Bearded Ladies


- Reviews and reflections on iris

It’s spring, says my calendar, and spring is the time of year to dig all my favorite flowers out of hiding to celebrate. It’s spring – so bring on the fancy florals, those fragrant florid fantasies that I try to conjure before flying out the door in the morning with Spider-Man Jr.

Any reader of this blog knows my predilection for orange blossom, and Mademoiselle Orange still reigns supreme, no question. But in these heady days of early spring, she’s sometimes a bit too…girlie for my taste. Girlie is fine some days, the days I wake up happy and want to shout it to the stars. Since daylight savings time arrived last weekend and I realize that technically I’m now getting out of bed at 4 AM when it is still pitch-black outside, those days have yet to arrive.

For mornings like these and the days that stretch out in front of them, I want a flower that says ‘w-o-m-a-n’, preferably with a capital W. And no flower known to man or Woman in my arrogant opinion says Woman (capital included!) like that bearded lady known as Iris Pallida.

Iris is such a stunning flower, a showgirl in the spring parade with her white or purple frills and that laughing slivery shock of yellow. In perfumes, however, she comes across very differently. Iris can be chilly, slightly intimidating and even haughty, but she is always, always flawlessly turned out and always exudes…elegance and class and a slight distance to other merely mortal flowers. She has been known to devour roses, unless Madame Rose battles it out, all thorns included, and refuses to be intimidated. As for the rest of them – well, they’re not her, are they?

‘So not my social register, dahling. You can do better. Your stock has gone up.’

I listen to arguments like these every morning in front of my perfume cabinet, I swear.

Recently, I decided to explore this bearded lady in all her many glories a bit more. When a sample package arrived from Olfactoria recently, she included a few versions of Madame Iris, and instead of doing separate reviews of each, I decided to compare them – just to start another catfight in my cabinet. I love it when the djinns in those bottles begin to argue, and argue, they do. My stock is going up, and they know it!

The Queen of Faërie
Iris Silver Mist, by Serge Lutens.
Created by Maurice Roucel in 1994, this is iris at her strangest, her eeriest, and her most mercurial and ethereal. There really is nothing else like it. Chilly spring earth with a whisper of green, a hint of carrot, and a shapeshifter of an iris that peeks and hides, hides and peeks – and then jumps out at you when you least expect it with such mind-blowing beauty you want to cry. Right at the moment you get it, you get this iris in the bedrock of your very soul, she disappears laughing below the ground, and all you’re left with is a memory. You give up. You forget about her, and resign yourself to that melancholy echo of the earth breathing on a spring day. She waits, and then jumps out of the forest, shouting ‘BOO!’ I like surprises, but few perfumes have surprised me so much and so continuously as this one.

28, La Pausa, by Chanel (2007)
If like me you love iris, then this is a no-brainer. It’s iris. Iris in all its glory, iris from start to finish, it’s all about iris, and it’s gorgeous, green, breathtaking and heartstopping in its very iriscentricity. The problem is, it disappears in nothing flat. WTF??? Jacques Polge, how could you DO this to me? If Chanel – who would surely know how – would amp this up to eau de parfum or parfum, it would never leave my cabinet or my spring rotation, ever. Christopher Sheldrake, are you listening? Do something. We iris lovers deserve that much!

Infusion d’Iris, by Prada (2007)
If some of these bearded ladies are buxom, fully grown women who know how to wear haute couture, walk in stilettos and behave in ladylike fashion when confronted with whole cooked artichokes, then this is Iris as Supermodel. Not above age 20, not with a hint of curves and not too much personality, either. This is an iris with not much meat on her bones. She photographs well, it must be said, but this woman doesn’t deserve that capital W. For the longest time, all I got was Elnett hairspray whenever I tried it. I tried it again today, and while I didn’t get the Elnett, I got a pallid, bloodless, slouchy iris, a wannabe iris, a wimpy iris I’m not sure I have time enough for. I like to make a statement, and the only thing IdI states is ‘well, at least I tried to be what you wanted…’ in her breathy, little voice. Sorry, baby. You should go play with your Barbies now. They’ve been missing you.

