So there's a story by Jim Lewis on Slate about perfume. Not just about perfume, though — about writing about perfume. The story is linked to a book called Perfumes: The Guide, by husband and wife team Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez. I used to write about music, which I always thought was really tough; somehow the vocabulary ("upbeat, sing-along, power-pop" or "the songs meandered, looped, tinkled out or built to a dramatic orchestral crescendo") always seemed forced and limited. But describing a scent seems even more challenging. Lewis points out that the words perfumers use: amber, citrus, floral — are pretty vague. But! Luca Turin describes Fracas thusly: "A friend once explained to me how Ferrari achieves that gorgeous red: first paint the car silver, then six coats of red, then a coat of transparent pink varnish..." Can you smell it? Glossy, bright and sharp.
That review is poetic, but the one for Lalique's Le Perfum is more direct: ("Vile, cheap, obnoxiously chemical... I hope to live long enough to see this sort of faceless dreck wiped off the face of the earth. Nice bottle.") Some of the reviews get straight to the point ("The bathrooms in hell smell like this.") and others invoke vivid imagery ("a shrill little floral that feels like music heard through someone else's headphones") but one in particular caught Lewis' eye: It's for a perfume called Sacrebleu:
"If you travel at night on Europe's railways, near big stations you can sometimes see lights the size a teacup nestled between the rails, shining the deepest mystical blue-purple light through a filthy Fresnel glass. They appear to be permanently on, suggesting that the message they convey the train driver is an eternal truth. Since childhood I have fancied the notion that it may not be a trivial one like 'Buffers ahead' but something numinous and unrelated to duty, perhaps 'Life is beautiful' or some such. Sacrebleu has the exact feel of those lights, a low hum that may be eclipsed by diurnal clamor but rules supreme when, at 3 a.m., you know you're looking into your true love's eyes even though you can't see them."Yeah, so the perfume smells good. One can assume. But here's a question: Have you ever purchased a fragrance after reading about it? Can reading about a perfume make you want to buy it? And how would you describe your favorite scent? (Bonus if you don't use the words "clean" or "fresh".) Or do you just judge a perfume by its bottle?
The Sweet Smell of Success [Slate]