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.

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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.

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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.

Spring Flings!

spring-flowers

 – the Genie’s favorite Scents of Spring

After a long, dismal and dismally cold winter that seemed as if it would never end, Spring has finally…sprung. Even here in the North, even now as I wriggle my sockless painted toes in the glow of the sunlight through my window, and the cats show off their bellies in the warmth.

It’s finally Spring! Time to throw open those windows, time for those deep breaths of sunshine you can feel from the roots of your hair to the tips of your toes, time to wake up, smell the flowers and feel utterly, totally alive in a way the dreary depths of January just can’t muster.

When all of nature is bursting at the seams and exploding right before your eyes, those thick, plush ambers and Orientals seem a bit, well…obvious. Time to pack away those olfactory cashmere and lambswool sweaters and bring out the silks, chiffons and Egyptian cottons of the fragrant world, time to waft a little springtime of your own in your wake, for who knows what can happen when everything you breathe and all that you see exudes hope, new beginnings and promises that may – or may not – be kept?

Because you never know where a spring day may take you, or the glimpse of a flower may surprise you, so long as you carry the spring where you go.

Here, you’ll find the Genie’s own favorite Spring flings, the ones that put the spring in my step and the smile on my face, in an April shower or the depths of a May flower, so long as it’s Spring, my very favorite time of year.

Spring perfumes veer toward either the green, floral or green and floral, and this personal list is no exception. Perhaps one of the most famous of spring perfumes, Dior’s Diorissimo, embodies spring best of all, but since I haven’t had the privilege of trying it since sometime in the Eighties when we were both very different creatures of Faërie, I’ve had to omit it from my list. Some of them you might recognize from this blog or elsewhere, but all of them are loved and adored, and never so much as in the merry month of May, when all of Nature beckons us all to come out and play.

- The Greens of Spring

If ever a color sums up a season, surely it would be green? That scorching chartreuse that burns away all horrid memories of dun and brown, gray and white and lets in the sunshine for our souls.

If you love those great, glorious greens of old, if you could once be encapsulated in all the phrase ‘green/floral chypre’ contains, these are the ones to look for and breathe for.

April Aromatics Unter den Linden

Although linden blossoms in high summer in my part of the world, is there anything quite so honeyed or verdant as the perfume lurking within those fragrant yellow blooms? I think not, since Unter den Linden comes as close to my own inner vision of an exemplary linden blossom perfume as any I’ve ever tried.

Balmain – Ivoire

Ivoire has been with us since 1980, and last year was reworked and redone for a new and hopefully just as appreciative audience. Ivoire – I own the vintage EdT – is a green floral chypre that is consistently surprising, perpetually beautiful and perfectly seamless.

DSH Perfumes’ Vert pour Madame

Lots of potions lay claim to that hackneyed phrase ‘hope in a bottle’. Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ tribute to those green wonders of our misspent youth doesn’t have to, simply because it is – hope in a bottle. Soft, elegantly restrained and effervescent as all the best greens are, this is suitable for both Mesdames and Messieurs.

Jacomo Silences

This underrated classic (if not by perfumistas), a close cousin to the rosier Chanel no. 19, is unique in that it manages in the space of its evolution to bloom through both spring and summer. From that lovely lemony lily-of-the-valley opening to the almost austere, dark, mossy depths of the drydown some very long time later, you’ve wafted a May morning, a flaming June noon and a hint of July thunderstorm, too.

Puredistance Antonia

I must have heard it not a few times before I ever tried it, but sometimes, the hype over a new perfume doesn’t do it justice in the slightest. Annie Bezantian’s Antonia for Puredistance is nothing more and never less than the flawless spring of your most fevered January dreams. Totally modern and totally timeless.

Green With A Twist

Spring reminds us workaholic writers of the sweet joys of dolce far niente, of sitting in the sunshine with a pastis enjoying the passagiata of a spring afternoon, entirely present in the moment and entirely content to be nowhere else but there watching the world go by. The perfumes below somehow wrap up the whole experience in several happy ways, and whether you prefer a pastis or the more subversive pleasures of La Fée Verte is entirely up to you…

Aroma M Geisha Green

Geisha Green is without a doubt one of the best and most bracing of absinthe perfumes I know, bright with that bittersweet twist of Artemisia, sweet with the promises of violet flower and leaf and herbal with a fabulous thick licorice facet that almost makes me want to drink it if I could over a sugar cube. As it is, I get to wear it, and dream of those passagiatas under sunny spring skies.

