An Olfactory Postcard

tulum_mexico-1920x1200

– a review of Aedes de Venustas’ Copal Azur

Of all the many memories we pack into our luggage on leaving foreign shores and returning home, none are so evocative as the scents and smells of place. Whether the fishy, invigorating tang of saltwater and iodine in a Nordic city harbor, the assault of the spice market in the medina of Marrakesh, the lemon and orange-redolent Amalfi coast or the coconut, Coppertone and frangipani-soaked Caribbean recollections of my own peripatetic childhood, you can close your eyes to remember – and you are there all over again, wrapped in both the atmosphere and the mood of a time and place.

Such a memory was also the inspiration for Karl Bradl of the storied Aedes de Venustas store in New York and for a 2014 addition to their eponymous line of fragrances, Copal Azur, this time inspired by the salt air, the cerulean hues of the sea, the powdered-sugar sand of the beach and the ever-present perfume of copal incense in Tulum, Mexico.

In Central America, copal incense – sometimes but not always the resins of several species of Bursera tree – has been used since the Mayan era, as a natural mosquito repellant, as food for the Gods, to cleanse sick bodies and dispel evil spirits and as a natural glue for leather, ceramics and woods. Because several tree resins are described as “copal”, copal notes in perfumery are often reconstructed with other materials, mainly frankincense, whose odor profile greatly resembles it.

As incense is the common theme of the Aedes de Venustas’ line, it makes absolute sense that the perfumer who first put incense front and center with Comme des Garçons’ ground-breaking 2003 Avignon would be perfect to recreate the ambience and entire atmosphere of a sacred scent the Mayans called pom.

Bertrand Duchaufour began by using three types of frankincense to capture the many facets of copal. Although the press release doesn’t mention which ones, this frankincense aficionado is going to hazard a guess and say Boswellia sacra, or Somali frankincense, with its pronounced cold, spiky, dark green pine-y note, Boswellia carterii, or Omani frankincense, which is sweeter and softer with floral lemony sorbet undertones, and Boswellia serrata, a frankincense native to India, which is sharper and dryer. Having said that, they’re so seamlessly interwoven you’d be hard-pressed to tease that first emphatic burst of incense apart, and it took me several tries and my frankincense olfactionary to realize it.

Copal incense is front, center and in the spotlight in Copal Azur, but that’s just the headline, because this incense comes with a twist of salt and sea spray, just enough to remind you this is not-your-usual-incense. As it moves into the heart and base some time later, softer, warmer and sweeter fumes rise up to greet you, a delicately green-flecked tonka bean burnishes the incense with its own sweet vanillic fumes, and over 7+ hours later, exudes its final breath in a puff of patchouli, myrrh – and copal incense.

Like the five other fragrances of the Aedes de Venustas line, Copal Azur is easily unisex if you’re an incense lover of perfumes such as the aforementioned Avignon or Serge Lutens’ L’Eau Froide. I’d wear this at the drop of a charcoal tablet (because I’m easy!), although some might find the opening blast of monumental incense skews it much more masculine than feminine.

Mainly, though, Copal Azur strikes me as the very best kind of olfactory postcard – or scented place memory? – by painting not just the tropical ambience of Tulum itself – the tonka-bean marzipan vanilla sands of the beach, the salty ozone of a scorching, impossibly blue, limitless sea and sky, the cardamom-green of the jungle, a distant patchouli growl of a jaguar and towering above them all, the monumental Mayan temple complex in all its steely gray-white majesty, conjured by a shaman out of sacred smoke – and incense.

I wish I were there!

copalazurPRphoto

Notes: Three different types of frankincense, ozonic notes, salt, patchouli, cardamom, myrrh, amber, tonka bean.

Aedes de Venustas’ Copal Azur is available at First in Fragrance and directly from the Aedes de Venustas website.

Disclosure: A sample of Copal Azur was sent for review. With thanks to François and Olivier.

Image of Tulum via Flickr. Image of frankincense tree courtesy of Aedes de Venustas. Used by permission.

A Goddess, With Jasmine

Melina

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT XV

– a review of Neil Morris FragrancesEssence of Melina

(Note: Found on my laptap when I woke up this morning, a review! It seems I had a visitor last night…)

Dear readers,

You might as well know it right from the start: this is not the Genie. She sleeps in the other room now, Hairy Krishna spooned inside her outstretched arm, and on the sofa in the living room, Janice Divacat spreads her calico belly against a magenta silk throw pillow, dead to the world. From where I sit at the Genie’s desk, I can see her twitch her tail as she dreams and softly snores. At this dead-of-night hour, even the streetlights are asleep and only the red neon glow of a Coca-Cola sign at the burger joint across the street glows its admonitions against the dark of an April night. The downtown taxis are finally silent and the Saturday night bar crowds have all dispersed at closing time towards home, to their beds, to Saturday night intents and purposes.

Meanwhile, I was summoned by a perfume.

Yet before I can get to the perfume, I should maybe explain something about the woman who inspired it.

