his stores. He did a very thorough overall job. But there's nothing in the collection that blows my mind. Michel Roudnitska's Noir Epices is very good, and Fléchier's Une Rose is a very interesting idea, because he uses a material which scares the bejesus out of all perfumers called Karanal. It's a monster woody-amber. And Fléchier managed to put together a killer woody-amber together with a rose and make it plausible. It's an incredible technical achievement.

[Next: Salome from Papillon.]

LT: Salome in my opinion exemplifies both the good and the bad of artisan perfumery. There's a ton of civet. It smells kind of urinous. In a sense, it's everything that's missing in Light Blue, so to speak. It's a counterweight, artistically. It's: 'I'm so sick and tired of these squeaky clean, fruity florals, let's concentrate into a fragrance everything that's not in mainstream perfumery'. It's a little bit like Piero Manzoni's Merda D'Artista. But it's a useful corrective, and it's actually well composed. If you come back to it after a few hours, the civet has gone and what you have is a big, hefty, expensive, beautiful floral oriental, with good quality jasmine and a big-ass rose. I like this, but it's clearly an artistic reaction to a prevailing trend, rather than a completely autonomous creation. But it's nice to have something like this. [sniffs and chuckles] It really is quite disgusting! Honestly, on a first date, you'd think, 'Woah! Does she work at London Zoo? And if so, has she been hugging the giraffe?'

[Next up: Anubis from Papillon.]

LT: This is a tendency in fragrance which I would describe as medicinal, which I like very much. This contains a ton of guaiacol. It's phenolic. And it's also vanillic, because the bottom half of the vanilla molecule is guaiacol. I find these things like disinfectants for the soul. It makes me feel like breathing it in. It's not a million miles away from L'Air Du Desert Marocain. But because it's less floral, it's less complicated. Really good piece of work.

[Next: Futur from Robert Piguet.]

LT: When I lived in Nice in the 80s, there used to be a perfumery in Monaco run by a crazy old woman who, I suspect, must have been, at some point, an expensive prostitute. She was in her 80s. She was dolled up to the nines. She had the filthiest language. Her perfumery was really like an iceberg. The emerged part was all modern stuff, but if you knew the password, then underneath were these amazing galleries. Whenever a company went bust, she bought their whole stock. But you had to pass an unpleasant personality test with her. Behind her, on shelves inaccessible to the hand, were bottles like Chypre by Coty and legendary stuff like that. So you would say, 'Could I have that bottle?' And she would say, 'What bottle?' And you'd say, 'That bottle.' And she'd say, 'There's no bottle there.' I mean, she was really insane. The first time I went there, she said, 'Young man, I bet you don't even know what the top note of Caron's Bellodgia is.' And I said, 'Yes, it's carnation.' So she opened the drawer and said, 'I will not sell you Chypre. But I will sell you this.' And 'this' happened to be Futur. And when Aurelien Guichard started reconstituting Futur for the new owner of Piguet, they sent me 20 testers and asked me which one was closest to the real thing, because they didn't have it. And I chose what, to my nose, was the closest thing, and that's the current version of Futur. The original was made by Germaine Cellier, who was a tough cookie and a great perfumer. Futur is, in a way, similar to Vent Vertwhich she also made - because it has a monster note of galbanum, like cut grass on steroids. Then underneath is a beautiful, but still bitter, floral structure. It has cheekbones. It's a fabulous fragrance.

[Next perfume: Ubar from Amouage.]

LT: Ubar feels like a spaceship that's landing on you. Christopher Chong is one of the great art directors of perfumery. He knows what he wants, which is very rare. And he can get it. In my opinion, what's interesting about his approach to fragrance is that he's exploring a different area: very, very complex orientals, with notes that are unfamiliar. This has a sweetness which is weird. It's unidentifiable. I like very much the fact that you don't know which fruit you're eating. It's really remarkable. As far as I understand it, he has fastened onto two old perfumers at Robertet, and he bosses them around. He's a real art director. I don't think Frederic Malle does that. Every author needs an editor. And I think Chong is a fantastic editor. These fragrances are humongous, weird, mysterious, of endless complexity and richness. They're not shy, but they're not meant to be. I think this is actually one of the great fragrances of the last twenty years. It's like you're being let into a mansion and into rooms that haven't been opened for years, and they have a smell which you don't understand. It really is a beautiful fragrance.

