The Genie’s Split-Second Blogoversary! (with a giveaway!)

Two years ago today, I was in a rather sorry state. For almost nine consecutive months, I had my head and imagination submerged in a story that seemed to come out of nowhere and everywhere, a story I was compelled to write for reasons I didn’t understand. I had three readers at the time clamoring to know what happened next, and I had precisely three chapters left to finish it. The trouble was, after spending nine months in the company of testosterone bombs, leather, darkness, Lilith, far too much sex, emotional rollercoasters and the harder fringes of rock’n’roll, I was in dire need of virtual estrogen – and thoroughly bored with testosterone.

I never suspected that would happen, either!

On the night of July 31th, I stared into a third glass of wine and had a wild idea.

I could write a perfume blog.

I’d been reading them long enough and loyally enough, learning, lemming and laughing as I went. I thought that the worst thing that could happen was it might – in some alternate, dream-on universe – improve my writing if it did nothing else. After all, how hard could it be? That night, I created Scent Less Sensibilities where my very first review was Balmain’s Ivoire, a perennial favorite even today.

Whatever my spurious reasons, the distraction tactic worked. Six days later – nine months to the day I began – I wrote ‘The End’ to my story, and to celebrate, I made a pact with myself – the kind of pact any perfumoholic will understand if no one else will.

For every defining moment in my book’s journey to publication, I would celebrate with…a bell jar.

Today, it is among my most prized possessions. I hope to see a few siblings join it soon in my perfume cabinet. Especially since I still have nine bell jars left on my wish list.

Along the way…I learned a lot, about writing, about perfume, about how I write about perfume and how to plant that passion on the virtual page. I have sniffed more marvels than I could ever have imagined in the days I had no perfume at all. Although I haven’t loved all the ones I have sniffed, I’ve liked many and love many more today than I ever have before.

What I learned

Writing about perfume is without question the most difficult writing anyone can do with the possible exception of erotica. (They’re more closely related than you think!) There were times I had to ‘park’ a review for days, weeks, or in one instance over a month and even after tearing my hair out and fifteen drafts, it still wasn’t what I really wanted to say. On one occasion, it didn’t matter what I did. My words went one way, the perfumes another. Oh, well. Next time. Or so I hope.

I learned a lot about my limitations as a writer – that no matter how I try or what I do, the writer will out before the perfume critic, and that’s just how it works for me. I admire and adore so many excellent perfume writers who do what I can’t and go where I don’t. Having said that, I could quote from one of my own reviews here. ‘I’m me. Deal with it.’ As of this writing, 65 of you do!

I learned about the astonishing generosity of the perfume community, not just in sending me samples of wonders I might not otherwise have known, but in welcoming an absolute beginner to the fray. That so many of you – perfume writers and bloggers yourselves – have done so much to welcome me, encourage me and offered your friendships along the way continues to takes my breath away even today.

I learned I had a Scent Twin! I never knew that anyone besides myself would have a love of ostentatious florals and take-no-prisoners chypres and even wipe ‘em off the floor leathers, yet I do. My admiration for Suzanne of Perfume Journal as an exceptional friend is only outdone by my certain conviction she’s twice the perfume writer I’ll ever be.

I learned to appreciate and distinguish different olfactory vocabularies and styles. I can close my eyes (I’ve tried it) and I can immediately determine who made it or conceived it, provided it’s someone whose work I’m familiar with.

I’ve learned that it is quite possible to wax impossibly purple and on occasion even inspired perfumed prose while listening to Nine Inch Nails. And Blackacidevil. As opposed to, say, Mozart. I do that sometimes, too.

I’ve learned that my samples tend to propagate while I sleep. It is so uncool to have an orgy and not invite me.

I learned to my complete dismay that there is a certain accord of notes I call ‘wet dog’ – I know no other way to describe it – which means there is an entire house I can never review, and also…that ‘wet dog’ accord is a note that terrifies me for some reason and I don’t know why. I’ve found this note in everything from mainstream – one Guerlain comes to mind – to artisanal. It’s not ambroxan or Iso E Super, because I’ve found it in al-natural perfumes as well as prestige brands.

I learned that whoever suggested layering Amouage Jubilation 25 with Serge Lutens’ Fleurs d’Oranger – each titanic perfumes in their own way – should be shot on sight without trial. Or else I should be shot for trying. I had an entire clowder of rabid, fighting, hissing cats on my skin that day.

I learned never, ever, ever, ever…to layer an Amouage. Ever. It will devour you if you do.

I learned that I will never know everything there is to know about perfume. This has been known to make me very happy.

I learned I’ll never be a 100% oud person.

I learned never to say ‘never’. Case in point: ambers. The exception? Layering an Amouage.

I learned that perfume geeks are the best people on Earth.

I learned that social media can change your life. It changed mine. Forever.

What I’ve loved

The thrill of discovery.

That perfume leads on to many roads, and some of them are paved with great intentions and amazing friendships that are based on many other things in common besides perfumes. Above all else, the people who make up my corner of Planet Perfume make me laugh, cry, howl, think and sniff something new – every day, and without them – which is to say, without YOU – my life and my world would be immeasurably poorer and smaller. Now you know.

I’ve loved meeting – in a virtual sense at least – some of the most spectacular olfactory talent on Earth. You know who you are. But do you also know how important you are to an unknown writer wannabe in BFE nowhere who is now unable to imagine life without you?

Well, you do now!

I’ve loved participating in group projects such as Clarimonde – among my own finest writing hours – and also the Devilscent Project. I have three upcoming group blog projects in the months ahead I can’t wait to begin. I love that synergy field between the same perfumes and the different interpretations, and the synergy between story and scent. I love to kick myself and think: ‘Damn! Why didn’t I think about that?’

I’ve loved reading each and every one of my favorite blogs each and every day. But I’ve hated not always having the time to comment as often or as much as I liked. But on the other hand…maybe that’s a good thing?

I’ve loved each and every comment to each and every blog post I’ve received. I still do. And I always, always will!

I’ve loved to see the name of a perfume friend light up on my phone, a friend who says “We’ll have to make this short, darling, I have so much to DO, but I just wanted to hear how you are.” Two hours later, we’re still talking. About perfume, among other things. We could happily do it for six hours more in person, I’m sure. Just as I’m sure that some day, we will.

I’ve loved each and every hilarious Twitter exchange. They’ve made many days so much better and brighter.

I’ve loved getting strange looks from my mailman. I’m sure he thinks I’m doing a sideline in something criminal, he’s just too polite to say anything about it!

Thanks to a perfume-blogging mother, Super Mario Jr. has been known to insist on wearing perfume to school. Unfortunately, the only one he’ll wear is Memoir Man. This bodes ill in about seven years.

Serendipity

Winning a sample draw on Ellen Covey’s blog. Her work made me the perfume writer I since became. She was my gateway into the world of artisanal perfume. She was my partner in crime with the Devilscent Project. She is also an exceptionally talented perfumer. Trust me. I know.

I owe so very, very much to Lucy of Indieperfumes. We are vastly different people but we share many, many inclinations. Without Lucy, I would have missed out on universes I would never know, marvels I would never sniff and friendships I cherish every day. Without Lucy, I would also not be what I am today.

I most emphatically owe a thank you to all of you who migrated with me after moving to WordPress, buying my own domain and carrying on where Scent Less Sensibilities left off. And to all the new readers I’ve gained since then.

It would never have been so much fun without you!

So what do you think – should we just continue down this path and see where it goes? I think so. I would love to! Especially with you! Who knows what magic carpet rides lurk ahead – or what genies we might conjure? I can’t wait to find out!

Thank you for that, too!

************A GIVEAWAY!***********

Since it’s my blogoversary, I have a giveaway! One lucky reader will win a carefully curated selection of samples from my collection. Anyone anywhere in the world is eligible for the draw. Just leave a comment before midnight CET on August 4th to enter. A winner will be determined by random.org on August 5th.