Opus Oils Absinthia

Another sweeter and more floral take on the fabled absinthe is Opus Oils’ Absinthia, which somehow manages to pair glorious wisteria, a sinfully sweet vanilla and that decadent wormwood and turn it into a green fairy with a positively wicked gleam in her eye. Et in Absinthia ego…

Parfums Lalun Phènomene Vert

If you prefer your greens strictly that – a bracing herbal kick in the winter doldrums to shake you awake and aware that yes, indeed, it’s time to come alive again, Phènomene Vert will deliver. Glorious on a guy, gorgeous on a gal, with a deft touch of jasmine to hint of the wonders of summer to come.

Vero Profumo Mito

One of the wonders of 2012 was Vero Kern’s spectacular Mito, an unusual green-floral take on all things marvelous, magnolia and green as a breath of fresh air in a beautiful Roman garden on a May afternoon. Wear Mito and write your own springtime myth any way and in any shade of green you please.

Burning blooms

In the story of Ferdinand the Bull, one magnificent bull had no intentions of moving from his flowery meadow just to fight in the bullring, and so he wouldn’t have, if not for a bee in those flowers…

There are no bees in these flowers, just all the fragrant wonders of the blooms themselves, so sit back, breathe in and live for a moment and a flawless, odiferous flower. This bouquet of wonders counts all my own favorite blossoms, and not a few of my own favorite florals, too.

La Vie En Rose

Spring arrived so late in my part of the world that I can’t expect to see the roses bloom until well toward Midsummer, but whoever needed an excuse to wear the Queen of Flowers on a gorgeous spring day? Not I!

Olympic Orchids Ballets Rouges

If it were somehow possible to drown within the depths of a rose, a rose so perfectly rendered people have turned to see the bouquet that wasn’t, Ballets Rouges would surely be it. I’ll happily dance a pas de deux with this rose on any spring – or summer – day.

Parfums Lalun Qajar Rose

This rosy wonder is a magic Persian carpet ride through the roses, with all the twist and turns of Sheherezade’s fairy tales, with its leaps and bounds and flourishes woven in to the weft and warp of pomegranate, rose, a tiny dab of oud and coffee too, just to color you surprised.

Serge Lutens La Fille de Berlin

So it’s not Her Majesty the Rose, it’s the Girl From Berlin, and such a lovely, soft rose she is – or so you’d think before she surprises you with that chypre-like bite. This is a rose that is as young as heart as you wish you were on a May afternoon, and who is to say wishes can’t come true?

Think Pink!

Caron Bellodgia

It wouldn’t be a proper spring list without at least one classic. Caron’s sunny, spicy Bellodgia is pure olfactory sunshine from its peppery opening kick to its spicy sunlit carnation heart, and whenever I wear it, I can’t help but laugh – that May skies can be so blue, that life can feel so effortless and carnations made so perfect.

Ringing all the Bells

Aroma M Geisha Marron

Lily of the valley is not a note I’ve usually sought out, since the ones I’ve tried have made me feel I wasn’t frilly – or girly – enough to wear them. The exception to that rule is another aroma M creation, Geisha Marron, which pairs a lily-of-the-valley with chestnut blossom and other wonders, and in an instant, I’m taken away to a spring day in Paris long ago when the chestnuts bloomed and a young girl’s life was changed forever on the day she truly discovered the art…of perfume. For some, it reminds them of autumn and roasting chestnuts, but on me, it’s a spring day in Paris a very long time ago when the chestnuts and the muguet bloomed and a perfumista was born.

Consider the Lily

Editions de Parfums Lys Mediterranée

Nothing turns me to absolute putty faster than a big, bold, odiferous bouquet of Easter lilies. (Now you know!) And although many, many perfumes claim to be lily perfumes, only one other I’ve tried is as beautifully rendered as Lys Mediterranée. It passes for spring and summer both, but surely, angels wear this one? If they don’t, then maybe they should?

All the flowers!

Aftelier Secret Garden

If like Ferdinand you think there is no such thing as too many flowers to sniff in the sunshine, then Secret Garden is a bottled bouquet of marvels from its fruity, herbal start to a delirious floral heart and a dizzyingly sexy drydown. Just so you’re reminded that not only sap rises in the spring, and there’s more than one way to bloom…

So tell me – what makes you bloom in spring?

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Note: I was reminded that I had forgotten to link to the perfumes previously reviewed here on TAG. This has now been amended, and where I’ve reviewed a perfume earlier, the title/name now links to my review. :)

Best of the Best 2011 – Worn and Adored

Being the true confessions of a dedicated perfumoholic

The problem with being a perfume blogger – apart from the fact that most of your surroundings think you’re certifiable –  is that you by necessity wear a lot – I do mean a LOT – of perfume that you sometimes may love and sometimes…may not. It will inevitably happen that you encounter your own brand of philistinism when you introduce your skin to a highly touted house and your chemistry flips you the bird as this much-marketed brand turns into either a hydra on your skin – sprouting another head of awful the more you scrub – or else…that you’re falling in love with juice that will entail selling off your seven-year-old to pay for it.

