Category Archives: Neil Morris Fragrances

A Necessary Evil

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT XIII

lamortparfumee2

- a review of Neil Morris’ ‘Lilith’ for the Devilscent Project

Do you know that feeling when the fine hairs on the back of your neck rise up in some numinous awareness you can neither articulate nor define, you just have the sensation that something – or someone is… there?

You see a glimpse out of the corner of your eye, hear steps on the stairs, scan the room as you enter, look down the street and yet, nothing and no one is there. Your imagination plays its tricks on you again, that occupational hazard all writers have that will manifest those shadows and echoes of their mind into being and another kind of reality.

I’ve felt that way for weeks, felt as if someone hovered just out of sight, just around the corner, just down the street from where I stood. Someone leaving a lingering trace behind, a fleeting memory, a touch of another human awareness, a nearly undetectable ribbon of interwoven light and dark, a few scant molecules hovering on like motes of dust sparking possibilities forth from the sun streaming through an open window.

It was like that. I was being stalked in some indescribable way, but what it was I didn’t know and couldn’t guess until today, when finally, the return of the sun and intimations of heat became too much for even this sun-starved, workaholic writer, and I could bear it not one minute longer. I put on my boots, my Poiret-inspired fur-lined winter coat and my teal scarf, and walked to the beech woods that hug the hills and line the fiord of this town I live and write in, searching for this slippery spring I couldn’t find, trying to forget that ephemeral presence of something …or someone who wanted to elude me.

I walked out along the path that led through the woods along the fiord, seeing the patches of melting snow that clung against a few north-facing beeches, saw the green beginnings of wood violets peep through last year’s weather-blasted leaves, saw celadon shoots that would soon become star-dotted carpets of aconites on the forest floor, and the wild garlic’s emerald tide that sang its own lusty, aromatic aria with the wood doves billowing in the trees above.

They all told me the same tale, all sang the same melody despite the chilly, easterly wind:

It’s spring, it’s spring, it’s spring!

I walked through the woods until I came to a favorite bench by a bridge across a stream, out of the wind but well in the sun, until I sat down for a while to breathe in April, and suddenly, without warning, the fine hairs on the nape of my neck rose up underneath my collar, and there it was again, that interwoven dark and bright, a revealing trail…of perfume.

It was sweet as the wood doves, heady as the promise of heat that lurked underneath the leaves, lusciously dancing somewhere between rays of champagne bubble aldehyde and lemon, bergamot and a deeper, candied apricot the color of September, the faraway taste of an unimaginable, future October.

Which was when I saw a fleeting shadow underneath a beech across the bridge, and as I inhaled that perfumed ribbon in the air and the ambient perfume of burgeoning spring, that shadow froze, grew deeper, darker, ever more substantial and less spectral, until finally, it materialized, as real and as solid as the soaring gray columns of the beeches around me. A woman, impeccably clothed in a black wool suit and coat, flawlessly coiffed, impossibly, inhumanly perfect, with the April light caught in the ambery glints of her hair.

It was Lilith, Queen of the Succubi. Long dead yet never, never forgotten, she haunted me still with her presence, her story, her tragedy and her beauty, too. She walked across the bridge, her boots tapping out a steady 4/4 on the mossy, slippery boards and sat down next to me on the bench.

For a moment, we sat in silence, listening to the birdsong and the wind in the trees above, watching the squirrels chase each other on the boughs over the stream.

“Did you know,” she said after a while, “I was born only a few miles away from here, some very long time ago.”

“I did know. I promised myself, if I ever write the prequel, I would write your story, of how you came to be what you are.”

“What I was, you mean. Ah, the promises of writers, as substantial and as solid as anything I could scribble on the water in that stream.” She nodded toward the gurgling water down below us, chattering to the birds above as it rushed downhill to join the water in the fiord. “You’ll have other ideas. And an agent who tells you which ones to sell and ways to sell them, and which ones to drop.” She picked up a pebble on the ground and threw it into the stream. “You’ll move on to another life far away and other stories and other demons you’ll conjure on virtual paper to haunt your readers, whereas I…” her voice trailed off. “I’ll live between the pages of a book you wrote a long time ago and a story you told the world.” She kept her eyes on the beeches across the bridge.

“So long as one person remembers you, you are immortal,” I quoted. “You’re forgetting something. You’ll live on in four perfumes that illuminated you in four different ways.”

She stretched out her legs. “How fitting, it was four perfumes. The first, Ellen’s, that of power, initiative, will and domination, one perfectly poised and perfectly poisoned fragrant attack, Maria and Alexis’, such a velvety balance of contradiction and opposites when I see what the protagonist will do, Kedra’s majestic Babylon Noir, culmination and advantage. Fully appropriate for the Queen of the Succubi. And now…this one. Fitting, it should be the fourth, and the last of my perfumes. The number of persistence and endurance and evolution.”