So close your eyes and imagine a woman. She stands six feet in her stockings, six feet of willowy, long-waisted, long-legged perfection (her mother was a fashion model) wrapped around a sarcastic heart of Gothic black. Visualize a waist-length, wavy fall of glossy, naturally blue-black hair, a pale, moonlit complexion touched with a tiny brush of petal-pink, eyes as luminous, sparkling green as a secret Mediterranean cove in high summer, and a full, rosaceous mouth that could send any man and several women dreaming.

I should also add before I cook my own goose that much as I like her, she’s not my type at all. Being somewhat <ahem> vertically challenged in my current disguise, for one thing she’s too damn tall. For another, I much prefer short, busty, rather less perfect blondes.

Why not let a short, busty, perfectly flawed blonde describe her, too?

If you ever wanted to know what a Greek Goth Goddess looked like, here was exhibit A.

(Quantum Demonology, Quotidian Pleasures)

Meet Melina, the nemesis of Quantum Demonology’s nameless protagonist. Since arriving in Copenhagen 12 years ago, she has been the doom (and on one occasion, the death) of bass players and other musical paragons of testosterone from Seattle to Siberia. Norwegian black metal bands you’ve never heard of have written songs about her, and one Swedish band scored a minor Scandinavian metal chart hit a couple of years ago when they released a song called ‘Melita’ inspired by a heartbreak night to remember (courtesy of Melina) that really put the capital D in doom.

Noblesse oblige so they say, so Melina created a group of female acolytes somewhat snarkily dubbed the Black no. 1 Mafia (inspired by this song), and she’s ruled those ladies with a titanium fist in a net glove ever since.

In other words, she’s so perfect you can’t have her.

(Off the record, I’ll tell you something else. She was inspired by a certain, über-Goth Empress of Snark. Now you know.)

There things stood for quite some time, beyond publication and (so far) great reviews, until Neil Morris of Neil Morris Fragrances decided to do something about it. Whereupon he promptly pulled the rug (and quite a few heartstrings) out from under the Genie by sending her a perfume she never, ever expected, from a project she thought had long expired, even if the perfumes certainly haven’t!

Voilà – Essence of Melina. The newest edition to the Devilscent Project.

And here you thought that labdanum, lascivious lechery and Lilith-littered cardinal sins were all the project had to say three years ago.

Neil Morris had another idea. He decided to explicate Melina through a perfume, inspired perhaps by the phrase ‘absolute essence of Melina’.

Call me biased, but I’ve always thought all of Neil’s creations had one thing in common, apart from an emphatic and profound understanding of Gothic darkness. They are all of them supremely delineated, seamlessly assembled and sublimely elegant.

Essence of Melina – capturing the demeanor and not a few of the contradictions of Melina herself – is no exception.

So how did he explain a half-Greek Goth goddess?

He began with a mainstay of Mediterranean gardens everywhere, even on the storied Greek isle Melina calls home: a fig.

A fig that wraps itself as tight as corset stays around an audacious and more than a little dissipated jasmine sambac, that bold and fruity floral babe that just dares you to come closer.

So she can eat you alive.

While that impudent jasmine breathes its celestial song of sins both sweet and salacious, her gal pals – in this case, orris, white patchouli flower and nootka that echo a hint of Melina’s consigliere Birgitte – sneak in to seal your doom.

I dare any red-blooded male to sniff this without a reaction. (In which case, check their pulse.) I’d also dare any jasmine-loving female to sniff this without swooning.

It’s that kind of perfume. Surely, you expected no less from a Devilscent?

Orris – one of the Genie’s own favorite perfumery materials – was a surprise. Its presence was unexpected, until I remembered two things: the Genie’s little lecture on orris adding depth and a certain intellectual hauteur to perfumes and also Melina’s own dirty little secret: she’s the fourth generation in her Greek family with impeccable academic credentials. A PhD underway no less, and no one knows except me since I make it my business to know everything.

But Melina is anything but chilly (except to the protagonist), and right when you think you have her all sussed out, somewhere between the jasmine, the orris, the patchouli flower, the nootka… Neil pulls the rug out from under our noses again.

Some long, long time later, nocturnal animals begin to growl.

Maybe the bestiaries so beloved by Goth culture; the vampires, the werewolves, the bats, the hordes of midnight-black cats.

That bass metal hum of vetiver, the hungry howls of civet, the purr of a feline, furry musk, the heat of castoreum and last but never least, a lecherous, leatherine lick of labdanum, and I know that one since I put it in my original brief.

All in all, a black, heady pulse bomb of a perfume! It fits Melina like a lace dress, like black tulle, like midnight and moonshine and arcane alchymical emanations.

Some time ago, I overheard a discussion between the Genie and Ms. Hare concerning a theory the Genie calls ‘the brunette school of perfume’.

‘The Brunette School of Perfume’ theory (patent pending) describes in a catchphrase the differences in skin chemistry between brunettes, blondes and redheads. Simply put, it’s the reason why Essence of Melina smells like a smexy, molten trainwreck of Goth salaciousness… on Ms. Hare. (A brunette). On the poor blonde in the bedroom, this astoundingly beautiful, flawlessly crafted perfume… smells like a wet, miserable dog shivering in a bubblebath.