The things, the monsters, the hydras I have endured…I rarely wrote about. It just didn’t seem the polite thing to do. But surely, some day I should write about that infamous rite of passage for any hardcore perfumista…sitting out the duration of three whole dabs of Etat Libre d’Orange’s ‘Secretions Magnifiques’ on my skin without scrubbing. It was a bit like Anthony Bourdain drinking venomous snake blood in Vietnam because he wanted to be that guy who could brag about it with impunity…Well, I wanted to be that gal, and if Katie Puckrick had the ovaries to do it, then by Golly, so did I!

I did. I also turned green, then purple, then blue from holding my breath among other things. I dare say Anthony of NKDMan now owes me a bathtub sized drink…;)

On the other hand are the ones I simply…loved. Loved for their beauty, their peerless construction, the heart-rending drydowns and mood-enhancers and sex-me-uppers and just. Plain. Loved.

Aftelier

Cepes and Tuberose was my gateway into all things Aftelier. So compelling, so stunning, so simultaneously earthy and divine, spicy and sweet, it’s now become one of my Great Immortals, and on most days, there will be a tiny dab of it on my person somewhere. My Goddess Freya ‘fume. Sophia, another goddess in my novel Quantum Demonology, would surely love Fig. Something about jasmine sambac gets me. When it gets with fir and turns to fig, I’m done for. I’ve loved it – that much! I take Tango and Candide with me wherever I go just to breathe in their wonder. Whether it’s the completely seamless opulent bouquet of heaven that opens it or the perfectly balanced animal drydown of yes! Civet! Yes! Castoreum!…my little vial of Secret Garden is going fast. My ex hates it, which makes it a classic right there!

Atelier Cologne

Call me a philistine, but I have yet to meet an Atelier Cologne I haven’t loved, worn and killed off completely. I want one of each in those big, glorious 200 ml bottles. But for now, I’ll settle for a small bottle of Trefle Pur. Because it’s lucky! I just know…

Amouage

Ah, the many perils of Amouage. I first fell in love with Ubar – fatally and forever – and next with Epic Woman, although that took a while longer, but it crept up on me. Then, I met Memoir Woman. That took five tries and I was…toast. An instant love was the outrageousness of  Opus V – a slam dunk for this iris lover which will soon be reviewed – and then, Suzanne sent me a sample of Jubilation 25. “If this isn’t you…” she wrote ominously. I’m terrified it is…me! The good news, from my perspective, is that Lyric Woman is gorgeous …and hates my skin. I now eye that sample vial of Gold somewhat askance…and I don’t want to hear anything about Memoir Woman in extrait. I’ll wait until the day I show up in Knightsbridge, smoking plastic in tow, and they can tell me anything they like, so long as they tell me they take Amex as I take one of everything!

Aroma M

I’ve drained my sample set of Aroma M d-r-y. Geisha Blue (a verdant sanity saver for total stress-out days), Green, which is my other favorite absinthe, Violet, a deliciously subversive chocolate violet, Rouge, the spice fest to spice up anything at all, or the newest, Amber Rouge…Aroma M perfume oils are stunning, beautifully packaged in their Yuzen paper wrappings and they last and last and last. So will our love affair, I just know it!

Balmain

When I need a break from p-e-r-f-u-m-e, when all I want is to get on with my day and not worry about what I wear, when I get hit by acute indecision in the morning, Balmain’s Ivoire is what I reach for. A seamless, perfect dream of a green floral chypre that does everything a perfume is supposed to do – make me feel beautiful. It always does.

Caron

SuperMario Jr’s favorite perfume on his mother is Caron’s Bellodgia, one of the greatest carnations ever made. I make a point of wearing it when he’s sick to cheer him up. (His own, to his mother’s horror, is Amouage Memoir Man. He has sometimes insisted on wearing it to school…) Maman, meanwhile, has become addicted to the bad-gal leather of Tabac Blond extrait, thanks again to Suzanne. Yes, it’s the current formulation. I’m sure it was better before. But this is now and this is it and Tabac Blond is surely one of the sexiest scents I’ve worn this year? Wear wisely. I never did hear back from the guy I was with last I wore it to such stunning effect!