As she said it, she looked up into the crowns of the trees far, far above us, where the buds on the branches echoed the intricate lace of her suit against the sky, the nearly abstracted complications of an opulent rose and decadent narcissus thrumming her floral secrets out on an April wind. Rich, beautifully evolving, endlessly compelling, as mysterious as midnight and as dark as her heart.

Down below, the stream carried our words out to the fiord and into the Baltic, out to the world and its endless, roiling oceans.

“A bit ironic, how imagination works in such nefarious, diabolical ways.” This time, she turned to look straight at me. I was struck yet again how much my creation resembled me, and then again, not at all. “I mean, ironic, is it not, that it took a woman to understand the Devil – at least as you did – and it took a man to understand my motives and reasons, and then captured them in a perfume?”

“Well, I’m not surprised. Neil is exceptional at that. It’s what he does so beautifully, and so successfully. Perfumes are hardest of all to articulate, unless you know how.” I shifted on the wooden bench, and now, I supposed we looked nothing more nor less than two friends chatting on a bench in the sun on a spring afternoon.

“You do that well. This…” she breathed it in deep, “is a Lilith to remember. That narcissus! Is it narcissus? The illusion of vanity, or just its reflection writing on water, on hopes and dreams that are just as substantial. The rose to tell another tale, that once upon a far-off time I did love and I did care, and I was not so evil nor so unforgiving.”

“I think it’s funny that we always need to explain evil,” I said. “We have to understand it, understand its motivations, and the evil we can never comprehend is the evil that has no reasons, no rhyme, no…rationale except its own existence.”

“You’re right, of course.” She breathed in again, and in the air, the rose faded to a memory as the narcissus drew up smoke and mirrors, more illusions and mysteries, was it tobacco, subversively, seamlessly folded into Lilith’s depths, a touch of arcane labdanum, the unifying theme of all the Devilscents, and coumarin – all grassy, new-mown hay, lighting its own bonfires beneath narcissus, the fires it took a woman like Lilith to inspire.

“Except sometimes” she pushed her hair back over her shoulder, “evil is a necessary counterpoint to good, like dark to light, to make us appreciate what we would otherwise take for granted.”

If evil were the sum and total of this lascivious, decadent drydown, it would be hard to imagine it as anything bad.

“Like antagonists in suspect first novels,” I said. “They have to be bad to make the hero look good.”

“No,” she stated, with a flat finality, with shades of her former resolute self and to my complete surprise. “They have to be bad to get the hero to move, to get the story to evolve, or otherwise, what story is it? Who would read it? Human lives and real life stories are plenty banal enough. Readers want to live vicariously, want to feel that thrill of suspense and the awe of the unknown, because so much of it has been eradicated from your lives.”

“You’re right.” I was not so arrogant, I couldn’t concede that much. It was impossible to be arrogant on such an April afternoon.

She stood up. “Of course, darling! I always am. So what was I, caught in the liquid filigree of this perfume of Neil’s? Was I that paradox of femininity, the sweet and the light, or the deeper, darker floral heart? Was I all illusion, as all characters in novels must be, yet an illusion you somehow made real? Or did Neil do that, explicating all that Lilith of the Succubi must be, should be – less a villainess for the ages and more…a tragedy of beauty? I’ll tell you. But first, you must make me a promise.”

“A promise? To the Queen of the Succubi? That sounds like a dangerous prospect!” I laughed, laughed since I knew where this was headed, I knew Lilith that well.

“Yes!” Her face was so earnest, her voice so adamant, I felt it as much as I breathed it in that perfume of promise and deliverance, of enigma and explanation. I rose to my feet, and instantly, she grabbed me by my collar. “Promise me…to take it out into the world, promise you won’t let this hope die, promise me I’ll live on forever after today.” She looked me right in the eye as she said it, not as the Lilith I had known and feared for so long, but as the woman she must have been one very long time ago, not so far away.

“Promise!”

There was nothing else I could say. I thought – in that heartbeat from one moment to the next where all possibilities lie, where stories are written, where everything, everything changes – of all my fears of failure, and all my black and far bleaker terror of success, and then, I knew it. I could feel it in my bones and in the wind, feel it in this liquid filigree of a perfume and its potential.

“I promise.”

She walked toward the bridge and began to cross it, and as she did, as the wind carried her perfume with her, wrapped her warm in her secrets and her story, she grew more and more transparent, more and more ephemeral, like the breath of a narcissus in April. I saw her go, felt that perfume fade with a pang in my heart, for I knew I would never see her again except where I saw her first – in that dark place in my mind I never knew I had until she told me through my words.

“So what was it?” I shouted into the wind. “What were you?” My voice sounded haunted, misplaced in this spring wood of beeches and flowery covenant.

I heard a laugh as a puff of wind blew her away into the air, blew her perfume into a limitless blue sky.

