Symphonies For A Devil

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT XV

ellencardreddev

 – In which a muse has the last (many) words

It is a newborn August morning some time before sunrise in an old part of Europe, a morning where a thick, low blanket of mist shrouds the late summer landscape and the beech forests with its veil of Otherworld, when all the city is hushed and quiet, when drops of dew condense on the raspberries blushing on bushes and every scent is amplified, exuding late summer promises of harvest and sunshine.

You call her the Genie, I call her something else, but the Genie sleeps this instant with Hairy Krishna snuggled close by her side, sleeps away that morning mist as she dreams of all those shiny balls she has to juggle these days, balls marked Possibilities and Probabilities once labeled nothing more than lower-case italic ‘hopes’,  ‘far-fetched fantasy’ and ‘you wish, sucker’.

So I slipped in through the cracks in the windows as I sometimes do, pulled the duvet a little higher over her in the cool air and brushed her hair away from her face to keep her sleeping, shushed a drowsy cat back to slumber with a sigh and a show of orange belly fur, opened up Cassius Dio and Word, and began to type this post.

It seems such a long, long time ago this project came into being almost as an afterthought, seems in hindsight destiny had a plan when she reviewed the complex yet atavistic, numinous airs of Andy Tauer’s Incense Extrème. Which caused Ellen – the Genie’s friend and first indie perfumer who is more important than she knows – to see the hook, take the bait and throw down the gauntlet:

To create the Devil’s scent.

As time flew by and the project grew, other collaborators in diabolical mayhem joined the fray, collaborators far more noted than the Genie, all of them united in this arcane, audacious project; to conjure my quintessence, to tell my story and all the tale of Lilith, too, and to tell the world of an unknown writer who so dearly wanted to set it alight with her words:

I have this story…

Of an unknown writer with a dream to sell the Devil in absolute and essence and accord and the Devil’s sales pitch too, to do what none had dared before for all of their outrageous, copy-written claims to notoriety.

I sometimes wondered. Would they succeed? Could all my temptations and my perils be contained in a perfume, would new ground be broken in defining Evil Incarnate in ephemeral, fleeting ways? All this time later, would the Devil’s scents be both definition and declaration of nefarious intent?

In that limitless, occult space between the keyboard and my fingers, I find the answer.

Yes.

And would those fellow writers conjure new tales or new interpretations of an old, timeless story of desire, declaration and definition, of dreams both old and new?

Once again, I hesitate not at all as I type.

Yes.

Because as it happens with all artists everywhere through time, it happened with this one, this writer so adept – as all writers are wont to do – at tying herself and her prose into knots. That woman asleep with her cat is no longer the wannabe who sat down one Friday night out of boredom to write what she thought would be a Faustian pastiche with a twist. As she continued the story and dredged up old and carefully concealed secrets of her own, as she aired out the skeletons and the demons buried in that limbic bonfire that fuels all creativity, she couldn’t know what Muses know, and this Devil, too. Her story would never simply be a story, worthless throwaway prose tossed into the stormy void of cyberspace, but another kind of story with a wider appeal she never could have guessed, and would have consequences she never could have imagined.

Yet the perfumers of the Devilscent Project knew it and the writers, too. Knew this would be a different kind of project with a different hue and pitch and challenge, knew as I have always known and never doubted:

This Could Be Really Big.

So the Genie made a beautiful brief and sent it out with a prayer and hopes for an epiphany or two, and somewhere in her bone marrow, in the starry void above her, in that aether where all probabilities are born, destiny whispered sotto voce:

Be careful what you wish for. You will get it.

I’m the Devil. I should know the truth of that one.

As a unifying theme, she chose one of the oldest, most numinous of perfumery materials, that black, sticky, richly redolent resin we know as labdanum. Labdanum has ominously animal shades and facets which rarely sparkle on their own as transcendent as they did here, and that, too, set this project apart. She chose another primeval, ancient material to use as well – frankincense with all its celestial air. Heaven and Earth combined could, I whispered in her ear, be devilishly delicious together, a perfect olfactory metaphor for a dream, a dare, an infernal and eternal love story with a twist…

We dreamed so many dreams as we waited and we wished in those long nights as all muses and their chosen artists do, lost in a reverie we made of these imaginary fragrant symphonies for a Devil and this Devil’s nemesis, Lilith, Queen of the Succubi.

For much as I love to steal the show and chew the scenery, it wasn’t  – and isn’t! – all about me. Lilith – part female warrior, part comedy and tragedy both, all of evil and all her own – made such an impression and such a connection with her readers it should have come as no surprise at all she also inspired my perfumers.

As serendipity would have it, one of them also happened to be a singer and composer who felt compelled to create music for her. Which only proves that old adage:

Be careful what you wish for. You will get it. 

