An Otherworldly Shortcut

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-  a fragrant Halloween tale inspired by the Clarimonde and Devilscent Projects

If not for the extra bottle of wine he drank at his mother’s birthday party, he would have done the sensible thing like a sensible man and called for a cab to take him home that night.

Yet somewhere between the family reunion with his nieces and nephews to fuss over, the bottles of Barolo throughout dinner, his brothers to argue with over the port with dessert, and his mother’s beaming, happy face across the length of the dining table, it seemed like a good idea.

A simple stroll along a familiar path through the beech woods, a shortcut to his downtown apartment that would get him home in an hour, and a chance to clear the wine and the evening from his head, his mind and the sense that he was the black sheep of the family, somehow he was the one who had failed the clan by not conforming to the prescribed script of adulthood with his esoteric tastes and alternate lifestyle, a lifestyle his more conformist brothers would never understand.

It would be so easy; he had walked it a million times in a million different moods and at all hours of the day and night since childhood. He knew every twist and turn and tree through these woods, knew where it dipped down to the stream and rose again with the steep hills toward downtown. His feet knew to watch where the voles dug their holes and burrows in the path by the shading of the leaves, knew where to turn left towards the dell to avoid the long, steep climb to the outskirts of town.

How hard could it be? An hour’s exercise. A clear head at the end of it and the knowledge that his familial duties were over for another year until the next time, the next birthday, and the next soul-crushing sense of filial failure.

So he laughed and waved away the offers for a drive home that night, and set out along the bridle path behind his childhood home with its ancient half-timbered walls and the welcoming glow of its lighted windows towards the towering beeches that guarded the entrance to the woods.

The air was a little colder than usual this late October night. No moon broke through the clouds this close to a New Moon. The only sounds he heard were his own muffled footsteps on the carpet of beech leaves beneath him and a lone owl hooting on the distance on an errand of its own. He breathed in the earthy mushroom scent of damp, molding leaves and tasted the steely, mineral taste of impending winter behind it, sensed a hint of the fallen apples in his mother’s orchard behind him with their sweet, vinegar tang of decay.

As his eyes grew more used to the dark, he saw too, how a rising silver ribbon of mist swirled and eddied and wove itself around the tree trunks, as if winding an Ariadne thread of its own for him to follow through the woods, so he would not be lost…

The very idea! He had walked in these woods since the age of three. That would be impossible when he knew nearly every tree and log by heart, knew that so long as he stayed on the path, his feet would find their own way home from sheer force of habit.

The damp made him pull up the collar of his jacket and burrow his hands a little deeper in his pockets, although he knew he would soon be warm enough so long as he kept his steady pace.

The beech woods were an eerie place at night. Now the street lights were behind him and he had only his night vision to rely upon, it seemed rustles in the leaves and whispers just behind him hovered just beyond his ability to hear, and surely, his eyes played tricks on his mind in the dark? A fleeting glimpse of a woman materialized out of nowhere, glowing with a light of her own in the shadows, but when he turned to look, no such entity stood by that beech, it was all… a superstitious trick of his mind.

Well, it was Halloween, after all.

This beech wood was his own, he had claimed it since childhood, there was nothing to fear here, no wolves in hiding among beneath the boughs, no wild things to make his blood tremble in his veins.

Just his mind playing tricks.

Further along the path, another spectral, human figure, a figure glowing with that same eerie, translucent light, pointing down the path to where…

Nothing more ominous loomed than yet another beech, wrapped up snug in the thickening mist that emanated from everywhere and nowhere.

Fog. It was fog. A cloud came down to kiss the ground, he recited from an old childhood poem, and kept his steady pace.

The night hush of the forest deepened. He heard himself breathe as he walked, a little heavier now, but the rustles and near inaudible whispers faded to silence, and all was quiet except for his footfalls treading softly upon the damp leaves.

All was quiet, almost too quiet for a forest at night. Until an owl right above his head hooted loudly once, twice, three times, and startled him so badly, he nearly ran off the path.

