The Adventures of Ms. Hare and Madame Hyde

2392273134_77afcd0bf6

 – help to look as good as you waft!

As a blogger myself, I also read a lot of blogs. I don’t always comment as much as I know I should, but by golly, I read them. Of all those many blogs I read, not all of which are perfume-related, I have nothing at all but bottomless admiration for those intrepid ladies who (also) blog about the perilous business of beauty. My idols are not those countless twenty-somethings who wax poetic over the anti-aging benefits of Korean snail extract BB creams (I can’t take them seriously), but ladies like myself ‘d’un certain age’ who haven’t given up and packed it in. Who try stuff so I don’t have to as one of them succinctly states, who go where I can’t, test what I can’t afford or am able to obtain and always keep their sense of perspective in order, as well as their sense of humor.

Therefore, before I incriminate myself any further, may I say it: Jane, Gaia, Jen and CharlestonGirl ladies, I bow down before your utter, jawdropping awesomeness and dedication. You have never led me astray. And although this isn’t strictly speaking a perfume post, I’m no competition. Nevertheless – your stellar advice has changed my life in more ways than you know.

Yet, after a winter that has seemed to drag endlessly on and a milestone birthday ahead I dearly wish I could hibernate through if not bypass altogether, even impoverished perfume bloggers in the BFE sticks (that would be me) can sometimes get lucky and try things that neither cost the sun, the moon or all the stars but also deliver good on their promise without ever promising more than they deliver!

To that end, I recruited some help from my intrepid former roommate and present downstairs neighbor for an alternate perspective on some beauteous goodies I was dying to try. We can call her Ms. Hare. She’s 32, a definite Leo, and thanks to knowing yours truly, a reformed and dedicated lover of all things niche, including the contents of my perfume cabinet. Ms. Hare has a thick, wavy bush of dark brown hair – apart from the color the kind of hair I once had before age, offspring and years of coloring abuse caught up with it. She has taught me the proper use of a hair dryer. (And much else besides). She is therefore uniquely qualified as a test bunny for one particular product I shall get back to in a bit.

Meanwhile, there’s yours truly. I stubbornly refuse to make Botox or cosmetic surgery part of my future, but south does seem to be the general direction in which I’m heading, in spite of all I do, massive amounts of daily sunscreen for over twenty years and a year-round perma-pallor. And something has to be done. I’m not dead yet. Neither, much as it pains me to say, is my vanity. Which received a bit of a dent last year when a dermatologist diagnosed me with atopic dermatitis and put a serious cramp in my style.

What to do, what to do…

The Miracle Workers

Skye Botanicals African Gold Shea Butter

Shea butter has long been the ingredient du jour in the battle against dry skin, psoriasis and other epidermal ills. I had never encountered the Real, Undiluted Deal until Monica Miller of Skye Botanicals/Perfume Pharmer was sweet enough to send me a jar of Skye Botanicals ‘African Gold Unrefined Shea Butter’ when I complained about my horrible traitorous dry skin. This is – let me say it – marvelous, magnificent stuff. Bright yellow and with the consistency of a salve, I’ve used it on my face, the frayed ends of my hair, on scaly elbows, knees and heels, dry hands and everywhere else I could think of, which is basically – everywhere else. I haven’t woken up with the face of a twenty-five year old, but that’s OK, too. A little goes a long way, my skin and I have been on very civil speaking terms since and I never want to be without it again. As if those wonders weren’t enough, it won’t break out your skin or even the bank. Run, don’t walk, straight to Skye Botanicals and buy it. Your skin will thank you by looking the best it ever has, considering that compass is headed south…

Also from Skye Botanicals is the gentle Rose Facial Toner, which has not only convinced me to use toner after cleansing (this is called progress, darlings), but is also great for setting my makeup. Plus, it smells deliciously of wild roses. What’s not to love?

No Snake Oil In Sight

Aroma M Camellia Facial Oil

Skincare oils are suddenly everywhere, even here in the BFE boonies. Had you told me even six months ago I’d be a convert too, I wouldn’t have believed you. Aroma M’s incredible Camellia Face oil – concocted from camellia, carrot seed, golden jojoba, apricot kernel, evening primrose, virgin argan, jasmine, geranium, frankincense and neroli oils – was inspired by Maria McElroy’s expertise with both Western aromatherapy and Japanese Gion Geisha beauty rituals and not only combines the best of both worlds, but also does wonders to rehydrate and nourish the skin, even mine. I love nothing better than to eat my own words on facial oils. My skin adored it. I adored it. I woke up in the mornings without wanting a steam iron for my face. Although I still haven’t woken up with the face of a twenty-five-year-old, I certainly feel far more fabulous than I ever did! Which is also the perfect description of the scent – fabulous.