The wheel of artistic inspiration goes around and around, ever perpetuating, ever inspiring, ever returning, ever … eternal.

So eight perfumers read the brief (and later the book) and set to work, all with the same brief and the same inspiration, but the perfumes they made were so very, very different and yet… the name was the same.

Call me Dev

The sassy protagonist of Quantum Demonology dubbed me Dev, well after I had insinuated my very best and most charming self into her soul (and other harrowing locations) in several devious ways, so it made perfect sense that all my perfumers chose to do the same. But then, something most passing strange happened, yet another sign of synchronicity, of all the participants of the Devilscent Project being on the precise same page and with many of the same preoccupations.

Whether I liked it or not, whether it was the Genie’s intention or not, all my perfumers took one entity – me – and refracted and illuminated it through their different prisms. Each of these perfumes explicated and enlarged me in ways I could not have known, each of them in their own way is another facet of her Devil, not evil so much as its embodiment and scapegoat, not malevolent so much as morally ambivalent, not antithesis so much as complement.

My mouthpiece took her own inspirations from Marlowe, Milton and Goethe, but Milton resonated truest and deepest.

Amanda Feeley of Esscentual Alchemy caught something of my tragedy (and shades of John Milton’s Lucifer) in her work, caught that thread of vulnerability and coaxed it out of fir and resin, and ended by spinning in the Nornes’ shining silver yarn, as if to say not even Evil Incarnate would be above – or below – redemption.

Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl of House of Cherry Bomb caught another carefully concealed theme to the tale and brought it out in essence and absolute. That L’Homme Fatal so adored by the Gothic mind was invoked with the decadent sins of chocolate, fig, oud and resins, as sweetly seductive as willful perdition, as perilous and as damning for both acolytes and dreamers.

Ellen Covey captured another thread in the warp and weft, captured it, ran it through a Marshall amp, a bank of distortion pedals and a whole lot of reverb before she cranked everything up to eleven, but no rock star ever got this lucky, not even on tour. For Ellen’s Devs were rock’n’roll personified, every heady fantasy anyone has ever projected on any guy with a microphone or a guitar, every transgression and rebellion you ever dreamed of instigating, every taboo you wanted to break and every emotion you wanted to feel. But just as Amanda Feeley and later Neil Morris, Ellen – who developed her contributions as she read the book – also somehow managed to wrap all my many shades and hues into her creations as the story unfolded…from the bad-boy erotic promises of the beginning through the torrid affair, the heartbreak and the soul-stopping labdanum surrender to the inevitable end. None of them bore any resemblance to her previous work, and I suspect all four showed a side to Ellen’s olfactory vernacular not even she could have guessed. The Genie has often used Ellen’s Dev #4 to center and comfort herself after a bad day, and it never fails to do the trick.

Monica Miller, bless her heart of dark, went off on an entirely different tangent, and delivered her Green Man massage bar, a decadent (and delightfully twisted) viridian treat in sackcloth and stinging nettles. This Green Man was a fierce, pungent, emerald green kick to the senses in several devious ways. So much so, that when a little liquid decant arrived some time later, it was immediately stolen right from under the Genie’s nose by Super Mario Sr’s Gemini sleight of hand! She never saw it again, but smelled it often. I should call it…The Wild One. It’s ‘gonna keep on swinging, baby, it’s a real wild child…’

More mischief was afoot when Katlyn Breene of Mermade Magickal Arts (creatrix/purveyor of some of the finest, purest incense filthy lucre can buy) was persuaded to join the devilry and jumped in with glee, aided by some very goatish labdanum resin. Should you ever wish to discover how a plush, decadent den of sacred iniquity smells, Katlyn’s Mephisto incense was an easy way to find out – or to simply create that dizzying, delirious ambience. I just need the Genie to remember to order more charcoal tablets. She doesn’t get to be dizzy or delirious nearly enough these days. Something must be done about that. She’s so sweet when she’s delirious.

There we would have remained, and that was plenty spectacular enough, but then, a rock star of the indie perfume world was persuaded to join. Fragrant mayhem ensued when Neil Morris of his eponymous brand decided to climb aboard the crazy train of the Devilscent Project.

I had never heard of his work, but the Genie certainly had, and indeed by sheer serendipity encountered Rumi from his Vault collection, which shot in an instant to that elevated stratosphere of forever beloved perfumes, very fitting for a tribute to one of her favorite poets.

