Lemon Aid

Lemon-Slices

-  a review of Tauer PerfumesCologne du Maghreb

Certain things are a given in summertime. You can reasonably expect to survive the heat of July with a) a few mosquito bites, b) by moving from one shady spot to the next if you’re anything as fair-skinned as I and c) last but never least, by rejecting most of the contents of your perfume cabinet in favor of lighter, flirtier scents, unless of course you’re also like me and suffer a fit of heatwave-induced contrariness and roll out what my friend Ms. Hare calls ‘bombs’; those take-no-prisoners odes to opulence that do wonders for your mood if not for your 12+ hour sillage trail.

Today, dear readers, will not be one of those days. For today in my garret in Niflheim, it is an already warm, blue summer day with the promise of more heat on the way. It won’t be long before I turn on the fan and place it on the floor to the delight of Hairy Krishna and Janice Divacat. All my windows are as open as they can be with two cats under a rooftop, the blinds are down to keep out most of the heat and as I type these words, my hair is up in a clip and my iPig is blaring a favorite baritone. I am wearing precisely one item of textile since it’s far too hot for anything more – a tissue-thin A-line rayon dress that won’t make the mailman blush too hard should he arrive, but it’s the coolest item of clothing I own and I have no air conditioning apart from my fan.

Today is also the day I reach for a small vial I’ve been meaning to review for quite some time – Andy Tauer’s recently re-released Cologne du Maghreb, which was originally a 2010 limited edition he has now made part of his permanent collection.

You could argue that the European perfume industry as it exists today owes everything to the cologne – that refreshing if fleeting blend of citrus, flowers and herbs that has been applied to everything from skin to hair to babies, and even used as a mouthwash since Giovanni Maria Farina hit upon a lucky blend in 1709 and named it for his new hometown of Cologne in Germany, an homage also to the local belief that the waters of Cologne cured everything that ailed you, bubonic plague included!

If this eau de cologne by the great Andy Tauer (one of my Primeval Forces of Perfume) is another panacea for all things heat-related that plague me, then it can’t possibly hurt to try.

Famous last words!

If colognes – at least, the ‘classic’ variety embodied by brands such as Roger & Gallet or 4711 – strike you as uncomplicated, somewhat linear fragrances to mindlessly revive your melting self beneath a molten sun, then I have news for you.

Cologne de Maghreb is not one of those. Surely, we perfume diehards hoped for no less from the august Andy Tauer?

And just as we hoped, dear Andy delivered. For his Cologne du Maghreb is neither simple, uncomplicated nor linear in the slightest, yet it is very much a cologne, meaning it is as invigorating as a dip in a cool swimming pool (I can dream!) yet also every drop as sophisticated as all his perfumes.

It begins, like so many great perfume tales, with a blinding bright sunshine burst of lemon and bergamot. And I do mean… lemon. Lemon with a capital L, lemon with all its zest and juice and joie de vivre intact, a lemon that must be a close relation to one of my own heatwave standbys, namely homemade lemonade.

But under that citrus-y sunshine lies a verdant bite of herbs and an earthy, shady vibe from the Atlas cedar that on my skin is apparent from first to last. As it softens and fades, I detect a seamless aura of neroli and orange blossom (never, ever a bad thing in my book), a whiff of background rose and a whisper of lavender, but they’re very hard to tease apart unless I close my eyes and concentrate.

As it evolves and moves forward, the lemon stays in the background like a heartbeat in tandem with that luscious cedar, and it becomes greener and earthier when the vetiver and labdanum arrive treading softly, adding a touch of sunset amber to the greenery.

Unlike most Tauers I’ve been lucky enough to try, Cologne du Maghreb doesn’t last much more on me than approximately three hours or so, which is still quite impressive for a cologne.

I have generally speaking – apart from a vintage bottle of 4711 I acquired in a thrift store for reference – tended to avoid true colognes (as opposed to eau de cologne concentrations of certain perfumes) precisely because they’ve seemed a bit too simplistic, fleeting and linear for my personal tastes. In some hard to articulate way, they’ve failed to scratch my perpetual itch for Slaying Them With Sophisticated Sillage.

Now, with Cologne du Maghreb, Andy Tauer has upended all my preconceptions of what a true cologne can be, by making a cologne for the rest of us perfumista diehards. It is not boring, not simple, not clichéd or trite in the slightest.

Instead, it is the closest thing to bottled air conditioning I’ve tried all summer. While I very much doubt Cologne du Maghreb will cure bubonic plague like those famous waters of Köln, it certainly cures any summertime heat blues I might have. I’ll be buying a bottle as soon as I possibly can.

Perhaps I should just call it…

Lemon Aid.

Notes: Lemon, bergamot, clary sage, rosemary, orange blossom, lavender, neroli, rose, Atlas cedar, labdanum, vetiver and amber.

Cologne du Maghreb is available from First in Fragrance and Luckyscent.

Disclosure: A sample was provided for review by Andy Tauer, for which I can’t thank him enough. Also special thanks to Jeffrey Dame and to Andrew Millar, who suggested a cure for my long and debilitating case of writer’s block.

The Best of 2012 – Phrases, Friends and Facilitators

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(Note: The following information may be disturbing to some readers)

True Confessions: I don’t consider myself a perfume blogger. While I have nothing but the utmost respect for those who are, I’ll tell you straight away that the idea of me being a pefume blogger makes me break out in hives. Why?

Because I’m not a blogger at all.

I am – for better and (likely) for worse – a writer. I’m currently working on a revamp of Quantum Demonology and a translation into Danish for publication. (Otherwise, my sister will kill me if I don’t!) I sometimes still write about whatever grabs my feminist goat hairs on The Termagant Tarleisio. At the back of my mind and in yet another notebook, a QD sequel is bubbling away. So is a story I began because of perfume, the ‘sequel’ of Théophile Gautier’s ‘Clarimonde’ I began when I reviewed House of Cherry Bomb’s ‘Immortal Mine’ for the Clarimonde Project. Instead of celebrating Christmas, I applied myself to submitting a story to an online erotica publisher (who has published me before) as a warm-up exercise for an erotica novel a fellow perfume writer dared me to write after I bellyached loudly over the pathetic ‘Fifty Shades of Gray’, which at this point is in sections, research and sketches in longhand in a notebook. Let’s just say it won’t be for the faint of heart…

Oh. Yes. I also have a quite a few friends who are sweet enough to say… “You should really write a book about perfume…”

Last, but not least, I also…write about perfume. I began back in the day with the absurd idea that I could do that, too – so I thought. Yet even as I thought I reviewed as straightforwardly as I could, I came to discover that the writer overruled the perfume blogger and sometimes, the perfumoholic, too! Maybe that was a good thing?

