Monday 20 June 2016


The subject of Chandler Burr's The Emperor of Scent, Luca Turin is a biophysicist with a love of all things olfactive. He started his famous perfume column for NZZ Folio in 2003 and was immediately respected for his honesty. With words that can cut you down to size, but still winking at the same time, he is a popular speaker and writer. When someone has spent thirteen years discussing perfume, I wondered what more we would learn during the Emperor's "Stephan's Six"?

Before we begin I need to point out that the quotes in italics are taken from Luca Turin's book Perfumes: The A-Z Guide which is published by Profile Books Ltd, with the exception of the final quote which is from his new website,

What is the first smell that you can remember?
I found a sample vial of Habanita when I was eight, and have loved trashiness ever since. [It juxtaposes vetiver and vanilla in such a way that both disappear and are replaced by something that is not the sum.]

What was the first perfume you remember your mum or dad wearing?
It was Diorama for my mother and Old Spice for my dad. They are two very different approaches to immortal beauty, expensive and cheap respectively. [The present-day Diorama bears no relation whatsoever to the stupendous 1949 original. Old Spice is a delicious Tabu-like oriental, whose claim to be a masculine is based entirely on its transience.]

What was the perfume of your twenties?
I spilled a bottle of 1965 Brut on an Aran sweater. Enough said. [It used to be a glorious sweet fougère that smelled at once clean and dirty and went on forever. It costs almost nothing, so buy some, look in the mirror, narrow your eyes, and picture yourself with hair.]

What was your biggest perfume mistake?
I once told a work colleague that her Poison put me off my food. Things went downhill from there. [Reviewing Poison is a bit like road-testing an Abrams M1 tank in the evening rush hour. People just seem to get out of your way, and if they don't, you just swivel that turret to remind them you're not kidding.]

You can only choose one perfume?
It has to be Mitsouko. Nothing more beautiful survives from the Golden Age of perfumery. [A ripening of the Chypre structure into a masterpiece whose richness brings to mind the mature chamber music of Johannes Brahms.]

What perfume should I try?
Go for Auphorie’s Miyako. It's the best chemical poem in a long time. [Unlike so many artisan fragrances that are full of charm but sadly fugacious, this one carries on majestically, expanding at first into a rutilant tutti and ending mf on woods.]

Perfumes: The A-Z Guide is an excellent source for any perfume enthusiast and can be purchased from Amazon along with Luca's other publications, The Secret of Scent and Folio Columns. Luca is also now writing regularly for his own website,

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