Unholy Smoke (& a giveaway!)

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT VII

- a review of Mermade Magickal Arts‘ ‘Mephisto’.

How far we perfumaniacs have come from that mystical, mythical matter we love so much. We dream in it, we bathe in it, we enrich ourselves, our chosen perfumers and our surroundings with it, we save for it, splurge for it, lust for it. Those magical elixirs and ethereal blends of heaven and earth, of balsam and resin, flower and herb satisfy our souls as few things else, and yet – in this lightning-tempo age and this instant gratification time, we forget what it once was, have somehow lost what it once did, have blithely obliterated all notions of its very form and function – to reconnect us, to realign us, to summon and to appease.

Perfume. The very name means “through smoke”, essences and absolutes distilled over fire in an alembic (which also gives its name to this blog), or, as perfume indeed was used once, as lumps of costly incense, burned in an offering to appease and to invoke the gods, and in so doing, to evoke – as well as please – our highest, finest, most divine selves.

Or.

To invoke an altogether different sort of beast.

I’m no stranger to alternate forms of perfume. I’ve burned Armenian papers and joss sticks, I’ve had potpourri in jam jars all over my homes at different times, pressed roses in old books, made my own lavender water. I’ve indulged my senses in a wantonly extravagant scented candle that’s still scenting my bedroom nearly a year later. And with the exception of potpourri, all of these demand fire to release their potent odors, that primeval element that is both beginning and end, metaphor and transformation. Just as fire begins with a spark, so does life itself, or another kind of life, when you glance across a glass of mulled wine in a dark midnight café at a stranger who sits so close beside you…

Here we have another kind of perfume, a very primeval kind – because here is a Devil’s scent as an incense, and it is by far the most extraordinary kind of incense I’ve ever had the pleasure to be inspired by.

It began at the behest of Monica Skye Miller, the Perfume Pharmer, when she suggested that Katlyn join our devilish endeavor, and I could only agree. I had of course heard of Katlyn’s alchymistical blends, had perused her website, and dreamed, that some day – or some night, I, too, might have a chance to breathe in their wonders. A few emails, some days and the Devilscent Project perfume brief later, I was completely unprepared by what came back in the mail.

What would I be as a human animal? I’m the Devil, so they’ve said. Neither animal nor human, but a combination of both, just enough of each to be dangerous, and that’s the whole idea. Danger. I want her to be able to know exactly who I am by her sense of smell alone. So. The perfume. Labdanum is a note she loves, labdanum is animal and sexy and slightly goatish.” – From the Devil’s Brief, the Devilscent Project

To which the saucy Katlyn retorted in her accompanying letter:

Did I just read ‘Goatish Labdanum’, something dark, sexy and extremely untamed? Ah, yes, I have just the thing…Within my cabinettes of curiosity there just happens to be something just waiting for this project. Labdanum from Crete complete with a few goat hairs. I knew there must be a place for this strange fragrant black stuff…The Devilscent Project. The most wonderful black frankincense from Oman. And then dark patchouli, tears of myrrh, contraband aloeswood…Incense is always needed to conjure up a spirit. And this has the scent of the crossroads at midnight and a little hair of the goat. Best burned on an electrical burner. Or a bit of brimstone if you have some handy. Use sparingly. May cause unnatural urges. Save this one for a dark night when you need a bit of company.

As I finished the quote above, I had reached 666 words. For a moment, that gave me pause for thought. You’d pause too, for this puts ‘incendiary’ into ‘incense’. I’m typing out these words as it burns in its dish above sea salt and charcoal, not in the dead, dark hours of night, but in the long twilight of midsummer when it never does get dark, yet I tell you…it may as well be that rainy, windblown Friday night in early November when I had my first harebrained idea that led all the way to…this.

