Lessons in Liquid & Solid

liquidgold

– some thoughts a bit past the Genie’s fifth blogoversary

Once upon a storied time when I still had a few illusions left, I sat one (very) hot, humid late night in August after my third or maybe fourth glass of wine and thought a very heretical thought.

Ya know…

I said out loud although I was alone in the room,

I could always start a perfume blog. What’s the worst thing that could happen? I could learn to become a better writer, what the hey.

At that particular time in my life, I had all of five bottles of perfume in my cabinet. Two vintage bottles of Balmain Ivoire and Lancôme’s Magie Noire respectively, a bottle of Antica Farmacista’s Mandarine Bourbon, Chanel no. 19 in eau de parfum and a bottle of Jacomo’s Silences. And that was it, the sum total of my less-than-spectacular perfume collection. In short order, I registered a blog with Blogspot and thought no more about it until the next morning when I saw my notebook by my desk and my hastily scrawled notes – and remembered.

Just as I recently realized with a jolt… that was five years ago!

Yet even then, I couldn’t (wouldn’t?) take it seriously. Because really – what were the odds? Yes, I had been a lifelong perfume lover/aficionado (all my mother’s fault, just like my coloring, my (lack of) height and my Aries Moon impatience). I had been reading perfume blogs since around 2006 – Perfume Shrine, Grain de Musc, the Perfume Posse, Indieperfumes, Perfume Project NW – as an exercise in aesthetic and olfactory masochism of a most peculiar kind. In those days, you see, I had no perfume at all, so all I could do as I read was dream of all those tantalizing names; Tauer, Kern, Lutens, Malle, Aftelier…. and wonder at the perfumes they created. Along the way, I learned a lot. But reading perfume blogs and maintaining your own are two very different things.

So I began by imitating/plagiarizing those blogs I loved to read. So I thought. Only to find that not even perfume gets a (bad) writer down, and I had a voice that would o-u-t no matter what I did right from the start.

Since then, it’s been one wild ride… into the unknown, into places and on to connections I never knew my pathetic perfume writing could reach or I could ever attain.

The Big Fat Why

Not so long ago, I was asked a pertinent question by my employer, who had no use for my writing skills whatsoever yet recognized a Looney Tune when he saw one.

‘Why the hell do you write about perfume?’

I had no time to think of a well-considered answer, and if I did, I might have answered differently. Instead, I blurted “Because it’s the only thing I’ve ever done that got any kind of reaction.”

Which is not entirely true. Yet this much certainly is: Writing about perfume has made things possible in my life I could never, never, ever have imagined that Zinfandel-sozzled summer night and given me something I sorely needed at the time, the confidence to Go For It. As a writer, as a woman, as a fabulous nobody who just possibly might have something worthwhile to say and have the chutzpah to chase it where it took her.

In these past five years, I’ve tried to do just that. I’ve smelled olfactory marvels that have rearranged my mental furniture for good, and I’ve smelled stellar fumes from people not even you have ever heard of, as well as funktastic stink bombs from favorite perfumers. I’ve torn my hair out in front of my laptop trying to find the ‘right’ words to convey my impressions, and I’ve thrown out the rule book of perfume writing and written story reviews when the mood – or the perfume! – struck me, since I believe that narratives can speak volumes about a perfume a straight-up review never could.

It was my party and I could write if I wanted to…

Ch-ch-c-hanges

Since I first began five years ago, perfume blogs have exploded. There are now more blogs to read, to follow or to watch than ever before. Vlogging on YouTube is now a thing, and some do this horribly and others are marvels of both personality and talent. In the bad old days, which would be four short years ago, I spent a good two hours a day reading my way through my favorite blogs from some of my favorite writers, commented if and when I could, and a few scant hours later, I’d be burning the midnight oil writing my own reviews.

These days I’ve reached the conclusion that no matter what I do, I can’t keep up. I’m still not sure whether this is a good or a bad thing, but from my other writing, I’m guessing it’s a good thing. For one thing, it keeps me focused on the essentials, instead of mindless lemming-chasing the Next New Thing.

Then again, we all have opinions, and they all stink!

These days, my own perceptions of perfume and certainly my tastes have changed to an alarming degree. Had you told me five years ago that I would love ambers with a fury and certain no-holds-barred opulent orientals with a fanaticism that borders on neurosis, I wouldn’t have believed you. Perfumes I originally loathed I now love, and others I really liked at certain times I can’t stand in a five-mile radius. Given that my first instinct five years ago was to love everything I encountered on principle, this, too, is a kind of progress.