But that wasn’t the point, for all the Genie does love a few select jasmine-centric perfumes, including the two she gave to Melina.

The point was to capture ‘Absolute essence of Melina.’

Where Neil Morris succeeded beyond all imagining – and gave her his own, uniquely creative spin.

Someone should have told him: ‘Beware when bearing presents to a Greek.’

Luckily for the rest of us, he never listened! Instead, he made her a Goddess. With jasmine.

Dev

NMMelina

Notes: Fig, jasmine sambac, orris, white patchouli flower, nootka, civet, vetiver, animalic musk, castoreum, labdanum.

If enough jasmine-lovers ganged up on him, I’m sure Neil Morris would make this available to the general public, as he should!

Disclosure: A sample of Essence of Melina was made available for review. For which this Devil thanks him from the bottom of his inky black heart.

Ringing In The Spring

lilybells

– a review of Tauer Perfumes’ Carillon pour un Ange

I don’t know about you, but this winter is getting old. Old as in … just move along already and give way to my most favorite time of year, the season of renewal, of hope, of sunshine and warmth… spring. And what better way to kick Old Man Winter to the curb than through a luminous perfume that exudes its own sunlight and adds a lilt to your voice and a sashay to your step?

Which was precisely where I was this wretched, rainy, cold March day when I remembered something in my Guilt Trip Review Box that just might be the one-way ticket away from all the months-long miseries caused by a seemingly endless winter of drab, dank and damp.

Many flowers have laid claim to being the embodiments of spring; hyacinths, tulips, daphne, bluebells… it makes for a long list. Yet in spite of their many virtues and the perfumes that pay homage to them, perhaps none are so emphatically spring-like in their appearance or their fragrance as those tiny, fragile snow-white bells known as lily of the valley.

The paradox about lily of the valley in perfumery is that the fragrance can’t be extracted from the flowers, so a lily of the valley perfume relies on a perfumer’s skill in building an accord to evoke it, whether that is by flower essences and absolutes and/or using hydroxycitronellal, Lilial or Lyral.

For many, the ultimate lily of the valley recreation is Edmond Roudnitska’s 1956 Diorissimo, the one lily of the valley to rule them all, but Diorissimo and I – as indeed my opinion of lily of the valley perfumes in general – don’t get along at all.

First of all, my mother wore it, which kills it for me stone cold. Second, although I adore the verdant fragrance of the flowers themselves when I find them, something about their interpretations in perfumes strike me as too virginal, too snow-white, too altogether frilly, hyper-feminine and white-tulle-with-added-meringue bridal for my personal tastes.

Until that fateful September afternoon (because I’m nothing if not perverse) in Florence when I discovered one that wasn’t, the one that was indeed a lily of the valley perfume, but didn’t strike me as an ad for the wedding service industry (or meringued-out gowns), as musty or old-fashioned in the slightest:

Tauer PerfumesCarillon pour un Ange, henceforward referred to as Carillon.

I’d read the many reviews of Carillon, read them with that instinctual frisson which informed my synapses that maybe, just maybe it wouldn’t be one of those virginal ingénues that sent this post-punk catastrophe running for the hills of the blackest, raunchiest, goatiest labdanums I could find.

So it all magically came to pass that overly fragrant afternoon at the Stazione Leopolda, when the entire glorious lineup of Andy Tauer’s creations gleamed in front of me and the first one I reached for was Carillon.

Muguet? Oh, yes. Lily of the valley and a whole supporting cast of viridian characters danced in on a silvery spring sunbeam that instantly blasted away the memories of most of the countless hyperluxe eau de niche perfumes I sniffed that day.

I left the Stazione Leopolda thinking new and very modern thoughts about lily of the valley. Such as… I want a bottle of this, pronto per favore. Not to mention: This! Is a lily of the valley I can actually love. And wear. And not feel like Bridezilla five minutes before walking down the aisle.

When Andy Tauer kindly offered to send me samples some long time later in another context (his re-release of the bottled summer known as Cologne du Maghreb), I remembered Carillon, remembered that moment and asked for Carillon, to see if my recall had been correct. The day it arrived, I sprayed it, swooned to be back in memory at least to that afternoon in Florence, put my Tauer tin in the Guilt Trip Box… and forgot all about it until today, as winter writhes its last throes outside in the rain and the wind huffs and puffs against my windowpanes, today when I am desperate for a breath… of spring.

If you could assign a color to spring, surely it would be the tender sunny green of leaves about to burst?

So it is with Carillon, right from the opening peals floating on the breeze right above my skin. I detect a smidgen of rose, certainly lilac and a suggestion of a dense, oily-green hyacinth, although hyacinth isn’t listed among the notes, but above all, clear as the bells of the flowers themselves is this lily of the valley, no ingénue but instead an olfactory interpretation of the flowers, the stalks and leaves, the cool snap of sap and the rise of sunshine, as much as to sing… wake up, wake up!