Iris Nobile, by Acqua di Parma (2004)
At the opposite end of the scale is Acqua di Parma’s Iris Nobile, who is all Woman, all the time. The kind of woman who would never dream of venturing out in public without every hair and eyelash in place. She is very beautiful, slightly haughty and very, very restrained. I wore jeans and a sweater the day I took her for a test drive, and she was not very pleased. Not by the music on my iPod, not by my attire in general and least of all by those jeans. ‘A proper signora would never wear those!’ she shouted, ‘and certainly not without more foundation garments! And heels! Signora, you are small! You need heels! A pencil skirt at least, and a suitable blouse, silk of course, and…’
And I’m just too much of a Viking slob for Signora Nobile…

Terre d’Iris, by Miller Harris (2005)
Miller Harris is a line I’ve had a slightly uneasy relationship with. I once owned a decant of Citron-Citron, and although I liked it quite a lot for hot, carefree summer days, it vanished almost before I knew it was there. Not so with TdI. This is an iris with titanium ovaries and a built-in attitude, and it caught me by surprise. Elegant, but not so elegant she can’t stand my beloved jeans, and with just enough wood to keep me intrigued. (All puns intended!) Oh, yes, she’s a keeper. She can wrestle that Prada wimperella with one hand behind her back and an elegant toss of her hair, and take on all the snooty Lutens ladies who roll their heavily made-up eyes at the plebes who share that cabinet. I liked her, really I did. With that much attitude, I suspect she wore safety pins in her attire in her wanton youth – and rest assured, it was…wanton. All that wood…

I still have a few more bearded ladies to try. The question is, what catfights will they get into on the shelves of my perfume cabinet? I can’t wait to find out!

A Scent of Sin


- a review of Guerlain’s ‘Spiritueuse Double Vanille’

Behold – the vanilla orchid, originator to one of the most beloved and abused essences in perfumery. Beloved when it’s rendered well, adding sweetness and spice and all things nice, despised when rendered as sugary cupcake overkill. Vanilla is an important part of one of the most famous bases in perfumery – the Guerlinade. Shalimar would not be Shalimar without that opulent, rich vanilla base.

You would never know that this little, unassuming flower is one of the most important in the world. You would never know that this dainty little orchid could evoke hints and intimations…of sinful, sweet and animal.

Few people realize just how animal, how nearly feral vanilla can be. Although I’ve liked and even loved vanilla as a component in many, many perfumes including Shalimar, I’ve never taken the trouble to actively seek them out, simply because…there are too many horror stories out there, and I’ve stuck my unsuspecting nose in quite a few.

Vanilla in general has a terrible reputation. Vanilla has become a byword for anything boring, bland, middle-of-the-road. It is a safe fragrance, a safe flavor, and ‘safe’ is not an adjective I like to keep in my vocabulary. When used to death in cheap scented candles, bath products, celebufumes or room sprays, I say it deserves every description of horror I can think of. The phrase ‘olfactory torture’ comes to mind. This is not vanilla, this is not what vanilla can and should be.

If any nose on Planet Earth knows vanilla, knows what it is capable of, knows its depth, its richness, its animality, surely it would be Jean Paul Guerlain. More than any other perfume house, Guerlain has elevated vanilla in many versions to superstardom. Always with that highly refined sensibility that (once upon a time at least and rather lacking lately) defines the venerable name ‘Guerlain’.

When I received a generous sample of Spiritueuse Double Vanille (SDV for short) from the equally beneficent Olfactoria, I was happy, but not excited. Happy – it’s a Guerlain. Like old loves and old friends, I’ll always give Guerlain a second, third, and twenty-fifth chance, even if they did release that trainwreck known as ‘Insolence’. Excited – well, there were other things in that Austrian package that got my motor running, so I left it at that.

Until I opened that sample of SDV. Oh. Oh, my. Oh, my gosh. Oh, baby! Oh! (Here follow a few epithets I try to keep out of a perfume blog, if not in real life!)

It is…boozy, whoozy, dizzyingly alcoholic without being potable – and that’s a good thing! I’m quite hazardous enough, thank you. I’d go so far as to say – just as was Jean Paul Guerlain’s intention, this is the moment you split open a vanilla bean and an entire alternate universe grabs you by the nose as a reminder that dessert isn’t always something you eat!

This is carnal vanilla, as sinful as that third chocolate truffle and as sexy as that silk slip that slides down the shoulder just…enough. There are pink peppercorns, bergamot, Bulgarian rose and ylang ylang in there, say the notes, but what I get is boozy, whoozy, faint-making killah vanilla, the kind of vanilla that is no relation whatsoever to anything sold as ‘vanilla’, or indeed anything defined as ‘safe’, ‘bland’ or boring.

