Glamourie

gracejonesbyhelmut

- a review of Donato Crowley & Opus OilsGlam Monster

Glamour is one of those words everyone thinks they know how to define. Say that strange word; glamour…and a whole slew of associations come to mind: Vintage Hollywood, La Dolce Vita, rock’n’roll, Dita von Teese, George Hurrell and Richard Avedon photos of impossibly beautiful people in immaculate clothes improbably lit and flawlessly photographed. Glamour, we like to tell our mundane selves in our own humdrum lives, is usually something other people have in other, more rarified and luxurious circumstances, people who have that nearly inhuman ability to draw the eye in and set the imagination alight.

People, in other words, who are able by their mere persona or their photographed image to make us dream the improbable dream…that life will be perfect if just for a moment, and just for a heartbeat, we can identify with them and… sigh.

We can dream the world is our oyster and everything and everyone is ours for the taking.

You might be surprised to know the original meaning of glamour was very, very different. Some very long time ago in the late Middle Ages, the word itself came to us from Scots Gaelic via the Latin word for scholar, grammaticus, meaning one who (also) has occult knowledge of spells and enchantments.

In other words, someone glamorous…knows how to bewitch and bedazzle, and after all, isn’t that what the dream factories in Hollywood are all about?

When I think of the word glamour, a favorite phrase by a favorite writer comes to mind.

By your mask I shall know you. (Isak Dinesen)

Glamour, you see, is that bewitching mask those dream makers and imagination firestarters hide their true selves behind. We see the mask, and we think we know something of the person behind it – the performer, the actor, the mesmerizing personality that stops us in our tracks. Except that’s the whole point of glamour – that enchantment of gloss and polish and unattainable, immortal perfection.

It works as a mirror – polished to a high and silvery sheen, framed by all the artifice of art, fashion, lights, camera, action – and reflects our own dreams and longings back to us larger and more luminous than even we dared to dream. As it does, as we blink in the Klieg lights bedazzled and bewitched, that glamorous mask and the human behind it become one and the same, and so another enchantment begins as our imaginations come alive.

If anyone knows understands the precise meaning of that quote, knows to frame that mirror of glamour and create that mask in novel and surprising ways, Donato Crowley, purveyor, creator, and all-round Renaissance Man of Donato Style, certainly does.

His aesthetic incorporates large hunks of rock’n’roll, a healthy dose of Gothic sensibility, titillating sprinkles of fetish, a fascination with history, armor and intentional disguise, and a definite understanding of an old maxim and an even older secret.

All that glitters is not gold or even diamonds, but Swarovski crystals can fool the best of them. Because the secret of true glamour is…

 The world doesn’t want truth nearly so much as the illusion.

His creations have been worn by (so far as I know) Madonna, Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, among others.

In an ideal world, I’d not only be able to own his Shaman Warrior helmet (skull included) to put close to my writing desk whenever I doubt my own brand of badass, I’ve also found the perfect artist to create a certain dressage top hat of dubious literary repute…

To somehow help him bottle all of that aesthetic as well as that entire raison d’être, he chose one of my own favorite perfumers on Earth – Kedra Hart of Opus Oils.

Behold – Glam Monster. A shape-shifting, ever evolving Swarovski-studded silvery disco ball of a perfume, and trust me, that’s an epic and glorious thing.

This Glam Monster is as blinding bright as any Klieg lights at the outset, starting with the fragrant fireworks of white grapefruit and pink pepper, as fresh and delicious as a brand new It face on a tabloid cover. Yet before you have time to blink and think… “been there, sniffed that, b-o-r-i-n-g”, wait for it.

A slyly smiling gang of paparazzi drawing florals are about to arrive, and these gals take no prisoners and leave only fatal fragrant devastation in their wake. Look! It’s tuberose in all her ferocious glory, growling all the very latest and very juiciest with her new best friends jasmine and narcissus, and smoldering saucily in the background a Casablanca lily winks back at you better than even Mae West could ever muster.

You really should come up and see her sometime.

The thing is, this party isn’t over until the narcissus sings, and some long time later, she does just that with a voice somewhere between an alto and a growl, for that monster begins to stir and the oud shows its fangs before you’re bitten, you’re smitten, you’re breathless with a heady blend of oud…and chocolate.

Like all glamour, there’s something unsettling about that blend. Oud – OK. All that sexy animal/Band-Aid/chiaroscuro smoke and mirrors, the fantasms of fame and fandom, sure, I’ll happily take two of each to go, thank you.

But a dark, dark, bittersweet chocolate, too?

It’s almost too much of a grand and glorious creature, almost too much to breathe, but the key word here is…almost. It should be so very wrong, and yet it seems so very right. Perfectly poised at the bottom of a key light high, high above it all called the happy-go-lucky starburst bright grapefruit and pink pepper beginning.

I never did get a chance to utter a deathless line about Mr. de Mille. I was devoured alive and entire by a most delicious monster.

All along this most thrilling ride, I felt like no one so much as Jerry Hall in a Helmut Newton moment ca. 1975, and the only thing I have remotely in common with Ms. Hall is my hair color. At 5’1” and ‘d’un certain age’, such pleasures should never be under-estimated.

But Ms. Hare, a Leo always up for any kind of trouble, instead found herself channeling another kind of glamorous entity, the dark, sultry, feline glories of a most glam monster indeed. She caught herself mouthing the lyrics to Grace Jones’ ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’, and it took no time at all before Mini Jerry chimed in with an extra hair brush. The Klieg lights were optional. The red carpet was actually gray. We didn’t care.

glamonsterbutterfly

We pulled up to that bumper and figured it all out.

