The Content Diva

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  • Being the thoughts of a (kind of) 1%

This is me, now: A chronic case of guilt, circumstantial distraction and an ever-increasing (and guilt-inducing) backlog of Things That Must Absopositively Be Reviewed Yesterday. Surely, some not entirely benign occult, alchemical sleight-of-hand is involved in the way the samples in my sample box seem to generate ever-larger amounts of liquid and libidinous progeny every time I blink? And yet another force – also morally ambiguous – colludes with my compulsion to write anything that isn’t a perfume review?

As of today, I have not one, not two, but four different book projects all coming to a boil. Two novels, a sequel and a historical novel, one prequel novella and last but never least, another book, but that one is a secret for now.

So if you’ve found the Genie rather lacking in updates these days, this is why. Mea culpa. Alas, my leaden guilt trip suitcase does not have wheels, but I’m hoping to upgrade…

Yet in the last two weeks, several events conspired to rattle me out of my brain-in-the-clouds mode and land me onto Planet Perfume with a loud and odiferous thud.

The first of these was an incisive blog post by one of my longest-running blog idols; Gaia of the Non Blonde. Whether reviewing eyeliner pencils or perfumes, her concise yet precise reviews have never, ever steered me wrong, even if our opinions – or our mileages – vary, as they sometimes do.

The blog post was intriguingly titled The Problem With Blogging – 2014 edition. Go read it. I’ll wait – and get back to that in a moment.

The second was even more shocking, and with all my experience in social media, you’d think I’d be far past surprising by now.

No.

Lo and behold, into my inbox ticked a TAG comment in need of approval, and I quote verbatim:

i see you put a lot of work

in your website, i know how to make your blogging easier,

do you know that you can copy any article from any website, make it 100% unique and pass copyscape test? For more details , just search in google – rewriter creates an unique article in a minute

Yes, it was a definite spam comment, and as such did not get approved. More to the point in this morally relativistic, anything-goes-in-the-blogosphere decade was my utter, old-school blood-curdling horror in realizing that somewhere out there, people are stealing blog content lock, stock and barrel (this has happened to at least four bloggers I know) and also reworking existing blog content to fly under the radar of Copyscape (who monitors for such things) as well as Google search algorithms for your blog, thus ranking you lower in the Great Google Relevance Page Rank. Or to put it in everyday terms: stealing not just your content but the influence and reach you have personally (and hopefully, organically) acquired by years of blogging to the virtual page, tweeting, sharing on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and everywhere else a readership is made.

The rock-bottom line is this one: why even bother to write a blog post, maintain it at some cost to both your personal life (presuming you have one) and your purse if you can just steal it and hog someone else’s credit – not to mention, ruin their credibility?

Dear readers, I almost gave up the ghost right them and there. Note the qualifying almost. Because if I had, a) you would not be reading this post and b) that would mean those §!”#€%&/?§! (insert your own epithet here) thieves had won.

Over my dead, decaying Diors!

The problems with bloggers

It’s no secret that certain sectors of the luxury blogosphere have undermined all semblance of reliability and honest opinion by their practices of kickbacks and paid (and therefore dishonest) reviews. I’m calling it as I see it to say that fashion and beauty blogs are especially ripe for suspicion. That thin line between paid advertorial content and blogging is becoming ever thinner and harder to dissemble, as Gaia rightly pointed out.

There’s a difference in both style, angle and audience between fashion, beauty and perfume blogs, which each have their own considerations. I’d also like to add I have no issues with monetized blogs, meaning blogs that carry relevant advertising links and banners. If you can make even a modest penny from clicks to other websites, then more power to you.

Yet one pink elephant in the room is this one: bloggers matter, even in our sweetly scented corner of the world, no matter what perfume houses or (certain) perfumers might argue to the contrary.

People read those posts, watch vlogs on YouTube and discuss reviews and perspectives on the many fragrance-related groups on Facebook. Ordinary (or not so ordinary!) people and perfume consumers sometimes even let reviews influence the size and scope of their lemmings.

While this might not have an effect on a given perfume house’s bottom line to any substantial degree, the opinions of perfume bloggers have indeed greatly increased – and in some cases built – a brand’s reputation.

In this day and age of instant access to anyone anywhere, when the six degrees of separation rule shrinks by the minute, reputation is where the bottom line starts and sometimes ends. And like it or not, agree or not as you please, in an age of ever-present social media, reach and instantaneous interaction, reputation isn’t everything – it’s quite literally the only thing.

A Free Lunch

US bloggers are obligated by law to provide a disclaimer on their blog posts stating whether or not they’ve received their samples for consideration and review. Bloggers elsewhere – which would include yours truly in the EU – are under no such obligations. Or are we?

Since I began that ill-advised writing exercise I call perfume writing in 2010, the perfume blogging landscape has changed entirely, as indeed has the perfume industry itself, and I rather suspect we ain’t seen nothing yet. In all that time, I’ve specifically asked for samples precisely twice. The first time nearly killed me, I was so mortified, mortified for a very human reason: who doesn’t love free stuff? Located in a niche-less part of the world, mostly too impecunious to afford to order even sample packs of things I’d like to try, my future as a perfume writer was a chancy thing in 2010.

Yet if not for an enterprising part-time perfumer who took a chance on a voice in the Void and sent her a generous sample pack or generous friends and fellow bloggers, I never would have.. a) written about perfume to the extent I have b) acquired the international network I thank my chosen deities for every day I live and last but never least c) made and forged some of the most important, fulfilling and cherished friendships of my entire life. All from that fabled ‘free lunch’ of free samples.

But are they really? Most of the brands I review are either niche or indie perfumers in Europe and the US who are their own entire marketing and PR teams, and we all know it: there’s no such thing as bad PR.

For that matter, there’s no such thing as ‘free’ samples, either, if my own massive guilt trip is any indication. When I’m contacted by PR companies or perfume houses asking if there’s anything of theirs I’d like to try, I always make a point of stating that I can’t guarantee when anything will be reviewed (or not), just as I’m unable to guarantee a 100% positive review.

And yet… I’ve encountered not a few perfumes and not a few famous ones that I’ve loathed no end. Which is an opinion, not a fact proclaiming the perfume in question as inherently horrible (although I’ve encountered a few of those as well). So even if I’ve fallen at the fence of personal taste and inclination, I can at least have the decency to pay my verbose respects to the concept, at least. In so doing, I’ve realized a few stunning truths: that certain brands’ overall aesthetic preoccupations always – or nearly – allies with my own, meaning I at least like most of them, and also there are other, likewise lionized brands I can’t even stand in the same room.