SDV is anything but safe. Somewhere among all that overt nuclear vanilla impact floats a hint of cedar, a whisper of incense, a mere suggestion of benzoin, weaving in and out and through that vanilla vixen that murmurs…’come closer, if you dare’, and then buries her teeth in your neck. And oh, that vanilla, so sweet, so lethal, so carnal, oh…

This is horizontal Hitchcock territory. Boozy. Here I go again, and I swear, I was sober when I began this review. Sweet, animal and borderline feral, gourmand – in other words, everything yours truly should absolutely hate in a perfume, and yet…Yes! Yes! Yes! Puleeeze…Just put me out of my misery and buy me a bottle already!

Since I first began writing about perfume on this blog, the occasions I’ve been sideswiped by a perfume have not happened all that often. This is one of those. Just to commit the ultimate in sacrilege, I’ve tried layering this with Atelier’s Grand Neroli on a whim, and my, it was glorious. Gilding an already perfect lily, I tried it with Serge Lutens’ Fleurs d’Oranger. The jasmine gives up the ghost (who would have thought it?), and the tuberose comes all the way out to play in the sun with the vixen, and meanwhile, I can’t hold one coherent thought that won’t get me arrested should I ever attempt to act it out in public.

Spiritueuse Double Vanille is…intoxicating, in all the best senses of the word. It lasts and lasts and lasts and lasts. It is sweet but never cloying and utterly delicious. It is sinfully wicked in all the best Guerlain ways, dark, devastating.

I can’t imagine what the burgeoning perfumophile Scorpio would say to this one should I wear it on a latte date, and he usually has plenty to say about whatever I wear. But I can imagine what he might do. It’s that kind of vanilla, and that kind of perfume, and that kind of dangerous.

There are cheaper ways to get this kind of thrill. Buy four of the best vanilla beans you can afford, and chop them into smaller pieces. Throw them in a food processor with one cup of plain white sugar and blend until the sugar turns gray-brown and the vanilla beans are pulverized. Pour this concoction into a tightly sealed container and leave for at least a week. Use this instead of vanilla extract or bought vanilla sugar, and you will know everything there is to know about something that isn’t safe, bland or boring. Vanilla will never be the same again.

Not even in a perfume.

Notes: Pink peppercorn, bergamot, incense, cedar, Bulgarian rose, ylang ylang, vanilla, benzoin.

Becoming Violetta


a tale – and a review – of Amouage ‘Lyric Woman’.

When ordinary mortals contracted laryngitis in the rainy month of November, it was an everyday occurrence. When the reigning diva at Covent Garden contracted laryngitis four days before the premiere of the season’s much anticipated ‘La Traviata’, it was an unmitigated disaster. La Diva would be indisposed for a month. The demanding role of Violetta was quite out of the question.

So the director had no choice but to call in her understudy, a decision that did not make him happy as he looked at this young woman with her wild hair and her wilder eyes. Like her, he was young, brash, arrogant as all directors must be, imported at great expense from Vienna, where his extravagant production had received rave reviews.

There were rumors of this young woman with her crystalline soprano voice, a voice fully up to the challenge of Violetta. Rumor had it she sang in a metal band in her spare time, songs vastly different from the peerless flight of Verdi’s score. Her voice wasn’t the problem. Her looks – unorthodox though they were – could be amended with makeup, wigs, all the paraphernalia of theatrical illusion.

No – the problem was her attitude. She was the understudy, she knew every inflection, every note, every aspect of Violetta the Paris courtesan. What she didn’t know or couldn’t feel was Violetta’s fire, her ardor, that mad passion that fuelled her love for Alfredo and led her to denounce him, even as she knew her own death breathed its own cold fire down her neck. She needed to become the instrument, she needed to breathe, to feel, to be…Violetta.

Alfredo, a dishy Italian fresh off a sell-out smash at La Scala, was also at his wits’ end. The premiere was tomorrow, the world would be watching, and this young thing could not feel Violetta, could not color her breathtaking voice with her pain, her gaiety and lust for life.

“Very well,” sighed the director, “Once more…from
‘So take what the moment of pleasure will grant for there’s nothing, nothing but this…’
he beckoned to the pianist in the rehearsal hall, and again, from the top, Flora, Gaston, the Baron, Violetta and the entire chorus began to sing.