Niche – Schmiche

Five years ago, being a niche perfume company held a certain magical cachet; a promise of the new, the different, the non-commercial, the artistic, the road less traveled in perfume and with a price tag to match.

Here we are five years later, and the term ‘niche’ has become such a commonplace, throwaway phrase in perfumery as to become virtually meaningless, and whatever prestige the term once conveyed has been watered down to something so safe I’m positive the IFRA approves. Even perfumistas get confused about the difference between ‘niche’ and ‘indie’. My own definition – which has helped me sleep at night – was formulated over the course of a long conversation with a perfumista friend and is as simple as it is informative about the true state of ‘niche’:

$$$$$. Which is to say… Money. No more, no less.

In other words, a company is niche if it has financial backing from other sources, and indie if there’s no financial backing at all. Tom Ford, Serge Lutens, By Kilian, Roja Dove etc. etc…. are niche.

Amouage, Tauer Perfumes, Neela Vermeire Crèations, vero profumo, Papillon Perfumes, Aftelier, DSH Perfumes, Opus Oils, Olympic Orchid Perfumes… to name just a few of my own dearly beloved names, are indie.

It’s that simple, people. Anything else is more marketingese intended to bamboozle the masses and impress the gullible. Which is really all you need to know, because what matters – all associations of luxury, exclusivity and artistry aside – is the juice.

These days, there’s no shortage of niche perfume houses out to part us fools with our money. Niche has become Really Big Business, and even masstige and designer houses have been forced by necessity and maybe a few pithy perfume blog posts to sit up and pay attention, because trends start here – and in indie perfumery, too.

After all this time, the rest of the world is catching up, and even Chanel and Dior now have exclusive ‘niche’ lines in their collections with higher price tags and a bit more thought put into their creations, or so it seems to me.

Free Lunch? Anyone?

Since 2011, I’ve been in the utterly shameless self-promotion business. I’ve tagged every single brand I’ve ever reviewed everywhere I could on social media, regardless of whether I received any kind of response or not. In most cases, this has landed me on the maps of several storied companies who now send me samples of new work for review, and before I shoot myself in the mouth here, let me say this:

I’m so grateful, it’s pathetic.

I’m not one of those bloggers – and they’re everywhere in the blogosphere, no matter what the subject matter – who takes such things for granted. Yet I’m only too aware this is a definite two-way street and as for that free lunch… fuggedaboutit!

Because who doesn’t want a great review?

Perfume brands need PR and a bit of buzz, and blog owners and writers like followers and being ‘in on the know’ of Hot New Releases. Some blog owners are invited to opulent launches (with swag bags) and other fragrant happenings, and others, myself included, are invited only to ponder the true meaning behind the abbreviated letters F and U for not being important enough.

If we are, we’re treated with a certain amount of condescension for daring to write about perfume despite our lack of training/knowledge/sub-par Klout scores. Or else – and this has happened to me, too – being castigated for our own <ahem> idiosyncratic perspectives.

Since I experienced Pitti Fragranze in 2013 and the scales really fell from my eyes about the perfume industry, I’ve learned the hard way not to pay attention to those.

Life is just too darn short for that amount of aggravation. Yet gratitude alone does not a review write, and I have enough stuffed steamer trunks of guilt trip over my backlog for several lifetimes.

Courtesy, politesse, gentilezza

My late beloved stepfather, a first-generation American of impeccable Maltese and Sicilian ancestry, once said courtesy is under-rated. Both my stepfather and my mother instilled an acute degree of courtesy somewhere in my epigenetic DNA: At least you can be charming. If that’s impossible, you should be pleasant as well as polite. Should that prove too hard, remove yourself from the situation before it escalates.

To the best of my knowledge and with relatively few exceptions on TAG at least, I’ve tried (and sometimes failed – that damn Aries Moon!) to live by those words. I save the majority of my snark for a few trusted friends.

Oh. Yes.

Sometimes, I’ve also been carried away by a sense of despair over the lack of imagination a perfume can provide, and a few of those times, I’ve let rip. Sarcasm can be so cathartic, if I think it’s justified. Having said that, most of the time I’ve at least tried to understand the concept of a perfume, even if I could never wear it and even, which has also happened, when I hated it.

Which was only polite, after all.

The Great, the Bad and the Ugly

The Great

Of all the things I love about perfume besides chronic indecision on what to put on in the morning (or evening!), my absolute and essential favorite thing about it is without question or quarter the people involved.

I’ve said it before and I’ll likely say it again:

Perfume people are the best people in the world.

