Falling Forward

 – an ode to my favorite fragrant Fall thrills

Autumn is one of my favorite times of the year. A little melancholy, slightly tinged with regrets for what might have been and what should have been done, autumn has also proven itself to be the season of cataclysmic change this year, a change so drastic, it’s been all I can do to hang on by the skin of my teeth and know…that all I can do is to go with the flow and give myself over…to evolution and the knowledge that from here on, life can only get more exciting.

And I can give myself over to the many pleasures of falling forward…into autumn, into the incendiary glow of golden-leafed trees, ruby-hued leaves, and the intoxicating sharp scent of burning wood fireplaces and bonfires, the smell of mushrooms and cepes sprouting up overnight, the sound and scent of apples falling to the ground, that looming breath of steel and stone that lurks beneath the colors and the chills in the air. Wrapping my chilly, wintry self into favorite woolen sweaters, and wrapping favorite scarves and mufflers around my neck, inhaling that palimpsest of perfumes worsted in the wool.

Autumn is also an excuse for hauling out the heavy, heady perfumes with which to slay the unsuspecting world – the ones I wear as I would wear cashmere, the ones that comfort and console me on rainy days and Thursdays, the ones I wear like scented armor, and all the ones I love…

Below, you’ll find some of my favorite autumn fumes, the ones that contain October  and November in their essence, the ones that trail behind me like the ghosts of autumns past as well as harbinger angels of the future possibilities that lie ahead, waiting for when life returns and all is green again.

L’Artisan Parfumeur – Seville à l’Aube

It’s generally agreed that Bertrand Duchaufour is one of the greatest perfumed geniuses alive today. His work has ruined me several times over this year, when I was introduced to Neela Vermeire’s breathtaking perfume odes to her native India and all three of them shot to the top of my Most Worn of the year list. Next came an introduction to L’Artisan’s Dzongkha – one haunting, numinous iris – and Sienne L’Hiver, no less haunting and evocative. They all broke my heart. But when I read of Duchaufour’s collaboration with one of my own inspirations, Denyse Beaulieu of Grain de Musc, and heard the fated words ‘orange’ and ‘blossom’, I was had at the first syllable. Oh! So imagine my anticipation when I moved in on a split of Seville à L’Aube blind (this very rarely happens any longer), and all it took to tip me over the edge was one fatal sniff…My full review will be up in a few weeks, but this mesmerizing blend of orange blossom, lavender and incense is …flawless.

Amouage – Memoir Woman

Something about autumn brings out my inner Goth, which is to say, that part of me that appreciates seriously depressed-mode music, rainy days, and lots of witchy black velvet. While I wouldn’t be so bold as to say Memoir Woman is Goth per se, I will say that it is a moody, magnificent, haunting perfume of a kind that tends to stick in the mind long after it wears off. I didn’t like it much at first, but I couldn’t stop sniffing. It reminded me of a advertising tagline I once cooked up for a story I wrote: “Haunted. What he will be.” Haunting, unforgettable, there is nothing quite like it and nothing quite like a love that grows and grows to haunt you.  As it has. As I have been. As I remain.

Serge Lutens – De Profundis

Some claimed that dear Uncle Serge had somehow lost his marbles when De Profundis was released, and I have no idea what mushrooms they nibbled, because De Profundis – inspired by the treatise by Oscar Wilde, death and funereal chrysanthemums – is simultaneously green, cool and impossible to forget. Incense, chrysanthemum and a mesmerizing icy green-tinged, tear-stained violet chill all add up to ‘spellbinding’ in my book, but if any Lutens is perfect for that delicious melancholy that pervades October Sunday afternoons, it’s this one.

Aftelier – Cepes and Tuberose

My first introduction to the fabled perfumes of Aftelier was Mandy Aftel’s justly famous and unorthodox Cepes and Tuberose, which is earthy, floral, spicy, heady bottled magic – or else a horror story of mildewed mushroom and airy tuberose. There is truly nothing at all else quite like it, and you either adore it or hate it. I have since that fatal introduction loved it so much, a mini of the parfum goes where I go and a dab often wafts as I breathe no matter what else I wear. It smells golden to me – golden as the maple leaves that now are turning red to bloom in midair and dance their leafy sigh into the ground.

Neela Vermeire – Trayee

Whether it’s the blaze of color or the sudden shock of chill in the air, there is something numinous about autumn, something that reminds you of the passage of time and the ephemerality of all life. When that sudden pang of mortality hits me with the delicate slap of a falling leaf, I often reach for Trayee, a swirling, whirling, spicy Mahabarata epic in a bottle, wit its fiery, feisty cardamom, a wink or two of sacred bhang, smoke, incense and samsara. In no time, my spirits lift and my mood improves, and I dream such faraway dreams of other times and other, sacred spaces.