He would be slaughtered by the press in two days. He could taste it. Triumph in Vienna, disaster in London. If something were not done, he’d be doomed to amateur productions in Stoke-On-Trent. Or Linz.

“Signore…” Alfredo’s silky tenor stopped him on his way to lunch. “An idea…I have it. This young girl…she is too young, too green to know such things. She needs – an education, prestissimo. I think I know how…” Alfredo whispered his suggestion in the director’s ear.

He would not have even dared to think of such a thing. It would be costly, of course. It would also be a small, trifling price to pay to avoid Stoke-On-Trent or even Linz, and certain disaster.

Late the next afternoon, having stretched her vocal chords far beyond anything she could have guessed they could stand, the young soprano eyed her bare face in her makeup mirror. In the corner on a mannequin hung a breathtaking silk dress in a mouthwatering shade of burgundy, as rich and deep as a perfect Romanée Conti, waiting for its chance to glow onstage.

Violetta eluded her, just as she always had. She herself didn’t have that experience, that worldliness, that knowledge in her blood, the knowledge it took to wear a dress like that red dress, the wisdom of a nineteenth century Paris courtesan, who only loved to please and who lived for pleasures. This was a different time, this was a very different world. How could she know? Every note she knew, every nuance, every quavering breath, but Violetta herself she would never know, never feel, never be, and this was her moment, this was her time, this was her one chance to grab the world’s attention and show her brand of magic. She would fail, she could feel it in her bones.

La Diva could rest secure in her sickbed at the Savoy and know the unknown understudy had not supplanted her from her throne.

There was a knock on the door, and her dresser opened the door to a delivery boy from Harrods, who handed over a small package.

“For you, Ma’am. It didn’t come with a card, so far as I could see.”

One small, exquisitely gift-wrapped box. Inside, a bottle of perfume, as dark-red and beautiful as the silk dress on the mannequin, heavy and somehow ominous in her hand. It glowed in the lights from the makeup mirror like a secret, ruby treasure waiting to be discovered.

Like herself, she realized with a start. She opened the bottle. A rose, a rose of infinite darkness and limitless ethereal light and spice, she thought, and then she breathed deeper, as if she were about to touch that elusive F6 note hovering just above her range, just out of reach, and then, all the secrets of a Paris courtesan of two centuries ago flew from that dark red bottle and into the room, the secrets of spice and wit, of dark and light, the sweetness of true love and all of one life’s ephemeral pleasures filled the dressing room, filled her lungs, her heart, her very soul, and the ghost of Violetta was there beside her, playing hide and seek in the burgundy folds of an opulent silk dress. “I am here,” that ghost seemed to breathe, “and while I am, I shall help you to become what I was, what I should be, what so few have ever understood about such a woman as I.”

She had never known that perfume could be so evocative, that a scent could whisper such a story of both sacred and profane, of sacrifice and joy. This was the secret that eluded her these past four days of frantic rehearsal, this was her Violetta, her moment, her time.

When she arrived at the party, her hair in snaky, luminous curls and her shoulders gleaming pearls in the dress, she hit those notes with a crystal-pure tone so flawless, so happy, so utterly the soul of Violetta that the orchestra nearly stopped playing. The audience was astonished to hear it, the director flabbergasted to see such a transformation in such a short time, the chorus on the stage transfixed by the sound. This was not that quirky, gawky girl of a few hours before. This was Violetta in all her glory, singing

Flora, you darling! My friends, what a pleasure!’

As Alfredo stood waiting in the wings to enter, he turned to the director and sotto voce, he whispered: “A change, no? You are young and Austrian, you would not understand. A woman can do only so much to convince herself. For the rest, she needs a perfume.”

This was her moment, this was her time. And ever after, she never went on stage without it.

Notes for Amouage Lyric Woman: Bergamot, Cardamom, Cinnamon, Ginger, Rose, Angelica, Jasmine, Ylang Ylang, Geranium, Orris, Oakmoss, Musk, Patchouli, Vetiver, Sandalwood, Vanilla, Tonka Bean, Frankincense.

Photo: Man Ray, Kiki de Montparnasse as ‘Le Violon d’Ingres’ (1924)

All thanks to Olfactoria, who gave me the opportunity.

Devilscent – Part Two: The Samples


- a conversation with the Devil

Dev was waiting for me when I came home this afternoon feeling rather frazzled. Cool as anything, he pulled up a chair next to my desk and nodded toward a small black box.

