The Sweet Smell of Success
Luca Turin is a biophysicist who specializes in the art of fragrance. In 1992, he wrote his first book on scent, which was the best-selling tome of its kind in France. (Mostly because it was the only book of its kind in France, jokes Turin.) Tania Sanchez is a successful writer and poet, the sour to Turin’s sweet, who has traded editorial advice for free perfume. Together, they’ve written Perfumes: The Guide, a comprehensive, lighthearted, hilarious look at, well, almost every perfume and cologne ever made. It’s at once illuminating and silly, but make no mistake, these two take their noses very seriously. Says Turin of the book’s imminent release, “I don’t have a lot of perfumer friends, but I think that number is going to go down, not up.” After the jump, their scents and sensibilities.
BLACKBOOK: Luca, how did you get into this line of work?
LUCA TURIN: Well, I wrote a perfume guide, shudder to think, sixteen years ago. It was written in French, it was pretty short, and it consisted of extremely purple prose. It was the best-selling perfume guide at the time, chiefly because there were no others.
TANIA SANCHEZ: As for me, I’m a girl and girls like perfume.
BB: So I’ve heard. What is your all-time favorite natural smell?
TS: [Laughs] Fried onions are pretty good, too.
BB: Your review of 212 by Carolina Herrera compares the scent to getting lemon juice in a paper cut. Your language suggests an extremely visceral experience with smell.
LT: No, I have a visceral relationship with human stupidity in general—cynicism, crappy work, and idiots. So, that’s the visceral part. My relationship to good perfumes is fairly cerebral, actually. The visceral part comes from garbage being sold for a lot of money.
TS: I was in an elevator recently, with a woman who was wearing something she had clearly just sprayed on, and it smelled like oven cleaner. I felt like slapping her.
Turin and Sanchez.
BB: Do you silently judge people based on how they smell?
TS: Everyone I know has, at some point, said, “Holy crap! The perfume on that person was unbelievably vile.” Many women friends have come back from a date or something and said, “You would not believe how much Brut this guy sprayed on.”
LT: But if you were George Clooney, Brut would be just fine.
TS: If you were George Clooney, rancid butter would be just fine.
BB: Tom Ford’s Black Orchid was rumored to smell like cocaine. He came back, however, allegedly, and said that it was actually inspired by male crotch. True story?
LT: I think people who attribute smell to coke are buying really cheap garbage. And as for male crotch, well, the same applies.
BB: The New Yorker recently compared the description of perfumes to the description of wines. What, in your opinion, is the most overused adjective in the industry?
BB: Um, thanks… what about for perfume?
LT: Perfume professionals often invite panels of people who know nothing about fragrance to describe new scents. “Fresh” apparently means “I like.”
BB: Can you think of any scent combinations that shouldn’t work, but somehow come together to create a nice fragrance?
TS: There is this one perfume that smells like Japanese gummy candies and fish glue. It doesn’t sound like the most appealing thing, but for some reason, it’s fantastic.
BB: Guilty pleasure smells?
LT: No guilt, but Lady Stetson is pretty fantastic. And it’s always right there, next to the beef jerky. It’s, what, 12 or 16 bucks?
BB: Are coffee beans actually helpful when you’re smelling a bunch of different fragrances?
TS: I just take breaks. Sometimes I smell myself, my sleeve.
LT: Male crotch helps.
BB: Do you think that fragrances are inherently gendered?
TS: No, of course not, but are skirts inherently gendered? The Scots don’t think so. But if you turned up to work in a little pleated number, I’m sure people would look at you funny, whereas they wouldn’t blink at me.
BB: Finally, you’re only given the choice between wearing China Rose or smelling like asparagus for the rest of your life. Which one?
TS: Oh, god.
LT: Hold on a second. Asparagus in urine, right? Pissing asparagus?
TS: Oh, god!
LT: You might actually have something there, because asparagus smells kind of like those lychees, a sulfite thing… No, forget it. I’d kill myself.