That goatish labdanum (and yes, it does contain a little hair of the goat!) with its sweet, heady, animal air is all the more potent for the luscious patchouli and that touch of aloeswood that we know as the note du jour called oud. This is a living, breathing Dark Art. That chilly, dangerous alliance of myrrh and frankincense is never far behind it, exhaling its own numinous breath of otherworldly beneath that heated, heavy heartbeat. It doesn’t smell like goat, but it certainly smells sacred, sacred in a way most of us have forgotten. It smells like sin, if I believed in such a thing. Not so much as an act of moral transgression, but as the kind of act you would never tell in polite company, the kind of sin that must be kept secret, or else lose its delicious, subversive edge. The kind of sin that makes you glow in the dark. And the morning after, too.

If you think you know what incense is and what it does to your mood, if you’ve never thought about the tricks ambient scent can play on your suggestible mind – or even if you have – you’re in for a surprise. Just as the hapless protagonist of Quantum Demonology was whenever she caught a whiff of the Devil from afar, that otherworldly, bitter, dark that made her blood run cold in her veins and her heart beat faster.

Mephisto made my heart beat faster and ignited my imagination as all the Devilscents have, ignited it as few perfumes ever have before. In this dark, Monday night hour, I see it smoldering, and in those formless wisps of smoke, I can squint my eyes and almost see him hovering above.

“No need for that,” say a voice I know too well. “I’m right here. Did you know that in the ancient world, it was said the gods were helpless to resist the lure of burning incense? When it’s as good, as rich, as decadent and dangerous as this, I might as well give up the ghost completely. I can’t resist.” He leaned closer and whispered in my ear. “Just like you, baby.” He gave me that grin. “Just like you.”

“So what do you think?” I asked.

He picked up the letter from Katlyn, printed on parchment-like paper with cursive writing, and read the words with an even bigger grin. “I think…” he said after a while, “that Katlyn nailed it. Trust me, if the batcave has a scent, it would be this one. This is a lot of what I am. He shook his head and laughed. “Cretan goat hairs included! And I do believe it’s time I came back.”

“Where have you been?” I wouldn’t let him know he’d been missed. Hell wasn’t that cold yet.

Another long, fraught pause. Another long, level, red-brown stare. “Removing obstacles. Rearranging events, putting other things in motion, doing…what I have to do.” Dev tipped his head back and took a long, deep breath. The incense was so potent, it scented the entire apartment.

“And what would that be?” I sat back on my chair, looked him right in the eye.

“Telling you…that we made a deal, you and I. I take care of my own, I always will. And while I’ve been gone, you’ve somehow lost track of what you need to do. You need to believe. You need to have faith. I can make it happen for you. In fact, it already is happening. Since you forgot, and the incense reminded me, I’m here to tell you again.”

“Dev…I hate to say this, but you’re a fictional construct. I cooked you up, remember?”

“No, you didn’t. You conjured me out from the shadows. So I came back to remind you of what you forgot.” He leaned closer, much closer. I could feel his hot breath on my neck, feel him blowing in my ear.

“Forgot what?” I was confused. Or else it was that hot air and those lips by my ear, that subtle shiver down my spine, that dangerous, sexy, evocative scent that filled the room.

“Be careful what you wish for, baby. You will get it!” Light as a feather, his lips brushed my ear and he breathed down my neck.

When I turned my head to look, he was gone, and only the unholy, dangerous smoke of Katlyn’s incense remained.

Find ‘Mephisto’ at Mermade Magickal Arts here.

Disclosure: Samples were provided by Mermade Magickal Arts. For which I thank Katlyn Breene and Monica Miller most profoundly and sincerely.

I have a giveaway! Two lucky readers will receive a sample set of ‘Mephisto’. Leave a comment by June 30th at midnight CET to be eligible! Open to readers worldwide. The winners will be determined by random.org on July 1st.

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Midnight Places

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT VI

-       a review of Neil Morris‘Midnight at the Crossroads Café’.