But here’s the rub: between butterflies and blooms, or perfume houses and perfume bloggers, gratitude is a two-way street.

Even so, some of them seem to think the traffic is only allowed in one direction: it’s all about them. We blasted, wretched, irrelevant, opinionated bloggers are simply the vehicle that will (so they hope?) propel them to the stratosphere of perfumista superstardom and infinite black-inked bottom lines and massive worldwide distribution deals.

I’ve written raves of perfumes that have been blithely ignored by the companies who created them, in spite of tags and utterly blatant, shameless self-promotion. And I’ve written the occasional chilly-to-tepid review that has been plastered all over social media.

As a semi-famous relative and DK writer said to me this past year, the one thing you as a writer or blogger can’t control is how your words are received. You never know.

Or not, for in this dog-eat-dog world I’ve also been privately lambasted by people for having ‘insider access’ to new brand releases which questions both the brand who sends them (because they appreciate my opinion?) and my integrity as a blogger. (WTF?)

It gets worse. Much, much worse.

The Inexcusable

Sometimes – not at all often – it has happened I’ve written a review – a good one, and some time later, received a full bottle (or a large decant) of the perfume in question from a grateful indie perfumer or perfume house. It would be hard to describe just how grateful I’ve been for those extravagant and likely sincere tokens of appreciation, or how happy they’ve made me every time I’ve opened the red IKEA cabinet of doom and seen them glittering in the light, and every time I’ve cherished wearing them as a reminder of the person behind the perfume.

Yet it seems to have become a burgeoning – and despicable – practice among some bloggers to either sell these bottles (some of them very rare) or decant them on at a profit to interested parties. Which is not only an insult of the first order, it’s also a defiant slap in the face to those of us who dearly love those treasures in our cabinets because they were given in good faith and given as personal. It’s something that gives all of us a deserved checkered reputation for questionable ethics, and something I consider the lowest of low blows in human endeavor.

(Im)Moral Suspicions

This blog – The Alembicated Genie – is a proud and l-o-u-d independent blog. Meaning I will never monetize it, since I’m old school and unfashionable and don’t give a flying who knows it – and also precisely… independent. If I rave about something, you can bet your vintage Nombre Noir it’s because I think the perfume in question is that great and good. As the saying goes: your mileage may vary. I have never, I do declare on one super-rare, exquisite and costly perfume I own and adore, received any kind of compensation for any kind of review and I never will.

Having said that, the alter ego of this blog has also written and prepared press releases and copy for a few select people in the industry – for money. In such instances, the Genie as you know her is nowhere in sight, because she has no part of it at all.

The writer that I am is for sale, as all artists are to differing degrees.

The perfume writer and blogger, on the other hand, never will be.

Now, you know.

Reality Checks

Meanwhile, in the blogosphere, those thieves who choose to profiteer off the backs of those of us who do what we do for love on our own time and initiative will find they’re not only reported to several relevant authorities for daring to suggest that stealing is a ethically feasible alternative to creating content of your own as well as the radical proposition that blogging should be easy (the very idea! :-O), they’ll also find my content has been bullet-proofed to the best of my abilities.

Because in this day and age of blogvertising, I’m more than a little proud of belonging to the one percent of social media who creates the content my readers will (hopefully) enjoy. From scratch, from the heart, con amore.

Call me the Content Diva. As soon as I get the next harrowing deadline out of the way.

With grateful thanks to Gaia, the Non Blonde, for making me think.

A Catholicon for November

amouagesunshine

Today was one of those days that reminded me of nothing so much as a particular kind of 1870s French novel, say Emile Zola’s Thèrése Raquin – a dismal, dank, dreary, lead-colored day drenched in chill rain so fine, it felt more like the raspy pinpricks of a dust storm than actual H2O.

In other words, a very typical November day in my obscure corner of Niflheim. Of all the twelve months of the year, November is the month I loathe the most/like the least. The weather worsens by the day unless it simply remains dire, dismal and drenched. Daylight oozes away drop by drop in the dark spaces between the days until all that’s left at the end of the month besides the hollow echo of my bank account is just over six all too short hours by which time, I’m so crabby even my cats avoid me.

Crabby isn’t the word I’d use to describe my mood this Wednesday. In fact, I was rather upbeat for a big change as I headed through the mist for the post office to collect a package. Having recently blown money on books I’d long been dying to read, I was looking forward to nothing more electrifying than literary edification and maybe a little inspiration of a kind blocked writers know all too well.

Yet it wasn’t J. K. Huysmans ‘Là-bas’ that smoldered on the post office counter this afternoon with all its diabolical syntax and perverse pleasures.

Instead, it was another kind of pleasure and an altogether different kind of weather report – a sample of Amouage’s new limited edition release from the Midnight Flowers collection – the aptly named Sunshine.

When I discovered the return address on the label and spluttered my habitual (and unrepeatable) epithet reserved for Amouage packages, I got my usual response: for a few seconds, the queue ground to a halt, an angel walked through the room as we say in Danish, and everyone else probably wondered what was in that package to deserve such a loud, spontaneous reaction and a sashay in my step nowhere in evidence when I walked in the door a few minutes before.

Sunshine is a part of the Midnight Flowers collection that also includes the matching candles and room sprays named Hope, Love, Happy and Smile. A portion of the proceeds of this collection is donated to a charity to support guide dogs for the visually impaired.

Amouage Creative Director Christopher Chong has, so far as I can tell by the evidence everywhere supplied by Fate, Opus VIII and Journey, been on an upward-bound mood swing.

Sunshine is an exuberant, bubbly and yet sublimely elegant perfume from its effervescent top to its delicious base and best of all to this aldehyde-phobic perfume writer, not one aldehyde was fleeced in the making of this perfume.

Normally, an Amouage perfume is a demanding haute couture-clad operatic diva to parse and interpret. It takes time, consecutive tries and not a little effort to appreciate its complexity and for me to coax whatever genies and/or stories from within the bottle. This is precisely why I love them so much – they keep me on my toes in all the very best creative ways.

Yet Sunshine – for all it’s very much and most emphatically an Amouage – is nothing like any of them. This was an instant, split-second coup de foudre bolt-from-the-blue, love at first sniff, and we’ve only just met …

So dear readers, bear with me as I try to calm down and make sense of something that makes my heart sing in ways sadly lacking this November. I rushed home from the post office, shushed the cats, and applied a cloud of it.

