The Epiphanies of 2014

C4crown

  • the thrills and spills of the past year in perfume

It’s that storied time of year again when I finally sit down and decide on my favorites of (the thankfully passé) 2014. In spite of a frantic year that was frantic for all the wrong reasons, and in spite of far too much to review and not nearly enough time to write about it, I did indeed, thanks to dear and generous friends and my own initiative, get to stick my nose in not a few things I loved this year, many I very much liked and a few I absolutely loathed.

This time, instead of posting three separate lists, I’ve decided to mix things up a bit on one ultra-list, otherwise you and I will be here ‘till Doomsday, and I don’t know about you, but I have a long to-do list this year…

Another thing I feel compelled to point out is that many of the perfumes that have made it to this list have yet to be reviewed. Some because… well, that’s a surprise I’ll be getting back to in a bit. In so doing, that violates a principle I have about only including the things I reviewed, but we all have things to do. Some will be reviewed here on TAG, and others… well, I’m getting ahead of myself here.

The Worst of 2014

We might as well get the bad stuff over with.

Which means that whoever is in charge chez Parfums YSL will be the first to go down in flames in my revolution dream. It evidently wasn’t enough to slaughter one of the greatest perfume heritages of the late 20th century in terrible/lazy/rushed refomulations, nor even to pour ‘PVC+phthalate doll accord’ into the dregs of (badly reformulated) Paris and call it ‘Parisienne’. But did whomever-should-be-shot-with-current-version-Tabu stop to think about how we would perceive Black Opium? Because it is neither ‘black’ in the slightest, nor Opium in the least particular. It’s as forgettable and unremarkable as last year’s haute blondes. Henceforth, I shall proceed to call it (“perfume”) Methadone, except it neither alleviates Opium withdrawals nor the nostalgic pangs of prior highs. When Hedi Slimane, chief designer at YSL, finds it necessary to dissociate himself from it in a press release, you know it’s one terrible idea. Horribly executed. Alas, not fatally.

Oud

Perfumers and perfume houses: I have a announcement for you:

I. Am. So. Over. Oud.

And yes, I do like oud, except not so much the barnyard stable ‘fierce’ ouds, and certainly not the synthetic oud that passed for the real thing this past year. This is a trend that needs to die. You still have flowers, woods, resins, plants, all with their own languages to explore and their stories to tell. Start listening.

Hyperinflation

True luxury, stated a friend of mine in the know, is always inclusive. Meaning that inflating an already hefty price tag on a niche perfume, pouring gold dust all over the bottle (or whatever gimmicks are used to justify the price tag) and marking it all up by at least 5000% is not, in fact, luxurious at all. It’s simply, as I see it, pandering to the lowest audience of all: those who are too unsophisticated and too rich to know better. There are far too many ‘hyper-luxe’ sheep masquerading as big, bad wolves worth their prices. If I ever have 1000€ to spend on perfume (because I can dream!), I hope to spend it where my business is properly appreciated, not where I leave with a big, fat “SUCKER” tattooed in risible ink on my forehead. Roja Dove and Diaghilev extrait, here’s looking at you, and I say that because Diaghilev in extrait is literally flawless. And forever and always out of my reach. Damn it.

Flankers.

Because they display a distinct lack of inspiration or ambition, and I can’t decide what’s worse. Maybe both?

Worst idea:

Guerlain Shalimar Souffle de Parfum. I spent the better part of two hours trawling through a large Copenhagen Sephora this Christmas on the first day of the sales, and lo and behold, there was Shalimar and Souffle, and I thought I might as well live a little. While I was certainly impressed with the original current-version Shalimar (although I much prefer the amped-up vanilla frangipane of Shalemur), this was a baby-faced powder puff girl desperately trying to look about 30, because that’s, like, old. Or mature. Or something. I wonder whether the marketing department of Guerlain has a huge THINK YOUNGER neon sign somewhere. The problem is, those ingénues don’t have the cash to go to town on perfume. We gens d’un certain âge, on the other hand, do. Grow up, Guerlain! Thierry Wasser – you’re better than that. And you know it.

Worst trend:

Before I shoot myself in the metaphorical foot here, let me start by saying this is me. Your mileage may vary. Yet for all I adore consuming both chocolate and coffee, sometimes together, I’m emphatically not a fan of wearing either of them. (There are a very few exceptions.) It could be my skin chemistry, it could be something else, but as soon as I try, virtually all the perfumes I’ve tried with either note just grows and grows and grows into an espresso-choc Godzilla, the second before I’m eaten alive. Argh!

The Best of the Best

Biggest Overall Unexpected Surprise:

Jardins d’Écrivain’s Junky.

Please forget that I’m a perpetually immature overgrown teenager who took an inordinate amount of glee in wafting Junky a good deal of this past summer and fall, and then laying it on my unsuspecting audience when they asked what I was wearing. But Junky – just as the other things I’ve sniffed so far from Jardins d’Écrivain’s line – is a super-seamless unisex green floral I can’t get enough of whatever the season or the reason. I’m hopelessly addicted. You can bet your vintage My Sin I hope to explore the rest of Jardins d’Écrivains in detail, tout de suite!

Best Seamless Floral, Part One:

aroma M Camellia Perfume.

If your heart belongs to that grand age of perfumes à la Française, if Coco Chanel had a few great ideas in perfumery at least, if you like your flowers bold and luxurious, if you also love the glories of frankincense all wrapped up in a bow of Parisian Ooh la la!, if in short you’re a nostalgia freak like me, then you might love aroma M’s stupendously beautiful Camellia Perfume.

Best Perfume I didn’t expect to like, but did:

Parfums Serge Lutens Borneo 1837

It smells like unearthed secrets and undiscovered sins of the most glamorous, Baudelairean kind. A dry, dusty, ever-so-slightly rose-flecked, cocoa-dusted patchouli that shouldn’t work at all, but does. This past autumn, I’ve been rereading J.K. Huysmans’ Against Nature and The Damned. I suspect Des Esseintes would be all over Borneo, just as Huysmans would be all over Parfums Serge Lutens, when the paradox is actually the other way around!

Honorable Mention: I’m ashamed I haven’t tried this one before now, even considering I’m such a fan of leather perfumes. But Chanel’s Cuir de Russie has been growing on me like a fungus, and the more I wear it, the more I love it. Who knew?

Best Mainstream releases:

Even in my backwater part of the world, miracles happen. Such as the time I discovered Dior Homme Parfum

in my local chain shop. Since I consider the original Dior Homme (and Dior Homme Intense) among the greatest masculines ever made and I wear them whatever the label, I had to sniff this one. I was not disappointed. François Demachy, you have almost redeemed yourself. I dreamt about smelling this on the right kind of man for days. Lacking that option, I’d wear this super-sexy film noir beast, too.

Balmain Ivoire Eau de Parfum:

The original (I have a vintage eau de toilette) Ivoire is such an all-star favorite of mine, it was the very first true perfume review I wrote. There is neither a season, a reason nor an occasion when it is less than perfectly satisfying, perfectly lovely in its green soapy-sappy-aldehyde aura and perfectly appropriate. So I was expecting another hot-mess reformulation when Balmain launched the eau de parfum in 2014, only to find they’ve kept virtually everything that made the original so great except the oakmoss base. And speaking of…

Best “We’re not worthy!” perfume, Part One:

Every so often, it happens that a perfume launches I suspect Planet Perfume isn’t entirely prepared for. In 2014 came Bogue Profumo’s MAAI. Holy St. Mary Magdalene! Antonio Gardoni took tuberose, that most erotic of flowers, and super-glammed and super-sexed it up, and up and up and UP. No Superman would stand a chance against this perfume Kryptonite. It is as luxe, as grand, as velvety-plush, as mossy, as heady and did I mention s-e-x-y? as anything the Eighties ever dreamed of. I’m saving that sample for a date night with definite ulterior motives, presuming that ever happens. As they say, hope springs eternal, and Signor Gardoni – I’m not worthy! Of either hope or this perfume, I can’t quite decide… ;)

Best New Perfume House:

Aedes de Venustas. AdV, the storied Greenwich Village perfumery store, has a very special place in my black and decadent heart, because once upon a time, their printed catalog provided all the perfumes I had – to dream about. Some time later, my sister brought me back a modestly priced perfume from Aedes, and whoever sold it to her was also sweet enough to provide samples for a severely aesthetically and perfume-starved woman. I never forgot it. So when Robert Gerstner and Karl Bradl launched their own perfume line in 2012 with their eponymous Aedes de Venustas, naturally I sat up and paid attention. Fate had plans when I was sent samples of everything AdV and they all blew me away. The running theme of Aedes de Venustas is incense – heartstopping, sacred, swoon-worthy incense, in unexpected combinations that both intrigue and hugely please this jaded perfume writer. I’ll be getting to those marvels in future posts. On that note…

Best Resurrected Floral, Part One:

Why carnation has such a fuddy-duddy, dowdy reputation is completely beyond me. I can’t get enough of carnation; peppery, rosy, clove-ish, fiery, feisty, thick, sweet and utterly delicious. Carnation sprang into my awareness with a bang when I had the chance to try a brand-new carnation (or so I thought) through a perfume split of Aedes de Venustas’ Oeillet Bengal. I bought a decant blind and promptly… adored it. Oeillet Bengale – actually, the name of a rare China rose – is a peppery, rich, rosy incense-laden wonder that shot to the top of my Hotly Coveted FBW wishlist, especially since that decant is going, going…

A Rose is a Rose is a Marvel… a.k.a. Best We’re Not Worthy, Part Two:

Not many perfumers can claim to have not one perfume that doesn’t do me any favors. The one who does like no other is Vero Kern of vero profumo. Heaven help me, I love all her work in any version: Rubj, Kiki, Onda (Onda did take a while) and Mito. So Vero gave us Rozy, her fragrant tribute to Anna Magnani in ‘The Tattooed Rose’, and just when you thought there was nothing new to say about rose, here is Rozy: emphatic, dramatic, sensuous and earthy, with a honey-flecked sweetness that shows a true maître’s effortless hand. I’ll have a time-travelling tale for Rozy’s crimson glories, but more on that one later…

Best Heatwave Antidote/Best Re-Release:

Tauer PerfumesCologne du Maghreb.