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Original image: The Cake Genie Photoshop work, my own.

Anodynes

-     a review – and a story – of Amouage Interlude Man/Woman

Like so much else in his frenetic life, what he was doing now was absolute madness, rushing like the White Rabbit down West 14th Street so he wouldn’t be late, late, late for this very important date, wouldn’t miss this for anything on Earth, this seeming mundane insomniac four A.M meeting in a donut shop of all places because it was the last place anyone would think to look for either of them in this nowhere hour, too early to be morning and too late to be night.

She was too careful to leave much to chance, too cautious not to cover her tracks and leave back doors open for a speedy exit. Like any woman worth knowing, she had many secrets and kept them well.

One reason he was running down the street at this insane hour was simply because she knew all of his, too.

They had known each other since the days before everything happened, before they became what they were now, before the rest of the world demanded all of both of them with a fifty percent tax on top. Before life became so frantic with all the things they had to do to stay where they wanted to be and needed to do. Ever since, he had a deal with her – to meet once a year, no matter what happened or where in the world they were, in a location they both agreed upon at the meeting before.

He felt guilty that until forty-odd hours before in Hong Kong, he had forgotten all about it, so guilty he bought her an expensive present he thought she might appreciate. It was with him now with the companion he bought for himself in the hope it would remind him of her and of all this secret history that made him rush breathless into a donut shop at four in the morning to be greeted with the welcome, warm surprise of hyper-fragrant empty calories.

She sat at the last stool towards the back with a huge cup of Starbucks and an apple fritter she had yet to touch. She looked much as she always did at four A.M., with her hair up under a sixpence pulled down over her face and no makeup, her leather jacket making her look much younger than he knew she was.

“I nearly didn’t make it,” he said when he sat down next to her. “I was in Hong King when I got your message.”

“For shame. What do you do, put me up on the lost and found shelf the other three hundred sixty-four days of the year?” She mock-punched him in the shoulder.

“No. I just try not to cross the days off in the calendar until the next time. What on Earth were you thinking – to meet up at this hour?”

She laughed. “I had a deadline. This was one way I knew I could make it on time. I told myself yesterday I couldn’t get out of the chair until I finished, so I could meet you with a clear conscience.”

“Did it work?”

“Actually, it did. Otherwise I would have had to cancel, and that wouldn’t do.” She shrugged. “Life is crazy enough, don’t you think?”

“I know it is. You should have seen me have hysterics at the ticket counter in Hong Kong. I had to be on that plane.”

“I’m so glad. Where are you even these days?”

“Everywhere. Singapore. Paris. Los Angeles. Buenos Aires. Hong Kong. Shanghai. London. I go where they send me, and try not to complain about it.”

“Poor you. Doesn’t it get old, living out of a suitcase?”

“Of course it does. I heard that you moved, by the way.”

“I did.” She sipped her coffee. “I either bought real estate or I paid way more taxes. So…Manhattan. Just to make my life a little more frantic than it already is. ”

“Meeting an old friend at four A.M isn’t frantic? It’s almost enough to make me wish I drank.” That made her laugh, just as he knew it would. “That reminds me. I brought you a present.”

“Ah. You shouldn’t have.” Beneath the brim of her cap her grin spread from one ear to the other.

“I know. I did it anyway. I think it reminded me of you.” He put the glossy bag on the counter, and immediately, she pulled out the gift-wrapped box.

“Oooooh,” she cooed. “Perfume. Very, very expensive perfume. You realize this has all sorts of loaded significance, don’t you?” She opened the box, and although it was almost too quick for him to catch it, he saw the surprise write itself on her face, saw her face light up as her smile changed. “My favorite shade of blue.” She snuck a furtive look at the waiter behind the counter at the other end, and as he looked away, she removed the cap and sprayed her wrist underneath the counter. “Hello!” she exclaimed when she sniffed her wrist. “This is an entire novel in a bottle, you know that.”

“Of course I do. Perfect for a novelist!”

“That sounds so much more distinguished than mere ‘writer’. Hmm. It’s green, it’s bright, it’s spicy, it’s… a breath of fresh air in a window I fling open after working all night. When I look to see the sun is coming up outside my windows.”

He reached for her apple fritter and bit into it. “You mean, that moment when you stop whatever it is you’re doing and realize that for just a few seconds, it seems as if the world has stopped too, ” he mumbled around a mouthful of pastry.

“Yes. Like that. Oh! Wake up and smell the coffee, baby! Is that coffee?” She laughed again, and watching her evident, child-like pleasure was almost worth the panic attacks he just sidestepped to get there on time. “Fruity coffee!”

“You tell me. You used to write about perfume.” This was one hell of an apple fritter.

“Another life ago. Is that what you’re asking? You want the perfume writer’s scoop on your present? ”

“I guess I’m asking what you think, or if you’ll wear it, or…you know. I’m not usually in the habit of buying you perfume.”

She sniffed her wrist again. “Next time, I’ll just call you up at four A.M. and ask what you’re wearing.”

“The Wall Street Journal. Reading glasses. So not sexy. Or…” he suddenly remembered. “The counterpart to what I just gave you.”

She leaned closer right by his neck and breathed him in. “That’s outrageous. I do mean outrageous. Allspice with a green bite underneath it, and…oh! Leather! Sweet, luscious, supple, silky leather and am I getting…what is that? Tarmac? Rubber? Not just any rubber, and nothing in the slightest bit bad, but much more than a little…dangerous. Yes. Dangerous! That’s it! You’re the gazillionaire bad boy my mother warned me about. The guy who lights fires in hapless lovelies on five continents and always leaves in the morning. His secretary has been instructed to send roses. Not that it helps.”

He had to laugh. “I’m nothing like that. And you don’t like gazillionaires anyway.”

“True. ” She sniffed her wrist again. “But I love this. Why they always say a perfume has evolution, I don’t know. This is more of a revolution…it goes up and down and all around a thick, floral heart, like a spiral spinning around all the many contradictions that define it. It’s really busy in a very intricately crafted way. Frankincense that should be written out in capital letters, but no frankincense is ever so glorious as this…this is…the apotheosis of all the word and the material implies. Ah. But wait! There’s more!” She laughed again. “A novel in a bottle! We’re getting to that inevitable point of no return. There will be no happily ever after.”

“For four thirty in the morning I’m hugely impressed.” He was, too. No amount of money could have bought him a conversation like this one. Too bad he could only have it once a year.

“Hush.” She leaned in on him again and breathed in. “Smooth, but just… rough enough to make it interesting. A girl always likes a little bit of…rough.” As she said that last, her voice dropped to a smoky, sultry alto that gave one simple word a universe of meaning the scent he wore seemed to embroider upon, sparks and glints of heat, of firelight and wisps of rising, fragrant smoke from a roaring bonfire of exotic woods that only grew where dragons lived to guard the trees.

It was jetlag. It had to be. Or else it was these two infernally great perfumes. Worth every yuan he paid for them just to hear her say ‘rough’ like that.

“I don’t have enough time for bonfires,” he heard himself saying.

“I know. I don’t, either.” In the space of a heartbeat, her regret played across her face like a piano note and was just as quickly gone, but he caught it in the way she shifted on her chair and slightly away from him, as if wrapping herself just a little tighter and smaller. A piano note with the damper pedal down.

“So why do we meet like this once a year?” He found himself wanting to distract her from that hint of blue he saw in her eyes, illuminated by the light bouncing off the display case of cookies in front of her.

She blinked, turned back towards him again and lifted one eyebrow. “You mean you don’t know?”

“You’re the novelist,” he shot back. “You tell me!”