We believed our inner glamourie…or how to be 100% …

Glam Monsters.

Glam Monster is available as both eau de parfum and eau de toilette directly from Donato Style.

glammonster1

Notes: White grapefruit, pink pepper, tuberose, jasmine, Casablanca lily, narcissus, oud, bittersweet chocolate.

Image of Grace Jones by Helmut Newton. Images of Glam Monster via Donato Crowley. Used by permission.

Disclosure: A sample (of the eau de parfum, I’m guessing, since the vial didn’t say) was provided by Kedra Hart of Opus Oils for review.

With thanks to Kedra and to Donato.

Babalon Rising

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT XII

Black_WidowbyDeanBradshaw

- a review of Opus Oils’ Babylon Noir for the Devilscent Project

It doesn’t happen every night that I’m awakened by a ghost. Yet this night, in that dread, dark hour when humanity exists at its lowest ebb and in dreams, a very particular ghost came to call.

What woke me was not her presence, but her perfume. Wandering in that twilit space of fragile memory and lacy emotion on the bridge between surreal and real, suddenly, a waft of strange, poisoned fruit reached out towards me like a vine, and as happens in dreams, the vine itself grew into a monstrous, sentient thing, unfurling its thorny grasp as it moved toward my neck, twining its way in a satin black ribbon up my leg, and surely it would wind around my neck if I didn’t…

“Been having any good nightmares lately, darling?”

It was a voice I knew well, an alto, sultry voice much like my own, but with a clipped, razor-precise and deathly intimidating British accent, and in an instant, the sticky cobweb remnants of nightmare fled screaming to the shadows.

I opened my eyes.

Perched on the pale pink cushion of my black IKEA desk chair sat Lilith, Queen of the Succubi, a vision in a black Valenciennes lace suit with leather accents cut with a precision only found in couture, her habitual patent leather six-inch stilettos on her elegant feet, gold-blonde hair gleaming in the light of a passing car on the street below. Flawlessly exquisite in that 21st-century porn-star way that left no room for either imperfections or doubts. And here was I, resident slob, resplendently barefaced in anti-aging night cream, leopard print pjs and spectacular bed hair.

Why, oh, why do these things always happen to me?

The next moment, my feline teddy bear Hairy Krishna hissed, spat and fled the room. That, too, was unusual.

“You!” I finally managed to say. “I could have sworn I killed you off in show-stopping style in Chapter 51.”

“Yes, well, be that as it may, I was given…dispensation, you could say. If I let that horrible man thing have the last word, my reputation would never recover. This will never do. And besides, darling…” Lilith leaned closer , and I was caught like a deer in the headlights of that deathly seductive scent, “as surely you know by now, villains have a way of returning when you least expect them, isn’t that so?”

This perfume was so thick with fruit, you could almost feel the juices running down your chin. It must have been peach, a peach on that heady verge of overripe, and another, even more fragrant fruit, what was it? This, I thought to myself in my panicked state, was how sin not only smelled, but tasted. Not just your everyday, quotidian, all-too-human sin. This was epic sin. The kind of sin lesser transgressions aspired to when they grew debauched enough.

“True. You had one final ace up your sleeve, as I recall. I’m writing that into the sequel. I also seem to recall I never invited you into my story.” I rubbed cobwebs from my eyes. Hairy Krishna sat at the door eyeing Lilith with a dispassionate eye, still as a statue, orange tail curled tightly around him, the tip twitching softly on the floor.

“Well, think about it. All good parties –all good stories, even – need a gatecrasher. It makes things ever so much more… interesting. Think about it. Without me, you’d be churning out  Harlequin romances.” She said it with such a subtle sneer of derision, I felt chill pearls of condescension forming in my ears.

This was emphatically not the kind of conversation I was used to at 4 AM. This was not the perfume I was used to sniffing at 4 AM, either. That luscious, lethally poisonous peach cocktail was slowly but surely morphing into something still more fatale.

Tuberose. It had to be. A tuberose run through a polarized filter of inky midnight madness. So black, it made a laughing stock of anything called ‘noir’. This tuberose – this perfume even – was not called ‘noir’. It was ‘NOIR’. The quintessence of ‘NOIR’. The kind of ‘Noir’ other perfumes wanted to be if only they owned the right sort of gonads in an appropriate size and with the exact right kind of fragrant flogger. With intricately knotted falls, to be used when wet, with aplomb and just the right twist of wrist and shoulder…

This perfume made my own beloved vintage ‘Narcisse Noir’ seem like a wan, ingénue, milquetoast debutante who grew up in a convent.

“Lilith, why are you here? You’re dead. There is no way in Hell or anywhere else you can possibly come back. I made sure of it. This world is already evil enough without you. Besides, I’m quite intimidated enough.”

I was, too. I felt like the dumpy, naïve secretary in a Forties noir movie who loses out to the fatal charms of Barbara Stanwyck, and who could compete with that?

Ah yes. I could breathe it in now, that flagrant, fragrant flogger made from the hide of a mythical panther, the very last of its kind, exuding all its midnight black, exquisitely tanned, feral pains – and pleasures.

“I told you. I simply couldn’t allow it. Killing me off in such a tawdry, Hollywood fashion. So tacky, darling. I thought you had better taste. Then again, you did take my husband. Why is completely beyond me. He’s a moody egomaniac recluse with a very short fuse. Trust me. After four thousand years, I know these things. Perhaps your taste isn’t nearly so good as you like to think?”

