The Four Devils of my Undoing

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT  III

- a review (of a kind) of Ellen Covey/Olympic Orchids‘ four submissions for the Devilscent Project

Understand, these things don’t happen to me. I live such a drab, ordinary, invisible life…going to work, dropping off Super Mario at school and picking him up, existing only for those late night places in my imagination where shadows reign in the corners, when the boy and the cats are asleep, when all is quiet and only the click-clack of a keyboard taps its erratic rhythm in my room as I evoke the ghosts I find in sample vials and bottles and write down the stories they tell. Sometimes, it’s bliss and sometimes it’s a rarified form of torture when the words play hide-and-seek beyond my sixteen hour old days, or when those liquid chimaeras spark amber glints of defiance, choose to hide behind the Fail Demon’s back and won’t come out to play.

I nearly thought that happened again when Ellen Covey’s four Devs arrived in their tissue-wrapped box, thought that after all this time and anticipation, my vocabulary would surely fail me, fail to convey the flood of emotions I felt when I sniffed at their contents. This was so important, loomed so large in my imagination for such a long time as I wondered and I wandered down the primrose path of perfumed perdition that nothing I could possibly say would ever do them justice. They were all four like nothing Ellen had ever made, like nothing I had ever encountered before, each of the four a unique facet, a gossamer thread, a highlight, an ancient tale of long ago and a futurity for that storied creature I had conjured one night out of boredom and music and an old and archetypal story.

There I sat and I pondered and I fretted as I twirled my hair and drank my tea and felt a faraway ghostly presence breathe down my neck. That was me as I waved my blotters of Fabriano paper in the air and paced the floor, as I perused my thesaurus and bit my nails and sprayed my skin, that was the despairing writer who finally gave it up and went to bed with only Hairy Krishna’s ginger purr to console me, a faint trail of perfume hidden in his fur.

No one has ever had much faith in you, have they? I do.

At some unknown dead hour of night, I woke with a start. Was it a dream? I didn’t know, I knew only that Krishna had finally moved away from the small of my back and I could roll over, and as I adjusted the pillow and grabbed my duvet a little tighter, I heard a voice behind me in the dark, felt a human heat burn down my back in my single bed, an arm around me.

“Shhh. Don’t move.” Dev’s voice right by my ear. “If you do, you’ll ruin the spell. Lie still. Tell me what you feel, tell me what you smell.”

“Something both very light and very dark and very complex, so much going on in this bottle, something that tells me…to be careful, something woody and plush but very bright, bright like spice and evergreen together. There has to be oud in it, too, that same raspy edge, yet it’s sweet, too…sweet like..vanilla or maybe tolu, yes, I think that’s it and…” I shifted in the darkness. He was right behind me, this wasn’t a dream, this was real, and if this was real, this was very, very dangerous. As it got warmer under that duvet, his scent grew even headier, smokier and animalic without ever losing that bright, woody, oud-y, spicy bite. This one had teeth, but they were hidden behind an alluring veil of something very much alive and aware, was it frankincense I could sense in the distance, so many ancient secrets, something that read my stories and read between the words too, read the secrets and the truths I concealed behind them.

“This is you…” I whispered to the dark, “this is you in the beginning, before she knows what she’s getting herself into, when you read her mind and you know what she wants. You know but you’ll never tell her, you’ll let her believe that you can make it happen, that her wishes will come true…but there’s a danger here she won’t know until it’s far too late…

That animal heat burning down my back, that human animal pulsing in the dark in my room, breathing that perilous dream alive. I had no sooner thought those words when my eyes shot open, and Krishna’s amber eyes glowed feline for an instant above my leg. I was alone. But was it a dream?

My continents shifted, my ice caps melted, my magnetic poles were realigned.

I was lost…lost in some kaleidoscopic whirling Technicolor reverie of running breathless down a street, someone hot in pursuit behind me, then, there was no street, only the hard surface of a locked door, and next, nothing but this dense, demanding fiery dream, this multitude of sensations and scent, this another, fevered heat. This was a complex, fragrant fever that took and demanded, that overrode all my hesitations, that never asked and never told, this…blend of layers upon layers of meaning unfolding as I dreamt.

That blistering shock to my senses, far richer, denser and thicker than before, and all I could do was to take it without question, the animal feel and exultation of this arm around me, this skin, this impenetrable, all-pervasive need. I had no secrets I could hide, no doubts I could slip in between the spice and the leather, nowhere to run before this inhuman, intangible creature of sacred smoke and beastly appetites, couldn’t possibly refuse to follow where it led me, where it took me further into that dark I never knew before. All I knew was this lava in my blood and this tempest in my mind and all I would ever want ever again was this many-layered landscape of wanted and needed, even if it hurt, even if I cried, even if I never would know daylight again, I didn’t care, I didn’t care…

I bolted upright in an instant. A dream. It was a dream. Only a dream, witnessed by the dark outside my window and my frantic heartbeat singing in my ears and a cat that dug its claws in my arm so softly as it stretched, sighed and jumped off the bed in search of a snack.