Winter is dead – long live spring!

Long may it reign, and indeed it does once these bells hit their stride and grab the airy, verdant jasmine for a Viennese waltz on the lawn in the sun and around and around they go. Ylang ylang, which is listed on the Tauer website as a topnote, doesn’t make an entrance on my skin until well into the heart and then only as a discreet sugar dusting to balance the green and banish the bitter. Off they all waltz into the sunset of a flawless spring day across that emerald lawn, echoed by a soft step of leather, moss and ambergris that is nothing in the slightest like the Tauerade you think you know.

In flower symbolism, lily of the valley symbolizes the return of happiness. If that is an omen – just as I was reminded of Carillon on a dire, drab day of doom and despair this winter will ever end – then I’ll take it, thank you very much. Or else I’ll take it as a sign that spring will – all momentary appearances to the contrary – indeed return and happiness, too, so long as I can ring in the clarion call of spring with this peal of bells for an angel (or a mortal!) called Carillon pour un Ange.

Notes for Carillon pour un Ange: Rose, ylang ylang, lilac, lily of the valley accord, jasmine, leather, ambergris, moss woods.

Carillon pour un Ange is available at Luckyscent and directly from the Tauer Perfumes’ website.

Disclosure: A sample was provided for review by Andy Tauer. For the sample, for his support, encouragement and for his astonishing patience, I thank him profusely. My reviews and opinions are my own, for which see my review disclaimer here. Also a big thank you to Monica Miller, who reminded me.

Can’t. Even.

The Genie Can’t Even

I have a question to ask, dear readers. How many of you… own a smartphone, a tablet, a computer? Most of you might have at least one of these, yes? (Or you wouldn’t be reading this blog!)

Now, how many of you are on Facebook? Would I be correct in assuming that most of you are? And that just like me, you use FB to… document your lives, share photos, links, stay in touch with people, family, friends and acquaintances?

And that ain’t all you do, I’ll bet! There are perfume groups and, for lack of a better term, perfume congregations galore on Facebook also, where we can all get as silly or as solipcistic as we please over a favorite subject, which is … perfume!

I don’t know what I’d even DO without it.

Yet some time around Friday, I wondered at the sudden disappearance of one of my ultimate – and very much real-life – Facebook spots of sunshine, and yesterday, when that unease morphed into full-blown WTF, I came to discover that an old social media fracas has reared its ugly head all over again. Only this time, they might have messed with all the wrong people.

The justly renowned and celebrated perfume blogger, Portia Turbo-Gear of the likewise celebrated Australian Perfume Junkies, has become the latest victim of Facebook discrimination against performers who create their online identities via a pseudonym. Just as in another (viral) case last year with a San Francisco drag queen, his FB profile and his very existence has been called into question by Facebook, demanding verification of his true name and/or creating a page for his performing alter ego rather than the Facebook profile he has been using since the beginning.

We all know that pages – as opposed to personal profiles – are where virtual identities go to die before slinking away into obscurity.

But the bigger issue here is not so-called verification of identity, the bigger issue is discriminating against those who for myriad perfectly valid reasons choose to perform under a pseudonym they carry into the real and virtual world and use just as you and I – and I’m listed on Facebook under the same name as in my passport – would. Only because they’re performers and often prominent out-loud-and-proud members of the LGBT communities they live in, the “proof” they have to supply often exceeds far beyond what Facebook might require from the rest of us.

Which to the mind of this rabidly free-thinking former anarchist is all sorts of 5000% wrong.

Portia – whether in mufti or in full-on made up glory, has been a large and very dearly beloved part of my life since at least 2012. Although I have yet to meet him in person (trust me, it’s near the top of my list!), I can testify that his generosity to his friends, his authenticity as a magnificent human being and his heart which is surely at least the size of Australia is without peer. Much like his sense of humor, in which case, throw in Eurasia, and you might have an idea. I recall a Skype session – at 3 AM Sydney time – that had me in tears, I was laughing so hard and felt… so loved.

When life itself proved a challenge these past two years, often a private message, an email or an off-color comment on something I posted would get my brain back on track and put a smile – at least – back on my face.

Besides, no one else calls me Princess. Thanks to Portia’s indelible imprint, no one else will ever be allowed to. Having done so much to make my own drab days brighter, it’s time for me to return the favor the only way I can.

I don’t believe in or condone discrimination in any size, shape or form for any reasons at all. I also emphatically believe in supporting my true friends – which Portia certainly is. So here’s what you, I and the perfume community that is the readership of the Alembicated Genie can do – take this post viral. Reblog it if you can. Retweet it. Share it on Facebook wherever you can. A Facebook group has been created – Bring Back Portia Turbo-Gear, and the membership is growing by the minute. Join us!

Once upon a time, the issue of identity might have been a static, unmoving one. But if the virtual life we’ve all lived since at least 2007 has taught me anything at all, identity – whether you’re a celebrated drag queen or a garden-variety writer (in leopard-print PJs) is a fluid, flexible entity each and every one of us reinvent each and every day – through our daily choices, our daily selves, and even our daily status updates.