One of the great thrills – and perils – of being an artist is that self-perpetuating cycle of inspiration. An artist is struck by an idea, a concept, something that drives him or her to create…which in turn is discovered/interpreted by another artist and something else is created that yet another artist finds and…so it goes, around and around, constantly evolving, constantly renewing, constantly making new stories timeless and timeless stories new.

When I walked into a record store on a hot summer day three years ago, I had no idea what inspiration I would find there, or even any notion I was looking for it, but Fate had other plans and whispered a name into my ear…Two hours, much money, five CDs, a special edition box set and a great conversation later, my life would change more than I knew.

A few months later on a deathly boring Friday night, I was restless, unsettled, unable to sit down or relax, which usually means the Muse is about to pay a call.

I spent about ten minutes staring at a photo that night, fingers drumming my desk, wondering… “What if?”

“What if” is how all stories begin, when the conjuror pulls down his tail coat and reaches for his top hat and his wand, hoping rabbits are inside, waiting in the wings…to begin.

Two hours later, I had a short story that literally wrote itself. There was no overall plan of conception, no plan A or B, just one harebrained idea I ran with and a mood I wanted to express. My muse now had a definite face and form. I did know – even that Friday night – I had…something.

Something that could be important, something that held water, something that could evolve. As it did from that fated short story into a full-blown novel into the Devilscent Project, feeding right back into that bottomless pool of inspiration.

The story led to a novel, led to a perfume blog and the birth of a perfume blogger, led to the Devilscent Project and on to some of the most exceptional fragrances I’ve ever had the privilege to sniff.

Let me take you there, to a rainy night that begins…

It was a film noir, bluesy midnight in November. As wet with possibilities as the rain-slick streets, traces of perfumes lingering, taxis heading to the hotspots that would combat the chill of solitude and looming winter, ghosts of the storied past lurking beneath the copper spires of that haunted hunting ground of mine, the fast, feminine 4/4 click-clack tattoo of my high-heeled boots on the pavement.

- From Quantum Demonology, Midnight at the Crossroads Café.

Now imagine a café, a café that serves cappucchinos and conversation by day, and at night, the accoutrements of other, more intimate conversations in its dim corners. See its black-painted walls and its black and white poster prints of blues legends on the walls. All the greats are there – Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, B.B. King and John Lee Hooker, and that grand-daddy of them all, the incomparable Robert Johnson. Only blues is played here, conjuring its own ghosts and stories. The furniture is bought at flea markets for cheap and doesn’t match, the white candles burn in red glass, red like the mulled wine Scandinavians call glögg that wafts from the bar this nippy night, redolent with cloves and cinnamon, raisins and almonds, packing another kind of punch against the chill of solitude and looming winter. But there’s something in the air this Friday night when the TGIF celebrations have moved elsewhere, for the place is nearly empty at this hour, the bartender is engrossed in a study textbook, and from the speakers, the long-ago haunted voice of Bobby Johnson sings:

“Everybody says she got a mojo, cuz’ she been usin’ that stuff…”

In the far back corner sits a woman alone with her glass of wine, a woman neither young nor old, not on the make nor even lonely, least at all aware that in a few short moments, her life will be changed – forever.

Now…imagine all of that atmosphere, the November rain, looming winter, the Friday, the wafts of cinnamon and Calvados, clove and red wine, the scent of coffee and imminent possibilities, instant attraction, imminent danger…packed into a perfume bottle.

Precisely what Neil Morris did.

Neil Morris has without a doubt been the biggest surprise in a project that has brought me nothing BUT surprises since it began. His was the artistic vernacular I was least familiar with – having only tried two of his creations, Aegean and Rumi – but everyone said it – he would be a perfect fit for a project like this.

Five creations later, I can only agree. In these perfumes, I noticed a common thread, that perfumer’s artistic DNA that ran through them all like a silver pulse, dark and danger, intoxication and restraint, love and its hazardous cousin Id that we might know as lust.