A Trinity of Ambers

Autumn is also the perfect time for ambers…those glorious, heady, drop-dead sexy golden potions I once hated and now love with a fury that teeters on obsession. Three in particular hold pride of place in my amber-tinted Pantheon, and I’m not even sure I can bear to know there will be others in their wake. The Great Khadine, Serge Lutens’ Ambre Sultan, with its opening green bite and its sumptuous drydown, whispers its secrets in my ear, while Amouage’s Opus VI speaks its twisting, turning, ever-evolving tongues of wood flickering in firelight, and when I stand still and listen to the beat of my heart in the moonlight, Neil Morris’ Rumi trills its transcendental tale of another kind of sweet-scented magic.

Labdanum dreams

The ongoing Devilscent Project has completely changed my life around in more ways than one. I could talk about these unbelievable perfumes until the cows came home to roost, but the one note the Devil insisted upon to his perfumers was labdanum, a whole fragrant universe unto itself, and one of the oldest perfumery materials in the world. When life has been known to grind me down, Olympic Orchids’ spare, pensive Dev #4, which puts a magnificent labdanum in the spotlight, centers me as nothing else will, so even I can envision such luscious, labdanum things come true. As I do, I’m often taken back to a midnight moment in time, and when I am, another spicier, darker, more ominous labdanum-tinged marvel wafts forward, and that is Neil Morris’ Midnight at the Crossroads Café.

Olivier Durbano – Black Tourmaline

One reviewer on Fragrantica stated that Olivier Durbano’s Black Tourmaline was ‘for real men only’. This is absolute nonsense. For Black Tourmaline is a stunning mélange of leather and the darkest, deepest, smokiest incense you can imagine, and I’ve received many, many compliments when I’ve worn it, despite being nothing masculine in the slightest, not even in a tux. It’s as otherworldly as a fog-drenched November morning and as warming as a firelight glow at night, and when it goes, it will be missed, like November, like firelight, like a ghostly wisp of cloud bearing down to kiss the earth one last and final time.

More than any other season, autumn sings to me of time passing, of moments as fleeting as the bloom of glowing leaves dancing in a deep blue sky. When Debussy’s ‘Clair de Lune’ seems to match the tasty tristesse of a rainy afternoon, and when the smoky thrills of firelight and flame warm the soul through.

What are your autumn favorites? Or just…your favorite things about autumn? I’d love to hear about them!

With many thanks to…Andrea, Amy, Ruth, Christopher, Mandy, Ellen, JoAnne, Neil and Christos. 

Unholy Smoke (& a giveaway!)

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT VII

- a review of Mermade Magickal Arts‘ ‘Mephisto’.

How far we perfumaniacs have come from that mystical, mythical matter we love so much. We dream in it, we bathe in it, we enrich ourselves, our chosen perfumers and our surroundings with it, we save for it, splurge for it, lust for it. Those magical elixirs and ethereal blends of heaven and earth, of balsam and resin, flower and herb satisfy our souls as few things else, and yet – in this lightning-tempo age and this instant gratification time, we forget what it once was, have somehow lost what it once did, have blithely obliterated all notions of its very form and function – to reconnect us, to realign us, to summon and to appease.

Perfume. The very name means “through smoke”, essences and absolutes distilled over fire in an alembic (which also gives its name to this blog), or, as perfume indeed was used once, as lumps of costly incense, burned in an offering to appease and to invoke the gods, and in so doing, to evoke – as well as please – our highest, finest, most divine selves.

Or.

To invoke an altogether different sort of beast.

I’m no stranger to alternate forms of perfume. I’ve burned Armenian papers and joss sticks, I’ve had potpourri in jam jars all over my homes at different times, pressed roses in old books, made my own lavender water. I’ve indulged my senses in a wantonly extravagant scented candle that’s still scenting my bedroom nearly a year later. And with the exception of potpourri, all of these demand fire to release their potent odors, that primeval element that is both beginning and end, metaphor and transformation. Just as fire begins with a spark, so does life itself, or another kind of life, when you glance across a glass of mulled wine in a dark midnight café at a stranger who sits so close beside you…

Here we have another kind of perfume, a very primeval kind – because here is a Devil’s scent as an incense, and it is by far the most extraordinary kind of incense I’ve ever had the pleasure to be inspired by.

It began at the behest of Monica Skye Miller, the Perfume Pharmer, when she suggested that Katlyn join our devilish endeavor, and I could only agree. I had of course heard of Katlyn’s alchymistical blends, had perused her website, and dreamed, that some day – or some night, I, too, might have a chance to breathe in their wonders. A few emails, some days and the Devilscent Project perfume brief later, I was completely unprepared by what came back in the mail.