The more things change, I thought. “I did no such thing. I just wrote it. Why, I can’t tell you. I knew I shouldn’t have bought all those CDs. Or looked at their covers.”

“Ah, but you did! How can you write it, if you never experienced it? Besides,” she sniffed and glanced down at the ten gleaming talons on her hands, secure in her own peerlessly wanton perfection, “nothing has ever come of it, actually. I mean, you’re not precisely tearing up the bestseller lists yet, are you? Face it, darling, you’re just going to fade away into obscurity, back into that nameless gutter where you belong with your so-called ‘writing.’ It will never happen. No one wants to know about any of your stories. No one wants to read them. No one cares. They never will.

She sat back in triumph, crossed one long, elegant leg over the other, and smiled sweetly. Her eyes glittered in the glow from the streetlight, not with tears but with malice.

Four AM, and there I was…gutted in leopard print pyjamas. Barefaced. With bed hair. Breathing in all the dangers of a most perilous perfume, with its tainted fruity possibilities and its opulent, Da-Go tuberose, all its heady, animal, feline leathery growls and seductive, pernicious civet moan, all of it borne in the one dream I had left to manifest with a little mischievous help. I was so upset, I jumped out of bed. But the minute I drew breath to protest, to say something, anything, to howl my denial at the black of the moon, another voice I knew too well made itself heard.

“Bullshit.”

Dev came through the door to the other room, and Hairy Krishna suddenly came to life, mewled a sleepy mewl and wound himself around his feet with a loud purr. He knelt down and said hello, before he leaned against the doorjamb, arms crossed over his chest.

“Lilith, face it. You’re dead. For a very good reason. You may have been given compensation for today – I’ll have a few words with God about that one, can’t let that happen again – but it’s time for you to go.”

“You!” Even in the low light, I could almost feel the heat that suddenly radiated off her in her rage, heat that made her perfume seem to fill the room, the apartment, the entire world…all that strange and tainted fruit, all the tuberose, every aspect of some pantherine beast of half-remembered legend…She stood a little unsteady on her six-inch spikes, and glared her non-beloved ex in the face.

“And what makes you think you can get rid of me so easily? Or try to erase the truth? That your tawdry, tacky, nothing little writer will never be anything more than a pint-sized literary failure! I’m just saying what everyone knows…”

“No.” Dev walked over and opened the door. “You’re saying what you want to believe. That’s a very different thing. Get out.”

Lilith tossed her gleaming hair out of her eyes and turned at the door of my apartment. “So long as you don’t think…” she pointed at me, “That I’m anywhere near finished with you!”

The door slammed behind her with a bang they saw on a seismograph in San Diego.

He locked and bolted the door.“I should have seen that coming. I’m sorry.”

“Done is done.” I shrugged. Who cared? She was gone. Thank all the gods who ever lived.

“So what do we do now?” I felt him burning against me, shoulder to shoulder. There was a fiery gleam in his eyes and a grin on his face, a gleam I had seen not a few times before.

He took a deep, deep breath. Lilith’s perfume filled the room, but now, there was a sweeter, softer edge it somehow never showed on her skin.

“I’ve got a great idea, baby. Let’s misbehave!”

And in a scarlet cabinet glowed Lilith in a lace-wrapped bottle, biding her time…until the next time.

babylonnoir

Opus Oils’ ‘Babylon Noirwill be launched at The Three Muses Salon in Hollywood tomorrow; February 14th. With my abject, undying gratitude to Kedra Hart.

Image: © Dean Bradshaw, ‘Black Widow’ (2012). All rights reserved. Used by permission. Photo of ‘Babylon Noir’ bottle, my iPhone.

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!

Strawberry Dreams Forever

-   a review of Perfume Pharmer & Opus OilsStrawberry Passion Perfumes

Summers are short, sweet, filled with light and all too fleeting in this obscure part of Europe I call home. Days expand exponentially to twenty-one hours of daylight by Midsummer, and since the sun doesn’t sink further than eighteen degrees below the horizon, it never does get truly dark at night until late July. The elderflowers bloom, the wood doves coo their summer songs in the beech woods, the philadelphus bushes blossom and all the pent-up energy of long, dark winters explode with a fury as my fellow Viking descendants head straight for the beach on no provocation and the first hints of sunshine, ditching ten months of woolen layers as they go. Overexcited children wolf down ice cream cones the size of their heads, cats hiss and charge at the kitty TV just outside the window, and even cynical writer wannabes feel a pang in their hearts and a ray of sunshine in their souls.

It’s summer, and that’s the only excuse you need to indulge yourself in the fine art of dolce far niente, the sweet art of doing absolutely nothing but paint cloud pictures in the sky, play Frisbee on the beach and…indulge yourself in the one overriding sign of summer in these northern latitudes, a sign so important that it’s arrival makes the national news every year, with prognoses on how well – or bad – this year’s harvest will be…

Summertime is strawberry time, and it’s not summer until the strawberries appear at roadside stands and farmers’ markets, to be eaten straight from the punnet or plucked from a field in the very early morning, to splash with cream or turn them into tartes, jam, homemade ice cream, and dream our luscious, ruby-red dreams that this instant will never end and summer will be as infinite as our imaginings.

Now, Monica Miller of Perfume Pharmer and Kedra Hart of Opus Oils have captured that endless summer dream into two all-natural perfumes called Strawberry Passions, and now, maybe it’s even true that summer never does come to an end.