Bless dear Andy Tauer for re-releasing this instant 2011 classic, for it subverted much I thought I knew about Tauers and everything I assumed about colognes, mainly that most of them are boring, as Cologne du Maghreb never, ever is. It is sparkling, subtle, intricate, cooling, distinctively different and utterly delicious, and over several sweaty weeks of a summer heatwave, it kept me and my composure as cool as a glass of chilled cedary lemonade. I think of ‘July’, and I think of this cologne. Because It’s That Good.

Best All-Round Unisex:

Olympic OrchidsBlackbird.

‘Fruity’ – as in ‘berry’ – and I don’t get along that well. But Ellen Covey’s perfume for Seattle store Blackbird is an exception to that rule. This wondrous green concoction with a heart-of-darkness is an ode to the blackberry bushes (something of a plague) of the Pacific Northwest, and if you think blackberry and balsam firs don’t mix, think again. Many of Ellen’s creations have an extraordinary sense of place, and Blackbird’s verdant ode to where the sweet wild things are has been known to make me sing in the dead of night and high noon too, showing just how much one of my favorite perfumers just keeps on getting better and better. And better.

Best Bottled Gothic Autumn:

Neil Morris Fragrances’ October & Chasing Autumn.

Neil Morris is another perfumer whose nose has an exceptional sense of place, and never more dexterously demonstrated than in his two tributes to the beauty of a New England fall, October and Chasing Autumn. Everything I love and adore about autumn is here: the scent of apples on trees and on the ground cradled by leaves, burning leaves and bonfires, the breath of forest trees breathing their seasonal farewells as flaming leaves dance a timeless measure to the forest floor. I do mean everything. If October is mulled wine, apple cider and all things sweetly great on a peerless Sunday October afternoon, then Chasing Autumn is a forest… of Halloween bonfires and eerie shadows in the dark beyond, a resolutely Gothic ode to all things autumnal with no signs of that fabled new England restraint. Nathaniel Hawthorne could do them justice. I’m not sure I could. I’ve never come across anything quite like either of them, and since they’re Neil Morris creations, I know I never will.

Favorite Perfume Experiment:

Sometimes, instead of simply chasing after the Next New Things, it can be good to take a deeper look at what you actually have. The results may surprise you. I was very surprised to learn I owned no less than 22 different Serge Lutens/Christopher Sheldrake creations in varying degrees of full bottles, decants and samples. I then proceeded to wear each of them consecutively over the course of about two weeks, and gained a whole new artistic and aesthetic appreciation of all of them. It goes without saying I don’t have nearly enough of any of them, and wish for at least eleven more…

Happiest Perfume of 2014:

Amouage Sunshine

On rare occasions on Planet Perfume, a concept, the execution of that concept and the final result come so seamlessly and perfectly together it’s all you can do to keep your cool before you surrender with a helpless shrug and a laugh in the face of such beauty. Sunshine arrived with impeccable, supernatural timing at a time when I was seriously considering to pack it in as a perfume writer and just give up the ghost of ever trying to capture the ephemeral art through words. Yes, I reviewed it. No, my words didn’t convey what I had hoped they would. But a few scant days later, I held my daughter as she made me a grandmother to a lovely little girl, and since it was the only thing I had with me at the time, I gave her Sunshine. To see the joy on my daughter’s face as I did was all the sunshine that cold night in November needed. To experience the arrival of a new generation perfect baby girl was all the immortal sunshine I needed. Apropos finding the right words…

Proudest Moment in Prose, 2014 edition:

Amouage Journey

I’ll be honest – Christopher Chong made it very easy for me. Shanghai in the 1930s, Chinese film noir and all things grand and great (noblesse oblige!), wrapped up in the two parts of Journey Man and Woman, one a fiery gold Chinese dragon, the other a sublime osmanthus song, my story of Journey counts among my finest – and hardest – hours as a perfume writer. It took me into new and wondrous places in my research and made me wonder at that story’s continuation of ‘a celluloid cliché of a Shanghai that was an improbable fiction anywhere else but here’. You’ll find no clichés in either Journey, but just as all the best journeys do, you’ll be a changed person when you return home. Whenever I wonder at why I even bother to write about perfume, which happens at least once a day, I look to Amouage. Oh. Yes. That’s why.

Greatest Shapeshifter Perfume of 2014:

Aftelier Palimpsest.

Mandy Aftel’s Palimpsest, inspired by the layer-upon-layers-and-lines of ancient manuscripts, is without question the greatest shapeshifter I encountered in 2014. I’ve never experienced a perfume containing the Australian firetree before, which partly explains it, but this thick, honeyed animalic-peachy-ylang-ylang growl in a bottle did two spectacular things: It completely flummoxed a perfume writer of four years’ standing, and shape-shifted entirely from ‘dead-wildebeest-wearing-ylang-&-jasmine-wreath’ on a blonde semi-vegetarian to a sumptuously sexy come-hither Mae West on Ms. Hare, the carnivorous brunette. Which only goes to prove the artistry of Mandy Aftel and also the maxim, written through several layers of parchment… chemistry is everything.

Best Resurrected Floral, Part Two:

DSH Perfumes Scent of Hope

Among vintage perfume lovers, a select few perfumes stand out for their greatness of execution, their scope of imagination and their sheer, jaw-dropping sleight-of-hand artistry. When perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz was given the bespoke assignment of recreating one such perfume, Jacques Fath’s fabled 1947 Iris Gris for a private client, she apparently succeeded beyond all imagining and expectation. Luckily for those of us who don’t have access to the Jacques Fath original (and being an iris lover, trust me, it’s on my list!), Dawn decided to make it available for the rest of us, and if the original Iris Gris is even 10% of this, then by Golly, it deserves its reputation. Scent of Hope is the apex of Great, Grand Perfume and the perfumer’s art: a peerless, perfect contradiction of everything you’d suspect an orris-centric perfume could be, warmed by the caress of a sun-kissed peach. I thought she outdid herself with Iridum, another of her iris perfumes, but Dawn has had an astonishing creative year and Scent of Hope is among the stratospheric best perfumes I’ve ever encountered. In my life. Why my fixation on the art of perfumery? (Also) Because miracles like Scent of Hope happen. Stay tuned!

Best Floral Reinvention:

Envoyage PerfumesFiore di Bellagio

Readers, bear with me. I tried. I truly did. I tried to think of something else, tried to stir things up a bit, tried to come up with alternatives and be a little different this year. Only to have to give up the ghost, shrug in surrender and kowtow to the spectacular talent of Shelly Waddington of Envoyage as she once again blew my proboscis to smithereens with the companion perfume to last year’s no less spectacular Zelda. Fiore di Bellagio, her ode to Ernest Daltroff’s 1927’s Caron classic, Bellodgia, is neither Zelda nor Bellodgia, but something altogether otherwise and resolutely one of a kind. If you could somehow wrap up all the glamour, all the glitz, all the decadent fun and all the flowers of a 1920s summer day in a luxurious villa at Lake Como, you might come up with something this great, this grand and this glorious. Or, if you love carnations, summers, epically great perfumes and all those words imply, you could take the easier route and head straight for Envoyage and buy a vat of Fiore di Bellagio, the instant before you plant Shelley Waddington on an onyx pedestal in the Perfume Pantheon of Fame and crown her with 20 carat diamond-studded dianthus blooms. This was another high apex of 2014 perfumery for me and although I realize I’m repeating myself (and an army of other perfume bloggers and writers), but there is method to my madness: I recognize greatness when I smell it. That’s all. Go buy it!

My Greatest Perfumers of 2014:

I can’t even hesitate here, and if you’ve read this far, this is a foregone conclusion. But with everything I’ve stuck my nose in this past year, I’ll have to hand it to two. Understand that even the names that made this (overly long) list are at the very top of their game, but these two outdid themselves and their justly deserved stellar reputations:

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz & Shelley Waddington

I’m not quite sure what to say about Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, since I know I’m preaching to the choir, but Dawn has had the most amazing, productive and creative year. Whether it’s her tribute to the Impressionists in her Passport à Paris collection, her Cannabis Culture Collection (review pending), her Brilliant Collection (ditto) or the utterly flabbergasting Scent of Hope (likewise totally ditto), Dawn should be right up there will all the Great and the Grands of perfumery, indie and otherwise.

Shelley Waddington nearly did me in. After taking my breath away with Zelda last year, she pulled another epic rabbit out of her proverbial top hat with Fiore di Bellagio. I had some intimations of what I was in for. Only to find that they weren’t nearly big enough. But Shelley Waddington certainly should be. Make it so…

A Waft of Things To Come

Anticipation is part of the pleasure of writing about perfumes. I’ll never know what pleasures lie ahead. But apart from spending this winter catching up on my review backlog and returning full-speed as a perfume writer to the best of my capabilities, I anticipate becoming acquainted with two ‘new’ brands that have been on my radar for a while: Oriza L. Legrand and Stéphane Humbert-Lucas’ 777. Stay tuned!

Another thing to anticipate is the arrival of not-your-usual perfume book at some point in the year. If you appreciate my perfumed fictions, you might like this book, which will feature not just the Greatest Hits, but also ten brand-new perfume stories, some of which have not been reviewed yet. Watch this space for a book by yours truly with the salacious title: Stories of L’Eaux.

Rumor has it that Neela Vermeire Creations (another all winner line for me) will launch her newest perfume later this year. Are we excited yet? I know I am!

So what are you, dear readers, anticipating in the year to come? What took your breath away this past year, what do you hope to try, what floats you out the door in a cloud of scented bliss?

Tell me all about them in the comments! And have a happy, healthy, fortuitous 2015, too!

With special and perpetual thanks to my greatest enablers and loudest encouragers: Val, Portia, Lucy, Shelley, Dawn, Maria, Neil, Ellen, Andy and Mandy.

Photo: The crown of Danish king Christian IV, 1596.

A Catholicon for November

amouagesunshine

Today was one of those days that reminded me of nothing so much as a particular kind of 1870s French novel, say Emile Zola’s Thèrése Raquin – a dismal, dank, dreary, lead-colored day drenched in chill rain so fine, it felt more like the raspy pinpricks of a dust storm than actual H2O.

In other words, a very typical November day in my obscure corner of Niflheim. Of all the twelve months of the year, November is the month I loathe the most/like the least. The weather worsens by the day unless it simply remains dire, dismal and drenched. Daylight oozes away drop by drop in the dark spaces between the days until all that’s left at the end of the month besides the hollow echo of my bank account is just over six all too short hours by which time, I’m so crabby even my cats avoid me.