Aftelier Jasmine Face Elixir

Jasmine oil, so says my aromatherapy research, has anti-aging properties, works to calm the nervous system and relaxes. Mandy Aftel has combined the organic oils of grapeseed, sweet almond, rice bran, squalene, camellia and rose hip to concoct a heavenly, jasmine-scented blend. I’ve used it at night both over and under my night cream, and this has really put the capital G in my g-l-o-w. If that’s not a recipe for sweet dreams, I don’t know what is.

Aftelier Lavender Fresh Ginger Body Oil & Hair Elixir

Since I was brainwashed in childhood with Yardley’s English Lavender soap, I’ve had a soft spot for lavender in perfumes and body care products. I was a bit disconcerted to discover that this dark green gem has since been discontinued, but in the “I can’t believe it’s good for my skin” department, Lavender Fresh Ginger Body Oil checks all the boxes. It’s a favorite color. It smells utterly divine, with both the calming green, herbal and floral scent of lavender and the kicky, spicy fire of fresh ginger. It smoothes my crocodile hide to sensuously silken softness. It has also gone on the frayed ends of my hair with great results, so long as I remember a little goes a long way. All that’s missing is someone to appreciate it, but at least Hairy Krishna has been known to snuggle a little closer and purr a little louder when I wear this to bed. It  comes in several other varieties that are not one whit less delicious – for your skin and your senses.

Aftelier Ancient Resins Body Oil and Hair Elixir.

Originally custom-made for the legendary Leonard Cohen, this is the classiest skin-solicitous celebuscent ever – an oil with all the same benefits for your hair and skin as the Lavender and Fresh Ginger. It smells impossibly luxe, dense and incredibly deep – the olfactory equivalent of Mr. Cohen’s plush, silk-velvet baritone, and I have a thing for those…With frankincense, poplar buds, benzoin, elemi and labdanum. I’ll happily take Manhattan – right after I take this along with it. Or any guy who wears it. They have been warned.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Aroma M Camellia Hair Oil

No kidding, there we were, my friend and I – one bushy-haired brunette Amazon Leo, one pint-sized Doña Quixota Taurus with rather fine, limp, slightly wavy hair color-treated nearly every shade of the rainbow since the early Palaeolithic. These days, however, I stick in the general neighborhood of my own shade if slightly lighter, what with lighter being younger, or so they tell me. Basically, we both have fried hair, although I’ve had a haircut two months ago, so my hair is in better shape and with far fewer split ends.

To put it another way – we were both of us in dire need of some hair therapy, but in a manner of speaking from opposite ends of the spectrum.

Aroma M’s Camellia Hair Oil was created according to the very best and most effective traditions of hair care known to geisha – and Japanese women in general. They take protecting their skin and hair from the elements very seriously, and camellia oil has been used for centuries as a hairdressing aid, protecting and purifying the hair and scalp. It contains camellia oil, virgin argan and golden jojoba oils, and the essential oils of rosemary and Moroccan tuberose.

First impressions first – this is without question the most heavenly scented dedicated hair oil I’ve ever used, and I say this as a diehard tuberose lover and sometime user of Moroccan argan oil.

Ms. Hare and I used it in three ways over a period of three weeks. As an overnight hair mask, as protection before blowdrying, and as a pick-me-up on the ends before the onslaught of hair clips and elastic.

She noted her hair was in noticeably better shape than before. It was smoother, much less inclined to frizz in high humidity and far easier to manage. She did say – despite my warnings that a little went a long way – it seemed to weigh her hair down more than other oils, but she couldn’t argue with the results. Not so that ever stopped her. You can’t argue with a Leo!

