An Everyday Epiphany

Overflowing_Heart_by_thadius33

On a campaign, dreams and an old metaphysical adage

For all that I consider myself a wordsmith, sometimes words utterly fail me. Try as I might, no matter what thesaurus, volume of poetry, or aspirational novel I haul out of my collection or my memory, I just can’t find the words no matter what I do. Somehow, they all seem such clichés, such trite statements of trivial declaration that I simply have to give up the ghost and resign myself to the fact that mere words will never be able to contain the scope of whatever it is I’m trying to convey, and leave it at that.

When that happens, it means I’ve only forgotten that other important thing about writing: you don’t find the right words so much as they find you.

In the astonishing year of amazing events that 2013 has proved for me so far, this was brought home to me in no uncertain terms when I launched the campaign to keep this blog going, because no matter what I do, I somehow can’t escape that urge to ‘capture the muse as she flies’, as William Blake once put it, to capture with words what stories a perfume will breathe alive on my skin, in my mind, in the words I use to describe and evoke it.

The simple act of reviewing a perfume (I use that term advisedly) satisfies some literary inclination and writer’s itch in a manner no other writing quite does, and provides an outlet for all those aesthetic inclinations I can’t place anywhere else in my life. It is also without question the hardest writing I ever do.

But most important of all, it connects with other people, people who think as I do, feel as I do about that ephemeral art that is perfume, an art that far transcends ‘smells good’, ‘wafts sexy’ or ‘stinks’. Let those sorry souls who deem themselves beyond such trifles and vanities sneer in derision and think what they will about us and our consuming passion – we know a kind of transport and sensory experience unlike any other, and explore it, exchange it, explain it and share it.

Once upon a storied time in a Skype conversation, I told a justly celebrated rock star of the perfume world and an eminently acclaimed writer herself:

All good things in my life have come through writing about the art of perfume.

The events of this past week have proved beyond any doubts I ever had just how true and prescient that statement is.

Because dear readers, this alembicated genie, this small, singular, idiosyncratic voice among the multitudes of Planet Perfume, shall happily continue along that primrose path to perdition!

I reached my goal before the campaign deadline.

The Genie was saved, and all because of – and most emphatically! – thanks to you.

This early Saturday August morning of a perfect blue sky, the sun shines down upon yours truly, typing away on a gently used and souped-up MacBook Pro that does everything I could possibly ask it to do, contains everything I need to do it with, and will take the writer and passionate purple perfume prose aficionado to the next level of setting the world alight with my words.

You – my readers, my friends, my colleagues in fragrant phrasing – made that happen.

Those two small throwaway words ‘thank’ and ‘you’ seem much, much too concise and limited for what I’m trying to say here.

If I ever doubted (as a writer, I always, always do) my significance as a perfume writer, if I ever wondered about that unbearable lightness of my existence, if I ever, ever catch myself considering to just give up the ghost and to Hades with it all, all ambition, all aspirations and hopes be damned, I’ll look to that one event to remind me that readers out there, readers just like me, readers who love what I love and share that love and those connections, have made everything not just possible or even probable but happening, right this very minute…

I turn to another perpetual favorite writer of mine who shared a few preoccupations and wrenched these words right out of my mind and my purpose.

Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.  – John Milton

As indeed all of you did, and so, my world and my experience was changed… forever.

Thank YOU.

And that metaphysical adage?

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

;-)

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Image: ‘Overflowing Heart’ by Thadius33 on DeviantArt.

The Road to Redemption

- Confessions of a perfume writer

Once upon a time so very long ago, a girl of fourteen – that awkward age poised between childhood and womanhood, yearning to become yet hesitant to evolve – walked into a world-renowned store on the Champs Elysées in Paris.

So much of Paris had already taken her breath away. She was raised with an appreciation of beauty, knew something of the scope and scale of all art and many artists, of artistic merit and dedication, but the idea that an entire culture could define itself around an ideal of beauty and the art of the beautiful with its hints of unsettling and peculiar, even beauty’s peculiar art – this caused a seismic shift in her awareness and made her see life with new eyes, and this moment about to happen, just as she herself, would redefine both her and her aesthetic – forever.

