Clarimonde Revisited

- At the crossroads of narrative, perfume and prose 

One of the greatest joys and highest privileges in my time as a perfume blogger has been the opportunity to participate in what I can only describe as …magic.

Instead of wrestling with concepts and angles, wondering how to write about any given perfume, the concept is already a given. Instead of wrangling ghosts in solitude, I could write away to my heart’s content, happy knowing that other bloggers wrote as I did, that perfumers felt as I do. As we did, as even I did, we each in our own ways created something that became larger, lusher and far more lustrous than any of us or our readers could have anticipated.

This was – and still is – known as The Clarimonde Project, named for the 1836 Théophile Gautier story La Morte Amoureuse, or as it was known when it was translated in 1907, simply – Clarimonde. The haunting, evocative story of the young priest Romuald who was destined for the seminary and had never known any other love than God’s, and how it all fell away in an instant the moment he looked up at his ordination and saw the celebrated courtesan Clarimonde and in an instant, all he knew and loved and believed fell away…or did it? Did he dream of his other, alternate life as Clarimonde’s beloved, or was it only too real and his old life as a priest of God the dream? Was Clarimonde simply a woman of incandescent beauty, or was she as Romuald’s abbot claimed, the vilest form of monster, renounced as vile as the sins Romuald surely  – or maybe – committed with her? Just as Romuald’s fevered prose, the story shapeshifts and changes each time you read it or listen to Joy Chan’s spellbinding reading of the story.

The Clarimonde Project is the brainchild of my dear friend and fellow blogger Lucy of Indieperfumes, and has since grown to involve not just some truly haunting perfumes, but also a Pinterest page and the inspiration for a masquerade ball and a three-day event at MiN New York to start on October 25th. Tickets to the event can be found here.

But it began…with the story, which can be read online here, or enjoyed as an audio file read by Joy Chan at this link, which is highly recommended.

It continued with bespoke perfumes, lipstains, and a dream pillow created by Monica Miller of Perfume Pharmer, Mandy Aftel of Aftelier, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Ayala Moriel Sender and the House of Cherry Bomb by Maria McElroy of Aroma M and Alexis Karl by Scents By Alexis.

So it evolved…into some of the best perfume writing to be found anywhere by some of the very best perfume writers in the blogosphere.

For the story of Romuald and Clarimonde – courtesan, woman, Woman or supernatural aberration – grew into other stories and other words, all of them a surrender…to the beauty of Gautier’s story and to the beauty of the perfumes that story inspired.

Of all my many, many words in my two years writing about perfume, I can say for myself that I have never written as I did for Clarimonde before or since. To this day, they all remain my very best perfume writing, just as the privilege to participate in something so special, so haunting and so magical is an honor I will cherish –  always. 

The Clarimonde Project on the Alembicated Genie:

Sangre – perfume and lipstains by Monica Miller: Blood and Kisses

Aftelier PerfumesOud Luban: The Sanctity of Solace

House of Cherry Bomb’s Immortal Mine: A Philter Perilous

Ayala Moriel Sender’s ‘Clarimonde': Dreaming Venetian

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz‘ ‘Paradise Lost': Reclaiming Eternity

The Perfume Pharmer’s reviews of
Oud Luban
Immortal Mine
Ayala Moriel’s Clarimonde
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ Paradise Lost

Jade Dressler

Deana Sidney’s (LostPastRemembered) post on Clarimonde, vampire lore and the perils of perfumed port

Scent Hive
Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Indieperfumes’ reviews of
Sangre
Oud Luban
Immortal Mine
Ayala Moriel’s Clarimonde
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ Paradise Lost

Beth of PerfumeSmellin Things: The Clarimonde Project:

The Clarimonde Project on WordPress

Clarimonde on Pinterest

Image: ‘Barbaric Red’ – via the Clarimonde Pinterest page, pinned from Hoop Skirts & Corsets

A Brave New World

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

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

Hold that thought.