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

Ah, Dawn…she breaks my heart. First, there was…Vert pour Madame, and I have maybe three drops left, it’s such a perfect throwback to those Great Green Chypres we loved and adored. Then, I received a tiny vial of 1000 Lilies, and lilies don’t get any better, no matter what they say. Next, I discovered Sampsuchinon, which really puts the sass to my spice, and finally, she slayed me with Pandora and Paradise Lost. I love all of them when I can. Which is nowhere often enough for my liking.

Etat Libre d’Orange

Yes, I know. I know. But Etat Libre also gave us Like This…and I did indeed, like that, so much it’s all gone…as is Rossy di Palma, a thorny, spiky, green rose I also dearly loved.

Guerlain

In my year of revelations, two Guerlains – both from the L’Art et La Matière line – have converted me into a huge fan of Thierry Wasser. I haven’t yet tried Shalimar Parfum Initial – although I would like to – but Spiritueuse Double Vanille and Iris Ganache have made it into my regular rotation, and I’m so not a gourmand gal. I blame Carrie of EyelinerOnACat. That’s right. My nose had nothing to say in the matter at all!

Histoires de Parfums

There is no justice in this world if I don’t get my grubby hands on at least a decant of HdP 1740 – Marquis de Sade. Should be classified as a drug of a most lethal kind, so naturally, I’ve gotta have it!

ODIN NYC

I’ve only ever tried ODIN NY-04 Petrana (although I’ve heard so many great things about the others!), but for an iris lover, it doesn’t get any better, or classier, or chewier, or cooler. Then, I had the inspired idea – no such thing as too much iris! – to layer it with Iris Ganache. Petrana cuts some of the white chocolate overload of IG, and they dance in such beautiful tandem all day and well into evening…

Opus Oils

SInce I was done in by a dangerous bloom, my Flapper perfume oil from the Les Bohemes collection has seen a lot of action in my neighborhood, and never fails to land me compliments. So does Giggle Water. And Absinthia, my other favorite absinthe. Does this mean I’m dangerous? No. It means you must run, not walk, straight to Opus Oils and try them for yourself! You know you want to!

Ormonde Jayne

Linda Pilkington, how do I love thy genius? Let me count the ways…Tolu, a golden, glorious wreath of resinous perfection, Orris Noir, the world’s richest, warmest, thickest, sex-me-up iris got me into a flirt…five hours after I’d applied it and it was still going strong! Taïf, a dark, rich, red desert rose…Frangipani, Osmanthus and Champaca when life’s a bowl of cherries on a flawless summer’s day…oh, yes! Genius!

Penhaligon’s

Once upon a time, I received a Penhaligon’s Scent Library..and then proceeded to murder Malabah and Blenheim Bouquet. That’s love! Amaranthine’s utter strangeness and so-wrong-it’s-right-ness was stolen by a colleague. That’s purloined love!

Puredistance

There is no right way to say this, but say this I must – yet again. If you have the kind of skin that cozies up to green, then you must surely adore Puredistance Antonia. It is a masterpiece of a perfume – at once a reference to all those Great Greens of old and yet totally modern, too. It makes me happy and grateful beyond belief to know that Anne Bezantian felt as I do – and created what is – or what should be – a Classic with a capital C. Sigh. A forever love!

Robert Piguet

I never expected to conjure up the ovaries to fall for Fracas this year, but I did. With a vengeance. But there’s more intrigue from Piguet…since back in my Badass Days (when I was a good deal younger), I wore Bandit extrait…So I ordered a sample of the EdP from First in Fragrance, so I’d have something to complain about, only to find it was only slightly softer and not too changed these days, and that thrilled me no end. Bandit is another of my Great Immortals. Next I knew, I ordered a decant from TPC, because I’m still that kind of badass…and then, things got a little…weird. For this Bandit was not MY Bandit, with its bitter leather-violet-galbanum vibe and ashtray undertone (which is precisely why I love it, something only perfumistas can understand), but rather a fluffed-down, muskier version. Not even the color of the juice was the same. Came to find out that the US version is markedly different – why, I don’t know – and also, that I want that Euro ashtray version, so bad, I can taste it! On the other side of February 1st, I foresee an order…My sample is almost gone. I will cry my bitter isobutyl quinoline tears.

Serge Lutens

It gives me an evil amount of pleasure to state that I have managed to turn four of my friends and acquaintances into diehard Lutensoholics. Now, there are five of us where I live. I lured them in with Fleurs d’Oranger (best orange blossom ever created!), hooked them with Boxeuses, and wiped them up with Ambre Sultan. The Arabie is m-i-n-e. (and Suzanne’s! Cumin lovers, unite!) The Vitriol d’Oeillet I can share. If L’Eau Froide is half as good as I hope, this town is toast. Meanwhile, I have an inexplicable craving for the glories of Encens et Lavande…and want to try De Profundiis very badly. Cèdre I’ve loved for a quite a while, and thanks to JoanElaine, it can love me right back!