Crabby isn’t the word I’d use to describe my mood this Wednesday. In fact, I was rather upbeat for a big change as I headed through the mist for the post office to collect a package. Having recently blown money on books I’d long been dying to read, I was looking forward to nothing more electrifying than literary edification and maybe a little inspiration of a kind blocked writers know all too well.

Yet it wasn’t J. K. Huysmans ‘Là-bas’ that smoldered on the post office counter this afternoon with all its diabolical syntax and perverse pleasures.

Instead, it was another kind of pleasure and an altogether different kind of weather report – a sample of Amouage’s new limited edition release from the Midnight Flowers collection – the aptly named Sunshine.

When I discovered the return address on the label and spluttered my habitual (and unrepeatable) epithet reserved for Amouage packages, I got my usual response: for a few seconds, the queue ground to a halt, an angel walked through the room as we say in Danish, and everyone else probably wondered what was in that package to deserve such a loud, spontaneous reaction and a sashay in my step nowhere in evidence when I walked in the door a few minutes before.

Sunshine is a part of the Midnight Flowers collection that also includes the matching candles and room sprays named Hope, Love, Happy and Smile. A portion of the proceeds of this collection is donated to a charity to support guide dogs for the visually impaired.

Amouage Creative Director Christopher Chong has, so far as I can tell by the evidence everywhere supplied by Fate, Opus VIII and Journey, been on an upward-bound mood swing.

Sunshine is an exuberant, bubbly and yet sublimely elegant perfume from its effervescent top to its delicious base and best of all to this aldehyde-phobic perfume writer, not one aldehyde was fleeced in the making of this perfume.

Normally, an Amouage perfume is a demanding haute couture-clad operatic diva to parse and interpret. It takes time, consecutive tries and not a little effort to appreciate its complexity and for me to coax whatever genies and/or stories from within the bottle. This is precisely why I love them so much – they keep me on my toes in all the very best creative ways.

Yet Sunshine – for all it’s very much and most emphatically an Amouage – is nothing like any of them. This was an instant, split-second coup de foudre bolt-from-the-blue, love at first sniff, and we’ve only just met …

So dear readers, bear with me as I try to calm down and make sense of something that makes my heart sing in ways sadly lacking this November. I rushed home from the post office, shushed the cats, and applied a cloud of it.

Such a cloud it is – a bright, bouncing laugh as sweet as a dolce far niente day spent in a hammock with a good book. If this brings to mind casual clothes and bare toes, a juicy, green crème de cassis vibe will tell you that’s exactly right.

Yes. I did say that. A casual, laid-back, chillaxing and positively groovy Amouage, which would be both a paradox and an oxymoron if it weren’t so true.

Go right ahead and laugh just because you can.

But wait! There’s far more joy in store!

How do you like your flowers? Sweetly heady with a faint blush of marzipan and vanilla? That’s the large box of Ladurée macarons glowing on the table at your side in this warm and summery shade, only these are flavored with a seamless bunch of osmanthus, jasmine and creamy, lemony magnolia so you can live it up not a just a little but a lot.

Live it up you surely will, because everywhere you go there you are, bathed in your own beam of sunshine exuding all the promises and boundless optimism of a delicious, ravishing love at first, second and thirty-second sniff.

You’ll find no November here, no doom, leaden clouds or literate gloom, only a far-off powdery poof of verdant, green patchouli and sweet tobacco as that life-enhancing light slants towards the horizon and the memory of a flawless, sunshiney day that will stick with you for weeks, months and years to come.

That one perfect day when sunshine was all you needed to have hope, feel loved, be happy and smile.

I dare anyone who wears this not to.

About the only pain I feel – and trust me, it is very much a pain – is that not everyone will be able to feel those gold-perfumed rays for themselves. Sunshine is a limited edition 100 ml eau de parfum exclusively available at the seventeen Amouage boutiques worldwide until February 2015.

As for me, buried alive and wrestling the Muse in the dire, obscure depths of Niflheim, I think that everyone should have a chance to breathe in the Sunshine.

It’s the perfect antidote, panacea (even for debilitating writer’s block!) and cure-all for autumnal blues and blahs.

In other, lusher, brighter words, a catholicon for November.

amouage-unshine-2

Notes: Artemisia, blackcurrant, almond, osmanthus, jasmine, magnolia, vanilla, juniper, patchouli, papyrus and blond tobacco. The perfumer is Sidonnie Lancasseur. 

Images: Paisley Sun by Tessa Hunt Woodland, Fine Arts America. Photoshop modification by yours truly. Image of Amouage Sunshine presentation courtesy of Amouage. Used by permission.

Disclosure: A sample of Sunshine was provided for review by Amouage. I was not paid, bribed or in any way intimidated for this review. But I thank the Very August Personage for his help in smashing through a massive wall (and long draught) of severe writer’s block that melted away like ice cream in a ray of sun. 

A Sunrise and A Soft Goodbye

shanghaijourney

One Last Sunrise

– a story and a review of Amouage Journey

The Peace Hotel, The Bund, Shanghai, late July 1937

He could never remember afterwards how long he stood at the French doors watching the sky above the Bund and over the China Sea bloom from its dark midnight blue to the paler, opalescent, star-flecked hues of gold and violet of impending sunrise. This would be his final sunrise in Shanghai, the last time he would stand by this balcony with this view of a future he could scarcely have imagined on the mean, narrow alleys of Kowloon where everything began so long ago.

How could he have known in that other life, when all he had been was the second son of a simple woodcarver from an endless line of artisans, Cantonese who came to Kowloon hoping to find better, richer, more prosperous lives than their hallowed ancestors?

Look at me now, Father, he thought to himself as the sky above the Bund grew ever lighter, look at me now with my flawlessly tailored suit and my movie star haircut in Shanghai’s most elegant hotel, watch me walk out the door of this hotel suite with my expensive suitcases, watch me as I walk up the gangplank to the SS Aurora with my first-class passage to Valparaiso and onward to Buenos Aires and Montevideo, see me as I leave this old and tired and uncertain world behind with my new name and my new life shining all its unknown and very modern promise in front of me.

He had come so very far from his old Wong Tai Sin of Kowloon self, today would go farther still, for today would be the day he left his old self and old Shanghai behind. Already, rumors and not so idle talk flowered in the teahouses behind Nanjing Road, already people pointed their fingers and their fears towards the Japanese in Manchuria, and it was time to leave his past and his cares behind him while he still could.

Big Earned Du would kill him as mercilessly as only he knew if he ever discovered how his affable, mild-mannered ‘left-hand-man’ had been skimming a quarter-inch off the books of four of his night clubs on Nanjing Road for over three years. If he knew how Left Hand Man scrubbed his loot and his conscience as sparkling squeaky-clean as any Chinese laundry at the baccarat tables of a very private gambling club in the French concession, a club not even the renowned Du Yuesheng, who ruled all of Shanghai and most of its vices with an iron hand in a silken glove would ever dream existed. He wouldn’t know about the many deposits to an account at the American Express offices or the other accounts at Rothschild’s Bank, have no inkling of the thousands of American dollars sewn into the lining of his steamer trunk as a safety measure.

Above and beyond all things else, Big Eared Du would never, ever know about his left hand man’s reasons or rhyme, or just how much the favorite torch singer of Ciro’s nightclub had been responsible for it all. She was the one who cooked up the plan along with her friend, she showed him how to cover his tracks, she taught him to feign Eastern inscrutability as his weapon to hide what his own, darker netherworld of Shanghai should never, ever know.

Or was it rather… that even an woodcarver’s son from Kowloon could leap free of all conventions and expectations, could come at the world roaring like the dragon of his birth year with all his Oriental fire, spice and essence?

Was it that a man like himself, so underestimated, overlooked and unappreciated could throw all tradition, convention and propriety to the wind for a woman who would have made his prim and proper family recoil in horror?

She was a thoroughly modern, audacious blonde South American contralto who sang Cole Porter and George Gershwin for the smart set at Ciro’s. She was the toast of Shanghai and a favorite of his boss, and yet – in a town that knew every secret and every vice everyone wanted to conceal, not even the boss suspected she belonged to his left-hand-man, although it would be far truer to say this: Big Eared Du’s left-hand-man belonged to her.

He had seen enough Hollywood movies to know that a man such as he, a woodcarver’s son from the wrong part of Hong Kong, Chinese to his core despite the Western clothes and his Clark Gable hair cut, would never be a hero, would never get the girl, never be anything else but a cardboard villain in a celluloid cliché of a Shanghai that was its own kind of outrageous fiction everywhere else but here.

Today, he was about to disprove all of them. He got the girl. He had the getaway. He had the promise of a new life ahead under the new name printed on his impeccably British passport, a passport that opened all the doors not even Big Eared Du could knock down.

He stepped out into the first rays of the rising sun. As he breathed in the morning, he breathed in his old self, the Bund and even Shanghai deep into his lungs and pores one last time in this one last sunrise, to say his bold goodbye to all he had been and a bolder hello to all he would become.

The bold, green bite of bergamot and a hint of the orange blossom perfumes she so loved all wrapped up tight within a dim sum totality of Shanghai spice and fire, the waft of burning incense and juniper berries from a passing temple on his way, the rich scent of tobacco from his cigarette case, a faraway musky bitter smell of leather as a portent of what lay ahead on another side of the world where Du would never think to look.

It was too late for regrets and second thoughts. He breathed everything in with all it promised this one last sunrise, held it deep within his heart, his senses and his lungs before he exhaled it back out over the Bund and the city, right before he made a wish on his birth dragon that whatever his future in a faraway land might hold, it would be a journey and a new beginning to a life the left-hand-man would never have dared imagine.

Yet a life the John Lee of his new passport – audacious, modern, a cosmopolitan man of the future – in his Uruguayan exile would never once have a single cause to regret.

TheBund1935

Notes for Amouage Journey Man: Bergamot, Szechuan pepper, cardamom, neroli, juniper, incense, geraniol, tobacco leaves, tonka bean, cypriol, leather, musk.

 

hudie

A Soft Goodbye

The French Concession, later that morning

“Are you sure you’ve packed everything you want to bring?”

She turned away from her view of the tree-lined boulevard toward the voice and the question.

One of China’s most illustrious faces laughed back at her as she indicated all the self-evident chaos of impending departure.

“Well, my clothes, obviously, jewelry, silks, presents for my brother and his wife, a few mementos… I’ve arranged with Lin to have the opium bed, the screen and the cabinet shipped tomorrow, but of course, I’ll be gone by then.”

