A Devil, of a Dude

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT XVI

devscent

– what happens when a dude meets the (liquid) Devil

Dear readers,

It’s that witchy hour of darkness right before the birds herald the sunrise, when even in the city that quietude sighs, breathes and all the world is cool and still, when a starless, dark sky hovers on the purple-cobalt blue edge of enlightenment, and very few creatures stir in the shadows.

This is when I slither in and insinuate myself between the empty spaces on a shadowy sidewalk, when I wind my way up the stairs to the Genie’s garret and expect to find a woman dreaming beneath her Fleurs d’Orangers scented feathers, guarded by a fat, jealous, orange-yellow cat.

This summer night, wafts of elderflower and night-scented stock wend their way in through the windows open to the courtyard below, Janice Divacat mewls in her sleep, and Hairy Krishna sighs in his own, rolls over on his back and snuggles closer to the Genie.

Only this night, she no longer sleeps alone with just her cats to guard her. This time, this night, something tall, hirsute, dark-haired and emphatically male has wrapped himself around her other side to keep the dragons and chimaeras from her dreams.

I call him the Dude. He has other names and other avatars, treads his path carefully around chimaeras and dragons of his own and others’ making, but… he’s definitely a dude. The Dude.

He and the Genie go back, as they say, not because they have a history – although they do – but because they have seen each other through disasters and miracles and laughed and cried and talked as they did, and all the while, a friendship was cemented and a connection maintained, and sometimes, being all in one to a writer is even too big a burden for this muse to bear, so I nudged a few things along in a few right directions, just to get that party started.

It was either that or hang the ‘crazy cat lady’ sign on the door, and between you and me, that would be a shame. She was already in mortal danger of blowing away like a desiccated Rose of Jericho in a hard desert wind, of losing her hopes for the future and her future dreams of glory, and her far more secret dreams, the ones she never tells anyone but me.

For contrary to what you might believe, the Genie is not all self-motivated and self-directed, but thrives on feedback and external energy sources and again between you and me, she’s suffered from an appalling, all-encompassing lack of faith in her ability to ever write anything meaningful again after her dreadful experience with publication.

She needs other people to kick her and prod her and galvanize her into action, so I located a friend who’s had a monumental crush on her for years, and instead of seeing a great and truly platonic friend, one night she looked up and saw the human equivalent of a gourmet chocolate truffle (and a decidedly Plutonic Scorpio, because she has a thing for those), saw past her own objections and dilemmas, and thought…

Why not?

They’re both there to heal each other, and while I can’t tell you whether or not it will last since that’s not the point, I can tell you in no uncertain terms that neither of them will be quite the same for it, and that, too is my reward for pushing a few obstacles out of the way to make something happen, something good, something… that might well lead to new stories, new reviews, new books for new audiences in new locations.

Which is my whole raison d’être in a nutshell.

So lately, the Genie’s garret has sounded more like a pigeon coop in spring, just with twice the amount of billing, cooing and telepathic Scorpio stares. There’s no talking to either of them these days. It would be fair to say they’re not even in the same galactic neighborhood as the rest of us.

But a Muse has gotta do what a Muse has gotta…. etc., and one evening, the Genie realized that for the first time in her life, she had the perfect excuse to bombard a dude with perfume. Not just any old perfume but Devilscents, just to sit back and admire the fireworks. To hear what he would say and what he thought about them, to discover whether her perfumers as well as her brief had managed to capture lust, love and redemption in liquid filigree, essence and absolutes.

To make sure he parked his preconceptions by the wayside, she even took the precaution of blindfolding him, so he wouldn’t be distracted.

What follows below is an abbreviated version of the running commentary on five Devilscents, five because eighteen were made and a dude can only handle so much at one time. Other posts could follow if her backlog doesn’t get in the way, but my job – if I have one – is to inspire, sit back and admire all the fireworks I’ve instigated.

All four of these perfumes have been reviewed by the Genie (you’ll find the titles linked to the relevant posts), yet these aren’t her reviews but the Dude’s.

The Elegant Dev – Neil Morris Fragrances Dev #3

“If this is Dev, then he’s a slick bastard.”

“So slick, he slides up walls.”

“No, I mean… this is the urbane Dev, the metropolitan Dev, the guy all those women say they want, but secretly aren’t sure they can handle. Hmm… it smells dangerous, swellegant, dead-sexy… no, make that smexy – I like smart AND sexy – and expensive and like a whole lot of heartbreak in there, somewhere.”

“Hers, maybe?”

“No. His. Who’s to say even the Devil’s heart can’t be broken? How would you know? I mean… he’s the Devil, for crying out loud. Everyone suspects he doesn’t have a heart, since he’s Evil Incarnate, but what if he does? And she breaks it?”

“Milton said he did. But you don’t know how it ends.”

Yet. But this perfume is a great start. Very expensive, very deadly, very alluring sins all wrapped up in one literal helluva perfume. I’d wear it, but I’m not sure it wouldn’t wear me. Maybe that’s the point. Find me at the bar exuding testicular ‘tude. Call me Damien. I promise to text you the next morning. With something so twisted, you can never, ever tell a soul.”