“Well, to remind each other that it’s the world that’s crazy, but you and I aren’t. You’re my anodyne, and I’m yours. Everything and everyone coming at us from all directions, constant streams of information, stress, noise and clutter and all that messes with our minds.” Again, he saw that lightning flash of regret that blazed over her face before it vanished.

“That there’s…” she went on after a while and a sip of her coffee, “these rare instances every blue moon, where everything just…stops, and you stop with it. When you breathe in, and you are all of a piece, you’re whole and entire and an entire, complex universe in one fleeting, shining instant. You don’t have to do, you don’t have to go, you just have to be. Like now.”

She replaced the blue bottle in its box, put it back in the bag and sniffed her wrist again.

“How do you know I’m not crazy?” He had to ask. Sometimes, he wanted to be just a little crazy.

“Because you brought me serenity…in a beautiful blue perfume bottle! And you wore your own to see me. That tells me everything I need to know.” She had a mischievous glint in her eyes, one he hadn’t seen in a long time.

“Don’t move. I’ll be right back.”

But when he returned to the counter, she was gone, with only a trace of that magnificent, ambery, opulent trail behind in the sugar-scented donut shop. There was a card on the barstool.

On the front was her name, her new address, her email and phone number. And on the back, a quote from a poem.

The soul selects her own society

Then shuts the door

On her divine majority –

Obtrude no more.

Below, she had written “Hong Kong. Make the time for a bonfire. Oh. Yes. You’re going to need two more bottles of this.”

Which was when he realized that she had taken not just the bottle he had brought for her, but his own too, still in the Tsum department store bag.

He laughed, laughed so loudly, the waiter at the other end of the counter came over to ask if everything was OK.

Oh, yes. It was just about perfect. As perfect an anodyne – or an interlude – as anyone could ask for.

Image of Interlude Man & Interlude Woman: Amouage

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Notes for Interlude Woman (Perfumer Karine Vinchon-Spehner): Bergamot, grapefruit, ginger, marigold, kiwi, frankincense, rose, coffee, orange blossom, helichrysum, jasmine, opoponax, vanilla, benzoin, amber, sandalwood, oud, oakmoss, leather, tonka bean, animalic notes, musk

Notes for Interlude Man (Perfumer Pierre Negrin): Bergamot, oregano, pimento berry oil, amber, frankincense, cistus, opoponax, leather, agarwood smoke, patchouli, sandalwood

Amouage Interlude is available directly from the Amouage website and Amouage boutiques. It will be available at First in Fragrance from September 24th, and elsewhere Amouage is sold.

Disclosure: Samples were provided for review by Amouage

With thanks to the usual suspect and Emily Dickinson, too.

The Emotional Engineering Society

-  some further D-list thoughts on brands, bloggers and buyers in the world of social media

Some things I’ll never get used to. Such as…posting what I thought would be a pretty innocuous if slightly polemic blog post only to find some hours later that no less an august personage than Andy Tauer had picked up my topical baton where I dropped it, and in a certain manner of speaking both of our blog posts as well as Undina’s had touched a very live nerve on a very passionate subject.

Therefore, before I incriminate myself any further than I already have, I’d like to state a few things. First of all …there is no controversy, at least as that word is usually understood. My original blog post was prompted by nothing more than my own preoccupations in the world of perfume as well as several informal phone conversations with close friends who share my passion.

Last, but not least …despite my love of the focus of this blog and the people who make those epiphanies possible – fans, friends and perfumers alike – sometimes, I like to think out loud in public and point to what I see as pink elephants in the room. To be honest, the idea of never writing anything BUT perfume reviews (and my profound respect and admiration to those who do!) would bore me to tears and sometimes does. It makes me feel like a broken record, hauling out the same metaphors and the same similes and simply changing the order around, which does me no favors as a writer and is a disservice to the concept I’m trying to grasp with my nose as well as to the mind(s) who conceived it.

Before the perfume blogger, before the social media identity, and sometimes even before the woman lurks an iconoclastic, post-punk catastrophe writer, and if the blogger is to dance on this virtual page, then that writer needs to exercise her train of thought and her vocabulary. I didn’t mean to step on any toes or ruffle any feathers, but karmic law decreed otherwise.

The thing is…there IS a pink elephant in the room. No one wants to know about it, never mind even think about it, other than in hushed sotto voce whispers to very trusted friends. And as Andy Tauer rightly pointed out, no one is talking about it, very few are aware of it, but then, the iconoclastic post punk catastrophe began to think. Caveat lector.

Who is to say that a perfume blogger – even such a grade D entity as yours truly – can’t write about some of the other things happening on Planet Perfume? Well, no one, actually. Except I found two things very telling about this hot-potato topic. One, two people – one a rockstar-level perfumer herself –  commented on Andy’s riposte to my own blog post. Two, quite a few more than two commented back to Undina’s own thoughtful post, many of whom did not comment on my own.

Draw your own conclusions.

So many relevant points were brought up however, that it seems a bit pointless to go comment by comment, when I should have a) been a bit clearer about my intentions and observations and b) been a bit more precise in my argumentation.

Andy wrote that he didn’t consider social media to be relevant to any discussions about perfume because the medium IS…the message, as Marshall McLuhan famously said in that innocent, Pliocene age before Facebook, Twitter and other hazards to our collective sanity.

Andy, you’re absolutely right. It’s not. And it is. And the medium is less a point in itself as it is a platform and a Wild West free-for-all land claim for the message its users are trying to get across. I’ll be getting back to that.

Second, my blatant and purposely provocative use of the term ‘niche’. Yes, there is indeed a vast difference between big, corporate-backed ‘niche’ brands, independent perfumers and artisanal perfumers. There is a difference in the way these businesses are operated and maintained, there is a definite difference in terms of distribution and customer reach, and above all, there is a marked difference in the business philosophies of all three entities. I’m not even mentioning how new launches are conceptualized or executed, since from where I’m standing, that’s one distinction between them.

My point is…whichever category a perfumer/brand might belong to, and I’m so very sorry if I burst any bubbles…it’s still…a business. Money makes the world go round, money makes it possible to keep a company afloat whether they’re a one-man band or a whole olfactory orchestra of magical elves.

Perfume, that most ephemeral art, is costly to produce, at least at the level I’ve become accustomed to. Sourcing a consistent quality and supply of raw materials, manufacturing the juice or outsourcing your production line, bottling it up, finding the appropriate packaging, producing – or outsourcing -  the PR to go with it – all these things take a considerable amount of a brand or a perfumer’s time, and just as in any other business, you’re only as good as the reception on your last product. As an artisanal perfumer, if your juice doesn’t sell, you’re not going to remain a perfumer for too long if you also like to eat.

Now consider this – in 2011, more than 1400 new perfumes were launched. Some of those were struggling, artisanal brands with very limited distribution – if at all – and most of those 1400 launches came out of the great corporate conglomerates. How many of those will survive the end of this year? How many of those will be reviewed or remembered? How many will distinguish themselves to such an extent, they will still be bought and talked about five years from now?

In a market economy, wouldn’t that depend on not just the quality of a given perfume and the concept behind it, but also on things like…exposure, availability, trade-show schmoozing, word-of-mouth, editorial coverage, and the general conversation in the perfume community? In a world of ever-increasing olfactory noise and with the backlash to prove it, how else will any new and curious perfume buyer even know about it?

Enter the beast that is…social media. The casual Facebook user might not think too much about these things, but you do have to wonder…what are we doing there?

Posting cutesie Photoshopped animal pictures, commenting on other pictures and clicking links and sharing – or even oversharing – everything from intimate details of our private selves and offlline lives to inadvertently delivering a marketing executive’s wet dream of a demographic analysis in the process for free. Posting our SotDs and declaring our undying loyalty and love of a given brand – or forty – commenting back on other SotDs in happy-hour cocktail-party fashion… “Oh, I love that one, I have that one, that one didn’t work for me, have you tried X, Y or Z instead?”

