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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Fabulous Fragrances Book Review

By Alyssa

In our current world of blogs, Burr, and Turin&Sanchez perfume criticism it’s easy to giggle a little while paging through Jan Moran’s Fabulous Fragrances: A Guide to Prestige Perfumes. Released in 1994, by Moran’s own Beverly Hills-based Crescent House Publishing, Fabulous is proud of its industry and celebrity connections. It features a blurb from Elizabeth Taylor on the front cover (along with a photo of the author), and one from Annette Green, then president of the Fragrance Foundation, on the back. Its perfume “profiles”—they’re not reviews—often include long quoted stories from designers and stars explaining how they created their perfumes, followed up by descriptions of said celebrities’ charitable activities. Many profiles end with a list of “famous patrons.” (Who knew Princess Diana of Wales was such a perfumista? Or that Jackie Onassis, Elsa Peretti and Imelda Marcos had such similar tastes?) In the introduction Gale Hayman—wife of Fred Hayman and co-owner of their Beverly Hills boutique—takes full credit for unleashing Giorgio on the world. (That is, after ignoring the advice Karl Lagerfeld gave her over lunch to “forget it” if it took her longer than two years to create her perfume.) Moran portrays herself as a Texas girl and a savvy businesswoman with a Harvard MBA. She is both—her other industry projects include a collaboration with Michael Edwards—but the persona Fabulous projects is that of a gracious (and quite fabulous) Beverly Hills doyenne. By the time the slightly updated Fabulous Fragrances II comes out in 2000—and I don’t, by the way, find I need both books—Moran has become Countess Moran of Lemnos.

With so much smoke and stardust in our eyes we could be excused for missing the fact that Fabulous is, at its core, a fairly solid resource book. Moran’s introductory chapters provide good advice about discovering one’s taste in perfume and the uses of a perfume wardrobe. They also offer cogent historical information on trends in perfume and succinct definitions of traditional perfume categories (chypre, oriental and so on) and the different strengths of perfume (edp, edt and so on). Each of the 350 perfume profiles includes a full list of notes, and the year of release. Moran’s prose is warm and clear. She writes particularly well about older classics, and a surprising number of Carons, Chanels, Goutals and Guerlains and such pop up among soon-to-be-forgotten newer releases and blockbusters from the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. The profiles are arranged alphabetically (I find it confusing to have the perfumes separated from their houses but I must be in the minority since this is common in guides) and they are augmented by a list of “honorable mentions” that didn’t quite make the “prestige perfume” cut. The latter third of the book groups the perfumes by their respective categories, and includes a glossary of “perfume ingredients,” (sometimes these are notes rather than actual materials) and a buyers guide. Obviously the listings are dated, but since I’m reading as a collector rather than a normal person shopping for a signature perfume, I enjoy hearing about underappreciated or now-discontinued scents and find the whole a useful snapshot of the time period. In fact, I enjoy all of Fabulous, from the star-studded bits to Moran’s enthusiastic praise of perfumes she clearly loves. I still giggle, but it’s affectionate laughter: the countess knows her stuff.

I bought my copy of Fabulous used, online, where it is widely available, as is Fabulous II.

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Blogger Flora said...

Alyssa, I love that book! I have the original - somewhere, I have been looking all over for the darn thing! I have consulted it countless times.

It does have a lot of good background data on perfume, especially for newbies, but I do have to laugh about the Giorgio story. By 1994 the big G was already "over" for most people, and it's amazing that you can still find it today.

2:31 AM EDT  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Flora--The G is a force to be reckoned with! My Mom had some, though she wore Halston more often.

I just thought the whole set up with Hayman and Karl chatting about their adventures in perfume (Karl is credited with Chloe in Hayman's story) was so great.

9:44 AM EDT  
Blogger Dixie said...

Thank you for the review! You make me want to add this to my collection!

10:12 AM EDT  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Dixie--it's fun!

11:21 AM EDT  

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