“I promise I’ll be grateful.”

“No, you won’t. But you won’t forget it, either.”

The Hungry Dev – House of Cherry Bomb Dev

“Caramel and chocolate and wow, heat! An awful lot of heat. Hand over the chocolate and no one gets hurt. It’s making me crave chocolate. And things that remind me of chocolate but aren’t precisely… edible. I smell hunger. I smell rock’n’roll. More danger. A dangerous hunger, maybe? It could be a hunger for food, or the other kind. Wait. Screw the food. This is definitely the other kind.”

“The other kind?”

“You know. The kind that makes you bite and scratch and want to tattoo yourself all over someone else’s skin. That kind. The kind that makes you lose control of everything, anything, the kind that changes history and everything you thought you knew. The kind that burns it all to the ground, the kind that burns you to the ground. Once you’re all ashes and embers, there you are – ashes and embers. Done for. Ruined. Spoiled for anything else. Except these embers never die. So long as you hand over all the chocolate, just in case. For as long as you crave that burn. Which you will. Forever.”

The Fiery Dev – Olympic Orchids Dev #2

“<unrepeatable language>. WHAT is THAT? That’s just… wrong! That’s just so wrong and so … wrong, and holy <bleep>, is it scary! Eeeeep. Give me a minute here. Geez. There should be laws. Has this perfume been banned by Pope Francis yet? He totally should. And the UN. Not to mention NATO. This perfume is a biohazard. Meaning it’s hazardous to any female who sniffs it. I don’t even want to know how you can have this in your perfume cabinet without encasing it in lead.”

“That would be a bit counter-productive.”

“True. For one thing, I’d never get a decant. You’re giving me some, right? I mean, I’ve got to test-drive this on a receptive audience.”

“That was last night.”

“The Devil made me do it.”

“No, he didn’t. You made you do it. Or we made us do it, same thing.”

“Not true. This perfume did. O…………K. I’ll behave, I promise. Actually, I promise to do everything this perfume promises. It’s white hot, fire and brimstone, off-the-charts erotic stuff. Lethal stuff – hell, they all are. But this… this kills it for me. I’ve never, ever smelled anything like it. I kind of hope I never will. On anyone else who isn’t me. Or Dev.”

“In which case, I can’t be held responsible for the consequences.”

“Great! We’ll send out for pizza and live horizontal lives.”

“I have to write, you know.”

“I’ll buy you a Dictaphone. And a secretary to transcribe. But you’re not allowed to leave. It’s that kind of perfume.

The Anticipation Will Kill Me – Neil Morris Fragrances Midnight at the Crossroads Café.

“Man. This is… something else. This is… what anticipation smells like. It smells like how those old blues records you play sound. Like this is something mere mortals never know, and probably couldn’t handle if they did. It’s dark and spicy and it’s delicious, and just maybe they’re the same thing, but you’re hooked into it, you can’t leave and don’t want to, because that road up ahead says “Perdition Avenue”, and you’re like… yupp, that’s where I’m going, because that’s where all the fun is. Redemption, schmedemption. There’s no such thing anyway. So go ahead. Follow the magic footprints right down to the crossroads of Perdition Avenue and Jeopardy Lane, sit down, drink the wine and live, whydoncha?”

“So whydoncha?”

“Because I like it when the anticipation will kill me. It always does. And because no matter what I anticipate, reality always trumps it. But that whole idea… you know it will be gruesome, you know it will be terrible, you know it in your bones even… and you do it anyway, because hey… you can’t not.”

“Which was the general idea.”

“No. That’s the reality of these perfumes you ended up with.”

The Melancholy Dev – Olympic Orchids Dev #4

“Ah. Man. More heartbreak. This is an aftermath perfume… the ‘it’s all over now’ scent. It’s grounding and sort of comforting, but there’s a lot of tears in there somewhere. Tears the color of India ink. It’s sort of moody and introverted and introspective and ummm… melancholy? Yeah! That’s it! It wants to be Dev #2, but of course, you can’t go back, you never can, so we end up at heartbreak. I say that if these perfumes are anything to go by, Dev did have a heart, and it was broken. Only he’s too cool and too proud to ever admit it, so he sulks inside this green-black cloud. I’ll tell you this – it’s some cloud! Bring your own thunderstorm. Or just your own tornado. Brace yourself for the consequences.”

“That C word again.”

“Not my favorite one. It’s a dark, dense, twisted forest of a perfume. Like bottled Mirkwood. With added heartbreak.”

“Is that all?”

“That’s all. And that’s enough. It’s already much more than I deserve.”

“Deserving had nothing to do with it.”

“No, but you did.”

I’d better go. The sun is just up, and pretty soon, the Genie will be getting ready for her day before she wakes him up for his own with a cup of coffee, and they’ll waltz through their week, surviving on sunbeams, suggestions and highly salacious text messages, like all twenty-first century lovers everywhere, like all those stories throughout time, borne on the heated scents I inspired through all those likewise infernally inspired perfumers called the Devilscents.