Skye Botanicals

The boy of the household – whatever Hairy Krishna, the ginger fiend thinks to the contrary – is a bit blasé about the amount of sample vials in different locations around our apartment. “Argh, Mom…why do you always smell of something?” he asked me yesterday. Nevertheless, he’s being indoctrinated by proximity. A seven-year-old who wears tiny dabs of Memoir Man to school has, I foresee, a very bright future. But one he loves beyond all reason is the one I spray on his pillow every night – Skye Botanicals Fuzzy Blue Blanket. It has replaced the lavender/neroli blend I used to use to get him to sleep. It works! He sleeps, if usually a half hour later than his mother would like…

Mainstream hits and misses

I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t like very much of what came out this year at my local shops…Chanel no. 19 Poudré was such a massive disappointment for me, Prada Candy hated me with a fury. These two words should never occur in the same sentence: Caramel and hairspray. Gah! Bottega Veneta made my best of list. There are a few Guerlains I need to investigate properly – Insolence among them, and yes, you may shoot me! But the closest thing to a mainstream find – and I can’t even find it here – that I loved was a flanker to one I do like: Mugler’s Alien. I said it – I’m a sucker for intergalactic jasmine sambac. When Aromi of IlMondodiOdore sent me a sample of Alien Liqueur de Parfum, it took me no time at all to decide I. Just. Have. To. Have. It. It’s Alien but better, smoother, richer, with a smoky, satinwood, resinous amber drydown to die for.

Ah, we perfume bloggers have it rough. So many ‘fumes, so little time. The ones we had to wear to review, the ones we wanted to love but couldn’t, the ones we loved so much, we couldn’t review them, and the ones we love so much, we wear them even on the days we claim we’re wearing nothing at all! These were mine in 2011. What were yours?

Image: The Queen’s Crown, made for Queen Sophie Magdalene by court jeweler Frederik Fabritius, 1731. Royal Danish Collections, Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen.

Black No. 1


– a review of Narcisse Noir by Caron

A few days ago, I was cleaning out the Augean stables of my storage room, and found a few scant drops of early Eighties vintage Narcisse Noir stashed away at the bottom of a box full of odds and ends. I had completely forgotten I had it or had even managed to hold on to it for this long, but one pull at that black stopper, and out floated memories and words…

In my novel, “Quantum Demonology”, which I’m currently revising when I’m not writing perfume blogs, my protagonist has a nemesis named Melina.

“Melina was the product of a Greek father and a Danish mother who had met on Santorini and never quite recovered. If you ever wondered what a Greek Goth Goddess looked like, there was Melina, all six feet of sheer drop-dead intimidation.”

Melina, we find out later, has a weakness for Caron, which is currently not available in Denmark. Our heroine bribes her at one point in the story with a bottle of urn extrait Narcisse Blanc, later followed by Narcisse Noir, with ulterior motives, of course!

Which is precisely how I think of Narcisse Noir – a perfume with ulterior motives. Think of the associations…Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard”, worn by Anaïs Nin in the 1930s, created in 1911 by Ernest Daltroff, the notes of narcissus, dark rose and orange blossom, incense and civet.

If any one perfume embodies Gothic femininity and sensibilities, the quintessence of Goth, it would arguably be Narcisse Noir. My vintage version was dark, dark, dark…smoldering and sexual and dangerous even, with that animal incense drydown that lasted forever and a day.

This stuff should be banned. It smells the way I imagine taking laudanum feels…floating away on a dark and dismal cloud of dangerous bliss, the kind you could never, ever tell your mother about. Unless you actually stole this from your mother, as I did.

My mother was all her short life the total perfume addict. Her list of fragrant loves was as elegant as it was classic, and I’m rather disheartened by the fact that I can’t wear them because she did; Mitsouko, Joy, Jolie Madame, Shalimar, First, Bal à Versailles, Fidji. As a Scorpio, she was no stranger to the Femmes Fatales of perfume and indeed was rather fatale herself.

One day, long after I had left home to make my way in the world, I came by to say hello, and in the course of the evening I discovered the most fatale of them all – stashed away nearly behind her vanity mirror was a bottle of Narcisse Noir. I had heard rumors of this one, seen “Sunset Boulevard”, knew it had been worn by Anaïs Nin. This was history, pedigree and devastation all in one small bottle.