If the medium is the message, then the message here is…despite all our high-minded efforts, despite the opportunity and the platform to engage in meaningful discourse in all sorts of Web 6.0 ways with anyone we damn well please, perfumers and/or brands included (I mean, they can’t see you blush as you type your shy ‘hello’ to a rockstar perfumer, or see you bang your head against your keyboard with your likes), we’re still interacting on the same principles that grease the wheels of human concourse anywhere in the world.

“Nice weather we’re having lately!”

Why? Because the point of Facebook, or Twitter, or Pinterest is not…a philosophical discussion about the creative process or the concept behind a concrete idea. In fact, it’s not about discussing much at all. It’s about the daily reinvention of ourselves as individuals in an increasingly crowded world. It’s about staking that claim and drawing those lines of distinction. This is who I am. This is what I like. This is me…today, this week, this moment in time.

No, Andy, it is all too true and you are all too right…there really isn’t, despite all efforts to the contrary, a hell of a lot of ‘meaningful discussion’. Because this really is a brave new world and we’re all taking our baby steps as we walk this brave new media landscape of 24/7 virtual life, being brave or not as we go.

Why not? Ah…

Well, I’ll venture that the vast majority of perfume consumers simply don’t have the vocabulary for it. Francis Kurkdjian landed in hot water when he claimed that bloggers or even layman critics as a rule don’t know what the hell they’re writing about, since they have so little knowledge of the technical skills of perfumery. This is very true. We don’t. And if you ask me at least, I don’t give a flying, since I don’t buy juice to determine the artistic use and technical merits of this or that aromachemical, this olfactory riff on a material. Even if I did, it still wouldn’t sell the juice to me.

That’s not why I love it, that’s not why I buy it, that’s not why I dream about it and that’s certainly not why I write about it. I do all of it…con amore. I’ll wager my D-list status here (about to be demoted, any day now!) and venture that isn’t why any other blogger – or at least the ones who are capable of articulating that passion to any extent – does it, either.

We articulate our inordinate passion for perfume artistry for no other reason than what it does to our selves, to our moods, and to our daily real-life reinventions. We articulate it to inform, to entertain, if only to inform and entertain ourselves, to make our readers agree or not with our assumptions, and all along, we know damn well we’re charting virgin territory in the process, since articulating a wordless, emotionally fraught art is very, very hard. Poets, writers, artists and dreamers have been trying to convey the inarticulate with words for millennia. But in the end, the nose…knows what the word can’t say.

Not everyone has the depth of cultural knowledge, the passion, or the psychological insight to participate in any meaningful discussions about perfume. And there are no troll-free zones to do it in, either, unless it’s an option to moderate comments on a blog.

Does it take away from the mystique, the whole romantic aura of perfume to know something of the process that goes into its creation? Maybe it does for some, maybe they can’t be bothered to be informed on such a level, maybe they just don’t care to know anything other than what their acute, discerning noses tell them.

What about bloggers? What are they doing, thinking, planning? Is it true that some bloggers have an inside track on certain brands, new launches, new hotly anticipated moments in perfumery?

Yes. And if we didn’t (I’ll freely confess to being one of them, and I’m obliged by US law to state it every time it happens), how would a lay perfume customer even know? They don’t have access to trade magazines, wouldn’t know unless they read perfumer’s blogs or editorial write-ups, and even those do come from other sources than press releases. In the case of indie perfumers and artisanal brands, they don’t have an advertising budget, or much more to go on but determination and dedication. Some of them are internationally renowned, some of them not at all. My point is…a blogger receives a sample because a perfumer would like that spin on their creation, to see what a blogger’s interpretation might be. And any blogger worth his or her weight in bottled bribes knows full well there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Any artist in any medium knows that once a work of art is finished, you have opened up the gates of Hades to pass it on to the world. You want feedback, accolades (it is to be hoped) or alternatively, at least a certain level of creatively stated antagonism.

That doesn’t mean you’ll get it.

Not one blogger that I’m aware of does this for a living. In most cases, we have very full and overflowing lives that entail things like spouses, children, pets, families, day jobs and laundry baskets. There are only so many hours in a day. I’ve been known to knock out big reviews in an hour and thirty-seven minutes, and several others that took me days or weeks. Yet I have very few truly negative reviews. Why?

It’s the conspiracy of silence. Negative reviews – or simply reviews of stuff you loathe – are too much trouble to write. Why be bothered to forgo an evening with friends, an extra bedtime story, a nosedive into a book, a full night’s sleep, if you have to write a review of something you hate? For that matter, why waste time on what doesn’t move you? I don’t bother with people I can’t stand, why should I do it with perfume? Life’s too short. Better to just…pass it on, pay it forward by sending off a sample to a friend who might love it better, write about it better, cherish that idea you were unable to grasp.

Undina said it beautifully in her post – perfume experts don’t buy perfume. Laymen do. They buy with their hearts, their passion, their noses and their burning plastic, People like you, people like me, people like the perfumers who inspire us and the brands we love – or love to argue about, in that fragrant corner of the dog-eat-dog world of social media, we could call – with some justification, to continue the Huxley reference…the Emotional Engineering Society.

With many thanks to …Persolaise for the interview with Francis Kurkdjian, Andy Tauer, Lucy of Indieperfumes, Undina, Bloody Frida, Susan and the two dear friends who burned my ears this week about this very topic.

Original image: An installation by Brooklyn artist Ebon Heath.

The Edible Dev (with a giveaway!)

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT IX

-  a review of Neil Morris’ Dev mod #2

Dear Neil –

It’s about time I said hello again, don’t you think? I mean, the brief only told you so much. The rest of it was nothing more nor less than her words, your imagination and those astonishing perfumes you’ve created for her project – perfumes you might never have dreamed of making if not for the impetus of that idea, those words, a friend’s persuasion, and your own intrigued curiosity.

She isn’t writing this review. Right this instant, she’s asleep in the borderline hour between night and day, tinted the twilit blue before sunrise. Hairy Krishna is curled up against the small of her back as he always is, guarding her against any intruding dreamtime monsters, just not me. Let her sleep. The poor woman has a lot on her plate these days, as all women do, what with blog backlog, Super Mario Jr., book ideas, the sequel bubbling away at a steady 80 mph, correspondence, social media and that q-word that gives her so many nightmares…the query letters she will submit for Quantum Demonology before this year is too much older.

You and I know…it’s a good book. It will probably raise more than a few eyebrows and likely not a few hackles, too, but if people push misleading, craptacular ‘naughty’ drivel to the top of the NY Times bestseller list, then I know other, far more discerning readers will certainly be intrigued enough by Quantum Demonology’s premise to buy it. After all, what’s not to love about rock’n’roll, a midlife crisis and a sexy, reinvented Faustian tale?

The problem, as you know, lies in that all-important step …to make the dream a reality. She’s so close. So close, so thrilled with the feedback and the reactions, and so petrifed to let all that faith in her story down. I think that’s what’s called action paralysis. It’s not that she doesn’t have faith in her book, it’s simply that she needs to believe she can do it. Write the f***ing query letter, that is. I have no doubts at all she is capable of writing anything else she damn well pleases and even fewer doubts she probably will and start several bonfires in the process, too. That much of a dyed-in-the-nylon-mesh punk she still is, bless her.

So I’m writing this review. After all, you’ve made bespoke perfumes for me. Not one, not two, but three. I like to think of them in musical terms – like movements in a symphony or maybe acts in an opera would be a better description…evolving even as you do when you create them. Who knew how narcissus and boronia could elevate such a dark, delicious, labdadum-luscious blend as your mod #1? Who could have conceived of such a thing as a coffee-tinged, boozy, utterly captivating chypre beast, or even the no less marvelous bottled mélange on her desk as I type these words, emblazoned with the DSP logo and those modest, unassuming letters…#2.