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

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

Because you never know…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brands

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

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

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

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

Bloggers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original image: A sculpture by Brooklyn artist Ebon Heath.

Best of the Best 2011 – Perfumes and Perfumers

If anyone had told me what kind of year I would have just three hundred and sixty four days ago, I wouldn’t have believed it. I would have believed it even less if I had known what magic carpet rides I would encounter, what places I would go, or what marvels I would breathe.

This has been an impossible list, impossible because there have just been so many discoveries and so many perfumes, perfumers and fellow bloggers I would have loved to have on my list, but if I wrote about them all – and surely, I’ve tried? – we’d be here until next year.

Instead, I’ve split my best of the best into three – this one, to celebrate the perfumes and perfumers I was introduced to in this momentous year, second, to celebrate my favorite reading material/avoidance actions/friends and facilitators, and third, a tribute to the ones I wore with a passion and loved with a fury. The perfumes I mention in this post have been without exception released this year, which meant omitting others that were released previously, but they’ll receive their own mention in Part Three. It also means that in spite of other important releases issued, I’ve only mentioned those I’ve had the opportunity to try.

Indie Love!

My heart belongs to the indie perfumers of the world. With a few notable exceptions, the idea of handling a perfume bottle that has been touched by the hands that made it, the mind that conceived it, the perfumer who wrote me, wrapped it up and sent it to me, Ms. No One In Particular, makes it that much more…special.

All the indie perfumers who have made it to my Best of list put the ‘mano’ in the Italian phrase ‘fatto à mano’, made by hand, made with love, care and ‘ àl ‘onore della m’arte ’ – “in honor of my art”, an art that mainstream releases all too often ignore in their mercilessly commercialized hunt for the Next Big Thing.

It is a dedication I have rarely found until this past year, a dedication I had all but given up on ever finding again. When you support the indies, you support the artists themselves instead of filling the already overstuffed coffers of Sanofi, Proctor&Gamble, LVMH…

Support your indie perfumers, and you support a commitment to quality and artistic vision that even the Fragrance Foundation itself has now acknowledged with a category all its own. For a reason – the indies are…that good! They do it without much advertising, but only simple editorial write-up (if they’re lucky to get it), reputation/word of mouth and a little help from the blogosphere.

The Perfumers

This was the year I discovered the staggering creativity of American artisanal perfumery. Granted, I had a lot of help to point me in that direction, but geez, Louise…the scope, the breadth, their sheer jawdropping, sleight-of-hand artistry…

Each has their own personal signature, that singular touch and aesthetic vocabulary that makes them instantly recognizable.

This being my own year of Great Epiphanies, I’ve decided that rather than single out one of them, I’ve put them all up on the Number One spot. Ladies – you have all won my heart and undying loyalty to my dying day, and I can’t ever imagine a perfumed life without any of you!

Mandy Aftel, Aftelier Perfumes

The early morning I found an email from Mandy Aftel in my inbox redefined that lovely Yiddish word…’plotz’. Yes, I did. I had read reviews, I had perused her website, I had some intimations of what to expect…so I thought. Nothing could have prepared me for the olfactory shock treatment my Jacobsens’s organ had in store. Mandy’s perfumes redefine sensual shock treatment. Mandy had an amazingly creative year – with Haute Claire in her collaboration with Liz Zorn, with Oud Luban for the Clarimonde Project, and with Secret Garden, her tribute to the classic florals of yore in collaboration with Dawn Spencer Hurwitz. Heaven help me, I love them all. Mandy herself has been a constant encouragement and inspiration for me this past year, and for that, I love her, too!

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Parfums de Beaux Arts

Where does Dawn Spencer Hurwitz quit? I mean…where does she quit? First, she blew my mind with Vert pour Madame, a throwback to my most favorite ever perfume family, the green floral chypre, and next, she created the Cities of Splendor collection in a unique collaboration with the Denver Art Museum, and then…she gave us Pandora, her staggering ode to Mousse de Saxe, and to top it off, she also gave us Paradise Lost for the Clarimonde Project. Not one I couldn’t love, not one I couldn’t rhapsodize about until the cows came home, not one misstep. Dawn’s perfumes will surely be the death of my borrowed credit card. Or me, whichever comes first.