See her as she was then – small, slight, reddish-blonde and green-eyed. She was too young to need artifice to enhance her, too curious and questioning to accept it and yet, she intuitively knew with one glance upon those hallowed doors that behind them lay secrets. The secrets that would push her over the edge with one sensory impression, the secrets that would help her evolve and become the woman she is, even today.

That young girl was me, and if I were to point to the ten most defining moments of my life, the moments that changed me forever, this moment on a May day in the year 1977 would be one of those pivotal moments.

The store was the Guerlain flagship store, and my mother – a very stylish, self-aware redhead with an acute appreciation of both her own beauty and everything required to enhance it, had chosen this day, this moment as her daughter’s rite of passage. The door was the threshold to a new and foreign land – the land of femininity.

I can still recall that first intake of breath in that rarified, fragrant air, still remember the sales assistant with her charming accent as she took us to a quiet sofa nook and sent for tea and another selection of everything that made Guerlain justly famous. I can remember that I already rejected my mother’s perfume loves out of hand – Shalimar and Mitsouko were hers alone and not for me. I can remember all those pre-reformulation wonders I tried that day – the rich olfactory, slightly melancholy confection of L’Heure Bleue, the heart-stopping fraîcheur of Après L’Ondée, the powdery sensuality of Voilette de Madame, the wake-up call that was Chamade. So many stories in those bottles, so many secrets whispering in those sparkling golden depths – but which one would I choose for my own? What story, what secrets would define me or define me as the woman I so desperately wanted to be?

In the end, I boiled my choices down to three. Jicky – abstract, audacious, playfully green yet flirtatious, the violet-drenched Après L’Ondée, and the supremely elegant, mossy charm of Sous le Vent.

When we walked out two hours later, I wafted a veritable cloud of Jicky and carried my first ever quadrilobe bottle of extrait. If it were good enough for my literary idol Colette, then who was I to argue?

Half an hour later and for the first time, I had my derrière pinched by an anonymous Frenchman in the Métro during rush hour. This told me I was now and forevermore on to something huge.

The allure – of perfume.

For many, many years after, I defined myself through my choices in perfume as I went on to other bottled loves. I rarely met a chypre I didn’t love – Miss Dior, Dioressence, Fidji, Cabochard, Rive Gauche, Chanel no. 19, Calandre, Bandit – and even if I passed over Shalimar’s Oriental allure, I still wore and adored Narcisse Noir, Coco, Magie Noir and Panthère, none of them precisely suitable for blushing wallflowers. On other days, YSL’s Paris trailed behind me, converting a former florally averse post-punk Goth catastrophe into a dedicated lover of what I came to call the Epitome of Rose.

All my perfume days and fragrant nights went on…with those I loved and those I abhorred (Giorgio!, Poison) and those I only wore in certain moods and mindsets. (Bandit!) The ones my friends either loved or hated (Narcisse Noir), the ones that slayed paramours (Magie Noir, Panthère, Coco) and impressed up-and-coming rock stars. (Cabochard. LOTS.) The one that landed me not one, but two dream jobs (Chanel no. 19 eau de parfum).

Until that fateful day not so very long ago when all my beautiful bottles were empty, and I couldn’t afford to replace them at all. I was left with orange-scented body butter and shower gel yet it was nowhere near enough. In some indefinable way, I felt diminished and invisible. I left no scent trail behind me, could no longer manifest my presence as I had become accustomed to, was no longer able to declare my intentions – dishonorable or otherwise. When I complained about it however, I came to discover that particular disdain non-perfumoholics display towards our affliction/habit/vice.

“Why? It’s only perfume, after all!”

But it wasn’t, it never was, and it certainly isn’t – even today, even after over two years as a perfume blogger and even despite all I’ve come to know about the subject matter, the talents who create it or the industry that sustains it.

So there I was – virtually scentless, undefined, invisible. A very sorry sad state of affairs. How it happened, I’m not entirely sure, but somewhere – I suspect it was MakeUpAlley – I began reading reviews – about perfumes, and again, there was this small, seismic shift in my awareness – and even in the woman who had caught the writing bug some years before, since the idea that you could write about it snagged on a cogwheel in my mind. The name of one dead-exclusive perfume house kept popping up in these conversations about brands I had never heard of in my part of the world, and its perfumes were described as “bottled emotions.” How did you do that? Were they really? Could any perfume justify the superlatives heaped on this particular brand?