I stole it. It took a few months before we were on speaking terms again.

Meanwhile, there was havoc to wreak, so I did. In that Stygian abyss known as the Goth underground in the mid-1980’s, Narcisse Noir had one of two possible effects on the opposite gender. Those guys either ran for the hills or the Himalayas, whichever was furthest, or they fell prey like so many drugged fruit flies. There was no middle ground.

This is one of the few perfumes that to me encompass everything “black”. Black suede, black velvet, black satin sheets. It takes no prisoners, does not take no for an answer, has all the attitude issues of black widows everywhere. Come closer. Dahling. So I may eat you alive. You will love every excruciating minute, I promise. Dahling.

The perfect scent for a succubus!

Perfect for the Capa of the Black no. 1 Mafia in my story, Melina. And perfectly described in female terms in the song “Black no. 1”.

I’m stashing it away behind lock and key, where its radioactive charms can be contained. I could be forgiven for wearing this at age 22, before I completely knew what it meant to be a woman. I’m now 47, and I know exactly what would happen if I ever ventured out wearing Narcisse Noir. I’d drape myself languidly over the stairs, sweep my hair back with one crimson-nailed hand and say:

“I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. De Mille!” Or else just ready to eat the next hapless male unlucky enough to walk by…

My version was a mid-Eighties vintage parfum, and the notes below are for the reformulation – I’m guessing the latest one, since my version definitely contains civet. I think there may be about ten drops of it left.

Notes according to Fragrantica:
Top notes: African orange flower and narcissus
Heart notes: jasmine, orange and tincture of rose
Base notes: vetyver, musk and sandalwood

Gender Benders


- Or how to be dangerous without really trying!

The Greek philosopher Theophrastus, in his ‘Enquiry Into Plants’, once categorically stated that floral-heady perfumes worked best for men, accentuating their masculinity, whereas heavier scents, such as spikenard, malabathrum and incense, worked best for a woman, an idea that these 2,500 years later seems to run counter to everything we take for granted in the world of perfume. Which only goes to prove just how much things have and haven’t changed since then. I’ve known plenty of men, some hypermasculine exemplars among them, who loved nothing more than, say, a lethal dose of ‘Shalimar’, and likewise, ladies who couldn’t get heady, heavy or potent enough.

Subversion, any former punk and present iconoclast will tell you, can be a wonderful thing. If by subverting certain preconceptions, as mildly or as wildly as you please, you can turn your world ever so slightly on its axis, if you can make your surroundings question their assumptions, then how can that possibly be bad?

Stick around the perfumed world long enough, and somewhere in the course of your passion, you will inevitably eye the other side of the gender divide of the perfume counter and wonder what things happen there.

Once upon a time, it was considered ever-so-slightly daring for a woman to wear a traditionally ‘masculine’ perfume. If it happened, it happened on the sly, admitted sotto voce, like the time I asked my then-teenaged sister what she was wearing, and she whispered ‘Obsession for Men.’ How scandalous! How brave! How…delicious!

Delicious, to immerse yourself in the world of fougères and woods, green and spices, to disconcert your environment that expected something floral and frilly and feminine. Just as white tie and tails – or Yves Saint Laurent’s famous ‘le smoking’ – turned a traditionally masculine concept completely on its head and accentuated sexy femininity, so can ‘masculine’ scents present a double threat – an aura that should be a butch testimony to testosterone, and instead is a testimony to female.

These days, of course, it doesn’t matter any more. In all fairness, as one famous perfumer said, the only difference between men’s and women’s perfumes is – and has always been – the ‘Pour Homme’ printed on the label. Several lines make no distinction at all, and I don’t see why you should, either.

So, ladies – spray away. Go ahead. Live a little dangerously.You know you want to!

In my own perfumed life history, I’ve loved not a few masculines – loved them enough to wear them, to gift them to boyfriends, to have fun by experiencing everything they had to offer, and in so doing to come a little closer to what I love. Below follows a few of my favorites. Some are classics, some are divisive – all of them are devastating – on either gender!

The Classics
These are the Big Ones, the ones you can’t get around, the classics that have been filched from bathroom cabinets everywhere nearly since the launch date – they’re that good.

Eau Sauvage (Dior)
It may remind you of your father, it may remind you of Classic Cologne with capital Cs, but Edmond Routnitska’s Eau Sauvage was a groundbreaking scent for a reason. On women, this is Class with Sass.