Dev.

Neil Morris Fragrances Dev #3 and Midnight at the Crossroads Café are available by special request through the Neil Morris website’s Vault Collection. Olympic Orchids’ Dev #2 and #4 are available through the Olympic Orchids’ website. House of Cherry Bomb’s Dev is available at the House of Cherry Bomb studio in Bushwick, and by special request.

With thanks to the Dude. Who said that was so much fun, they really should do that again…

 

An Olfactory Postcard

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– a review of Aedes de Venustas’ Copal Azur

Of all the many memories we pack into our luggage on leaving foreign shores and returning home, none are so evocative as the scents and smells of place. Whether the fishy, invigorating tang of saltwater and iodine in a Nordic city harbor, the assault of the spice market in the medina of Marrakesh, the lemon and orange-redolent Amalfi coast or the coconut, Coppertone and frangipani-soaked Caribbean recollections of my own peripatetic childhood, you can close your eyes to remember – and you are there all over again, wrapped in both the atmosphere and the mood of a time and place.

Such a memory was also the inspiration for Karl Bradl of the storied Aedes de Venustas store in New York and for a 2014 addition to their eponymous line of fragrances, Copal Azur, this time inspired by the salt air, the cerulean hues of the sea, the powdered-sugar sand of the beach and the ever-present perfume of copal incense in Tulum, Mexico.

In Central America, copal incense – sometimes but not always the resins of several species of Bursera tree – has been used since the Mayan era, as a natural mosquito repellant, as food for the Gods, to cleanse sick bodies and dispel evil spirits and as a natural glue for leather, ceramics and woods. Because several tree resins are described as “copal”, copal notes in perfumery are often reconstructed with other materials, mainly frankincense, whose odor profile greatly resembles it.

As incense is the common theme of the Aedes de Venustas’ line, it makes absolute sense that the perfumer who first put incense front and center with Comme des Garçons’ ground-breaking 2003 Avignon would be perfect to recreate the ambience and entire atmosphere of a sacred scent the Mayans called pom.

Bertrand Duchaufour began by using three types of frankincense to capture the many facets of copal. Although the press release doesn’t mention which ones, this frankincense aficionado is going to hazard a guess and say Boswellia sacra, or Somali frankincense, with its pronounced cold, spiky, dark green pine-y note, Boswellia carterii, or Omani frankincense, which is sweeter and softer with floral lemony sorbet undertones, and Boswellia serrata, a frankincense native to India, which is sharper and dryer. Having said that, they’re so seamlessly interwoven you’d be hard-pressed to tease that first emphatic burst of incense apart, and it took me several tries and my frankincense olfactionary to realize it.

Copal incense is front, center and in the spotlight in Copal Azur, but that’s just the headline, because this incense comes with a twist of salt and sea spray, just enough to remind you this is not-your-usual-incense. As it moves into the heart and base some time later, softer, warmer and sweeter fumes rise up to greet you, a delicately green-flecked tonka bean burnishes the incense with its own sweet vanillic fumes, and over 7+ hours later, exudes its final breath in a puff of patchouli, myrrh – and copal incense.

Like the five other fragrances of the Aedes de Venustas line, Copal Azur is easily unisex if you’re an incense lover of perfumes such as the aforementioned Avignon or Serge Lutens’ L’Eau Froide. I’d wear this at the drop of a charcoal tablet (because I’m easy!), although some might find the opening blast of monumental incense skews it much more masculine than feminine.

Mainly, though, Copal Azur strikes me as the very best kind of olfactory postcard – or scented place memory? – by painting not just the tropical ambience of Tulum itself – the tonka-bean marzipan vanilla sands of the beach, the salty ozone of a scorching, impossibly blue, limitless sea and sky, the cardamom-green of the jungle, a distant patchouli growl of a jaguar and towering above them all, the monumental Mayan temple complex in all its steely gray-white majesty, conjured by a shaman out of sacred smoke – and incense.

I wish I were there!

copalazurPRphoto

Notes: Three different types of frankincense, ozonic notes, salt, patchouli, cardamom, myrrh, amber, tonka bean.

Aedes de Venustas’ Copal Azur is available at First in Fragrance and directly from the Aedes de Venustas website.

Disclosure: A sample of Copal Azur was sent for review. With thanks to François and Olivier.

Image of Tulum via Flickr. Image of frankincense tree courtesy of Aedes de Venustas. Used by permission.

A Goddess, With Jasmine

Melina

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT XV

– a review of Neil Morris FragrancesEssence of Melina

(Note: Found on my laptap when I woke up this morning, a review! It seems I had a visitor last night…)

Dear readers,

You might as well know it right from the start: this is not the Genie. She sleeps in the other room now, Hairy Krishna spooned inside her outstretched arm, and on the sofa in the living room, Janice Divacat spreads her calico belly against a magenta silk throw pillow, dead to the world. From where I sit at the Genie’s desk, I can see her twitch her tail as she dreams and softly snores. At this dead-of-night hour, even the streetlights are asleep and only the red neon glow of a Coca-Cola sign at the burger joint across the street glows its admonitions against the dark of an April night. The downtown taxis are finally silent and the Saturday night bar crowds have all dispersed at closing time towards home, to their beds, to Saturday night intents and purposes.

