Writer and wine critic Jay McInerney says that a wine critic should write as if he loved a wine with passion or hated it like poison. In his view, the critic should dispense with cold chemical analyses and instead show his love for wine. For the year-plus that I’ve been reading perfume blogs, I’ve read — and really enjoyed — hundreds of perfume reviews. Despite different approaches, none of the bloggers falls into the trap against which McInerney warns. The one attribute all the reviewers share is a real passion for perfume. But McInerney’s statement started me thinking about the elements of a good perfume review.
For me, a list of notes of a fragrance in a review is important. Hearing "tuberose and lilies of the valley" sets me up for a different experience than "patchouli and coriander". I also know, though, that a list of notes can be misleading. Plus, just as I can’t enjoy opera solely from reading the score, my nose isn’t sophisticated enough to conjure a scent just from a list of its notes. Think of how many perfumes have middle notes of rose, jasmine, and iris. Jillions. And yet they can smell very different. For another example, consider two fragrances Frank Voelkl created: Le Labo Iris 39 and Curated by Colette Three As Four. Both scents feature iris and are by the same hand, but they are as different as ginger beer and gin and tonic. Iris 39 is an earthy, raw silk fabric of perfume while Three As Four is crisp, chic, and airy.
Also, I like a perfume review to tell a story. I want to know the characters. When Luca Turin wrote that Patou Colony is for "those who like Royal Bain de Caron and want to continue to amuse themselves in evening dress" I can see it. I see a woman in a yellow evening gown, and she’s tossing back her head and laughing. The other women are stiff and pretty, laden with diamonds, but dull. Throw in that Colony is a pineapple-tinted chypre, and I’m on the horn tracking down a sample. Yes, perfume is about the actual juice, but it’s also about romance and aspiration.
Finally, I want to know a few practicalities, such as how long the scent lasts, what it costs, and where I can buy it. I want to know if the bottle is pretty, and if the perfume reminds the critic of another fragrance I might already have or know. From time to time I write a perfume review, and I’d love to learn what it is that you want to know about a perfume.
What kinds of reviews inspire you? (One caution: to save my tender ego — and the egos of other perfume bloggers who might be reading — please stay positive!)