Maria McElroy, Aroma M

Maria is someone who somehow manages to bridge the gap between the time-honored art of Japanese perfumery and thoroughly modern Western scented sensibilities. Her Geisha perfume line of eaux de parfums and perfume oils is incredibly diverse and heart-rendingly beautiful, and therapeutical, too! She outdid even herself when she gave us Geisha Amber Rouge, a thick, heady, all-out outrageously opulent take on her famous Geisha Rouge (another favorite of mine), but she also created Immortal Mine for the Clarimonde Project with Alexis Karl, with whom she makes Cherry Bomb Killer Perfumes. Maria has become very dear to me and she is as lovely in person as her breathtaking perfumes.

Kedra Hart, Opus Oils

I have reasons to suspect that Kedra Hart conjures up an imp for every perfume she makes, because in every Opus Oil perfume I’ve ever tried, it sneaks out and makes me write things or imagine things I never dreamed I could. Mischief and mayhem, time travel and Tiger, and I never know where I’ll end up, but it will certainly… be so much fun, I have to do it again. And again. Kedra, too has had a banner year…with her soliflore collection of good-time gals Les Bohemes, with her Wild Child that won the Patchouli Summer of Love award (and put the POW! in patchouli), with Starfucker for her house model, Tiger the Tempter, and with her latest amazing creation, the world’s first perfume for anosmics, Eau Pear Tingle, which I can’t wait to try. Had I but known that perfumed perdition could be so much fun…and I suspect, there will be…many more imps to come! And a Tiger. And other hazards to my sanity…

Honorable Mention:

No slight is intended to either Liz Zorn of Soivohle/Acoustijuice or Neil Morris, except to say I have been thrilled beyond measure and compare to explore two more lines I had never had the opportunity to try. Expect to see reviews of both Liz Zorn and more Neil Morris in the coming year!

Best Mainstream Niche:

The three that made it to this part of my list are both made by houses that hold a special place in my heart – Amouage and Serge Lutens. What’s worse is that I’ve only reviewed one of them, which will be amended shortly. My opinion is definitely in the minority, but I don’t care – they are each of them the reason I love what I do.

Vitriol d’Oeillet, Serge Lutens & Christopher Sheldrake

Serge Lutens released Jeux de Peau, Vitriol d’Oeillet and De Profundiis this year, and much as I liked Jeux de Peau with its burnt toast, melted butter and delicious sandalwood drydown, I loved Vitriol so much, I arranged for a decant…and drained it. I’m no stranger to the old-fashioned splendors of carnation, but not many carnations have surprised me so consistently as this one, from its pepper punch opening to its silky-smooth drydown and its hourglass shaped development.

Honour Man & Honour Woman, Nathalie Feisthauer, Alexandra Carlin, Violaine Collas with Christopher Chong, Amouage

One thing to love about Amouage is how their perfumes tell two sides to the same story from a masculine and a feminine perspective. Inspired by the final act of ‘Madame Butterfly’ as a filial tribute, they both represent something new – the resinous, black pepper explosion of Honour Man, and the love letter to the big, white floral feminine that is Honour Woman. Both beautifully rendered, both surprising, both stunning. As for the ex who drained my sample of Honour Man to the last drop…he can buy his own!

Favorite Indie Trend:

Once upon a time, I gave up hope that anyone, anywhere would ever love the Green Fiends of yore as much as I did. Was I ever…wrong! I came to discover the marvels of Puredistance Antonia, Aftelier’s breathtaking conciliation of galbanum and ylang ylang, Haute Claire, and Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ Vert pour Madame and Pandora. Green is the color of hope, and all of these give me just that. If I were to look into a magic mirror and predict what might lie ahead, that rediscovery of green would be one trend, but more importantly, I believe that indie perfumers are rediscovering the inherent challenges and thrills of the all-out, opulent florals…as we saw with Aftelier’s Secret Garden, or the opulent Oriental, such as Aroma M Geisha Amber Rouge.