Vetiver (Guerlain)
If you love Green Fiends, the kind of viridian perfumed statements that brook no arguments and take no prisoners, then Guerlain’s ‘Vetiver’ is for you. It was, in fact, my own gateway into masculines, and much later, Guerlain took note and created ‘Vetiver Pour Elle’. Surely, that was unnecessary. The original is perfect just as it is.

Mouchoir de Monsieur (Guerlain)
One of my two very first proper perfume purchases was ‘Jicky’, a ground-breaking revolution in a bottle. A fougére but not, a floral but not, a slightly leathery, elusive animal, it lives somewhere in between the spaces of its contradictions, just like its sibling, ‘Mouchoir de Monsieur’. Whereas Jicky is somewhat naughty and impetuous, ‘Mouchoir’ is rather more well-behaved. Which doesn’t mean it’s not just as naughty, in a good way.

The Subversives

L’Anarchiste (Caron)
You expect something unusual from a perfume called The Anarchist. Something Piotr Kropotkin would have worn. This is orange and spice and all things nice, and the most anarchistic thing about it is its name, for turning your expectations on their heads. Another way to circumvent convention, maybe?

M7 (Yves Saint Laurent)
I have a problem with oudh. Shoot me for my lack of perfumista sophistication if you must, but something about oudh gives me a headache. Unless, like here, it’s wrapped in the kind of woody rosemary-vetiver that sands down most of the medicinal edges to a smooth, glossy finish. On a man, this is devastating. On a woman, this is a definite threat. Wear wisely, or bear the consequences! ;-)

The Modern Yet Timeless
Dior Homme (Dior)
Iris – in fact, orris root – can go in one of two directions to my nose. Either it nosedives into a hairspray vibe that turns my stomach no matter what I do (Prada’s ‘Infusion d’Iris), or it is stupendously, staggeringly beautiful in a way few other floral notes can capture. I love a few iris-laden perfumes, and of them all, Dior Homme is at the very top tier of that list. Why they call it ‘Homme’, I don’t know. Chilly – as iris often is – elegant, and timeless. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better…Dior gave us-

Dior Homme Intense (Dior)
Dior Homme Intense is the dressed up for living dangerously sibling of Homme. I once managed to shock my (virtually shockproof) sister by drenching myself in this. This is heavier, an evening scent, if you will, with a definitely sweeter, smokier vanilla-cocoa vibe. I can only be grateful I have yet to meet it on an attractive man, because I’d eat him if he wore this. As it is, I can only just refrain from gnawing my own arm. Just.

Chêne (Serge Lutens)
Serge Lutens dispenses with gender labels altogether, and rightly so. Who cares? Wear what you love, but certain perfumes of his line tend to skew in either a feminine or a masculine direction, and certain others can read either way. I would never have guessed in a zillion years that I would fall so hard for a perfume, I’d write it into my novel, yet I did. A perfume named for a wood – oak – in all its sappy, smoky, slightly boozy manifestations, it is sexy on either gender. Perfect for days you feel the need for invisible armor. Wearing ‘Chêne’, I can handle anything. Anything at all.

Encens et Lavande (Serge Lutens)
Perfume names can be slightly misleading, to say the least. Yet ‘Encens et Lavande’ is perfectly named – incense and lavender. No more, no less, no need to gild this lily any further. It seems so simple and is incredibly complex, it is contemplative and it is comforting. Great on a guy, great on a gal, just plain…genius, any way you try it.

Traditional ‘masculine’ perfumes are often just as good – and in some cases better – on women, just as ladies in tuxes can be devastastingly feminine and more than slightly subversive. Marlene Dietrich in her white tie and tails could never be mistaken for anyone but Marlene Dietrich – beautiful, strong, slightly disconcerting yet still a Woman with a capital W, putting the ‘fatale’ in ‘femme’!

That’s at least part of the idea, right? ;-)

Photo: Marlene Dietrich in Josef von Sternberg’s ‘Morocco’ (Paramount, 1930).

The Madonna of the Pinks


– A review of Caron’s Bellodgia
Soliflores can be tricky propositions, especially for those of us with short attention spans. Either too linear or too literal, too fleeting – or too much. If like me you have a penchant for certain odiferous blooms – in my case, lilies, roses, lilacs, wisteria, carnations, orange blossom to name but a few, it stands to reason that some days, you simply want to take that joy with you, hopefully without being bored halfway through the day.

Not so long ago, I went on an Oscar – as in Wilde – binge, and naturally enough, carnations popped up. But have you noticed something? Those rarified, ostentatious hothouse blooms have lost their scent these days. Even those glorious dark red carnations – surely a visual statement of no small order – don’t have much more than a fleeting, peppery note, nothing like the rich and heady flowers of Oscar’s day.