It was only a dream.

There’s an old saying about love affairs. You can always remember the first time, but you can never remember the last.

“There’s an old saying about love affairs. You can always remember the first time, but you can never remember the last.”

Two dreams in this strange and almost endless night, dreams provoked by these haunting, haunted perfumes, dreams that brought me back to my story in ways I could never have imagined, dreams unfolding as that story of Dev and that desperate woman he ensnared who had so little left to lose except the one dream she had left, and this sleepless night, with this bittersweet perfume, it all comes back…with this exceptional and unique heartbreak-in-a-bottle. I looked out of the window into a moonless black night, and intimations of the animal from the dream before purr their low mumble in the background, but this is a moody, melancholy, tetchy Dev, because he knows the price he’ll pay, the price he’s always paid for being the Guardian of nightmares and negatives, it’s soaked into this spiky, raspy, redolent wood like her tears, seeped into the fabric of good and evil and even Earth itself with that underlying heartbeat of furry beast and sacred being, of despised monster and eternal scapegoat, of otherwordly and all too human. Frankincense – it must be – wafting its ancient, arcane secrets with its siblings myrrh and labdanum, and it won’t matter and won’t change what will and has to happen. The play must go on, the charade must continue to its inevitable end, and endings are the price we all pay for any dream come true.

I lay back down and pulled up the duvet, and as it rustled, Krishna ran into the room and jumped up, as if to say… “Get over it. You’re still dreaming.” He prodded a leg into a more comfortable position and curled up behind my knees.

Maybe Krishna was right. Or Buddha, and I was still lost of this world of mana and illusion, an illusion I created, and Ellen brought back to life?

I remembered everything. And everything hurt to remember.

“Don’t move.” Again, that familiar voice in the dark, that familiar weight of an arm over my waist, and a different, haunting heat burning down my back. SO solid, so warm, so fragrant, it had to be real.

“Am I still dreaming?”

“Maybe you are, and maybe you aren’t. Maybe this project in the intangible – your words and these perfumes – is an exercise in materializing your dream, have you thought of that?”

“Just like my story…and my harebrained idea…about you, about frankincense and labdanum and peril and passion, but this is…” I breathed it deeper. That cool and pine-like breath,  something evergreen, frankincense, that plush and furry labdanum, it must have been, there was a drop – just one – of something sweet. Not benzoin, not vanilla, maybe Peru or tolu balsam, but still just a tiny drop.

“This is me, and this is you, not your protagonist.” I felt his breath on my neck, felt his hand brush my hair away as he nestled closer and whispered in my ear. “The time for fiction and disguises is over, baby. Those were just the tools you needed to set things in motion to make them real.”

“But you’re not real. You’re just a figment of my imagination.”

“How can you be so sure? Once upon a time a very long time ago, a girl of fifteen heard the Devil in her head saying… ‘You, girl, should write. That’s what you were meant to do, that was your purpose.’ Somewhere down the line, you forgot that dream and that conversation. I’m reminding you now. All those years and all that life between became fuel for that fire that made you write this story and these words.” He laughed softly in the dark, so softly, not even Krishna on my other side stirred.

“Now, I’m becoming more real, now that ghost you conjured has materialized in another kind of alchemy, and now, maybe other fictions can become fact, too.”

“C’mon. It’s just a story, yet another clichéd Faustian first novel, a metaphor for my own silly dreams.”

“Didn’t you know? That’s how all reality begins. With a dream.”

Before I could protest, a harp chord began to play in the dark, and I woke up for the last time this night and turned off my alarm. As Krishna stretched and began his own early morning song, as I staggered out to the kitchen and switched on the kettle for my coffee, that phrase reverberated in my head and stayed for the rest of that day.

“All reality begins…with a dream.”

That haunting scent of labdanum and frankincense and otherworldly, bitter, dark…

And sometimes it happens…that even dreams come true.

As the perfumer who made me a perfume writer just proved…

_______________________________________________

Notes: (taken from the enclosed envelope Ellen added with stern instructions not to open it until after my review!)

Dev no. 1: Three kinds of synthetic oud, woody base notes, black vanilla, clear labdanum absolute, synthetic musk deer accord, Africa stone tincture, ambergris tincture, synthetic civet, tolu balsam, beeswax absolute, frankincense, African bluegrass, giant arborvitae and cinnamon leaf.

Dev no. 2: Clear, dark and green labdanum, tolu balsam, black agar, woody base notes, musks including ambrette and the deer musk accord, castoreum, a different version of civet, cistus, incense accord, immortelle absolute, cade, davana, leather, rose, clove CO2 extract, cardamom, cinnamon and cinnamon leaf.