Such a cloud it is – a bright, bouncing laugh as sweet as a dolce far niente day spent in a hammock with a good book. If this brings to mind casual clothes and bare toes, a juicy, green crème de cassis vibe will tell you that’s exactly right.

Yes. I did say that. A casual, laid-back, chillaxing and positively groovy Amouage, which would be both a paradox and an oxymoron if it weren’t so true.

Go right ahead and laugh just because you can.

But wait! There’s far more joy in store!

How do you like your flowers? Sweetly heady with a faint blush of marzipan and vanilla? That’s the large box of Ladurée macarons glowing on the table at your side in this warm and summery shade, only these are flavored with a seamless bunch of osmanthus, jasmine and creamy, lemony magnolia so you can live it up not a just a little but a lot.

Live it up you surely will, because everywhere you go there you are, bathed in your own beam of sunshine exuding all the promises and boundless optimism of a delicious, ravishing love at first, second and thirty-second sniff.

You’ll find no November here, no doom, leaden clouds or literate gloom, only a far-off powdery poof of verdant, green patchouli and sweet tobacco as that life-enhancing light slants towards the horizon and the memory of a flawless, sunshiney day that will stick with you for weeks, months and years to come.

That one perfect day when sunshine was all you needed to have hope, feel loved, be happy and smile.

I dare anyone who wears this not to.

About the only pain I feel – and trust me, it is very much a pain – is that not everyone will be able to feel those gold-perfumed rays for themselves. Sunshine is a limited edition 100 ml eau de parfum exclusively available at the seventeen Amouage boutiques worldwide until February 2015.

As for me, buried alive and wrestling the Muse in the dire, obscure depths of Niflheim, I think that everyone should have a chance to breathe in the Sunshine.

It’s the perfect antidote, panacea (even for debilitating writer’s block!) and cure-all for autumnal blues and blahs.

In other, lusher, brighter words, a catholicon for November.

amouage-unshine-2

Notes: Artemisia, blackcurrant, almond, osmanthus, jasmine, magnolia, vanilla, juniper, patchouli, papyrus and blond tobacco. The perfumer is Sidonnie Lancasseur. 

Images: Paisley Sun by Tessa Hunt Woodland, Fine Arts America. Photoshop modification by yours truly. Image of Amouage Sunshine presentation courtesy of Amouage. Used by permission.

Disclosure: A sample of Sunshine was provided for review by Amouage. I was not paid, bribed or in any way intimidated for this review. But I thank the Very August Personage for his help in smashing through a massive wall (and long draught) of severe writer’s block that melted away like ice cream in a ray of sun. 

Orange Me Glad!

orangecat

- a review of Von Eusersdorff Classic Orange

When the ever-darker days of October descend upon you, do you ever reach for an instant fragrant mood-enhancer? One that puts an extra spring in your step in the morning as you duel the possessive embrace of a duvet that won’t let you go? One that makes you inhale deeper, feel lighter, freer and more hopeful even as the wind blows rain in your face?

In the Northern Hemisphere, the chill of winter looms ahead as the landscape around us grows ever more sere, dun and bare and the days grow ever drearier, and I don’t know about you, but in my rainy, wind-blown corner of Scandinavia, I’ll take all the help I can get.

Whether it’s a sign I still have a few scraps of sanity left or else encroaching senility, I turn to one childhood scent memory more than any other when I need to give myself a swift, hard kick of motivation and/or happiness to spray.

Orange.

I spent a fair portion of my childhood in southern Florida, and in those days at least, citrus trees of all permutations were literally everywhere. In schoolyards and backyards and public parks and everywhere I went and even in the backyards of houses I lived in, some oversized specimen of citrus x. sinensis or aurantium would glow in the foliage with its sneaky sensuous blooms, waiting for its chance to startle me happy.

To this day, the scent of orange either bitter or sweet – a tree generous enough to perfume all its parts from blossom to fruit to leaves and wood – enlivens my mood (always for the better), motivates me like no other, kicks me alive and awake and puts a song in my heart.

So it figures that last year on the Facebook perfume groups, when one name kept popping up as a new kind of scented joy and someone mentioned orange, my ears perked up, or was that my anticipation?

The name was Von Eusersdorff, the perfume was Classic Orange, and with a name like that, it had me at hello.

Von Eusersdorff was once a storied European supplier of perfumery materials and apothecary items, which after all is where everything began in perfume if you think about it.

Dutch businessman Camille Henfling decided to resurrect his centuries-old family heritage and the company name by creating a series of perfumes that each highlighted a classic perfumery staple; patchouli, mimosa, vetiver, myrrh and orange under the tagline ‘Inspiringly different fragrances.’

After training for three years in Grasse as a perfumer three brand new Von Eusersdorff eaux de parfum were created in 2011; Classic Patchouli, Classic Vetiver and Classic Mimosa, followed by Classic Myrrh and Classic Orange in 2013.

I can’t say anything about the other four perfumes of the Von Eusersdorff line since I haven’t had the opportunity to try them yet, but I can say that if Classic Orange is any indication, these perfumes are a) Not ‘classic’ or fusty in the slightest and b) surprising.

Oh, how I like surprises!

The problem with a focus on perfumery standbys is the ever-present danger of resorting to clichés to get your point across. Or is it rather those very same materials have been so bastardized/vandalized, diluted and distorted in mainstream perfumery that the complexity and intrigue of the real deal takes us completely by surprise?

Given the ubiquity of orange in perfumery, it would have been so easy to turn this into yet another orange cliché; for instance, a souped-up, super-charged eau de cologne, or else an opulent orange blossom absolute-centric bombshell (a favorite kind, and the evidence is everywhere here on TAG).

Well, dear readers, Classic Orange is not any of these, or even anything like any of these. I’ve spent this past (hot!) summer with it, and found it blooms magnificently in heat as well as on those cool, windy, rainy days in melancholy October when I realize that November lurks straight ahead, my least favorite month of the year.

For one thing, it contains blood orange – that stunning fruit that glows like a combination of ruby and citrine – and blood orange is a bit like orange on steroids with a twist. Blood orange has not only all the redeeming qualities of regular bigarade or sweet oranges, it also features a luscious raspberry facet in its scent somewhere in those glowing depths. Even in those first intoxicating moments, a very fruity laugh lurks underneath that initial bright burst of sunshine, a healthy dose of orange peel and pith and petitgrain greenery.

So it begins, but it isn’t long before it grows richer and deeper. The notes say nothing about orange blossom (or even blood orange blossom), but on my skin, I detect definite traces of neroli and orange blossom absolute, and then – the surprise.