In fact, I can say almost without exaggeration that without generosity of the international perfume community, this financially challenged blogger, relatively speaking, would not be blogging at all. (More on that in a bit.) I have no perfumery stores selling anything other than designer wares nearby, I can only rarely afford to send for sample sets of the type of perfumes I would like to write about, and although Copenhagen has really upped the ante since I began writing about perfume, Copenhagen is not London, Paris or even Stockholm.

My own journey down this odiferous rabbit hole began with a super-generous sample pack from a particular favorite fragrant friend of mine, namely the all-round awesomely talented Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids and Perfume Project NW.

In late 2010, Ellen and her luscious orchid-inspired works were almost occult (she’s since become an indie superstar, and deservedly so), but if anyone at all ‘made’ me a perfume writer, it would be Ellen. Those samples arrived right at the time I had almost given up hope of ever sniffing a fragrant epiphany again, and those small sample vials were stuffed with epiphanies. They ignited my imagination in ways I had never quite encountered before, and have been setting me alight ever since. One of my greatest fragrant treasures is a base note olfactionary Ellen was sweet enough to make for me in the very early days of the Devilscent Project.

I’ve used that olfactionary for nearly all my reviews since.

Ever since, the connections, the emails, the Facebook PMs, the Skype conversations, the letters, the postcards, the… OMG, the way my relationship with the contents of my mailbox has changed!… the people!!!

Have done so very much to enrich, improve and elevate my humdrum existence to where I can not just imagine but create a future, when at the time I began my perfume writing I was beginning to feel that any ‘future’ at all was a highly dubious prospect.

I count myself immensely lucky to have perfumista friends – some of them bloggers, some of them not – as dear to me as family, and some I even consider relations in all but blood. I have standing invitations on five continents. For a former jaded misanthrope living in the left armpit of northwestern Europe with very few local social ties and in 2011/2012, a totally unraveling life, this means so very much more than I have the words to say.

Simply put, I found my tribe, and just how epic is that?

The Bad

Maybe it’s because I have too much myself (as my mother would have said), but one thing about Planet Perfume grinds me to a fine and dusty powder – the general lack of imagination among many so-called ‘perfumers’. That fug I encountered in Florence – the pervasive smell of eau de niche or should that be eau de nihilism? – has not grown smaller these past two years. The brands that completely blow me away are the brands that have consistently blown me away nearly from the beginning, and new epiphanies are getting harder to find. Starting with…

Oud. Enough of the ‘oud’. I have HAD it with oud, and oud wannabes. Just stop. Thank you.

Jasmine sambac as a note (there are one or two exceptions) hates me, and it’s mutual. I’ll take grandiflorum any day…

Over-priced perfume lines. Since I can’t afford any of it, unless a fellow perfumista friend makes me an offer I can’t refuse, I have my own bs price limit set somewhere in the general vicinity of around 400€. Even then, if I did have that kind of disposable income, I’d think again before I hit the ‘Buy Now’ button. If I did, I’d certainly expect an out-of-body experience, an Exorcist moment where my head rotates 360 degrees and I can’t even think. My sorrow to say, this hasn’t happened. Sometimes, a luxe price tag is just too damn much to pay. Besides, with all the incredible talent floating around in the indie world, why would I?

The Ugly

Five years of perfume writing will inevitably land you the occasional WTF moment. One of those was an email from a peeved reader who was mightily irritated I wasn’t a ‘usual’ perfume blog. Err… was I holding a gun to this person’s head muttering ‘read this or die’? No. I can laugh about it now – in no small part thanks to all the encouragement I received when I went public on Facebook with it, but that day, I was more than a little upset.

It never ceases to amaze me just how snarky and cut-throat competitive some bloggers can be, not just in their reviews but in person. If relevancy is measured in hit counters, media PR, being invited to the ‘right’ launches, free samples, bottles galore and blog stats, then I am a dismal, abject failure and should just slink away and die already. Five years on, rumors of my demise have been grossly exaggerated. I’ll never forget one moment in Florence, at a taxi stand with a celebrated perfume rockstar, laughing and talking, when one likewise celebrated blogger walked up in search of a taxi and frantically had to rearrange her mental furniture that someone so famous and distinctive was having a grand time deigning to speak with fabulous nobody me. The rockstar and I laughed all the way to a Centro Storico café, and have laughed about it several times since.

The less I can say about the over 1500 new releases in 2015 alone, the better. When does it end? Does it ever?