Strawberry flower essence is a flower essence said to boost low self-esteem, feelings of unworthiness and being ungrounded, and to confer dignity and poise, to be able to be fully present in the moment. Isn’t that something we could all use, any time of the year?

Monica sent her own strawberry flower essence to Kedra Hart, and Kedra returned with two shining, bespoke examples of summer-in-a-sample-vial, and whatever other effects these two might have on my crabby mood of late, it’s virtually impossible not to smile when I wear them.

Strawberry Green is the ode to the berry itself, the olfactory equivalent of biting into a fresh strawberry and letting that sharp, fragrant juice fill your senses with all its summery promises.

It’s the strawberry and the greenery around it too, all fruity tang and flowery punch and such flowers, they are, too. Once that jolt to your senses fades, here come the summer blooms dancing in on a sunbeam, a touch of rose, a whisper of tuberose, a hint of heavenly boronia and a lilting, laughing white water lily, all entwined around the greenery of an ivy and that bright bomb of blackcurrant that celebrates the sunlight and that perfect red strawberry of your most fevered, summer-starved January dreams.

I feel like I’m starring in an alternate version of one song that haunted my wanton twenties, only this one is called ‘Strawberry Beret’, and life will be happy, life will be grand, and summer will always be endlessly warm and infinitely sunny.

As it dries down, ambergris, sandalwood and patchouli gang up with the oakmoss to pull that strawberry back to earth and even you with it. Before you even realize it, you’re singing the lyrics to a song you thought you forgot, and remembering that other you that life somehow misplaced, the incurable optimist that ate up the summer and even life with every juicy berry, when one ruby-hued berry was one too many and two were not nearly enough!

Strawberry Cream was Monica’s wish to capture the cream teas of her British childhood, those decadent late-afternoon times hours with warm scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam, and it’s so delicious, I nearly want to eat my arm.

Perhaps you’re one of those – I would agree with you – whose thoughts of ‘gourmand’ and ‘strawberry’ want to make you run for the hills and far, far away in horrified memory of all those ultra sweet, fruity-floral, flesh-eating ogres that haunt so many perfumista nightmares.

These are berries of a very different sort, sweet as a cherished memory and as opulent as the caramel-tinged flavor of Devonshire cream itself as it seeps into the buttery, crumbly texture of a warm scone.

This is dolce far niente at its finest, when all other cakes seem so overwrought and overdone, this liquid ode to pleasure satisfies my sweet tooth just enough to justify being just a little wicked. Go on. Have another one. Marvel at the way the amber and the vanilla, the ambergris, the sandalwood and patchouli somehow combine so well you’re practically licking cream and strawberries off your fingers and the corners of your mouth. Never mind tomorrow. Forget all you knew about yesterday. Live a little. Laugh a lot. Lick cream off your fingers, too, just because you can.

I’m so not a fruity perfume person. Yet if anyone could convince me, it’s Kedra – and Monica – with these two odes to my favorite sign of summer. Strawberry Green is what I’d wear to kick out that crabby self and stand a little taller, happier and more confident. Strawberry Cream is what I’d dab whenever a cake craving strikes and there’s none to be had. When I want to feel a little reckless, a little daring, and metaphorically lick cream and strawberries off my fingers.

Never forget, that just as the flower remedy promises, you are deserving of all happiness and all pleasures – so why not indulge yourself? It’s summer! Kick back, be happy, be present in the moment and dream those strawberry dreams…forever!

Strawberry Passions is available directly from the Perfume Pharmer’s etsy site.

Notes for Strawberry Green: Martha’s Vineyard strawberry flower & leaf essence, pink pepper, white water lily, red mandarin, ivy accord, rose, tuberose, boronia, strawberry, blackcurrant, peach, green tea, sandalwood, patchouli, beach found ambergris, oakmoss.

Notes for Strawberry Cream: Martha’s Vineyard strawberry flower & leaf essence, pink pepper, bergamot, tangerine, boronia, peach, strawberry, raspberry accord, amber, vanilla, patchouli, beach found ambergris, sandalwood.

Disclosure: Samples of both Strawberry Passions perfumes were provided by Perfume Pharmer.

With special thanks to Tiger Powers, who pointed to the main image, which says everything you need to know about strawberries – and passions!

Primeval Forces of Perfume

In Quantum Demonology, there is a term for what the protagonist calls…primeval forces, a phrase that refers to those musical epiphanies that are above superstardom and even above musical gods on an altogether different plane of existence. The ones she can’t live without, ever. The ones who never leave her iPod playlists. Ever.

But I have them in perfume terms, too. And a recent Skype conversation with one of them brought the concept up again. Which made me think, something this particular august personage does quite well. So what creates such paragons of fragrant epiphanies – what does it take to elevate illustrious perfumers and creative directors into my nosebleed stratosphere? Who are they? And why do they loom so important – on my person, in my cabinet, in my perfume subconscious? Read on, and I’ll tell you.

Understand that once upon a time, although I used – and likely abused – a wide range of perfumes starting at age 14, I did not always have such a visceral, emotional connection with perfumes. I operated on the time-honored French principle of “Ça sent beau”… “It smells…good!”, and so long as it worked on my mood, my manner or my nefarious plans, often horizontal, then all was well, until…

Until I began reading about perfume on a scale I never had before. In those days, it was olfaction by proxy, since I couldn’t afford any, but at least I could educate myself, and so I did, right up to the moment I read about a certain Paris-based perfume house, whose perfumes were described as ‘bottled emotions’. For whatever reasons, that idea stuck in my receptive mind. How did you…bottle emotion? And which ones? What did they smell like? Would they be different than the ones I already knew and loved, if no longer owned?