Dev no. 3: New Caledonian sandalwood absolute, dark labdanum, clear labdanum, red spikenard, fossilized amber, ambergris tincture, black truffle tincture, cistus, cassie absolute, frankincense, davana, African bluegrass, myrrh tincture, motia attar & cinnamon leaf.

Dev no. 4: Clear labdanum absolute, tolu balsam, dark labdanum, woody base notes, frankincense, arborvitae. 

Ellen Covey’s stunning perfumes are available at Olympic Orchids.

Lost and Found

-       on the pleasures of finding misplaced treasures, and reviews of One Truly Great Facilitator

I am not by any stretch of the imagination the world’s most organized person. Although I’ve developed total OCD concerning my work and writing habits and my laptop hard drive is sorted to an electric fare-thee-well, my desk displays all the signs of an easily distracted artist…one catch-all notepad for incidental thoughts, one blue workbook for even bigger thoughts, one black spiral-bound notebook for notes on perfume reviews and blog ideas, one small perfume journal containing a review list with dates, and finally another notebook that contains immortality in 140 characters or less – my #Follow Friday diary, with dates, write-ups, people I add, follow and recommend. This doesn’t include my dictionary/thesaurus, books I’m reading, music CDs (yes, I buy them), things to tape to my Inspiration Wall of Fame, pens, pencils and samples in different stages of disarray. I admire the minimalist Zen mindset, really I do. But until that day I’m able to hire a personal assistant, forget it.

So it was…until I decided to turn a new leaf and get my derriére in gear and get organized. I sat down in my bedroom where most of my ‘fumes are located and sorted through a large pile of bubblepak envelopes, cards and sample vials. Somewhere in a decreasing pile of chaos, I came across a letter I had all but forgotten in the chaos of the last six months or so.

It was a letter from my very first Great Facilitator and indie perfumer Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids, and I was instantly hit with a large suitcase packed full of guilt trip.

It was – believe it or not – only a year ago I really began to write about perfume, to push my limits in terms of writing in general and writing about perfume in particular, and – true story! – if not for Doc Elly, it would likely never have happened at all. Not only is she one of the nicest people I’ve met this past year of discoveries, she is also – I’m not the only one to say this – one of the most unique. Just as all my favorite perfumers this past year have their own aesthetic vocabulary, so does she. She creates breathtaking true to life perfumes based on scented orchids – her Red Cattleya was spot-on, I discovered at the Orchid House of the Royal Botanical Gardens in Copenhagen last year – and has also made a wide range of mostly undiscovered wonders, some of which I’ve worn – and worn out. It’s a definite  testament to her talent that all her masculine-slanted perfumes have instantly been purloined by the Ex and worn, not that I blame him. They’re that good!

Five sample vials glowed in her letter, named Emergence, Salamanca, Rose Chypré, and Café V 1 and Café V 2. She enclosed another sealed envelope with instructions not to open it until I’d tried them – and I swear, I didn’t. That letter is still sealed as I type. I know nothing of their notes, have blithely forgotten everything I might have read about them elsewhere, and have only my nose and my associations to go on.

Emergence

Emergence is something I can recognize instantly, almost like finding an old friend in a crowded room…because it’s a sibling of another favorite of mine, Golden Cattleya. Golden Cattleya – I reviewed the prototypes here – is a thick, opulent, orange-centered Oriental, just as Emergence strikes me. But unlike Golden Cattleya and its airier, floatier base, Emergence is darker and plusher, with a headier, more animalic version of the drydown I find in many of Olympic Orchids’ perfumes. There’s a lot of labdanum and likely cistus* too in this – not my least favorite note, and it dances out of the vial on an orange-vanilla sunbeam and wraps its tendrils around you in the best kind of oomph-inducing, richly fragrant hug. It strikes me as an evening perfume, one for high heels and a little black dress and a gleam in your eye that might or might know how the night will end…

 

Salamanca

Salamanca is the most masculine-slanted of the five, a dry, grassy, slightly smoky leather. Leather! Lots of leather…black, soft, spicy yet not understated leather, maybe a touch of birch tar in the mix somewhere, and what I smell as vetiver? Calamus? Yerba Maté? Named for the Spanish town, I presume, it has a definite Latin lover, flamenco vibe…If it were a man, I’d say this would be perfect for Antonio Banderas, not that I would ever complain. It’s very classy, slightly dark, very sexy and very unlike most masculine, slightly clichéd leathers I can think of, and I make a point to try most of them. I absolutely love it, but it’s probably more for a man. This takes a certain amount of cojones, and alas, I don’t have any.