Next, yours truly, wimpy-haired blonde. Whether wishful thinking, that sublime tuberose scent or just using a little less oil, since I began using aroma M’s Camellia Hair Oil, I’m no longer tempted by the idea of a really drastic haircut. My hair is definitely smoother, softer, more manageable and certainly glossier, and given I’m blonde, that’s not to be sneezed at. I’ve styled it, curled it, braided fishtails, blowdried it and French braided it, all with no ill effects. The bottom line –  I feel a bit like the girl in a cheesy 80s shampoo ad. Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful. I’ll tell you my secret. It’s not my hair, it’s my hair oil.

You can keep a secret, right?

Everyone knows it – whatever can protect a delicate camellia flower – or a likewise delicate flower-like complexion – from the frost, snow and ill effects of a winter that seems never to end can’t possibly be bad!

Disclosure: Samples were provided for review by Skye Botanicals, aroma M and Aftelier. For which I thank them most sincerely!

Skye Botanicals products are available from the website and Perfume Pharmer’s Etsy store. Aroma M Camellia Hair and Face Oils are available from aroma M’s website and select retail outlets. Aftelier Face Elixirs and Body Oil and Hair Elixirs are available from the Aftelier website. With thanks to the intrepid Ms. Hare. And the very inspirational CharlestonGirl, the Non Blonde, Jane and Jen.

Photo: Dabney Rose. Used by permission.

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!

Soft as Sin

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT X

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT X

- a review of Skye Botanical’s ‘Dev’ massage bar

One moment, my apartment will be quiet, nothing more than the sounds of the street outside, the hum of the fridge in the kitchen, Janice Divacat’s occasional whimper in her sleep, and only the tap-tap-tap of my laptop as I wrestle with the chimerae of the virtual page, the sometime metallic clang of the spoon in my glass of Earl Grey. I never know when he’ll come (or if he does), but I always know he’ll leave in the blink of an eye at the precise moment I look away.

That night as I went to bed, I wondered whether Dev would make an appearance, if he might have something to say about this sage-tinted wonder I had slathered on my skin after a long, luxurious bath and wafted in my wake, wondered if he would weave his way into a dream as he so often does. Sometimes, he’s a glimpse over my shoulder, seen out of the corner of my eye as a Cheshire Cat grin that wavers in the air as substantial as smoke, as wishes, as all dreams must be, and other times as concrete and as tangible as the reality of the keyboard beneath my fingers trying to make all those fervent dreams just as solid, and just as touchable.

The thing is, I never know.

So that night I woke with a start at some nameless hour in the dark. The cobwebs from a jumbled dream still clung to my mind, a dream of people I knew and places, too, a dream where he appeared and kept to himself, glowering with a stiff set to his shoulders, aloof and alone behind the aviator shades. When I had a chance, I reached out and asked like an idiot: “Are you all right?”

He never answered. He shrugged me off and disappeared behind a concealed door. As I opened it and saw a concrete service stairwell heading down, I was surprised awake.

Dev was up against the wall at the foot of my bed, with Hairy Krishna on his back plastered up against his leg, belly fur glinting silver sparks in the moonlight almost as loud as his purr.

“Miss me?” he said with a soon-to-be-famous grin.

“Umm…I’m not sure. You’ve been gone a long time.” I rubbed my eyes and tried not to think about that perfume in the air that surrounded me like the gossamer shreds of a dream. It was so incredibly distracting. It was the scent of trouble, just waiting to happen.

“How can I be a muse if I can’t make things happen for you? Trust me, baby, if you got used to having me around for too long, it would get old. So… I wandered out in the world and…made things happen.”

“That you did.” I decided to let it slide. “So…what do you think? Does the idea of being ‘flagellated by euphoric hops, dangerous damiana and stinging nettles’ do anything for you?” I referred to the very tongue-in-cheek description I received with my little sackcloth bag of wonder, stuffed full of herbs and a decadently perfumed green massage bar at least as devious as its description.

“Depends on who’s cracking those nettles!” he laughed. “I really, really like the concept, though. Perfume on the pulse points. Sure. That’s all fine and good. But why stop there? Why not be dangerous all over, from…” he leaned forward, right beside me in the dark, and dangerous was at least as good a word as any for how I felt that moment as he breathed into my ear, “your neck all the way down to your toes?” As he moved away, I could see a twinkle in his eyes, even in the dark.

This perfume was trouble, no question about it, with stinging nettles and without them.

“I’m not sure I’m awake enough to have this kind of salacious conversation. I’ve got other places to put those, if you want to be salacious.”

