Who doesn’t have a one copy of Perfumes: The A-Z Guide? I have two.
Jo Fairley, co-founder of The Perfume Society, has known Luca Turin since the early 90’s when she interviewed him about his vibrational theory of how we smell. So during a rare visit to London she organised a get-together for a small gathering of The Society’s VIP members.
Below is the gist of what was said.
Jo Fairley: Welcome, Luca. All these people have come to see you and we could have filled the number of spaces several times over.
Luca Turin: The internet has changed everything. 20 years we’d all be buying perfume affected by the same affliction. [Much laughter]
For some reason I am able to translate perfume into words. I don’t know why. To me, perfume is a message in a bottle. That is very important to me. Perfume is a poem to the person who smells it. So in my mind, perfume is very much a chemical poem written in molecules. It doesn’t matter whether they’re synthetic or not.
I define art as anything that is beautiful and difficult. Perfumery is both beautiful and difficult so to me it’s art.
JF: Francis Kurkdjian doesn’t think it’s art.
LT: He’s being coquettish.
JF: How did The Guide come about?
LT: I would bore my friends talking about perfume and one of them said “You should write a book about it”. My mother was alarmed. She said “Who the hell are you?”. I was this nerd writing fancy-arse stuff in French about perfume. If you want to get something out of your system, write a book about it.
JF: Are there too many critics out there now?
LT: The more the merrier. When it comes to opinion, I hope there’s ten times as many. For me, with the internet you get the whole range of opinions, which is very interesting. It doesn’t mean you have to read it all.
JF: Can they be right or wrong?
LT: Perfume is too insignificant for that to matter. The only bad thing about perfume is that it can ruin a dinner or a concert.
I did 11 years of newspapers columns which are about to be released on Kindle next week. They’re called The NZZ Columns.
I thought we would try a few perfumes rather than me just read from the book. You can read, right?
LT: Heeley are a good firm doing stylish scents. It’s nice to have a complex light fragrance. There’s a salty, sea note that’s not calone-y. I like this. I’d put this on before going to bed. You need to have an undemanding fragrance. Heeley are consistently good.
LT: Knize are a tweedy gentlemens’ outfitters in Vienna. in many ways Knize Ten is the reference leather. it’s the great-grandfather of all leathers. There’s an important distinction for me in perfume between transparent and opaque. Knize Ten is intense but transparent. It has a cheap red fruit note. I like the combination of cheap and expensive – it’s almost the definition of chic.
L’air du Desert Marocain, Tauer Perfumes
Leather fragrances are a search for bitterness. Bitterness is a very vastly underappreciated. This is a modern interpretation of a leather fragrance. It’s an amazing composition with radiance like crazy. I think of it as a classic on a par with Shalimar.
JF: What do you think about self-taught perfumers?
LT: I think it’s terrific. I hope lots of people try and do it. It’s a sign that the big companies have lost their way. It’s really a David and Goliath situation because the big companies have access to the novel aromachemicals. Mainstream perfumes are generally so crap so you can now be a contender. They’ve scandalously lost their way.
Oud Velvet Mood, Maison Francis Kurkdjian
LT: We can talk about oud now it’s over. For me, oud has the most complicated odour profile out there. The basement smell of oud and the Roman candle smell of rose is an irresistible combination.
I don’t think this a great fragrance but it exemplifies the contrast.
JF: What are you working on at the moment?
LT: I’m based in Ulm, southern Germany working on general anaesthesia. We don’t know how it works. The only thing we know is that consciousness is soluble in chloroform. This is what I’m doing for a living and we’re making some headway. It’s the scientific sword in the stone and I swear it moved.
LT: This is by Dominique Ropion who is a genius in the manner of Ernest Daltroff (Caron). He does fragrances of power, clarity and structure and they’re always monumental. It’s a very classical fragrance. It’s good all the way down to the details. Ropion is a supreme technical perfumer.
Few people can make fragrances that are good all the way through, with reveals. Another example is Chamade (Guerlain). After one hour there’s this amazing 3D transformation. For years I thought I was smelling two different fragrances.
JF: What do you think of the Frederic Malle line?
LT: To be honest, I’m not impressed. They’re all good but they’re not art directed with adventurousness. They’re very thorough and good but there’s no masterpiece in the line. I’m a little disappointed considering the clout and money he has.
LT: Wow. A totally demure little thing isn’t it? [Laughter] It’s everything that’s missing in Light Blue (Dolce & Gabbana) – an artistic counterweight. It’s actually well composed. After the civety-y opening it’s actually a big, hefty, beautiful, expensive floral oriental. There’s good jasmine and a big ass rose. I’m glad perfumes like this exist. It’s really quite disgusting!
LT: There is something medicinal about this which I like. It’s disinfectant for the soul. There’s also vanilla. It’s nice work. It makes me want to breathe it in. I like that there’s a fresh citrus which compensates for the medicinal note. It’s a really good piece of work.
LT: Germaine Cellier was insanely great. Futur has a monster top note of galbanum. it’s cut grass on steroids. Underneath is a huge floral. It’s a fabulous fragrance. She did Bandit which is outrageous. The Piguet reconstructions are pretty great.
LT: Christopher Chong knows what he wants from the perfumer and he gets it from them. He’s exploring a different area – very complex orientals with unfamiliar materials. Ubar has a sweetness that is weird. I like that you don’t know what fruit you’re eating. He gives great art direction. Every author needs an editor and Christopher Chong is a fantastic editor.
Ubar is one of the great fragrances of the last 20 years. It’s humongous and never-ending. The two Lyrics are amazing – like entering a mansion. There’s a feeling of mystery. At no point do you know what’s going on there.
Luca then answered some questions from the floor and signed people’s books. He and Jo were hoping Tania Sanchez (his wife and co-author) would make it, but the timing coincided with their 2 year-old daughter’s nap time. He mentioned that while Tania wears a different fragrance everyday she has been turning to Cristalle a lot lately.
Luca Turin is a witty and unreserved speaker so it made for a very fun afternoon. It was interesting to get his take on a few newer releases too.
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