A reinvention option that everyone deserves no matter what they call themselves, how they live or what they believe in.

I believe that’s the true meaning of the phrase ‘freedom of expression’.

Which Facebook in this instance has no business at all trying to curtail.

Portia at work on New Year's Eve, a.k.a Conchita-with-A-Bratwurst.

Portia at work on New Year’s Eve, a.k.a Conchita-with-A-Bratwurst.

Éminence Grise

Iris bismarckiana

– a review of Aedes de VenustasIris Nazarena

Some long (long!) time ago, I once had a rather peculiar ritual in early May. Every morning on my way to work, I was stopped dead in my tracks by a bunch of white irises in bloom in a curbside flowerbed.

Being who I was (and still am), I had to bend down and sniff them. Some irises have no scent to speak of, but these beauties certainly did, epitomizing everything I love about iris: that cool, measured poise that belies their extravagant flowers.

At that same time of my life, I also lived vicariously through the only ‘perfume’ I owned, the print catalog of a New York purveyor of all things fantastically fragrant – the Greenwich Village store Aedes de Venustas (the House of Venus), whose stunningly photographed wares ignited my imagination in ways both great and small. By the time I lost the catalog, it was dog-eared from perfume dreaming and dilapidated from all the times I’d read it from cover to cover.

Lo and behold these many years and strange trips later, and now, a favorite flower and a fond memory come together in – what else? – a perfume released in 2013, Iris Nazarena, a fragrant ode to the iris variety bismarckiana that blooms near Nazareth in Israel.

Iris – actually, the cured fatty ‘butter’ of the rhizomes known as orris – is a bit of an olfactory paradox. The blooms may resemble the dolled-up Folies Bergères showgirls of the floral world, but the scent of orris gives nothing away.

Some find it too cold, too haughty, too earthy, too doughy, too stern, arrogant and difficult to love. Yet ever since a mohawked punk in a few hundred pounds of black eyeliner and Doc Martens stomped into a Copenhagen department store in desperate search of beauty and waltzed out in a cloud of Chanel no. 19, I have loved and adored iris for precisely that chilly, daunting hauteur.

Henri Robert’s Chanel no. 19 in fact was perfumer Ralf Schweiger’s starting point with Iris Nazarena as ‘the benchmark iris’ (I’d add Maurice Roucel’s Iris Silver Mist to that benchmark list), but Ralf Schweiger did far more than eye no. 19 over his shoulder, for Iris Nazarena is very much its own and unusual brand of orris butter with extras.

For one thing, it’s as dry as any Levantine desert right from the start, utterly devoid of the rooty-earthy-carrot facets that have ruined orris for so many. This is a perfume full of air – air for the notes to breathe, air for the story of an uncommon jolie-laide flower to unfold upon my skin.

I detect something bitter and green, fruity and rose-tinged on application, but there’s nary a fruit cliché to be found nor any sweetness at all. Instead, also from the start, a beautiful curl of the ashy-cool smoky incense accord that appears to be a running theme with Aedes de Venustas’ perfumes unfurls off my skin with a suggestion of leather – buttery-soft glove leather.

Then the iris arrives wrapped up in a deft, warming touch of clove-y spice, with lots of space to roam through that bone-dry desert and show its stunning face. Some time later, it fades away to more and slightly greener (the vetiver? The patchouli?) floral-edged leather and incense before it exits stage right after about four hours. I have to add – being more than a little averse to oud, or at least the overused synthetic and barnyard varieties – I detect no oud at all.

It’s not hard to squint and see a few similarities between the benchmark reference (no. 19) and the end result, but Iris Nazarena skews much more unisex and far less floral to my nose, yet even after comparing it to vintage no. 19, I can’t consider it anything other than its own singular perfume. A complex synaesthetic study painted in sublimely refined, elegant, arcane hues of smoky gray that is all of a piece and containing all the marvel of a bloom in the desert.

Think of Iris Nazarena as… the eminence grise of iris. Containing just enough of orris’ steely reserve, all of its mystique and more than a little of its charm, it has nothing to prove except its beauty. Which is more than enough, and already far more than this iris lover deserves.

My one minuscule gripe was the sample vial it came in. For something I’d fall this hard for, I dearly wish I could have sprayed it to grasp something of its scope and breadth, especially with a perfume that at least on my skin plays out as airy as Iris Nazarena does.

On the other hand, isn’t that what a (hotly coveted) full bottle is for? ;)

Image taken from the Iris Nazarene press release. 

Disclosure: A sample of Iris Nazarena was provided by Beauty Entreprise for review. For which I thank Shirley and Olivier. Ralf Schweiger. And last but never least, Karl Bradl and Robert Gerstner for being at least as uncompromising as the iris that inspired them.

Notes: Iris, ambrette, rose, juniper, star anise, clove, leather, incense, vetiver, patchouli, oud.