I wasn’t expecting yet another surprise the day ‘Midnight at the Crossroads Café’ arrived, had no idea it was coming even. Can you imagine what such a wonder would do to your (already swollen) head? Bespoke perfumes for the Devil and Lilith are quite awesome enough, but to take the story that began it and spin a perfume around it simply blew me away to dandelion fluff.

Be careful what you wish for, You will get it!

This story in this bottle swirls and spins out all the elements – time and place, scent and space…it’s all there in a perfume so beautifully rendered, it’s hard to believe it’s a story and not a bottled Baudelaire poem.

That first, chill blast…the autumn cold that follows our heroine through her late-night trek across town, out of one man’s bed and on the streets in search of nothing more than a glass of mulled wine before her own solitary bed and her return to her own humbling life, a life that holds one last, fated hope she has kept her deepest darkest secret and her most fervent, burning wish.

Through the door, and the midnight hour isn’t far away, but it is warm and welcoming here. Coffee weaves its seductive traces like an invisible ribbon of sultry energy, but coffee is only the beginning and this is no edible dessert but a conjuring potion. Did I detect hints of the wine and the brandy just behind it, before that sweet and heady rush of spice? Rich and decadent, cinnamon and clove have their stories to tell, and if I close my eyes, I can surely smell the marzipan sweetness of almonds and yet…this is no gourmand. Something floral – her perfume? – but tempered by the spice, all of it balanced on that hair-thin razor’s edge between haunting and heady. There are intimations of desires in the mix – that couple in the corner talking in hushed and earnest voices? – and laughter (that floral note) in the other, a trio of tipsy girlfriends rehashing the week gone by. The midnight hour draws closer, the perfume grows darker and deeper, almost lusher if that’s possible. A sexy beast lays in waiting, a sexy furry beast of a chypre with mossy, darkly suspect intentions, for now, our heroine in her corner is no longer alone with her solitary hopes and dreams, now a man sits in the chair on her left where no one sat a moment before.

“You have potential,” that beast seems to say. “What if you could be somebody?”

What if that profondo base of what has to be labdanum and oakmoss (or else I should have my perfumista license revoked pronto!), a touch of..benzoin? vanilla? could make all those possibilities happen, make all her dreams come true? What if…all of this, and all of this perfume is only the beginning – of a story not quite like any you’re read before, of a dream that comes true, of everything you want, just within your grasp? It only takes a little faith, a little hope…

 ‘Midnight’ is all of these and so much more – one astonishing, unforgettable, unbelievable perfume not quite like any other. The crafty Neil left me no descriptions or list of notes, but I did  find a card – written in Danish, no less! – that reads:

Who were you talking to at the café last night? You smell like him…

Beware those delicious wonders that lurk for the unsuspecting, in those dangerous midnight places…

The storied marvels of Neil Morris’ fragrances can be discovered for your delectation here. 

Find out more about Quantum Demonology and The Devilscent Project on Facebook, on Perfume Pharmer’s overview page, or follow the hashtag #devilscent on Twitter.

Stay tuned for more devilry ahead!

Disclosure: A sample was sent by Neil Morris for review.

The Ghosts that Time Breathed In

-  a review of Aftelier Perfumes’ Sepia

In this overlooked corner of the old world, with it history dating back at least to Neolithic times, where the past can be seen in both buildings and landscapes, river valleys, stone dolmens and peat bogs, there’s no shortage of ghosts. Dolmens crowning hills or appearing in a beechwood glade, medieval castles fallen to ruins by a lake, the eerie, numinous presences haunting a peat bog on a midsummer midnight while the elderflowers exude their magical siren song of summer…there are plenty of ghosts if you know where to look.

But ghost towns, the abandoned ruins of towns left entirely behind, are something Europeans tend to tear down, plow over and rebuild, unless they’re kept for memorial purposes our ravaged history only wishes we could forget.