 

Rose Chypré

It’s such a crying shame rose perfumes have become such clichés, because if you do a rose right, it can satisfy as no other flowers except maybe tuberose and jasmine. I love roses, I love rose perfumes, and I’m not surprised at all this was an instant favorite. This is – I’ll hazard a guess – a Damascene rose, a velvet-red, plush, almost photorealistic rose with a green, mossy pulse beneath it, but not so green as, say, a relation, which would be Etat Libre d’Orange’s Rossy de Palma. I did like Rossy the perfume very much, but I have to say it – I love this so much more for being so perfectly balanced. Delicious. Not so long ago, I tried YSL Paris, knowing it would end in tears, which it did, and bemoaned the fate of the classic, stellar rose. No more. So if you love roses…and chypres that won’t carpet-bomb you to the floor with the patchouli blends that pass for chypres these days – run, don’t walk! Try it and you won’t regret it.

 

Café V-1

Coffee, anyone? Coffee in perfume gave me all sorts of headaches, once upon a time. This was well before I ever encountered Aftelier’s ‘Tango’, which sold me on coffee. Café V-1 is nothing like Tango, instead it’s a flowery, spicy caffeine jolt to the nose, very different and not in the slightest gourmand. It intrigues me no end as it dries down for getting spicier and darker. I detect cinnamon and more than a touch of patchouli and maybe myrrh, and over and under this little marvel blooms that lovely coffee note – which is dark-roasted and strong yet delicate. If this were a coffee, it would be a single estate Ethiopian mocha bean…full-bodied, floral and with a slightly sweet finish, guaranteed to pick you up and jolt you out of the January doldrums.

 

Café V-2

Version 2 is a very different cup of java, an effervescent blend  – so sayeth my Dimbo nose – of what seems to be a touch of chocolate, coffee and…wait for it! Mint! Tea?Something that makes me think green. Whatever it is, it shouldn’t work at all, and yet, it does and beautifully so, accentuating the floral aspects without damping down the coffee, except maybe this is more vanillic – coffee with a dollop of cream?. It is decidedly more floral and less spicy than version one on my skin, and I would be hard-pressed to choose between them. It blooms into a smokier, more emphatic coffee as time goes on, and stays closer to the skin. Both of them are coffee notes done right…with respect and enough intrigue to keep you interested and on your toes, and nothing – let me repeat – nothing like so many throwaway coffee perfumes I’ve tried.

I could continue to extrapolate here and say that Olympic Orchids are all…nothing like anything else. Ellen Covey has a definite Orientalist, classic approach to perfume, and a dedication to maintaining her own uncompromising creative vision regardless of what everyone else is doing, which should be both applauded and appreciated. I really don’t know why she isn’t famous, since I think she should be!

Meanwhile, there was that sealed envelope…I quote from the contents:

Emergence

When cattleya orchids first start to bloom, their fragrance is often indolic and camphorous. Emergence represents the first days of the golden cattleya flower. Notes similar to Golden Cattleya, but also include civet, indolene, methyl benzoate and camphor.

Salamanca

It is based on the scent of dry, dusty grass and weeds with hints of old stone buildings, hand-crafted leather, and the jamon that hangs in so many of the shops. (Jamon is the air-cured, spectacular ham of Spain)

Rose Chypré

A classic chypre composition centered around the fragrance of rose. Specific notes include a cocktail of musks. Oakmoss (!!), clear labdanum, patchouli, rose de mai absolute, cyclamen, bergamot, ylang ylang, petitgrain, aldehydes, red mandarin and red thyme

Café V 1 & 2

Named for a famous café in Seattle’s Capitol Hill, specific notes include balsams, myrrh, cedar, coffee absolute, cacao absolute, a vanilla accord, Madagascar vanilla tincture, a leather accord, nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom. Version 2 also includes a creamy note.

So I guess I got a lot of the notes right, and not a few associations, too. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…if not for Ellen Covey, my nose, that questionable collection of cartilege, would be far less educated. It began with Olympic Orchids. It seems only fitting that a year later, I found her again. Her perfumes merit all the praise they can get  – and so does her dedication! If you’re bored with the present sorry state of ho-hum perfume releases, if you’re in search of something truly original, if you’re looking to expand your horizons or even if you’re such a niche diehard you’re looking for new talent, give Olympic Orchids a try.

* Labdanum and cistus – although they both stem from the same plant, the Mediterranean rock rose – are by no means the same thing. Both come in several different varieties – absolutes and CO2 extracts – that on their own are so rich and complex, it’s hard to believe they’re from the same source.

Images: Painting: A Lady Writing a Letter, Jan Vermeer, 1665-66

Illustration: “Square’s Waldo”, by Jonah Block, courtesy of Society6

Honeyed Blooms and Meadows Sweet

– Reviews of Aftelier Perfume‘s ‘Honey Blossom’ and ‘Wildflowers’

Last night, trying to ground myself after a frantic Saturday that completely conspired against me, I went out for a walk in the summer twilight, which this time of year is well past 10 PM. As I walked around my neighborhood on a Saturday night, noting the honeysuckle blooming on walls, the elderflowers with their musky, earthy scent that my compatriots like to convert into a favorite summer drink, breathing in all the ghostly aromas of a summer night in July, a luminous, intoxicating ribbon of something green and unmistakable wove its way into my awareness.