I dare say it was, for I have received far and away more enthusiasm and encouragement for my perfume writing than anything else I’ve ever written, and at this point in time, I have more followers, more hits (and more notoriety!) than ever before.

Thank you.

But the very idea of just writing reviews also makes me break out in hives. For one, I would be bored out of my mind when so many other aspects of Planet Perfume are so fascinating. For another, words  – even fragrant words – have power. Since the advent of social media, more power than I ever anticipated when I thought out loud this summer on TAG about Planet Perfume, social media and other things worth mulling over since completing vocational training in social media marketing this past spring. I never expected the eminent Andy Tauer would pick it up, but he did. Of all I’ve written on TAG this past year, the two posts I wrote on the topic (here’s the other one) were the most read/shared/retweeted of all. They even prompted further discussion elsewhere in 2012, and I feel a bit guilty that Andy Tauer – one of my own Primeval Forces of Perfume – was one perfumer I didn’t have a chance to review nearly enough. Dear, darling  Andy – we should certainly remedy that in 2013…;-)

2012 was a year that threw my offline life in a bit of a tailspin, and since the beginning of October that tailspin meant that I couldn’t review at all. All the same, it did make it possible for me to rant/vent/think out loud on other aspects of my fragrant life, and now that I’m back in full-on writing mode, I have the backlog from Hades…

Ask any writer – whatever avoidance actions they can take to avoid nailing their posteriors to a chair and letting rip are always justified. We have to do our ‘cat-chasing-its-tail’ routine before facing the inevitable terror of the empty page. This year, I came to discover something truly great– as even the media did elsewhere. More men are writing/blogging/vlogging/thinking about/buying perfume than ever before. Suddenly, it’s dead hip to take an interest in or find a passion for the good stuff, and I’m thrilled to find several other new bloggers whose perspectives I’ve come to appreciate.

I’m very proud to celebrate a friend and fellow blogger who published a very well-received perfume book this year. Kudos and congratulations to Persolaise for the publication of Le Snob: Perfume. I always suspected you’d be trouble! Now, I have proof! ;-)

A few new friends and favorites have also snuck upon me unawares, or should I say, found me when I wasn’t looking?

One of them was Aussie national treasure Portia Turbo of AustralianPerfumeJunkies. Portia is so good, she also writes for the Perfume Posse, but this past year of trials and tribulations, Portia and her dazzling self has been a constant source of encouragement, as well as introducing me to a few new lines I otherwise would never know. Bless you, lovely! You do know that in the not-too-unlikely event I make it Down Under, it will never be the same again?

The Goodsmellas – those fabulously fragrant specimens of testosterone – made quite a splash in the media this year, to my own total lack of surprise. The more we can spread the word, the more magnificent males everywhere can waft something infinitely better than Dior/Chanel/Dolce&Gabba Aqua High Sport Intense Extreme BS what-have-yous. Therefore, fellas, your mission, should you choose to accept it… is to save the world from these travesties. There can never be enough testosterone bombs wearing Amouage’s Memoir Man on Planet Earth. Or Devs. Ever.

Other notable blogs that crept up on me and I read voraciously are…The Scented Hound and The Scentrist, with their refreshing, no-nonsense prose. I should be so lucky.

I am, actually, so long as the perfumosphere also contains the writing of Memory of Scent, who has done so much to recalibrate my nose and my prose. He’s so good, I can’t even be envious!

That Devil Thang

This was the year that launched that little item of dubious repute and seriously seismic perfumes known as…The Devilscent Project. What began as a double-dare inspired by my review of Andy Tauer’s Incense Extreme in 2011 became my own personal baby of a project, for which I can never thank my partner-in-crime/fellow instigator and friend Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids enough, nor the bloggers who chose to participate.

Ladies, you have all of you completely blown me away…

If there were alternate reality awards for PR and promotion –  of the DSP – and indeed several other projects she has curated so flawlessly – then Monica Miller of The Perfume Pharmer would win them all. Her infectious enthusiasm, loyalty, unrelenting support for indie perfumers and perfume writers and the astonishing generosity of heart and soul she pours into everything she does has been a constant inspiration and (tough) example to follow. So far as I’m concerned, that perfume Oscar is already sitting on your mantel, Monica. Now you know!

I’ve already stated in Part One just how supremely proud I am of all my participating perfumers. I’m not one whit less proud of my bloggers, including one surprise who was not only persuaded to participate (not by me), but also (was I ever bowled over!) brought in yet another elevated eminent perfumer, and that was Neil Morris. Chayaruchama – long a supremely respected writer and Eminent Entity on Planet Perfume– joined the DSP to my everlasting wonder and delight. She’s another reason I can’t get back to the US fast enough. We have a dinner date with Destiny, she and I…

Speaking of destiny…I swear, not even my twisted imagination can make this up. Not long after my initial post on the Devilscent Project, I received a comment in my inbox from an unlikely and unexpected source. A reader of QD had suffered through the first thirteen chapters I originally posted on the QD blog, and now, she simply begged me for the rest. I really couldn’t say no. In due course, I recruited her for the project – how could I not after that ego boost? Maggie of Architecture of Perfume gave her unique spins on both the project and the perfumes and is a highly talented perfumer in her own right at Lalun Naturals. The Oxford Concise Dictionary has a word for such occurrences. Serendipity!

But my dyed-in-the-juice friends made several huge splashes of their own. When my Scent Twin Suzanne of The Perfume Journal asked to do a DSP post on her site, I was far too flattered to refuse. Lucy of Indieperfumes did what Lucy so excels at – delved so deeply and beautifully into my story, making it something marvelous not even its creator could have guessed.