Yet in the US, and particularly in the Southwest, ghost towns abound, echoing what was once a gloried past in a brief and fleeting instant, when they teemed with life and dreams and hopes that maybe this time, maybe even you could get lucky, maybe even you could strike it rich and realize a dream before the veins ran out and the river ran dry.

I’ve seen a few ghost towns in my time in the US, deserted under a blazing sun and a searing blue sky, the tumbleweeds bouncing down the empty street in the wind that sweeps the past away but leaves the shell of it behind, where the coyotes sing their songs at night of dreams dead and abandoned to fade like the buildings that contained them, oh, so many years ago.

The ghost towns of the California Gold Rush of 1848 were also the inspiration for Mandy Aftel’s latest collaboration with Laurie Erickson of Sonoma Scent Studios on Nathan Branch’s blog, and here we have the result, Aftelier’s Sepia, her ode to the ravages of time and the beauty of decay found in those empty shells of life, dreams and hopes.

One of my favorite things about Mandy’ work is how it continues to surprise me, continues to evolve, and continues to reject all the obvious choices to expand upon and challenge our perceptions of both beauty and of perfume, for her perfumes are nothing if not surprising, unique and more often than not, uniquely resistant to analysis, but they are also always uniquely and surprisingly beautiful. Sepia is no exception.

How many times have you encountered a perfume that begins both light and dark? That sounds like such a contradiction, like some conjuring trick that can’t be done. Yet I tell you, it can and it has, because Sepia starts with a sunshine burst of citrus, that fragrant clarion call to awaken your perceptions and at the same time, the blood cedarwood adds its own brand of some dark and diaphanous wash of ink, damping down the sunshine, deepening the story to come, almost, as Lucy of Indieperfumes also noted in her review, as if it evolves in reverse, bringing forth hints of the base that recede like shadows beneath sunlight, shifting and changing.

Time never does stand still and neither does Sepia, emanating its many tales in a multi-hued and many-layered middle of lotus and jasmine, strawberry and cocoa and coffee that manage to elegantly sidestep any associations you might have of gourmand, all of them combined instead giving me one olfactory childhood association in particular that to me is uniquely American and that I have never, ever encountered before in perfume, one that exudes a distant, faraway memory of time more than almost anything else I know – and that is…sassafras. Not the taste of it – root beer will be the very last thing on your mind with Sepia – but the scent and ‘feel’ of it, with its floral high notes and earthy, unusual base, the coffee and cocoa added in such delicate amounts they never detract from the opulent jasmine or the otherworldly lotus, the strawberry somehow bridging that impossible leap between flowers and coffee, smoothing the path that lies ahead for the richer, darker base to bloom, flowering tobacco and spiky, woody oud, earthy labdanum and cepes anchoring it all somehow back to Earth and back in time, all wrapped around a golden base of ambergris that expands and enriches this ode to time and decay and evokes the sepia tints of long-ago and near forgotten daguerrotypes of lovers and sinners, losers and winners, memories of time, of space and of place. When thousands of dreamers with nothing to lose left everything they knew in search of a golden dream that was there for the taking and the daring, just waiting for discovery in the mountain streams of a state that even today seems more dream than reality.

I can breathe in Sepia and see it happening as I breathe, breathe it as I dream. I’m standing on that deserted street in that ghost of a town, seeing the sun-seared, time-blasted wood of the derelict houses that once sheltered those long-ago dreams of fortune and fame, hearing the wind whistle its way through them as the tumbleweeds dance and bounce. As I do, as I inhale and even I dream, I can sense how the color slowly seeps back into the landscape like a developing old-fashioned color photograph before my eyes, growing richer and deeper. Before long, echoes of sound are added, the shouts of lost voices, the whinny of horses and the rumble of carts through the dusty streets, of prospectors and miners returning with everything or nothing, gold dust and nuggets burning holes in their imaginations and their pockets or else scorching their broken dreams to cinders and ashes, charlatans and women lurking in the shady confines of the saloons and parlors, waiting to realize their own hopes and dreams in that flood of possibilities and gold in the hills. I can breathe Sepia and remember…all the ghosts that Time breathed in and soon forgot.