It was time to close the chapter on her five years in Shanghai.

Five years as a runaway bride from an arranged marriage and a daring escape with her dowry to keep her, only in Shanghai, a purloined dowry and a pretty face was never enough for anything she ever wanted to do.

In Shanghai, what you were and what you had mattered far less than who you knew.

Yet luck had surely been on her side that night four years ago when China’s reigning celluloid Butterfly paid a visit to Ciro’s and introduced herself simply as Hu. That night, a burgeoning friendship was born between the chanteuse with her broken, halting Shanghainese and the celebrated movie star, a friendship that weathered all the storms two women with such vastly different backgrounds could create between them.

Even so, before the movie star, before the nightclub singer, before their respective histories even, they were simply two women and two instant friends, no more and never less.

She came to Hu and poured out her heart when she found herself eyeing the dashing stranger at Ciro’s who came every night with Du and eyed her right back, she told her friend everything there was to tell of seeming chance meetings on Nanjing Road and later clandestine dinners on her Sundays off in humble Nanshi restaurants where Du was never welcomed and she was not known, where no one would think to look and fewer would care to question the presence of the courteous, immaculate Chinese gentleman and the laughing blonde chanteuse.

She had never been one to give her heart away lightly, always kept her distance with a smile when those audaciously modern Shanghai dandies tried to dazzle her with promises as florid and enticing as their extravagant backstage bouquets.

Her left hand man was far more bold for being so discreet, for surprising her with the other, secret Shanghai she had come to know and to love through him.

One hot August night he presented her with a small, delicate sprig of blooming osmanthus and told her to breathe it in, all the way in, when somehow, all she loved about this mythical, mad city of contradictions and mysteries and sins both real and imagined came wrapped around this glowing little flower the hue of a Shanghai sunset.

This was their secret, this sweetly scented flower that laughed its fruity, honeyed path through the teeming streets of Nanshi, past the spice merchants shops and the unexpected surprise of a jasmine bursting out of its pot on an apothecary’s counter and sharp, sunshine puffs of mimosa, when the whispers of a lacquered cedarwood cigarette box told her sotto voce what depths he contained, when that little sprig of osmanthus stole her last objections and her heart away and never gave them back.

She told Hu everything, told her own celluloid story of a romance that could never happen, should never happen, and Hu, as all true time-honored friends would do, began with her help to weave a story of how to make it possible, how to make it happen, how to make her own love-struck movie so infinitely much more real than any flickering black and white dream in the dark.

Away from all of this, away from Shanghai, over the oceans and far away back home to Montevideo, away from her best friend and an uncertain future that loomed like a storm cloud over the western horizon in Manchuria, but how uncertain could her future ever be going home with the man she loved, a man who gave her his priceless gift of a sprig of Shanghai osmanthus?

“Oh, Hu…” she turned away from the balcony with a pang in her heart, knowing this would be a farewell, and who knew when they would see each other again in these precarious times?

“Do you think?”

Hu laughed outright, a laugh that all of China loved, laughed to see the question in her best friend’s face.

“Do I think you will escape, do I think our mad plan will succeed, do I think you’ll get away with it?” and four years of secrets shared laughed their own champagne bubbles beneath her words, “In Shanghai, everything is possible!” Hu walked to the balcony and reached out. She plucked a small sprig of osmanthus from the bush that bloomed in its porcelain pot on the balcony and tucked it firmly into her friend’s lapel beneath a jade brooch.

“I don’t believe. I know! It’s time to go – your ship sails in an hour!”

They hugged with all their history between them, hugged as hard as best friends would, before Hu marched her to the door and said:

“Now go with the Gods, darling. Go home – and say your soft goodbye to Shanghai.”

AmouageJourney

Notes for Amouage Journey Woman: Apricot, osmanthus, nutmeg, cardamom, jasmine sambac, mimosa, honey, cedar, tobacco, saffron, vanilla, cypriol, musk.

Created by Alberto Morillas and Pierre Negrin in collaboration with Amouage Creative Director Christopher Chong. .

Amouage Journey Man and Woman is available from Luckyscent, First in Fragrance and directly from the Amouage e-store.

Image of Amouage Journey courtesy of Amouage. Used by permission.

Much invaluable research came via The Chinese Mirror and the Ling Long Magazine archives of Columbia University.

Disclosure: My samples were provided courtesy of Amouage. I thank the Very August Personage from the bottom of my storyteller’s heart for making this review so incredibly hard to write yet such an endless joy to research.

Also thanks to Ms. Hare, who kicked/shamed/double-dared me to finish it. Or else.

Refractions in a Jasmine’s Eye

mcescher1

–  a review of Amouage Opus VIII

In over three and a half years of perfume blogging, I’ve reviewed over five hundred perfumes. Some great, some spectacular and some… not quite so much. Some reviews have come easy and some have come hard, not because I hated the perfume (although that has happened), but because in order for me to haul out The Perfume Reviewer kicking and screaming (because she basically just wants to enjoy it), I have to find an angle, a hook, bait to reel the reader in.

In all that time and with all those marvels, nothing I ever review – and I’d like to emphasize this – is ever so hard to hook, angle or locate the bait as just about any Amouage.

Once upon a storied time – how can it be three years ago? – I dismissed Amouage as being too rich for my blood, just another hyped-up hyper-luxurious brand that couldn’t possibly live up to the accolades heaped upon it. I can’t afford even one of them. I’d cover my ears and sing “La-la-la, I can’t hear you!” when my fellow friends and perfume bloggers sang its praises on their blogs. Finally, I gave in to my own relentless curiosity and those verbal, knowing smirks from those same friends and bloggers and ordered two outrageously expensive Amouage samples of Epic Woman and Ubar at First in Fragrance just to knock them down to an approachable, human size.

The rest, as they say, is history. Whether I’ve surprised myself writing narratives or merely bathetic attempts to just capture my impressions in words, by all the patron saints of perfume they are, every last one I’ve tried, really… all that and so much more.

It pains me more than you know to bang my head against the keyboard and tell you their newest release, the Library Collection’s Opus VIII, is no exception to that rule. It also proves just as slippery and elusive to decline and define.

I’ve long had the sneaking suspicion that the unisex Library Collection is where Creative Director Christopher Chong lets his inspirations run a little looser and freer and gives his perfumers license to write literature in essence, absolute and accords. If Opus V could be called Carnal Iris, and Opus VI Odysseys in Amber, Opus VII was a bottled Edgar Allan Poe tale all the best and sublimely Gothic ways titled Spenser’s Forest.

Opus VIII is a new tale in a new setting with countless plot twists and turns, this one as blinding sunshine bright as Opus VII was moody, magnificent darkness.

I don’t know how or even why, since it’s listed nowhere in the notes or anywhere else I could find, but on me, Opus VIII begins as incendiary green as a morning in early May. Jasmine sambac is indeed a greener, fruitier variety of jasmine, which might explain why I was kicked awake and aware by an emerald green punch of fizzy, razor-sharp Persian lime.

Lime! Not mojito, not caipirinha and not at all margarita, but a warm, bittersweet green sunrise as a heliotropic jasmine begins to unfurl and that blinding bright gilds its edges and everything begins to glow, everywhere you sniff. Was that a hint of banana leaf? No. It’s that heady jasmine. Or else it’s the sensuous sparks of saffron and ginger firing up the floral fireworks.

But instead of your usual summer fireworks imagery, see instead a jasmine sambac chrysanthemum bomb exploding in an endless hall of mirrors, some convex, others concave, and yet others flat, wavy and in varying hues of blues, golds and greens. You just don’t know where to look, never mind how to sniff. The florals are distorted and painted large on scented woody billboards advertising alternative, gravity-defying magic carpet rides of what flowers are able to do in a perfume if they’re allowed.

Once thing is certain – they’ve never quite done this before.

Ylang ylang, with those custard and banana leaf undertones dances and flirts with the jasmine in perfect step with frankincense adding its own lemony, woody allure.

Like all the Opus line and indeed most Amouages, Opus VIII is incredibly hard to parse. Just when you think you have it all mapped out, the figurative magic carpet is pulled out from under you. Up is down and down is up. Jasmine is not at all jasmine sambac, but instead a phantasmagorical jasmine, no! Wait! Orange blossom! Yes?

No… it’s this spicy, woody superstructure elevating all the flowers up and up – or is that down?

Reflections? Refractions? I could apply both words equally well to convey my impressions. I’ve worn this on at least twelve occasions and worn twelve different perfumes – sometimes, it’s that jasmine sambac core that dominates and sometimes, it’s the woody superstructure that shares certain similarities with a few recent masculine releases, notably Fate Man.

What I will have to tell you is that this journey through a sunlit hall of mirrors takes hours and hours, and as you make your way through this jasmine sambac labyrinth, you’ll never know what you may find or even how to find it. This is possibly the most cohesive yet utterly discombobulating perfume I’ve ever sniffed.

To say I’m confounded is understating the issue. I suspect that’s both the raison d’être and the modus operandi of Opus VIII. To offer up reflections of flowers – some real, some imagined – swirling around a jasmine sambac vortex suspended in a spicy, woody, deliciously bittersweet base that by both inspirations and perfumers’ sleight of hand all add up to endless and endlessly entertaining…

Refractions in a jasmine sambac’s eye.

The Library Collection’s Opus VIII will soon be available at Luckyscent, MiN New York, First in Fragrance and directly from the Amouage website.

Notes: Jasmine sambac, ylang ylang, orange blossom, frankincense, saffron, ginger, vetiver, gaiac wood, benzoin, Jamaican bay.

Perfumers: Pierre Negrin & Richard Herpin in collaboration with Creative Director Christopher Chong.

Disclosure: A sample of Opus VIII was provided for review by Amouage. For which I thank the Very August Personage.

Illustration: M.C. Escher.

The Very Best of 2013 – Worn and Adorned

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–  Being the True Confessions of an Alembicated Genie

Oh, to be a perfume writer, you readers might think and sigh with envy, to sit at your leisure and wax poetic on the wafting wonders of the world. Imagine such a thing – to be able to translate concepts and PR releases, to read eaux and extraits as well and as easily as any bestselling novel.

Well, I hate to burst any soapy aldehyde-scented bubbles here, but the simple fact is… being a perfume writer/blogger is about on a par with being a writer of erotica – both are equally hard to do and for very nearly the same reasons. You are trying to translate the untranslatable into prose.