The amazing Jen of This Blog Really Stinks and the stellar Nat of Another Perfume Blog rose magnificently to the challenges of the Devilscent Project. Since I wrote it, I had some (vague) idea of what to expect – but even in my isolated eyrie on the wrong side of the Atlantic, I detected the aftershocks of seismic perfume ripples on their behalf. I dare say neither of them are quite what they were before they began. Maybe that’s a good thing?

In the brief I sent out to both perfumers and bloggers, the supreme commandment was this: Have fun!  Fun with the brief, with the concept, with the perfumes, perhaps even with the reviews themselves – the style, the form, the inspirations – and just follow those fragrant Devils and see where they take you. So darling Donna of Perfume Smellin’ Things did just that. She used the brief as the starting point for her own perfumed story in parts One and Two (which was my secret hope all along), and if I don’t know what happens next in her diabolical tale, I don’t know what I’ll do!

Meanwhile, these heretical elixirs of blackest Alchymie certainly inspired some of the best perfume writing I’ve ever done. My personal favorite reviews of the DSP, where I just followed those Devils…are The Four Devils of My Undoing, of Olympic Orchids Dev no. 1-4, Midnight Places, of Neil Morris’ Midnight at the Crossroads Café, and Sweet Damnation, of House of Cherry Bomb’s Dev.

Find all the DSP reviews here.

Inspiration can be a terrible or terrifically perilous thing. A Dialogue in Definition, of Amouage Beloved, and A Dance Through a Heart, of Serge Lutens’ Santal Majuscule, literally wrote themselves. That doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it provides the very raison d’etre for Why I Write, besides the obvious. (I suck at everything else!)

Here’s an example of what I’m up against in my offline life. My insignificant spot on the European mainland is in the Perfume Empty Quarter, which is to say, everything they sell at Macy’s they also sell here, but that’s about as exclusif as it gets.

Since last year, one colleague who went over to the dark side of the Perfume Force is now on her second bottle of Etat Libre d’Orange’s Jasmin et Cigarettes (and boyfriend no 3). Another acolyte, also from last year, is working her way through acquiring as many bell jars as she can stand, over the increasingly meek protests of her husband. They would be meek when you’re up against the power of El Attarine…

A dreary Wednesday during a lunch break, I tried to convert/contaminate the colleagues I’d overlooked before.

“Me,” said one tough-as-nails young lady after sniffing her way through assorted classic Guerlains, the more benign Serge Lutens, and a Neil Morris creation I happen to love above all reason, “I don’t care about perfume. Paris Hilton is good enough for me, and I’ve had no complaints so far…”

You see what I’m up against here? Not only did my boss proclaim the glories of Robert Piguet Bandit parfum as ‘not safe for work’ (he might have a point there), but Paris Hilton????

As Charlie Brown would say… “Good grief!”

So the importance of finding likeminded souls can never be underestimated. One commenter on TAG broke my heart this year when she described a visit to Paris and greatly anticipated her grand initiation into that Holy of Holies, the Parfums Serge Lutens boutique at the Palais Royal – only to find it closed. She was flying back to South Africa the next day. It broke her heart. And mine when I found out. I gathered up a Red Cross package of different (actually, a crash course in indie/niche) wonders pronto and sent them off to the Western Cape. Of such things are true friendships made!

When everything in your personal offline life is up in the air and subject to seismic disasters on a far-too-frequent basis, when you yourself are in the process of redefining your own life from scratch and deciding never to settle for less than your dream ever again, people who inspire you, encourage you and give you the guts to perservere or bust, darn it! –  are worth their weight in rubies, emeralds, pink diamonds and vintage Cabochard parfum. I was so incredibly lucky this year to meet two epically spectacular inspirations.

Not long after my beloved grandmother died this past winter, that great Remover of Obstacles, Ganesha (one of my favorite gods) took pity and sent me… a friend.

She’s nothing in the slightest like my grandmother (except in common sense), but although we met through perfume (hers) and words (mine), over the course of this year, I’ve had to wonder – how did ever I manage without the utterly wonderful, vivacious Neela Vermeire in my life? Our first phone conversation was almost three hours of champagne for the brain – a lot of it shared laughter, bawdy jokes, and an instant connection. We’ve had many of those l-o-n-g conversations since – about life, love, literature, art, music, architecture, perfume, history, people, and everything that makes life truly worth living. We’re very different women who live vastly different lives, but nevertheless – when the going got rough as it sometimes did, the virtual scaffolding we’ve given each other at different times and the inspiration she gives me to follow my dream has meant and still means – only everything.

Likewise, another great inspirational story – indeed, she’s the perfect embodiment herself – came through perfume. After I reviewed Vero Kern’s brand-new and spectacular Mito, I received an email so beautiful, I wanted to frame it. And read it whenever I felt blue. I’m out to find that perfect frame tomorrow…Vero has been incredibly encouraging, supportive and endlessly inspirational – always when I needed that extra little nudge to remind me to ‘Keep on keeping on’. I’m going for it, Vero, also thanks to your shining example!

Two women took that great leap of faith in spite of it all and followed their dream. If they can do it, then so can I!

Yet the dream of taking that fatal plunge and deciding that 2013 will be the Year Of Kicking Max A** (and all hail the August Personage who gave me that title!) would never have happened without those who make it possible – and make it possible for this particular starving artist to sniff marvels I would otherwise neither be able to afford nor acquire. For that and for laughter, virtual hugs and fervent discussions about perfume…I would personally like to thank that brother-from-another-mother, Carlos J. Powell and also the collective membership of the Facebook group Peace Love Perfume. As I use Facebook not just as a personal bulletin board but also as a tool to market myself as a writer, I have to be a bit careful of what goes up on my wall. Therefore, if any location on Facebook sees yours truly in all my real life less-than-Epic splendor, it would be here, among the family I would choose for myself if I could. As indeed I have.

Last, but never, ever least – thanks to all the perfume fairies whose astonishing generosity and friendship have made these words possible. You know who you are. I’d send gold bullion if I could, but since I can’t, I’ll send you my words – and pray you find the sincere, 24K gold bullion intentions behind them!

Stay tuned for part Three – Worn and Adored!

The Hidden Art

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

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

It makes me think. Watch out, world!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caravaggio’s works should have been so lucky.