Yet no life is ever forgotten. All the ghosts of that forgotten town lay in waiting to be found and bottled by a perfumer who told their many tales and sent them on to a dreamer half the world away, who breathed it in and breathed them back to life and all of it entire contained in a perfume… called Sepia.

Notes:

Top: Blood cedarwood, yellow mandarin, pink grapefruit

Heart: Pink lotus, strawberry, jasmine grandiflorum, cocoa, coffee

Base: Flowering tobacco, oud, indole, ambergris, cepes, labdanum 

Sepia is available as both eau de parfum and pure perfume from the Aftelier website, where samples are also available.

Disclosure: A sample of Sepia was sent to me for review by Mandy Aftel.

Follow the process behind the evolution of Sepia and Laurie Erickson’s ‘Forest Walk’ on Nathan Branch’s blog series ‘Letters To A Fellow Perfumer’ here:

Part 1part 2part 3part 4part 5

Photo from Bodie, California.

The First Fatal Femme

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT V

-       a review of Olympic Orchids ‘Lilith’ for the Devilscent Project

Every story needs a villain, a catalyst for the changes that set the story rolling towards the point of no return. At the time I wrote ‘Quantum Demonology’, my villain – with a long and storied reputation for embodying evil – arrived unbidden and unlooked for, and once she did, she had no intention of leaving and all plans to purloin every scene in the book she was in, whether I let her or not.

May I introduce you to Lilith, Queen of the Succubi and the Devil’s wife, but my version was not exactly the classical definition of demonic femininity that haunts so many stories and mythologies. My Lilith was out to destroy humanity in a most elegant fashion, all in a misguided attempt to get her own back after being married to Mr. Frigidaire – that Guardian of nightmares and negatives known to the protagonist in QD as Dev – for four thousand thoroughly miserable years.

At least, that’s what the author wanted the reader to believe, but as in all good stories and with all characters, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Many, many legends wrap around her, some dating back to Sumerian times, stories that tell of her being created simultaneously with Adam – unlike Eve, who was made from his rib – and of how she refused to submit to him sexually. So she left him and was seduced by the Devil, and havoc ensued, as it usually does. My favorite story about Lilith comes from a dark and obscure corner of Kabbalistic literature, and tells of how Lilith, who had fled to the desert, was approached by an angel and given a choice to enter Heaven instead. After having knowledge of the Devil, so that story goes, she refused point-blank, saying she could never go to Heaven – she knew too much for that!

Since writing her in as the Ultimate Villainess, I’ve come to feel I haven’t been entirely fair to her. Which is why I have a synopsis and battle plan of a prequel to QD that tells her story, which is alluded to in several places. On the other hand, she was most emphatically thoroughly bad, as all the best villains are (and hopefully not too one- or two-dimensional), and what better inspiration for a perfume than the other side of bad – the female side?

Just my rotten, crummy, lousy luck. On a day I felt great for a change, like I looked a few thousand bucks with the haircut to prove it, I would have to face off the most dangerous woman in orthodox theology.

Like her husband, she emanated a scent, and like her husband’s, it was as unusual as it was distinctive. Floral and green, heady, leathery and earthy, with musky undertones and something else, something that smelled – poisonous, even tainted. It was very erotic and so domineering, it cracked an olfactory whip at my nose.-       From Quantum Demonology – ‘Latte with Lilith’

My first olfactory whip – bottled Lilith! -  comes from my fellow conspirator and instigator Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids, and I tell you…if you know anything at all about Ellen’s beautiful perfumes, you can promptly forget everything you know. For this Lilith is indeed a perfume, and indeed beautiful, and just like Lilith, Queen of the Succubi in Quantum Demonology, this is deathly intimidating and frankly more than a little terrifying. And also, just as she is in the story, so perfectly beautiful, it makes me ache even as it scares me.