Meanwhile, I was summoned by a perfume.

Yet before I can get to the perfume, I should maybe explain something about the woman who inspired it.

So close your eyes and imagine a woman. She stands six feet in her stockings, six feet of willowy, long-waisted, long-legged perfection (her mother was a fashion model) wrapped around a sarcastic heart of Gothic black. Visualize a waist-length, wavy fall of glossy, naturally blue-black hair, a pale, moonlit complexion touched with a tiny brush of petal-pink, eyes as luminous, sparkling green as a secret Mediterranean cove in high summer, and a full, rosaceous mouth that could send any man and several women dreaming.

I should also add before I cook my own goose that much as I like her, she’s not my type at all. Being somewhat <ahem> vertically challenged in my current disguise, for one thing she’s too damn tall. For another, I much prefer short, busty, rather less perfect blondes.

Why not let a short, busty, perfectly flawed blonde describe her, too?

If you ever wanted to know what a Greek Goth Goddess looked like, here was exhibit A.

(Quantum Demonology, Quotidian Pleasures)

Meet Melina, the nemesis of Quantum Demonology’s nameless protagonist. Since arriving in Copenhagen 12 years ago, she has been the doom (and on one occasion, the death) of bass players and other musical paragons of testosterone from Seattle to Siberia. Norwegian black metal bands you’ve never heard of have written songs about her, and one Swedish band scored a minor Scandinavian metal chart hit a couple of years ago when they released a song called ‘Melita’ inspired by a heartbreak night to remember (courtesy of Melina) that really put the capital D in doom.

Noblesse oblige so they say, so Melina created a group of female acolytes somewhat snarkily dubbed the Black no. 1 Mafia (inspired by this song), and she’s ruled those ladies with a titanium fist in a net glove ever since.

In other words, she’s so perfect you can’t have her.

(Off the record, I’ll tell you something else. She was inspired by a certain, über-Goth Empress of Snark. Now you know.)

There things stood for quite some time, beyond publication and (so far) great reviews, until Neil Morris of Neil Morris Fragrances decided to do something about it. Whereupon he promptly pulled the rug (and quite a few heartstrings) out from under the Genie by sending her a perfume she never, ever expected, from a project she thought had long expired, even if the perfumes certainly haven’t!

Voilà – Essence of Melina. The newest edition to the Devilscent Project.

And here you thought that labdanum, lascivious lechery and Lilith-littered cardinal sins were all the project had to say three years ago.

Neil Morris had another idea. He decided to explicate Melina through a perfume, inspired perhaps by the phrase ‘absolute essence of Melina’.

Call me biased, but I’ve always thought all of Neil’s creations had one thing in common, apart from an emphatic and profound understanding of Gothic darkness. They are all of them supremely delineated, seamlessly assembled and sublimely elegant.

Essence of Melina – capturing the demeanor and not a few of the contradictions of Melina herself – is no exception.

So how did he explain a half-Greek Goth goddess?

He began with a mainstay of Mediterranean gardens everywhere, even on the storied Greek isle Melina calls home: a fig.

A fig that wraps itself as tight as corset stays around an audacious and more than a little dissipated jasmine sambac, that bold and fruity floral babe that just dares you to come closer.

So she can eat you alive.

While that impudent jasmine breathes its celestial song of sins both sweet and salacious, her gal pals – in this case, orris, white patchouli flower and nootka that echo a hint of Melina’s consigliere Birgitte – sneak in to seal your doom.

I dare any red-blooded male to sniff this without a reaction. (In which case, check their pulse.) I’d also dare any jasmine-loving female to sniff this without swooning.

It’s that kind of perfume. Surely, you expected no less from a Devilscent?

Orris – one of the Genie’s own favorite perfumery materials – was a surprise. Its presence was unexpected, until I remembered two things: the Genie’s little lecture on orris adding depth and a certain intellectual hauteur to perfumes and also Melina’s own dirty little secret: she’s the fourth generation in her Greek family with impeccable academic credentials. A PhD underway no less, and no one knows except me since I make it my business to know everything.

But Melina is anything but chilly (except to the protagonist), and right when you think you have her all sussed out, somewhere between the jasmine, the orris, the patchouli flower, the nootka… Neil pulls the rug out from under our noses again.

Some long, long time later, nocturnal animals begin to growl.

Maybe the bestiaries so beloved by Goth culture; the vampires, the werewolves, the bats, the hordes of midnight-black cats.

That bass metal hum of vetiver, the hungry howls of civet, the purr of a feline, furry musk, the heat of castoreum and last but never least, a lecherous, leatherine lick of labdanum, and I know that one since I put it in my original brief.

All in all, a black, heady pulse bomb of a perfume! It fits Melina like a lace dress, like black tulle, like midnight and moonshine and arcane alchymical emanations.

Some time ago, I overheard a discussion between the Genie and Ms. Hare concerning a theory the Genie calls ‘the brunette school of perfume’.