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

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

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

The Emotional Engineering Society

-  some further D-list thoughts on brands, bloggers and buyers in the world of social media

Some things I’ll never get used to. Such as…posting what I thought would be a pretty innocuous if slightly polemic blog post only to find some hours later that no less an august personage than Andy Tauer had picked up my topical baton where I dropped it, and in a certain manner of speaking both of our blog posts as well as Undina’s had touched a very live nerve on a very passionate subject.

Therefore, before I incriminate myself any further than I already have, I’d like to state a few things. First of all …there is no controversy, at least as that word is usually understood. My original blog post was prompted by nothing more than my own preoccupations in the world of perfume as well as several informal phone conversations with close friends who share my passion.

Last, but not least …despite my love of the focus of this blog and the people who make those epiphanies possible – fans, friends and perfumers alike – sometimes, I like to think out loud in public and point to what I see as pink elephants in the room. To be honest, the idea of never writing anything BUT perfume reviews (and my profound respect and admiration to those who do!) would bore me to tears and sometimes does. It makes me feel like a broken record, hauling out the same metaphors and the same similes and simply changing the order around, which does me no favors as a writer and is a disservice to the concept I’m trying to grasp with my nose as well as to the mind(s) who conceived it.

Before the perfume blogger, before the social media identity, and sometimes even before the woman lurks an iconoclastic, post-punk catastrophe writer, and if the blogger is to dance on this virtual page, then that writer needs to exercise her train of thought and her vocabulary. I didn’t mean to step on any toes or ruffle any feathers, but karmic law decreed otherwise.

The thing is…there IS a pink elephant in the room. No one wants to know about it, never mind even think about it, other than in hushed sotto voce whispers to very trusted friends. And as Andy Tauer rightly pointed out, no one is talking about it, very few are aware of it, but then, the iconoclastic post punk catastrophe began to think. Caveat lector.

Who is to say that a perfume blogger – even such a grade D entity as yours truly – can’t write about some of the other things happening on Planet Perfume? Well, no one, actually. Except I found two things very telling about this hot-potato topic. One, two people – one a rockstar-level perfumer herself –  commented on Andy’s riposte to my own blog post. Two, quite a few more than two commented back to Undina’s own thoughtful post, many of whom did not comment on my own.

Draw your own conclusions.

So many relevant points were brought up however, that it seems a bit pointless to go comment by comment, when I should have a) been a bit clearer about my intentions and observations and b) been a bit more precise in my argumentation.

Andy wrote that he didn’t consider social media to be relevant to any discussions about perfume because the medium IS…the message, as Marshall McLuhan famously said in that innocent, Pliocene age before Facebook, Twitter and other hazards to our collective sanity.

Andy, you’re absolutely right. It’s not. And it is. And the medium is less a point in itself as it is a platform and a Wild West free-for-all land claim for the message its users are trying to get across. I’ll be getting back to that.

Second, my blatant and purposely provocative use of the term ‘niche’. Yes, there is indeed a vast difference between big, corporate-backed ‘niche’ brands, independent perfumers and artisanal perfumers. There is a difference in the way these businesses are operated and maintained, there is a definite difference in terms of distribution and customer reach, and above all, there is a marked difference in the business philosophies of all three entities. I’m not even mentioning how new launches are conceptualized or executed, since from where I’m standing, that’s one distinction between them.

My point is…whichever category a perfumer/brand might belong to, and I’m so very sorry if I burst any bubbles…it’s still…a business. Money makes the world go round, money makes it possible to keep a company afloat whether they’re a one-man band or a whole olfactory orchestra of magical elves.

Perfume, that most ephemeral art, is costly to produce, at least at the level I’ve become accustomed to. Sourcing a consistent quality and supply of raw materials, manufacturing the juice or outsourcing your production line, bottling it up, finding the appropriate packaging, producing – or outsourcing –  the PR to go with it – all these things take a considerable amount of a brand or a perfumer’s time, and just as in any other business, you’re only as good as the reception on your last product. As an artisanal perfumer, if your juice doesn’t sell, you’re not going to remain a perfumer for too long if you also like to eat.

Now consider this – in 2011, more than 1400 new perfumes were launched. Some of those were struggling, artisanal brands with very limited distribution – if at all – and most of those 1400 launches came out of the great corporate conglomerates. How many of those will survive the end of this year? How many of those will be reviewed or remembered? How many will distinguish themselves to such an extent, they will still be bought and talked about five years from now?

In a market economy, wouldn’t that depend on not just the quality of a given perfume and the concept behind it, but also on things like…exposure, availability, trade-show schmoozing, word-of-mouth, editorial coverage, and the general conversation in the perfume community? In a world of ever-increasing olfactory noise and with the backlash to prove it, how else will any new and curious perfume buyer even know about it?

Enter the beast that is…social media. The casual Facebook user might not think too much about these things, but you do have to wonder…what are we doing there?

Posting cutesie Photoshopped animal pictures, commenting on other pictures and clicking links and sharing – or even oversharing – everything from intimate details of our private selves and offlline lives to inadvertently delivering a marketing executive’s wet dream of a demographic analysis in the process for free. Posting our SotDs and declaring our undying loyalty and love of a given brand – or forty – commenting back on other SotDs in happy-hour cocktail-party fashion… “Oh, I love that one, I have that one, that one didn’t work for me, have you tried X, Y or Z instead?”

If the medium is the message, then the message here is…despite all our high-minded efforts, despite the opportunity and the platform to engage in meaningful discourse in all sorts of Web 6.0 ways with anyone we damn well please, perfumers and/or brands included (I mean, they can’t see you blush as you type your shy ‘hello’ to a rockstar perfumer, or see you bang your head against your keyboard with your likes), we’re still interacting on the same principles that grease the wheels of human concourse anywhere in the world.

“Nice weather we’re having lately!”

Why? Because the point of Facebook, or Twitter, or Pinterest is not…a philosophical discussion about the creative process or the concept behind a concrete idea. In fact, it’s not about discussing much at all. It’s about the daily reinvention of ourselves as individuals in an increasingly crowded world. It’s about staking that claim and drawing those lines of distinction. This is who I am. This is what I like. This is me…today, this week, this moment in time.