“You didn’t know?” she called out, from beyond the bridge now, gone with her evanescent perfume, her own promises and portent. “Tell Neil – he got it right! That I’m all of this and one thing more, one thing you should have known.”

As if the trees wanted the answer too, the wind quieted down, the birds in the trees stopped singing for an instant, even the burbling stream ceased its song and Lilith’s voice was all I heard.

“A necessary evil!”

She laughed again, laughed with all her smoky promises, laughed like that narcissus must have at the wonder of the spring, and was gone.

The stream carried out her words and her perfume into the fiord, into the Baltic, and into the ocean of the world.

————————————————

Neil Morris‘Lilith’, created for the Devilscent Project, is available through his Vault collection of perfumes.

Illustration: Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, ‘La Mort Parfumée’ (1921), pencil, watercolor, gouache and gold paint on paper, The Hunterian Gallery, Glasgow,  Color edit by me.

With profound gratitude to Neil Morris, and to Lucy, who inspired this review in a recent Skype conversation.

The Occult Topography of Desire

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT XI

NeilDev3&Katarina

- a review of Neil Morris’ ‘Dev #3’ for the Devilscent Project

The biggest drawback – or delight, take your pick – of writing fiction is when those figments of your imagination called characters take on a life of their own, as surely they will. Sometimes, they come to you fully fledged and rounded out, personalities intact, and sometimes, they seem to elude you, mocking you and hovering on that brink of existence just beyond your reach. Some characters gatecrash your story without an invitation and no bouncer no matter how big or burly can throw them out again, not even you.

There’s another kind of character. One who haunts your dreams and stalks your waking hours, one who somehow slides serpentine and silent in between the words whether you want it or not, the one who comes to stay, casting long, ominous shadows over all you create in that haunted house of mirrors you call your imagination, the one who must be or should be as real as anyone you know.

I call him Dev. Dev came to me on a wind-blown November night of rain and portent the night I began what would later become ‘Quantum Demonology’, yet somehow, through all I put him through and all I wrote, something about him remained just outside my grasp. He was too nice in the first draft, so he complained. (I rewrote accordingly.) He took me black and bleak places I never knew I had, made me realize and write what I never dared before, often breathed softly down my neck as I wrote and one 3 AM spooked me senseless when I looked up from the laptop for an instant to see him standing by the window watching me wrestle the words. (True story, I swear. I blame the music playing at the time.)

Yet not until the perfumers of the Devilscent conjured – or decoded? – all his multiple selves did he crack through that third wall and become entirely and completely real, as real as this room, or the people walking through the rain down on the street below as I type. All of them different, all of them true, all revealing insights into that complex entity he is, as well as who he chose to be at certain points in my story.

Here on my desk is another Dev, a Dev of super sexy Sturm und Drang, and supreme, suave elegance, a Dev you could never, ever forget and would never, ever want to. An homme fatal, if ever there were.

“OK, that’s enough of the purple prose, baby. At the rate you’re going, you won’t be able to publish this on TAG, but I’m sure a few erotica publishers might be interested.”

I jumped four feet and banged my head on my sloping dormer ceiling.

Dev sat in the windowsill right beside my desk, looking for all the world as if he had been there all along, keeping a jaded, knowing eye on me and my (horrid) procrastination habits. Same beat-up leather jacket, same wellworn jeans, same incendiary grin that could persuade me to do anything, write anything, go…anywhere. Only this time – it’s February, after all – he wore a midnight-black cashmere scarf draped casually around his neck that matched his turtleneck sweater, also black.

“I thought…” it took me a while to find my voice again, “I thought I’d never see you again. I mean…I moved, and…” I stammered.

“And you’ve been through the wringer meanwhile, poor baby. I know. I know everything. I’m sorry I had…things to do. But I’m back. And I’m not leaving any time soon, if that makes you feel any better.”

“I’m not sure. That could get complicated.” I thought of my former roommate on the ground floor, who liked to pop up to say hello every so often in the hopes I’d cook dinner for her again. She’d live on just-add-water anything otherwise.

“Hush. Let me deal with complications. They’re my specialty. So…Neil is at it again. A very prosaic #3 on the bottle. You know, I always thought it was the greatest thing that Neil Morris decided to join. I mean, estrogen interprets your prose in a certain way – that’s perfectly all right, and tells me you could have a monster hit on your hands – but Neil is a guy. He notices other things, keys off other words and other aspects. We had the overture with Midnight. And we had the first movement I could call Great Expectations with his Dev no. 1.” He turned the bottle over in his hands, pushed up a sleeve and sprayed his wrist. The elegant nostrils of a long, straight Italian nose twitched with pleasure. “Dev no. 2 was a spicy, fiery, allegro con brio Eat me’ creature.” He laughed. “So you did. Well, this is…something else, something just as intricate, but it goes another way.”

“Tell me about it.” I was writing my fifth pathetic attempt to review it when Dev popped up, praying that maybe this time, I’d manage to nail my impressions with the beautiful prose the perfume assuredly deserved.