I really thought, given that I wrote the inspiration for it, I would be above being intimidated by a perfume. Famous last words.

Close your eyes and let me conjure it for you. It is not so much cold as chilling, with a hyper-feminine fruity-floral accord that wafts something tainted, something shape-shifting and morphing at your nose, something unlike anything you’ve ever smelled before. It has a Da-Glo citrus green and earthy bite, and woven all through it, that tangy bio-hazardous accord…passionfruit, I think, which manages to be both floral and fruity and otherworldly all at once, as surely this perfume is.

The bright green fangs of the opening never quite fade away as it evolves, instead they grow longer and thicker and ever more poisonous, distancing its wearer many miles away from the likes of pathetic, mortal you. Here, many perilous, fatal flowers bloom, flowers not meant for you to know, for one sniff of the secrets they conceal within those ivory petals will likely be the last you sense, and your mortal remains will be swept up and taken away by the Succubi for their diabolical entertainment.

Lilith, on the other hand, keeps herself at one airy remove, watching the light that is your life fade away as slowly and as softly as the memory of that perfume you could never, ever forget if you lived a thousand years, emanating her own brand of darkness as a hint of patchouli and musk, wood and sin wrap itself tighter around her like a cloak, underlining all that she is and all that you breathe.

Trust me – it really is…that bad! Which is simply another way of saying…it’s that brilliant – as sharp and as hard and as glittering as an emerald that glows with a sentient life of its own.

Would I wear it? Actually, I have on a few occasions, just for kicks, just for fun, just to see what would happen.

What happened: I received strange, unnerved looks throughout the day. I spoke very little. And almost everyone who addressed me did so in exquisitely polite language, as if they were afraid I’d rip them apart if they didn’t!

It’s that kind of perfume.

Since the Devilscent Project kicked off in earnest, it’s been an endlessly fascinating process to see it evolve, to learn through my nose how the participating perfumers have chosen to interpret the brief in essence, absolute and compound, how they’ve picked different aspects of the Devil’s described personality to highlight and reflect, and how they’ve each reacted to the entity that is Lilith herself – part femme fatale, part estranged, vitriolic spouse, part ultimate feminine demonic nightmare made flesh, all a cautionary, tragic tale.

I think I can say that none of them have ever created perfumes such as these, and certainly not the epically talented Ellen, whose definition of femininity leans toward the exquisitely refined and elegant, if not precisely intimidating.

Elegant and refined, this certainly is. And frighteningly perfect. Just like Lilith herself.

Notes: Top: Davana, kewda, kaffir lime Heart: Paradisamide, angel’s trumpet, lily of the valley, geranium, cyclamen, rose Base: Synthetic woody notes, cashmeran, musk, patchouli.

Discover the marvels of Olympic Orchids – so very much more than orchids! – here!

Stay tuned for more of Lilith – and a few more Devils! – as interpreted by Neil Morris and Cherry Bomb Killer Perfumes.

With thanks to that Great Inspiration and Instigator…my co-conspirator, Ellen Covey.

The Surprise at the Top of the Shop

-   a review of Aftelier Perfumes‘Parfum de Maroc’

One of my recent obsessions this past spring has been Moroccan cuisine. This explains why I stood in front of an enormous spice rack on a busy day at one of my favorite local shops in town, a Lebanese market that stocks everything from addictive fresh-baked mahmoul cookies, baklava and orange flower water to nigella seeds, cherimoya fruit and bunches of fresh peppermint for tea. I had just bought not one, but three coffee grinders, one of which I would dedicate as a spice mill, and this Saturday morning, I had a mission: to make my own Ras al Hanout, the spice mixture that jazzes some of my favorite foods.

