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April 17, 2008
Everyone’s a Critic
By RUTH LA FERLA
IN the realm of perfume, one man’s pudding is the next man’s tar. That the reaction to a fragrance can be visceral, and personal, is not news to Luca Turin, who over the years has inhaled and critiqued hundreds of scents. In assessing them, Mr. Turin, a scientist and fragrance expert, makes no attempt to hide his partisanship.
He describes Attrape-Coeurs, an amber violet perfume from Guerlain, as “an intense radiant Wurlitzer organ blast of rose violet and iris notes,” but paints a bleaker picture of Creed’s Love in White: “If this were a shampoo offered with your first shower after sleeping rough for two months in Nouakchott, you’d opt to keep the lice.”
Readers react to such colorful snippets from his new book, “Perfumes: The Guide” (Viking), written with his wife, Tania Sanchez, with varying degrees of admiration and respect. Mr. Turin is, after all, a dominant voice in a chorus of critics airing their views in books and magazines and, increasingly, on the Web.
In the last half-dozen years, their opinionated chatter has become catnip to consumers, some of whom stay up until the wee hours, reading about new scents on sites like makeupalley.com, which Mr. Turin characterized as “a 24-hour pajama party.”
That chatter, however, is also the bane of the fragrance industry, which, when it comes to romancing products, has traditionally claimed the last word.
“Perfume is the only art in which there’s never been a true word spoken,” Mr. Turin said in an interview, with a directness that has made him a thorn in the side of the industry. In his book, he recalled that as little as a year ago, Le Labo, a small New York perfumer, refused to send him samples, its makers sneering that “writing about perfume is like dancing about architecture.”
Today reviewers on Web sites and blogs like aromascope.com, scentzilla.com, boisdejasmin.com and perfumeposse.com have rendered that argument moot. Increasingly, critics like Robin Krug of Now Smell This, who said she has around 10,000 hits a day, and Chandler Burr, who reviews fragrance for T: The New York Times Style Magazine, cultivate a following by speaking directly to consumers, many of whom are aspiring connoisseurs themselves.
Often those shoppers collect, amassing as many as 200 bottles and vials in their homes. And many have learned to distinguish among olfactory families like foug