What would I be as a human animal? I’m the Devil, so they’ve said. Neither animal nor human, but a combination of both, just enough of each to be dangerous, and that’s the whole idea. Danger. I want her to be able to know exactly who I am by her sense of smell alone. So. The perfume. Labdanum is a note she loves, labdanum is animal and sexy and slightly goatish.” – From the Devil’s Brief, the Devilscent Project

To which the saucy Katlyn retorted in her accompanying letter:

Did I just read ‘Goatish Labdanum’, something dark, sexy and extremely untamed? Ah, yes, I have just the thing…Within my cabinettes of curiosity there just happens to be something just waiting for this project. Labdanum from Crete complete with a few goat hairs. I knew there must be a place for this strange fragrant black stuff…The Devilscent Project. The most wonderful black frankincense from Oman. And then dark patchouli, tears of myrrh, contraband aloeswood…Incense is always needed to conjure up a spirit. And this has the scent of the crossroads at midnight and a little hair of the goat. Best burned on an electrical burner. Or a bit of brimstone if you have some handy. Use sparingly. May cause unnatural urges. Save this one for a dark night when you need a bit of company.

As I finished the quote above, I had reached 666 words. For a moment, that gave me pause for thought. You’d pause too, for this puts ‘incendiary’ into ‘incense’. I’m typing out these words as it burns in its dish above sea salt and charcoal, not in the dead, dark hours of night, but in the long twilight of midsummer when it never does get dark, yet I tell you…it may as well be that rainy, windblown Friday night in early November when I had my first harebrained idea that led all the way to…this.

That goatish labdanum (and yes, it does contain a little hair of the goat!) with its sweet, heady, animal air is all the more potent for the luscious patchouli and that touch of aloeswood that we know as the note du jour called oud. This is a living, breathing Dark Art. That chilly, dangerous alliance of myrrh and frankincense is never far behind it, exhaling its own numinous breath of otherworldly beneath that heated, heavy heartbeat. It doesn’t smell like goat, but it certainly smells sacred, sacred in a way most of us have forgotten. It smells like sin, if I believed in such a thing. Not so much as an act of moral transgression, but as the kind of act you would never tell in polite company, the kind of sin that must be kept secret, or else lose its delicious, subversive edge. The kind of sin that makes you glow in the dark. And the morning after, too.

If you think you know what incense is and what it does to your mood, if you’ve never thought about the tricks ambient scent can play on your suggestible mind – or even if you have – you’re in for a surprise. Just as the hapless protagonist of Quantum Demonology was whenever she caught a whiff of the Devil from afar, that otherworldly, bitter, dark that made her blood run cold in her veins and her heart beat faster.

Mephisto made my heart beat faster and ignited my imagination as all the Devilscents have, ignited it as few perfumes ever have before. In this dark, Monday night hour, I see it smoldering, and in those formless wisps of smoke, I can squint my eyes and almost see him hovering above.

“No need for that,” say a voice I know too well. “I’m right here. Did you know that in the ancient world, it was said the gods were helpless to resist the lure of burning incense? When it’s as good, as rich, as decadent and dangerous as this, I might as well give up the ghost completely. I can’t resist.” He leaned closer and whispered in my ear. “Just like you, baby.” He gave me that grin. “Just like you.”

“So what do you think?” I asked.

He picked up the letter from Katlyn, printed on parchment-like paper with cursive writing, and read the words with an even bigger grin. “I think…” he said after a while, “that Katlyn nailed it. Trust me, if the batcave has a scent, it would be this one. This is a lot of what I am. He shook his head and laughed. “Cretan goat hairs included! And I do believe it’s time I came back.”

“Where have you been?” I wouldn’t let him know he’d been missed. Hell wasn’t that cold yet.

Another long, fraught pause. Another long, level, red-brown stare. “Removing obstacles. Rearranging events, putting other things in motion, doing…what I have to do.” Dev tipped his head back and took a long, deep breath. The incense was so potent, it scented the entire apartment.

“And what would that be?” I sat back on my chair, looked him right in the eye.

“Telling you…that we made a deal, you and I. I take care of my own, I always will. And while I’ve been gone, you’ve somehow lost track of what you need to do. You need to believe. You need to have faith. I can make it happen for you. In fact, it already is happening. Since you forgot, and the incense reminded me, I’m here to tell you again.”

“Dev…I hate to say this, but you’re a fictional construct. I cooked you up, remember?”

“No, you didn’t. You conjured me out from the shadows. So I came back to remind you of what you forgot.” He leaned closer, much closer. I could feel his hot breath on my neck, feel him blowing in my ear.

“Forgot what?” I was confused. Or else it was that hot air and those lips by my ear, that subtle shiver down my spine, that dangerous, sexy, evocative scent that filled the room.

“Be careful what you wish for, baby. You will get it!” Light as a feather, his lips brushed my ear and he breathed down my neck.

When I turned my head to look, he was gone, and only the unholy, dangerous smoke of Katlyn’s incense remained.

Find ‘Mephisto’ at Mermade Magickal Arts here.

Disclosure: Samples were provided by Mermade Magickal Arts. For which I thank Katlyn Breene and Monica Miller most profoundly and sincerely.

I have a giveaway! Two lucky readers will receive a sample set of ‘Mephisto’. Leave a comment by June 30th at midnight CET to be eligible! Open to readers worldwide. The winners will be determined by random.org on July 1st.

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