Tea?

Indeed, black tea, enhanced further by a sweet osmanthus curling like a sentient vine around the ever present orange. Not so much Darjeeling but more a Lapsang Souchong, because this orange grows smokier as it glows. Nothing as smoky as incense or even myrrh, but instead a restrained feather touch to add intrigue and heighten your interest and there, this not-at-all classic and nowhere boring orange remains for a long, long time before it leaves with a laugh, a wave and a wink of vetivery, ever-so-slightly musky orange.

What surprised me the most – apart from being not at all what I expected but much more than I hoped for – is just how perfectly balanced it is. I’ve grown so accustomed to perfumes that evolve like characters in a play, the spotlight moving from one note to the next as notes enter and exit stage right or left.

But here, the spotlight never strays from its star, the other notes merely adding a few elegant, enhancing, and very Modernist reinvention flourishes to an old evergreen standard that makes you wonder:

Why haven’t I heard this before?

Sometimes it happens I’m surprised, and after four years of writing about perfume with no end in sight, that’s a very grand and glorious thing.

But best of all, I think I’ve found my own personal name for this ruby-orange bombshell.

In the depths of a blustery week full of rain and wind and harbingers of winter to come, I’ll call it simply:

Orange Me Glad!

Notes: Blood orange, petitgrain, Chinese osmanthus, black tea, vetiver, musk.

Von Eusersdorff Classic Orange is available at First in Fragrance and Twisted Lily as a 100 ml eau de parfum.

With grateful thanks and a fragrant hug to Amato for making this review possible.

La Dame aux Camélias

camille2

- a review of aroma M Camellia Perfume

Very nearly every moment of our everyday lives, we are surrounded by functional fragrances. Items we use every day are scented, from cosmetics to detergents both personal and quotidian, from dish soap to body washes and hair care products.

Once in a blue moon, it happens one of these seemingly everyday fragrances is so good, so euphoria-inducing and mood-improving, I for one catch myself wishing they could be made into a perfume I could wear. If that proves impossible, I simply do the obvious if I can… wear it as perfume.

This was emphatically the case last year, when perfumer Maria McElroy of cult favorites aroma M perfumes and House of Cherry Bomb successfully ventured into cosmetics with her Camellia Oil line of hair, facial and body oils.

Not only do each and every one of them rank as among the best, most luxurious and effective products I’ve ever applied to my face, hair and body, they also contain the same fragrance, a celestial blend of jasmine, gardenia, neroli, geranium and rose, all anchored by a heartstopping, glorious frankincense that isn’t smoky in the slightest, but instead sparkles with all its luscious, shimmering lemony-earthy-green facets. If that weren’t enough, they also contain camellia oil, the beauty secret of tsubaki-abura that has kept Kyoto’s geisha beautiful for centuries.

It goes without saying I used up almost all my samples to the last drop for both reasons – they were simply that good!

Maria’s background as an aromatherapist was evident in the fragrance she created for her Camellia Oils. Who better than an aromatherapist would know the lure of luxurious self-pampering doesn’t end with how effective a product is, but also how it makes us feel when we anticipate its pleasures? In this case, mirror-finish, satin-smooth, healthy hair, and likewise glowing, velvet-soft skin from top to toe, and last but never least its transporting, heavenly fragrance?

After the many deserved accolades from beauty blogs, perfume writers and editorials and countless requests from her customers, she took the obvious next step and made a dedicated perfume available as both a high-concentration eau de parfum and a perfume oil like her other perfumes from the Geisha line.

So here it is on my desk in both versions – the eau de parfum and the perfume oil (a form of perfume I’m certainly addicted to, because it never overwhelms and lasts and lasts).

A lot can be inferred about my anticipation by my reaction the day I received it. Dear readers, I tore into that envelope with alacrity.

This was one of those occasions when I simply knew by hope, instinct or experience that it would not simply be good. It would be – so I hoped – at least as beautiful as the products that inspired it.

My hopes were not wrong.

In nature, for all their definite visual appeal (which even Coco Chanel incorporated into her aesthetic), camellias have no discernible scent. But if I were ever given goddess-like powers to decide what hitherto unscented blooms would smell like, I’d waste not a moment’s hesitation in decreeing:

camellia2

As for camellia, let it be this…

Camellia Perfume is a sibling of another perfume Maria created in collaboration with her House of Cherry Bomb colleague Alexis Karl. That perfume is Lil (for the Devilscent Project), an outrageously opulent floral bombshell, but Mademoiselle Camellia is nowhere so outrageous yet every bit as floral.

Instead, she seduces less by her presence but by her charming and seamless floral bouquet of classy, classic blooms; jasmine, neroli, gardenia, rose and geranium, which gives them all a viridian, fresh daytime edge, a flowery deep breath to invigorate and inspire you. The gardenia note in particular is slanted sparkling green by the geranium and does all it can to make those flowers sing.

Sing they certainly do from top notes to finish some long time later, but they also have an orchestra of luscious frankincense to accompany them. And such a virtuoso performance it is, too.

Frankincense, used for its fragrance for at least the past 5000 years, can veer in several directions in a perfume. With labdanum (another ancient perfume ingredient) for instance, it can be smoky, sensual and lascivious, yet here, it has been used as my most favorite frankincense type of all: the pure scent of the boswellia resin itself. Frankincense as it is used in perfume comes in three different varieties, each with its own olfactory profile. I’m not aware of what type of frankincense Maria used, but from the way it appears in Camellia Perfume, I’m going to wager my most favorite kind: Silver Omani, with its glorious piercing, pure lemon-meringue pine aroma, wrapping up those beautiful blooms with a bright, satin plume of happy, not at all a bad way to characterize the perfume itself, either.

As I’ve worn it these past few weeks, I came to discover Camellia perfume has a singular effect on my mood. In a September filled with not a few trials and tribulations, either of these versions has performed wonders in taking me to a happier, calmer place.

I said it before, I’ll say it again.

This is a perfume full of joy.

You now have no excuse for playing Camille or even paying homage to her real-life inspiration, the 19th-century courtesan Marie Duplessis.

But do spread a little happiness where and when you can, by paying your homage to this new and utterly delicious…

Dame aux Camélias.

Aroma M Camellia Perfume is available directly from the aroma M website as a high-concentration eau de parfum or as a pure perfume oil in a bottle that pays its own homage to yet another camellia lover.

Notes: Neroli, jasmine, gardenia, geranium, rose, frankincense.