Failing the Real Thing, I next went on a mission to locate The Ultimate Bottled Carnation. Sadly, Floris’ ‘Malmaison’ has been discontinued, and good luck finding any – you’ll need it. Next up, I found Comme des Garçons Red Series 2 ‘Carnation’ – and thank you, Dimitri, for telling me where to locate it in my remote perfume desert. I spent an afternoon with it, and I’m telling you, if any perfume should be titled ‘Red’, or more likely, ‘Red Hot’, this is it. Wheee! Pepper and clove and Cinnamon with a capital C, this stuff puts the ‘carnal’ in carnation. Carnal or venal, I’m not sure which, but not for me. It nosedived into the pepper pot on my skin in a way I probably wasn’t sophisticated enough to appreciate, or maybe it was a question of time. The bottom line was…no.

I tried to locate Etro’s ‘Dianthus’, and just like with ‘Malmaison’, had rotten, lousy luck. It has also been discontinued.

Nina Ricci’s ‘L’Air du Temps’ – a classic for a reason – was another perfume that highlights carnation, and again – not for me. Almost anything my mother wore is by default out of the running. It just felt…wrong, like a four-year-old getting into Mommy’s lipstick and stilettos. I just wasn’t…woman enough!

Which was when I found Caron’s ‘Bellodgia’. Created in 1927 by Ernest Daltroff, it is considered one of the world’s finest carnations, created to evoke the town of Bellagio by Lake Como, ‘carnations soaked in sunshine’.

I took a deep breath, crossed my eyes and toes and wished for a birthday bottle of the eau de parfum.

Reading about a perfume and trying to evoke it in your olfactory imagination only gets you so far. It is…perfume by proxy, and nothing can quite prepare you for The Real Deal. Which explains the Try Before You Buy ethos of perfumoholics like myself, unless, also like me, you like surprises!

Therefore, it was with some trepidation I opened that birthday package, crossed my fingers and – sprayed. Yowza! What was that slightly…weird thing going on, that thing that said…PERFUME, BABY! The old-fashioned kind, the kind they don’t make like this any more, but right before I was ready to swallow my disappointment…it was National Carnation Day chez Maison Tarleisio, and the most opulent, heady, dizzying, erm, incarnation of well, pinks – of carnation and clove and thick, sweet vanilla, underscored by what to my nose smelled like rose, but according to the notes is actually lily-of-the-valley and jasmine – bloomed and radiated and emanated in all directions.

This was the carnation to slay all carnations, this was stupendously beautiful and viciously addictive. This carnation was a loyal soul – it never strayed and stuck like duct tape to my perfume-eating skin, finally drying down to a soft, powdery, mossy vanilla-clove-musk finish that on me reminds me of sandalwood, but sweeter, with a vanilla edge that is not at all gourmand but definitely edible. So good, I nearly wanted to eat my arm, or sub-contract the job to someone else who would. Nothing funereal about it in the slightest, but very much a living, breathing, emanating joy.

I’ve worn this at the height of summer, and I’ve worn this on icy, windy, snowy days and it behaves differently according to the weather. Heat amps up the floral notes, but on cold days, this is snuggly, vicuña comfort in a bottle. My five-year-old adores it. When I wear it, he can’t get close enough, so long as it’s on my lap and he can bury his nose in my neck. He likes most things I wear, but of them all, Bellodgia is his favorite. Eau de Maman, if you ask him. That is all, and for a five-year-old, that’s enough.

I haven’t had the opportunity to try this in parfum – vintage or reformulated – so I’m not in any position to say how much it’s been altered/ruined by reformulation. I’ve also read that in the newer eau de parfum, there is a green tea note, but I don’t get that at all. What I do get is a soliflore that holds my attention throughout the day, that is much admired by my surroundings for being in an entirely alternate universe from the usual perfumes of today, and that I have grown to love far more than I ever expected.

If Bellodgia were a painting, it would be the Raphael-attributed ‘Madonna of the Pinks’, for being so true to the scent of pinks, with their spicy, fiery heart, and if it were a Tarot Card, it would be the Major Arcana card called The Empress – the essence of motherly womanhood, caring, compassionate, comforting.

As it is, it’s what carnations are supposed to be, but sadly, no longer are. It is also what perfumes should be, and all too often, rarely are.

Image: The Raphael-attributed ‘Madonna of the Pinks’, National Gallery, London
Image of vintage Bellodgia parfum: Il Mondo di Odore

Notes according to Fragrantica:
Top notes: Carnation
Heart notes: Jasmine, lily of the valley
Base notes: Musk, clove and vanilla