As a perfume writer, you are trying to capture the Muse as she flies from your skin to your nasal receptors and on to your pathetically limited (and verbally challenged) brain, trying to find a metaphor you haven’t already flogged to death five reviews ago.

When I left for Pitti Fragranze, I thought I would fly home on wings of incandescent inspirational sillage, fired up on all my jets with all the Things I Sniffed At Last and all the stories I would tell my readers. Wow, was I surprised when I came home and the very idea of wearing any perfume at all made me turn green, and as for writing about it… fuggeddaboutit! I had no other choice but to simply live out a few weeks scent-free to recalibrate my nose and my mind.

Sometimes, by Golly, you just want to enjoy a perfume without any attempts at analysis, storyline or opinion and for no other reason than it smells good to you. It enhances your mood, it floats your boat, it turns you on to other headspaces and mind places. What follows below is a collection of perfumes and adornments that did just that. Many have yet to be reviewed and to be honest only some of them will be, not for lack of will or interest, but simply because it’s just been that kind of year and this one could be worse…

Perfectly Simple and Simply Perfect

Serge Lutens – Encens et Lavande (Serge Lutens/Christopher Sheldrake)

The word ‘linear’ in perfumese is often used in a derogatory way, meaning a scent that doesn’t develop much from the initial spray all the way to the far drydown. But any artist will tell you that  ‘linear’ or ‘perfectly simple’ can be hardest of all to pull off successfully, and ‘simple’ nowhere implies a lack of complexity, meaning or context. When life ground me to a fine powder, when I was about ready to call it a day and a half, Serge Lutens’ haunting interpretation of incense – a thick, delicious fog of it – wrapped around a searing purple heart of lavender always, always made me breathe deeper and easier. It is exactly what it says on the bottle – incense and lavender. No more and no less and that’s already more than I deserve.

April Aromatics – Rose L’Orange (Tanja Bochnig)

April Aromatics’ owner and perfumer Tanja Bochnig took a very bright idea and made it even brighter and better than the sum of its parts. I love rose. I love orange blossom. Put the two together as effortlessly and as artlessly as Tanja did, and this is sunshine, love and laughter in a bottle, the happy, uninhibited belly laugh of a very happy baby, the thrilled giggle of the girl I never outgrew (and never will). It has made me smile more than I can tell this past year and still does today.

The Thinking Woman’s Incense

L’Artisan Parfumeur – Dzongkha (Bertrand Duchaufour)

A very dear friend gifted me a bottle of Dzongkha for my birthday last year – a great whopping 100 ml of it no less – and not exactly being short on perfume, I had the inspired idea to use it as a decadent (decidedly non-Buddhist) room spray, simply for the way it made me slow down and think. Dzongkha was sprayed onto the Tibetan prayer flag, the carpet, the bedding, the lightbulbs, and in an instant, I could just be… and think, contemplate and ponder without dashing madly around the racetracks in my mind. A wanton, wild extravagance, you might think, but oh, so worth it!

Liquid Courage

Neela Vermeire Creations – Trayee (Neela Vermeire/Bertrand Duchaufour)

In my younger days, whenever I needed a little fragrant fortification, I wore chypres to add a little titanium to my backbone. Unless I just gave in and poured Chanel no. 19 all over myself. Not any longer, since I came to discover that Trayee – a transcendent wonder of sandalwood, incense, oud, spice, bhang and fire is all I need to straighten my spine, face the world and take it on.

The Sweetest of Sins

Guerlain – Shalemur (Shalimar Ode à la Vanille Sur La Route de Madagascar/Thierry Wasser)

This is arguably the world’s sexiest lemur. Or the most utterly debauched yet fluffiest of vanilla/iris/lemon/tonka bean cupcakes, I’m not sure which. Whatever else it is, Shalemur has adorned my person quite often this past fall, because all sins should smell as sweet or should that be – all sweets should waft such sins? Sometimes, girls just want to get in trouble…

And speaking of trouble…

From the Swipe ‘Em Sideways Department

I have a separate section in my cabinet for Scents of Seduction. These are the ones that have definite ulterior motives, and they succeeded quite a bit more than I ever expected this past year.

Amouage – Jubilation 25 (Lucas Sieuzac)

My scent twin sent me a sample of Jubilation 25 (now known as Jubilation Woman) some (long) time ago with the ominous words: “If this isn’t you, then I’m a …” (Never, Suzanne!) It was an Amouage, so I set it aside for fear of the consequences, only to rediscover it this past summer and be blown to smithereens by its fruity-chypre glories. I wore it on a day when I sorely needed to feel as fabulous as possible, and succeeded beyond all imagining when a dashing rock-star poet commented on it. I can’t repeat what he said, but let’s just say there were… consequences. Always the best kind!

vero profumo – Rubj extrait (Vero Kern)

Another very dear friend gifted me with a treasure, this a small bottle of Rubj extrait, and somewhere in a peerless paradise, the white floral angels sang as down below a different kind of devil danced a tune or two of hot summer nights on velvet moonlit lawns. That devil was Rubj. I wear her – not wisely, but I suspect that’s the whole idea. I’m certain Vero Kern would approve.

And speaking of seduction…

Wafting Down The Rabbit Hole

The Devilscents

I’m not sure what to tell people when I say I rewrote an entire novel in just over a month. They give me strange looks and step slightly sideways as if they expect me to breathe fire and speak in tongues any second. What I can say is without a certain arsenal of perfumes, I rather doubt I could have. Just as I write everything to a set playlist, when I fell down the rabbit hole of my own story and its strange and eerie places as writers are wont to do, I needed all the help I could get to stay there, and what better help than the perfumes my story inspired? The ouroboros of inspiration goes around and around… I wrote a story, created the Devilscent Project, perfumes were made, sent and reviewed, and when the time came to knock a sorry mess into something fit for publication, I donned Olympic Orchids’ Lil, Dev #2 & 4, Neil MorrisDev #3 & Lilith, and House of Cherry Bomb’s Dev and Lil during the course of that month and waded into the verbal fray, metaphorical sword in hand. I’m proud to say I did it, proud to state it is now the book I wanted to write (but was unable to at the time, for which I thank the readers of TAG – you’ve taught me so much!), and ecstatic to know that the perfumes and the dear perfumers who rose so beautifully to that infernal occasion made the book that much better! True story. Ask Dev.

Done In By Splendor

It inevitably happens I have what I call Wayne’s World moments – moments I want to kowtow to the floor in front of the perfumer and yell at the top of my lungs: ‘I’m not worthy!’ Many friends have unwittingly sent me a few of these, and others – one I call Evil Incarnate, and I’m not entirely joking – sent these marvels knowing full well I’d freak. These count among my biggest freak-out instances.

Amouage – Epic Woman Extrait (Christopher Chong/Daniel Maurel)

Ah, Epic… how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Twelve sprays on a freezing cold night nearly asphyxiated a rock star (plus everyone else in Scandinavia and most of Northern Europe that night) but did I care? No, and he hugged me goodbye anyway. If I thought the eau de parfum was perdition, I wasn’t at all prepared for the extrait. Swoon.

Krigler – Topaze Imperiale 13

The marvelous thing about Krigler’s Topaze Imperiale 13  – a flawless amber – is that it seems by some strange sleight-of-hand to be constructed upside down, beginning with a decadent sandalwood/patchouli/labdanum and then glowing in the dark with rose, oud, vanilla and orange blossom. In other words, it’s many things I love wrapped up in something that smells like a few handy million after taxes and expenses. I really don’t understand why it doesn’t get more love because by Golly, I’d love it to death and beyond.

Oriza L. Legrand – Chypre Mousse

Once a year these past two years, a perfume will alight out of the blue aether into a world that I suspect is not entirely prepared for it. Last year, MDCI’s Chypre Palatin blew all our socks off, and shortly before New Year’s, this apparition really blew my mind. You see, I cut my perfume teeth on chypres, and I never apply the term lightly – chypres oblige. As Chypre Mousse did by being improbably lush, velvety plush, loaded with thickly applied, musty oakmoss to the max (or whatever accords were used to approximate it) and a definite vintage heritage that ensures there is nothing at all like it, and nothing at all you can compare it to. I know my chypres. Trust me on this one.

Best Comeback Moment

Aftelier  – Cuir de Gardenia (Mandy Aftel)

Dear darling Mandy, you have been very much missed. Rumor has it there is a book underway (I don’t know if it’s true, but wouldn’t that be grand?), but then, you gifted the world with this outrageously sensual out-of-body bombshell of a perfume, and my poor heart has fluttered ever since. I will have much more to say about it, but for now, I can certainly say this much: I’m not worthy!

Score for The Memories

A great tip, a finished manuscript and money in my PayPal account is a dangerous combination. Especially when it involves two of my all-time favorite perfumes in a perfectly preserved vintage incarnation. With a few exceptions, I tend to stay away from vintage perfumes, unless I really, truly, absolutely adored them to death back in the day. For no better reason than this – not only do I live in the niche-free Empty Quarter of Northern Europe, it’s also vintage free, at least where I live. Surely kismet played its fragrant hand on the day I encountered two absolute (vintage) loves. And bought them.

Grès – Cabochard (Bernard Chant)

My mother had a thing for pulpy 70s paperbacks, which was how I first learned about Cabochard in an Irving Stone novel called ‘The Fan Club’ at an impressionable age. Not that many years later, I came across Cabochard in a Copenhagen department store, remembered the book, and bought it. It took me a while to come around to this sexy, slinky leathery green chypre, but come around I did – I was never without a bottle of it again for almost twenty years. When it was gone, I missed it sorely– for the memories, for its slinky-sexy Kim Novak-in-Vertigo vibe, for everything I felt I was when I wore it. So the day I found a vintage version, I bought it pronto and found it to be everything I remembered and loved. In other words, perfect for all the Hitchcock moments I anticipate.