Worst Mainstream Launch of the Year:

Chanel no. 19 Poudré

I had such high hopes for this one, was so excited to try it, and was so unbelievably let down. What on Earth were Chanel thinking when they decided to give Chanel no. 19 a makeover? Yes, it’s difficult, yes, it’s different, and yes…it’s an icon for a reason. So they took my beloved no. 19, which I’ve worn for almost thirty years without fail, filleted it, flattened it, and added an overdose of baby powder to make it more palatable for the mainstream consumers who might be intimidated by the original. I was hoping for a no. 19 Eau Premiere. What I got was a pale, wan, semi-starved seventeen-year-old who photographs well but is very vague in person. Me, I’ll take intimidation any day of any year.

Worst Advertising Idea, Ever:

Nothing against the lovely Natalie Portman, you understand, but I am…in an outrage of epic proportions when I see that Dior has now dropped the ‘Cherie’ from Miss Dior Cherie and is now promoting it as simply Miss Dior. Now, an entire generation will equate this hot, synthetic strawberry mess with the perfume that made Dior famous. This is superbad in the worst possible way.

Best Mainstream Launch:

Bottega Veneta

Color me surprised. When a fashion brand best known for its hyper-luxe gloves and woven-leather handbags launched its own eponymous perfume, I had no expectations whatsoever. So I was in the perfect place to be taken aback by the restrained, elegant and very ladylike Bottega Veneta, which is nowhere so restrained it’s boring, but also so consistently well-made, it’s easy to love, even for this cranky leather fan. I might even buy it, so long as I get a handbag, too.

Coolest Fusion of Fumes and Phrases:

When Lucy of Indieperfumes asked me to participate in the Clarimonde Project in time for Halloween, thrilled was not the word to describe my reaction. A vampire story unlike any other, an immersion into the netherworld of dark and light, faith and passion – what wasn’t to love about that idea? Seven bloggers, six perfumers, one story and a kind of synergy I have a hard time describing, but some kind of magic occurred along the way, something very special was created in both perfumes and words, and in several compelling ways, I’m not quite what I was that day I wrote her back to say I’d love to be a part of it. Monica Miller of Perfume Pharmer, Mandy Aftel, Ayala Moriel, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl all rose spectacularly to the challenge of being inspired by Théophile Gautier’s 1836 story, and it was all this blogger at least could do to hope I was up for doing each of their creations the justice they deserved. Certainly, Monica, Trish of ScentHive, Lucy, Beth of PerfumeSmellin’ Things, Jade Dressler, Deana Sidney of LostPastRemembered and I pulled no punches each in our own ways to dive into the vials and wrest their interpretations of the story from them. All  – the words and the perfumes – happily coalesced into a special kind of magic I will always feel proud to have been a part of.

Most Dangerous Perfume of the Year:

Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl, Immortal Mine for the Clarimonde Project

I have reasons to suspect that on occasion, not even the perfumers involved in creating a perfume are entirely aware of just what genie they’re unleashing upon an unsuspecting world. The term ‘mortal peril’ is a bit of a cliché in perfume terms, but in the case of Immortal Mine, take my word for it – it’s no cliché here! I broke that dripping, blood-red wax seal and my blood immediately ran icy cold and scorching hot. Even now, I get goosebumps just thinking about it. Magic, mojo, that blood of a slayed Wyvern, the soil from an unmarked grave…whatever else they put into Immortal Mine, it is, hands down, the most dangerous thing I’ve smelled all year, and likely ever in my life. They will have to wrest this one from my cold, dead hands if they can…or bury me with it, so I can haunt my descendants!

Stay tuned tomorrow for Part Two – and more favorites of the year! And tell me, what were your best and worst of 2011?