“Sure.” He shrugged. A definite Noo Joisey shrug. “This…is the andante con fuoco, the point of no return, the inevitable. This one is the secret Dev you tucked away in your words, the one it took Neil to find.” He leaned closer to where I sat before my laptop, spellbound by his words.

It had been so long, so long. I thought my muse had left me forever. I breathed in those smoky, thunderous, floral overtones, the labdanum flowing its heated lava heartbeat current underneath. This stuff was so sensuous, it would surely be banned for Lent. If not bought up lock, stock and barrel by a certain global organization in Rome and stashed away in a secret vault as being too incendiary for the faithful.’

“It balances on a very fine point – floral, sweet, heady. Supremely elegant, but this isn’t elegant like any clichéed tropes of perfumery – this is…a dangerous elegant, an occult elegance, one you might need a certain level of sophistication to truly appreciate. This one, baby…” he growled it sotto voce in my ear, and it took all I had to take dictation – “maps the topography of desire. All of it, and all you wrote into your story. Why do we want the ones we want, what is it we see reflected back to our secret, subterranean selves? We see what we could be and what we could invoke. We see what we could be, what we could feel if there were no limits, no inhibitions, if nothing else mattered at all.”

Before I let review be review and to Hades and Tartarus with it all, he moved away, back to the windowsill. I could breathe again.

“Why me?” He shrugged. “Because I took you to bedrock, baby, took you where you had never been before and didn’t know you needed to be and now…you can’t go back ever again to what you once were. Muses are dangerous. Trust me. I know.”

Now, I breathed in something else besides that molten lava labdanum, the seductive floral promises he might or might not keep, of narcissus? Jasmine? A whisper of rose? An animal stirred in that fragrant deep, an animal of an unmistakable kind…If this perfume really were that ‘topography of desire’ – which described it exceedingly well – then here was the mountain range of ‘want’ we try to climb, beating our heartbeat paths to the forest of ‘need’ that lies along the way.

Dev sniffed again. “Oh, yes. Here it is, that river of Lethe, not the one whose waters make you forget your earthly life, but the one that plants you in this instant, this moment with this person, this living reflection of your primeval self…animal, bitter, white-hot, musky, leathery. This is way out rock’n’roll rapaciousness, baby. What did you call it?” He peered over my shoulder as I typed, and again, it was all I could do to keep my fingers on the keyboard when they had other, more nefarious plans. If I ever had any inhibitions, any doubts, any secret places I feared to tread, they were long gone so long as I could breathe this.

“Ah! Yeah, that’s it precisely, ‘the forest of need…’ Here’s where you throw away the roadmap. There’s no road. No map. No mountains, no inhibitions and no forest, only two people and one heartbeat, one question and one answer. Nothing matters except where you are and who you’re with and it’s exactly where you want to be and what you want to do. Right where everything can be lost, and everything can be won.” He looked out of the window for a moment at the people passing by. “And then…” he said to his ghostly reflection in the window, “that final kiss of floral after the tempest has passed on elsewhere, that last caress of labdanum as a reminder of what was, and where you were. Entirely present in a perfect, supercharged, white-hot moment and there was nothing at all else.”

I was speechless. “Damn. Maybe you should write all my reviews.”

He laughed, the kind of laugh I hadn’t heard for such a long, long time. “Nah. Don’t sell yourself short. This perfume is sheer genius. A perfumer at the very pinnacle of his art and big kudos to you for inspiring it. And that’s another reason I had to come back. You forgot to believe, baby. I’m not blaming you. I’m just here to remind you…Believe. We made a deal, you and I. I won’t let you forget it.”

Faster than I could blink, he moved in a blur of black and stood behind me, breathing those perfumed, occult secrets down my neck, breathing me alive again.

I hardly dared to move. Such a perfume, such a journey, such a rush to see my daimon once again…

“Believe, baby. Believe…in yourself, believe that you can manifest anything, do anything, go where you’re wanted, be what you need to be. And another thing…”

His breath was hot down my neck, the silky-soft fringe of his cashmere scarf a caress on my cheek.

“Never forget…about that occult topography of desire.” I thought I felt a kiss at the base of my neck, as soft as cashmere fringe, and he was gone.

Only the sultry, silken growl of that audacious no. 3 in the room to remind me…

Believe.

NeilsDev3

_____________________________________

Note: Neil has told me that his five breathtaking perfumes for the Devilscent Project will soon be made available to the public. Believe it!

Photo: ©Katarina Silva 2012. All rights reserved. Used by very grateful permission. Bottom photo of Neil Morris’ Dev no. 3 – my iPhone.

The Hidden Art

- Is it… the art of perfume or perfume as art?