This explains why I stood one day in the fall of 2003 in Albuquerque’s one and only niche perfume store. Their tag line got me in the door. “We have no common scents.” They sold an extensive range of Creed, Annick Goutal and Comptoir Sud Pacifique among many others – but even they were flummoxed by my question, had never heard of this Paris-based house.

I tried to gratify that olfactory itch in other ways, resorting in my desperation to the visual perfume porn catalogs of niche retailers, trying to conjure those wonders from overblown ad copy/a list of notes.

By this time, perfume blogs arrived, each of them writing about perfumes in their own ways with their own voices, irreverent, scholarly and poetic, conjuring the genies I was so desperate to try and still couldn’t. That same name kept popping up. You can imagine my radioactive level of curiosity by now.

It lasted six years until I could finally bear it not one millisecond longer. It took three weeks of agonizing through my well-thumbed English-French dictionary, banging my head on the keyboard over my own spinelessness and last but never least the admonition to my easily intimidated self that I’d be damned if they intimidated me…before I hit ‘send’ on the email to the Palais Royal in Paris and requested ‘Les Petits Livres’, those little leaflets of wax perfumes from that brand name of perfume superlatives…Serge Lutens.

For the second time in my life, my olfactory universe shook, shifted and changed…forever. Here were the fragrant epiphanies I craved, the odes to the beautiful yet wondrously strange, here were the epic storylines and yes, the bottled emotions I also thought I would never find.

A few months later, I had a truly radical idea one vacation night after the third glass of wine. There were quite a few – if nowhere so many as today – perfume blogs out there. Maybe, just maybe – I could write about perfume, too? At the time, I was in the final throes of writing my novel. Believe it or not, there really was such a thing as…too much testosterone bomb and total rock’n’roll overload.

I wanted to write something pretty, something frilly to wrap my words around. In other words (all puns intended), shouldn’t I be able to do that, too? I wanted the pursuit of the ephemerally beautiful and the ability to communicate it with my words. The worst thing that could happen – so I thought that night in my pleasantly tipsy state – would be to make me a better writer. How bad could it be?

Famous last words.

I never, ever – and this isn’t false modesty on my part – thought anyone at all would want to read what I wrote, or that I had anything unique to contribute to the ongoing conversation. Not until I came across Olympic Orchids, won a sample in a draw, and wrote my first reviews of a true niche perfumer did I realize there might be something there, something I could do, something…new. That was my third olfactory earthquake.

When Lucy of Indieperfumes (a titanically talented, FiFi award-nominated perfume writer herself) introduced herself to me, the fourth seismic shift occurred. Everything that has happened since in my fragrant life has happened because of Lucy and her never-ending encouragement, the many things she has taught me, the introductions she has made on my behalf and her sincere friendship, and for that, I’m far, far more grateful than she knows.

Since then, I’m more than a little thrilled to have met and to know – in a virtual sense, and in some cases, through many phone and Skype conversations – many other perfume writers and bloggers. I have reasons now to visit five different continents. Much to my own surprise not least, I’ve had the supreme privilege to meet both perfumers and Creative Directors, and above all else, to connect with so many incredibly smart, creative people who think like I do, feel as I do, who recognize a kindred soul on a perpetual quest for…that next redolent epiphany, and even so, have opened up in so many ways to a perfume loner in an overlooked part of the world.

What I’ve learned…never say never. A category you hate can very well become a category you love. Sometimes, a challenging, complex perfume can take five or more tries to ‘get’, and sometimes, it can happen in five milliseconds. Sometimes, you can’t ‘get’ the concept no matter how many times you try. The best money I’ve ever spent on perfume (not counting decants of the ones I can’t afford to buy – yet) was, in order, a sample order from First in Fragrance (which introduced me to Amouage and reintroduced me to an old love, Robert Piguet’s Bandit), and another from Opus Oils. (Yes!) Not counting the times I’ve been able to send off a few of my already reviewed and/or When Hell freezes-reviews/marvels to the friends scattered across Planet Perfume, because that has made me happy, too.