‘The Brunette School of Perfume’ theory (patent pending) describes in a catchphrase the differences in skin chemistry between brunettes, blondes and redheads. Simply put, it’s the reason why Essence of Melina smells like a smexy, molten trainwreck of Goth salaciousness… on Ms. Hare. (A brunette). On the poor blonde in the bedroom, this astoundingly beautiful, flawlessly crafted perfume… smells like a wet, miserable dog shivering in a bubblebath.

But that wasn’t the point, for all the Genie does love a few select jasmine-centric perfumes, including the two she gave to Melina.

The point was to capture ‘Absolute essence of Melina.’

Where Neil Morris succeeded beyond all imagining – and gave her his own, uniquely creative spin.

Someone should have told him: ‘Beware when bearing presents to a Greek.’

Luckily for the rest of us, he never listened! Instead, he made her a Goddess. With jasmine.

Dev

NMMelina

Notes: Fig, jasmine sambac, orris, white patchouli flower, nootka, civet, vetiver, animalic musk, castoreum, labdanum.

If enough jasmine-lovers ganged up on him, I’m sure Neil Morris would make this available to the general public, as he should!

Disclosure: A sample of Essence of Melina was made available for review. For which this Devil thanks him from the bottom of his inky black heart.

Ringing In The Spring

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– a review of Tauer Perfumes’ Carillon pour un Ange

I don’t know about you, but this winter is getting old. Old as in … just move along already and give way to my most favorite time of year, the season of renewal, of hope, of sunshine and warmth… spring. And what better way to kick Old Man Winter to the curb than through a luminous perfume that exudes its own sunlight and adds a lilt to your voice and a sashay to your step?

Which was precisely where I was this wretched, rainy, cold March day when I remembered something in my Guilt Trip Review Box that just might be the one-way ticket away from all the months-long miseries caused by a seemingly endless winter of drab, dank and damp.

Many flowers have laid claim to being the embodiments of spring; hyacinths, tulips, daphne, bluebells… it makes for a long list. Yet in spite of their many virtues and the perfumes that pay homage to them, perhaps none are so emphatically spring-like in their appearance or their fragrance as those tiny, fragile snow-white bells known as lily of the valley.

The paradox about lily of the valley in perfumery is that the fragrance can’t be extracted from the flowers, so a lily of the valley perfume relies on a perfumer’s skill in building an accord to evoke it, whether that is by flower essences and absolutes and/or using hydroxycitronellal, Lilial or Lyral.

For many, the ultimate lily of the valley recreation is Edmond Roudnitska’s 1956 Diorissimo, the one lily of the valley to rule them all, but Diorissimo and I – as indeed my opinion of lily of the valley perfumes in general – don’t get along at all.

First of all, my mother wore it, which kills it for me stone cold. Second, although I adore the verdant fragrance of the flowers themselves when I find them, something about their interpretations in perfumes strike me as too virginal, too snow-white, too altogether frilly, hyper-feminine and white-tulle-with-added-meringue bridal for my personal tastes.

Until that fateful September afternoon (because I’m nothing if not perverse) in Florence when I discovered one that wasn’t, the one that was indeed a lily of the valley perfume, but didn’t strike me as an ad for the wedding service industry (or meringued-out gowns), as musty or old-fashioned in the slightest:

Tauer PerfumesCarillon pour un Ange, henceforward referred to as Carillon.

I’d read the many reviews of Carillon, read them with that instinctual frisson which informed my synapses that maybe, just maybe it wouldn’t be one of those virginal ingénues that sent this post-punk catastrophe running for the hills of the blackest, raunchiest, goatiest labdanums I could find.

So it all magically came to pass that overly fragrant afternoon at the Stazione Leopolda, when the entire glorious lineup of Andy Tauer’s creations gleamed in front of me and the first one I reached for was Carillon.

Muguet? Oh, yes. Lily of the valley and a whole supporting cast of viridian characters danced in on a silvery spring sunbeam that instantly blasted away the memories of most of the countless hyperluxe eau de niche perfumes I sniffed that day.

I left the Stazione Leopolda thinking new and very modern thoughts about lily of the valley. Such as… I want a bottle of this, pronto per favore. Not to mention: This! Is a lily of the valley I can actually love. And wear. And not feel like Bridezilla five minutes before walking down the aisle.

When Andy Tauer kindly offered to send me samples some long time later in another context (his re-release of the bottled summer known as Cologne du Maghreb), I remembered Carillon, remembered that moment and asked for Carillon, to see if my recall had been correct. The day it arrived, I sprayed it, swooned to be back in memory at least to that afternoon in Florence, put my Tauer tin in the Guilt Trip Box… and forgot all about it until today, as winter writhes its last throes outside in the rain and the wind huffs and puffs against my windowpanes, today when I am desperate for a breath… of spring.

If you could assign a color to spring, surely it would be the tender sunny green of leaves about to burst?