If I only knew what I know now.

Since becoming a perfume blogger in earnest, I’ve discovered that emotions could indeed be bottled – good, bad, even horror! (Secretions Magnifiques, here’s looking at you!). My tastes have evolved to such an extent that I love all sorts of perfumes – greens, chypres, opulent Orientals, knock ‘em dead florals, woods, gourmands, ouds…you name them, I’ll love them. There’s still room for improvement – musk is a note I struggle with – but I’m all for…fragrant transport to …elsewhere and otherwise, to new horizons and time travel, too!

Primeval Forces, however, elevate themselves above the rest. These creations are the ones I will wear without fail and with total surrender, the ones that suck me into a vortex of wonder, the ones I never hope to be without again, the ones that define not just this perfume writer, but this woman – and this soul. Which takes a lot more than simply…smelling good!

1) In every peerless work of art, so say the discerning, there is a hint of..strange, some oddity that catches the eye, the ear, or the nose. True beauty will always be unusual, always make you pause and take another look, another sniff, another snag that catches on the cogwheels of your imagination and sends it down a new and unexplored path. So that whiff of…strange that compels you to breathe deeper, that stops you cold and fires your imagination, would be my first criterion.

2) Every artistic creation – or collaboration, and some of my Primeval Forces are – contains some detectable droplet of the minds that conceived it. You could say that there’s an invisible ribbon in these bottles that goes straight from the creator(s) to that secret, bedrock location in my soul that was waiting for this reminder to shoot towards the light of awareness. I have to sense the heartbeat(s) behind it, which could explain why I tend to gravitate towards the niche and independent lines these days. They rarely disappoint me.

3) All my Primeval Forces excel at transport and the unexpected…they surprise me, they show me wonders, they make me cry, they take me places I’ve never known before, and as they do, my world is somehow larger, richer and far more colorful for it. Some kind of seismic perspective shift occurs, and how I define ‘perfume’ will never be the same.

4) Last, but not least…inspiration! When the time comes to sift through my impressions and turn them into expression, do I find myself tearing my hair out, grappling with metaphor and simile, trying to say something new, trying to expand – if not explode – my limitations as a writer? If that’s the case, I know I’m on to something spectacular. The less control I have over my own creative process, the better the end result. The perfumes that remove that illusory ‘control’ and just write my review for me – these are the ones I know I won’t be able to live without!

5) Each of these houses and perfumers march to their very own and distinctive beat. This means they can be as ground-breaking and as creative as they please, and so they are. Each has their own style and signature, and each of them make only their own rules.

So here they are – my fragrant Primeval Forces. There is no hierarchy here, no order of preference – these perfumers and houses are all laws unto themselves, continuing to take my breath away and explaining in liquid and essence, why I love to live and live to sniff!

Parfums Serge Lutens/Serge Lutens & Christopher Sheldrake

When I first read about Serge Lutens perfumes, I had this cold chill of intuition…there was something there, some secrets I needed to know. Not many understand quite so well the compelling beauty of strange and spectacular, of redefining by deconstructing. When I finally had the opportunity to try them, my world view changed…forever. I’ve been amazed ever since and I remain amazed every time I wear a Lutens, for familiarity does not take away that thrill of discovery and epiphany. I haven’t loved all of them, and in a few cases not at all, but of those I fell for – nearly twenty at last count! – I’ll love them for as long as I live.

Aftelier Perfumes/Mandy Aftel

Encountering the marvels of Mandy Aftel was one of the happiest ‘coincidences’ of my life. Mandy’s perfumes are nearly impossible to categorize, which qualifies her right there, but that’s only where she begins to pull those rabbits out of her hat. Strangely beautiful, beautifully strange, earthy, shockingly sensuous and opulent or ethereal as dancing moonbeams, she always surprises me and never compromises on her artistic vision. I have yet to encounter an Aftelier that hasn’t blown me away. They compel me and inspire me and fortify me in ways very few other perfumes do, so much that I usually have one drop of an Aftelier somewhere on me regardless of whatever else I wear, just because it’s the final cross on this T!

DSH Perfumes/Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

Right when I thought I was fast becoming my own living anachronism, mourning the death of Immortal Green Chypres, along came hope in a bottle in the form of a sample sent by Lucy of Indieperfumes. That sample was Vert pour Madame, and repercussions could be detected as far away as Buenos Aires at least. Dawn’s epic range and vision don’t stop there. Her knowledge of perfumes through history is unparalleled, her recreations and her own creations are…peerless, and just as Mandy, she knows just how to pull the rug from under my feet and expectations and swipe me sideways in all the best ways. I’ve yet to meet a DSH creation I couldn’t instantly fall for with a vengeance. As indeed I have! She’s simply…THAT…great!

Amouage Perfumes

Luxury in this day and age has become such an overused, over-hyped word. Ridiculously overpriced, average perfumes sold on pretentious PR copy are not how I define it. My perfume budget is so low, it’s a joke, yet I’m not laughing. I was laughing the day I caught myself ordering two fated (and outrageously expensive) samples of Amouage with the thought that I would be impervious to the hype, I would simply let these two speak for themselves, and despite many warnings from the Greek chorus of my fellow perfume bloggers (who knew precisely what I was in for), I was convinced Amouage couldn’t possibly be that stupendous. Famous last words, for heaven help me – they are. Every single one of them! Since the arrival of Creative Director Christopher Chong, Amouage has made perfumes so plush, unique and persuasive (if not addictive!), that all I can do is shrug at my own bloody-mindedness and surrender to their charms. In the case of Amouage, I’m so easy, it’s ridiculous. Or I am!