Aedes de Venustas’ Iris Nazarena is available from the Aedes de Venustas’ website and First in Fragrance.

The Minx Beneath

modess-1955

– a review of Papillon Perfumes’ Angélique

Should any of TAG’s readers ever doubt I contain a fair share of what Edgar Allan Poe once famously dubbed The Imp of the Perverse, here’s the redolent (smoking) gun. Instead of dealing with the ever-increasing amounts of incipient chaos (barely) contained in the Red IKEA Cabinet of Doom, where perfumes no matter how odiferous or guilt-inducing have been known to vanish to several alternate-reality multiverses, I’ve created my own black hole (an all-black shipping box) to house all the samples I’ve received in the past six months. Neither perfumers nor perfumista friends need be offended – the box came from the Palais Royal in Paris. As I’m also one of those perverts eccentrics who thrive on a certain degree of unpredictability, (since hand-written review lists in my workbook only stuff the guilt-trip suitcase harder), occasionally I’ll reach into that black tissue-lined box and reach for a random sample and voilà! My next review…

Such was the case when I reached into the tissue paper without looking and out came…

Papillon PerfumesAngélique.

Papillon Perfumes was one of the big scented sensations of 2014, plastered all over the (many) Facebook perfume groups and several perfume blogs when Liz Moores, a self-taught British perfumer and femme extraordinaire launched her initial trio of Anubis, Tobacco Rose and Angélique. It was clear right from the start and her perfumes that this was no amateur playing with fire and florals, but a uniquely talented nose with her own stories to tell in liquid filigree, and such marvels do they tell…

If not for a mutual friend, I might never have had the chance to sample them. UK postal restrictions being what they are, all I could do was read the reviews and the discussions on the groups and marvel. Which is no fun at all if you suspect (rightly, as it happens) you’re really missing out.

Angélique is Liz Moores’ ode to those great seamless, floral, bottled bouquets of yore, when perfumes were timeless beauties, when entrances were made and ladies left not just sillage but havoc in their wake. My initial impression was this could have been a Guerlain in the halcyon days before suspicious corporate marketing ‘focus groups’ were created and Jean Paul Guerlain was retired, when Guerlain was indeed purveyor par excellence of all fragrant things grand and glorious. Yet Angelique somehow manages to pull all this off without any sort of vintage texture.

Dazzling around a heartbeat of orris and an opening aria of mimosa, the iris has all the opulence and elegance and a deft touch of the same cool, deliberate hauteur you expect from iris. Far down below, a distinct thrum of frankincense smolders.

But iris alone does not by necessity an opulent perfume make and certainly not here, because that airy mimosa touch (not exactly an ‘airy’ flower) adds its own marzipan-flecked sunshine to that song.

Once those orris opera gloves come off with a flourish, other flowers venture forth for their turn in the spotlight. Osmanthus, says the Basenotes notes list, osmanthus in a titillating tango with white champaca, each twirling, swirling, dipping and dancing with neither quite dominating or giving way to the other.

White champaca, which is also known as white sandalwood or (my favorite name) white jade orchid tree, smells like no other floral I can name without resorting to Imperial purple prose. Heady, sensuous, heavenly and with an olfactory texture like silk velvet, it smells both woody-creamy (hence the ‘white sandalwood’), green, sweetly floral and fruity all at once. That Liz Moores managed to tame this tiger to tango with osmanthus is astonishing, yet tango it does and that iris, cool as a calculated guess winks right back, sometimes in the background, sometimes catching you by complete, delighted surprise.

Alas, all fireworks have to fade away. Over eight hours later, in may case. Even these evanescent floral phantasms are brought to rest on an equally plush featherbed of frankincense and Virginia cedar, and the drydown was for me by far the biggest surprise of all.

With such notes, you’d expect something woody, bitter and simultaneously bright and so it is, but I’ll say it if no one else will: this is seriously sexy stuff.

What comes to mind more than anything is precisely one of those glorious creations of 20th-century perfumery that so defined women (it strikes me as very feminine, but don’t let that stop you) once upon a storied, less casual and more swelegant time. I detect the inspirations from a few of them, and this is no small achievement.

Someone like the flawlessly coiffed femme in the illustration I chose.

A vision in chartreuse velvet opera coat – the mimosa – concealing all those ivory silk taffeta wonder blooms, immaculately held together by the hidden architecture of iris, frankincense and Virginia cedar. She lifts her champagne glass to toast you and looks you right in the eye.

Which is when you see that understated wink, the hint of a smile in the corners of her mouth and you realize just what makes Angélique such a fascinating creature.

Beneath it all, she’s really a minx!

Wear wisely. And with not a little guile.

Notes (via Basenotes): French mimosa, osmanthus, white champaca, iris, Virginia cedar, frankincense.

With special and undying thanks to Val the Cookie Queen for the care package, the inspirations and all the shared laughter.

Papillon Artisan Perfumes’ Angélique is available at Les Senteurs and Luckyscent.

