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Anyone who's ever been trapped in a crowded elevator intrinsically understands: Few people are gifted with noses so finely tuned to fragrance that they can distinguish between scents that allure and ones that merely annoy.
Scents that fall into both categories — and the entire spectrum in between — were chonicled in the 2008 "Perfumes: The Guide." That book has now been culled to 100 classics in the authors' new "The Little Book of Perfumes," which is scheduled to go on sale Monday.
Elegantly dressed in a slender black volume with hot-pink end papers, "The Little Book" details the fragrances, both new and old, that have earned a "classic" rating from authors and perfume experts Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez. These are not "the greatest of all time," but rather, fragrances that rank "above their peers in quality, inventiveness, or straightforward beauty … ignoring all publicity, packaging, and the feelings of friends and neighbors and concentrating solely on the scent," Sanchez writes.
The book spans "prim bouquets of white flowers, sour pine-and-sage compositions fit for a desert night, classical milky-musky scents that should waft from fifties mink coats, modern transparent odors that fill the room with traces of herbs or woodsmoke, hairy-chested aromatic things for disco-dancing men with mustaches, Arabian attars of rose and incense, lush and bittersweet balsams for serious ladies, and more, may there always be more," Sanchez writes with characteristic elegance in the book's foreword.
Sanchez is an avid perfume collector and blogger. Turin is a biophysicist and olfactory science scholar. Both authors' descriptions are as scintillating and evocative as the perfumes they include, some of which are no longer available in their original formulations but as reconstructions. The selections are arranged alphabetically with the name of each scent and its maker, followed by a two-word, CliffsNotes-style description of its basic notes, a price rating and a more elaborate description.
There are lesser-known perfumes from big names (Chanel 31 Rue Cambon) and little-known scents from niche players (Caldey Island Lavender). There are bestsellers (Thierry Mugler Angel) and eponymous braggarts (Badgley Mischka by Badgley Mischka). The inexpensive and widely available (Dior Poison) are represented as well as the discontinued and difficult to find (Yohji Yamamoto Yohji Homme).
Both Turin and Sanchez write about each fragrance lovingly, and humorously. They often incorporate their personal experiences with the scent. Turin's review of Le Labo's Patchouli 24, for example, references his time working in the biology department of Moscow State University and describes the perfume as "at once beguiling, salubrious, and toxic, and felt like a perfume composed for a fiercely intelligent librarian."
The end of the book includes a glossary of materials and terms and top 10 lists. "Best feminines" include Angel, Black, Rive Gauche and Shalimar. "Best big ticket splurges" include Joy parfum, No. 5 parfum, Ubar and Amouage Gold; "best strange fragrances," Lonestar Memories, Breath of God and L'Air de Rien. For those who wish to keep track of which labels are represented (and how many times) in the list of 100, Chanel has eight scents; Dior, five; Estee Lauder, seven; and Guerlain, 12.
Noting that "it is one thing for us to tell you that some aspect of orris [iris root extract] smells like boiling pasta" and "another thing for you to smell the spaghetti in it yourself," "The Little Book" concludes with places where novice sniffers can go to catch a whiff, including Lucky Scent in L.A. and Sephora.