“You know we have some work to do here, right?” He tipped back his chair against the wall.

“Dude, I’m wiped. Toast. I’ve had a monthful of days. I need a vacation.”

“I know. You need better excuses. Later, baby.”

“You would say that.”

“I’m a fictional character, I can say whatever I please. And I say we have some samples to look at.”

“So you’re saying that Doc Elly took the bait?”

“Sink, line, bait and hook. This will be a hit. She can smell it, too. Open up the box.”

“Yes, Master.” Inside nestled neatly labeled small test vials of six different frankincense extracts, steam-distilled and CO2, four kinds of labdanum, and four other essences best described as “Hazardous To Your Fevered Imagination”.

I dug out my sample blotters. “Where do you want to start?”

“Hmm.” First, he stuck his entire nose in the box and breathed it in. “Holy…no, I can’t say that on a perfume blog. And you can’t write that, either. This is potent stuff.” He reached out for a vial labeled ‘labdanum absolute’. “Sexy! You were looking for a whiff of goat, right?”

“That’s the idea. Well, you know…it’s the animal thing. You’ve got to have a little…animal in there. You are.” I cast my beady, bleary eyes at those frankincense vials.

“Not nearly so much as you.”

“Shut up. I know I’m a 130 lb chimp with a bad attitude, OK? Dude, we’ve got a perfume to make.”

“So we do.” He tipped a drop or two of Boswellia sacra and serrata onto the blotting paper and waved it under his nose. “Ummm…it needs something.” Labdanum, a touch of CO2, and a mystery labeled with a name followed by ‘Givaudan’. “I hate having to watch my language, but…oh, yeah. This is great. This is sinful.” He dug into the box. “Here’s another Ingredient X. I was excited about this one, but it’s not what I expected.” He added a drop of it and jiggled it under my nose. “So whaddaya think?”

“I think I need coffee, is what.” That frankincense was so…relaxing. I’d curl up under that desert tree any day.

“Get a grip. We have work to do.” The most incredible aroma was wafting around the room. He added a little oud. “Needs more goat.” He pulled out a vial. “Not enough. There’s labdanum and frankincense in a catfight on that blotter, and I can’t tell which one is winning.”

“My money is on the labdanum.”

“It would be. You can’t get enough of that stuff.”

“Hush. You like it, too.” I added Boswellia neglecta. “Oh, baby. I just hit the oh-zone layer. So that’s why it’s thinning.”

“And fully dressed, too!” he laughed. “So…we’re getting something like a base going here. Neglecta…is lemony. Not what I expected.” He sniffed again. “We need more sin.” Another drop of Givaudan sin.

“Any more sin, and I’ll be burned as a heretic,” I heard myself say. Already, my senses were reeling. “How Doc Elly does this, I don’t know.”

“I do.” Green labdanum absolute dripped down. That blotter should be banned, I caught myself thinking as I sniffed. It was heady. It was dangerous. It was glorious. It was very nearly the drop-dead sexiest thing I had stuck my nose in since Boxeuses. I hoped he wouldn’t wear it. I didn’t have anything left to sell.

“OK. We’ve got the rhythm now. We’ve got the bass line.” The Devil waved the blotter under my nose, and I breathed it all the way in. Danger. Dark. Devil. Oh, yes.

“Now,” he said after a while, “all we’re missing is a melody line and a lead guitar…”

to be continued…

Her Serene Empress of Rose


A review – and a long-ago tale – of Amouage “Epic Woman”

Very many sunsets ago in the fabled city of Samarkand lived a widow who had grown rich from the many rivers of treasure that flowed through like water from all ends of the great Silk Road. Silks, samite and ebony from faraway Cathay, spices and perfumes and gems from India to the far south, rare and costly incense from distant, mysterious desert trees, woods and essences from Chenla of the many wondrous stories the merchants exchanged like their goods in the teahouses by the riverside on breathless, hot afternoons.

The widow herself was of indeterminate age, not quite old and wizened by her years, but not so young she was an easy prey for the traders out to make a profit. Once, so the local gossips said, she had been a slave girl brought from a mountain kingdom to the south and west, but this slave girl had somehow managed to marry into a trading house, and when her husband died, she had continued his business, handling merchants and caravans and all manner of goods and trade with equal and admirable ease. No merchant was ever short-shifted in a trade, no caravan mistreated, and even the camels she knew to make happy in her care.