Photo: Greta Garbo in the 1936 MGM George Cukor classic Camille. I like to think she’s sniffing this perfume. Duotone creation by me.

Disclosure: Samples of Camellia Perfume were sent by Maria McElroy. I’m not worthy.

Perfume Botox

kim-novak-ralph-crane-shoot-1958-1 – When perfumes become holographic

In the life and times of a perfume writer of a certain age in an era where perfumes are launched (and sometimes relaunched) at breakneck speed, it makes a certain kind of sense to stay away from heartbreak.

The heartbreak of venturing into the Brave Old World of vintage perfumes, that is. I leave that to my justly celebrated colleague and friend Barbara Herman of Yesterday’s Perfume, author of the likewise celebrated Scent and Subversion, who has jogged my own memory of perfumed glories past we used to wear more times than I can count, bless her.

But memory and perfume are so intimately entwined and so mutually evocative, even hardnosed post-punk cynics diehard optimist romantics such as I can sometimes be caught unaware. Especially concerning those beauties we wore once upon a storied time when we were less cynical, less heartbroken and perhaps far less inhibited by what we now know of perfumes and their history, never mind the way those perfumes have defined and underlined our own.

This was brought home to me in more ways than one when I received an anonymous package recently. It had no identifying marks or a sender’s address on it, even, and at the time I wasn’t expecting anything from anyone.

As soon as I opened it, however, I knew. The package came from my sister, and inside, to my own huge surprise, was a bottle of the current version of one perfume that really has defined me in ways great and small since the early Eighties – Lancôme’s 1978 Magie Noir.

I first encountered Magie Noir in late 1978 as part of a fashion spread in a Danish women’s magazine. The name alone was enough to get my attention, but at a very naïve fifteen, I was nowhere yet woman enough to wear it, I quickly discovered when I tried it. Those amber colored depths contained some arcane, occult secrets of womanhood I wasn’t mature enough or sophisticated enough to understand.

When it next made an appearance in my life five years later, I still wasn’t sure. My boyfriend at the time presented me with a huge bottle of the eau de toilette as The Perfume He Wanted Me To Wear, so I did, not least for the effect it had on him. Somehow, I still didn’t feel I was quite glamorous enough, beautiful enough, seductive enough, tall enough or even woman enough to wear it, but if it made him happy…

Throughout the Eighties and well beyond, Magie Noir followed me as a permanent part of my collection. It trailed in my wake on nights on the town, alternated with another 1980s witchy brew, Paloma Picasso’s Mon Parfum, it stayed on mornings after, it followed me on those occasions I had definite ulterior motives.

Even today these all too many years later, it remains the single most complimented perfume I have ever owned. I have yet to meet a man it hasn’t swiped sideways in a swoon. I even wore it at my wedding in 2000, a great, whopping cloud of it, because my husband insisted it was his favorite out of the five I owned at the time.

The marriage didn’t last, but Magie Noir did!

When in 2008, I located a bottle of the original formulation at an online discounter at an outrageously cheap price, I wasted no time at all in wishing for a bottle for my birthday. I still have that bottle today, doled out in tiny sprays, because once it’s gone – it’s gone.

Yet my sister remembered when a DK retailer had a nostalgia campaign recently and brought back modern versions of some of the greatest perfume successes of the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties and Nineties, perfumes that usually are nowhere available anywhere here. She even sent a text message to make sure: “Didn’t you used to wear Magie Noir?” “Hell, yes!”

A few days later, I received that current formulation. (Thank you, Sis!) And…

At some point, I caught myself thinking Lancôme should have just given up the ghost of former glory and called it Magie Blanche. Because unlike the original there is nothing in the slightest morally ambiguous about this version.

It’s a lot of things, most of them very good, but it’s emphatically not the original, and in this IFRA-compliant age, how could it be?

If the original is a rosy patchouli-flecked castoreum-laden, mossy witches’ brew with green fangs worthy of the three ladies in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, if not Lady Macbeth herself, this modern reformulation is not unlike seeing Lady Macbeth as a holograph of her former, witchy, manipulative, evil self.

She has, as they say, had some work done.

So this rainy, humdrum Sunday afternoon, I sit with the goddess Hecate – the original formulation – on my left wrist and the ‘rejuvenated’ Madame Macbeth on my right. How do they compare?

Well, they don’t.

If Hecate works her witchery best after dark and preferably after midnight with emphatic ulterior man-eating motives, Madame Macbeth much prefers the safety of daylight and the solace of the familiar. She is airier, lighter and infinitely fresher, to appeal to a younger audience, maybe? Certainly, if you were allowed to wear perfume to the office/workplace, no one would be offended by her presence. Her fangs have been replaced with perfectly aligned dazzling movie-star white caps, or to put it another way, more bergamot and less of that ensorcelling, eerie will-o’-the-wisp earthy-green galbanum.

Hecate, whose fangs are long and green with only a tinge of sunny bergamot and a distinct galbanum, makes no such efforts to conform to any other rules than her own. That animal growl that so defines her is present right from the start. Kneel in her presence, you hapless mortals! A goddess walks among you. For the love of all things atavistic and primeval, appreciate her. Or beware the consequences!

Because this goddess on the far side of midnight conceals a rich, deep, burgundy hued rosy heart (Bulgarian rose, if my memory serves me correctly) to lure any all-too willing victims even further into her passion play, down and down and down into the dark fur-lined abyss of castoreum and oakmoss where secrets are revealed and truths are made apparent and skins are peeled away and made irrelevant yet souls may taste immortality if they’re deemed worthy of such transcendent pleasures.

Madame Macbeth’s heart hides nothing more edifying than a dewy, fresh pink rose wrapped in a few casual patchouli leaves and an approximation of oakmoss almost as an afterthought. No feral creature growls down below. If she existed as a woman, you’d stare at her still-beautiful face and wonder:

“What the hell happened to you?”

The perfume equivalent of extensive plastic surgery, that’s what. Hecate’s witchy soul has had her forehead Botoxed, her cheeks and compelling facial lines packed with Restylane and her porcelain skin resurfaced with IPL. That heart of splendid dark has been liposuctioned out of existence. Her character retains just enough of its former beauty to remind you of what she once was and made her into a hologram. You can inhale what she is and sense what she was, yet what she was is now forever gone and far away, and what is left doesn’t stick around for long. I could easily wear – indeed, I have – this Madame for any occasion at all, and it’s still good enough that I will.