Whiling away a dismal Sunday November afternoon can be a most perilous undertaking. For one thing, I have been known to wade my way through all the internecine happenings on blogs, magazines and online newspapers I might have missed out on during the week. For another, this sudden surfeit of information overload has been known to cause something much, much more dangerous to my mind.

It makes me think. Watch out, world!

No kidding, there I was in my usual Sunday demeanor of microwaveable death-warmed-over beneath several layers of ratty wool and a cozy cloud of a favorite perfume, when my Facebook newsfeed alerted me to an item that somehow had managed to pass me by.

Chandler Burr, perfume writer and author of ‘The Perfect Scent’ as well as curator of Olfactory Art at New York’s Museum of Art and Design, has created an exhibition called The Art of Scent, the first major exhibition to highlight perfume as an artistic medium of expression in its own right, and to focus on how perfumes have evolved since the 1889 ground-breaking game changer that was the addition of synthetic coumarin in Houbigant’s Fougère Royale and Guerlain’s Jicky, the latter included in the exhibition itself.

You will find no iconic bottles, no advertising, nothing to distract you from the experience of the perfume itself, inhaled through specially designed snifters created expressly for this exhibition. In other words, not unlike Burr’s recent OpenSky experiment, where decants could be bought in plain bottles of the scents he chose to include, devoid of all marketing mystique.

But is it art? How can it be in an age that provides so many opportunities for redefining sensory artistic expression that relatively few exhibitions have focused on that most atavistic, primitive sense of all – our sense of smell?

After all, scents travel that little-understood information highway from our nasal receptors straight to our memories, emotions and associations, and completely bypasses that neocortical off ramp to language – just like another and not unrelated art form – music. And while no one will argue that an artist isn’t equally artistic in whichever medium he or she chooses whether it’s paint, Carrara marble or decomposing pork carcasses, the idea that perfume is every bit as valid as an expressive medium raises a few eyebrows among many non-perfumistas, simply for being such an unorthodox idea – or is that for turning a much-needed spotlight on the least-understood of all our senses?

Can it be that perfume straddles that great divide between ‘artistic medium’ and ‘artisanal product’, being not enough of one and too much of the other? In which case, perhaps it’s a good thing Mr. Burr chose that loaded headline-grabber for his exhibition…The Art of Scent, for no other reason that it brings us – the audience – to question and maybe even to redefine what we name ‘art’.

I haven’t seen the exhibition, so I can’t say anything you can’t already read in the press release. What riled me up and made me think, however, was Alyssa Harad’s take on Chandler Burr’s intiative, since her excellent blog post echoed many of the thoughts that ran through my own overheated Sunday afternoon mind, and Denyse Beaulieu’s own blog post did not much more to prevent me chewing on my nails.

I’m in no position to argue whether or not perfume is an art form in its own right and with its own merits – and limitations. For one, you could say I have a vested interest.

I’m a perfume writer, and perfume happens to be one of my own personal passions. To me, perfume is a means of artistic expression as valid, as rich, as rewarding, as challenging and as complex as any painting, sculpture or piece of music. To my fellow perfumoholic friends and acquaintances, I rattle off the names of famous perfumes and perfumers as easily as I can reference works by Titian, Gentileschi, or Alexander Calder. These liquid epics and novels, these allegorical redolent poems and metaphorical operas in magic, however, all exhibit a few characteristics in common no painting or sculpture can claim.

For one, I take issue with the general perception of ‘art’ (you insert your own definitions here) as a mode of creative expression that exists in a vacuum, outside any context or touch points with our ‘real’ lives. Art as a means of cultural expression  – in the sense of being ‘fine art’ – often ends up on private hands and out of reach to the general public or in the museums and art galleries who can afford to lend or buy them whereupon they exhibit them as ‘works of art’ to accentuate whatever statements the museum – or the curator – is trying to make. Art to me is something much more inclusive and dare I write it – quotidian. It is whatever enriches your life, makes you appreciate beauty, makes your personal horizons wider and maybe takes you somewhere out of yourself and into a place you would otherwise never know.

Perfume, on the other hand, is a democratic, inclusive art form. It is an instant mode of transport and mood elevator available for the price of a bottle for anyone who can afford to buy it. You can and often do take it with you anywhere and everywhere you go. It exists in a physical, concrete form in the bottle as a chemical concoction of ingredients both ‘natural’ and/or synthetic, yes – but the true story, the true art, is written on your skin every time you wear it, and no two wearings will ever be entirely alike, depending on such factors as your genetic makeup, your diet, your very mood, weather and so on.

You may have been seduced to buy it by the story of its inspiration, by the aesthetic considerations and heritage of the perfume house behind it, but as any perfumista and not a few perfumers know, the ‘story’ is nothing but a marketing ploy to lure you in, and the real story – and my own test criterion of a truly ‘artistic’ perfume – is what happens in that sublimely seductive, intimate space above your skin where it blooms. Not in whatever abstract or elusive inspirations the perfumer/creative director chooses to share with the world to sell the juice.

