Scent reviewing is a crowded market. Type any fragrance into YouTube and 100s of videos come up, mostly boring (shouty American men going on about ‘projection’ and ‘performance’).
These are my favourite blogs, vlogs, podcasts and books about fragrance.
This was the first scent blog that snagged me. A charming, beautifully written, erudite blog by Victoria Frolova; she is a trained perfumer, translator and journalist who speaks 18 (18!?!) languages. She is great company, the writing is elegant and full of beautiful imagery. She’s just started a very soothing YouTube channel.
You can do much worse things with your life than try to work your way through all her five star rated fragrances.
I particularly like this piece ‘In the defence of guilt-free pleasure’:
But like many other “feminine” pursuits, a perfume hobby can be harder to defend, because it’s viewed as frivolous and expendable. You rarely see indignant comments on the sports pages or the photography forums that the money spent on prime tickets or fancy lenses could be better spent if donated to charity. On the other hand, they crop up time and again in the beauty sections of newspapers and blogs. The same people who admire my husband’s collection of wine bottles look perplexed when entering my office with its rows of perfumes.
Brits who were young in the 90s will remember Katie from late night Channel Four show The Word, she was also a backing dancer for the Pet Shop Boys. Katie is the funniest, most succinct and engaging reviewer I have found. She explodes with general joie de vivre, and you want to go for a night out with her (remember those?) and do some tequila shots.
Katie stopped posting about six years ago – the fans are devastated, devastated I tell you. I recommend starting with her shell-shocked review of Secretions Magnifique – the ‘world’s most disgusting perfume’, which famously attempted to recreate notes of ‘sweat, semen and breast milk’, “which if you have an active social life, you should be able to find easily.” I love her.
An intriguing podcast: interviews with assorted people about scent memories. There’s a touching interview with DJ Amy Lamé where she describes the smell of drains as ‘the scent of my college education’ (her dad worked in sewage treatment) before some discussing the fragrances she associates with her first unrequited, and requited, loves (Feminité du Bois, Lipstick Rose). A great interview with a Soho bartender on how his bar crafts cocktails, and designs the fragrance of the interior to influence customer behaviour. And how he couldn’t bear the smell of violets after working in Soho: the street cleaners used a violet scented cleaner to shift vomit and piss off the streets on Sunday mornings.
The series was made to accompany an exhibition about perfume at London’s Somerset House in 2017, which sadly I missed.
I Scent You A Day
Luca is the daddy of perfume reviewers.
He’s a biophysicist researching how our sense of smell works, but also a bonafide perfume aficionado. He’s bloody funny and makes the science of scent accessible and engaging.
The 2008 reference manual ‘PERFUMES – the A-Z guide’ was co-written by Turin and his equally funny and incisive wife Tania Sanchez.
My copy has a quote from India Knight across the top: ‘One of the best books I have ever read … dazzlingly good’. I thought ‘Really, India? Oh dear.’ But… she’s right. It’s an encyclopaedia of fragrance, there are entries that either make you feel all wistful and minded to drop £200 on a dainty exclusive bottle of something, or make you laugh out loud. They have the sickest burns:
“I have nightmares of of being the chihuahua imprisoned in the purse of the woman who wears it. She would be everyone.”
“In its gale force strength, Baby Grace reminds me of the lethally huge toddler in Spirited Away. Good news though: despite the vast diaper, the prevailing smell is merely a bad mimosa reconstruction.”
“Disproves the aromatherapeutic notion that citrus notes make you cheerful.”
(One slightly grating note for me reading Luca Turin’s books is that my day job involves tiptoeing around the egos of Big Star Akademics at his alma mater UCL in an administrative role. Reading accounts of how cleverer than you Luca cunningly evaded the petty health and safety policies of his department to achieve his maverick research feels like a busman’s holiday. I feel myself getting all annoyed on behalf of the admin team).
Persolaise (Dariush Alavi) is a half Iranian, half Polish fragrance journalist and his blog name is a French portmanteau of those two nationalities. He creates hour-long ,mesmerising, soothing live video discussions of fragrance, which feel like you are in a cultured literary salon sipping refreshing tea, not watching scuzzy YouTube in your pants in your messy house. I like his passion for film and his series on scent in cinema.
He mostly reviews classic French houses, trendy niche perfume – the expensive stuff. Very charming – a scholar and a gentleman.
The pseudo-intellectual hipster wanker’s podcast of choice – ‘99% Invisible is about all the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about — the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world.’ (I say this as I have a sinking suspicion that I am one).
Their Perfume episode (from the series Articles of Interest – fashion and style) offers fascinating insights into how scents are made and marketed, and how fragrance fashion shifted over time.
In the 1920s and 30s, fragrances included many ‘animalic’ notes like civet – basically cats’ bum oil, castoreum – beaver bum oil, musk – deer scrotum, and ambergris or ‘floating gold’ – lumps of aged, sun-bleached, seawater-marinated, whale poo. (I am sorry to be so infantile but I find this stuff fascinating). These animal extracts gave early twentieth century perfumes like Shalimar a slightly dirty, sexual, skanky edge.
By the 1990s, customer tastes had shifted significantly and Americans were buying ozonic, fresh, clear scents light CKOne and Issey Miyake in volume – “a wave of clean smells that were light and fresh and inoffensive. They made you smell like you just showered. …. Oh, we’re Puritans. To smell is to be sensual, or to be erotic or dirty. That’s why fresh and clean is such a big deal in this country.”