Oct 26, 2008

Scents and sensibility

Jonathan Meades
Published 02 October 2008

Perfumes: the Guide
Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez
Profile Books, 384pp, £20

Luca Turin is a biophysicist and a street fighter in scientific academe. He has been a whistleblower on neurophysiological experimental malpractice and is the proponent of an olfactory theory which, while initially denounced as rogue science, is now increasingly acknowledged as the new orthodoxy. He is also a consultant "nose" to the perfume industry, though one who is sufficiently bolshie to bite the hands that have fed him: this is always a good sign.

His wife, Tania Sanchez, is described as a "perfume collector and expert, and a journalist". I guess I might describe myself in the same way, though the "expert" component is a loose fit. Still, there are 34 perfumes in my house as I write this, ranging from regional obscurities such as Écume d'Arcachon and Sent Bon de Bayonne to classics: Jicky, Mouchoir de Monsieur and Pour un Homme - all three of which meet with Turinia's endorsement.

I cannot tell you how much that means to me, for this highly excitable couple have set themselves up as The Measure, The Ultimate Arbiters. They aspire to be perfume's Parker, Pevsner, Pudlo. And, yes, they absolutely adore alliteration. It constellates in their oeuvre along with outré simile, hyperbole, quasi-synaesthesiac prose, in-jokes, arcane scholarship, unwitting mock-heroism, tireless exuberance, and a self-referential hermeticism that sites perfume at the very centre of the world.

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