No, Andy, it is all too true and you are all too right…there really isn’t, despite all efforts to the contrary, a hell of a lot of ‘meaningful discussion’. Because this really is a brave new world and we’re all taking our baby steps as we walk this brave new media landscape of 24/7 virtual life, being brave or not as we go.

Why not? Ah…

Well, I’ll venture that the vast majority of perfume consumers simply don’t have the vocabulary for it. Francis Kurkdjian landed in hot water when he claimed that bloggers or even layman critics as a rule don’t know what the hell they’re writing about, since they have so little knowledge of the technical skills of perfumery. This is very true. We don’t. And if you ask me at least, I don’t give a flying, since I don’t buy juice to determine the artistic use and technical merits of this or that aromachemical, this olfactory riff on a material. Even if I did, it still wouldn’t sell the juice to me.

That’s not why I love it, that’s not why I buy it, that’s not why I dream about it and that’s certainly not why I write about it. I do all of it…con amore. I’ll wager my D-list status here (about to be demoted, any day now!) and venture that isn’t why any other blogger – or at least the ones who are capable of articulating that passion to any extent – does it, either.

We articulate our inordinate passion for perfume artistry for no other reason than what it does to our selves, to our moods, and to our daily real-life reinventions. We articulate it to inform, to entertain, if only to inform and entertain ourselves, to make our readers agree or not with our assumptions, and all along, we know damn well we’re charting virgin territory in the process, since articulating a wordless, emotionally fraught art is very, very hard. Poets, writers, artists and dreamers have been trying to convey the inarticulate with words for millennia. But in the end, the nose…knows what the word can’t say.

Not everyone has the depth of cultural knowledge, the passion, or the psychological insight to participate in any meaningful discussions about perfume. And there are no troll-free zones to do it in, either, unless it’s an option to moderate comments on a blog.

Does it take away from the mystique, the whole romantic aura of perfume to know something of the process that goes into its creation? Maybe it does for some, maybe they can’t be bothered to be informed on such a level, maybe they just don’t care to know anything other than what their acute, discerning noses tell them.

What about bloggers? What are they doing, thinking, planning? Is it true that some bloggers have an inside track on certain brands, new launches, new hotly anticipated moments in perfumery?

Yes. And if we didn’t (I’ll freely confess to being one of them, and I’m obliged by US law to state it every time it happens), how would a lay perfume customer even know? They don’t have access to trade magazines, wouldn’t know unless they read perfumer’s blogs or editorial write-ups, and even those do come from other sources than press releases. In the case of indie perfumers and artisanal brands, they don’t have an advertising budget, or much more to go on but determination and dedication. Some of them are internationally renowned, some of them not at all. My point is…a blogger receives a sample because a perfumer would like that spin on their creation, to see what a blogger’s interpretation might be. And any blogger worth his or her weight in bottled bribes knows full well there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Any artist in any medium knows that once a work of art is finished, you have opened up the gates of Hades to pass it on to the world. You want feedback, accolades (it is to be hoped) or alternatively, at least a certain level of creatively stated antagonism.

That doesn’t mean you’ll get it.

Not one blogger that I’m aware of does this for a living. In most cases, we have very full and overflowing lives that entail things like spouses, children, pets, families, day jobs and laundry baskets. There are only so many hours in a day. I’ve been known to knock out big reviews in an hour and thirty-seven minutes, and several others that took me days or weeks. Yet I have very few truly negative reviews. Why?

It’s the conspiracy of silence. Negative reviews – or simply reviews of stuff you loathe – are too much trouble to write. Why be bothered to forgo an evening with friends, an extra bedtime story, a nosedive into a book, a full night’s sleep, if you have to write a review of something you hate? For that matter, why waste time on what doesn’t move you? I don’t bother with people I can’t stand, why should I do it with perfume? Life’s too short. Better to just…pass it on, pay it forward by sending off a sample to a friend who might love it better, write about it better, cherish that idea you were unable to grasp.

Undina said it beautifully in her post – perfume experts don’t buy perfume. Laymen do. They buy with their hearts, their passion, their noses and their burning plastic, People like you, people like me, people like the perfumers who inspire us and the brands we love – or love to argue about, in that fragrant corner of the dog-eat-dog world of social media, we could call – with some justification, to continue the Huxley reference…the Emotional Engineering Society.

With many thanks to …Persolaise for the interview with Francis Kurkdjian, Andy Tauer, Lucy of Indieperfumes, Undina, Bloody Frida, Susan and the two dear friends who burned my ears this week about this very topic.

Original image: An installation by Brooklyn artist Ebon Heath.

Orange Blossom Special

-  a getaway vacation into the heart of a favorite flower

Of all the many fragrant memories of my South Florida childhood, one in particular has stuck in my mind and stayed with me even today, as a redolent symbol of all that is …happy.

I was ten or eleven at the time, and it was a day I had forgotten my house keys, so I had to wait in the back yard for my mother to arrive home from work. It must have been late March or early April, for the citrus tree orchard in our back yard was in full bloom. We had grapefruit trees, lemon trees, lime trees, and a stand of orange trees that stood at least twenty feet tall. They all required careful navigating to climb – those trees had spiky thorns – but I had long since found a path up the trunk and onto a favorite branch, and that’s where I chose to wait.

It was a heady late afternoon out there beneath the orange tree canopy, the slanting sunlight beating down upon those trees from that breathless blue Florida sky. Everywhere around me, the no less heady, nearly narcotic fragrance of orange blossom in all its many shades…the soapy floral, the hint of the orange zest behind it, the thick, sensuous, indolic aspect that somehow stupefied me to such an extent I have no memory of how long I sat there, only that as I sat on that branch and waited, I was aware of only one thing – the simple joy of breathing in, of inhaling all that was supremely beautiful and supremely happy, which was precisely how I felt.

No matter how much my life attempts to drag me down and chew me out, nothing, but nothing makes me happier in an instant like orange blossom.