---


Turin's latest book, Folio Columns 2003-2014, a collection of articles he wrote for NZZ Folio, is available now from Amazon; click on its title for more info. And to check out the perfume reviews he writes for Style Arabiaplease click here.

Persolaise

45 comments:

  1. Again the difference between speaking and writing.... I come across as rather tepid about Heeley, whereas I really like his fragrances.

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    1. Tepid? Really? Anyway, enthusiasm duly noted.

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  2. Love it !!!
    Triple distilled fag end ... hehehehee
    I love Dr Turin's language and way with words. Brilliant again.
    I bought Oud Cashmere Mood by MFK and I love his original Oud now.
    Karanal is down right urinous on me after some hours though I love and own Une Rose . Is it true that Une Rose is reformulated now with less karanal ?
    Thank you once again for an amazing article, Persolaise and Dr Turin .

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    1. Mimi, thanks for your kind comments. To me, Une Rose smells the same as it did when I first encountered it, but I never had a chance to experience the very first version, so who knows? There's a chance it's been changed. Where did you read about the reformulation?

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    2. The problem with Karanal is that a small fraction of the population smells it as urinous, the rest as woody amber. Very unusual, possibly unique. Could be fixed by replacing it with another of the (fairly) similar WAs around. Btw, I wonder what it smells like to Edouard Fléchier...

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    3. Good question. I find it quite... ummm... abrasive at 100% concentration. But when it's diluted it's much more interesting.

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    4. Mimi's source may have been a thread I started on Basenotes back in September in which she participated. Karanal was added to the European Chemicals' Substances of Very High Concern candidate list and Philip Kraft had predicted its imminent ban.
      I've no idea if Une Rose has been reformulated (odds are high), but if Karanal were to become verboten, Une Rose would obviously be affected.

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    5. L, thanks so much for clarifying. I have no idea when I might meet Frederic Malle again, but when/if I do, I'll raise the issue with him.

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  3. what a great article/interview! Thanks for taking the time to do this - always interesting to hear what Luca Turin has to say.

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    1. Anita, thank YOU for taking the time to leave a comment.

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  4. 'he committed Amarige' - wonderful comment

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  5. I'd really like to know what Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez think of Chandler Burr as a perfume critic. Not as a journalist who writes books about perfume (see The Perfect Scent), or as someone they are presumably friends with, but more in terms of his recent critical output (such as the Untitled Series, and the commentaries he provided on the scents, and also the book he wrote for Dior). I WISH someone had asked him about that.

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    1. Anon, that subject didn't come up, I'm afraid. Perhaps, if Luca is reading this, he might want to answer your question. What do YOU think of Burr as a critic?

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    2. I think his writing (as a critic) is dreadful. I think he's alright journalistically reporting upon the industry. I love LT and TS though.

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    3. Oh, do you? I confess, I enjoy reading his reviews, but I do struggle with his insistence on applying the 'art history' approach to perfume criticism. I'm not convinced the two go well together.

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    4. Ah well, we'll have to agree to disagree on that. I might start my own blog one day analysing perfumery criticism (as well as giving reviews), and if I do I'll be sure to send you a link if I write an article discussing Burr's awful prose. But where are my manners! Thank you for the two articles! They were great. :-)

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    5. Not at all, thanks for stopping by :-)

      As for starting your own blog: go for it!

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  6. Ok that he puts Tauer in the spotlights, but, come on...Shalimar on the same level as L'ADDM?? Thats a crap statement.

