I thought it might be useful to some readers if I provided my impressions of some of the short reviews in the 2018 “Guide,” now that I received a copy of it as a gift (I’m having difficulty motivating myself to read the longer ones at this point). Let’s begin with The Hedonist by Cult of Scent, which was given three stars by Turin (and described as “holy smoke,” which doesn’t help me much, other than to conjure up the smell of a Catholic Mass):
I love smoky perfumes, usually mostly the smoky part. The rest often seems like lipstick on bacon. This one wears no makeup.
My first thought is a question, what does he mean by smoky fragrances? I’ve experienced ones that I think of as a kind of “clean” smoke (which I tend to like), but then there are ones like Encre Noire, which I think of as an “iso e super nightmare.” There are also some scents with really harsh “white musk,” which I tend to detest. Or is it like the incense at a Catholic Mass? We may never know for sure, and then there’s the “lipstick on bacon” comment. I guess I have some sense of the bacon aspect, but bacon and lipstick? I wish he had furnished us with an example! And then we’re told, presumably, that it’s a smoky bacon scent. Does he like it? At three stars it’s right in the middle of the five star classification scheme. I find this review puzzling, and I’d be frustrated by it, except that since I read their first “Guide,” I expect reviews of this type and just “shrug it off.”
But we get yet another (Journeyman by Soivohle), which is described by Turin as smoky wood. He reviews it as, “The obligatory smoky woody fragrance every niche line must have, for the bearded dude in a lumberjack shirt,” only in this case the scent only gets two stars! The several Fragrantica reviews for it are quite positive, and this sounds like one I’d like to sample. Apparently, it was fairly limited and the owner stated there are issues with re-releasing it, but it sounds a bit like As Sawira by Penhaligon’s (I recently obtained a 100 ml bottle of that one at a great price), except that AS doesn’t have much of a smoky quality, which often doesn’t work out well for me (it can become irritating rather quickly). But the main point is that for someone who says he enjoys smoky fragrances, one has to question exactly what he means by this! Does it have too much of a lipstick and bacon quality? I wonder what is the point of such a review, considering the difficulty almost every read will have in sampling it? My guess is that he thinks this brief review will amuse readers (or enough of them), but it just makes me question if he generally has issues with being consistent with the criteria he uses to assess things.
Next up is Hedonist, by Viktoria Minya). It it is described as a tobacco vanilla and given one star (by Turin). The review is simply, “Smells to me like spray furniture polish.” I looked up the reviews at Fragrantica.com for this scent, and they are “all over the map.” Did he spray it on a card and just take a quick sniff? It seems like there’s more to it than how he describes it, even if it’s not well composed. Another that gets one star, by Turin, is Hedonist Iris by Viktoria Minya. He calls it a scitrus musk; the review is the short sentence, “Iris? Now you’ve pissed me off.” It’s not uncommon for a fragrance to have something like lavender, vetiver, santal, etc. ion the name, but to not have that note in the fragrance (at least not to the degree that many can smell it). Turin “called out” a Creed scent or two for this issue in the first “Guide,” so one has to wonder why he would think it surprising, let alone why he would become angered by it. And in this edition, he says, “If any oud at all is used here, it’s wasted,” about Incense Oud by By Kilian (and other similar things are said about others, such as Iris Fauve and Iris Homme).
Next up is In the Woods by Cult of Scent, which was given three stars (by Turin) and described as cedarwood neroli. The review is, “Lovely simple cedarwood accord.” My problem here is twofold. It’s not “readily available,” and on the company site the price is $130 for 30 ml. The other problem is that if Turin is correct, why not buy cedar essential oil from a site like Bulk Apothecary (half an ounce for about $5), with a bunch of great reviews? You can also buy inexpensive citrus type essential oils from them and combine these (in the reviews on the site you will sometimes find simple recipes, but you can just do some quick google searches to find plenty). At the very least, a “perfume expert” should mention this possibility for those who aren’t going to spend $130 on a 30 ml bottle of a very simple scent, IMO.
Then there’s Indigo by Thorn & Bloom, which gets a sole star (by Turin) and is called “caraway lavender,” the review being, “Truly awful from beginning to end, a perfect instance of a natural perfumery fail.” This was a great opportunity for him to use an example of what he tends to dislike with “natural perfumery” fragrances, but it is squandered. Another missed opportunity (IMO) for Turin occurs with Itasca by Lubin, which received three stars and is described as a citrus fougère,” the review being, “Nice lemony vetiver, very presentable.” It seems to sell for over $100 for 75 ml, so an obvious question is, can I save money by purchasing a similar scent that isn’t “lacking” in any major way? But as Turin said in the first “Guide,” there are different kinds of fougeres, so why not tell us which one this is? And this is a good example of a situation where Turin could be quite helpful, in that a couple of Fragrantica reviews talk of the aroma chemicals they think are used in a clumsy way (one claims there’s obvious iso e super present and the other says, “…the heavy hand in the use of some deodorant aroma chemicals started causing me headaches after a while). These kinds of scents often have this issue, in my experience. Thus, if Turin thinks the aroma chemical are barely detectable, at best, why not tell us? It’s not like his review will then become too long!
The thought seems to keep entering my mind that people like Turin are “missing the forest for the trees” by focusing on “edgy” niche scents. Yes, there are endless possibilities for minor variations on a bunch of themes, but especially if you are mostly concerned with drydowns, how much “better” do you expect a niche scent to be? For example, tobacco scents are popular among many hobbyists (compared to the general public, at least in the USA), or perhaps the general public just can’t detect it unless it’s a really obvious note. In any case, there are some excellent “cheapo” tobacco scents (or ones that were for a while), such as Lanvin’s Avant Garde. Yes, you might be able to get one that is a bit more this or that, but if you bought AG for around $12 (as I did a while back, 100 ml new), do you really want to waste a lot of time and money chasing after the “niche version” of it? There’s also Samba Skin for Men, which is a solid “pipe tobacco” scent (like Pure Havane), which cost me about $9 for 100 ml new. However, I might have some interest in the “niche versions” if my experiences led me to think that would lead to me obtaining a “better” fragrance, but that rarely occurred! Why not enjoy what you have, even if you only have a tenth of what Turin does? That’s probably enough to keep you busy for decades, at least.
And it’s not like Turin never takes issue with some of today’s prices. For example, his review of Kingdom of Bahrain is, “Decent citrus-woody with a well-judged touch of rose in the heart. Yours for £425 per 50 milliliters.” Moreover, as was the case for the 2008 “Guide,” I don’t’ understand the mentality behind the reviews, other than these being an expression of his sense of humor. I know some people have a tendency to leave things “half finished,” but many of his reviews aren’t even 10% finished, AFAICT. And after he tells readers he enjoys smoky scents, they get the impression (I think) that he will spend a bit of time on the reviews of those, but in some cases we don’t get much of anything! Is Journeyman or The Hedonist a good “beginner smoky scent?” Or is he deliberately trying to frustrate readers, perhaps with the thought that will compel them to get a bunch of samples? I know that I’ve encountered some teachers when I was younger who seemed to have this kind of attitude. However, I think if that were the case all the reviews would have this quality. Is this supposed to be a whimsical guide? It often doesn’t sound that way, but why not call it that if it’s the case? To me, it may be most interesting as a kind of mystery, trying to figure out how the mind of Mr. Turin functions!