Which was precisely when I ran into a friend of mine, who works as a translator of Arabic and English. He cast a glance into my basket. Couscous, peppermint, Italian parsley, cilantro, those addictive mahmoul cookies, lemons, whole allspice, dried chiles, black and green cardamom pods, Ceylon cinnamon sticks, coriander seeds, almonds. “Ah!” he said. “You’re making your own Ras al Hanout! Don’t forget the rose petals!” He tossed a packet into my basket and gave me a conspiratorial grin. “That’s the secret, you know. Too many people forget. Do you know what it means?” “The top of the shop,” I answered. “Because that’s where the best spices are kept?” That made him laugh. “Only in Morocco. Everywhere else, it means a mortuary! You know, because they put you…on the top of the shop?” He winked. “But never mind…watch out for those mahmoul cookies. Roast your spices! And remember the rose petals! They make all the difference!” Whereupon he frogmarched me to the cash register and the very amused Lebanese he attacked with a torrent of Arabic and laughter concluding in a thirty percent discount on the contents of my basket.

The very top of the shop is also where you’ll find Aftelier’s equally delicious Parfum de Maroc, inspired by a journey to Morocco and that eponymous, addictive spice blend. No worries…this is most emphatically a perfume, and like all the very best perfumes, the kind of fragrant transport-in-a-bottle that enlightens the mind, enlivens the soul and exhales its own brand of exotic sunshine on your skin.

My own limited experience with Morocco goes no further than Casablanca, and the sensory shock of the market in color, sound and perfume under a blazing August sun I never quite forgot, and just as another perfume took me there in a sniff and a heartbeat, so does this one, although this is nothing like it.

The heat, the whirl and swirl of another culture living at a different, hotter pitch and timbre, all the striking, scorching color and fiery, feisty spice are all there right at the outset of Parfum de Maroc. A heady punch of ginger and its distant cousin galangal zaps your senses awake, followed by an exuberant orange, a mellow pepper and glowing over all like the Moroccan sun, a vibrant saffron smoldering its own kind of fire around the edges, which proves that spice is indeed…very, very nice. But Parfum de Maroc is no gourmand, does not have any edible associations, and as I’ve come to expect with Mandy Aftel’s creations, just as that delectable, spicy top accord fades, a most wondrous thing occurs.

Normally, when rose is immersed in a perfume, I know what to expect. It can be green, spiky, untamed, erotic, musky, lemony…even (here comes that word again!) spicy. Still – a rose is a rose is a…you get the idea.

Until I said that happy hello to Parfum de Maroc, I had never met a rose that hid so well behind its spice and light, flirty teases of jasmine, of nutmeg, a puff or two of dusky, dark cinnamon, and before I know it, the biggest surprise of all. It’s raining…dried rose petals! Nothing like fresh roses, these petals are earthy, warm, slightly dusty, underlining their inspiration and exuding their own kind of heat, glimpsed out of the corner of your olfactory eye in that faraway medina as if falling behind an ornate pierced woody screen of spice and cinnamon, a breath of jasmine caught from far away weaving its own ribbon of heaven into the mix. As those petals fade after a long while, the twilight descends. The blinding light and searing spice, the flowers that catch you by surprise, and the final curtain between night and day, cardamom and myrrh and rich, dark labdanum.

Where do all these fragrant colors begin, what could be said to describe Parfum de Maroc? It’s a tapestry woven to a memory of heat, color, light and perfume, it’s a vacation in a bottle, and it’s an exhilarating, happy aura to wrap around yourself on mundane, rainy days, when life conspires against you and you need that reminder – just like the spice blend, just like this perfume, you, too, belong only…at the top of the shop!

Notes: Bitter orange, fresh ginger, galangal, saffron, black pepper, nutmeg, jasmine, rose, cinnamon, cardamom, myrrh, labdanum.

Parfum de Maroc is available as a 1/4 oz. perfume and as an Eau de Parfum from the Aftelier website.

Disclosure: A sample was provided for review by Mandy Aftel.

Image: Peter Hammer, Redbubble. Used by permission.