Dior – Dioressence (Guy Robert)

My first Dior was the original Miss Dior, but no Dior quite grabbed me as the louche, bohemian and more than a little risqué Dioressence. Part green, part dirty, part dark and all feline, it wafted behind a short, busty punk in a blue Mohawk through several years of thrills and spills and can now work its green, feline magic on a short, busty blonde all over again. One can never be too louche past a certain age…

The Devil In The Details

I loathe narcissism, but I approve of vanity. (Diana Vreeland)

Sequestered behind my screen, I can pretend all I like I am everything I ever was, but as events no doubt will prove in the year to come, I can’t hide there any longer. This past year, the Genie ventured into beauty products, and although my main focus here will always be perfume, beauty is as beauty does and leopard print pjs will never do for public appearances. I was never more grateful for upgrading my image than when two spectacularly talented perfumers also ventured into skin and haircare…

 aroma M Camellia Oils

Perfumer Maria McElroy of aroma M ventured into haircare and skincare this past year with her Camellia oils (for hair, for the face and a delicious bath and body oil). I have this to say about them all – they are heavenly fragrant, highly effective and utter bliss to use. I’ll take ten of each to go, please.

Aftelier Ancient Resins Body Oil & Jasmine Facial Oil

With Aftelier, you know it will be good. Actually, it will be so good, you’ll be doomed – or spoiled for life – to revel in these wonders and know your face, your skin, your nose and your very soul will thank you for them forever.

Underrated Gratitude

Everything, so claimed James Burke once upon a time, is connected. Nowhere was this truer than when I encountered an issue  – vanity or narcissism, take your pick – and asked one of my Beauty Swamis about concealer. If I have a day I look better than usual, I can thank Gaia the Non Blonde, because she has never steered me wrong, starting with…

Ellis Faas – Concealer & Hot Lips

There are few things cooler than finding a perfect product that does exactly what it says it will, performs impeccably, and makes you feel well, perfect. Thanks to the Non Blonde, I bought a concealer to start, followed by two shades of Hot Lips – a lip stain of a different kind – and wow, what a difference! I’ll never need an excuse not to act my shoe size ever again.

Nars – Pressed Light Reflecting Setting Powder

It was a Nightmare Scenario. My first professional photo shoot at a time in my life I looked (and felt) about thirty years older than my already advanced age. I was mid-deadline (and nearly dead on my feet) and terrified I’d look like microwaved death soup on my dust jacket. A bit of research and a long Skype conversation with my awesome publisher (who knows these things matter!) landed this indispensible item in my mailbox the day before the shoot. It impressed the makeup artist and the photographer impressed me (and quite a few other people) no end with the results.

Dear Non Blonde. Thank you. Signed, a Blonde.

And as I look through my notes for these Best Of posts, somewhere in the borderlands between beauty and vanity, between fragrance and fragrant, connections and people, I think that in my own evolution as a perfume writer, as a writer and perhaps most of all as a woman these past three-plus years, maybe this is the greatest of all year-end wrap-ups and the greatest of all gifts – to know that somewhere out there on the other side of your screen, is a frothing, seething lot of truly inspiring people who believe as you do in the importance of capturing beauty – or the Muse – as she flies. And above all else,  in passing its wisdom on.

Here’s to the thrills and spills that lie ahead in 2014!

With profound thanks to Ida, Lucy, Ruth, Gaia, Tami, Tamsin, Claudia, Maria, Ellen, Neil, Alexis, Mandy and all those friends I feel so blessed to have in my life. 

The Very Best of 2013 – Part One

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–  the Genie’s slightly belated guide to the perfumes that defined 2013

I’m a bit surprised – to put it mildly – at just how quickly 2013 sped by, and such a year it was! A year of an unprecedented amount of releases, an unprecedented amount of hype and blather, and most of all, an unprecedented claim to olfactory epiphanies that were anything but.

To my own personal dismay, I wasn’t able to write or review nearly as much as I wanted to. This does nothing for my review backlog or my hugely guilty conscience, but I had a rather good explanation – 2013 was the year I became a published novelist, and naturally, that took priority. It also goes a long way towards explaining why October and November seemed to vanish in thin air. As a writer, I doubt I’ve ever worked harder in my life. This holds true even as 2014 begins, because ahead looms events like book launches and Getting The Word Out and dealing with other things that strike terror in my heart.

Yet 2013 was also a high water mark in other ways. Thanks to my fantabulous readers, I was able to purchase an upgraded computer, attend Pitti Fragranze (and what an experience that was!), and more than anything else feel the connection I have with my readers more than I ever have before.

And then, of course, there were the perfumes. One of the last perfume-related statistics I remember reading was this: as of the autumn of 2013, more than 1440 new perfumes were released. Which was more than the year before, and the year before, and the year… etc.

It’s getting to where I read about new brands being launched and I clutch my head in despair. With so many brands competing for shelf space, customers and their own slice of the ever-expanding perfume slice of the beauty industry, inevitably, corners are cut and shortcuts taken, and we end up with what I saw and sniffed at Pitti Fragranze – Eau de High-End Niche, which smells expensive (and all too often is), recycles themes from other, more daring/creative/inspired perfume houses and is in its own aspirational marketing way just as generic and soulless (if far more prohibitively priced) as any ‘mainstream’ brand.

For 2013, which was a year I’m not likely to forget any time soon, I’ve decided to do things a little differently than before. I sniffed more things in 2013 than at any other time in my life, so my own personal favorites in the year gone by will be in part 2 of my Best Of list. Meanwhile, you want to know what really rocked my planet in 2013…

Best Correspondence Between Brand and Perfume:

Donato Style Glam Monster (Donato Crowley/Kedra Hart of Opus Oils)

Donato Crowley, the LA-based stylist, photographer, artist and all-round Renaissance man, really knocked my socks off with Glam Monster, a glorious, sultry, super-unisexy take on all the very best parts of California and all the naughty bits, too. If ever a perfume somehow managed to wrap up an entire artistic statement in a bottle, it’s this one. My sample is all gone. That bottle can’t be far behind. I need glamour, too.

Best Novella In A Bottle:

AmouageOpus VII (Christopher Chong/Alberto Morillas/Pierre Negrin)

In the Just Kill Me Now department, Opus VII wins by default by a) showing just how wrong even a perfume writer can parse/interpret ingredients and b) then humiliating herself in full public view by publishing the first review of it. I said iris. Opus VII contains no such thing. What it does contain is a swirling, whirling, spectacularly moody heart of Gothic darkness I haven’t had enough of yet, and I doubt I ever will. This is Edgar Allan Poe, bottled.

And speaking of iris, only this time, it’s very much there…

Best Iris of 2013:

DSH PerfumesIridum (Dawn Spencer Hurwitz)

Iris perfumes – a definite love of mine since I first fell hard for Chanel no. 19 – tend to run towards the chilly end of the olfactory spectrum. Not so Iridum, which is a feisty, spicy, incense-laden iris revelation that was love at first sniff and holds its own next to that greatest of all irises  – Iris Silver Mist. For a dedicated iris lover, that says everything.

Best Unexpected Hit:

Chanel – Les Exclusifs Chanel 1932 (Jacques Polge)

Having only ever tried 28 La Pausa from Chanel’s Les Exclusifs collection at the time, I was not quite prepared for how much I liked this twinkling, sparkling little marvel of aldehydes, iris, jasmine and all things grand and glorious. It is always classy, never inappropriate (I’ve worn it to job interviews), and perfectly epitomizes the very best of Chanel in all the very best of ways. Unlike 28 La Pausa, it also lasts.

Best “Slay ‘em, baby” perfume:

Opus OilsBabylon Noir (Kedra Hart)

I’ll be the first to admit it – I’m biased. Babylon Noir was originally created by Kedra Hart for the Devilscent Project, but it launched to the general public on Valentine’s Day last year, and likely has been slaying scores of hearts and swollen heads ever since. I know for a fact that my bottle is often loaned to Ms. Hare for nefarious purposes with a 100% success rate, because that’s what best friends do – support each others’ nefarious purposes…

Best New Brands I discovered at Pitti Fragranze:

This was a hard decision, since I sniffed many, many things from many, many brands (don’t get me started on those bags of Pitti samples I haven’t dared touch yet) in Florence, but two dedicated perfume brands in particular stood out from the rest: Bruno Acampora and Parfums de Marly. I’ve worn several of Bruno Acampora’s oils (Iranzol was an instant love) and even a lethal dose of Parfums de Marly’s Herod over the course of this past autumn, and although I haven’t had enough time to do them the verbal justice they certainly deserve, they have taken my breath away.

Best Applied Epiphany:

Tauer Perfumes’ Noontide Petals (Andy Tauer)

One of my favorite moments at Pitti Fragranze was finally being able to say hello to Andy Tauer – and sniff ALL the Tauers, which I never had before. Andy will be another expensive person to know. I was also very curious to try Noontide Petals, which was getting a lot of press at the time. So after politely enquiring whether I was sure – Tauers are known for having the perfume half life of plutonium – Andy then proceeded to sweep me off my feet with Noontide Petals by spraying my arm. My nose was glued to my wrist the rest of the evening. It really IS… all that in a blinding burst of sunshine.

Best Perfume Reformulations:

vero profumo’s Voiles de Parfum (Vero Kern) & Neela Vermeire Creations Mohur Extrait (Neela Vermeire/Bertrand Duchaufour)

Interesting things happen when a perfume concentration is amped up. Facets only partly apparent in an eau de parfum can take on whole new multiverses of context and significance. Nowhere was this more evident that in vero profumo’s Voiles de Parfums line of Rubj, Kiki, Onda and Mito, because Vero Kern does not simply add more jus – she redefines and reconstructs her own work to breathtaking effect – as she did. Likewise, Mohur, Neela Vermeire’s no less beautiful perfume was redefined in extrait, and an already bone-chilling glorious creation was painted new in ever richer and more opulent hues. I thought it would be impossible to improve on the peerless Mohur. I was dead wrong.

Speaking of dead wrong…

Worst Perfume Idea, Ever:

O’Driu’s Peety (Angelo Pregoni)

Call me old-fashioned, call me a prude, call me whatever you like. Sometimes, I can admire the concept behind a perfume even if I can’t wear it. Sometimes, I love the perfume and ignore the concept completely. So let me just state that I truly admire the degree of chutzpah/audacity behind Angelo Pregoni of O’Driu’s Peety. It appeals no end to my inner post-punk iconoclast. That’s the idea. The reality of Peety, however, is just about the vilest thing I sniffed this year, mainstream launches included. Your mileage may vary. But this one turned me chartreuse in the worst way, and not just because it was sprayed upon a feather.