High summer is finally here, and the linden trees are blooming, and if ever a high summer night had a signature scent, linden blossom would surely be one of them. There could be no better time to review Aftelier Perfumes’ ‘Honey Blossom’.

‘Honey Blossom’ was created as part of a unique perfumer’s collaboration with Andy Tauer to highlight a linden blossom CO2 extract. Last year as the project unfolded, readers of Nathan Branch’s blog were able to get a unique look into the process of perfume making and the challenges both Andy Tauer and Mandy Aftel encountered along the way.

Andy Tauer created ‘Zeta’, which I reviewed in late April, and although I can certainly appreciate its beauty, I couldn’t wear it at all. I had no choice but to dub it the Honey Monster, because it very nearly ate me alive.

So I was more than slightly apprehensive when I opened up that tiny vial of ‘Honey Blossom’, wondering if this one, too would devour me whole and entire.

In a word – no.

‘Honey Blossom’, I’m thrilled to say, is an entirely different perfume, for all that it highlights the same linden blossom CO2 extract. Mandy Aftel chose mimosa, with its particular sunshine-yellow sweetness to highlight it, and these two, the mimosa with its almond/marzipan facets and the linden blossom with its green, heady character dance a perfect waltz in tandem, seamlessly whirling on towards a dizzying orange blossom heart that never dominates or takes over. The orange blossom opens up its doors and joins in that mimosa and linden blossom waltz and this somehow becomes linden blossom but better, a unique twist on a beloved summer perfume accord that normally tends to take the alternate name for linden – lime – a little too literally.

There is no lime in this linden, just the near-narcotically addictive, sweetly dripping nectar of the blossoms themselves that teeter towards honey but never do fall into the beehive, waltzing their sweet, joyous ménage à trois with the mimosa and orange blossom on my skin in dizzying figures that whisper of warm summer twilight and puffs of sunshine caught in thousands of creamy yellow blooms. As it dries down, a downy accord of ambergris and benzoin with its vanilla touch wind down the waltz and slow down the linden blossom to a glow that fades away like the stars above in a high summer sky that never gets completely dark at this time of year.

I’m reminded of those lines from William Blake’s ‘Songs of Innocence’, although here, the angels are the blooms of a linden tree…

“Unseen they pour blessing.
And joy without ceasing,
On each bud and blossom,
And each sleeping bosom.”

It was a privilege to be privy to the process of creating a linden blossom perfume through Nathan Branch’s blog, and an even greater privilege to be able to compare the two different interpretations of the same CO2 extract. Both ‘Zeta’ and ‘Honey Blossom’ share that same soft yellow glow, but the similarities stop there. I can admire ‘Zeta’ for the beauty that it is, but I can never wear it. Unrequited love is so over-rated! ‘Honey Blossom’ sings in a different key with a different pitch, pouring its joy and blessing on all things good, waltzing around in a summer twilight beneath the blooming linden trees.

‘Honey Blossom’ was one of three of Mandy Aftel’s creations (The others were ‘Lumiere’ and ‘Candide’, which I reviewed here) to be nominated as a finalist in both the European and American FiFi awards as Fragrance of the Year, Indie Brand.

Meadows Sweet

There was a moment back in January I can clearly recall on a July afternoon, a moment I stood outside my work on a lunch break on a dismal, cold, foggy day and thought to myself…this cold, this damp, this gray…is all you will ever know, and winter will never end. When summer seemed an all but impossible concept, some delirious fevered dream of light in a month that has so little at my latitude in January, and heat that seems so outrageous on such a chill, gray day.

I can remember I went home and wrote a perfume review that night, the kind that would remind me of what I knew but could scarcely believe in January…sooner or later, summer will return and the flowers bloom again, sooner than I always think it will be summer, and I will feel that delicious kiss of sunlight on my skin that makes me think of things I can so easily forget..like hope, like possibilities, like feeling every inch alive.

The review was for Olympic Orchids’ ‘A Midsummer Day’s Dream’, but where Doc Elly’s perfume takes you out on the grass and beneath the fig trees, from the bark of the wood to the leaves and the fruit in all its stages, Mandy Aftel’s ‘Wildflowers’ takes an entirely different tack.

‘Wildflowers’ is a solid perfume, a delicious way to wear perfume entirely for yourself and no one else. It has little sillage and an understated presence, but when something is this beautiful, I don’t much care. The feel of the solid on my skin is probably the best I’ve ever encountered in a solid perfume, smooth as silk charmeuse, and if this were a body butter, I’d buy it by the tub, it’s…that good.

Instead of grass and a whole fig grove, this is a meadow full of flowers, all the flowers of a hot, perfect summer day of sunshine and blue skies, the larks singing high in the air and the buzz of bumblebees in the flowers, some of which you know, and many which you don’t.