As with all my perfumers, as with this entire project even, Neil experienced an instant connection with the concept and an instant inspiration, too as he delved in deep (also with an inordinate amount of diabolical glee) to uncover my secrets and paint them in new and unnerving olfactory hues. In that way all synchronicity unfolds, he, too, devised an evolution in his contributions, a sultry, erotic passion play in three acts that contained the slow, deep burn of the beginning, the bonfires of the middle, and the unholy conflagration of that inevitable end. Just as Amanda’s and Ellen’s contributions, these three Devs are definition and declaration, storyline, subtext and meta-message writ bold and large in essence, absolute and accord. That would have been enough to surpass the Genie’s own wildest dreams and far more than enough to encourage all my own, but then, Neil chose to really pull the rug out from under both our feet.

For Neil also chose to bottle up the beginning, to capture it in liquid gold filigree and create a perfume such as none ever quite were caught before. He took the entire first chapter – the ambience, the setting, the blues, the candlelight, the November night, the mulled wine, the mood, the chemistry and that underlying pulse of dark, danger and desire and called it ‘Midnight at the Crossroads Café’.

I remember the night she finally summoned the nerve to unwrap the envelope that arrived that afternoon, remember how she waited until Super Mario Jr. was asleep and the house was quiet, the cats settled, the day finally put to rest. I remember her happy, delicious laugh as she read Neil’s card, remember her as she sprayed her wrist and the air about her, and then I remember how she cried.

Great Implications

What are the odds of this happening, if you think about it? An unknown writer wannabe writes one story. It grows, as stories do, into a book. The writing expands to perfume, the perfume writer is born, a project conceived, and some long time later, a celebrated perfumer is inspired to create that story of one moment in time when all possibilities were open, where anything could happen, where everything, everything changes and destiny starts its inexorable turn. That ‘Midnight’ is also one hellishly stunning perfume – like all the Devilscents are – is just more fuel for her fire, and more tears for her Kleenex.

Let me assure you though, those tears were happy ones. Sometimes, it does happen that dreams come true.

You who breathe and live for fragrant epiphanies, you who read – and write! about perfume, you who have certain expectations of what perfume is, how it’s defined, what it can do to you, your mood, your own definitions and desires – you can’t begin to imagine just how different, how unusual all of these perfumes are. There are no simple categories of ‘Oriental’, ‘Chypre’, ‘Floral’ at play here, no handy ways to contain them, no familiar frames of reference they refer to. Just as my own self, just as the protagonist at one point in the story tells it, they are. I am.

I’m the Devil. Surely, you expected no less?

Many have in many ways sought to capture me, capture something of that Miltonian tragedy and epic. The world has no lack of perfumes that say ‘devilish’, ‘desire’, ‘danger’ in their copy or their name.

Each and every one of this Devil’s, this project’s scents will change how such dangers – and desires – are perceived. A classic rock song once demanded sympathy for the Devil.

That Guy wasn’t trying hard enough.

For everything I am, for everything I’ve been, done, dreamed and desired has been wrapped up here in these…

Symphonies for a Devil.

I’ll have to go soon. Krishna is awake and wondering about his breakfast, one eye open as he creeps up higher on the sleeping form in the bed. In a moment, he’ll begin to purr and lick her face, and she’ll wake up. I want to surprise her. But I’ll be back to tell the tales of Lilith, and all the awesome words this project has inspired.

A very special thank you to Lucy of Indieperfumes, whose friendship, encouragement and faith in this project has meant everything to the Genie, and to Chayaruchama, who has encouraged, befriended and believed no less.

With my immortal gratitude to Ellen Covey, Amanda Feeley, Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl, Neil Morris of Neil Morris Fragrances, Monica Miller, Katlyn Breene and Kedra Hart. I chose you well!

Amanda Feeley’s contributions are available from Esscentual Alchemy, Ellen Covey’s at Olympic Orchids, Monica Miller’s ‘Green Man’ EdP from her Etsy site. Neil Morris’ through his Vault Collection. House of Cherry Bomb’s ‘Dev’ and ‘Lilith’ available by special request.

____________________________

Save the Genie and keep her writing! Find out more here.

The Best of 2012 – Phrases, Friends and Facilitators

christian5crown

(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 Best of 2012 – Perfumes and Perfumers

C4crown

 – Perfumes and perfumers

It’s that time of the year again when I have the agonizing task of determining the best perfumes of 2012. What did I love, what did I loathe? What did we write and what did I wear?

Just as last year, my Best of list will be in three (long) parts. First, the perfumes and perfumers that – and who – blew my mind in so many different ways. This list is limited to those I’ve actually tried and/or reviewed. I can’t keep up any longer, and I’m not sure what irritates me most – that so many perfumes were launched, or that no matter how I try, I just can’t try them all, darn it! Next comes an ode to the words, the friends and the facilitators who did so much to improve upon what I otherwise consider an annus horribilis of my own, and last, but not least, my personal list of what I wore and adored this year.

