Parfums le guide back in print! (and now in English)
Updated: Dec 4, 2019
Before I met Luca, I was just a fan. I came to his work, as so many did, after reading Chandler Burr's The Emperor of Scent, which describes Luca's original French guide in frustratingly tantalizing terms, translating his review of Fracas and leaving the rest to the reader's imagination. Even if you could read French, you still couldn't read it: it had been out of print for years, occasionally turning up on eBay for optimistic asking prices, around $600.
I am slightly ashamed to say that even after writing two perfume guides with Luca, raising a Francophone child, living for some time with a Francophone mother-in-law, and generally improving my French, I had not yet read the book when I sat down to translate it. Lazy as ever, I had been nagging him to have someone translate it, to translate it himself (he declared this impossible), since we first met. Eventually I understood that as no one else was ever going to do it, I had better get on with it.
If you are a perfume obsessive, like me you may have been long annoyed that Luca's original guide was unavailable and, to add insult to injury, French. I have solved both your problems here.
If you can in fact read French, you are in luck. This edition combines both versions, in facing-page fashion.
Luca was kind enough to write a foreword, describing how it came to pass that a scientist, who ought to be busy researching conductivity of proteins or whatever, came to write the world's first critical guide to perfume. It's not a happy story, but out of misery came unexpected joys.
I have also improved and expanded a feature of the original book that Luca always liked, but which we were unable to provide for our later guides: an oddball index of mostly adjectives, where you can, for example, look up all the perfumes described as rather 'eighties, or raspy, or melancholy. These indexes allow for an entertaining way to dip into the reviews, which otherwise lack indexing by brand or other quality.
The reviews also provide recommendations as to who ought to wear a fragrance and in what context. Luca doesn't like these, wanted to remove them, said they never quite worked, but I found it delightful to translate 25-year-old French snobberies into American ones. Now you too can enjoy turning your nose up at others as so "dadame," "vieux beau," or "bon chic bon genre."
I see also that his despair at changing formulas had already begun. I have translated the expanded 1994 edition, which makes reference to what had gone off, for instance explaining that Chamade had lost some of its magic since 1992, that Tabac Blond was better ten years prior.
Which reminds me. This year I discovered that Patou's Joy was axed along with the entire Jean Patou line. Patou, bought by LVMH from P&G, is to be a fashion brand. Joy is now the name of a Dior scent. (Appropriately, this name-thief is a blank-faced nobody: like all these current mega-launches advertised by movie stars, you'd be hard pressed to recognize it in the street.) Note: Joy was voted, at the 2000 FiFi Awards, the Scent of the Century, in a surprise upset beating Chanel No. 5. It's not like no one cared. It's just that no one important at Dior cared.
Joy was never an idea of genius like Chypre or an era-defining outlier like Bandit. It was simply the greatest floral bouquet of all time. It is the perfume that a child composes in her head when she hears the word "perfume," as she might draw a triangle roof and a central door with a circular knob when prompted by the word "house": concentrated fields of jasmine and rose glisten, golden, in each crystal bottle. I have three and that will have to be enough.
So Joy is gone from this world. People often describe smell as a great instigator of memories, but it's got nothing on words. I leave you, therefore, with Luca on the subject:
Cette Rolls des parfums est mondialement célèbre pour la plus enfantine des raisons, c’est-à-dire un record, car il se présente comme le parfum le plus cher du monde. La ressemblance avec l’auguste berline va plus loin, d’ailleurs : comme elle, Joy est luxueux, confortable, un peu lourd, ni très exaltant ni très original. Mais, et cela devient chose rare, il est assemblé de main de maître à partir des matières premières les plus chères, en particulier des essences de rose et de jasmin qui sont comme un voyage dans les temps glorieux de la parfumerie française.
This Rolls-Royce of fragrance is world famous for the most childish of reasons, which is to say, a record, because it is presented as the most expensive perfume in the world. Its resemblance to the august sedan goes even further: like the Rolls, Joy is luxurious, comfortable, a little heavy, neither very exhilarating nor very original. But, what is becoming rare, it is assembled by masterful hand from the most expensive raw materials, in particular, essences of rose and jasmine that are like a journey into the glory days of French perfumery.