I’ve learned that no matter what I do or how hard I try, I can’t write like anyone else but me. Perfume is likely the hardest subject matter to communicate besides quantum mechanics and sex. It’s hardly a coincidence they’re al three related – and more than you think.

I’ve learned that sometimes you have all the best intentions in the world but alas, intentions are the last things to matter in that evocative, haunted space between the mind and the keyboard. Sometimes, I want to tell a story instead of write a straight-up review, and sometimes, the perfume wants a story when I want a straight-up review.

I’ve learned a few things about friendship, and having more than a little faith restored in my own gender. Perfume and words may have been the root cause of these connections, but not a few have blossomed into thriving, irreverent friendships far beyond them.

In these last few weeks, while waiting for my new apartment to be finished, while being unable to write any new perfume reviews (I have my writerly superstitions there, too), I’ve also come to realize just how much I miss that fragrant landscape of my own making.

It’s only perfume. But perfume meant that I finished my first novel and gave up hair dye for nine long months so I could buy myself the ultimate liquid prize – my first (and only, so far) bell jar.

Perfume meant that I’m writing these words so at least 92 people can read them. It’s only perfume, but that’s what I breathe for, almost what I live for, and certainly why I write about it in that perpetual pursuit of the beautiful that began with a girl on the Champs Elysées and ended with a jaded writer and her Famous Last Words.

It’s only perfume. How bad can it be?

It’s only perfume. Yet somehow without even being aware of it, perfume…redeemed me. And made me the writer I am today.

How good it can be!

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.

One Two Many

 

 

A while ago, an ongoing debate asked a very relevant question: Are there too many perfume bloggers?

Too many people weighing in with their highly subjective opinions, too much snark and snobbery, too many self-proclaimed experts who apparently don’t know nearly enough about their subject matter?

It was one of those questions that needed to be asked, and also a question I not only had to think about, but think about for a good long time. The fact is, there are indeed very many perfume blogs. Here’s another fact: in 2011, over 1200 new perfumes were released. Most of these will have a very short shelf life and disappear without a trace.

I hate to state the obvious, but honesty impels me: Very many perfume blogs, regardless of the blogger’s expertise and/or lack thereof, will also have a fairly short shelf life and disappear without a trace. I say this not because I’m a raging snob or safely planted in that elevated stratosphere of perfume blogging superstardom (which I’m emphatically not), but because I’m a realist as well as a blogger who has been banging on my keyboard for many reasons on many topics for over three years now.

Take it from me: Blogging on any topic is damned hard work, just as writing is damned hard work. Since you didn’t ask, I will also tell you something else: writing about perfume, that most ephemeral of art forms, is one of the hardest topics of all to write about.

Once upon a time, so all good fairy tales begin, I was so destitute, I couldn’t afford to buy perfume at all. Not so much as a designer imposter. All five of my cherished perfume bottles were empty. For a perfume lover who had never gone without since age 14, this was a very sorry state of affairs. I felt diminished in several dimensions I couldn’t explain to anyone without sounding like a superficial idiot. Whether it was because I felt severely starved in an aesthetic sense or plain and simple masochism, I began to trawl through online perfume retailers just to absorb the fumes by proxy, so to say. I’m not sure how it came about, but I distinctly recall standing in a niche store in Albuquerque, New Mexico in the fall of 2003. This was a store that sold such exclusive brands as Annick Goutal, Comptoir Sud Pacifique, Creed etc, and there was T the Total Newbie asking about a certain Serge Lutens, which they didn’t sell.

Somehow around that time, I began to read the few perfume blogs that existed at the time and continued to do so, as I even do today. As I did, I learned all those things I ‘knew’ with my nose if not my brain, and as I became more enlightened, I also became determined never to settle for anything less than olfactory revelations. I wasn’t ordinary, so why shouldn’t my chosen perfume reflect that? The writers who taught me so much and aroused my curiosity for good and bad told me so much about a world I never knew, explained my dissatisfaction with the sorry state of affairs at my local perfume counters, and all the while, I soaked up the words like a sponge to savor later, since I still couldn’t afford to buy any.  What I could do was dream of the day, and surely it would happen some day, when I too might know a little of those genies and stories glittering in a drop of exquisite perfume.