He shook his head, as if to clear away that unnerving feeling in his bones and the wine from his blood. Nothing caught his attention on this misty path, no ghosts hid to scare him behind the tree trunks.

It was all his own twisted imagination, or else that Barolo, or was it that chocolate-y, supernatural port with his dessert? He walked a little faster.

Another owl just ahead hooted once, twice, three times. And straight ahead on the path in front of him, an elaborate Venetian carnival mask on the ground by a tree winked at him with fiery violet eyes, and a perfume, so out of place in the woods and yet so very wild and untamed, so very much richer and denser than any wet leaves and wintry tang wove its way around the boughs along the path and sent his senses reeling.

Where was he? This was nowhere he knew on this old, familiar path, this was not the way home!

In a clearing in the forest, a bonfire burned brightly through the dark October night, burned the mist to memory on the clearing’s edge, and strangely dressed figures turned away from the flames to study him as he stood stupefied by the sight.

Just beyond the bonfire at the base of an ancient oak sat a figure he thought he knew from somewhere, a man not tall and not young, in clothes so strangely dark only his face and hands showed in the firelight.

“Come closer, young man. I’ve been calling you. It takes a while for you to hear, doesn’t it?”

The small group clustered around him as he stood on the path, as if to push him closer to the man in black. He had no choice but to skirt the roaring bonfire and approach him.

“Who are you?” he finally summoned up the courage to ask.

Above his head, an owl echoed his words, once, twice three times. “Who? Who? Who?”

“Ah.” The man laughed, an easy, relaxed laugh that told of long history and longer secrets. “I have so many names. You may call me Dev. Many people do these days. Many more will know me soon enough.”

“Dev? And what are you doing here?”

“You mean you don’t know?” The man motioned to the group that surrounded them. They began to murmur among themselves, some sibilant whisper he could almost but not quite comprehend. “Very well. I’m what you may call… a muse. Among other things. But tonight is my night off, so to say. This night, the veil wears thin between your world and mine, and you were the one to walk through and into it. This night, I call forth those who were to dance a measure with those who are, so they will not be forgotten, and you will not forget.”

What was it that defined this strange man in black to his mind? Was it that disturbing scent that wove itself around him like a cloak of deeper blackness?

Was it the group that stood with them in the forest clearing? They were dressed as if for a costume ball in eighteenth-century clothes, here a prelate in his long black cassock and his gleaming white collar and his sacred air of sanctity and smoke, there an elegant dandy fiddling with his extravagant Valenciennes lace cuffs and a dreamy, faraway expression in his eyes, a woman who sparkled like rubies and pearls in the firelight in her finery, and half-hidden at the back of the crowd, another woman, tall, luminous and blonde, a woman such as he never even knew existed except in his most secret, fevered dreams…

The man in black clapped his hands and more strangely dressed figures appeared in the clearing, some with the starched collars of the seventeenth century, and others with the crinolines, tournures, topcoats and stovepipe hats of the nineteenth.

A plaintive violin rang out in the night, a tune to break the heart beneath the boughs, when it was joined by another tune, a happier, faster melody that quickened his blood and made him want to move. An unseen hand in the dark passed him a glass filled with what appeared to be ruby port. He drank down its rich, decadent depths without a thought, without a care, and before he was even aware of it, joined in the whirl of the dancers around the fire because he could not resist if he tried.

He wanted to laugh, he wanted to sing, and above all, he wanted to forget any other moment or any other place existed as he danced around the bonfire.

He breathed in, and breathed out, a delirious, dizzy laugh, and next thing he knew, the tall, blonde woman he saw at the edge of the crowd stood beside him, as lustrous and as luminous as the fire itself.

“Dev-“ she turned toward the man in black on his oak trunk throne, “you chose him well. He is as like to my Romuald as one drop of water to another!”

The man in black bowed in acknowledgment, and winked at her.