Orange blossom – and its kissing cousin, neroli, which is the water-distilled extract of the bitter orange and lighter and less indolic – has been used for centuries in perfumes and soaps, so much that an overdose can easily lead you to dismiss an orange-blossom fragrance as ‘soapy’. It adds its own power-packed punch to countless famous perfumes as one of the four boldest white florals – rose, jasmine, tuberose and…orange blossom. Robert Piguet’s Fracas – that reference tuberose – gets a good deal of its divalicious oomph from orange blossom, as does Caron’s classic Narcisse Noir, although in Narcisse Noir’s case, the orange blossom is a dark and dangerously erotic creature of the night. I never have understood why orange blossom is such a symbol of innocence, unless it’s that orange blossom tends to soothe frazzled bridal nerves, since so far as I’m concerned, it’s a very erotic flower…

A while ago, I posed a question on one of the Facebook fragrance groups about orange blossom. We generally agreed on the orange blossom gold standard  – my absolute favorite orange blossom, which is Serge Lutens’ Fleurs d’Oranger. This is the orange blossom I recall from that afternoon that burned itself into my memory, the rose, the jasmine and the tuberose somehow all adding up to all the nuances contained in that one fatally fragrant blossom – and the cumin (a deal-breaker for some) adding its own intimations of carnal intent. This is no blushing ingénue orange blossom, this is an opulently sensuous creature in full bloom beneath the orange trees, just waiting to lure you in…which might explain why I’ve likely ‘wasted’ a good portion of a bell jar spraying it on my pillow before bed. Sweet dreams indeed!

But there are other orange blossom specials, and here they are for your delectation…some famous, some not so much, some innocent and flirty, some of them not quite so innocuous…

Joyous Orange

Mona di Orio ‘Jabu’

Jabu – the Zulu word for ‘joy’ – was created in 2009 by the epically talented niche perfumer Mona di Orio, who tragically died last year. No tragedy lurks within ‘Jabu’, which was made to benefit the Dutch charity ‘Orange Babies’ for African HIV-positive mothers and their babies. Jabu is a glorious, complex, grand, glowing Oriental of an orange blossom, from its laughing beginnings of petitgrain through its honeyed, swirling heart of orange blossom, rose and coconut all the way to the feather-soft drydown of benzoin, myrrh and sandalwood. Coconut can be a deal-breaker for me, but here, I have no complaints – everything works in perfect harmony, and everything spells precisely what it says on the bottle – which is…joy. It is virtually impossible to be blue when wearing this, and if that’s not an accolade, what is?

Jabu – in the ‘main’ collection of Mona di Orio perfumes – will be re-released along with the other perfumes in Mona’s main line in 2013.

Notes for Jabu: Orange blossom, monoi oil, petitgrain, Damascus rose, honey, amyris, plum, myrrh, benzoin

The Drop Dead Elegant Orange

Hermès 24 Faubourg

If every luxury perfume brand needs a Great Big White Floral, then 24 Faubourg is surely Hermès’ contribution. Made by Maurice Roucel in 1995, this is a unique throwback to those elegant, supremely French perfumes of yore when ladies who lunched wore couture, carried Hermès bags, and wore fragrant statements that left an emphatic presence in the room behind them. Make no mistake – this is no ingénue orange blossom, this one is all woman, and she roars even when she whispers! It starts with a seamless fruity-floral effervescent blast – there’s no other way to describe it – and then. And then, it grows. And it glows. And it grows. Blooming into a luscious, lilting blend of thick orange blossom, gardenia and jasmine, with black elder adding its own earthier segue to its chypre-tinged drydown hours and hours later of orris, sandalwood, amber, patchouli and vanilla. I really don’t do it anything near the justice it clearly deserves when I wear it barefaced in my leopard-print pjs – 24 Faubourg somehow demands a flawless maquillage, great hair, grand clothes and high heels – something to accentuate its stunning sillage, outstanding longevity and eternally stylish structure. Wear it for when you want to make a definite impression no one forgets in a hurry! Preferably with Louboutin heels, but Manolos might do in a pinch…

Notes for 24 Faubourg: Orange, peach hyacinth, ylang ylang, bergamot, black elder, iris, jasmine, orange blossom, gardenia, sandalwood, amber, patchouli, vanilla.

The Limited Edition Orange

L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Fleurs d’Oranger

There should be laws against limited editions I only discover after it’s way too late to do anything about procuring them. But on the other hand…what wonders would I miss? L’Artisan Parfumeur’s ’s special edition tribute to an exceptional Tunisian orange blossom harvest is what. L’Artisan puts the orange blossom – one spectacular orange blossom – front and center of this composition by Anne Flipo, and it’s all orange blossom, all the time! Lush, flirty, ripe, borderline naughty orange blossom, neroli, petitgrain – it’s the whole tree and all the flowers, too – and it’s glorious – and gorgeously linear –  stuff. If I have any complaints – apart from being nearly impossible to find any longer – it’s that it doesn’t last nearly long enough to suit me, which only means that one bottle will be too many and two not nearly enough!

Notes for L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Fleurs d’Oranger: Orange, petitgrain, neroli, orange blossom, almond.

 The Great Escape

Dior Cruise Collection Escale à Portofino

In my fevered imagination – all evidence in my life to the contrary – I have what I’ve come to call ‘perfect moments’ – those fantasies of being somewhere infinitely glamorous, wearing something equally devastating, standing on a balcony overlooking the limitless blue Adriatic with a Bellini in my hand exuding effortless ‘du chien’, a French term that implies something slightly better, cooler and much more fashionable than mere ‘chic’. Chic can be acquired with a little help, ‘du chien’ is something you either have or you don’t. Needless to say, that never happened. Yet if any perfume takes me ‘there’ to that balcony and that fantasy, surely it’s Dior’s Escale à Portofino, created by Francois Demachy in 2008. It was one of the first remotely exclusive perfumes I ever bought for myself, and it is a very unique and uniquely summery vacation-in-a-bottle, with its entire orange tree from leaves to blossoms bottled up and tied around a milky, transparent green almond note so wrong, it’s utterly right, a while before it whispers its twilit song of darkest summery green some hours later. It could last a bit longer, this is true…but isn’t that just another excuse for another hit of fantasy?