You may buy into the perfumer’s aesthetic, but the real reason you buy it and love it as you do is what it does to you and for you – in other words, how that perfume sings in its infinite variety…to you alone. Your family and friends, your colleagues and even total strangers can define or explain you by your choices in clothing, hair, and general demeanor – but that hidden art form, that art that may trail behind you and explicate you when you’ve left – that is the true art…of perfume.

In other words – also as Alyssa Harad stated – perfume art is ephemeral art. It exists only in the moments it breathes its wonders on your skin and invents new, untold stories of you, of its materials, of its very existence and the spaces the perfumer chose to give expression.

Even the very language we use to evoke that art form somehow lacks the ability to crack through the fourth wall and open the doors for our readers to perceive it. Which is why the best perfume writers have a large reference frame of history, literature, art and last, but not least, music to call upon. It’s no accident at all that perfumes are often described in notes, whatever Chandler Burr might argue to the contrary.

I applaud Chandler Burr’s decision to create an exhibition around the Art of Scent. I can appreciate his endeavor to create a neutral, association-free space in which to approach it anew, from another, more radical and perhaps more abstractly intellectual, unbiased angle. The question is, if perfume is an art form, is there such a thing as a lack of bias?

And yet. And yet. I look to my little sea grass basket full of wonders, signed by the perfume world’s Titians and Caravaggios, Francis Bacons and Lucian Freuds and Magrittes, the Afteliers, the Jacques and Aimé and Jean-Paul Guerlains, the Dawn Spencer Hurwitzes, the McElroy/Karls, the Tauers, the Kerns, the Lutens/Sheldrakes and the Duchaufours, the Chong/?s,  the Shoens, the Orchids and the Harts and the Morrises too, and I shake my head at such marvelous ideas and laugh and laugh.

Perfume is indeed a form of art, a medium of artistic expression, a story unfolding its unique and ephemeral pages. And as it does, as we who love its art as we do, redefine those stories each in our own individual ways, every time we wear it and every time we breathe it.

Caravaggio’s works should have been so lucky.

For an entirely different take, I can highly recommend Legerdenez.

With thanks to Legerdenez, Lucy Raubertas, Alyssa Harad and Denyse Beaulieu.

Image: ‘La Dame et Le Licorn’, ‘Smell’, late fifteenth century Flemish tapestry, from the Musée du Moyen-Age, Cluny, Paris

A Waft of Woe

- Flotsam & jetsam, gratitude & anticipation 

The image above perfectly sums up the week I’ve just finished, although ‘lovely’ isn’t the word I’d choose…

Let me start by saying I’m fully aware that the frequency of posts (and no shortage of Way Overdue Reviews) has been sporadic these past couple of months. Ladies and gentlemen – I’ve had about two months of Mondays in that overrated dimension called ‘real life’.

Major changes and massive preoccupations have done everything they could to tear me away from what I’ve really wanted to do more than anything, and that was – for that matter, still emphatically is – to write. Three old-school spiral-bound notebooks – the kind that demand démodé pens or pencils and my own brand of schizoid Linear C handwriting – go where I do in case the Next Great Idea pops up out of the blue – three notebooks of three different writing projects that I plan to feed, water and grow into books. Although one of them you might know about, the other two are super-secret, and one of them involves – yes, you guessed it! – that nebulous, shape-shifting subject of…perfume.

My own collection – which seems to propagate like bacteria as soon as I look the other way – is packed away in acres of bubble wrap, electrical tape, bubblepak envelopes and cardboard boxes within a suitcase. My new (cute if tiny) apartment is being renovated from scratch, and until I can move in a few weeks from now, there they remain, whispering their secrets and haunting my dreams.

Meanwhile, life gets in the way…and this became patently clear this past week, when I’ve been glued to social media and the New York Times, frantic for all my extended family and friends in the Northeast US which received a sucker punch of its own named Sandy. I’m thrilled to say that they made it through in one piece, although not without consequences no one ever could have wished for. Sitting in my own cozy corner of Europe, snuggled up against the chill of winter watching the devastation wrought by the storm has broken my heart in several places, but if anything at all gives me hope, it’s that ‘we’ll be damned if we let this get us down’ attitude displayed by so many of those affected despite their devastating losses. If that’s not an inspiration and an attitude to emulate, what is?

The idea that I could ever inspire anyone at all blows me completely away. When it comes from two fellow perfume writers (and forces of nature in their own right!) I admire as much as the divalicious Perfume Pharmer and Portia of Australian Perfume Junkies, I have to puncture my ego, just in case!