Like all women in any age and indeed all traders, this widow had a secret. In a private, locked room in her apartments grew her most prized possession. Not a huge Indian diamond sparkling in the sunlight, not any bauble or trinket of any empire north, west or south.

It was a rosebush. No more, no less, nothing else. One small, perfect rosebush, easy to overlook on its ebony tray in a sunlit spot were it not that it flourished in a priceless, ornate vessel of jade the green of the riverbank willows. It was a rose bush, yet no rose bush ever held such velvety blooms of such a ruby hue, and no rose along the Silk Road east or west ever held such a scent. To breathe it in was to know the true significance of the word ‘rose’, to know this rose was to know the secrets of all roses who ever bloomed, and any woman who loved roses. To know this rose was to know the very soul of a flower beloved of the world entire.

Yet today, this day like any other in the still heat of a Samarkand afternoon, the time had come for the rose bush to move on. The widow, her black eyes smiling through the fragrant steam of the silver tea tray, leaned forward on her pillow. This man, she knew to tell, had not come from Samarkand. He could have been from anywhere further west along the Great Road, from Persia, perhaps, or further south and west still, from Damascus of the many marvels, or the storied Bagdad where the great Harun ar Raschid ruled still, so it was said.

He was a tall, upright man in his late thirties, with the watchful, guarded eyes of a desert hawk, and as any hawk would, he never looked away from the widow. “You have cared for your secret well these twenty years, and you have prospered because of it. I was told to bring it on, many, many leagues away to where the incense trees grow beneath the desert stars, and to give you this…” he reached in his robe and laid a small object on the costly carpet – “as a reminder of your pledge.”

It was a carved rose in a singular hue of jade, the cloudy pink of a fading sunset, and the widow had not seen it for over twenty years. It was indeed a reminder of a promise she had made so many years ago, a promise that this rose bush would never wither, never die, and so long as she held faithful to her pledge, her care should be rewarded. Indeed it had, and yet, as the widow saw the sunlight through the screen sparkle on the jade, she felt a pang deep within her soul to realize she would never breathe its scent again, never know such a heartfelt, visceral joy. There would be other pangs, other joys, this much she knew, but none like this little rose bush.

The sun streaming through the latticework of the window onto the carpet was not enough to comfort her. Nevertheless she had promised, and she never made a promise she would not keep. It was time. That jade rose before her was proof. She sighed, clapped her hands to summon a servant, and sent for the rose.

“You will tend it with care?” She grabbed the man’s sleeve as he prepared to leave with his little treasure. “You will make certain this rose will not perish on its journey?” In her eyes, the man read a fervent plea, as earnest and as passionate as any mother’s for a beloved child.

“This, lady, is a rose that will never die so long as my people tend it,” he simply said, before he wrapped it with the utmost care and bowed before her. “As you gave your pledge, I give you my promise.”

He was gone in an instant down the teeming Samarkand street, golden in the late afternoon.

All along the wide and winding Silk Road the little rosebush traveled, and as it did, it seemed to absorb the many scents of the goods it met. Spices in a pouch on a passing camel, rare woods from Chenla and India on a merchant’s laden wagon, the jasmine and geraniums blooming in the courtyard of a Persian caravanserai. At last the rosebush came to grow in a secret oasis in a hidden mountain pass, where the Bedouin stood guard beneath the stars by their own costly treasures of myrrh and frankincense, and those, too, the rose absorbed and enriched with its presence.

For over a thousand years and many more the rose bush grew in its hidden valley oasis, grew and bloomed and thrived, forgotten by all but one family who kept their secret well, until the day came, as it had so long before, when it was time for the rose bush and its secrets to move on through time and out into a wider, wilder world.

One day, a perfumer in an Omani teahouse heard a rumor of a rose in a remote oasis, a rose unlike any other, a rose that knew all secrets and held all its history and all its long journey within the velvet folds of its blooms. As the perfumer stared into the depths of his peppermint tea, he thought to himself; “Such a rose is like a fairy tale. It never existed as anything but a rumor. But if it doesn’t yet, then I shall create it.”

So he did.

Yet in a remote and hidden oasis in the mountains, a deathless rosebush blooms still, for so long as one heart, one soul can truly love a rose, it will never die.

