As I mentioned last weekend, I have two indispensable reference books that I keep re-reading, one on spirits and the other on fragrance. The latter is of course Perfumes: The A to Z Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez.
This book is, for fragrance aficionados, the reference book. What makes it rise above a mere book of reviews is its wit. The writing is both erudite and entertaining. There is (sadly) no other book like it for the world of fragrances. There should be. In the meantime, we’re lucky this one is so good. I’ll wager people who thought they didn’t care about perfumes and colognes would enjoy reading some of the reviews here.
After meeting Histoires de Parfums’ founder, Gerald Ghislain, at Henri Bendel on Thursday, I went home and looked up some of his collection in Turin and Sanchez’s book. They give most of Ghislain’s collection high, four-star ratings: two masculines, 1725 and 1828; all four feminines, 1804, 1826, 1873, and 1876; and the unisex 1969. Ambre 114 and Noir Patchouli also get four stars, but Blanc Violette and Vert Pivoine get only three. Few brands rate so well in this book. The highest rated of Ghislain’s fragrances was 1740:
1740 (Histoires de Parfums) five stars leather immortelle
Familiarity with too many trivial perfumes can at length turn one into a libertine of smell: cynical, unmoved, cruelly practical. But every old roué hides at his core an unblemished memory of the boy he once was, ready to fall for the first creature whose intelligence revives his freeze-dried heart. I felt this was when I smelled 1740: the shimmering classical accord of leather, immortelle, spice, rich pipe tobacco, and a sort of lived-in buttery warmth is simply irresistible. And why resist?
I had to look up immortelle: it’s a yellow flower also called everlasting. Wikipedia says its scent is “best described as a mixture of burnt sugar and ham,” and another web reference compared it to maple syrup. The Perfume Posse blog has a good post on immortelle that lists a few other fragrances that use it.
1740 is warm and buttery. Leather is in there, but not the smoky leather of Le Labo’s Patchouli 24. Nor is it the cool floral leather of Eau d’Italie’s Bois d’Ombrie. It’s sweeter and richer than either of those. My girlfriend compared 1740 to Bond No. 9’s New Haarlem, with its coffee and amber.
To Turin’s initial point, familiarity with too many fragrances in general does breed cynicism. One doesn’t have to be nearly as experienced in the ways of fragrances as Turin to get bored with the crap that the big firms spit out (and here is where I usually launch an attack on Chanel’s Bleu, a decent but unremarkable “cool blue” fragrance).
I’m guessing this perfume ennui was what spurred Turin to review the wacky and offensive Sécrétions Magnifiques so favorably; I and many others found it revolting.
But thank god for perfumers like Ghislain (and, I’d include, Bertrand Duchaufour, who did the Eau d’Italie line, as well as much of L’Artisan Parfumeur) who seek to create new things. As Ghislain admitted to me on Thursday, it’s extremely difficult; like music, so many combinations of notes have already been tried.