So lie back in the meadows and watch the world from the ground as you breathe it all in….the verdant kick of lime awakening your senses to your surroundings, a whole bouquet of heedless, fragrant flowers blooming in random profusion and careless, elegant abandon by nature, all if it spelling the kind of peerless beauty artifice can never know, and as that meadow seeps into your consciousness, draining away all worries and cares, the demands of your day and the weeks ahead, a sweet scent of hay, some of it fresh-cut, some of it dried gathers force, and you become, as so often happens with Aftelier perfumes I’ve noticed, one with the moment, the flowers far too many and too beautiful to pluck and take with you, the larks in the sky above you and that sugary hay that is nothing more or less than the quintessence of every summer-blooming, sunshine-soaked grass that ever grows.

Maybe I should just amend that to…every summer day that lives forever in our memory, the kind we need to be reminded of on dismal, foggy January days. A memory, a recollection of S-u-m-m-e-r, period.

If summer somehow eludes you, if you need a reminder that some day, heat and light and sunshine will return, the wildflowers will bloom and hopes and possibilities will be every inch alive, that even you will be every inch alive and aware in a perfect meadow moment, then you need to try ‘Wildflowers.’

Meadows should always be so sweet, and flowers should always bloom in such plentitudes, just like those possibilities that seem such a distant, nebulous dream on a dismal January day.

Notes for ‘Honey Blossom’:
Top: Mimosa, linden blossom CO2
Heart: Orange blossom absolute, phenyl ethyl alcohol
Base: Ambergris, benzoin

Notes for ‘Wildflowers’:
Hay, wildflowers, Mexican lime

‘Honey Blossom’ and ‘Wildflowers‘ are available from the Aftelier website, from Scent and Sensibility for UK customers, and from Sündhaft.

Devilscent – Part Four


– An update from the Producer and his apprentice…

No kidding, there I was, looking like death warmed up and microwaved four times too many, in my writing uniform of hair up in a plastic clip, bare scrubbed face, black yoga pants and a now-vintage black t-shirt that proclaimed on the back in orange letters: “Only the dead know Brooklyn.” Everything went so well with the Rouge Noir on my toes. The house was quiet, Spider-Man Jr. asleep and even the cats were crashed on the window sill, no doubt gathering strength for their usual 3 AM marital spat.

My desk was an absolute mess of stenographer’s pad, tea cup (it being Tuesday and all), and my iPod playing something that was, in fact, from Brooklyn. (See the t-shirt.)I also had an incredible collection of tiny extrait strength vials of the most amazing essences on Planet Earth. Doc Elly had indeed sent me a new package, and did she ever go to town with this one! Patchouli, cinnamon leaf, benzoin, opoponax, vetiver from Haiti and Sri Lanka, black and white vanilla and, and, and…something so utterly unearthly and vegetal at the same time, not even Ms. Verbosity 2011 could find the words to describe it. My New Oxford Thesaurus couldn’t find the words. When Oxford gives up, it’s …unearthly. Otherworldly.

I was…happy. This was like playing with sixty-four Crayola crayons, but for a ‘fumehead. Oh, the possibilities! Only this time, I was doing the responsible thing. I wrote down every addition onto my watercolor paper in order and approximate proportion and marveled yet again how Doc Elly did it. (Artist grade watercolor paper holds scent incredibly well. I recommend Arches and Fabriano)

This time, he really freaked me out. No warning, and that was his usual style, but this time, he tickled the back of my neck and made my hackles rise. Next thing I knew, he was on his usual chair up against the wall, one eyebrow cocked mockingly. Looking not like I usually saw him, which was that secret face no one knew, but like his current favorite disguise sans aviator shades.

“Having fun yet, baby?”

I plotzed all over my keyboard. My earbuds dropped out on their own volition. “Oh, hell! Couldn’t you at least send me a text message first?” I was frantically smoothing strands of hair out of my face, checking my phone for the date. May 24th. The Devil. Had to be.

I hated when he did that.

“No. Where’s the fun of that? I like catching you by surprise.” He cackled.

“Never.” If the Devil’s sausage casing came from a state that liked to think it invented sarcasm as an art form, then I could be sarcastic, too.

“What have you got on that blotter?” he pointed to the paper square on my desk.

“Round four, I think. Twelve different things including that surprise.” I waved it under his nose.

His nostrils flared. “Smells like…hmmm…the world’s cleanest orgy? The Ringling Bros’ Bacchanal? No elephants allowed today, and we charge extra for admitting tigers on Tuesdays.”

I laughed. “Not quite the effect I was looking for.”

“Nope.” He reached out and began opening vials at incredible speed. In no time at all, six different things were dripped onto blotter number two. He reached for the first box, stuffed with labdanum, frankincense and other divinities. Another sniff. A drop of choya loban, which is essence of burnt Boswellia. He reached for that unearthly thing again. “This…” he waved the tiny vial in his fingers, “blows my mind, if not my nose.”