She laughed, a happy, sensuous laugh, and as he stood beside her and breathed in her dark, delirious, deliciously heady scent, the scent that told his blood of all her many secrets, his heart seemed to fly right out of his chest with joy. He pulled her closer, and as she shifted and sighed and snuggled into his arms, he never noticed the silvery gleam in her eyes, never noticed how she snuggled so close to him, was much too preoccupied to notice a tiny pinprick on his neck. All he knew was the woman in his arms, the firelight and laughter in her eyes and the bonfire in his blood. So he whirled around the fire, so he laughed and drank down that delicious wine, so he pulled this woman who called herself Clarimonde aside and knew of all that made her so, knew indeed nothing at all else but how to drown in the silvery, otherworldly gleam in her eyes…

When he woke, he was leaned up against a tree trunk and it was early morning, the first light of day bouncing off the water of the fiord and glimpsed through the trees. As he stood and shook himself all over to clear the cobwebs, loosen up his stiff, cold muscles and what surely must have been some strange and eerie dream, he never noticed the tiny pinprick as he pulled his scarf higher on his neck and walked along the path towards home.

___________________________________________________

For Lucy.

Please also see Indieperfumes Clarimonde memorial post here. With thanks to the perfumers and fellow writers of the Clarimonde Project.

The Best of 2012 – Phrases, Friends and Facilitators

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

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

Because I’m not a blogger at all.

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That Devil Thang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find all the DSP reviews here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Charlie Brown would say… “Good grief!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned for part Three – Worn and Adored!

The Road to Redemption

- Confessions of a perfume writer

Once upon a time so very long ago, a girl of fourteen – that awkward age poised between childhood and womanhood, yearning to become yet hesitant to evolve – walked into a world-renowned store on the Champs Elysées in Paris.

So much of Paris had already taken her breath away. She was raised with an appreciation of beauty, knew something of the scope and scale of all art and many artists, of artistic merit and dedication, but the idea that an entire culture could define itself around an ideal of beauty and the art of the beautiful with its hints of unsettling and peculiar, even beauty’s peculiar art – this caused a seismic shift in her awareness and made her see life with new eyes, and this moment about to happen, just as she herself, would redefine both her and her aesthetic – forever.

See her as she was then – small, slight, reddish-blonde and green-eyed. She was too young to need artifice to enhance her, too curious and questioning to accept it and yet, she intuitively knew with one glance upon those hallowed doors that behind them lay secrets. The secrets that would push her over the edge with one sensory impression, the secrets that would help her evolve and become the woman she is, even today.

That young girl was me, and if I were to point to the ten most defining moments of my life, the moments that changed me forever, this moment on a May day in the year 1977 would be one of those pivotal moments.

The store was the Guerlain flagship store, and my mother – a very stylish, self-aware redhead with an acute appreciation of both her own beauty and everything required to enhance it, had chosen this day, this moment as her daughter’s rite of passage. The door was the threshold to a new and foreign land – the land of femininity.

I can still recall that first intake of breath in that rarified, fragrant air, still remember the sales assistant with her charming accent as she took us to a quiet sofa nook and sent for tea and another selection of everything that made Guerlain justly famous. I can remember that I already rejected my mother’s perfume loves out of hand – Shalimar and Mitsouko were hers alone and not for me. I can remember all those pre-reformulation wonders I tried that day – the rich olfactory, slightly melancholy confection of L’Heure Bleue, the heart-stopping fraîcheur of Après L’Ondée, the powdery sensuality of Voilette de Madame, the wake-up call that was Chamade. So many stories in those bottles, so many secrets whispering in those sparkling golden depths – but which one would I choose for my own? What story, what secrets would define me or define me as the woman I so desperately wanted to be?

In the end, I boiled my choices down to three. Jicky – abstract, audacious, playfully green yet flirtatious, the violet-drenched Après L’Ondée, and the supremely elegant, mossy charm of Sous le Vent.

When we walked out two hours later, I wafted a veritable cloud of Jicky and carried my first ever quadrilobe bottle of extrait. If it were good enough for my literary idol Colette, then who was I to argue?

Half an hour later and for the first time, I had my derrière pinched by an anonymous Frenchman in the Métro during rush hour. This told me I was now and forevermore on to something huge.

