Luca Turin at The Perfume Society – Les Senteurs, London on Saturday 3rd October 2015

By Tara

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.

Jo Fairley and Luca Turin

Jo Fairley and Luca Turin

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?

Sel Marin, Heeley 


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.

Knize Ten

knize ten

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

tauer marocain

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

oud velvet mood

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.

Portrait of a Lady, Frederic Malle Editions de Parfum 

malle portrait

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.

Salome, Papillon Artisan Perfumes 

salome bottle

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!

Anubis, Papillon Artisan Perfumes 


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.

Futur, Piguet 


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.

Ubar, Amouage 


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.

How do you feel about The Guide?


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34 Responses to Luca Turin at The Perfume Society – Les Senteurs, London on Saturday 3rd October 2015

  1. Lavanya says:

    What fun- thoroughly enjoyed this! I am probably the only person in the perfume universe who doesn’t own a copy of the guide. I borrowed it from my local public library (I think) and pored over it- quoting to whoever would When it came time to buy I bought the secret of scent instead (which I am yet to finish).

    • Tara says:

      Lavanya, that’s too funny about The Guide.
      The Secret of Scent can be heavy going for non-science people, although that is unlikely to be your issue. I skim read a lot of it.

  2. interieurprivebettina says:

    Thank you for this interesting feature. I wish I could come to London more often. The english capital seem to be buzzing with new perfume boutiques

  3. WOW!! What an incredible time you all must have had Tara. Was he fun? It seems like he won you over convincingly?
    Portia xx

    • Tara says:

      It was a lot of fun and I got to catch up with Thomas and Nick, among others.
      I must admit I wasn’t one of the fangirls/boys present to start with, but LT was very light-hearted and self-deprecating.

  4. Asali says:

    I get the sense it was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon, although it feels like he’s not actually saying that much. I mean, I’m not wiser by reading it, I just know a few more fragrances that Luca likes/ doesn’t care so much for. If I compare it to some other interviews with perfumers for example, there’s always some interesting new points worth remembering, where this is more cosy banter. But then again getting together with perfume pals nerding over our little hobby must be great, and of course in a way he’s the one who started it all.
    Thanks for a great sum up of events, as always: like being there yourself ❤

    • Tara says:

      Well, it wasn’t a traditional interview format. Jo just threw in a few questions as we went along and I’ve not covered all of them – such as, why don’t people value their sense of smell? – so the fact there’s not much non-review type info is down to me. There was also an interesting discussion about whether scents will ever be digitised during the Q & A but that rather went over my head, I’m afraid.

      • Asali says:

        Ah, ok. Maybe it’s all down to personal interests then. I can see why it went over you head 🙂 As a rule perhaps I enjoy more specific knowledge rather than airy discussions. Also, a discussion like that must be terribly hard to write down in a sensible way.

  5. Vanessa says:

    Great documenting as ever of what sounds like a most entertaining event. I have The Guide, and find it amusing and sometimes in agreement with my own views, but I don’t worry if I diverge from LT/TS’s take on something.

    Who knew LT was based in Ulm?! I was there on Saturday. His chloroform research sounds fascinating. Also good to see ‘self taught’ perfumers featured…

  6. Absolutely riveting! I’m unabashed in my love for Luca, he’s so witty!

  7. cookie queen says:

    I don´t have a copy of it so if you have two ……. Although I do have the Little Book of Perfumes which I have read several times and thoroughly enjoyed. I laughed my head off seeing that Turin is in Ulm. I would prefer to see him in Turin though.
    I absolutely enjoyed your write up and would loved to have been there. Ha! I definitely would not have agreed with him, but that its what makes it fun. Shame he didn´t pass the chloroform round.
    Whilst about 2 percent of perfumes are art, the other 98 percent most definitely are not. IMHO.
    Mr Luca kind of looks like Opa. Bussis xxxxxx

    • Tara says:

      What’s so funny about Ulm?! Fumie get-togethers are always fun but this really satisfied my curiosity about the man. I am positive he would have LOVED to debate with you. LOL at the chloroform.
      I think you’re right – some perfumes are art but the vast majority are not.

  8. Sandra says:

    Hey Tara. I have never read the book either. Sounds like a lot of fun though. Thank you for the wonderful write up. Xo

  9. spe says:

    His comment about the Malle line discredits him. I used to enjoy reading his reviews, but am finding them less relevant for me.

    • Tara says:

      Hi spe,
      He seems to think the Malles are great but stop short of being masterpieces because they’re a bit too safe.
      I think it’s no bad thing to move on from The Guide and trust your own nose first and foremost.

  10. aonusko says:

    Reblogged this on Tratta della Vita and commented:
    Words of wisdom…

  11. pollytechnic says:

    I love Luca Turin – he’s my perfume hero. Such wit and intelligence.

    • Tara says:

      Hi pollytechnic,
      You might be interested to know his new book is now available on Kindle in the UK. It may well be available elsewhere. It”s called “Folio Columns 2003-2014”.

  12. Undina says:

    I enjoyed reading this post, Tara, much more than I enjoyed reading THE book. Probably that’s why I finished reading the post – what I can’t say about the book 😉 But I do own a copy. And for the last 3-4 years it lives on my night stand.

    • Tara says:

      Ha! Nice to hear you enjoyed my post more than The Guide 🙂
      You’re so methodical I can just imagine you starting at “A” and working your way forward from there. I just jumped around and doubt I have read every review.

  13. Thank you for this blog. Its artistic, historical and technical breadths are amazingly inspirational!

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