“True. It’s not entirely fair.” Dev shrugged, and as he did, Hairy Krishna rolled over with a whimper and jumped off the bed with an irritated swish of his tail as he headed for a midnight snack and a chance to sneak up on Janice Divacat, his other favorite midnight activity.

“You know,” he went on after a while, “I think one of the most interesting things is how your perfumers took the same brief, the same ingredient – labdanum – and the same characters – Lilith and me – and did such vastly different things with them. Monica’s…here’s the feral Dev, the wild one, the sylvan Dev, the Pan in the forest, lurking behind an Arcadian bush to trap a lucky nymph…”

“Or just one unlucky nymphomaniac in the concrete jungle. The bush is optional.” I countered. Maybe I was awake enough to have salacious conversations?

“You’re such a comedian,” he deadpanned. I knew precisely where to locate the origins of that brand of sarcasm on the map. “Hush. I’m writing your review.”

“You are?” This was news to me. “If I had known you were coming, I would have baked brownies.”

There was an ominous flash from the other end of my bed.

“I’m not finished. Sharp, biting, very, very green…what is that? Peppermint, pepper, basil, orange – whatever it is, it shocks you aware and even…” he laughed again. “Awake! So you did. I thought that would never happen. Aroused, even. In far more ways than even I can count!”

“I was dreaming about you.”

“That wasn’t me. That was your cousin Id. He’s crabby because he thinks you’ve ignored him for too long.”

“I knew I wore this to bed for a reason.” What I didn’t tell Dev was my reason was a hope to have precisely this conversation, but I would never, ever admit it.

“On we go…this is outrageously complex stuff. It’s masculine, but not macho, teetering on the brink of floral but never quite falling all the way in, spicy, but nothing in the slightest like those other spicy Devs. Did I say it was green? Not Da-Glo green like Ellen’s Lilith, not those elegant dark green undertones of Neil’s first mod, but…it reminds me of something…”

With those words, Dev slid off the bed and rummaged around in my perfume cabinet. On one side – the left, of course – the Devilscents glowed their ominous ambers in the dark. “Ah! Here they are…” And he hauled out the little (green) velvet bag from Esscentual Alchemy.

“This is where things get fascinating,” he said after sniffing back and forth between my arm and the vials in their velvet bag. “See, Amanda put heartbreak into her Devs – at least, they broke my heart, and you know, they still do, with that punch of fir. Monica, on the other hand, has a different plan here…this sylvan Dev is the one you’re only too happy to follow into the dark, you really don’t give a good goddamn about the consequences, you’re too curious to find out what happens next and what happens next is…well, we all know what that is.”

I leaned back against the wall and watched his shadow in the moonlight from the window by the bed. “That sacred firelight of labdanum and frankincense,” I went on as I caught his train of thought like I had so often before, “the embers of patchouli and spice and cedar that glow in the dark like all the best secrets and unforgettable as all the most glorious transgressions…”

“Burning on your skin in the firelight,” he breathed into my ear again, “That skin as soft and as silken as all the best sins must be, the sins you always want to remember…”

I didn’t move. The room was at least fifteen degrees warmer than it was when I went to bed. Firelight and heat, sylvan secrets and silky sin…A very warm hand that slipped and slid up that velvet-soft trail of sylvan bonfires on my skin…

“As soft…” his voice was a low, baritone growl right by a very particular spot just below my ear… “as sin itself…”

I blinked, tried to grasp some gossamer threads of composure, and as I did, I caught a flash of silvery moonlight, that haunting, dangerous, green perfume called Dev, called Trouble, called perdition and much else besides…

But he was gone. All he left behind was that scent and skin, as soft as sin itself.

Notes: Pink pepper, peppermint, lemon, coriander, marjoram, blood orange, petitgrain, basil, fir absolute, tuberose absolute, geranium absolute, lavender absolute, clary sage absolute, strawberry furanone, labdanum, cocoa butter, frankincense, cedarwood, patchouli CO2, benzoin, cinnamon, beeswax, Javanol (synthetic sandalwood)

Original image: Orcatek Photography Workshops

Find Skye Botanical’s deviously delicious Dev massage bar here. It is also available as an eau de parfum by request. With profound thanks to Monica Miller of Skye Botanicals. Without whom …;-)