Did you imagine what you would do? Did this project maybe…stretch you a little, spark your creativity? Did it make you think a bit about the nature of light and dark, good, evil and how we perceive it, did you contemplate how to translate hallowed words like perdition, redemption, temptation and passion into the wordless medium… of perfume?

I sincerely hope it did. Actually, it’s less of a hope and more than an inkling that’s precisely what happened.

You see…all of you perfumers have surprised me. I like surprises. And #2 – a blood relation of #1, I can smell the resemblance in the structure – is nothing if not surprising.

If Quantum Demonology were a fairy tale – although you and I both know it’s not – this would be that certain famous bottle labeled “Eat me”.

Not that the sleeping writer in the other room hasn’t tried, but I’m known for my speedy getaways.

Here’s what I can tell: You, Mr. Morris, are no stranger to the dark, those twilight borders between the acceptable and the taboo, those unmentionable, incendiary, subconscious places where souls are made or devoured, and love and lust either bloom…or die.

#2 is – there is no other way to say it…An Edible Beast. This is me as a super-deluxe beefcake stew of temptation, of everything you could possibly want, close enough to touch, to kiss, to seduce or be seduced by…and that, dear perfumer, is only where this story begins to unfold all its perils and its promises.

Cumin and a melting, masculine leathery note so meaty you can almost imagine chewing them with your eyelashes, singing their duet in dangerous baritones…

Bite me, baby. You know you want to, oh, so very badly.

But this version of me is so much more…sweetness and light shining through that dense, thick aura. Not everyone could wear this, but then again, you made it for me and obviously, I’m not everyone. Something about it – it could be the cumin, or it could be the sweetness – something floral? Narcissus again? Something fruity? – tells about that other side of me, the secret me, that true self even I have that so few can comprehend, but you did.

Ellen chose to express me through her interpretation of the story as it unfolded. Maria and Alexis chose the contrasting tale of complements in their perfumes for me and for Lilith. Amanda told a tale of regret, redemption and the release of desire.

Neil, you chose another road into the tale my sleeping story-weaver wove, a road made of the desires of the flesh and the yearning of the spirit, knowing full well all throughout it would end…beautifully, if not badly.

So where does it end, my perfumer – where does this perfume land on the virtual page, what song does it segue into on my mortal, borrowed skin or even my immortal soul?

It ends with that heartbreaking, pitch-black labdanum, of frankincense and a melancholy tinge of myrrh. That too is a secret only a true initiate would know – sacred and profane, that darkness and light, good and evil, sweet and bitter, lust and love… are all one and all the same.

All aspects of the same story, all shades of the same profound emotions, and all of them here…part of, let’s call it…The Edible Dev.

I have to go. As I’ve written these words, the birds are blaring away outside and sunlight glows through her open window, as she dreams her restless dreams of what she could write. Hairy Krishna is flat on his back now, his head on her arm and I can tell, it won’t be long before he starts thinking about breakfast, and when he does, she will certainly wake up.

When she wakes, she’ll find this review already posted, and she’ll wonder at that, wonder at how and where and when…

Yet one thing will not surprise her – that I really truly was here in this room, typing away on her laptop, writing you these words.

She will know – since you told her that, too.

I’ll write you again, Neil. Count on it. If your art is anything to judge by, you and I have met before – so why not meet again – and soon?

Yours,

Dev

Neil Morris Fragrances are available here. 

******A Giveaway!*****

The devious Neil Morris was sweet enough to provide me with a sample spray for a giveaway! If your curiosity is killing you, leave a comment by July 31st at midnight CET. Everyone worldwide is eligible to enter. One winner will be determined by random.org on August 1st.

***********************

A Brave New World

-       In which a D-list blogger ventures out on a limb!

Have you noticed how noisy the world in general and even the rarified air of the perfumosphere is getting lately? How demanding it has become to keep up, stay informed, engaged and relevant? Does the constant flow of …information, tweets, status updates, likes, comments, shares, blogs, links, websites, text messages, traffic both virtual and literal… drag you down and make you wonder, as I sometimes do, how utterly blissful and uncomplicated life would be if it could all just float away and be gone, if only so you could think, breathe and listen to nothing more exhilarating than the beat of your heart or a heart that you love?

Hold that thought.

But what if …you miss out? What if there’s yet another…epiphany, discovery, Brand New Thing/blog/brand/launch/thought-provoking WTF moment waiting to happen – and you miss it?

Best to just keep up as best you can with it all…just in case, just because, if only to keep yourself on the cutting edge of cool, knowledgable, hip or informed. Just to hedge your bets.

Because you never know…

Since I became a perfume blogger nearly two years ago, my horizon has expanded exponentially to a degree I never imagined when I started by reviewing the contents of my perfume cabinet, since that was what I had. And since becoming the unbearably smug owner of an iPhone, I gave my social media/blatant and utterly shameless self-promotion skills a major overhaul in the process, joined Twitter and…all Hades broke loose. The Hordes of social media have been on the rampage ever since.

I also this past winter decided to complete some hardcore training in professional social media marketing – might as well hopefully put my money where my mouth is, or so I can dream – and since then, I’ve been privileged enough to apply as well as observe what I could call the Rules of Engagement from both sides of the same fence.

What does it all mean – for the bloggers who write about perfumes and the brands who need to promote their brand or new launches? If it’s true that 1% of a given interest group provides the content that 9% will comment on and 90% simply read and enjoy, what does it mean for the 99% who simply buy all that juice?

Here’s a surprise for you: According to this link, most licensed and/or ‘prestige’ mainstream perfume brands are doing a craptacular job of it. The one exception – also mentioned in the video link – is almost too depressing to contemplate.

But mainstream perfume brands are not the primary focus of the blogs I subscribe to nor the perfumes I mostly choose to review.

Why? They have marketing budgets/teams/paid advertising. They launch new perfumes on the basis of a brief – all too often written up by the self-same marketing department, hell-bent on marketing to the same demographic as everyone else, and again, all too often with the results to match. Uninspiring. Copycat. The same old formulas, same note du jour, same gargantuan conglomerates applying the same sledgehammer PR tactics and only the name on the bottle ever changes.

It’s been stated before on this blog and I’ll state it again – the exceptional rarely happens when a corporate machine and perfume-by-committee gets involved. And if we as perfume bloggers seek out the extraordinary, the exceptional, the olfactory epiphany – the indie/niche fragrant superhighway is one sure way to find it.

So how are they doing out there in this brave new world? And what might it all mean for the bloggers who write about them or the connoisseurs who buy them and enjoy them?

For the sake of argument, I shall henceforth make no distinction between ‘indie’, ‘niche’ or ‘mainstream niche’. It makes it easier on this writer, and easier on the readers. Let’s just lump them all together and call them…’niche’, as in…exclusively available, with limited distribution and often, but not always exclusive price tags to match. These are all the brands, the names, the perfumes so many of us wear, adore, aspire to buy, save up for, dream about and love to write about.

Fasten your seatbelts darlings, because now it gets a little turbulent.

Brands

Here’s a fact few brands of any stripe in any market can quite manage to swallow. In social media, the brand doesn’t belong to the owner/perfumer/company. It belongs to its fans. Usually, these fans are also the main consumers of said brands, and if they’re treated right – I’ll be getting back to that – they are the best and cheapest ambassadors any brand can hope to have. But even now, even today, even this morning come to that, too many of them are still stuck in the one-track, one-way mindset of old-school marketing, which is…”We tell you what’s cool. You choose what to do with it.” So they wonder…at the lack of engagement on their Facebook pages, or the lack of enthusiasm from their customer base, or their lack of black on the bottom line.