The Content Diva

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  • Being the thoughts of a (kind of) 1%

This is me, now: A chronic case of guilt, circumstantial distraction and an ever-increasing (and guilt-inducing) backlog of Things That Must Absopositively Be Reviewed Yesterday. Surely, some not entirely benign occult, alchemical sleight-of-hand is involved in the way the samples in my sample box seem to generate ever-larger amounts of liquid and libidinous progeny every time I blink? And yet another force – also morally ambiguous – colludes with my compulsion to write anything that isn’t a perfume review?

As of today, I have not one, not two, but four different book projects all coming to a boil. Two novels, a sequel and a historical novel, one prequel novella and last but never least, another book, but that one is a secret for now.

So if you’ve found the Genie rather lacking in updates these days, this is why. Mea culpa. Alas, my leaden guilt trip suitcase does not have wheels, but I’m hoping to upgrade…

Yet in the last two weeks, several events conspired to rattle me out of my brain-in-the-clouds mode and land me onto Planet Perfume with a loud and odiferous thud.

The first of these was an incisive blog post by one of my longest-running blog idols; Gaia of the Non Blonde. Whether reviewing eyeliner pencils or perfumes, her concise yet precise reviews have never, ever steered me wrong, even if our opinions – or our mileages – vary, as they sometimes do.

The blog post was intriguingly titled The Problem With Blogging – 2014 edition. Go read it. I’ll wait – and get back to that in a moment.

The second was even more shocking, and with all my experience in social media, you’d think I’d be far past surprising by now.

No.

Lo and behold, into my inbox ticked a TAG comment in need of approval, and I quote verbatim:

i see you put a lot of work

in your website, i know how to make your blogging easier,

do you know that you can copy any article from any website, make it 100% unique and pass copyscape test? For more details , just search in google – rewriter creates an unique article in a minute

Yes, it was a definite spam comment, and as such did not get approved. More to the point in this morally relativistic, anything-goes-in-the-blogosphere decade was my utter, old-school blood-curdling horror in realizing that somewhere out there, people are stealing blog content lock, stock and barrel (this has happened to at least four bloggers I know) and also reworking existing blog content to fly under the radar of Copyscape (who monitors for such things) as well as Google search algorithms for your blog, thus ranking you lower in the Great Google Relevance Page Rank. Or to put it in everyday terms: stealing not just your content but the influence and reach you have personally (and hopefully, organically) acquired by years of blogging to the virtual page, tweeting, sharing on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and everywhere else a readership is made.

The rock-bottom line is this one: why even bother to write a blog post, maintain it at some cost to both your personal life (presuming you have one) and your purse if you can just steal it and hog someone else’s credit – not to mention, ruin their credibility?

Dear readers, I almost gave up the ghost right them and there. Note the qualifying almost. Because if I had, a) you would not be reading this post and b) that would mean those §!”#€%&/?§! (insert your own epithet here) thieves had won.

Over my dead, decaying Diors!

The problems with bloggers

It’s no secret that certain sectors of the luxury blogosphere have undermined all semblance of reliability and honest opinion by their practices of kickbacks and paid (and therefore dishonest) reviews. I’m calling it as I see it to say that fashion and beauty blogs are especially ripe for suspicion. That thin line between paid advertorial content and blogging is becoming ever thinner and harder to dissemble, as Gaia rightly pointed out.

There’s a difference in both style, angle and audience between fashion, beauty and perfume blogs, which each have their own considerations. I’d also like to add I have no issues with monetized blogs, meaning blogs that carry relevant advertising links and banners. If you can make even a modest penny from clicks to other websites, then more power to you.

Yet one pink elephant in the room is this one: bloggers matter, even in our sweetly scented corner of the world, no matter what perfume houses or (certain) perfumers might argue to the contrary.

People read those posts, watch vlogs on YouTube and discuss reviews and perspectives on the many fragrance-related groups on Facebook. Ordinary (or not so ordinary!) people and perfume consumers sometimes even let reviews influence the size and scope of their lemmings.

While this might not have an effect on a given perfume house’s bottom line to any substantial degree, the opinions of perfume bloggers have indeed greatly increased – and in some cases built – a brand’s reputation.

In this day and age of instant access to anyone anywhere, when the six degrees of separation rule shrinks by the minute, reputation is where the bottom line starts and sometimes ends. And like it or not, agree or not as you please, in an age of ever-present social media, reach and instantaneous interaction, reputation isn’t everything – it’s quite literally the only thing.

A Free Lunch

US bloggers are obligated by law to provide a disclaimer on their blog posts stating whether or not they’ve received their samples for consideration and review. Bloggers elsewhere – which would include yours truly in the EU – are under no such obligations. Or are we?

Since I began that ill-advised writing exercise I call perfume writing in 2010, the perfume blogging landscape has changed entirely, as indeed has the perfume industry itself, and I rather suspect we ain’t seen nothing yet. In all that time, I’ve specifically asked for samples precisely twice. The first time nearly killed me, I was so mortified, mortified for a very human reason: who doesn’t love free stuff? Located in a niche-less part of the world, mostly too impecunious to afford to order even sample packs of things I’d like to try, my future as a perfume writer was a chancy thing in 2010.