So it is with Carillon, right from the opening peals floating on the breeze right above my skin. I detect a smidgen of rose, certainly lilac and a suggestion of a dense, oily-green hyacinth, although hyacinth isn’t listed among the notes, but above all, clear as the bells of the flowers themselves is this lily of the valley, no ingénue but instead an olfactory interpretation of the flowers, the stalks and leaves, the cool snap of sap and the rise of sunshine, as much as to sing… wake up, wake up!

Winter is dead – long live spring!

Long may it reign, and indeed it does once these bells hit their stride and grab the airy, verdant jasmine for a Viennese waltz on the lawn in the sun and around and around they go. Ylang ylang, which is listed on the Tauer website as a topnote, doesn’t make an entrance on my skin until well into the heart and then only as a discreet sugar dusting to balance the green and banish the bitter. Off they all waltz into the sunset of a flawless spring day across that emerald lawn, echoed by a soft step of leather, moss and ambergris that is nothing in the slightest like the Tauerade you think you know.

In flower symbolism, lily of the valley symbolizes the return of happiness. If that is an omen – just as I was reminded of Carillon on a dire, drab day of doom and despair this winter will ever end – then I’ll take it, thank you very much. Or else I’ll take it as a sign that spring will – all momentary appearances to the contrary – indeed return and happiness, too, so long as I can ring in the clarion call of spring with this peal of bells for an angel (or a mortal!) called Carillon pour un Ange.

Notes for Carillon pour un Ange: Rose, ylang ylang, lilac, lily of the valley accord, jasmine, leather, ambergris, moss woods.

Carillon pour un Ange is available at Luckyscent and directly from the Tauer Perfumes’ website.

Disclosure: A sample was provided for review by Andy Tauer. For the sample, for his support, encouragement and for his astonishing patience, I thank him profusely. My reviews and opinions are my own, for which see my review disclaimer here. Also a big thank you to Monica Miller, who reminded me.

Can’t. Even.

The Genie Can’t Even

I have a question to ask, dear readers. How many of you… own a smartphone, a tablet, a computer? Most of you might have at least one of these, yes? (Or you wouldn’t be reading this blog!)

Now, how many of you are on Facebook? Would I be correct in assuming that most of you are? And that just like me, you use FB to… document your lives, share photos, links, stay in touch with people, family, friends and acquaintances?

And that ain’t all you do, I’ll bet! There are perfume groups and, for lack of a better term, perfume congregations galore on Facebook also, where we can all get as silly or as solipcistic as we please over a favorite subject, which is … perfume!

I don’t know what I’d even DO without it.

Yet some time around Friday, I wondered at the sudden disappearance of one of my ultimate – and very much real-life – Facebook spots of sunshine, and yesterday, when that unease morphed into full-blown WTF, I came to discover that an old social media fracas has reared its ugly head all over again. Only this time, they might have messed with all the wrong people.

The justly renowned and celebrated perfume blogger, Portia Turbo-Gear of the likewise celebrated Australian Perfume Junkies, has become the latest victim of Facebook discrimination against performers who create their online identities via a pseudonym. Just as in another (viral) case last year with a San Francisco drag queen, his FB profile and his very existence has been called into question by Facebook, demanding verification of his true name and/or creating a page for his performing alter ego rather than the Facebook profile he has been using since the beginning.

We all know that pages – as opposed to personal profiles – are where virtual identities go to die before slinking away into obscurity.

But the bigger issue here is not so-called verification of identity, the bigger issue is discriminating against those who for myriad perfectly valid reasons choose to perform under a pseudonym they carry into the real and virtual world and use just as you and I – and I’m listed on Facebook under the same name as in my passport – would. Only because they’re performers and often prominent out-loud-and-proud members of the LGBT communities they live in, the “proof” they have to supply often exceeds far beyond what Facebook might require from the rest of us.

Which to the mind of this rabidly free-thinking former anarchist is all sorts of 5000% wrong.

Portia – whether in mufti or in full-on made up glory, has been a large and very dearly beloved part of my life since at least 2012. Although I have yet to meet him in person (trust me, it’s near the top of my list!), I can testify that his generosity to his friends, his authenticity as a magnificent human being and his heart which is surely at least the size of Australia is without peer. Much like his sense of humor, in which case, throw in Eurasia, and you might have an idea. I recall a Skype session – at 3 AM Sydney time – that had me in tears, I was laughing so hard and felt… so loved.

When life itself proved a challenge these past two years, often a private message, an email or an off-color comment on something I posted would get my brain back on track and put a smile – at least – back on my face.

Besides, no one else calls me Princess. Thanks to Portia’s indelible imprint, no one else will ever be allowed to. Having done so much to make my own drab days brighter, it’s time for me to return the favor the only way I can.

I don’t believe in or condone discrimination in any size, shape or form for any reasons at all. I also emphatically believe in supporting my true friends – which Portia certainly is. So here’s what you, I and the perfume community that is the readership of the Alembicated Genie can do – take this post viral. Reblog it if you can. Retweet it. Share it on Facebook wherever you can. A Facebook group has been created – Bring Back Portia Turbo-Gear, and the membership is growing by the minute. Join us!