The allure – of perfume.

For many, many years after, I defined myself through my choices in perfume as I went on to other bottled loves. I rarely met a chypre I didn’t love – Miss Dior, Dioressence, Fidji, Cabochard, Rive Gauche, Chanel no. 19, Calandre, Bandit – and even if I passed over Shalimar’s Oriental allure, I still wore and adored Narcisse Noir, Coco, Magie Noir and Panthère, none of them precisely suitable for blushing wallflowers. On other days, YSL’s Paris trailed behind me, converting a former florally averse post-punk Goth catastrophe into a dedicated lover of what I came to call the Epitome of Rose.

All my perfume days and fragrant nights went on…with those I loved and those I abhorred (Giorgio!, Poison) and those I only wore in certain moods and mindsets. (Bandit!) The ones my friends either loved or hated (Narcisse Noir), the ones that slayed paramours (Magie Noir, Panthère, Coco) and impressed up-and-coming rock stars. (Cabochard. LOTS.) The one that landed me not one, but two dream jobs (Chanel no. 19 eau de parfum).

Until that fateful day not so very long ago when all my beautiful bottles were empty, and I couldn’t afford to replace them at all. I was left with orange-scented body butter and shower gel yet it was nowhere near enough. In some indefinable way, I felt diminished and invisible. I left no scent trail behind me, could no longer manifest my presence as I had become accustomed to, was no longer able to declare my intentions – dishonorable or otherwise. When I complained about it however, I came to discover that particular disdain non-perfumoholics display towards our affliction/habit/vice.

“Why? It’s only perfume, after all!”

But it wasn’t, it never was, and it certainly isn’t – even today, even after over two years as a perfume blogger and even despite all I’ve come to know about the subject matter, the talents who create it or the industry that sustains it.

So there I was – virtually scentless, undefined, invisible. A very sorry sad state of affairs. How it happened, I’m not entirely sure, but somewhere – I suspect it was MakeUpAlley – I began reading reviews – about perfumes, and again, there was this small, seismic shift in my awareness – and even in the woman who had caught the writing bug some years before, since the idea that you could write about it snagged on a cogwheel in my mind. The name of one dead-exclusive perfume house kept popping up in these conversations about brands I had never heard of in my part of the world, and its perfumes were described as “bottled emotions.” How did you do that? Were they really? Could any perfume justify the superlatives heaped on this particular brand?

This explains why I stood one day in the fall of 2003 in Albuquerque’s one and only niche perfume store. Their tag line got me in the door. “We have no common scents.” They sold an extensive range of Creed, Annick Goutal and Comptoir Sud Pacifique among many others – but even they were flummoxed by my question, had never heard of this Paris-based house.

I tried to gratify that olfactory itch in other ways, resorting in my desperation to the visual perfume porn catalogs of niche retailers, trying to conjure those wonders from overblown ad copy/a list of notes.

By this time, perfume blogs arrived, each of them writing about perfumes in their own ways with their own voices, irreverent, scholarly and poetic, conjuring the genies I was so desperate to try and still couldn’t. That same name kept popping up. You can imagine my radioactive level of curiosity by now.

It lasted six years until I could finally bear it not one millisecond longer. It took three weeks of agonizing through my well-thumbed English-French dictionary, banging my head on the keyboard over my own spinelessness and last but never least the admonition to my easily intimidated self that I’d be damned if they intimidated me…before I hit ‘send’ on the email to the Palais Royal in Paris and requested ‘Les Petits Livres’, those little leaflets of wax perfumes from that brand name of perfume superlatives…Serge Lutens.

For the second time in my life, my olfactory universe shook, shifted and changed…forever. Here were the fragrant epiphanies I craved, the odes to the beautiful yet wondrously strange, here were the epic storylines and yes, the bottled emotions I also thought I would never find.

A few months later, I had a truly radical idea one vacation night after the third glass of wine. There were quite a few – if nowhere so many as today – perfume blogs out there. Maybe, just maybe – I could write about perfume, too? At the time, I was in the final throes of writing my novel. Believe it or not, there really was such a thing as…too much testosterone bomb and total rock’n’roll overload.