From The Bad Idea Department:

One word – oud. Enough of the oud already. Yes, it is a marvel of a raw material. Yes, incredible, astonishing perfumes contain oud. Yes, it has many facets and aspects that can all be shown in many revelatory ways. But dear Creative Directors and perfumers – who are you kidding here? Real oud is now a very rare commodity. Apparently, so is creativity. Which I frankly find hard to believe considering the number of new launches in 2013. Wait a minute…

How To Kill A Storied Fragrant Heritage, Part One:

Dior.

How to Kill A Storied Fragrant Heritage, Part Two:

Yves Saint Laurent. Belle de Opium. Manifesto. I rest my case, because once upon a fabled time, a fashion genius truly cared about his perfumes. Alas, they no longer do at either Dior or YSL.

Worst Aspirational Marketing:

I suppose it’s one thing to flat-out declare your indifference to 99% of Planet Perfume and set your price point accordingly. But since I suspect that 99% of perfume aficionados buy way more niche/indie perfume than the one percent (I could be wrong), I think Roja Dove is doing us 99% a serious disservice by creating something so flawless as Diaghilev in extrait and then pricing it in the exosphere of attainability, splits or no. If that marketing tactic doesn’t prove that life isn’t fair, I don’t know what does.

Best Witnessed Out-of-Body Moments:

I have a friend – tall, good-looking, young, green-eyed, a Scorpio (which figures), who recently stated he was in need of an image upgrade which also necessitated… perfume. His former staple Fleur du Male notwithstanding. So one evening chez Genie, I sat him down with some of the stellar contents of the Red Ikea Cabinet of Doom. And then, I experienced something most passing strange. He sniffed a perfume (Olympic Orchids’ Dev no. 2) and jumped off the floor in a flash. “Holy “#!”§€%!?. What IS that? That should be… illegal!!!” His doom was sealed with Amouage’s Fate Man. He’ll never touch anything mainstream again. Mission accomplished.

Most Extravagant Habit of 2013:

By this time, to my own surprise not least, I have acquired a LOT of perfumes. So it follows that I should use them in whatever ways I can. Mostly, I simply wear them, but in the past year, whether testing for review or simply my own decadent pleasure, I’ve taken to spray my bedding, my Tibetan prayer flag, my carpet and sometimes, the radiator of my living room. This was how I discovered that Janice Divacat is a definite Amouage fangal, whereas Hairy Krishna prefers Serge Lutens.

Greatest Vicarious Pleasure:

A friend I made in Florence took me to an English apothecary in a Centro Storico side street that also sold Frédéric Malle’s Editions de Parfums and Serge Lutens’ export line. I thought she deserved the very best and introduced her to Carnal Flower. She floated, she told me later, the rest of the afternoon on a cloud of tuberose bliss. I was so proud of her. And when I can, I’ll buy it for her in every incarnation. Because that much bliss to follow is so worth it.

Best Vicarious Pleasure, Part Two:

Furthering pleasure to a dear friend and fellow blogger, Caro of Té des Violetas, by sending her a decant of Fate Woman when Argentine customs impounded her own press sample. This made me happier than I can say, and Argentine customs be damned!

Best Fragrant Export Ever:

The ‘Mysore’/Santalum Album sandalwood plantations of Australia. This is the sort of thing that gives me hope for humankind – that we will never be without this most beautiful of perfumery materials. So long as we have sandalwood, we can endure anything. And now, we will!

Best WTF moment:

Kinski by e-scentric molecules (Geza Schoen)

My sister and I have vastly differing tastes in perfume. For one, she can wear no. 5 and I can’t at all, for another, she used to exude radioactive clouds of patchouli bombs and Obsession for Men. But when she bought Kinski to celebrate her own publication as an author, we both flipped over it. Impossibly louche, impossibly wrong, improbably sexy and possibly the greatest thing two 21st-century thoroughly twisted Sisters Brontë of dark, depraved literature could ever agree upon.

You have been so patient, dear readers, so forbearing. Thank you. You have read through my wrap-up of 2013 blather and are dying to know what skyrocketed to my very top in the past year.

Just as it happened last year, I couldn’t decide between three perfumes I had already reviewed (my criterion for making the list), so I could either roast over a slow fire as I decided which one would win or I could just wimp out and award the Genie’s Best Of 2013 awards equally to all three. They are equally great, equally grand, equally the stratospheric best that perfumery can offer. So without further ado…

Best of 2013, Part One:

Envoyage Perfumes Zelda. (Shelley Waddington)

Are you familiar with experiencing an artform – a movie, a book, a painting, a perfume – and you have that immediate rush of recognition and revelation? Not only is it good, not only is it something your intellect can appreciate, but your emotions chime in, your heart begins to flutter, and you get it in your bone marrow? You feel it, you think about it, dream about it, want to bathe in a vat of it. It won’t let you go. One of those out-of-body moments – they don’t happen often any more – for me this past year was Envoyage Perfumes’ Zelda. If there is a Heaven, they’ll have Zelda the perfume there too (the firebrand by that same name is already there), because it makes the angels (and yours truly) sing.

Best of 2013, Part Two:

Neela Vermeire CreationsAshoka (Neela Vermeire/Bertrand Duchaufour)

I am privileged to live in a world that has such dedicated perfume lovers such as Neela Vermeire in it. For her fourth launch, she took her time and no shortcuts at all when she created Ashoka with Bertrand Duchaufour. It is a) one of the most evocative, numinous perfumes I’ve ever sniffed b) has one of the most unusual developments I’ve ever come across and c) is arguably the greatest figgy, floral, leathery enlightenment in eau de parfum ever made. Yes, I said that.

Best of 2013, Part Three:

AmouageFate Woman (Christopher Chong/Dorothée Piot)

On the day Fate Woman (and Man) arrived, I remember my surprise. Amouage, who delivers epiphanies, decadent olfactory symphonies and full-blown Wagnerian oeuvres, had gone… did I dare think such a heretical thought? – a tad… mainstream? Well, almost/not quite/not exactly, but this is still very much an Amouage and very much an Oriental with no compromises or shortcuts of any kind. If this is the last chapter of the first epos Christopher Chong has to tell, I can’t wait to see what he’ll put into Volume 2.  But the biggest surprise was this: Everyone in my immediate vicinity – and I do mean everyone: Ms. Hare, my sister, my daughter, lovers and friends, complete strangers on the street, a makeup artist in Copenhagen on the day of my photo shoot – everyone loved it instantly without question or quarter. This has never happened before. So I gave small decants to them all from my press sample, and now have to hide the rest of it away in a secret location, or else it will be abducted/stolen by Ms. Hare and I’ll never, ever see it again. But one thing I came to discover for myself – the most incredible things have happened when I wore it. Such is Fate…

Best Perfumer of 2013:

Envoyage Perfumes – Shelley Waddington

Here lies a dilemma – one of my top three favorites was nominated Perfumer of the Year last year, so my apologies, M. Duchaufour. Ms. Piot – I suspect you have marvels and wonders ahead of you. If Fate Woman is any indication, you’ll very soon be exuding greatness of your own.

My nominee for Perfumer of 2013 goes to…Shelley Waddington, for creating Zelda and then, having the hugely flattering idea to send it to me to review. I sniffed it with an open mind and some expectations – I know she’s an exceptionally talented indie perfumer – but Zelda sideswiped me, stole my heart and never gave it back!

Stay tuned for Part Two, which was all I wore and (also) loved…

A Gothic Grimoire

Franz_von_Stuck_004

–  The Genie’s Guide to the Supernaturally Sublime

Something about October, the dance of glowing leaves in the wind, the shift in mood from the exuberance of spring and the dolce far niente of summer to a tinge of delicious melancholy, the very perfume of the air itself, with its first hints of looming winter and quietude, the mushroom scent of a forest floor after the rain, the sharp tang of fallen apples and the sudden epiphany of wood smoke in the air – all of these combined add up to what is without question one of my favorite times of the year.

If I were to put an epithet that somehow sums up all of October, it would surely be ‘Gothic’.

These days, Gothic conjures up associations of horror, darkness and menace, if not an entire subculture I once upon a storied time did my own small part to define the first time it surfaced in the zeitgeist of the mid-Eighties. While I may have outgrown my predilection for acres of black eyeliner and ditto lipstick, certain elements of that era have stuck with me ever since – a taste for melodramatic literature written at an operatic pitch of intensity, music, and a certain nineteenth-century feel and line in clothing. Although I still own an outsize amount of very black clothes, one indispensible item more than any other brings out that inspired state of being that consists of equal parts preternatural frisson, high drama, twinges of mortality, and the delectable, unbearable, existential darkness of being.

Perfume.

But what in all that chthonic murk constitutes a Gothic… perfume?

It goes without saying that all the happy-go-lucky flirty florals and fruity wonders we adore so much in high summer no longer cut it.

For a perfume to be deemed Gothic requires a few non-negotiable elements. First of all – that all-important question, my own pop-culture criterion:

Would Morticia Addams wear it?

If it is too light, too young, too obvious, too fleeting, the answer is likely a resounding ‘no’. Anything that doesn’t reduce our own resident Gomez Addams (should we have one) to a helpless pile of smoking ectoplasm need not apply. Speaking of ectoplasm…

All Gothic perfumes must by necessity contain an element of the numinous or the supernatural about them. It could be a question of composition, of overall texture, of unusual fragrant elements in mutual tension, but if it doesn’t give you a superstitious shiver down your spine and you can’t even explain why, what’s the point?

Since the Gothic mood and mindset is dark, intense, and brooding, the perfume must somehow convey all of these things. Therefore, Gothic perfumes are often very plush, with a lot of basenotes that may often include frankincense, labdanum, oud, patchouli, sandalwood, oakmoss, castoreum, civet, musk, leather and other wonders of that fertile alchemical undergrowth that provokes all our darkest, most secret, subconscious desires.

Last but never least, if you can answer an affirmative ‘yes!’ to the question…

Would you wear this to a graveside Halloween party?

Then you’ve found your very own Gothic perfume!

What follows below are my own personal decidedly Gothic favorites, arranged from vintage (and therefore, sadly, the current versions are reformulated beyond recognition and merit) to currently available.

Vintage Glories

Magie Noir – Lancôme

This 1978 classic by Gerard Goupy was a harbinger to come of those opulent Eighties orientals. It is also without question one of the witchiest perfumes ever made. I’ve worn it off and on since 1983, and it remains the single most complimented perfume I own, even today. In fact, I’ve never met a man who didn’t tilt backwards for this one, such is the Circe spell it weaves, turning any modern Odysseus into a slavering hog whether they want it or not. Although still in production, it’s not even a wan, pale echo of its former glory.