Meanwhile, Hecate laughs from the depths of her black abyss. “You had a goddess among you,” she seems to say, “yet you forgot what you had.”

As if.

With thanks to my sister Stephanie for the memories old and new. And also Barbara Herman, for sharing the mutual nostalgia. 

Photo of Kim Novak by Ralph Crane in ‘Bell, Book and Candle’ (1958). In this movie at least, as close as any human can get to being the great goddess Hecate.

A Dandy in the Dirt

WilliamBurroughs2

- a review of Jardins d’Ècrivains Junky

For all we prefer to think we live in an age that obsesses about hedonism as an aspirational lifestyle, the fact is nonetheless that as a society, we in the West are really obsessed… with control. Control of our bodies in terms of diet and exercise, endless self-recrimination/neurosis if we don’t measure up to the advertised ideal, control of our runaway minds and impertinent, inopportune thoughts, only now we call it the ultra-hip mindfulness, control of our careers and the circumstances of our very lives as an admonition and precaution in the hopes we may keep the nefarious demons of change and chaos that threaten us on the edges at arms’ length – or else.

Chaos, lack of control, dancing on the knife edge with those demons either figuratively or literally – all these things are best left to trained professionals who know how to embrace them, so we think in our manic panic control freak mode as we whirl through our chaotic times narrowly avoiding demonic roadblocks of yet more chaos.

You know them: the outcasts, the dreamers and dancers, the poets and painters and madcap musicians and artistes and wannabes and maniacal writers who need to make sense of this chaos in any way they can to explain it to the rest of us – or die trying.

If anyone could embody that dance on the knife’s edge, of dueling with Dionysus and divine madness in ways both great and ruinous, it would surely be William Burroughs, the author of the book and the inspiration behind the French company Jardins d’Écrivains latest perfume, Junky.

William Burroughs – prophet of the Beat generation, inspiration for countless imitators, and famous for his no-holds-barred and often harrowing prose – has always seemed a bit of a paradox to me. On the one hand, he was a Social Register aristocrat with a sharp eye for all its failings, and on the other, he personified la vie dans la boue in the best of his brutally honest books, describing the low lives and human detritus that surrounded him with an acerbic pen honed by his acute observations of both their human failings and certainly his own, and nowhere more so than in his first book, Junky.

Reading Junky today reminds me quite a lot of Thomas de Quincy’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater in its exposé of the perils and unearthly pleasures of addiction, but I suspect Burroughs’ intentions were very different from de Quincy’s, even if they both were addicted to two different versions of the same drug, laudanum (which is opium resin in an alcohol solution) and heroin (super-refined opium, super-potent, and one of the most addictive substances known to science). Whereas de Quincy gave us a Gothic Technicolor extravaganza of opiate visions complete with all the literary flourishes of his age, Burroughs gave us a very modern horror story complete with all the trimmings in incredibly spare and brutally honest prose. Personal tragedy, the ravage of its effects, the constant, incessant hustle for the next fix and the one after that, and the next, the agony of being without…

It seems like an odd premise for a perfume of all things, for all that both I and most of my readership are hopelessly addicted to perfume’s countless charms.

Yet Jardins d’Écrivains (the Garden of Writers, a name that had me at hello), a French perfume house which also makes other beautifully composed, luxurious writer-inspired perfumes, candles and bath products, has proven that they don’t take the obvious route with their perfumes. You’ll find no easy shortcuts or clichés in their entire lineup. I first encountered their line at Pitti Fragranze last year, and was certainly more than impressed enough to tell myself to get back to them when I could pay them more attention.

Lo and behold, here is Junky, and for a long time, there was something about it I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around until I realized two things: one, the paradox of William Burroughs himself, and two, the underlying meta-message of his book; that this singular horror could happen to anyone, even a man born at the apex of society with a silver spoon in his mouth – a very radical and highly loaded political premise in the early Fifties when it was first published.

To say that Junky begins green – and I do mean g-r-e-e-n - is an understatement. Green is another way to have me at hello – galbanum lovers, unite! Except that’s nowhere near the whole story, since a distinctive subversive heart beats beneath it – a cannabis accord that is unlike any other I’ve tried in a perfume (a few!). While it won’t get you arrested by either the FBI or the TSA, it’s very much present and unmistakable for anything else.

Yes, I inhaled! And more than once!

Before you know it, a seductive, seamless floral aura begins to bloom on the edges of your awareness. It begins as an indistinct blend, but gradually, it grows and grows and flowers on the skin in a slightly surreal way. Violet, iris and gardenia, says the notes list, yet I’ll wager that that list is missing another, less floral aspect of violet apart from alpha-ionone that accentuates the green theme in Junky – violet leaf, because I detect a lot of violet leaf on my skin. Since violet leaf is one of my favorite notes, this is no bad thing. The iris adds a dab of intellectual distance and irony fragrantly related to Burroughs’ own, whereas the gardenia – just a touch – turns up the volume on all three notes and meanwhile, somewhere in the background that pulse of cannabis beats beneath and betwixt the blooms. As they evolve, it gets harder to tell them apart and harder still not to ask the question: why hasn’t this been done before? And where is it all going, and what does it all mean? Not to mention: why do I feel dizzy?

For one thing, it means green from top to base notes. Those flowers are perceived through a green filter – first by the cannabis hello at the start, followed by those surreal flowers and then by a base that brings it to a final rest of cashmeran – making it soft and fluffy as any opiate dream. I get hints of incense, cedar and juniper, a shot of invigorating moss, a final wave of those intoxicating florals and some 6-7 hours later, a last laugh of that bittersweet cannabis before it vanishes to that Netherworld where such wonders lie in wait for us to discover them.

And the paradox?

The paradox is Burroughs’ own. He is always identified with the Beat Generation he did so much to define, and yet, for all its louche intellectualism and rejection of society’s norms, he also somehow stayed impeccably true to his own upbringing by being meticulous with his appearance to the point of being considered (by Allen Ginsberg not least) something of a dandy and that’s another aspect of this Junky. For all its surprises, Junky is a supremely delineated and exceedingly elegant perfume, just as Burroughs always remained the elegantier of the Beat Generation, somehow transcending the tragic and harrowing circumstances of his life, his unique perspectives, his work and his addictions through his equally meticulous prose.

This Junky, then, is not so much the how of Burroughs’ book, nor even the what, but the why. Why is always the question – and here, it’s a flawless green and perilous floral beauty of an ideal high I’ve found myself craving at different times this past hot summer.