Then, three things happened – all interconnected. First of all, I finally gathered up the nerve to send for the ‘Petit Livres’ of Serge Lutens, so I could sniff what all the fuss was about. I was so unnerved, I then proceeded to write a few of them into the storyline of my novel-in-progress, Quantum Demonology.

Finally, during that last long haul to the finish line of ‘The End’, I started a perfume blog of my own. Why? As a writing exercise! I went on the premise that if you can write about perfume, you can write about anything. This is true, but for other reasons than you might expect.

Here’s what I didn’t expect: that anyone would ever read what I wrote about perfume. I wasn’t aware that I did anything at all different than those bloggers I idolized, didn’t know that I could have my own unique perspective to add to the fray until people whose blogs I read began to comment back on mine.

This is how friendships are forged – on the anvil of a common passion. I am inordinately proud to say that not a few fellow bloggers have become my friends, and have made it possible for me to continue to write about what unites us all – perfume.

I have never written professionally, have no professional contacts with the perfume industry, and I’m not an expert on the subject in the slightest. What I am is first and foremost a writer. If I’ve managed through the words I’ve chosen to convey a sense of what a perfume smells like, what emotions it evokes and what stories it tells me – as all the best perfumes do – then I’ve succeeded.

I write on the time-honored supposition that Your Mileage May Vary. I may rave about something you can’t stand. I may also suffer the rare snark attack when I encounter something I hate, but that doesn’t happen so much any longer. Since I began as a blogger, my tastes have expanded to such a degree, that even if I can’t wear a perfume I review, I can at least appreciate the concept, the execution, the very art it is. I review what speaks to me, and I review only what I want to, even though I’m now privileged enough to receive samples from perfume houses who hope I’ll write about them.

As for the writing part…I can’t write like anyone else. I’ve tried and failed – miserably. I read reviews so flawlessly written, so lyrical, so perfect, I turn green with envy. That never lasts long, since I also believe there’s more than enough room for everyone. But the moment I sit down in that sanctified space to indulge my inner aesthetic inclinations, I have no choice but to put it all behind me and write as only I can. I learn as I go, and I never know where I will go…writing a review as a narrative, writing as a journey, writing as a tightrope walker between that first word and that last sentence, and I can’t go back but only forward.

I think the wannabes, the snark monsters and the posers will eventually give themselves away for what they are. I believe that what passionate perfume blog readers want to read is a genuine voice and an authentic perspective that comes from the heart and is written con amore – with love. Love for the subject, love for the revelations, love for that ephemeral, ever-changing art that is…perfume.

Whatever you love…if you love it enough, if it fills your multiverse and makes your heart expand, if it makes your world go round and makes you feel a better, greater, more beautiful person, you’ll want to shout it from the rooftops, sing to the clouds…sing it out to us all! Share your love…there’s more than enough room for everyone, even you and even me.

Which is why I do it, after all!

The real question is…why do you read it? ;)

Image: Worth1000.com

The Best of the Best 2011 – Phrases, Friends and Facilitators

Without you, I’m nothing!

Here’s a confession for you. In the real world, I’m a newly divorced single mother of a seven-year-old who works a decidedly unglamorous job for a minimum wage that just barely pays the bills. I do not own a credit card except for very dire emergencies, and I live in the Niche Empty Quarter of northwestern Europe. Several stores in Aarhus and Copenhagen do carry a few niche lines, but I get there so seldom, they might as well be located on the moon. It really is…that bad.

So I’m in deadly earnest when I say that without the staggering, stupendous, mind-blowing generosity of my fellow bloggers, friends and facilitators in several locations on both sides of the Atlantic, this past year of exploration and this past writing would never, ever have been possible. I’m so poor, I can’t even send them anything back to reciprocate. The samples I have already reviewed I pass on to a dear friend in the US who is battling cancer right now and who should surely have access to the kind of beauty that inspires hope and a will to survive, because she needs that more than anyone else I know.

OK, guys…you can put down the Kleenex now! ;-)

Instead, I try to pay my facilitators back with what I do have to spare…my words. Words in my reviews, words in emails that have kept me going through a very challenging year, Twitter conversations, retweets and whatever else I can do to express my abject gratitude…for the friendships I’ve forged, the connections I’ve made, the inspirations I’ve found and my hopes for possibilities and a future I couldn’t have imagined just a year ago. Whatever else I’ve achieved in this past year, my own words have carried me out into a world that really does want to read them, and for that, I’m grateful, too.