In the world of niche, it’s a somewhat different story. Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, the law of Six Degrees of Separation no longer applies. In the niche world, you can often start or continue an online conversation with the very perfumer (or social media-responsible person) whose creations rocked your planet/made you retch/elevated your quotidian existence. Social propriety is still appropriate, that goes without saying. There are myriad Facebook groups – bless ‘em all – who are exclusively devoted to perfume, to discussing them, arguing about them, spreading the word about them. And the smart brands are listening in on those conversations and paying attention to what’s being said. In other words, they’re doing precisely what they should be doing and that is, engaging their customers/fans in a dialogue.

Having said that, not a few of them fall splat at the fences of their websites. Cranky, clunky online shopping carts and untrackable orders are two issues some of them are known to have, but far, far worse is the ever-present use of Flash. Two words: Just & Don’t. Flash makes sites slow, unsearchable by Google (never a good thing in this day and age), unable to bookmark or link to individual pages, and they irritate the crap out of the customer before he or she can even order. Music we never asked for, special effects we don’t want, PR ballyhoo and copy we’re less and less inclined to read while watching an unexciting progress bar that says ‘Loading…73%’ Anything that gets in the way of having an experience is just plain…bad. Save it for specially linked-to pages – and leave it at that. Your fans will be grateful. Treat them right, and they’ll be loyal, too.

In the niche world, that world of aspirational luxury, the trend in these last few years has seemed to up the ante in terms of just how we define it. And there’s no end in sight. Jean Patou might have – if Elsa Maxwell’s famous ad copy is to be believed – thought he created ‘the most expensive perfume in the world’. When I catch myself thinking that 150$ is practically a bargain, clearly something has got to give. I’ve sniffed a few of those hyper-luxe wonders. Some have blown my socks off. Some of them haven’t. And some of those super-luxurious brands are doing present and potential customers a serious disservice by not providing an entry-level sample program/sample/discovery kit at a reasonable price tag. Ordinary folks with ordinary, non-gazillionaire lives are often quite willing to spend substantial sums on their passion – if they have some idea of what they’re getting. If not, a 700$ mistake can hurt in far more ways than one.

Bloggers

Ah, to be…a blogger! Beholden to no one but your own flaming passions, writing what you please when you please and how it damn well pleases you to do it – where would the enlightened 99% perfume consumer be without you?

For one, not nearly so enlightened. The world of niche and indie perfumers owe a huge, huge debt to the perfume bloggers who write about them, and most of them – myself included – do. And the brands who appreciate all that free PR and ad copy, who inform their fans on Facebook pages about reviews and/or retweet the link to them – are the brands who know a thing or two about promoting a certain degree of brand loyalty that goes in both directions – for mutual and often perpetuating benefit.

As a blogger, I owe a tremendous amount to those intrepid writers who went before the likes of D-list me, who informed me, educated me, made me laugh and paved the way…not to mention pointed to many epiphanies and mind-blowing moments I might otherwise never have known. I’ve been privileged enough to establish friendships, share discoveries, have discussions, and make my own suspect reputation for questionable purple prose through the world-wide blogging community, and as a result been rewarded and sometimes even applauded for it.

For all of which, I’m so grateful, it’s bathetic. Really.

But this world – even this brave new world of social media – is built on…reciprocation. It’s a quid-pro-quo world. And here’s where things can get a bit tricky for bloggers who might question their ethics, their independance or their impartiality.

Brand X needs to spread the word of their newest launch. Enter the blogosphere. Say Blogger Y has written about brand X before. Naturally, Brand X will want Blogger Y to review it. So they send Blogger Y a sample.

Does Blogger Y write up a complimentary review because the sample/bottle/press kit was free? Because they’re on Brand X’s super-exclusive ‘insider’ reviewer list? Because they love everything (or mostly) that Brand X creates/stands for as a brand?

This is a can of worms I’ve often wrestled with personally, since where do you draw the line in terms of what you review, when you review it, never mind the how… you review it. I think this is one area where bloggers distinguish themselves.

I know of a few blogs that are almost unfailingly snarky. You wonder at the things that make the grade, because the level of derision that glows radioactive on your screen is enough to strip wallpaper off the wall behind your back. I like to read them for the entertainment value, but I rarely take them seriously. So far as I’m concerned, there’s no shortage of snark online, but that doesn’t mean I have to appreciate it or even spread my own vitriol in the process because…I’m a blogger and I write what I damn well please!

What did I say? Social proprieties still apply. If – as I fervently believe –perfume creation/conceptualization is an art form as relevant and as intricate as any other art, then it should be judged as such. Artists are touchy, sensitive-skinned creatures when it comes to critique. Unless I specifically set out to give a satirical spin on something I consider horrendous, which doesn’t happen often, I will at least attempt to appreciate the concept and the art behind a given perfume I review. It has happened exactly once that I was unable to review a perfume at all – not because it wasn’t flawless, beautiful or thought-provoking, but because it woke up a painful memory I thought I’d forgotten, so much so I couldn’t write about it. At all. I’ve felt guilty about it ever since.

As a blogger, I review what and as I can when I can, which is never as much as I would prefer, but that has nothing to do with blogging per se, and more to do with stylistic differences in the way I review. I can’t – no matter how I’ve surely tried – write like anyone else but me, review a new perfume every day, write short and snappy reviews, and I can’t, above all else, not dive into the bottles and coax the genies out in my own way. Perfume is the most intimate, personal art of all, and up close and idiosyncratic/iconoclastic is the only way my words will out.

I may not have the audience or the reputation of some of those big name bloggers with countless thousands of daily hits and endless retweets. I’m human enough to admit to a little envy because of it. Some of them link back to me, yet many of them don’t, if they’re even aware I exist. On the other hand, I don’t write like them either – and isn’t the whole point of the blogosphere freedom of expression? And isn’t the point of this Brave New World a world where there’s room enough for all sorts of voices to be read?

Smart brands will recognize the bloggers who have no other reasons to write about than to communicate their passion. Bloggers for their part can often predict or sense a trend well before it lands on shelves/blogs/perfume cabinets.

And in the end no matter what you do, whether you’re a brand fan, a brand, a blogger or a simple perfume aficionado, the passion, the enthusiasm, the dialogue and the creativity that flows both ways is what really matters in the endless quest for that next Great Big Perfumed Epiphany.

Something many niche brands understood a long time ago, and new niche brands need to realize. Listen to the conversations. Spread the word. Read the blogs. Make your voice heard. And make your name – in perfume, in prose, or in the presence you create.

It’s a brave new world out there with a brave, adventurous audience. And Fortune, as the saying goes, favors the brave!

I adore perfume. It allows me to take up more space.

With thanks to Yosh Han and Ayala Sender for the link, and to the very dear friend and diehard perfume connoisseuse who prompted this blog post in a phone conversation last week!

Original image: A sculpture by Brooklyn artist Ebon Heath.

Orange Blossom Special

-  a getaway vacation into the heart of a favorite flower

Of all the many fragrant memories of my South Florida childhood, one in particular has stuck in my mind and stayed with me even today, as a redolent symbol of all that is …happy.

I was ten or eleven at the time, and it was a day I had forgotten my house keys, so I had to wait in the back yard for my mother to arrive home from work. It must have been late March or early April, for the citrus tree orchard in our back yard was in full bloom. We had grapefruit trees, lemon trees, lime trees, and a stand of orange trees that stood at least twenty feet tall. They all required careful navigating to climb – those trees had spiky thorns – but I had long since found a path up the trunk and onto a favorite branch, and that’s where I chose to wait.

It was a heady late afternoon out there beneath the orange tree canopy, the slanting sunlight beating down upon those trees from that breathless blue Florida sky. Everywhere around me, the no less heady, nearly narcotic fragrance of orange blossom in all its many shades…the soapy floral, the hint of the orange zest behind it, the thick, sensuous, indolic aspect that somehow stupefied me to such an extent I have no memory of how long I sat there, only that as I sat on that branch and waited, I was aware of only one thing – the simple joy of breathing in, of inhaling all that was supremely beautiful and supremely happy, which was precisely how I felt.