Notes for Escale à Portofino: Bergamot, petitgrain, lemon, orange blossom, almond, juniper berries, cedar, cypress, galbanum, caraway and musk

A Vial with a View

Tom Ford Private Blend Neroli Portofino

Although I can’t quite put my finger on precisely what causes it, something about the few Tom Ford’s Private Blend of perfumes I’ve tried tend to rub my fragrant fur in a few wrong directions. It isn’t that they’re not meticulously crafted (Neroli Portofino was created by Rodrigo Flores-Roux), or truly horrible or cheap-smelling, which they’re not. It could be their prohibitive price tag, or else that I’m just not a Tom Ford kind of woman. For one, I’m too short – and too busty, if not quite blonde enough. But if anything could persuade me otherwise, it just might be Neroli Portofino, tacky, tasteless advertising notwithstanding. Neroli Portofino is neither tacky nor tasteless, but instead, another tribute to the deathless, posh summer cool of Italy’s Amalfi coast, and lo and behold…you are all there with that breathtaking balcony view and all of a damn near flawless orange blossom dream yourself. Strangely enough, neroli isn’t listed as a note at all, but orange blossom – the plush, heady, slightly soapy sort of orange blossom – certainly is. It’s pretty linear from start to ambery finish, but who cares with that picture perfect Portofino view?

Notes for Neroli Portofino: Bergamot, mandarin orange, African orange blossom, amber.

 The British Art of Understatement

Penhaligon’s Anthology Collection Orange Blossom

From the overtly stated to the softly sotto voce…Bertrand Duchaufour’s reorchestrated ‘Orange Blossom’ for Penhaligon’s is as soft and as soothing as a down duvet. It’s a light, flirtatious orange blossom that lures you in and surprises you with all the tales that can be told about ‘orange’ and ‘blossom’. It begins clean, cologne-bright and full of light – no intimations of sexpot here, or so you surmise – but that’s nowhere all it is and not at all where it stays as it evolves past those squeaky-clean beginnings into a pas-de-deux of petitgrain and cardamom, tied around an orange blossom that seems more neroli than ‘orange blossom’ to my nose. It’s understated, never obvious, and supremely suited for the mood of summery, flirty and light-hearted laughter that seems to go with long, sunny days and warm, delicious nights. You won’t be knocking anyone over with this, but you won’t overwhelm with your presence either, and that sometimes has its own undeniable appeal. I’ve loved it and worn it when other orange blossom perfumes might seem a bit much in the heat – in other words, when understated is precisely the kind of statement I want to make!

Notes for Penhaligon’s Anthology Collection Orange Blossom: Calabrian orange, bergamot, peach, rose, cardamom.

Many fragrant multiverses lie in waiting within that simple term ‘orange blossom’. Some others I wear, adore and have reviewed include Olympic Orchids‘ ‘Golden Cattleya’ and ‘Emergence’, Andy Tauer’s ‘Orange Star’, Opus Oils’ ‘Giggle Water’ and of course, the Gold Standard… Serge Lutens‘Fleurs d’Oranger’.  Coming up on the Genie –  yet another orange blossom-centric perfume, but this one is so special, it deserves its own review!

Do you have your own orange blossom moments, too?

With thanks and love to the Great Facilitators…Ruth, Carlos and Amy, for making this review possible, and the many comments to my question on my favorite FB group! <3

Primeval Forces of Perfume

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

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

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

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

If I only knew what I know now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parfums Serge Lutens/Serge Lutens & Christopher Sheldrake

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

Aftelier Perfumes/Mandy Aftel

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

DSH Perfumes/Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

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

Amouage Perfumes

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

Opus Oils/Kedra Hart

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

Neil Morris Fragrances/Neil Morris

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

Olympic Orchids/Ellen Covey

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

Maria McElroy & Alexis Karl, Cherry Bomb Killer Perfume

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

Neela Vermeire Creations/Neela Vermeire & Bertrand Duchaufour

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

Tauer Perfumes/Andy Tauer

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

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

Do you have Primeval Forces, too?

Shut up, Gertrude!

- Or…not all roses are created equal!

Among my collection of books and cookbooks is a book, ostensibly a cookbook but actually very much more. It contains not only a plethora of outrageous recipes that would have health fanatics screaming for their heart fibrillators, but also anecdotes from two extraordinary lives in extraordinary times, two lives that openly dared to fly in the face of convention – and sometimes propriety – and as such became inspirations for me as well.

The book is ‘The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook’, part cookbook of questionable virtues, part extraordinary testimony to the lives and times of two fabled iconoclasts of the early 20th century – Alice B. Toklas, partner, helpmeet, and frontline editor, and Gertrude Stein, art collector, literary salon hostess and resident genius.

Like all relationships viewed with the rose-tinted glasses of reminiscence and in hindsight, the reality of Alice and Gertrude was much more complex and far more extraordinary than the book would suggest – they were both raised at the tail end of the Victorian age, after all – but what’s really telling in our own iconoclastic age is that today, we remember Gertrude for two things, one of which I don’t consider relevant at all and the other for a simple throwaway poem that came to define her in popular culture. Gertrude Stein was considered a literary superstar in her day, but now, say the name (if it registers at all!) Gertrude Stein, and unless you’re well-versed in art history, famous American ex-patriots or impenetrable poetry, this is what you’ll think:

 ‘A rose … is a rose…is a rose’.

An entire lifetime of literary output, and you’re remembered for five words. As they say…

You don’t get to choose what you’re famous for.

This is when I say…shut up, Gertrude! As dedicated gardeners, flower lovers, perfumers and perfumoholics are very well aware, entire olfactory universes lie waiting for discovery within those velvety petals, and with the exception of those scentless blooms sold at florists these days, there’s no such thing as just…a rose.

Roses occur in nature in every hue except blue, green and black, and depending on the variety, exude a unique, multifaceted perfume that can be…lemony, tea-like, musky, greenly fresh, narcotic, spicy and fiery, earthy and warm – and these are just the living flowers, mind, well before they’re turned into concrete and absolute and essential oil in their infinite varieties, all of which will reflect the qualities of the roses themselves. Rose is also attributed to the goddess Aphrodite – no accident, since the scent of roses can be very erotic, quelle surprise!

I’ve been thinking about roses and wearing rose-centered perfumes a lot lately. Rose has a stimulating, uplifting effect on my overall mood, and during a very frantic March, I needed all the help I could get…

Gertrude may have considered rose as just another ‘flower’, for which I’ll forgive her since she was an Aquarius, yet I have other plans for your delectation…here are my personal favorite perfumed Odes to the Rose in no particular order of preference, which each prove that even Shakespeare got it wrong on roses. By any other name they might well smell as sweet, but they would not be those multiverses of perfume and poetry contained within the velvet folds and musical tones…of rose.