Narcisse Noir – Caron

Sometimes, I wonder at the fragrant bombshells I wore in my wanton youth, wonder I even dared to wear them. This great immortal classic, beloved of both Norma Desmond and Anaïs Nin, more than any other delineated my long-ago Goth days. It slew several wannabe latter-day Baudelaires I knew by taking a perfumery trope – orange blossom – and turning it completely inside out. Orange blossom is usually a joyous, summery, sunshine bloom. Ernest Daltroff’s 1912 classic inverts all those expectations and turns them inside out by being a dark, smoky, slinky animal of midnight and divine delirium. Narcisse Noir is still available, although it has irrevocably changed from its inky, slinky, seductive self to a prim Park Avenue mistress in palest dove gray.

Parlous Blooms

If ever an entire perfume house’s resident aesthetic somehow encapsulates all that is Gothic with a decadent French twist, it would surely be Serge Lutens. I doubt it’s an accident it is one of my all-time favorite perfume houses for precisely that reason. Best of all, Serge Lutens has – aided by resident alchymist Christopher Sheldrake and before him Maurice Roucel – subverted several classic florals into new, unnerving territory by making them eerie, and not just through their inscrutable press copy or their names, but throughout their very souls. Iris Silver Mist will send chills of otherworldly orris down your spine, Tubereuse Criminelle shall disturb you to your depths in all its heady jolie laide beauty, Sarrasins might sink its feral feline jasmine fangs into your nose and De Profundis exude its own cold kiss of mortality down your neck, but you will not forget them – nor will anyone who gets close enough to sniff.

Numinous Numbers

Certain perfumes are more than a little… numinous. Meaning they convey a hint or a whole ruined abbey of emotion, legend, ghosts of stories past and premonitions to come. They range from the transcendental to the uncanny, which is precisely why they’re so beloved.

Trayee & Ashoka – Neela Vermeire Crèations

It may seem a bit of a stretch to call Neela Vermeire’s Trayee and Ashoka ‘gothic’ when perhaps the first word that comes to mind is ‘exotic’, but think again – if we take the word to mean transporting in an emotionally compelling, numinous sense, then they both do precisely that in two different, very complex and nearly supernatural ways. Trayee with its sacred incense, oud and sandalwood, Ashoka with its sudden, shocking shift from deepest dark to luminous light – either is perfect for that lingering trail of sanctity we all aspire to leave behind us – or the samsara we all hope to achieve.

Rouge Avignon – Phaedon

Rouge Avignon, inspired by the Papal palace at Avignon, embodies the very best of Gothic sensibilities in its very DNA. Rose, incense, smoke, dark, deep woods – it is its own unholy witchy brew of blackest red and reddest black, the shade of a drop of blood, of power and of carefully concealed secrets, too.

l

Mad, Bad and Dangerous To Know or… Les Hommes Fatales

Lady Caroline Lamb may well have had all sorts of personal reasons to describe George Gordon, Lord Byron as all of the above, but certain masculine-tinged perfumes will haunt me to my grave if not devastate me into a swoon, whether they’re worn by short, dark and interesting exemplars of the male gender or by tall, fair, rockstar poets in aviator shades fueled by Friday night and Pinot Grigio.

Baudelaire – Byredo

No fan of the Gothic can avoid a fatal predilection for the poetry of Charles Baudelaire. While I somehow doubt Byredo’s Baudelaire would be worn by its namesake, who did indeed have a great affinity for perfume, there’s no question in my demented mind it does full justice to the spirit of his words…erotic, evocative, subversive, and more than a little perilous to short, busty writers with (oversized) nitroglycerin imaginations. Poets beware!

1740 Marquis de Sade – Histoires de Parfums

This thick, heady, delirious leather/spicy/immortelle bombshell of a perfume was inspired by that greatest libertine of them all – or so the notorious Marquis liked to see himself. I say it’s much too good for his ghost, but absolutely grand for modern-day libertines out to slay the unsuspecting with everything they’ve got. So long as they’re careful never to promise more than they’re capable of delivering. I also say 1740 is everything any hopelessly romantic, Gothic-leaning female could wish to inhale, although the consequences of doing just that might be harrowing. My lips are sealed in scarlet ink. To paraphrase Tennessee Williams, things occur in the dark of night that make anything happening in daylight seem… all right.

A Haunted History

Perfume, I heard myself saying some time ago, is every bit as legitimate a way of telling a story as a painting, a sculpture, a film, a novel. Few perfumes tell quite such a timeless story as the most haunting pair I know…

Memoir Man/Woman – Amouage

The great thing about Amouage paired perfumes is the way both the feminine and the masculine versions reflect two sides of the same story, and here, it’s that eternal epic love story of a tempestuous heaven and a mutual melodrama heartbreak. Either of them have utterly ruined me for life for other so-called ‘bottled love stories’, since so far as I’m concerned, this one is unbeatable. Certainly, it’s unforgettable. As all the best love stories – and worst heartbreaks! – always are.

Les Femmes Fatales

Ladies – you’ve been waiting for these. These perfumes are the dragon-slayers and pale-faced Succubi of the perfume world, the pearlescent vampires, the Liliths, Ligeias and Morellas and the Annabel Lees, the transgressions, the most ebony of carnal sins and ultimate, bottled evils, the justifications for terrible, heart-rending beauty and bone-chilling emanations.  If you think about it – what is Ulalume compared to all of those? Edgar? Anyone?

Midnight At The Crossroads Café – Neil Morris

Gothic literature has been such a mainstay of popular fiction for so long, it’s increasingly hard to imagine anything new could ever be done with it. Unless you happen to be that justly famous Boston treasure, perfumer Neil Morris, who took an unknown writer’s opening chapter and turned it into a upgraded Gothic perfume novella for the twenty-first century without overlooking any single essential: a witching hour, a vulnerable woman, a glass of mulled wine, an empty café and the distinct, supernatural thrill of the definitely dangerous and dangerously erotic Devil himself. It can be classified as a chypre, but this is unlike any chypre you think you know – this is as good as fragrant perdition gets. Take it from me. I know.

Immortal Mine – House of Cherry Bomb

Two years ago (and how it could be two years I’m still not sure), I had the great good fortune to participate in the Clarimonde Project, a cross-media collaboration of perfumers and writers to explore in prose and perfume one of the earliest and most unusual vampire stories ever – Thèophile Gautier’s 1836 La Morte Amoureuse. House of Cherry Bomb’s Immortal Mine is one of the superlative finest and supremely Gothic perfumes money can buy. It’s as deep and impenetrable as Nietzsche’s abyss, as black and vast as a winter hour before dawn, as licentious as any celebrated courtesan and as haunting (if not daunting) as Gautier’s story and his creation both.

Babylon Noir – Opus Oils

Hundreds of perfumes claim to be noir. Most of them barely qualify as wannabe noir, if that much. Babylon Noir, created by perfumer Kedra Hart of Opus Oils for the Devilscent Project, is such an audacious, outrageous, luscious feline carnivore of a perfume, it makes vintage Narcisse Noir (no slouch in the darkness department) blanc in comparison. Equally suitable for vampires and aspiring Liliths, it will slay anyone it touches, guaranteed, because darkness gets no blacker nor more alluring. Wear it to any Halloween party and watch the competition turn orange in envy.

Ormonde Woman – Ormonde Jayne London

Some very long time ago, when I was still fairly new to niche perfumery, I won a sample of Ormonde Woman on another perfume blog. That it was a green and witchy creature, I already knew from the review, but I wasn’t at all prepared for my own reaction. It was without question the most terrifying perfume I had ever encountered in my life, so much so, it was the original inspiration for Lilith’s perfume. Not for being repellent (which it wasn’t) nor even poisonous (although there was that hemlock absolute…) but precisely because it was such a feral thing of the forest. It took me a good long time (and very many perfumes) to come around to Ormonde Woman, but now I have another wafting weapon at my disposal to put the capital B in bewitching.

Lil – Olympic Orchids

Still with me on this fragrant descent into the heart of October darkness? In which case, you’re in for a very big surprise, because Olympic Orchids’ Lil – also created for the Devilscent Project – is not dark in the slightest. Ellen Covey happily took every Gothic trope and cliché in perfumery and subverted them into an absolutely terrifying – and horribly beautiful – perfume of sharp, piercing, eerie green light, as if she had somehow managed to capture a will-o’-the-wisp in a perfume bottle that will haunt (and taunt) your surroundings for a very long time. Wimps and wannabes need not apply.

The Moody, Magnificent Monster

Opus VII – Amouage

I’m a bit at a loss to describe Opus VII (although I’ve certainly tried) and its effects, but basically, this is a huge, shape-shifting beast of Faërie that takes oud, black leather, cypriol, fenugreek and galbanum and provides them all with the most delirious fangs  – or pangs! – you could never have imagined. You can wear it ten times and encounter ten different stories. You will catch a waft and think you have managed to parse its depths to your satisfaction. Ten minutes later, you’ll catch another and wonder what you were thinking. Then hours later, the only thing you can be sure of is one literal wild ride – or wild hunt through the undergrowth? – that surely explains every Dionysian mystery rite from antiquity to the present. Or does it? Only its sillage knows…

In short, if you seek the unusual, the preternatural thrill, the mysteries and the magic of a most magical time of year, these perfumes will be honored to send eerie shivers down your spine.

Because every day should be Halloween!

At least in October.

____________________________________________________________

Serge Lutens perfumes are available from Luckyscent and for European customers, directly from the Serge Lutens website. Trayee and Ashoka are available at Luckyscent and from Neela Vermeire Crèations. Rouge Avignon is available directly from Phaedon. Baudelaire is available from Luckyscent and First in Fragrance. Histoires de Parfums 1740 is at Luckyscent and First in Fragrance. Amouage Memoir Man & Woman can be found at Luckyscent and First in Fragrance. Neil Morris’ Midnight is available through his Vault collection of perfumes by request. House of Cherry Bomb’s Immortal Mine is available at Indie Scents. Opus Oils’ Babylon Noir is available directly from the Opus Oils website, Ormonde Woman from Ormonde Jayne London, Lil directly from Olympic Orchids. Amouage Opus VII is available from Luckyscent, First in Fragrance and directly from the Amouage website.

With thanks to the reader who inspired the post…;)

Illustrations: Franz von Stuck, Die Sünde, 1893 and Lucifer, 1890.