The more I’ve written about perfume, the more I’ve discovered the truth of that maxim – it doesn’t get any easier. If anything, quite the reverse. What does get easier is determining the duds from the dudes (and dudettes), the spectacular from the super-bad. As the saying goes – experience is a witch! ;-)

Meanwhile, I have three fervent pleas.

Dear EU. You have a problem. Several powerful political lobbies and the IFRA wish to strengthen the substance ban and add far more natural substances used in perfumery for fear of allergic reactions. You also have a billion-euro industry of unparalleled history and heritage who depend on those very substances to make their money and so employ growers, suppliers and the thousands who work in the worldwide perfume industry. Here’s your problem. Do you give in to the political pressure – and lose all those thousands of jobs and billions of euros that pay your salary? Or do you wise up to an irrefutable fact – the people who might react are not the people who wear perfume. I hope for the best – and try to quell that tiny smidge that makes me fear for the worst…

Dear perfume houses – niche, indie and otherwise. Please. For the love of contraband oakmoss – no more oud ANYTHING, OK? Enough is enough. Let those poor, overharvested aquilaria trees just grow for a change, and get back to me in about 30 years.

One more thing. I do hope you’re listening. If you’re going to call something ‘Noir’, make sure it emphatically IS…Noir. (This doesn’t apply to Tom Ford, who knows better.) Instead, I got saddled with Chanel’s Coco Noir. I had such high hopes. Once again, they were dashed to smithereens. Note to Jacques Polge – next time, call it Chanel Greige.

Here are my fragrant epiphanies of 2012 – the best and the worst of what this year had to offer.

Best New Line:

Although technically launched at the very end of last year, the trio of carefully curated perfumes from Neela Vermeire Creations has taken the perfume world by storm this year – for a very good reason. Orchestrated with perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour, her fragrant odes to her native India past and present – Trayee, a numinous song of the distant past and sacred ceremony, the luminous Moghul rose that is Mohur, and the Bollywood extravaganza of exuberance that is Bombay Bling  – an homage to India’s dynamic, fast-moving present and future – are all richly complex, ever-evolving, multi-layered and textured tapestries, a bit like the mood rings I wore as a teenager, since I never quite know what magic carpet rides they will provide this time or what stories will follow, except they will be as fabulous, as colorful and as kaleidoscopic as India surely is and ever was.

Best Discovery:

Sometimes, I suspect that Fate/Destiny/Kismet has plans for me. I rarely enter draws or competitions, but one competition I did enter was a Facebook competition from Roman luxury retailer Campomarzio70 for a chance to try vero profumo’s newest launch, and vero profumo was at the very top of my Dying to Try list and has been for years. Lo and behold, I was one of the lucky ones, and lo and behold – not only did I receive a sample of Mito, I also received samples of both the extraits and eaux de parfums of Vero Kern’s line. I’ll have more to say about vero profumo, but I’m thoroughly, utterly delighted to state that they were all of them everything I could have hoped for and so very much more.

Theme songs

1. The War of the Roses

2012 was a year of some spectacular roses, not simply variations on a theme but roses reinvented and made into new, improved versions of themselves, and this year brought me three breathtaking roses – and one I have yet to review, but I’ll be getting back to that one. My personal 2012 Trinity of Rose – I can’t choose between them and wouldn’t dare to try – consists of the decadent, mossy, silk-velvet Ballets Rouges by Olympic Orchids, Aftelier’s joyously delicious Wild Roses and Neela Vermeire Creations opulent, majestic Mohur. The war referred to in the heading is simply the one that goes on in my mind deciding which one to wear!

2. The Color Of My Hopes

This diehard green-floral fan was thoroughly delighted to see that she wasn’t the only one who loved her greens and wore them, too. The most original take on that particular theme was definitely vero profumo’s Mito, which is my Green of the Year. But another new line’s highly original spin on that well-loved riff deserves singling out, and that is the Green Feral Thang that is Kerosene’s aptly named Creature. Alas, I loved that tiny sample so much I have nothing left to review it with.

3. The Chypre Continuum

Despite whatever the IFRA might say to the contrary, three stellar chypres were launched this year that bear no resemblance to those wan, pathetic, patchouli-laden wannabes called ‘chypres’ in mainstream perfumery. These three are far, far above and way beyond them all. Two I’ve already reviewed, Amouage’s Beloved and the effervescent Parfums d’Empire’s Azemours L’Oranger, the last of the three came to me fairly recently thanks to a perfume angel. MDCI’s Chypre Palatin – yes, expect to see a review soon – is a blatant, deliriously great gauntlet thrown in the face of all who would do away with those dark, earthy, mossy depths so many of us love – and wear with no ill effects whatsoever.