Image: The Coronation crown of King Christian V of Denmark, made in 1670-71 by goldsmith Paul Kurtz in Copenhagen. This is the crown depicted on all DK coins and it is known as ‘The Crown of Absolute Sovereignty’. Image from the Royal Danish Collections at Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen.

Dreaming Venetian

THE CLARIMONDE PROJECT

The Clarimonde Project – Part Four

Ayala Moriel’s Dream Pillow and Perfume ‘Clarimonde’

It was a delirious thought, a delicious idea, an idea none of us could have refused if we had wanted to – one project, one story, five perfumers and six writers, all of them and all of it wrapped up in a city whose very name echoed its own kind of silken promise – Venezia.

Venice, where Romuald had lived out – or dreamed – his decadent self, all those sensual pleasures he had never known until Clarimonde. We were all of us assembled in our rented palazzo in the Cannareggio, there to create another kind of magic and breathe our mutual inspirations into other stories we would tell in essences and absolutes, in words, songs and poetry, in utterly magnificent meals and laughter both sumptuous and intoxicating.

So we gathered, our little coven of eleven women, convinced of all our creative possibilities to come in that heady, happy rush of synergy and estrogen, in that vortex of time and timeless that was…Venice. The colors, the smells of the canals, the lilting Venetian dialect that echoed off the narrow alleyways, the peculiar glint of sunlight on the canal that reflected off the ceiling and would wake us in the morning and evoke that peculiar phrase… ‘fare la vecchia’, to squint against that flash of light like an old woman squints…

But all was not well on the Fondamenta della Misericordia in the Cannareggio…Two ferocious guard dogs – the hounds of Hecate? – guarded us from unwanted visitors, and one morning, we woke to the horror of finding one of them mysteriously dead, apparently eaten by the other, and just as eerily as they came, they vanished.

Still, it was Venice. We were there for a purpose, and so we all set to work in our different ways, gathering inspiration in the company and in our views of Murano in the distance across the lagoon, gathering synergy from each other and our walks and the glories around us at every turn, a fellowship united by one purpose – to create something extraordinary, something never before seen, never before written, sung nor smelled…

Until the token blonde – that would be me – was stalked by an apparition of my own, yet this ghost was no vampire, and I knew him very well. He would always come when I least expected it, always when I happened to be alone, lurking behind a column on the Piazza San Marco, reaching out to grab me from a murky alleyway in the Giudecca, startling me on the darkened stairwell of the palazzo at 2 AM as I went to fetch my notebook and write by the fire, distracting me as he only knew with all he had.

I protested, I tried to pull away… “But I can’t, I shouldn’t, I have to write this down, I promised that I would and that’s why I’m here.”
“Yet you know that isn’t all you want, that is your ambition and those friends are your duty but this is another kind of want…”

Somewhere in that violent conflict of promise and pleasure, somewhere on the shadowy, echoing stairs of a Venetian palazzo on the Fondamenta della Misericordia, I woke up…and was not in Venice, not with the women I had come to know through one haunting story and five haunting perfumes that have echoed through my words and thoughts this month past, but only in my own bed beside a very startled Hairy Krishna. His eyes glinted a disdainful shade of amber reflected in the streetlight outside my window, he twitched the tip of his tail and settled back down deeper in the feathers of my duvet, as if to say: “Silly.”

Such was the content of my first few hours with Ayala Moriel’s dream pillow, created especially for the Clarimonde Project, a beautiful square of hand-sewn raw cream silk adorned with one glittering garnet, sewn while Ayala listened to Joy Chan’s evocative reading of the story. Or, as Ayala tells it:


‘In his efforts to banish impure thought from his sleep, Romuald has sewn simple rough fabric into a little pillow stuffed with soothing, sleep-inducing herbs: valerian, lavender and violet leaves…Alas, when he awoke, the fabric was transformed into silk, and the herbs tinted with an intoxicating Oriental perfume of half-faded roses, saffron and sweet cassie. Clarimonde’s presence has crossed over to his daily life, there was no denying…’