I was asked to be a guest blogger for Penhaligon’s ‘Adventures in Scent’ blog, and inadvertently channeled Agatha Christie by way of Amelia Edwards, Oscar Wilde, Robert Hitchens and Jane Austen. My review of Puredistance Antonia will be featured along with a few other bloggers’ in Puredistance’s new PR material in 2012, and that floors me, too. Last but not least, two august houses in particular have been more than kind to an unknown perfume blogger by spreading the word, retweeting me and even in one case posting a link to a review on their official Facebook page, which in my world view was a bit like receiving an encouraging postcard from, well, God!

But the biggest compliments I’ve received have been from my readers, who have kept reading in spite of it all. If not for you, if not for those emails and hotly anticipated padded envelopes, if not for the many postcards, cards and notes on my Wall of Fame behind my desk…none of this could ever have happened.

Back in the day, I began writing about perfume on the premise that if I could write about that most ephemeral of art forms, I could write about anything. Below are my personal favorites, the ones where the genie really did talk back and even I was surprised…

¤   Amouage, “Silver and Black” of Memoir Man, “Becoming Violetta” of Lyric Woman. When the story and evolution of an entirely fictional love affair makes even the writer reach for the Kleenex…

¤   Aftelier, “The Union of Heaven and Earth” of Cepes and Tuberose, “The Best of All Possible Worlds” of Candide

¤   Puredistance, “An Eternal April” of Antonia

¤   Opus Oils, “A Swell Party”“Did We Evuh” of the Les Bohemes collection, “Eau de Perdition” of Dirty Sexy Wilde

¤   Aroma M, “Sailing Through Byzantium” of Geisha Amber Rouge

¤   Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, “Reclaiming Eternity” of Paradise Lost, “Vertesimilitude” of Vert pour Madame

¤   Maria McElroy & Alexis Karl, “A Philter Perilous” of Immortal Mine

Friends, Facilitators and the Fellowship of Fumeheads

No best of list would be complete without a big, fat thank you hug to those who made everything possible…the words, the discoveries, the shared laughter, the emails, the acute indecision in front of my perfume cabinet, wondering who I’ll be today…

Lucy of Indieperfumes

When I was just starting out into the perfumosphere, Lucy of Indieperfumes was among the first to sense I might have something to say about perfume that might be worth reading. This was very high praise from such an exceptional writer. Without Lucy, I would never have been introduced to the world of indie perfumers, would never have met Mandy Aftel, Maria McElroy, Alexis Karl, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz…and my life as well as my writing would have been infinitely poorer for it. Without Lucy, I wouldn’t have participated in the Clarimonde Project. As for the rest…we’ve forged a soul friendship that means yours truly is planning a trip to New York in 2012, and if I ever need a literary agent with exceptional promotional skills, I’m hiring Lucy in a heartbeat!

JoanElaine of Redolent Of Spices

JoanElaine and I just…clicked. There’s no other way to say it. Both diehard chypre lovers, both a bit iconoclastic, both of us united in our love of a few great Immortals. When she located a vintage mini of one of mine, Guy Laroche’s Fidji, I about died. As it is, I wouldn’t want to live without her!

Carrie of Eyeliner On a Cat

I had been reading Carrie for a long time when she loudly rebuked me last spring for a reference to someone we both hold very, very dear. Since then, we found we share more than a few things in common, besides a love for cats, black metal and Christopher Lee. Carrie turned me on to gourmands. And Opus Oils. Her generosity of heart and spirit is legendary – for a reason. So is her writing!

Vanessa of Bonkers About Perfume

Vanessa and I could not be more polar opposite in terms of our personal tastes. She prefers understatement, whereas I’m a walking testament to sock-it-to-‘em sillage. Nevertheless, somewhere between her irreverent blog, many emails and a lot of laughter later – and generous decants of Roja Dove’s Scandal and Lucifer no. 3 among others – I’ve found a friend I truly cherish.