4. Perfume stories

Two tales involving perfume have become a huge part of my own personal scent trail in 2012, and I say this in all humility since one of those stories was my own. The one that wasn’t (which I have yet to read) was L’Artisan Parfumeur’s showstopping Seville à l’Aube, created by Bertrand Duchaufour (I swear, the man was everywhere this year!) in collaboration with Denyse Beaulieu of Grain de Musc for her book ‘The Perfume Lover’. Once that fatal word ‘orange blossom’ began to be thrown around as the rumors grew before its launch, I swept in like a hawk on the hunt and acquired a decant of Seville à l’Aube blind – and never in the history of this perfume blogger did the level of perfume drop so fast in a decant, not for lack of alternatives. This blend of rose-tinted memory and glorious orange blossom, beeswax, a most unusual lavender and thick, dancing swirls of incense is, in a word, flawless. Rumor has it that Denyse and Bertrand have plans for an extrait version called ‘Duende’. I pale to contemplate what it might be like. When that decant goes, I will cry. Buckets. Streams. Rivers!

About that other one…Once upon a time, I concocted a story out of boredom that I wrote all the way to the day I wrote ‘The End’ – and have rewritten several times since. Thanks to my partner-in-crime, Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids, the Devilscent Project was resurrected as a group project involving some of the very best bloggers in the blogosphere – and the very best indie perfumers in the US. Neil Morris, no stranger to danger and a monumentally talented perfumer, joined the project and then proceeded to blow my poor proboscis to smithereens by bottling up the first chapter of the tale – and calling it Midnight at the Crossroads Café. All the elements of that first chapter are contained within its depths: the smoky, late-night café, the chill of looming winter, the cinnamon and spices wafting from the mulled wine, the remnants of an evening to remember, the danger, the desire, the Devil, the deal…There’s nothing at all on Planet Perfume quite like it. I cried my immensely flattered, floored, grateful tears the day it arrived and many times since whenever I wear it.

Speaking of invoking my inner Drama Queen…one august personage loves nothing more than to induce apoplexy at the post office, apoplexy that means a large, smoking trail of blackest profanity, a not-at-all clandestine spray because I can’t bloody help myself and eff-what-they-think, followed by that unfortunate I-so-have-to-sit-down-now moment. Christopher Chong has had not just an awful lot on his plate this year, he also has that on his conscience! As well as…

Best Post Office Apoplexy – and my Amber of the Year:

Amouage Opus VI. If anything redefined amber as something new and audacious, surely it was Opus VI. Dry, smoky, woody, complex and raspy, it’s extraordinary and yet a definite Amouage, and that’s precisely how I like my ambers – and my Amouages. Meanwhile, I’ve received funny looks at that post office ever since. They probably think I’m getting controlled substances in the mail. I am. And it’s all HIS fault!

Finest WTF moments:

Amouage Interlude Man & Woman

But Beloved wasn’t enough for this Perfume Torquemada. Opus VI wasn’t enough. Then came the coups-de-grace that were Interlude Man and Woman, and my doom was as total as my confusion, since I came by necessity to discover that the labels has been switched on my samples. Interlude Woman was Interlude Man, and vice versa. Or his vice was my versa. Or something. Whatever the case, these two bottled odes to the cacophony and chaos of modern life – and the deep, deep breaths we take in order to cope with them – were astonishing. And nearly impossible to review, since I barely knew where to start. Even now, even today, I wrestle with those obstinate genies who refuse to give anything away, yet insist all the same… “We haff vays to make you talk…” Oh, yes. In tongues long dead and likely forgotten, but talk, I do! The problem, as my readers are surely aware, is shutting up!

That other Christopher (Sheldrake) whose work I so adore – and the devious if not diabolical Creative Director he works in tandem with, M. Lutens  – was no slouch this year, either. Parfums Serge Lutens gave us…

My Favorite Bottled Air Conditioning:

The Serge Lutens line known as L’Eaux tend to be a bit divisive. I happen to like the original L’Eau, (a decided minority), but ‘like’ turned to love when L’Eau Froide arrived in February during an epic spell of freezing weather. It since became a summer staple on those (rare) hot summer days with its unique combination of rosemary/pine/eucalyptus and chilly Somali incense. No matter where I went or what I did, I was – literally – Cool, Calm and (very) Collected. If there were two words that encapsulate all L’Eau Froide is to me, they would be Chill and Out.

Got Wood?

Sandalwood? If we’re talking the fabled Mysore sandalwood, the answer is probably not. Over-harvested to near-extinction, adulterated and even counterfeited, the real Mysore sandalwood is nearly impossible to come by any longer. Australian sandalwood, however – a different species of tree and a different fragrance – is not. Frankly, I don’t mind too much, since the arrival of Santal Majuscule – using that Australian sandalwood – will likely completely make you forget you even miss the real thing, with its spicy cocoa-rosy ribbons wrapped around a rich, creamy sandalwood heart. Obey my commands if not my deeds, ye sandalwood lovers. Try it!