Once upon a time, the issue of identity might have been a static, unmoving one. But if the virtual life we’ve all lived since at least 2007 has taught me anything at all, identity – whether you’re a celebrated drag queen or a garden-variety writer (in leopard-print PJs) is a fluid, flexible entity each and every one of us reinvent each and every day – through our daily choices, our daily selves, and even our daily status updates.

A reinvention option that everyone deserves no matter what they call themselves, how they live or what they believe in.

I believe that’s the true meaning of the phrase ‘freedom of expression’.

Which Facebook in this instance has no business at all trying to curtail.

Portia at work on New Year's Eve, a.k.a Conchita-with-A-Bratwurst.

Portia at work on New Year’s Eve, a.k.a Conchita-with-A-Bratwurst.

Éminence Grise

Iris bismarckiana

– a review of Aedes de VenustasIris Nazarena

Some long (long!) time ago, I once had a rather peculiar ritual in early May. Every morning on my way to work, I was stopped dead in my tracks by a bunch of white irises in bloom in a curbside flowerbed.

Being who I was (and still am), I had to bend down and sniff them. Some irises have no scent to speak of, but these beauties certainly did, epitomizing everything I love about iris: that cool, measured poise that belies their extravagant flowers.

At that same time of my life, I also lived vicariously through the only ‘perfume’ I owned, the print catalog of a New York purveyor of all things fantastically fragrant – the Greenwich Village store Aedes de Venustas (the House of Venus), whose stunningly photographed wares ignited my imagination in ways both great and small. By the time I lost the catalog, it was dog-eared from perfume dreaming and dilapidated from all the times I’d read it from cover to cover.

Lo and behold these many years and strange trips later, and now, a favorite flower and a fond memory come together in – what else? – a perfume released in 2013, Iris Nazarena, a fragrant ode to the iris variety bismarckiana that blooms near Nazareth in Israel.

Iris – actually, the cured fatty ‘butter’ of the rhizomes known as orris – is a bit of an olfactory paradox. The blooms may resemble the dolled-up Folies Bergères showgirls of the floral world, but the scent of orris gives nothing away.

Some find it too cold, too haughty, too earthy, too doughy, too stern, arrogant and difficult to love. Yet ever since a mohawked punk in a few hundred pounds of black eyeliner and Doc Martens stomped into a Copenhagen department store in desperate search of beauty and waltzed out in a cloud of Chanel no. 19, I have loved and adored iris for precisely that chilly, daunting hauteur.

Henri Robert’s Chanel no. 19 in fact was perfumer Ralf Schweiger’s starting point with Iris Nazarena as ‘the benchmark iris’ (I’d add Maurice Roucel’s Iris Silver Mist to that benchmark list), but Ralf Schweiger did far more than eye no. 19 over his shoulder, for Iris Nazarena is very much its own and unusual brand of orris butter with extras.

For one thing, it’s as dry as any Levantine desert right from the start, utterly devoid of the rooty-earthy-carrot facets that have ruined orris for so many. This is a perfume full of air – air for the notes to breathe, air for the story of an uncommon jolie-laide flower to unfold upon my skin.

I detect something bitter and green, fruity and rose-tinged on application, but there’s nary a fruit cliché to be found nor any sweetness at all. Instead, also from the start, a beautiful curl of the ashy-cool smoky incense accord that appears to be a running theme with Aedes de Venustas’ perfumes unfurls off my skin with a suggestion of leather – buttery-soft glove leather.

Then the iris arrives wrapped up in a deft, warming touch of clove-y spice, with lots of space to roam through that bone-dry desert and show its stunning face. Some time later, it fades away to more and slightly greener (the vetiver? The patchouli?) floral-edged leather and incense before it exits stage right after about four hours. I have to add – being more than a little averse to oud, or at least the overused synthetic and barnyard varieties – I detect no oud at all.

It’s not hard to squint and see a few similarities between the benchmark reference (no. 19) and the end result, but Iris Nazarena skews much more unisex and far less floral to my nose, yet even after comparing it to vintage no. 19, I can’t consider it anything other than its own singular perfume. A complex synaesthetic study painted in sublimely refined, elegant, arcane hues of smoky gray that is all of a piece and containing all the marvel of a bloom in the desert.

Think of Iris Nazarena as… the eminence grise of iris. Containing just enough of orris’ steely reserve, all of its mystique and more than a little of its charm, it has nothing to prove except its beauty. Which is more than enough, and already far more than this iris lover deserves.

My one minuscule gripe was the sample vial it came in. For something I’d fall this hard for, I dearly wish I could have sprayed it to grasp something of its scope and breadth, especially with a perfume that at least on my skin plays out as airy as Iris Nazarena does.

On the other hand, isn’t that what a (hotly coveted) full bottle is for? ;)

Image taken from the Iris Nazarene press release. 

Disclosure: A sample of Iris Nazarena was provided by Beauty Entreprise for review. For which I thank Shirley and Olivier. Ralf Schweiger. And last but never least, Karl Bradl and Robert Gerstner for being at least as uncompromising as the iris that inspired them.