I wanted to write something pretty, something frilly to wrap my words around. In other words (all puns intended), shouldn’t I be able to do that, too? I wanted the pursuit of the ephemerally beautiful and the ability to communicate it with my words. The worst thing that could happen – so I thought that night in my pleasantly tipsy state – would be to make me a better writer. How bad could it be?

Famous last words.

I never, ever – and this isn’t false modesty on my part – thought anyone at all would want to read what I wrote, or that I had anything unique to contribute to the ongoing conversation. Not until I came across Olympic Orchids, won a sample in a draw, and wrote my first reviews of a true niche perfumer did I realize there might be something there, something I could do, something…new. That was my third olfactory earthquake.

When Lucy of Indieperfumes (a titanically talented, FiFi award-nominated perfume writer herself) introduced herself to me, the fourth seismic shift occurred. Everything that has happened since in my fragrant life has happened because of Lucy and her never-ending encouragement, the many things she has taught me, the introductions she has made on my behalf and her sincere friendship, and for that, I’m far, far more grateful than she knows.

Since then, I’m more than a little thrilled to have met and to know – in a virtual sense, and in some cases, through many phone and Skype conversations – many other perfume writers and bloggers. I have reasons now to visit five different continents. Much to my own surprise not least, I’ve had the supreme privilege to meet both perfumers and Creative Directors, and above all else, to connect with so many incredibly smart, creative people who think like I do, feel as I do, who recognize a kindred soul on a perpetual quest for…that next redolent epiphany, and even so, have opened up in so many ways to a perfume loner in an overlooked part of the world.

What I’ve learned…never say never. A category you hate can very well become a category you love. Sometimes, a challenging, complex perfume can take five or more tries to ‘get’, and sometimes, it can happen in five milliseconds. Sometimes, you can’t ‘get’ the concept no matter how many times you try. The best money I’ve ever spent on perfume (not counting decants of the ones I can’t afford to buy – yet) was, in order, a sample order from First in Fragrance (which introduced me to Amouage and reintroduced me to an old love, Robert Piguet’s Bandit), and another from Opus Oils. (Yes!) Not counting the times I’ve been able to send off a few of my already reviewed and/or When Hell freezes-reviews/marvels to the friends scattered across Planet Perfume, because that has made me happy, too.

I’ve learned that no matter what I do or how hard I try, I can’t write like anyone else but me. Perfume is likely the hardest subject matter to communicate besides quantum mechanics and sex. It’s hardly a coincidence they’re al three related – and more than you think.

I’ve learned that sometimes you have all the best intentions in the world but alas, intentions are the last things to matter in that evocative, haunted space between the mind and the keyboard. Sometimes, I want to tell a story instead of write a straight-up review, and sometimes, the perfume wants a story when I want a straight-up review.

I’ve learned a few things about friendship, and having more than a little faith restored in my own gender. Perfume and words may have been the root cause of these connections, but not a few have blossomed into thriving, irreverent friendships far beyond them.

In these last few weeks, while waiting for my new apartment to be finished, while being unable to write any new perfume reviews (I have my writerly superstitions there, too), I’ve also come to realize just how much I miss that fragrant landscape of my own making.

It’s only perfume. But perfume meant that I finished my first novel and gave up hair dye for nine long months so I could buy myself the ultimate liquid prize – my first (and only, so far) bell jar.

Perfume meant that I’m writing these words so at least 92 people can read them. It’s only perfume, but that’s what I breathe for, almost what I live for, and certainly why I write about it in that perpetual pursuit of the beautiful that began with a girl on the Champs Elysées and ended with a jaded writer and her Famous Last Words.

It’s only perfume. How bad can it be?

It’s only perfume. Yet somehow without even being aware of it, perfume…redeemed me. And made me the writer I am today.

How good it can be!

Clarimonde Revisited

- At the crossroads of narrative, perfume and prose 

One of the greatest joys and highest privileges in my time as a perfume blogger has been the opportunity to participate in what I can only describe as …magic.