I sipped my tea, lukewarm by now. “Mine, too. I like the name, and I like the idea of using it. I’ve never seen that anywhere.”

“Nope. Here…” he passed it beneath my nose. “What do you think?”

I sniffed. It was very different from the first blotter and a long way away from the bass line of our last round. It was very heady, very dark, and somehow both otherworldly and earthy at the same time. The frankincense came through loud and clear, and the labdanum had been tamed. It was that…thing, that amazing, incredible thing. Green and bitter, smoky and earthy, and yet like nothing else I had ever encountered.

When I closed my eyes and sniffed, I could almost hear a faraway voice singing down a long, echoing corridor, a story about a woman who never sold her soul to the Devil, but he took it all the same…

“Needs more sex.” The Devil reached for another vial. Before I could regret it, I blurted “Don’t we all?”

“Hush. Has anyone told you you’re crazy?” He shook his head and narrowed his eyes at the jumble of vials. He found what he was looking for and added some. Total concentration.

“Only my Rice Krispies this morning. And the voices in my head,” I sassed back.

He dropped the vial with a clatter onto my desk, tipped his chair back against the wall and laughed. “It’s called writer’s disease, baby. Or congenital insanity, I’m not sure which!”

“Try it now.” He waved blotter number two under my nose. “Close your eyes, listen with your nose. Can you hear it? That slow, bass drum 4/4, and here comes the bass just above it, just a tritone…and now, a slow guitar, three chords, just slightly ominous…still the bass, still the drums…and an echo of a broken heart and a dream come true but all dreams have a price tag, don’t they…breathe it in, baby…”

I breathed it in. If I concentrated, I could still hear that faraway voice, the Devil took her soul all the same…

He broke the spell when he landed his chair back on all four legs. Blotter number one was sweeter, if no less gorgeous, but blotter number two was dangerous, unearthly, bitter, and very, very dark.

“We’ll try again in a day or so. Gotta go.” He stood up, smoothed back a few errant strands of hair that escaped my clip. “Write about it.” He whispered in my ear. “You know how. Find an editor for your book. You need one badly. Oh, and one more thing.”

I tore my proboscis away from the blotter and looked up. Damn it, it was so distracting when he looked like that. On a day I looked like microwaved death. It just wasn’t fair.

“Yes, Master?” I answered in my best Lurch impression.

He whispered again. “Cinderella is going to the ball. Check your email.” He turned around with that classic five-year-old grin. “I’ll send a pumpkin to collect you!”

With a laugh that hung in the air above my desk like the scents we had just made, he disappeared.

All that was left to do for the day was to write about it. So I did.

Image: *grim-inc at DeviantArt

Devilscent – Part Three


– Meanwhile, from the producer and his accomplice…

I never know when I’ll look up from my notebook or my laptop and there he’ll be on one of my kitchen chairs, tipped back against the wall, giving me his best dirty-boy look. He’s usually looking at the increasing pile of samples in boxes piled up on my printer. To be fair, I haven’t seen him in a while. Sometimes, he looks like himself, sometimes like one of his many disguises. Last night, he looked like himself, or at least that self I’ve come to know.

“You’ve got a surprise coming in the mail, baby.”

I looked up from the blog I was reading, and considering the bombshell I was trying to imagine from the words on that blog, that says a lot.

“I do?” This had been known to happen. Surprises usually came in windowed envelopes and were also known as ‘bills’. On rare occasions, they came in bubblepack envelopes from remote locations and had been known to cause spontaneous whoops of joy and a flurry of air guitar. “Oh, hell. It’s you again.”

“Yeah. Miss me?” The grin on his face was nowhere near five years old, but more like fifteen. It would be better described as a leer.

I’m not stupid. This was an entity – or a muse – that could cause writer’s block, imagination overload, impulse CD and DVD buys and the creation of a certain type of literature I could only publish under a pseudonym. “Always.”

“Cool! As I said, Doc Elly’s been busy. She’s found a few things to…throw in the mix. The ball is rolling, baby. This will be good.”

“Really? Like what?”

The chair landed with a thud on its legs and he leaned closer. His voice dropped lower. “Stuff no one else has ever used. And stuff that’s rarely used. Special stuff.”

“Oh! Did she say anything else?”

“Well, not exactly. She posted a cute picture of a satyr playing the pipes for a swooning mortal.”

“I saw that. I don’t know that you make me swoon.” I closed my laptop with a click. “Maybe you should.”

“Maybe…” The Devil helped himself to my lone glass of Friday night prosecco. “And maybe you should watch a little less TV and write a little more, read a few less blogs.”

“Oh, c’mon. It was one documentary. It was Sir Richard Burton, the explorer. I had to see that.”

He laughed. “Here’s what I know. I’ve been asleep on the job. There’s a perfume to make. We’ve got…something going on in that little black box.”