No matter how much my life attempts to drag me down and chew me out, nothing, but nothing makes me happier in an instant like orange blossom.

Orange blossom – and its kissing cousin, neroli, which is the water-distilled extract of the bitter orange and lighter and less indolic – has been used for centuries in perfumes and soaps, so much that an overdose can easily lead you to dismiss an orange-blossom fragrance as ‘soapy’. It adds its own power-packed punch to countless famous perfumes as one of the four boldest white florals – rose, jasmine, tuberose and…orange blossom. Robert Piguet’s Fracas – that reference tuberose – gets a good deal of its divalicious oomph from orange blossom, as does Caron’s classic Narcisse Noir, although in Narcisse Noir’s case, the orange blossom is a dark and dangerously erotic creature of the night. I never have understood why orange blossom is such a symbol of innocence, unless it’s that orange blossom tends to soothe frazzled bridal nerves, since so far as I’m concerned, it’s a very erotic flower…

A while ago, I posed a question on one of the Facebook fragrance groups about orange blossom. We generally agreed on the orange blossom gold standard  – my absolute favorite orange blossom, which is Serge Lutens’ Fleurs d’Oranger. This is the orange blossom I recall from that afternoon that burned itself into my memory, the rose, the jasmine and the tuberose somehow all adding up to all the nuances contained in that one fatally fragrant blossom – and the cumin (a deal-breaker for some) adding its own intimations of carnal intent. This is no blushing ingénue orange blossom, this is an opulently sensuous creature in full bloom beneath the orange trees, just waiting to lure you in…which might explain why I’ve likely ‘wasted’ a good portion of a bell jar spraying it on my pillow before bed. Sweet dreams indeed!

But there are other orange blossom specials, and here they are for your delectation…some famous, some not so much, some innocent and flirty, some of them not quite so innocuous…

Joyous Orange

Mona di Orio ‘Jabu’

Jabu – the Zulu word for ‘joy’ – was created in 2009 by the epically talented niche perfumer Mona di Orio, who tragically died last year. No tragedy lurks within ‘Jabu’, which was made to benefit the Dutch charity ‘Orange Babies’ for African HIV-positive mothers and their babies. Jabu is a glorious, complex, grand, glowing Oriental of an orange blossom, from its laughing beginnings of petitgrain through its honeyed, swirling heart of orange blossom, rose and coconut all the way to the feather-soft drydown of benzoin, myrrh and sandalwood. Coconut can be a deal-breaker for me, but here, I have no complaints – everything works in perfect harmony, and everything spells precisely what it says on the bottle – which is…joy. It is virtually impossible to be blue when wearing this, and if that’s not an accolade, what is?

Jabu – in the ‘main’ collection of Mona di Orio perfumes – will be re-released along with the other perfumes in Mona’s main line in 2013.

Notes for Jabu: Orange blossom, monoi oil, petitgrain, Damascus rose, honey, amyris, plum, myrrh, benzoin

The Drop Dead Elegant Orange

Hermès 24 Faubourg

If every luxury perfume brand needs a Great Big White Floral, then 24 Faubourg is surely Hermès’ contribution. Made by Maurice Roucel in 1995, this is a unique throwback to those elegant, supremely French perfumes of yore when ladies who lunched wore couture, carried Hermès bags, and wore fragrant statements that left an emphatic presence in the room behind them. Make no mistake – this is no ingénue orange blossom, this one is all woman, and she roars even when she whispers! It starts with a seamless fruity-floral effervescent blast – there’s no other way to describe it – and then. And then, it grows. And it glows. And it grows. Blooming into a luscious, lilting blend of thick orange blossom, gardenia and jasmine, with black elder adding its own earthier segue to its chypre-tinged drydown hours and hours later of orris, sandalwood, amber, patchouli and vanilla. I really don’t do it anything near the justice it clearly deserves when I wear it barefaced in my leopard-print pjs – 24 Faubourg somehow demands a flawless maquillage, great hair, grand clothes and high heels – something to accentuate its stunning sillage, outstanding longevity and eternally stylish structure. Wear it for when you want to make a definite impression no one forgets in a hurry! Preferably with Louboutin heels, but Manolos might do in a pinch…

Notes for 24 Faubourg: Orange, peach hyacinth, ylang ylang, bergamot, black elder, iris, jasmine, orange blossom, gardenia, sandalwood, amber, patchouli, vanilla.

The Limited Edition Orange

L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Fleurs d’Oranger

There should be laws against limited editions I only discover after it’s way too late to do anything about procuring them. But on the other hand…what wonders would I miss? L’Artisan Parfumeur’s ’s special edition tribute to an exceptional Tunisian orange blossom harvest is what. L’Artisan puts the orange blossom – one spectacular orange blossom – front and center of this composition by Anne Flipo, and it’s all orange blossom, all the time! Lush, flirty, ripe, borderline naughty orange blossom, neroli, petitgrain – it’s the whole tree and all the flowers, too – and it’s glorious – and gorgeously linear -  stuff. If I have any complaints – apart from being nearly impossible to find any longer – it’s that it doesn’t last nearly long enough to suit me, which only means that one bottle will be too many and two not nearly enough!

Notes for L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Fleurs d’Oranger: Orange, petitgrain, neroli, orange blossom, almond.

 The Great Escape

Dior Cruise Collection Escale à Portofino

In my fevered imagination – all evidence in my life to the contrary – I have what I’ve come to call ‘perfect moments’ – those fantasies of being somewhere infinitely glamorous, wearing something equally devastating, standing on a balcony overlooking the limitless blue Adriatic with a Bellini in my hand exuding effortless ‘du chien’, a French term that implies something slightly better, cooler and much more fashionable than mere ‘chic’. Chic can be acquired with a little help, ‘du chien’ is something you either have or you don’t. Needless to say, that never happened. Yet if any perfume takes me ‘there’ to that balcony and that fantasy, surely it’s Dior’s Escale à Portofino, created by Francois Demachy in 2008. It was one of the first remotely exclusive perfumes I ever bought for myself, and it is a very unique and uniquely summery vacation-in-a-bottle, with its entire orange tree from leaves to blossoms bottled up and tied around a milky, transparent green almond note so wrong, it’s utterly right, a while before it whispers its twilit song of darkest summery green some hours later. It could last a bit longer, this is true…but isn’t that just another excuse for another hit of fantasy?

Notes for Escale à Portofino: Bergamot, petitgrain, lemon, orange blossom, almond, juniper berries, cedar, cypress, galbanum, caraway and musk

A Vial with a View

Tom Ford Private Blend Neroli Portofino

Although I can’t quite put my finger on precisely what causes it, something about the few Tom Ford’s Private Blend of perfumes I’ve tried tend to rub my fragrant fur in a few wrong directions. It isn’t that they’re not meticulously crafted (Neroli Portofino was created by Rodrigo Flores-Roux), or truly horrible or cheap-smelling, which they’re not. It could be their prohibitive price tag, or else that I’m just not a Tom Ford kind of woman. For one, I’m too short – and too busty, if not quite blonde enough. But if anything could persuade me otherwise, it just might be Neroli Portofino, tacky, tasteless advertising notwithstanding. Neroli Portofino is neither tacky nor tasteless, but instead, another tribute to the deathless, posh summer cool of Italy’s Amalfi coast, and lo and behold…you are all there with that breathtaking balcony view and all of a damn near flawless orange blossom dream yourself. Strangely enough, neroli isn’t listed as a note at all, but orange blossom – the plush, heady, slightly soapy sort of orange blossom – certainly is. It’s pretty linear from start to ambery finish, but who cares with that picture perfect Portofino view?

Notes for Neroli Portofino: Bergamot, mandarin orange, African orange blossom, amber.