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    1. nice to see people passionate about perfume :-)

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    2. Oh, I have the best, most passionate readers! :-D

      Anon, there are lots and lots of people out there who worship L'Air. I can't say I'm one of them, but there are plenty of them about.

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  7. Ok that he gives Tauer a place in the spotlight, but claiming that LADDM is on the same level as Shalimar? Thats a very challenging thing to state...

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    1. Let's talk about it again in half a century. In some way Tauer is even better than Guerlain, because Shalimar was a (brilliant) knockoff of Coty's Emeraude, whereas Tauer was out on his own.

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    2. That's an interesting way of looking at it.

      For what it's worth, personally, I'd always reach for Shalimar before I reach for L'Air, but that's not to say Andy's isn't a wonderful piece of work. The Tauer scent I'd rescue from a fire is unquestionably Lonestar Memories.

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    3. I am certainly with Luca here even though there are perfumes Luca hates but I like/love. But in this case, LADDM is certainly above Shalimar. Shalimar is amazing but something about it seems like it has taken inspiration from others. And Guerlain had the luxury of creating it in old time when far fewer ideas had been explored (of course, you could argue modern perfumers have more ingredients to play with at their disposal). But when I first smelled LADDM, I remember thinking how does one really come up with a new idea now because literally every note out there has been over-experimented with!

      Fazal

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    4. Fazal, thanks for your comment. The issue you raise is precisely the one with which I struggle in relation to L'Air because I've always found it too similar to Ambre Sultan. Maybe the time has come for a rigorous, side-by-side test ;-)

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    5. Yeah do it and let me know. I also like Ambre Sultan and am trying to hoard the earlier Ambre Sultan ones (to be fair, I have never heard about reformulation but just to be extra careful :) ) I don't find these 2 similar but I must have missed something or maybe anosmic to some notes in Ambre Sultan and/or LADDM . On the other hand, I do find certain similarities between Ambre Sultan and Dior Mitzah

      Fazal

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    6. Fazal, okay, something to add to my 'to do' list :-)

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  8. Unfortunately I haven't read Mr. Turin's perfume Bible but after reading these interviews I think it is inevitable. I absolutely love his relaxed approach and stories. I also completely agree with him on Heeley, Knize Ten, Noir Epices from Roudnitska and the Amouage line! Thanks so much for publishing the interview. Will there be a 3rd part???

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    1. Neva, you haven't read The Guide?!?!??! Oh my goodness, you have SUCH a treat in store! Just one word of advice: don't read it hoping to find echoes of your own opinions. Read it in order to engage in a delightful intellectual debate with two authors passionate about their subject. Read it for the wit, the erudition, the respect for the art of perfumery. Read it now! :-)

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    2. Oops, sorry, I forgot to say: no part 3, I'm afraid.

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  9. Great to read this 2-part series,thanks Dariush!I agreed with Luca Turin to disagree(via Twitter...lol) about Bond No.9' The Scent of Peace.He left a wonderful comment there,and it was fun to interact with someone whose writings I really do enjoy.This was a fun read,but I wish you could do a reeeeeeally long interview with both him and Tania Sanchez!

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    1. Johanob, thanks very much. And yes indeed, agreeing is rarely the point. So you'd like a really long interview, eh? Well, I'd be happy to interview LT and TS any time, but I think their travels don't bring them to the UK too often.

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  10. I took much pleasure in the part about Malle because I have never fallen for one of Malle's fragrances. I mean, I think most of them are very well-done but I've never felt I absolutely needed a bottle of any of them.

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    1. Elisa, it's like you're reading my mind. That's exactly how I've felt about Malle. Well made, well composed, but at that price point a perfume had damn well better make me weak at the knees. None of them have.

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    2. Elisa, Mark, thanks so much for stopping by. You know, of all the comments made by Malle, I thought the ones about Malle would stir the strongest emotions amongst readers.