Because anyone can become addicted to Junky’s charms, Even a dandy dwelling in the dirt.

Notes: Cannabis, palisander, rosewood, galbanum, violet, iris, gardenia, cashmeran, cedar, vetiver, incense, juniper, moss, myrtle.

Jardins d’Ècrivains Junky is available from First in Fragrance, Twisted Lily and directly from their website.

With my most profound thanks to Val the Cookie Queen, who does what she can to facilitate my own perfume addiction, bless her subversive heart.

Image of William Burroughs by Harold Chapman, The Beat Hotel, Paris, 1955. Photoshop modification by me.

A Fabulous Four

pink_green_and_blue_floral_cupcakes – some thoughts on a fourth blogoversary and the evolution of a perfume writer.

Around the time my first novel Quantum Demonology was published last winter, I was PMed on Facebook by someone I consider a friend even though we have yet to meet in person. You can bet your perfume budget on some sunshiney day, we certainly will. This is someone many people would consider famous and justly celebrated for that thing he does, so much even I once upon a time completely freaked out he deigned to converse with nobody, nonentity me.

“How does it feel,” he asked me, “to be famous?”

<insert discombobulated Elmer Fudd moment here>

I told him I wasn’t entirely there just yet. (True.)

“But when they make it into a movie…” he blithely continued.

And when they do…

You see, as John Lennon once (famously) said, life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

On August 2nd, 2010, I was dueling the first draft of the very long, very last chapter of my book to the death – or at least to where I could type THE END. Meanwhile, it was a hot summer night and the household was asleep, except for one insomniac writer wannabe nearing the last of her third glass of wine in her Hemingway search for inspiration.

Ya know, I remember I thought that night, I could start a perfume blog. What was the worst thing that could happen?

Well, I could become a better writer, maybe.

Bashful Beginnings

Four or five years before, I began my own descent into the perfumed maelstrom by lurking in the shadows on those perfume and beauty blogs I found particularly inspiring; Indie Perfumes, Perfume Shrine, Yesterday’s Perfume, the Non Blonde,  and of course Perfume Posse. They all wrote about perfumes I had never heard of from brands I never knew, in compelling, illuminating ways that almost made them tangible for someone who at the time had no perfume at all, but I could almost reach out through the computer screen and sniff them, almost wonder what it must be like to own and enjoy such evocative essences.

It was perfume by proxy – a highly refined form of torture – but it taught me a lot I didn’t know and cemented much I already did. Somehow, it also satisfied an aesthetic itch/need I wasn’t aware I had – a craving for beauty my own quotidian life at the time could never fulfill. Which also explains why I then proceeded to wish for perfume on all birthdays and Christmases so I could find out what all the fuss was about.

And in August of 2010, that’s where I began – with the five bottles in my perfume cabinet. My first ever review was of the vintage version of Balmain’s Ivoire, and I was idiot enough to think I was simply writing in much the same style as all those other bloggers and with some semblance of the same structure I had absorbed by observation and five years of perfume blog reading.

Which was so very wrong in so many ways!

Seismic Shifts

By December that same year, I approached the end of my rope and my undistinguished career as a perfume blogger – I owned no more perfumes to review. Samples in Denmark were unheard of in those days (which still holds true in some places to this day, especially with Estée Lauder), I couldn’t even afford to buy samples and then what would I do? I made stealth undercover visits to local perfume stores and hosed myself down with tester bottles before I rushed back home to review them. (True story!)

Yet by that time, two scented seismic shifts occurred, both of them paramount to the perfume writer I would later become.

The first of these was biting the bullet and sending off an email request for les petits livres, those fragrant booklets full of wax samples of the perfumes of Serge Lutens. I had been reading about/dreaming about Serge Lutens’ perfumes for seven years, and that intensity of curiosity will kill you…

If any one brand paved the way for the epiphanies to come and taught me to recalibrate my nose by several thousand degrees, it would be Serge Lutens. They were the outright weirdest ‘perfumes’ I had ever encountered in my life. Yet I couldn’t stop sniffing no matter how I tried.

Until that ordinary day the penny dropped, and I got them, got what they were trying to say in essence and absolute, understood them to bedrock and bone marrow…

<spoiler alert>

It’s no coincidence all the perfumes the protagonist of Quantum Demonology wears (and even gives away) are Lutens/Sheldrake creations. To this day and until the day I die, I’ll be an acolyte of the diabolical temple to Oncles Serge and Christopher at the Palais Royal in Paris.

The second seismic shift I owe to Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids. Just as les oncles paved the way for niche perfumery, Ellen opened my nose and Jacobsen’s organ to US indie perfumery, and nothing was ever quite the same again.

You see, Ellen’s astonishing perfumes made me without question into the perfume writer I am today.

Something in those sample vials she first sent me caused me to pull out words and descriptions and phrases I never even knew I contained. For this reason and not a few more, Ellen has her own niche in my perfume Pantheon, and there she stays to this day, because she, too, has evolved and grown into a creator of some truly spectacular perfumes. But best and by far greatest of all, we’ve also become friends and mutual fan clubs.

A Seminal Year

In 2011, Scent Less Sensibilities (the first incarnation of my perfume blog) exploded. Literally. Suddenly, a solitary (and rather lonely) voice in the cyberspace void was heard, was read, was getting noticed… all at the same time my personal life was also – literally – falling apart. Perfume reviewing became my refuge and my escape, and never in my life had the mailman been so eagerly anticipated, because in finally stuffing my perpetual self-doubts where they belonged and pouring out my liquid passions on the virtual page, I found a warm welcome into the blogging community. Thanks to the support, encouragement and astonishing generous care packages of Lucy, Carrie, Dee, Suzanne, Olfactoria, Ines of AllIAmARedhead, Joanne, Portia and many more, I wrote about marvels I never knew.

‘Wrote’, I type these three and a half years later, but what was I truly doing besides attempting to capture the intangible, make it breathe and come alive as best I could for the reader? Even then, there were quite a few perfume blogs, and even then, I had an urge to be distinctive, to do things differently, to push my limits and my words as far and as hard as they could go.

So I ordered the few samples of a few niche houses that caught my imagination, and waited to see what transpired.

In Search of Epiphany

If all good things come in threes, then my third fragrant epiphany was plonking down what was then an insane amount of money – 22€ – on two samples of a line I wanted to knock down to size.

To this day, those two samples remain among the best money I’ve ever spent on perfume in my life.