Notes: Iris, ambrette, rose, juniper, star anise, clove, leather, incense, vetiver, patchouli, oud.

Aedes de Venustas’ Iris Nazarena is available from the Aedes de Venustas’ website and First in Fragrance.

The Minx Beneath

modess-1955

– a review of Papillon Perfumes’ Angélique

Should any of TAG’s readers ever doubt I contain a fair share of what Edgar Allan Poe once famously dubbed The Imp of the Perverse, here’s the redolent (smoking) gun. Instead of dealing with the ever-increasing amounts of incipient chaos (barely) contained in the Red IKEA Cabinet of Doom, where perfumes no matter how odiferous or guilt-inducing have been known to vanish to several alternate-reality multiverses, I’ve created my own black hole (an all-black shipping box) to house all the samples I’ve received in the past six months. Neither perfumers nor perfumista friends need be offended – the box came from the Palais Royal in Paris. As I’m also one of those perverts eccentrics who thrive on a certain degree of unpredictability, (since hand-written review lists in my workbook only stuff the guilt-trip suitcase harder), occasionally I’ll reach into that black tissue-lined box and reach for a random sample and voilà! My next review…

Such was the case when I reached into the tissue paper without looking and out came…

Papillon PerfumesAngélique.

Papillon Perfumes was one of the big scented sensations of 2014, plastered all over the (many) Facebook perfume groups and several perfume blogs when Liz Moores, a self-taught British perfumer and femme extraordinaire launched her initial trio of Anubis, Tobacco Rose and Angélique. It was clear right from the start and her perfumes that this was no amateur playing with fire and florals, but a uniquely talented nose with her own stories to tell in liquid filigree, and such marvels do they tell…

If not for a mutual friend, I might never have had the chance to sample them. UK postal restrictions being what they are, all I could do was read the reviews and the discussions on the groups and marvel. Which is no fun at all if you suspect (rightly, as it happens) you’re really missing out.

Angélique is Liz Moores’ ode to those great seamless, floral, bottled bouquets of yore, when perfumes were timeless beauties, when entrances were made and ladies left not just sillage but havoc in their wake. My initial impression was this could have been a Guerlain in the halcyon days before suspicious corporate marketing ‘focus groups’ were created and Jean Paul Guerlain was retired, when Guerlain was indeed purveyor par excellence of all fragrant things grand and glorious. Yet Angelique somehow manages to pull all this off without any sort of vintage texture.

Dazzling around a heartbeat of orris and an opening aria of mimosa, the iris has all the opulence and elegance and a deft touch of the same cool, deliberate hauteur you expect from iris. Far down below, a distinct thrum of frankincense smolders.

But iris alone does not by necessity an opulent perfume make and certainly not here, because that airy mimosa touch (not exactly an ‘airy’ flower) adds its own marzipan-flecked sunshine to that song.

Once those orris opera gloves come off with a flourish, other flowers venture forth for their turn in the spotlight. Osmanthus, says the Basenotes notes list, osmanthus in a titillating tango with white champaca, each twirling, swirling, dipping and dancing with neither quite dominating or giving way to the other.

White champaca, which is also known as white sandalwood or (my favorite name) white jade orchid tree, smells like no other floral I can name without resorting to Imperial purple prose. Heady, sensuous, heavenly and with an olfactory texture like silk velvet, it smells both woody-creamy (hence the ‘white sandalwood’), green, sweetly floral and fruity all at once. That Liz Moores managed to tame this tiger to tango with osmanthus is astonishing, yet tango it does and that iris, cool as a calculated guess winks right back, sometimes in the background, sometimes catching you by complete, delighted surprise.

Alas, all fireworks have to fade away. Over eight hours later, in may case. Even these evanescent floral phantasms are brought to rest on an equally plush featherbed of frankincense and Virginia cedar, and the drydown was for me by far the biggest surprise of all.

With such notes, you’d expect something woody, bitter and simultaneously bright and so it is, but I’ll say it if no one else will: this is seriously sexy stuff.

What comes to mind more than anything is precisely one of those glorious creations of 20th-century perfumery that so defined women (it strikes me as very feminine, but don’t let that stop you) once upon a storied, less casual and more swelegant time. I detect the inspirations from a few of them, and this is no small achievement.

Someone like the flawlessly coiffed femme in the illustration I chose.

A vision in chartreuse velvet opera coat – the mimosa – concealing all those ivory silk taffeta wonder blooms, immaculately held together by the hidden architecture of iris, frankincense and Virginia cedar. She lifts her champagne glass to toast you and looks you right in the eye.

Which is when you see that understated wink, the hint of a smile in the corners of her mouth and you realize just what makes Angélique such a fascinating creature.

Beneath it all, she’s really a minx!

Wear wisely. And with not a little guile.

Notes (via Basenotes): French mimosa, osmanthus, white champaca, iris, Virginia cedar, frankincense.

With special and undying thanks to Val the Cookie Queen for the care package, the inspirations and all the shared laughter.

Papillon Artisan Perfumes’ Angélique is available at Les Senteurs and Luckyscent.