“The bass line. Wasn’t that what you called it?” It was more like a hard rocking lineup to die for, but I didn’t say that. He was the Devil. No reason to point out the obvious.

“A little drum, a lot of bass…we need more…percussion. Some rhythm, the beginnings of a riff, a melody line. A perfume that’ll make the whole world swoon.”

“I thought that was your job.” I reached out for my glass of prosecco, but he refused to hand it over.

“It is.” He drained the glass and placed it back on my desk. “Here’s your job.” He opened up my laptop, typed the password I didn’t need to tell him, and I found myself looking at an empty Word page.

“Write about it, baby.” He stood up, walked over and whispered in my ear. “You know you want to.”

When I looked up again, he was gone. I knew he would be back. He wanted to smell what happened next with that little black box.

Image: Hezico’s Tarot

Devilscent – Part Two: The Samples


- a conversation with the Devil

Dev was waiting for me when I came home this afternoon feeling rather frazzled. Cool as anything, he pulled up a chair next to my desk and nodded toward a small black box.

“You know we have some work to do here, right?” He tipped back his chair against the wall.

“Dude, I’m wiped. Toast. I’ve had a monthful of days. I need a vacation.”

“I know. You need better excuses. Later, baby.”

“You would say that.”

“I’m a fictional character, I can say whatever I please. And I say we have some samples to look at.”

“So you’re saying that Doc Elly took the bait?”

“Sink, line, bait and hook. This will be a hit. She can smell it, too. Open up the box.”

“Yes, Master.” Inside nestled neatly labeled small test vials of six different frankincense extracts, steam-distilled and CO2, four kinds of labdanum, and four other essences best described as “Hazardous To Your Fevered Imagination”.

I dug out my sample blotters. “Where do you want to start?”

“Hmm.” First, he stuck his entire nose in the box and breathed it in. “Holy…no, I can’t say that on a perfume blog. And you can’t write that, either. This is potent stuff.” He reached out for a vial labeled ‘labdanum absolute’. “Sexy! You were looking for a whiff of goat, right?”

“That’s the idea. Well, you know…it’s the animal thing. You’ve got to have a little…animal in there. You are.” I cast my beady, bleary eyes at those frankincense vials.

“Not nearly so much as you.”

“Shut up. I know I’m a 130 lb chimp with a bad attitude, OK? Dude, we’ve got a perfume to make.”

“So we do.” He tipped a drop or two of Boswellia sacra and serrata onto the blotting paper and waved it under his nose. “Ummm…it needs something.” Labdanum, a touch of CO2, and a mystery labeled with a name followed by ‘Givaudan’. “I hate having to watch my language, but…oh, yeah. This is great. This is sinful.” He dug into the box. “Here’s another Ingredient X. I was excited about this one, but it’s not what I expected.” He added a drop of it and jiggled it under my nose. “So whaddaya think?”

“I think I need coffee, is what.” That frankincense was so…relaxing. I’d curl up under that desert tree any day.

“Get a grip. We have work to do.” The most incredible aroma was wafting around the room. He added a little oud. “Needs more goat.” He pulled out a vial. “Not enough. There’s labdanum and frankincense in a catfight on that blotter, and I can’t tell which one is winning.”

“My money is on the labdanum.”

“It would be. You can’t get enough of that stuff.”

“Hush. You like it, too.” I added Boswellia neglecta. “Oh, baby. I just hit the oh-zone layer. So that’s why it’s thinning.”

“And fully dressed, too!” he laughed. “So…we’re getting something like a base going here. Neglecta…is lemony. Not what I expected.” He sniffed again. “We need more sin.” Another drop of Givaudan sin.

“Any more sin, and I’ll be burned as a heretic,” I heard myself say. Already, my senses were reeling. “How Doc Elly does this, I don’t know.”

“I do.” Green labdanum absolute dripped down. That blotter should be banned, I caught myself thinking as I sniffed. It was heady. It was dangerous. It was glorious. It was very nearly the drop-dead sexiest thing I had stuck my nose in since Boxeuses. I hoped he wouldn’t wear it. I didn’t have anything left to sell.

“OK. We’ve got the rhythm now. We’ve got the bass line.” The Devil waved the blotter under my nose, and I breathed it all the way in. Danger. Dark. Devil. Oh, yes.

“Now,” he said after a while, “all we’re missing is a melody line and a lead guitar…”

to be continued…

The Devil’s Brief


I received an email from Doc Elly early this morning about something she found in her inbox, and I rather suspect you might be interested, so without further ado, head over to her blog, Perfume Project NW, for further details!

And big thanks to Bloody Frida, who gave me the perfect word for my own reaction:

SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

Yes, I’m excited. So I’ll slink away into the shadows again and get back to that Other Thing I Had To Do…

;)

Tarot Card: Guiseppe Lama, Voodoo Chilli