Honorable Mention

The problem with being a semi-cynical post-punk catastrophe is never, ever taking anything at face value. After I had reviewed Amouage’s Fate as two separate story reviews, I received a Twitter DM from a certain Luca Turin. It took not a little convincing on his part to tell me that yes, this was Luca Turin himself. He didn’t say so, but from our conversation – prompted by Amouage’s RTs of my reviews, bless ‘em – I gathered he was neither impressed, entertained nor amused by my verbal prowess. Dear readers, I felt as if I had arrived! ;)

I do get feedback on my reviews from the perfumers and brands I’ve reviewed, and mostly, it’s been illuminating, constructive and encouraging. But one of those emails in particular was so lovely, so wonderful and so important to me (since I had dreamed of these perfumes for years) I had it printed (I don’t own a printer) and framed. It now hangs on the wall in my bedroom and is among the first things I see every morning.

Those are the moments when beauty is its own reward.

Future Music

The astute reader – and those who follow TAG on Facebook and elsewhere – will have noticed that my blog posts have become fewer and farther between in this past year. It was partly despair on ever clearing my backlog, partly a huge workload, partly a severe crisis of confidence I’d ever write anything at all worth reading after the debacledisaster of publishing my first novel, but more than anything else, it was this:

Why? I’d happily promote the brands and the names I believe in, but it would never amount to anything anyway, and there’s lots of new blogs out there who do it miles better than me and even several old ones I read in awe, and is free PR even worth the free samples and… Argh. I suck. I should just pack it in. Instead of being a fabulous nobody, I should just drop the ‘fabulous’. Nobodies don’t have to review perfumes, don’t have snark-breathing dragons on their case about when the review will be up, and. And. I suck.

It was – I swear on my Serges – truly that awful.

Then, three things happened in fairly short order, but first, let me explain…

In the five years I’ve been writing about perfumes, I’ve been the lucky recipient of an unholy amount of packages, letters and boxes. Most of them come with personal notes, postcards and letters attached. I have kept every single one of those notes and letters, and on the dormer wall next to my desk in my living room I have a Wall of Fame (illustrated below) with a selection of those notes, letters and postcards. (I’m trying to find a way to organize and display all of them.) There’s no hierarchy and no order, but each and every one – from brands, from bloggers, from friends, from perfumers and my fragrant ‘family’ in New York – is there to remind me of one important priority:

I would never have had them if not for perfume, and if not for my writing about said perfume. Maybe I need to be reminded that somewhere in cyberspace (on WordPress), there’s a blog that made a difference to a curious reader, or to a perfumer who was thrilled I ‘got’ them right or outraged I got it wrong.

A portion of the TAG Wall of Fame

The TAG Wall of Fame

Maybe I need to be reminded that I have made a difference?

Not so long ago, that was precisely what happened. A diehard perfumista, a very dear friend and long-term reader/fan of TAG PMed me on Facebook to ask what was up. I told him the Reader’s Digest version of what you’ve just read.

I was floored to even hear from him (I haven’t been much on Facebook, either), flabbergasted he’d asked and completely blown away when he said:

It would be an awful shame to lose your unique voice.

Which was when I glanced up at that Wall of Fame, at all the ‘Love you!s’, ‘Stay fab!”s Best Wishes, Big Hugs and xoxoxos, from rockstar brands and rockstar perfume people and fellow bloggers and friends and…

Broke down and cried. Deep down in that black and cynical heart I call my own, I knew he was right. I knew that writing about perfume has given me so much more than I could ever have imagined in my wildest, wine-soaked fantasies one August night five years ago. Some of my superlative best writing has been about perfume, since it has given me the perfect place to plant my passion for history, literature and art. In one handy liquid package – perfume. That has to mean something.

Also, this past summer, I’ve fallen in love for the first time in fifteen years. Madly and mutually and I haven’t had this much fun since… well, fifteen years ago. So I’ve allowed myself this summer idyll of dolce far niente. The niente is still very dolce (with no end in sight), but this is not how perfumes get reviewed on TAG.

Which is why I’m slowly but surely edging back in with a few things from my backlog and a few screaming hot new releases. Stay tuned.

Once upon a time, I said that all good things in my life have come through perfume. It seems a few more good things are still to come.

Thank you ALL – readers, friends, bloggers, brands and fragrant family – for sticking around long enough to see it happen.

I <3 you all!

_________________________________________________________

Correction: The first published version of this post stated erroneously that Amouage was a (my definition) niche house. Amouage – one of my most favorite brands of all time – is an indie luxury brand. The text has been amended to reflect this, and I stand corrected. 

 

 

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

tulum_mexico-1920x1200

– 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

lilybells

– 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.