Suzanne of Perfume Journal

In the perfumista world is a term called a Scent Twin. Suzanne – an exceptionally gifted perfume writer herself – is mine. A Scent Twin is that rare creature who tends to love what you love, who will know something about your tastes and inclinations, and can often point you in a few directions you might otherwise not know. Suzanne and I met through my first perfume story of Amouage Ubar, whereupon she sent me a decant for my birthday. Since then, she has introduced me to many other wonders, and since then, she’s become not just a scent twin but also a soul sister. We’ve cheered each other up and made each other laugh and shared much else besides perfumed words since. I sincerely hope we always will.

Dee of Beauty on the Outside

It was Mugler’s Womanity – and my own snarky remarks about it on last year’s list – that brought Dee out of hiding to say hello, and what a ride it’s been since then! Devious Dee, I call her, since she tends to know things before I do, or should I say, know things I do before I do them! – has done so much to keep me going in this momentous year, and both she and I know…it ain’t over yet!

Olfactoria of Olfactoria’s Travels

Anyone who can manage to blog daily with two small children in situ and also be such a giving, generous soul as well as a spectacular perfume writer earns my undying respect and profound admiration. Should I ever get to Vienna, which isn’t my least favorite city on Earth, B will surely get me into all sorts of plastic-scorching trouble…and a Viennese cake, or two!

Ines of AllIAmARedhead

Last march, Ines was the very first to bribe me with that ultimate perfumoholic bribe…a Serge Lutens Palais Royal exclusive…a decant of Boxeuses. It has been much adored ever since! As has, gotta say it, the very redheaded Ines herself!

Aromi of IlMondoDiOdore

Aromi’s group blog,Il Mondo di Odore, was one of the first blogs I followed a long time ago, and I’ve read it faithfully since. He was also kind enough to send me a care package that included my favorite mainstream find of this year – Mugler’s Alien Liqueur de Parfum, and a sample of another line so exceedingly rare and off the radar, I’ve only seen it reviewed exactly once. It’s on my shortlist of up and coming attractions…which leads me to…

Favorite Avoidance Actions…err…blogs!

In a year that led to so many connections and so many cherished friendships, more discoveries in the blogosphere expanded my horizons and inspired me, too. On the right, you’ll find my blog list of favorite reading material – what I consider to be the very best in perfume writing. These are the ones I read myself. My one regret is not having the time to comment as often as I’d like, but I mean it when I say I read all of them. Many are mentioned above as Fragrant Facilitators, but I’ve made some new finds and located kindred souls, too…

Memory of Scent

Lyrical, rhythmic prose and thoughtful reviews don’t often go together quite so well in one splendid package as with Christos of Memory of Scent. If you don’t know him, start reading. He’s that good!

TheCandyPerfumeBoy

If not for Twitter and the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, I would have missed out on an absolutely indecent amount of fun – and another fan of Big, Bold, Beautiful Florals in Thomas, a.k.a The Candy Perfume Boy. I’ve decided to adopt him as my wayward kid brother. If we were ever in the same room, we’d be so much trouble…And speaking of trouble…

Persolaise

Once upon a time, there was a frequent reviewer and Basenotes commenter who decided to create his own blog. Since then, he’s become so awesome, he’s been justly nominated for a Jasmine Award for best perfume blog and received all sorts of exposure for his unquestionable expertise. Make no mistake, Persolaise is…trouble! Irreverent, funny, very intelligent and an inveterate tease. There was that running gag one night that involved a pink shirt, an August Personage, rumors of a fabled extrait, rope, a chair, Britney Spears Circus Fantasy, Covent Garden and “Bring me back my oakmoss!” While we’re on the subject, Persolaise, I’ll happily sign that oakmoss petition, too!

Jen of ThisBlogReallyStinksPerfume

In the unlikely event I should ever need a Conanna the Grammarian, Jen is hired in a heartbeat. Her blog – of course highly articulate, funny and grammatically perfect – is as unique as her perfume perspectives and indeed her beautiful self, and with a name like that, you know it’s special!

Ari of The Scents of Self

Ari is a relative newcomer but she’s no newbie when it comes to writing about perfume – or even her highly entertaining and well-planned series of interviews with perfume bloggers! She loves cats – indeed, has a cat named Zelda after a hyperfamous Fitzgerald – literature and Guerlain, probably not in that order.