Opus Oils/Kedra Hart

Opus Oils, to my line of thinking, should be a smash success if there were any justice in this world. Because Kedra Hart makes perfume – always in danger of being just a little precious and high-minded – f-u-n. That might make you think they couldn’t be complex, tell stories, or take your breath away. Not so. Look past the tongue-in-cheek vintage-inspired copy (not that I’m complaining) and you will find perfumes as stellar as any others on my Primeval list, as rich and as surprising and evolving. As I work my way through my samples of Kedra’s creations, my FB wish list is getting ever longer. That they are all so easy to wear and to love can take away the fact that they are so masterfully constructed, with a sleight-of-hand that makes the very difficult look so very artless – always the sign of a true, dedicated, epically talented artist!

Neil Morris Fragrances/Neil Morris

Neil is a recent addition to my Primeval list, although I’ve been aware of him for quite some time. My introduction to Neil’s art was through a Vault collection perfume, and it literally wiped me off the floor in a swoon. But distracted as I am by all the details of my quotidian life, even I can feel that cold chill brush of intuition that sings… “Here we go – again!” For since that fatal discovery, thank all the perfume Gods!, Neil and his titanic talents have joined the Devilscent Project, and what a revelation they both have been! No neophyte to the Dark Arts of perfumery, he has reduced me to tears with his mods, because…by golly, he gets it! All of it – the light, the dark, the joy and the tragedy of my story. Our common fragrant journey has only just begun, but I am so grateful to have such a talent to explore,l and so privileged to have so many wonders to anticipate.

Olympic Orchids/Ellen Covey

If my (mis)education as a perfumoholic began with reading perfume blogs and evolved with the discovery of Serge Lutens, then it was surely cemented (or I was doomed!) when I discovered Olympic Orchids. Ellen Covey and her scents – orchid-inspired and otherwise – have done so very much to educate me and astonish me as well as delight me. She was my first indie perfumer, and has since been a perpetual surprise. Her orchid perfumes are spot-on, true to life and utterly spectacular (just ask the head gardener of the Orchid House at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Copenhagen, when I came to visit as the cattleyas bloomed, perfumes in tow), and the rest of her range is no less magnificent. But then – since this is the trouble we both like to make when we can! – we cooked up the Devilscent Project…and neither of us will ever quite be the same. The four Devils she conjured – and the synchronicity of their creation in her perfumes and my words – have shifted some major ground in my world, which has yet another reason for never quite… being the same!

Maria McElroy & Alexis Karl, Cherry Bomb Killer Perfume

Trouble always awaits when you’re sent eight samples of a new line and you can’t say one bad thing about any of them, only that you want…one of everything, pronto! This happened last summer when I was introduced to Aroma M and the lovely Maria McElroy, but little did I know the epiphanies that awaited when she joined forces with her Cherry Bomb Killer Perfumes partner Alexis Karl of Scents by Alexis fame for the Clarimonde Project and their Immortal Mine, nor what I would be inspired to write because of it. (There’s another kind of novel in that story/review just begging to be written!). These two have the kind of spectacular creative synergy between them I can only marvel at, marvel and be grateful I’m privileged to write about it. Coming soon are my reviews of their contributions for the Devilscent Project, and if perfumes are perilous – as I’ve always fervently believed – then this Devil and this Lilith, Queen of the Succubi – are surely proscribed by a top-secret Papal bull!

Neela Vermeire Creations/Neela Vermeire & Bertrand Duchaufour

Even in niche perfumery, there’s no shortage of hype – or launches. I’m well aware of all the lines I have yet to discover, or the one I’m dying to. So it takes more than PR machinery, a luxury label and ditto price tag to convince this perfume writer. It takes…that ribbon, that soul connection, that Aha! moment. When everyone started talking in hyper-excited tones about a new trio of perfumes unlike anything at all else around the time of the Elements NY exhibition, a line inspired by memories of that storied sub-continent of dreams that is India, my nose pricked up. When my sample set arrived on a gray day of forever goodbyes, I wondered whether it might be a sign of new beginnings. It was. For the trilogy and evolving stories that swirl and eddy within Trayee, Mohur and Bombay Bling are indeed those singular, vivid and personal narratives in perfume we all say we want to sniff and all too rarely do. All three reached out, grabbed my heart in fated, fabled, fragrant hugs and wouldn’t let me go. Their intricate, many-faceted wonders are there to stay!

Tauer Perfumes/Andy Tauer

When it comes to Andy Tauer, I usually joke I want to parade him down Fifth Avenue in a sedan chair with an adoring crowd throwing rose petals. I doubt this would ever happen – or even that the very modest Andy would stand for it! – but it says something of the impact he has – or the seismic potential of his perfumes. They are sometimes challenging and always unusual, and have done so much to reinvent my own perfume vernacular, no matter what the context or the materials. Whether rose – and no one does roses quite like Andy – incense, lavender or amber, or just the olfactory bomb that is Orange Star, I’ve had to really push my words to describe them and the places they took me to, and that, too is another kind of genius and another unique talent for which I can never thank him enough!