Most Dangerous/Sexy Perfumes of 2012, Masculine:

Anything named Dev, from Esscentual Alchemy, Neil Morris Fragrances, House of Cherry Bomb, Olympic Orchids or the Perfume Pharmer. Trust me. I know.

Most Dangerous/Sexy Perfumes of 2012, Feminine:

Anything named Lil or Lilith from Neil Morris Fragrances, House of Cherry Bomb, Olympic Orchids, and certainly Babylon Noir from Opus Oils, too. Trust me. I know.

Tropical Escape Hatch

Another line that was new to me (if not to the rest of Planet Perfume) was Micallef, and my shameless self-promotion on Facebook and Twitter meant that a sample package arrived in the mail one sunshiney day – with one broken vial, but I won’t hold that against them. There will be more reviews of Micallef to follow – but for now, let’s just say that whenever the winter blahs blow too hard, I now have the tropical escape hatch that is their beautiful Ylang in Gold. Just knowing it’s there glowing in my cabinet tends to make the snow, the rain, the wind somehow easier to bear.

Disappointment, Guaranteed!

It was a spectacular campaign. It was a no less spectacular premise. Even the bottle was, well…spectacular. What wasn’t quite so spectacular were the contents of Lady Gaga’s ‘Fame’. I wish I could say that might have been the whole idea – you’ve been had by a concept – but alas, that might be asking for more meta than even Lady Gaga could supply. Likewise, the much-anticipated ‘Truth or Dare’ by Madonna was a monumental…letdown. I’ll give celebufumes a chance, but throwing Fracas into the cotton candy-machine and calling this fluffy-bunny over-sugared Da-Glo pink tuberose ‘Truth or Dare’ is neither truthful nor particularly daring. C’mon, Madge. We had expectations. Until we didn’t. Sic transit…For one, I never in my wildest flu-ish phantasmagorias expected to write ‘fluffy bunny’ about a tuberose. ‘Nuff said!

From the overthought Unintentional Hilarity Department:

Brad Pitt for Chanel no. 5 could have really rearranged everyone’s mental furniture. It did, but in ways not even the marketing department of Chanel could have anticipated. We were howling with laughter…over the pretension of it all. Since Brad Pitt as a rule doesn’t make me laugh and neither does Chanel these days, that’s…something, just not what Chanel might have been hoping for.

Dear readers, you have all been so patient, so forgiving of all the verbiage. But wait! There’s more! For this year, I hand the baton of Truly And Epically Spectacular Perfumers to…a collective united by a project that took them places and made them create perfumes as perfumes might never have been created before, and an individual that means I’ll likely cook my goose most thoroughly. Since I’m not afraid of controversy – or flying bottles of Britney Spears Circus Fantasy – I’ll plow in regardless.

Perfumers of 2012 – Collective

The perfumers of the Devilscent Project as a whole claim one half of the Perfumer’s Prize. I had no idea one snowbound weekend in January preparing the brief, just what would lie in store or what marvels would be created. But in essence and absolute, Amanda Feeley of Esscentual Alchemy, Neil Morris of Neil Morris Fragrances, Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids, Monica Miller of Perfume Pharmer, Katlyn Breene of Mermade Magickal Incense Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl of House of Cherry Bomb and Kedra Hart of Opus Oils threw away all the rules and the book they were written in, too – and made my Faustian tale of desires, dreams, love, rock’n’roll and redemption into something brand-new and most wondrous strange – strange for being impossible to classify, wondrous for being, well, some of the sultriest, sexiest, most salaciously hair-raising, inhibition-killing, zipper-popping, bodice-ripping perfumes ever made – anywhere, so long as you parked your preconceptions by the wayside and followed them down the rabbit hole, the Chelsea Hotel, a street in Ditmas Park – or that midnight café.  I’ll have much more to say about them – I have four reviews to go and a wrap-up post, but for now and for always, the technical skills and all-out sinfulness of all the Devilscent Project’s seventeen scents are staggering testaments to a maxim I learned while writing the book – that inspiration is everything, and so long as you dare to follow where it takes you, anything can happen, and sometimes, miracles, too.

Independent Perfumer of 2012

I’ve been writing this post off and on in my head since October, thinking about what should make my list and who I should single out for praise. Yet no matter which ways I sliced or diced it, my mind kept coming back to a man with a stunning string of massive successes just this year alone, and he’s given us perfumistas so many epiphanies in so many bottles for quite some time.

Therefore, I’m going to court controversy and hand it to… Bertrand Duchaufour. For his work with Neela Vermeire Creations, for his work with L’Artisan Parfumeur and Denyse Beaulieu, for the breathtaking Chypre Palatin and for never, ever falling back on a formula and repeating his own artistic predilections. Like all the best of any art in any genre, a Duchaufour is always recognizable, yet always surprising.