Nat of AnotherPerfumeBlog

Nat should rightly be listed as a Great Facilitator for being the one to arrange a split of an Ormonde Jayne Tolu travel set that also involved yours truly, but I also love to read her! Whether instigating a poll to decide on her wedding perfume or recounting her adventures in London, she’s always an excellent excuse not to do what I should be doing, which is writing another blog myself!

Undina of Undina’s Looking Glass

I’m not entirely sure what it is Undina does for a living, but I’m relatively certain it involves things like statistics, mathematics and other things that make my eyes glaze. She’s so organized, her monthly lists of perfumes she wore are sorted into graphs and spreadsheets after percentage! That, my friends, is dedication! Here’s my system…reviewed and should be sent to Lily (small pile in red brocade makeup pouch). Received and needs review (large pile in turquoise cakebox). Check inbox. Did I say thank you? Yes. Good. Later. Love! Turquoise pull-out organizer. Will get to later…assorted tangled mess in blue cakebox. Guilt trip – in black voile bag…What I wore this month…what was it again? So you can see why I am speechless with admiration!

Gaia of The Non Blonde

Not content with being named for a Goddess of Earth and origination in Greek mythology, Gaia the Non Blonde is also one of my personal goddesses. My admiration for this ultimate authority on makeup brushes as well as vintage perfumes knows no limits, and even less so when I posed a difficult makeup question to all those beauty bloggers I follow on Twitter, and Gaia gave me what amounts to the winning lottery ticket – a tip about Dutch makeup artist Ellis Faas. Three samples, two emails and a rather expensive concealer later, I no longer have to look my age, never mind act it! From nine+ feet away, I don’t even need Botox! Grateful is not the word…

Joey of Beauty, Bacon, Bunnies

Once in a blue moon, temptation will slink in sideways when you least expect it and before you know it, you have a Devil on your shoulder, egging you on. “C’mon! You know you want to!” Indeed I do, and when I doubt it, I have that devious Devilette named Joey on my shoulder egging me on to ever-more perilous adventures in perfumes that sometimes involve Tiger in his natural habitat…When I do get to New York and finally meet her, Manhattan will never be the same…

The Postcards from God Department

In a year where I’ve written so much, stretched my horizons to silly putty and beyond, met so many mind-blowing people and flirted hardcore with a rock star legend and his bass player, two more stars of a different order appeared on the firmament of social media…and no thank you will ever be enough!

The social media/PR department of Parfums Serge Lutens have been unfailingly kind, encouraging and promptly retweeted any Lutens creation I posted as my Scent of the Day, as well as posted some of my reviews on their Facebook page. This is my fifteen milliseconds of fleeting fame, my postcard from God – and this, too, has made this year one I won’t forget in a hurry, since Serge Lutens perfumes put me on this fabled road to perdition to begin with.

And then, there was a very important August Personage of a Very August Perfume House, who lost his luggage on a promotional trip, whereupon I wrote him I’d keep my eyes crossed it was located safe and sound. I did. It was. Since then, whenever I felt myself flagging, the occasional – and sometimes very prompt – tweet from Christopher Chong of Amouage has either galvanized me right out of my rut or made me laugh until I cried. Until such time as I can get to London and say thank you in person – and rest assured I will, even if I don’t have a thing to wear! – his encouragement and support of one iconoclastic perfume blogger/nutcase/writer wannabe has meant – and spoken! – volumes. Epics! Opera, even!

Because…isn’t that what has been the theme of this year? To connect, to find likeminded souls with likeminded passions and the joy of sharing it, to pass it on and pay it forward and make it real and make it happen?

Without all of you, nothing would have happened. Without all of you, what would be the point? The year of 2011 was the year I laid the groundwork for everything I just know will happen in 2012, the year I began to believe…and for that faith alone, no thank you will ever be enough!

Just remember, guys and gals – our common adventures are just beginning, because now, we can see the road before us, and who knows what wonders lie ahead and what marvels we may find?

Image: The Coronation crown of Christian 4th of Denmark, made by goldsmith Dirich Fyring in Odense, 1595-96, from the Royal Danish Collections.