Monica of the Perfume Pharmer – who has literally saved my own crocodile hide this year with her African Gold shea butter – interviewed me in a timeline format on Perfume Pharmer. If you ever wondered why I’m a bit strange, I blame my first babysitter…

Some time ago in a perfume exchange, I sent the fab Portia some Devilscent samples I thought she should have the chance to try. These perfumes are so outside anything in niche perfumery these days, I thought it could be interesting to find her take on them. That’s what we fumeheads do – spread the joys of our discoveries! Yesterday, she returned the favor by reviewing Olympic Orchids’ Dev no. 2 and Lil on the Perfume Posse, and interviewing yours truly on her own blog, Australian Perfume Junkies. (My own reviews are here and there.) I feel so privileged to have met and connected with so many hugely inspiring people through my perfume writing – and Monica and Portia are two of my own inspirations, so thank YOU, ladies! Reviews of two more Devilscents will follow…and more are coming in other venues, which is all I’m able to say for now. Stay tuned!

Two months ago, thanks to the kind of serendipitous networking that never happens except when it does, the book that inspired the Devilscent Project landed on an editor’s desk when I least expected – or was prepared for! – it. Although it wasn’t a natural fit for the publisher, I received the kind of feedback any aspiring writer would gladly kill for – and received several road maps for the final edit. So when I’m finally settled in my new digs, I’m going to buckle down and polish Quantum Demonology to a high and glossy patent leather sheen – when I’m not noodling with the super-secret perfume book and another project that isn’t perfume-related but something much more controversial. When a fellow writer throws down a gauntlet, issues a challenge and dares me to kick away a few boundaries, anything can – and likely will! – happen. “Your mission, should you choose to accept it…” And just like that, I did. Be afraid…

Anticipation is one of my most favorite emotions. There are four remaining Devilscent reviews, and I feel a pang in my heart just thinking about them. Opus Oils’ contribution, the mind-blowing Babylon Noir arrived right before my move, and on this side of the Atlantic, it’s caused quite the sensation among my adventurous-minded girl friends. Two more of Neil Morris’ showstoppers have yet to be reviewed, and my one regret is not just that I only have four DSP posts to go, but that until I move, I also don’t have the time or space to write about them, and it’s killing me – not softly!

I’m anticipating not a few wonders in the weeks to come, including Aftelier’s new Wild Rose (anything Mandy does is grounds for Major Anticipation), Serge Lutens’ Une Voix Noire, and yet more wonders from one of my newest discoveries, Juan M. Perez of Exotic Island Aromas and a few more novelties I should have written about months ago – some from another of my Primeval Forces that had me hauling out the hyperbole – they’re that good!

Most of all, I’m anticipating the simple joys of my own space, my own place under the eaves, and banging away until the cows come home without other distractions than Hairy Krishna. I’m looking forward to unpacking my perfumes and samples and wearing them all.  I’m looking forward to blasting the neighbors with vintage punk, classic metal and the new release from another favorite band. (I wore their last release to shreds!). I look forward to the day life returns to mostly normal for my self-selected family of friends in New York and New Jersey. I look forward to all those fragrant epiphanies I know lie in wait and…since I broke my little finger yesterday, I look forward to the day I can remove the splint and move my hand around without yelping! And last, but never least, I look forward to the day I can write about it all – so you, dear readers, can read all about it!

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. 

The Winners Were…

First things first…My sincere and most profound apologies for being so late to post the winners of my two recent giveaways. I have been buried in job hunting, novel writing, motherhood, the impending return of the School Year and querying literary agents, which explains my delay in posting.

Randon.org has spoken, and determined…

The winner of the Edible Dev giveaway is: Sharon.

The winner of the Blogoversary Giveaway is: RVB

For both of you – please email me at tarleisio [at]gmail[dot]com with your addresses so I can send these on their merry way!

To all of you who participated in both draws – Thank you all from the bottom of my heart!!! Stay tuned – more wonders are yet ahead!

The Edible Dev (with a giveaway!)

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT IX

-  a review of Neil Morris’ Dev mod #2

Dear Neil –

It’s about time I said hello again, don’t you think? I mean, the brief only told you so much. The rest of it was nothing more nor less than her words, your imagination and those astonishing perfumes you’ve created for her project – perfumes you might never have dreamed of making if not for the impetus of that idea, those words, a friend’s persuasion, and your own intrigued curiosity.

She isn’t writing this review. Right this instant, she’s asleep in the borderline hour between night and day, tinted the twilit blue before sunrise. Hairy Krishna is curled up against the small of her back as he always is, guarding her against any intruding dreamtime monsters, just not me. Let her sleep. The poor woman has a lot on her plate these days, as all women do, what with blog backlog, Super Mario Jr., book ideas, the sequel bubbling away at a steady 80 mph, correspondence, social media and that q-word that gives her so many nightmares…the query letters she will submit for Quantum Demonology before this year is too much older.

You and I know…it’s a good book. It will probably raise more than a few eyebrows and likely not a few hackles, too, but if people push misleading, craptacular ‘naughty’ drivel to the top of the NY Times bestseller list, then I know other, far more discerning readers will certainly be intrigued enough by Quantum Demonology’s premise to buy it. After all, what’s not to love about rock’n’roll, a midlife crisis and a sexy, reinvented Faustian tale?