Having said that, one of his artistic collaborations blew up in his face and all over the blogosphere as well as perfume boards – namely, his creation of a line of perfumes for Gulnara Karamova, the daughter of Uzbekistan’s dictator, who apparently has plans to become either a fashion designer or a pop star with a celebufume of her own. The problem isn’t that she at least had the supreme good taste to go for the best – the problem, of course, is whether an artist is ethically responsible for the questionable actions of his patrons.

Never mind we mortals will likely never even see these perfumes in our part of the world. The rest of Planet Perfume learned about it via an article in the UK newspaper The Independent, which was picked up by a number of perfume blogs. Next we knew, all hell broke loose as so many rushed to deride the ubiquitous M. Duchaufour, his works and his choice of collaborators. People swore never to buy another of his perfumes again. People threw out entire, costly bottles. Planet Perfume felt somehow betrayed in its illusions of the beautiful world of perfume, when the fact is – it’s every bit as dirty, as filthy, as infested and as cutthroat as any other business these days. And much as it pains me to say it – it IS…a business, for all we prefer or hope to believe otherwise.

It was an interesting debate, not least for what it never really said. If M. Duchaufour were to lose his professional reputation over his trip to Uzbekistan (one commenter stated his career was over, which is a tad over-dramatic) – one of the most severely repressed countries in the world – shouldn’t it by rights follow that the august fashion houses of Dior, Chanel, Balenciaga, Balmain, Dolce & Gabbana et al. should surely be shunned/boycotted, too, for clothing Miss Karamova? After all, it is the precise same problem.

Or – if the questionable ethics of patrons really were the point, then how do you explain the Italian Renaissance – financed by a whole bunch of emphatically and epically questionable so-called ‘nobles’ in Florence, Milan, and Rome? Do we now boycott the Mona Lisa since Leonardo Da Vinci was employed by Cesare Borgia (no Snow White!) at one point in his illustrious career? Would Da Vinci be responsible for what Cesare Borgia and the Papal armies did to Italy? He did make several lethal war-machines, after all…

Or do we simply say…even artists are people, too, and people do like to eat and support themselves and their families as best they can. So artists will go where the money is and hope for a creative challenge if they’re lucky, and the rest is…what it is. You don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

Here’s what I believe. Anyone can make mistakes. If they’re smart – as I definitely suspect M. Duchaufour is – they’ll learn from them and…move on. As I suspect he will, and hopefully, his legions of enlightened fans will follow. The art supersedes the artist, and the art Duchaufour has created and unleashed upon the world this year alone has done so very much to improve upon my world and my life.

As for the artist – I also have reasons to believe he still has a few aces up his sleeve, and is just waiting to unleash them upon an eager world. Here’s hoping! Bertrand Duchaufour, this was your year. You do have a few more left, yes?

So many perfumes – and so little time! What were your favorites of 2012? What trends did you love – or hate – and what do you hope lies in store for 2013?

Stay tuned for Part Two of the Best of 2013 – in friends, in phrases and in facilitators…

Note: This blog expresses my own independent opinions and views and I am never compensated for any reviews or review lists.

A Waft of Woe

- Flotsam & jetsam, gratitude & anticipation 

The image above perfectly sums up the week I’ve just finished, although ‘lovely’ isn’t the word I’d choose…

Let me start by saying I’m fully aware that the frequency of posts (and no shortage of Way Overdue Reviews) has been sporadic these past couple of months. Ladies and gentlemen – I’ve had about two months of Mondays in that overrated dimension called ‘real life’.

Major changes and massive preoccupations have done everything they could to tear me away from what I’ve really wanted to do more than anything, and that was – for that matter, still emphatically is – to write. Three old-school spiral-bound notebooks – the kind that demand démodé pens or pencils and my own brand of schizoid Linear C handwriting – go where I do in case the Next Great Idea pops up out of the blue – three notebooks of three different writing projects that I plan to feed, water and grow into books. Although one of them you might know about, the other two are super-secret, and one of them involves – yes, you guessed it! – that nebulous, shape-shifting subject of…perfume.

My own collection – which seems to propagate like bacteria as soon as I look the other way – is packed away in acres of bubble wrap, electrical tape, bubblepak envelopes and cardboard boxes within a suitcase. My new (cute if tiny) apartment is being renovated from scratch, and until I can move in a few weeks from now, there they remain, whispering their secrets and haunting my dreams.