      I think the line between "very well-done" and "weak at the knees" is probably quite fine. I know a few people who don't consider the Malle range to contain a single bank-loan-worthy composition. But personally, I think many of them are gems and I never tire of wearing them. Portrait Of A Lady, Carnal Flower, Geranium Pour Monsieur, Noir Epices, Musc Ravageur, Dries Van Noten... just typing those names gets my pulse racing :-)

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    3. I think Luca Turin's thoughts on the Malle range are underdeveloped......

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    4. "underdeveloped" ! Very funny, reminds of things written in red on the margins of my schoolwork. By all means develop them, o wise but prudently anonymous one.

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    5. Oops, sorry, the line above should have have read "of all the comments made by Turin" of course.

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    6. Anon, I take it you're a fan of the brand.

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    7. Luca... I apologise on behalf of all teachers ;-)

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    8. Hahaha, Luca- your comment under my teacherly one reminds me of when I was seven and the teacher used to write comments under my work and I used to write ones back. Dariush and Luca, I do like a lot of perfumes across the brand, but the question of what that brand is (i.e. what approach to perfume the various perfumes represent) I don't think is entirely uniform, and I think that it is analysing those approaches, the changes in approach, and how successful or sometimes unsuccessful those individual approaches for creating individual perfume are that is the key for having a more developed understanding of the brand overall. I think the marketing of Malle is unusual in that it states an approach in the very title of the business, but since the business's inception (based on what I have read) that approach has varied, and that whole line between "editor" and "author" based on a publishing industry model has been transgressed, thrown out, restored and reinterpreted. To talk of Chanel as a brand without thinking in terms company narrative, the positioning within the brand of individual fragrances, or whether different approaches worked for different types of fragrance, would produce a sense of equivalency between Bleu de Chanel and BDI; the first thing I would do if seeking to communicate my thoughts on Chanel perfumes would be to chop the brand up into categories like classics, the money-earners, the Les Exclusifs that are great and the ones that are like meeting the seventh Mitford Sister. I don't think Malle's brand variation is as extreme as all that, but there is stuff going on, and for me makes clear why I can really like and love a few of the fragrances, find some less good (and I think those are actually the more adventurous fragrances in the range) and also find one vile. But on the note of adventurousness (and fanaticism), and Malle lacking the degree of a and f for any of his perfumes in The Guide (and I should point out that my points above extend to those perfumes not included in that tome) to receive five stars; are you really saying Malle is less adventurous than a group of Trappist monks, or that his perfumes are somehow more adventurous than the corduroy Geography teacher's suit (albeit one of the higher tailoring standards) that was pre-reformulation New York? Personally, I'm not begrudging their five star reviews, but at the same time I can't really reconcile those reviews with what you have said about Malle. Do you not think that maybe you excused those perfumes from the demands you are placing on Malle?

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    9. Anon, thanks for your long comment. Naturally, I can't say speak for Luca and Tania about their ratings in their Guide.

      As far as your general points about understanding a brand are concerned, I would say that, yes, on some level, it's important to consider the different intentions that go into creating various types of perfumes within a brand. I don't think that's the be-all-and-end-all of fragrance appreciation, but yes, it's certainly a factor. And yes, I can see that an attempt to view the Malle portfolio in terms of what 'role' some creations perform might lead to telling conclusions.

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  11. I enjoy reading these experiences of Mr. Turin's... I have such different ones! I can't even smell L'DDM, it's weird.
    I Adore Salome... nothing urinous at all for me there, though I pick up hot candle wax, hairy male arms, used bedsheets, and the flickers of carnation and the other florals going in and out... definitely no golden showers though.

    Ubar makes me nauseous, and Anubis is just so dead-mummy leathery for me, not medicinal at all. I

    am wondering if Mr. Turin's experiences of perfumes are much different than the average smeller, based on his more extensive smelling?!

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    1. Larkin, thanks for stopping by. Yes, I guess it's certainly possible that a greater exposure to a wide range of perfumes might mean that you 'read' them differently from most other people. I'm sure cultural factors have some bearing on this too. But I guess, ultimately, all you can do is base your views on your experiences, right? So... keep smelling those hairy arms!

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