Instead of wrestling with concepts and angles, wondering how to write about any given perfume, the concept is already a given. Instead of wrangling ghosts in solitude, I could write away to my heart’s content, happy knowing that other bloggers wrote as I did, that perfumers felt as I do. As we did, as even I did, we each in our own ways created something that became larger, lusher and far more lustrous than any of us or our readers could have anticipated.

This was – and still is – known as The Clarimonde Project, named for the 1836 Théophile Gautier story La Morte Amoureuse, or as it was known when it was translated in 1907, simply – Clarimonde. The haunting, evocative story of the young priest Romuald who was destined for the seminary and had never known any other love than God’s, and how it all fell away in an instant the moment he looked up at his ordination and saw the celebrated courtesan Clarimonde and in an instant, all he knew and loved and believed fell away…or did it? Did he dream of his other, alternate life as Clarimonde’s beloved, or was it only too real and his old life as a priest of God the dream? Was Clarimonde simply a woman of incandescent beauty, or was she as Romuald’s abbot claimed, the vilest form of monster, renounced as vile as the sins Romuald surely  – or maybe – committed with her? Just as Romuald’s fevered prose, the story shapeshifts and changes each time you read it or listen to Joy Chan’s spellbinding reading of the story.

The Clarimonde Project is the brainchild of my dear friend and fellow blogger Lucy of Indieperfumes, and has since grown to involve not just some truly haunting perfumes, but also a Pinterest page and the inspiration for a masquerade ball and a three-day event at MiN New York to start on October 25th. Tickets to the event can be found here.

But it began…with the story, which can be read online here, or enjoyed as an audio file read by Joy Chan at this link, which is highly recommended.

It continued with bespoke perfumes, lipstains, and a dream pillow created by Monica Miller of Perfume Pharmer, Mandy Aftel of Aftelier, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Ayala Moriel Sender and the House of Cherry Bomb by Maria McElroy of Aroma M and Alexis Karl by Scents By Alexis.

So it evolved…into some of the best perfume writing to be found anywhere by some of the very best perfume writers in the blogosphere.

For the story of Romuald and Clarimonde – courtesan, woman, Woman or supernatural aberration – grew into other stories and other words, all of them a surrender…to the beauty of Gautier’s story and to the beauty of the perfumes that story inspired.

Of all my many, many words in my two years writing about perfume, I can say for myself that I have never written as I did for Clarimonde before or since. To this day, they all remain my very best perfume writing, just as the privilege to participate in something so special, so haunting and so magical is an honor I will cherish –  always. 

The Clarimonde Project on the Alembicated Genie:

Sangre – perfume and lipstains by Monica Miller: Blood and Kisses

Aftelier PerfumesOud Luban: The Sanctity of Solace

House of Cherry Bomb’s Immortal Mine: A Philter Perilous

Ayala Moriel Sender’s ‘Clarimonde': Dreaming Venetian

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz‘ ‘Paradise Lost': Reclaiming Eternity

The Perfume Pharmer’s reviews of
Oud Luban
Immortal Mine
Ayala Moriel’s Clarimonde
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ Paradise Lost

Jade Dressler

Deana Sidney’s (LostPastRemembered) post on Clarimonde, vampire lore and the perils of perfumed port

Scent Hive
Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Indieperfumes’ reviews of
Sangre
Oud Luban
Immortal Mine
Ayala Moriel’s Clarimonde
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ Paradise Lost

Beth of PerfumeSmellin Things: The Clarimonde Project:

The Clarimonde Project on WordPress

Clarimonde on Pinterest

Image: ‘Barbaric Red’ – via the Clarimonde Pinterest page, pinned from Hoop Skirts & Corsets

The Genie’s Split-Second Blogoversary! (with a giveaway!)