Primeval Forces are personal epiphanies, the ones you can’t live without and wouldn’t want to try. The ones you can find on yourself when all you want to do is feel that sigh of perfection in a world that all too often is anything but.

Do you have Primeval Forces, too?

The Breath of Eternity

- a review of Opus Oils’ The Divine Collection – Isis

Many, many gods and goddesses have made their indelible impressions on history, imagination and the human mind. Mythology is nothing more nor less than the sum total of every lesson we humans need to learn in order to evolve and move forward, and so those many gods and goddesses are all expressions of basic human truths and a basic human need for the numinous, the sacred, that which is both above and beyond us and connects us with that deep, secret bedrock of our very selves.

Among all those many gods and goddesses of our storied past and present futures, one of the most important of all is the Egyptian goddess Isis. She was the embodiment of the ideal woman, wife of Osiris, mother of Horus, the Queen of Heaven and the giver of eternity in the afterlife. When Osiris was murdered and thoroughly dismembered by his brother Set, Isis walked the earth to find for all his scattered parts, and when she had them, she transformed herself into a kite, flew above him and breathed him back to life.

Even Christian iconography and its many thousands of images of the virgin Mary and baby Jesus traced their origin directly back to Isis and baby Horus. She was worshiped from Egypt to Britain and from Tingis (in modern Morocco) to a remote Essene stronghold near the Dead Sea. The Roman writer Apuleius in the second century quoted her:

I am nature, the universal Mother, mistress of all the elements, primordial child of time, sovereign of all things spiritual, queen of the dead, queen of the ocean, queen also of the immortals, the single manifestation of all gods and goddesses that are, my nod governs the shining heights of Heavens, the wholesome sea breezes. Though I am worshipped in many aspects, known by countless names … some know me as Juno, some as Bellona … the Egyptians who excel in ancient learning and worship call me by my true name…Queen Isis.

All these many years later, Isis is also an all-natural perfume in Opus Oils’ Divine Collection, and all these many perfumes later, her arcane magic has been so very hard to resist.

Kedra Hart told me that that Isis contains no less than three different kinds of lotus absolute – pink lotus, white water lily, which is often called lotus but in fact is another species of flower, and the fabled blue lotus which was used everywhere in ancient Egypt.

Blue lotus is an intriguing bloom. Every morning, it emerges from the water and opens up its petals to the sun, only to close them up at noon and retreat back into the water. It was a symbol of immortality, used in many medicines, presented to the Gods – and even to Isis – and its blooms were famous not just for their haunting perfume, but for their effect – they were soaked in wine and drunk as an aphrodisiac. The very scent of blue lotus itself has been shown to have psychoactive properties on the brain, and recently, a study proved the Egyptians were on to something – blue lotus contains phosphodiesters – which make Viagra so effective!

Isis is a hard perfume to pin down. Those three unmistakable lotuses – the blue, the pink and white water lily might make you think that Isis would be aquatic and ethereal, when in fact it is nothing of the kind.

A very long time ago, I once had a boyfriend who made a point of taking me to the Royal Botanical Gardens in Copenhagen when the blue lotus bloomed to present me with a flower or two. Once you’ve sniffed a lotus, it’s impossible to mistake it for anything else – it is floral and green, earthy and warm, heady and haunting.

Right from the beginning, lotus is apparent – a juicy, jasmine-flecked, deep, complex lotus. The spicier pink lotus peeks out among the jasmine and the more ethereal white water lily too, all of them somehow a sum total of lotus both magical and alluring. As it opens up its fragrant petals on your skin, that exquisite sandalwood note I find in many Opus Oils is detectable in the far distance, but for a very long time, it’s all about those lotuses. Isis is no ordinary Goddess – and these flowers are no quotidian blooms. They entwine themselves around you in a warm, sensuous hug, and after a stressed out day that has you spread thinner than gold plating, suddenly, all your missing pieces come together into one fragrant entity, standing tall, standing proud, as serene as a secret lotus unfolding its petals in the sunrise among the reeds of the Nile.

I may be only frail and human, and I may never be immortal, but even I sometimes need a little centering calm in my own busy life, a reconnection with all I hold sacred, and Isis does just that.

When you are centered at last, secure as any earthly goddess can ever be, that beautiful sandalwood sings with frankincense and myrrh their redolent tales of sacred and profane, of worship and adulation, of all the many secrets Isis knows and shares with every woman who needs that grounding, that centering in an often frantic life, and finally, you can – as I did – imagine yourself as Nefertari, Ramses the Great’s queen, in the wall painting above. She has passed her test and weighed her heart on Anubis’ scales, Osiris has proclaimed his judgment, and the Goddess Isis – protector of all women in life and in the afterlife – steps forward to bestow immortality upon her or even you – that Breath…of Eternity.

Notes: Blue lotus absolute, pink lotus absolute, white water lily absolute, jasmine, sandalwood, frankincense, myrrh

Opus Oils – The Divine Collection – Isis is available as perfume oil, parfum and Eau de parfum, bath and body oil, bath salts, body lotion and body butter directly from the Opus Oils website. It will no eternity at all before I buy up one of everything!

Image: Nefertari and Isis, from Nefertari’s tomb, 19th Dynasty, the Valley of the Queens, Egypt.