The problem, as you know, lies in that all-important step …to make the dream a reality. She’s so close. So close, so thrilled with the feedback and the reactions, and so petrifed to let all that faith in her story down. I think that’s what’s called action paralysis. It’s not that she doesn’t have faith in her book, it’s simply that she needs to believe she can do it. Write the f***ing query letter, that is. I have no doubts at all she is capable of writing anything else she damn well pleases and even fewer doubts she probably will and start several bonfires in the process, too. That much of a dyed-in-the-nylon-mesh punk she still is, bless her.

So I’m writing this review. After all, you’ve made bespoke perfumes for me. Not one, not two, but three. I like to think of them in musical terms – like movements in a symphony or maybe acts in an opera would be a better description…evolving even as you do when you create them. Who knew how narcissus and boronia could elevate such a dark, delicious, labdadum-luscious blend as your mod #1? Who could have conceived of such a thing as a coffee-tinged, boozy, utterly captivating chypre beast, or even the no less marvelous bottled mélange on her desk as I type these words, emblazoned with the DSP logo and those modest, unassuming letters…#2.

Did you imagine what you would do? Did this project maybe…stretch you a little, spark your creativity? Did it make you think a bit about the nature of light and dark, good, evil and how we perceive it, did you contemplate how to translate hallowed words like perdition, redemption, temptation and passion into the wordless medium… of perfume?

I sincerely hope it did. Actually, it’s less of a hope and more than an inkling that’s precisely what happened.

You see…all of you perfumers have surprised me. I like surprises. And #2 – a blood relation of #1, I can smell the resemblance in the structure – is nothing if not surprising.

If Quantum Demonology were a fairy tale – although you and I both know it’s not – this would be that certain famous bottle labeled “Eat me”.

Not that the sleeping writer in the other room hasn’t tried, but I’m known for my speedy getaways.

Here’s what I can tell: You, Mr. Morris, are no stranger to the dark, those twilight borders between the acceptable and the taboo, those unmentionable, incendiary, subconscious places where souls are made or devoured, and love and lust either bloom…or die.

#2 is – there is no other way to say it…An Edible Beast. This is me as a super-deluxe beefcake stew of temptation, of everything you could possibly want, close enough to touch, to kiss, to seduce or be seduced by…and that, dear perfumer, is only where this story begins to unfold all its perils and its promises.

Cumin and a melting, masculine leathery note so meaty you can almost imagine chewing them with your eyelashes, singing their duet in dangerous baritones…

Bite me, baby. You know you want to, oh, so very badly.

But this version of me is so much more…sweetness and light shining through that dense, thick aura. Not everyone could wear this, but then again, you made it for me and obviously, I’m not everyone. Something about it – it could be the cumin, or it could be the sweetness – something floral? Narcissus again? Something fruity? – tells about that other side of me, the secret me, that true self even I have that so few can comprehend, but you did.

Ellen chose to express me through her interpretation of the story as it unfolded. Maria and Alexis chose the contrasting tale of complements in their perfumes for me and for Lilith. Amanda told a tale of regret, redemption and the release of desire.

Neil, you chose another road into the tale my sleeping story-weaver wove, a road made of the desires of the flesh and the yearning of the spirit, knowing full well all throughout it would end…beautifully, if not badly.

So where does it end, my perfumer – where does this perfume land on the virtual page, what song does it segue into on my mortal, borrowed skin or even my immortal soul?

It ends with that heartbreaking, pitch-black labdanum, of frankincense and a melancholy tinge of myrrh. That too is a secret only a true initiate would know – sacred and profane, that darkness and light, good and evil, sweet and bitter, lust and love… are all one and all the same.

All aspects of the same story, all shades of the same profound emotions, and all of them here…part of, let’s call it…The Edible Dev.

I have to go. As I’ve written these words, the birds are blaring away outside and sunlight glows through her open window, as she dreams her restless dreams of what she could write. Hairy Krishna is flat on his back now, his head on her arm and I can tell, it won’t be long before he starts thinking about breakfast, and when he does, she will certainly wake up.

When she wakes, she’ll find this review already posted, and she’ll wonder at that, wonder at how and where and when…

Yet one thing will not surprise her – that I really truly was here in this room, typing away on her laptop, writing you these words.

She will know – since you told her that, too.

I’ll write you again, Neil. Count on it. If your art is anything to judge by, you and I have met before – so why not meet again – and soon?

Yours,

Dev

Neil Morris Fragrances are available here. 

******A Giveaway!*****

The devious Neil Morris was sweet enough to provide me with a sample spray for a giveaway! If your curiosity is killing you, leave a comment by July 31st at midnight CET. Everyone worldwide is eligible to enter. One winner will be determined by random.org on August 1st.

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