Two years ago today, I was in a rather sorry state. For almost nine consecutive months, I had my head and imagination submerged in a story that seemed to come out of nowhere and everywhere, a story I was compelled to write for reasons I didn’t understand. I had three readers at the time clamoring to know what happened next, and I had precisely three chapters left to finish it. The trouble was, after spending nine months in the company of testosterone bombs, leather, darkness, Lilith, far too much sex, emotional rollercoasters and the harder fringes of rock’n’roll, I was in dire need of virtual estrogen – and thoroughly bored with testosterone.

I never suspected that would happen, either!

On the night of July 31th, I stared into a third glass of wine and had a wild idea.

I could write a perfume blog.

I’d been reading them long enough and loyally enough, learning, lemming and laughing as I went. I thought that the worst thing that could happen was it might – in some alternate, dream-on universe – improve my writing if it did nothing else. After all, how hard could it be? That night, I created Scent Less Sensibilities where my very first review was Balmain’s Ivoire, a perennial favorite even today.

Whatever my spurious reasons, the distraction tactic worked. Six days later – nine months to the day I began – I wrote ‘The End’ to my story, and to celebrate, I made a pact with myself – the kind of pact any perfumoholic will understand if no one else will.

For every defining moment in my book’s journey to publication, I would celebrate with…a bell jar.

Today, it is among my most prized possessions. I hope to see a few siblings join it soon in my perfume cabinet. Especially since I still have nine bell jars left on my wish list.

Along the way…I learned a lot, about writing, about perfume, about how I write about perfume and how to plant that passion on the virtual page. I have sniffed more marvels than I could ever have imagined in the days I had no perfume at all. Although I haven’t loved all the ones I have sniffed, I’ve liked many and love many more today than I ever have before.

What I learned

Writing about perfume is without question the most difficult writing anyone can do with the possible exception of erotica. (They’re more closely related than you think!) There were times I had to ‘park’ a review for days, weeks, or in one instance over a month and even after tearing my hair out and fifteen drafts, it still wasn’t what I really wanted to say. On one occasion, it didn’t matter what I did. My words went one way, the perfumes another. Oh, well. Next time. Or so I hope.

I learned a lot about my limitations as a writer – that no matter how I try or what I do, the writer will out before the perfume critic, and that’s just how it works for me. I admire and adore so many excellent perfume writers who do what I can’t and go where I don’t. Having said that, I could quote from one of my own reviews here. ‘I’m me. Deal with it.’ As of this writing, 65 of you do!

I learned about the astonishing generosity of the perfume community, not just in sending me samples of wonders I might not otherwise have known, but in welcoming an absolute beginner to the fray. That so many of you – perfume writers and bloggers yourselves – have done so much to welcome me, encourage me and offered your friendships along the way continues to takes my breath away even today.

I learned I had a Scent Twin! I never knew that anyone besides myself would have a love of ostentatious florals and take-no-prisoners chypres and even wipe ‘em off the floor leathers, yet I do. My admiration for Suzanne of Perfume Journal as an exceptional friend is only outdone by my certain conviction she’s twice the perfume writer I’ll ever be.

I learned to appreciate and distinguish different olfactory vocabularies and styles. I can close my eyes (I’ve tried it) and I can immediately determine who made it or conceived it, provided it’s someone whose work I’m familiar with.

I’ve learned that it is quite possible to wax impossibly purple and on occasion even inspired perfumed prose while listening to Nine Inch Nails. And Blackacidevil. As opposed to, say, Mozart. I do that sometimes, too.

I’ve learned that my samples tend to propagate while I sleep. It is so uncool to have an orgy and not invite me.

I learned to my complete dismay that there is a certain accord of notes I call ‘wet dog’ – I know no other way to describe it – which means there is an entire house I can never review, and also…that ‘wet dog’ accord is a note that terrifies me for some reason and I don’t know why. I’ve found this note in everything from mainstream – one Guerlain comes to mind – to artisanal. It’s not ambroxan or Iso E Super, because I’ve found it in al-natural perfumes as well as prestige brands.

I learned that whoever suggested layering Amouage Jubilation 25 with Serge Lutens’ Fleurs d’Oranger – each titanic perfumes in their own way – should be shot on sight without trial. Or else I should be shot for trying. I had an entire clowder of rabid, fighting, hissing cats on my skin that day.