 The British Art of Understatement

Penhaligon’s Anthology Collection Orange Blossom

From the overtly stated to the softly sotto voce…Bertrand Duchaufour’s reorchestrated ‘Orange Blossom’ for Penhaligon’s is as soft and as soothing as a down duvet. It’s a light, flirtatious orange blossom that lures you in and surprises you with all the tales that can be told about ‘orange’ and ‘blossom’. It begins clean, cologne-bright and full of light – no intimations of sexpot here, or so you surmise – but that’s nowhere all it is and not at all where it stays as it evolves past those squeaky-clean beginnings into a pas-de-deux of petitgrain and cardamom, tied around an orange blossom that seems more neroli than ‘orange blossom’ to my nose. It’s understated, never obvious, and supremely suited for the mood of summery, flirty and light-hearted laughter that seems to go with long, sunny days and warm, delicious nights. You won’t be knocking anyone over with this, but you won’t overwhelm with your presence either, and that sometimes has its own undeniable appeal. I’ve loved it and worn it when other orange blossom perfumes might seem a bit much in the heat – in other words, when understated is precisely the kind of statement I want to make!

Notes for Penhaligon’s Anthology Collection Orange Blossom: Calabrian orange, bergamot, peach, rose, cardamom.

Many fragrant multiverses lie in waiting within that simple term ‘orange blossom’. Some others I wear, adore and have reviewed include Olympic Orchids‘ ‘Golden Cattleya’ and ‘Emergence’, Andy Tauer’s ‘Orange Star’, Opus Oils’ ‘Giggle Water’ and of course, the Gold Standard… Serge Lutens‘Fleurs d’Oranger’.  Coming up on the Genie –  yet another orange blossom-centric perfume, but this one is so special, it deserves its own review!

Do you have your own orange blossom moments, too?

With thanks and love to the Great Facilitators…Ruth, Carlos and Amy, for making this review possible, and the many comments to my question on my favorite FB group! <3

Strawberry Dreams Forever

-   a review of Perfume Pharmer & Opus OilsStrawberry Passion Perfumes

Summers are short, sweet, filled with light and all too fleeting in this obscure part of Europe I call home. Days expand exponentially to twenty-one hours of daylight by Midsummer, and since the sun doesn’t sink further than eighteen degrees below the horizon, it never does get truly dark at night until late July. The elderflowers bloom, the wood doves coo their summer songs in the beech woods, the philadelphus bushes blossom and all the pent-up energy of long, dark winters explode with a fury as my fellow Viking descendants head straight for the beach on no provocation and the first hints of sunshine, ditching ten months of woolen layers as they go. Overexcited children wolf down ice cream cones the size of their heads, cats hiss and charge at the kitty TV just outside the window, and even cynical writer wannabes feel a pang in their hearts and a ray of sunshine in their souls.

It’s summer, and that’s the only excuse you need to indulge yourself in the fine art of dolce far niente, the sweet art of doing absolutely nothing but paint cloud pictures in the sky, play Frisbee on the beach and…indulge yourself in the one overriding sign of summer in these northern latitudes, a sign so important that it’s arrival makes the national news every year, with prognoses on how well – or bad – this year’s harvest will be…

Summertime is strawberry time, and it’s not summer until the strawberries appear at roadside stands and farmers’ markets, to be eaten straight from the punnet or plucked from a field in the very early morning, to splash with cream or turn them into tartes, jam, homemade ice cream, and dream our luscious, ruby-red dreams that this instant will never end and summer will be as infinite as our imaginings.

Now, Monica Miller of Perfume Pharmer and Kedra Hart of Opus Oils have captured that endless summer dream into two all-natural perfumes called Strawberry Passions, and now, maybe it’s even true that summer never does come to an end.

Strawberry flower essence is a flower essence said to boost low self-esteem, feelings of unworthiness and being ungrounded, and to confer dignity and poise, to be able to be fully present in the moment. Isn’t that something we could all use, any time of the year?

Monica sent her own strawberry flower essence to Kedra Hart, and Kedra returned with two shining, bespoke examples of summer-in-a-sample-vial, and whatever other effects these two might have on my crabby mood of late, it’s virtually impossible not to smile when I wear them.

Strawberry Green is the ode to the berry itself, the olfactory equivalent of biting into a fresh strawberry and letting that sharp, fragrant juice fill your senses with all its summery promises.

It’s the strawberry and the greenery around it too, all fruity tang and flowery punch and such flowers, they are, too. Once that jolt to your senses fades, here come the summer blooms dancing in on a sunbeam, a touch of rose, a whisper of tuberose, a hint of heavenly boronia and a lilting, laughing white water lily, all entwined around the greenery of an ivy and that bright bomb of blackcurrant that celebrates the sunlight and that perfect red strawberry of your most fevered, summer-starved January dreams.

I feel like I’m starring in an alternate version of one song that haunted my wanton twenties, only this one is called ‘Strawberry Beret’, and life will be happy, life will be grand, and summer will always be endlessly warm and infinitely sunny.

As it dries down, ambergris, sandalwood and patchouli gang up with the oakmoss to pull that strawberry back to earth and even you with it. Before you even realize it, you’re singing the lyrics to a song you thought you forgot, and remembering that other you that life somehow misplaced, the incurable optimist that ate up the summer and even life with every juicy berry, when one ruby-hued berry was one too many and two were not nearly enough!

Strawberry Cream was Monica’s wish to capture the cream teas of her British childhood, those decadent late-afternoon times hours with warm scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam, and it’s so delicious, I nearly want to eat my arm.

Perhaps you’re one of those – I would agree with you – whose thoughts of ‘gourmand’ and ‘strawberry’ want to make you run for the hills and far, far away in horrified memory of all those ultra sweet, fruity-floral, flesh-eating ogres that haunt so many perfumista nightmares.

These are berries of a very different sort, sweet as a cherished memory and as opulent as the caramel-tinged flavor of Devonshire cream itself as it seeps into the buttery, crumbly texture of a warm scone.

This is dolce far niente at its finest, when all other cakes seem so overwrought and overdone, this liquid ode to pleasure satisfies my sweet tooth just enough to justify being just a little wicked. Go on. Have another one. Marvel at the way the amber and the vanilla, the ambergris, the sandalwood and patchouli somehow combine so well you’re practically licking cream and strawberries off your fingers and the corners of your mouth. Never mind tomorrow. Forget all you knew about yesterday. Live a little. Laugh a lot. Lick cream off your fingers, too, just because you can.

I’m so not a fruity perfume person. Yet if anyone could convince me, it’s Kedra – and Monica – with these two odes to my favorite sign of summer. Strawberry Green is what I’d wear to kick out that crabby self and stand a little taller, happier and more confident. Strawberry Cream is what I’d dab whenever a cake craving strikes and there’s none to be had. When I want to feel a little reckless, a little daring, and metaphorically lick cream and strawberries off my fingers.

Never forget, that just as the flower remedy promises, you are deserving of all happiness and all pleasures – so why not indulge yourself? It’s summer! Kick back, be happy, be present in the moment and dream those strawberry dreams…forever!

Strawberry Passions is available directly from the Perfume Pharmer’s etsy site.

Notes for Strawberry Green: Martha’s Vineyard strawberry flower & leaf essence, pink pepper, white water lily, red mandarin, ivy accord, rose, tuberose, boronia, strawberry, blackcurrant, peach, green tea, sandalwood, patchouli, beach found ambergris, oakmoss.

Notes for Strawberry Cream: Martha’s Vineyard strawberry flower & leaf essence, pink pepper, bergamot, tangerine, boronia, peach, strawberry, raspberry accord, amber, vanilla, patchouli, beach found ambergris, sandalwood.

Disclosure: Samples of both Strawberry Passions perfumes were provided by Perfume Pharmer.

With special thanks to Tiger Powers, who pointed to the main image, which says everything you need to know about strawberries – and passions!