Image of “Pink Lotus”, © Cecilia Webber

A Tintannabulation of Skin

 A review of Opus Oils’ Eau Pear Tingle 

So far as our senses and sensory impressions are concerned, all too often we tend to take them entirely for granted. We will always be able to appreciate the visual beauty of a burning crystal clear sunset, our ears and minds will marvel at a perfect F over C, our fingertips vibrate with the anticipatory pleasures of touching silk, skin or velvet, and all the thousands of sensations that together spell out “chocolate” will always be addictive. And for a dedicated hedonist/perfumista, what could be more important than our sense of smell to awaken all our other senses?

Now imagine you’re an anosmic who has lost your sense of smell due to trauma or illness, and in an instant, over one fifth of your entire sensory register is…gone. Suddenly, your sense of taste is vastly diminished since so many complex taste sensations are more smelled than tasted, suddenly flowers are only able to be appreciated for their visual beauty and not their fragrance, and as for perfume, well, really…what’s the point? Or what about being born congenitally anosmic, that is to say without any sense of smell at all?

We’ve all experienced bad colds that killed our sense of smell and taste. For epic colds, my sister swears by Naga chilis so thermonuclear, not even native Kerala Indians will go near them. And as it happens, she’s on to something.

Such are the workings of the human brain, that even with anosmics, they don’t lose what’s called the trigeminal response – that is to say, the nerve that registers things like the heat (or pain!) of chilis, the prickly bubbles of carbonation, the cooling sensation of mint and many other responses that are tied to your nose more than you think.

A few months ago, the writer Michelle Krell Kydd of Glass Petal Smoke issued a perfume brief via the social media of Twitter and Facebook. The challenge was to make a pefume that would both register with anosmics as well as appeal to non-anosmics, since is there any reason why anosmics too shouldn’t experience the pleasures of wearing a truly good perfume for themselves as well as their surroundings? After all, the rest of us may wear perfume to please ourselves first and foremost, but no small part of the thrill – at least for me – is to make an impression, too.

One perfumer took up that challenge – Kedra Hart of Opus Oils, whose mother was diagnosed as an anosmic after a skating accident when Kedra was a teenager. So Eau Pear Tingle was created, and now that I’ve tried it too, I can tell you this – this is not your usual ‘perfume’.

In order for such a perfume to succeed, it had to appeal in a different way, to work for anosmics and also to satisfy the rest of us as a true perfume does – with complexity and evolution, and by triggering that precise trigeminal response that tells an anosmic—yes! There’s something new on my skin!

So there is…because right away, Eau Pear Tingle announces its presence with the tingling sensation you might know from Vick’s Vapo-Rub or Tiger Balm…nothing nearly so obvious but emphatically present – soft, sensuous and simultaneously warm and cool at once – and even more surprising is that sensation on your skin stays with you for as long as the scent itself, and really, how great is that?

Wait! It gets better! But first, let me hear you scream…

Eau Pear Tingle as a perfume is best classified as a fruity-floral-oriental, which tends to make perfume bloggers break out in verbal hives, if not howls of derision for their sheer, unavoidable ubiquity in the mainstream perfume market. So before I’m pelted with rotting bottles of Giorgio Beverly Hills, may I say that this is Kedra Hart, darlings, and with two notable exceptions, no one does fruit+floral better. Combined with the uniqueness of being able to feel it, it takes the concept of wearing perfume to a multi-sensory experience you won’t find anywhere else.

It starts green and minty, effervescent and slightly astringent to the nose – the spearmint that gives it that effect on skin – and in seconds, what smells like a tropically flavored cocktail of pear, pineapple and coconut starts dancing away, even though neither pineapple nor coconut are listed in the notes. Lime/linden blossom and jasmine must give my nose that impression, and they are thick, heady and truly luscious to behold – and not indolic in the slightest. What next happens as the flowers and fruit fade to sensuous green embers is a woody, elegant, vintage feel of the musk, pine and a glorious sandalwood – an accord I’ve begun to recognize in many of Opus Oils’ perfumes as a definite signature.

This sandalwood is not the sandalwood we’ve had to settle for these days, this smells like the very best of very vintage Mysore with all its many facets of magnificent, moody, sensual wood…a journey in time and on skin back to the bad old days when opulence wasn’t an advertising byword or overused PR ploy but a fragrant reality you trailed in your wake, precisely the kind of trail that gets you noticed for all the very best of reasons!

If I had to put another name to Eau Pear Tingle, it would be…wearable champagne. Think about it – half the thrill of champagne – apart from its taste and effect – is… all those thousands of bubbles dancing their cancan in your mouth and up your nose – stimulating the very same trigeminal nerve this perfume does.

I love the unusual – in life as well as perfume – and Eau Pear Tingle is unusual both in its creation and its effect, and as unique as Kedra’s perfumes always are. It happily satisfies all my perfumoholic urges for exploring new territory – a multi-sensory time trip from the future through providing a sensation – the present in its sparkling fruity-floral richness, and the glowing, vintage depths of its long-lasting drydown, a wave and a knowing wink to the wonders that were that so many of us still revere and love. Most of all, however, there is that wonder and shock of unique …like strumming a pear guitar, or like the tintannabulation of skin to make a music all its own that everyone should be able to sense.

Notes: Spearmint, lime blossom, pear, jasmine, white musk, pine, sandalwood

Disclosure: A sample of Eau Pear Tingle was provided for review by Opus Oils.

Don’t miss Michelle Krell Kydd’s excellent article on anosmia and the development of Eau Pear Tingle, as well as Kedra’s own words, too!

Images: Pear Guitar, vir41, Eau Pear Tingle atomizer bottle by permission of Opus Oils.