Yet if not for an enterprising part-time perfumer who took a chance on a voice in the Void and sent her a generous sample pack or generous friends and fellow bloggers, I never would have.. a) written about perfume to the extent I have b) acquired the international network I thank my chosen deities for every day I live and last but never least c) made and forged some of the most important, fulfilling and cherished friendships of my entire life. All from that fabled ‘free lunch’ of free samples.

But are they really? Most of the brands I review are either niche or indie perfumers in Europe and the US who are their own entire marketing and PR teams, and we all know it: there’s no such thing as bad PR.

For that matter, there’s no such thing as ‘free’ samples, either, if my own massive guilt trip is any indication. When I’m contacted by PR companies or perfume houses asking if there’s anything of theirs I’d like to try, I always make a point of stating that I can’t guarantee when anything will be reviewed (or not), just as I’m unable to guarantee a 100% positive review.

And yet… I’ve encountered not a few perfumes and not a few famous ones that I’ve loathed no end. Which is an opinion, not a fact proclaiming the perfume in question as inherently horrible (although I’ve encountered a few of those as well). So even if I’ve fallen at the fence of personal taste and inclination, I can at least have the decency to pay my verbose respects to the concept, at least. In so doing, I’ve realized a few stunning truths: that certain brands’ overall aesthetic preoccupations always – or nearly – allies with my own, meaning I at least like most of them, and also there are other, likewise lionized brands I can’t even stand in the same room.

But here’s the rub: between butterflies and blooms, or perfume houses and perfume bloggers, gratitude is a two-way street.

Even so, some of them seem to think the traffic is only allowed in one direction: it’s all about them. We blasted, wretched, irrelevant, opinionated bloggers are simply the vehicle that will (so they hope?) propel them to the stratosphere of perfumista superstardom and infinite black-inked bottom lines and massive worldwide distribution deals.

I’ve written raves of perfumes that have been blithely ignored by the companies who created them, in spite of tags and utterly blatant, shameless self-promotion. And I’ve written the occasional chilly-to-tepid review that has been plastered all over social media.

As a semi-famous relative and DK writer said to me this past year, the one thing you as a writer or blogger can’t control is how your words are received. You never know.

Or not, for in this dog-eat-dog world I’ve also been privately lambasted by people for having ‘insider access’ to new brand releases which questions both the brand who sends them (because they appreciate my opinion?) and my integrity as a blogger. (WTF?)

It gets worse. Much, much worse.

The Inexcusable

Sometimes – not at all often – it has happened I’ve written a review – a good one, and some time later, received a full bottle (or a large decant) of the perfume in question from a grateful indie perfumer or perfume house. It would be hard to describe just how grateful I’ve been for those extravagant and likely sincere tokens of appreciation, or how happy they’ve made me every time I’ve opened the red IKEA cabinet of doom and seen them glittering in the light, and every time I’ve cherished wearing them as a reminder of the person behind the perfume.

Yet it seems to have become a burgeoning – and despicable – practice among some bloggers to either sell these bottles (some of them very rare) or decant them on at a profit to interested parties. Which is not only an insult of the first order, it’s also a defiant slap in the face to those of us who dearly love those treasures in our cabinets because they were given in good faith and given as personal. It’s something that gives all of us a deserved checkered reputation for questionable ethics, and something I consider the lowest of low blows in human endeavor.

(Im)Moral Suspicions

This blog – The Alembicated Genie – is a proud and l-o-u-d independent blog. Meaning I will never monetize it, since I’m old school and unfashionable and don’t give a flying who knows it – and also precisely… independent. If I rave about something, you can bet your vintage Nombre Noir it’s because I think the perfume in question is that great and good. As the saying goes: your mileage may vary. I have never, I do declare on one super-rare, exquisite and costly perfume I own and adore, received any kind of compensation for any kind of review and I never will.

Having said that, the alter ego of this blog has also written and prepared press releases and copy for a few select people in the industry – for money. In such instances, the Genie as you know her is nowhere in sight, because she has no part of it at all.

The writer that I am is for sale, as all artists are to differing degrees.

The perfume writer and blogger, on the other hand, never will be.

Now, you know.

Reality Checks

Meanwhile, in the blogosphere, those thieves who choose to profiteer off the backs of those of us who do what we do for love on our own time and initiative will find they’re not only reported to several relevant authorities for daring to suggest that stealing is a ethically feasible alternative to creating content of your own as well as the radical proposition that blogging should be easy (the very idea! :-O), they’ll also find my content has been bullet-proofed to the best of my abilities.

Because in this day and age of blogvertising, I’m more than a little proud of belonging to the one percent of social media who creates the content my readers will (hopefully) enjoy. From scratch, from the heart, con amore.

Call me the Content Diva. As soon as I get the next harrowing deadline out of the way.

With grateful thanks to Gaia, the Non Blonde, for making me think.