I learned never, ever, ever, ever…to layer an Amouage. Ever. It will devour you if you do.

I learned that I will never know everything there is to know about perfume. This has been known to make me very happy.

I learned I’ll never be a 100% oud person.

I learned never to say ‘never’. Case in point: ambers. The exception? Layering an Amouage.

I learned that perfume geeks are the best people on Earth.

I learned that social media can change your life. It changed mine. Forever.

What I’ve loved

The thrill of discovery.

That perfume leads on to many roads, and some of them are paved with great intentions and amazing friendships that are based on many other things in common besides perfumes. Above all else, the people who make up my corner of Planet Perfume make me laugh, cry, howl, think and sniff something new – every day, and without them – which is to say, without YOU – my life and my world would be immeasurably poorer and smaller. Now you know.

I’ve loved meeting – in a virtual sense at least – some of the most spectacular olfactory talent on Earth. You know who you are. But do you also know how important you are to an unknown writer wannabe in BFE nowhere who is now unable to imagine life without you?

Well, you do now!

I’ve loved participating in group projects such as Clarimonde – among my own finest writing hours – and also the Devilscent Project. I have three upcoming group blog projects in the months ahead I can’t wait to begin. I love that synergy field between the same perfumes and the different interpretations, and the synergy between story and scent. I love to kick myself and think: ‘Damn! Why didn’t I think about that?’

I’ve loved reading each and every one of my favorite blogs each and every day. But I’ve hated not always having the time to comment as often or as much as I liked. But on the other hand…maybe that’s a good thing?

I’ve loved each and every comment to each and every blog post I’ve received. I still do. And I always, always will!

I’ve loved to see the name of a perfume friend light up on my phone, a friend who says “We’ll have to make this short, darling, I have so much to DO, but I just wanted to hear how you are.” Two hours later, we’re still talking. About perfume, among other things. We could happily do it for six hours more in person, I’m sure. Just as I’m sure that some day, we will.

I’ve loved each and every hilarious Twitter exchange. They’ve made many days so much better and brighter.

I’ve loved getting strange looks from my mailman. I’m sure he thinks I’m doing a sideline in something criminal, he’s just too polite to say anything about it!

Thanks to a perfume-blogging mother, Super Mario Jr. has been known to insist on wearing perfume to school. Unfortunately, the only one he’ll wear is Memoir Man. This bodes ill in about seven years.

Serendipity

Winning a sample draw on Ellen Covey’s blog. Her work made me the perfume writer I since became. She was my gateway into the world of artisanal perfume. She was my partner in crime with the Devilscent Project. She is also an exceptionally talented perfumer. Trust me. I know.

I owe so very, very much to Lucy of Indieperfumes. We are vastly different people but we share many, many inclinations. Without Lucy, I would have missed out on universes I would never know, marvels I would never sniff and friendships I cherish every day. Without Lucy, I would also not be what I am today.

I most emphatically owe a thank you to all of you who migrated with me after moving to WordPress, buying my own domain and carrying on where Scent Less Sensibilities left off. And to all the new readers I’ve gained since then.

It would never have been so much fun without you!

So what do you think – should we just continue down this path and see where it goes? I think so. I would love to! Especially with you! Who knows what magic carpet rides lurk ahead – or what genies we might conjure? I can’t wait to find out!

Thank you for that, too!

************A GIVEAWAY!***********

Since it’s my blogoversary, I have a giveaway! One lucky reader will win a carefully curated selection of samples from my collection. Anyone anywhere in the world is eligible for the draw. Just leave a comment before midnight CET on August 4th to enter. A winner will be determined by random.org on August 5th.

**********************************

Original image: The Cake Genie Photoshop work, my own.

The Emotional Engineering Society

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Draw your own conclusions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nice weather we’re having lately!”

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

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

Why not? Ah…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That doesn’t mean you’ll get it.

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

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

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

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

Original image: An installation by Brooklyn artist Ebon Heath.