Notes: Pink pepper, cinnamon, damascene rose, geranium, jasmine, tea, amber, musk, frankincense, oud, sandalwood, guaiac wood, patchouli, vanilla and orris.

Amouage Epic Woman is available at Luckyscent, Aedes and First in Fragrance, and from the Amouage website.

Not Mad, Not Bad but Dangerous to Know!


– a review of Byredo’s ‘Baudelaire’

Picture an eighteen-year-old punk, circa 1981, small, tattered, all in black and wearing way more eye makeup than any two eyelids should ever have to bear. She was curled up on a mattress on the floor with her nose stuck in a book, which was indeed the case quite a bit of the time, when she wasn’t arguing political theory (more books!), throwing toilets out of second story windows (true story), or planning what would happen once the revolution came, and that was due, any day now…

One of her main partners in subversion was a 6’4” stringbean of a guy, a dead ringer for Henry Miller at 23 and just as avid and voracious for life and all it included. He kept throwing books at her, and she kept reading them – Emma Goldman, Henry Miller, Piotr Kropotkin, Marx, Hemingway and Kerouac, Lessing and Jung and Horney and Laing, Huxley and Capek…and on one long February night, sandwiched somewhere between Kant and Kierkegaard, a certain long-deceased Frenchman of dubious reputation. (Always the best kind!)

The well-worn cover of this fifth-hand book read “The Flowers of Evil”, by Charles Baudelaire. Just as his poetry had done so much to revolutionize poetry, poetic subject matter and even literature itself on both sides of the English Channel and the Atlantic, this one byword for bohemian decadence and dissolution completely and utterly rearranged this poor eighteen-year-old punk’s mental furniture…for life.

Byredo, a niche house based in Stockholm, isn’t a line I’ve tried before. In choosing to create a perfume and give it the name of my other favorite poet on Planet Earth, all I can say is – they have a lot to live up to! I look at that sample bottle and wonder what’s inside it. Can I expect laudanum phantasms and opium dreams on Montparnasse divans, as Jeanne Duval laughs mocking in the background? Could this be Baudelaire’s incendiary poetry in bottled form, slithering out of the bottle and sliding into my nose to perform unspeakable acts of depravity on my Jacobsen’s organ?

I’ll answer those questions first: Not quite, not really and…I wish!

First of all, Baudelaire is…very, very smooth. Very peppery and even bitter-green intriguing on the outset, before it intrigues even more with a smoky, dark brown, bitter incense that settles and stays and never strays. The incense gets in league with patchouli and black amber somewhere along the way – here we enter a color located precisely between brown and black – and gets only a bit sweeter. It’s slightly animalic and yet not well-behaved, either. There’s a tinge of naughty in there, but naughty is not subversive, and subversive is not quite so smooth or so alluring.

Sexy. Borderline dangerous. Definitely a masculine scent, because I don’t have nearly enough cojones to wear this with any degree of conviction. It is very intelligent, with that exceptional incense note that is miles away from any other incense I’ve tried, and yet there’s something in there that reminds me of that famous line said of Lord Byron: Mad, bad and dangerous to know.

Baudelaire is neither mad nor the slightest bit bad. It hasn’t received a lot of love from the perfumosphere, and that baffles me a bit, because it is intriguing, intelligent, and decadent in a good way. Opulent might be a better word to describe it, but I have to say it – this is a walk on the dark side, and if you can’t walk that walk…you’d better stay away.

I found a good home for the rest of my sample – and a little goes a long, long way. I gave it to the Scorpio. It suits him perfectly. He’s exceedingly smart, funny, very sexy and indeed…dangerous to know! ;)

For another take on ‘Baudelaire’, Brian of I Smell Therefore I Am had this to say about it.

Notes according to Fragrantica:
Top notes: Juniper, Pepper, Caraway
Middle notes: Incense, Hyacinth
Base notes: Papyrus, Patchouli, Black Amber

Image of Charles Baudelaire: pixfr.eu

The Devil’s Brief


I received an email from Doc Elly early this morning about something she found in her inbox, and I rather suspect you might be interested, so without further ado, head over to her blog, Perfume Project NW, for further details!

And big thanks to Bloody Frida, who gave me the perfect word for my own reaction:

SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

Yes, I’m excited. So I’ll slink away into the shadows again and get back to that Other Thing I Had To Do…

;)

Tarot Card: Guiseppe Lama, Voodoo Chilli