You see, around the time I had that Zinfandel flash of inspiration to write about perfume, I was beginning to despair of the whole business of perfume. Once upon a time, we could be knocked off our feet in department stores by fragrances to inspire us, seduce us, transport us to otherwise and elsewhere. Why wasn’t that happening any more?

On a dismal, gray winter’s day, I sprayed one of those expensive samples. And was instantly so overcome, I had to sit down.

I had not sniffed – never mind sprayed – something so exquisite, so complex, so huge, so refined and so opulent in decades.

I remember I spluttered a few (highly profane) words I can’t repeat on a perfume blog. I had not one idea in Hades how I’d find the words to write about it. That night, I sat down in front of my computer intending to do my best straight-up review.

Instead and to my own complete surprise, I wrote a story, because with certain perfumes and on certain occasions, a story will do so very much to convey the mood, the emotions, the ambience, the transport and the evolution of a perfume far better than a ‘this is what it smells like’ review. Nothing against those reviews in the slightest, but with me, the storyteller overrules the perfume blogger, which was how I began to even write in the first place a long, long time ago.

This was how I began to write about Amouage. By now, I’ve written almost 400 reviews since of brands both great and small, known and less so, and three years on, ten of those story reviews have been Amouages. Few other brands’ creations grasp my imagination quite so tightly and no other brand is so impossible to review, because sweet Saint Mary Magdalene, where in the multiverse do I start to convey those teeming, seething multitudes of meaning?

Almost four years on, that’s a question I still can’t answer. But by Golly, I’ll die trying!

Great Collaborations

You might have noticed that generally, the Genie doesn’t guest blog or have guest bloggers. Not because I’m opposed to the idea you understand, but partly because I’m a raging megalomaniac writer who wants to hog all the glory for myself and partly for lack of invitations.

Nevertheless, 2011 was also the year I was offered three chances to collaborate elsewhere: as a guest blogger for Penhaligon’s Adventures in Scent, as a participant in a unique and fertile crossroads of literature and perfume called the Clarimonde Project and as a fellow instigator of a perfume project of my own.

Part of my research for the Penhaligon’s guest blog involved an incredible story of a solo journey down the Nile in 1870, when respectable ladies of a certain class simply didn’t do that sort of scandalous, adventurous thing. Even so, I suspect Penhaligon’s was not quite prepared for having their perfumes turned into characters or an irreverent 1890s story of a runaway bride in two installments.

But dear readers, why should writing about perfume always be so high-minded and serious? Channeling Agatha Christie (although I wasn’t aware of it and didn’t read her at the time) was a lot of fun.

The Clarimonde Project was a very different matter – equally as much fun, not least for indulging in all my inherent Gothic inclinations and minuscule talent for emulating 19th-century violet prose, but more importantly because I really had to up the ante on my words, since those staggering perfumes inspired by Théophile Gautier’s 1837 story of a priest and a vampire were journeys into night and shade compelling in their haunting beauty. And not once, but twice, I was compelled to continue Gautier’s story from two different perspectives – one told by his housekeeper, the other the protagonist’s dying thoughts. Even today, I count those two stories as some of the finest writing I’ve ever done. Anywhere.

Speaking of fun…

At one point in 2011, Ellen Covey threw down the gauntlet and double-dared me into another perfume project – the Devilscent Project. Only this time, the inspiration came from my own twisted mind.

My novel and my perfume blog are forever intertwined. Without one, the other would not exist, and my own existence at least would be much diminished for it. To drum up a little interest in Quantum Demonology, Ellen suggested we create a project around the story, and to create perfumes for the titanic antagonist Lilith, Queen of the Succubi, and even for the Devil himself as they’re both described in the book. I’m still not sure I was or even am entirely worthy of the perfumes and incense that followed by Ellen, by Neil Morris, by Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl of House of Cherry Bomb, Amanda Feeley of Esscentual Alchemy, Monica Miller, Kedra Hart of Opus Oils and Katlyn Breene of Mermade Magickal Arts. The world lacks no end of fragrances marketed as ‘dangerously erotic’ or with a bad-boy, rock’n’roll aesthetic. All too often, none of them truly are.

All the perfumes for the Devilscent Project should be banned by Papal bull, whether you choose to accentuate the d in ‘danger’ or capitalize the e in ‘erotic’.

All Good Things

Once upon a storied time, I heard myself saying that all good things have come into my life because of perfume. Only afterwards did I realize just how true that off-the-cuff statement actually was.

Because it is nothing more nor less than the absolute truth.

All good things have come into my life because of perfume.

Without writing about perfume, I would never have become a published novelist. Without perfume, I would never have decided to throw all caution to the wind and define myself simply as a writer.

Without perfume, I would never have forged the friendships, the fellowship or the connections I cherish every single day. And last, but never least, despite being technically unemployed for the past five years (although I have more or less ‘worked’ full-time in various projects to earn my unemployment stipend) and despite being so destitute I can count the amount of full bottles I’ve been able to afford to buy these past four years on one hand, I’ve never felt richer, happier or smelled more fabulous in my entire life.

At one point in Quantum Demonology, the protagonist states the following:

Why did I become a writer? Simple. I sucked at everything else.

True story, for her and for the woman who created her from bits and pieces of her own self, as artists always do.

Then again, that’s not the whole truth.

Because thanks to perfume, I came to envision a new kind of future for the woman I’ve become these past four years, a future I chose, a future I conjured from the aether and channeled from essence and absolute. As I did, as I sniffed and marveled (and sometimes scrubbed), I sent out a grateful thank you to the wind, for being so incredibly privileged to experience something so beautiful and write about it too, to share my experience with my readers and above all else, to conjure friendships with likeminded souls who share my inclinations and my passion, who read what I write, and whose astonishing generosity I dearly wish I could have reciprocated, but unfortunately still can’t.

Yet for four years, I’ve paid my friends and my readers back the only way I can – with my words.

To be honest, I have no idea where I’ll be four years from now, although I rather doubt it will be here.

But here’s what I do know: it can never happen without you, my friends, my readers and my (dangerous!) facilitators.

Thank YOU for these past four fabulous years.

Are you up for four more?

With special thanks to Lucy, Ellen, Neela, Portia, Val, Maria, Alexis, Maggie, Monica, Kedra, Katlyn, Mandy, Christopher, Vero, Andy, Shelley, Dawn, Neil, Ida, Thomas, Persolaise, Barbara, Elena, Gaia, Carrie, Dee, JoAnne, Suzanne, Ines, Caro, Ruth the Perfume Dragon, Tami and of course, Carlos. And the countless thousands I surely forgot to mention!