I’ve never slept with a dream pillow before, and once again, I’m presented with perfume in a novel form to experience in a novel way. The dream pillow – about the size of a folded handkerchief – is placed in the pillowcase above the pillow, and as you move and stir in your sleep, its odor is released as the herbs and leaves are warmed by your head. I had my slight hesitations about the valerian – it may indeed promote a restful night, but it also has a unique, unmistakable and not entirely pleasant scent. I had nothing to fear as it happened – only that my cats, attracted by the valerian, both insisted on pillow space as well, which they did. Yet that pillow gave me such dreams…dreams interlaced with the story of Clarimonde, half-awake musings perfumed with the herbs and the evocative perfume that scented them, musings lost to pages in my journal as I fell back asleep and dreamed other, equally haunting stories, ghosts and places.

I wrapped it in tissue paper and put it away last night. Having either the flu or a bad throat cold, a fever and sleeping with a dream pillow turned my dreams into startling Technicolor phantasmagorias bound like a ghostly ribbon with the perfume Ayala also calls ‘Clarimonde’.

Each of the perfumes created for the Clarimonde Project have focused on different moments of the story as they inspired the perfumers and as we writers in our turn were inspired by those perfumes…Monica Miller’s ‘Sangre’, the perfume of an entire love from epiphany to heartbreak, Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl’s totality of desire, ‘Immortal Mine’, Mandy Aftel’s solid of sacred solace ‘Oud Luban’, and now, with Ayala’s ‘Clarimonde’, that moment in her bedchamber when the last rose petal drops in the flickering candlelight as his beloved breathes her last. She is gone, eternity is lost, and only this opulent, even decadent creation to remember her by…the cold, earthy-green wintry breath of violet and ionone (a natural violet isolate), the plush, pulsing, burning heart of saffron and rose and carnation, and the long, lingering drydown of antique patchouli, sandalwood, dragon’s blood and costus, echoing Romuald’s lifelong regret.

As it happened with the other three I’ve reviewed so far, this is something far too precious and magical to be called a mere ‘perfume’. There is a mighty mojo in that pillow, as my dreams could attest, and a magic no less in the perfume that accompanies it. This is yet another captured soul of the story, Clarimonde as she lay dying in her chamber, the violet-tinged chill of the grave, that one trembling rose petal on its calyx, poised to fall with her last earthly heartbeat, and the epitome of all desire with its vibrant, spicy, fiery, floral heart, evoking Gautier’s words:


‘To have Clarimonde was to have twenty mistresses, aye, to possess all women, so mobile, so varied of aspect, so fresh in new charms was she all in herself…’

In its depth and the breathtakingly rich patchouli drydown, held aloft by its piquant, intoxicating pillars of costus and sandalwood and dragon’s blood, like the token drop she takes from Romuald every night, like the pomegranate seed of garnet on the dream pillow – or Persephone’s pomegranate seed in reverse – is all of one hapless priest’s eternal regret, and all that he has lost, and all he yet had in those vertiginous, unforgettable moments he dared to truly live – and dream – Venetian.

Dream Pillow: handsewn raw silk, filled with herbs (Valerian root, violet leaves, roses, lavender buds, orris root, liatrix and patchouli)

‘Clarimonde’ perfume: Antique patchouli, sandalwood, costus, saffron, roses, carnation, violet and ionone (natural isolate), cassie and dragon’s blood.

The other participants in the Clarimonde Project:

The Perfume Pharmer’s reviews of
Oud Luban
Immortal Mine
Ayala Moriel’s Clarimonde
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ Paradise Lost

Jade Dressler

Deana Sidney’s post on Clarimonde, vampire lore and the perils of perfumed port

Scent Hive
Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Indieperfumes’ reviews of
Sangre
Oud Luban
Immortal Mine
Ayala Moriel’s Clarimonde
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ Paradise Lost

Photo of Venetian bedchamber, ca. 1700 : From the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Photo of Ayala’s ‘Clarimonde’ presentation: my iPhone.

Disclosure: The sample was sent to me for review as part of my participation in the Clarimonde Project.