The Maharani of RoseNeela Vermeire Créations Mohur

We perfume bloggers live for those moments of olfactory epiphany when suddenly, a seismic shift occurs in our amygdalas and our noses blow our minds. This happened to me when I was given the opportunity to discover a brand-new line that is currently taking the perfume world by storm – Neela Vermeire Crèations. I knew Neela had collaborated for over a year with Bertrand Duchaufour, I had read the reviews. I thought I knew from roses. I was delighted to be proved so very, very wrong. For Mohur, Neela’s tribute to both the glorious Mogul empire and the British Raj, is nothing less than a Maharani – a Great Queen – of roses. Spicy and fiery, earthy and decadent, with more rosy-floral facets than any diamond can boast, it’s an outrageously spectacular rose perfume, opulent yet also as ethereal as a fervent wish on a full moon. It’s one of the most magnificent roses I’ve ever had the pleasure to sniff and to wear. As I have and I do and I indeed will for as long as I can ever love a rose…

The Wildest HeartLiz Zorn’s Sinti

Liz Zorn, indie perfumer extraordinaire, was unknown to me when I received a decant of her heart-stopping tribute to rose centifolia, Sinti. Sinti is not your usual rose perfume cliché, there’s nothing in the slightest that will remind you of rose soap or Eau de Granny. For one thing, this rose is wild at heart, wild and untamed and blooming unseen in a secret Saharan desert oasis, as green as nature itself and as surprising as a sudden beam of sunlight on that instant shock of …rose. It is bitter and a bit thorny, with its herbal bite of sage and galbanum that blooms into a fevered dream of one feral flower, easily unisex, easily worn, and all too easy to love, even though it never can be tamed.

A Rosy Dance on Moss Olympic Orchids’ Ballets Rouges

Olympic Orchids’ Ballets Rouges took no time at all to pirouette its way into my rosy heart – it was love at first sniff! Ballets Rouges is by bounds and leaps a green, silky opening that segues into a pas-de-ballet of roses so real, I’ve had people turn to look for the bouquet when I’ve worn this. Yet rose is not the whole story in this perfume, for down below beats a heart of green and a pulse of chypre with a ribbon of oakmoss so dark and luscious, this diehard chypre fan is reduced to molten jelly in gratitude that there are still perfumers who love oakmoss and roses as we do. Put the two together in this peerless pas-de-deux as Ellen Covey did, and even I can dance en point forever more those perfect, mossy, rosy steps.

Iconoclast RoseEtat Libre d’Orange’s Rossy di Palma L’Eau de Protection

If anyone knows how to do celebuscents (that hated category) flawlessly, it would be Etat Libre d’Orange. Their tribute to Rossy di Palma, the feisty, fiery actress Pedro Almodovar so adores, is a thorny, spiky, emerald-green and crimson red tattoo rose that obeys no laws but its own, which is every reason to adore it just as much as Rossy herself. From that bright, green opening bite to the dark patchouli pulse below, Rossy the rose perfume is the quintessential Rossy…unusual, unsettling and beautiful in its defiance of all those tired, trite rose tropes. This is a rose that shows its thorns plain as day and glows its crimson-lipped beauty as soon as you come closer. If you dare.

The Mozart of RoseEnvoyage Perfumes L’Emblem Rouge

When perfumer Shelley Waddington of Envoyage Perfumes worked with master distiller Dabney Rose, they danced a tandem that made precisely the rose perfume no one else would dare – the very essence of a classical rose perfume wrapped in a burgundy promise of perfection. L’Emblem Rouge is a thick, lavish, Oriental rose, spicy, green, and darkly romantic. It dances its own Mozart minuet on your skin with its burst of orange and spice, violet and orris, and all its pleasures proves as you muse that Mozart may be music, and rose may be a flower, but that doesn’t make L’Emblem Rouge any less a marvel – or Mozart any less a genius!

The Rosy RevolutionsTauer PerfumesUne Rose Chyprée & Incense Rosé

I’ve said it before in several locations and I’ll happily say it again – I personally consider Andy Tauer a perfumer of such stellar magnitude, I think he should be paraded down Fifth Avenue and carpet-bombed with rose petals by an adoring crowd, except I suspect he’ll have turned them into Un Rose Vermeillé (which I have yet to try) or something else equally spectacular before the parade reaches East 81st Street. The man knows his roses, knows them as only a truly dedicated rose lover can, and has done audacious things to roses that only prove how little Gertrude – or Shakespeare – knew of roses. When I recently was given a chance to name a bunch of samples to try, these two jumped off my keyboard and into the email before I could even blink. Certain things – and certain perfumes – you just…have this hunch about, although in this case, it was more of a neon blinking billboard. Une Rose Chyprée is a rose of reinventions and revolution, dark and light, depth and sweetness, no one element taking a backseat to the other. It’s Rose, Oh, Yes! But Wait! There’s So Much More! A breath of oakmoss, a kiss of vanilla, a whole library of everything rose and fire and all its splendors, too! Incense Rosé is yet another sleight-of-hand rabbit from Andy’s hat – again, not a rose, and not an incense and not like anything else your imagination could dream but something otherwise and elsewhere…from the blinding sunshine brought of its orange/citrus open to the smoky-tinged labdanum and frankincense drydown, if you’re curious what else can possibly be said about roses…look no further. I can guarantee you one thing only – you will be surprised! And roses will forevermore never be the same…

So Gertrude…hush. Yes, I know you’re dead, but I can still feel your crotchety ghost breathing down my back as I type, said with a sneer and a hint of that grande dame you also were:

“Well, obviously, I had other, more important things to contemplate than roses!”

But stop a moment and think…about a rose, and know that by any other name, it’s very much more than sweet…

Original image of Gertrude Stein, Alvin Langdon Coburn, 1913, from indicommons.org. ‘Gertrude en rose’ version – me.

With big thank you hugs to the Great Facilitators: Shelley Waddington, Ellen Covey, Anthony of NKDMan, Nick of Les Senteurs and the incredible Neela Vermeire.