Meanwhile, life gets in the way…and this became patently clear this past week, when I’ve been glued to social media and the New York Times, frantic for all my extended family and friends in the Northeast US which received a sucker punch of its own named Sandy. I’m thrilled to say that they made it through in one piece, although not without consequences no one ever could have wished for. Sitting in my own cozy corner of Europe, snuggled up against the chill of winter watching the devastation wrought by the storm has broken my heart in several places, but if anything at all gives me hope, it’s that ‘we’ll be damned if we let this get us down’ attitude displayed by so many of those affected despite their devastating losses. If that’s not an inspiration and an attitude to emulate, what is?

The idea that I could ever inspire anyone at all blows me completely away. When it comes from two fellow perfume writers (and forces of nature in their own right!) I admire as much as the divalicious Perfume Pharmer and Portia of Australian Perfume Junkies, I have to puncture my ego, just in case!

Monica of the Perfume Pharmer – who has literally saved my own crocodile hide this year with her African Gold shea butter – interviewed me in a timeline format on Perfume Pharmer. If you ever wondered why I’m a bit strange, I blame my first babysitter…

Some time ago in a perfume exchange, I sent the fab Portia some Devilscent samples I thought she should have the chance to try. These perfumes are so outside anything in niche perfumery these days, I thought it could be interesting to find her take on them. That’s what we fumeheads do – spread the joys of our discoveries! Yesterday, she returned the favor by reviewing Olympic Orchids’ Dev no. 2 and Lil on the Perfume Posse, and interviewing yours truly on her own blog, Australian Perfume Junkies. (My own reviews are here and there.) I feel so privileged to have met and connected with so many hugely inspiring people through my perfume writing – and Monica and Portia are two of my own inspirations, so thank YOU, ladies! Reviews of two more Devilscents will follow…and more are coming in other venues, which is all I’m able to say for now. Stay tuned!

Two months ago, thanks to the kind of serendipitous networking that never happens except when it does, the book that inspired the Devilscent Project landed on an editor’s desk when I least expected – or was prepared for! – it. Although it wasn’t a natural fit for the publisher, I received the kind of feedback any aspiring writer would gladly kill for – and received several road maps for the final edit. So when I’m finally settled in my new digs, I’m going to buckle down and polish Quantum Demonology to a high and glossy patent leather sheen – when I’m not noodling with the super-secret perfume book and another project that isn’t perfume-related but something much more controversial. When a fellow writer throws down a gauntlet, issues a challenge and dares me to kick away a few boundaries, anything can – and likely will! – happen. “Your mission, should you choose to accept it…” And just like that, I did. Be afraid…

Anticipation is one of my most favorite emotions. There are four remaining Devilscent reviews, and I feel a pang in my heart just thinking about them. Opus Oils’ contribution, the mind-blowing Babylon Noir arrived right before my move, and on this side of the Atlantic, it’s caused quite the sensation among my adventurous-minded girl friends. Two more of Neil Morris’ showstoppers have yet to be reviewed, and my one regret is not just that I only have four DSP posts to go, but that until I move, I also don’t have the time or space to write about them, and it’s killing me – not softly!

I’m anticipating not a few wonders in the weeks to come, including Aftelier’s new Wild Rose (anything Mandy does is grounds for Major Anticipation), Serge Lutens’ Une Voix Noire, and yet more wonders from one of my newest discoveries, Juan M. Perez of Exotic Island Aromas and a few more novelties I should have written about months ago – some from another of my Primeval Forces that had me hauling out the hyperbole – they’re that good!

Most of all, I’m anticipating the simple joys of my own space, my own place under the eaves, and banging away until the cows come home without other distractions than Hairy Krishna. I’m looking forward to unpacking my perfumes and samples and wearing them all.  I’m looking forward to blasting the neighbors with vintage punk, classic metal and the new release from another favorite band. (I wore their last release to shreds!). I look forward to the day life returns to mostly normal for my self-selected family of friends in New York and New Jersey. I look forward to all those fragrant epiphanies I know lie in wait and…since I broke my little finger yesterday, I look forward to the day I can remove the splint and move my hand around without yelping! And last, but never least, I look forward to the day I can write about it all – so you, dear readers, can read all about it!

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

Soft as Sin

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT X

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT X

- a review of Skye Botanical’s ‘Dev’ massage bar

One moment, my apartment will be quiet, nothing more than the sounds of the street outside, the hum of the fridge in the kitchen, Janice Divacat’s occasional whimper in her sleep, and only the tap-tap-tap of my laptop as I wrestle with the chimerae of the virtual page, the sometime metallic clang of the spoon in my glass of Earl Grey. I never know when he’ll come (or if he does), but I always know he’ll leave in the blink of an eye at the precise moment I look away.

That night as I went to bed, I wondered whether Dev would make an appearance, if he might have something to say about this sage-tinted wonder I had slathered on my skin after a long, luxurious bath and wafted in my wake, wondered if he would weave his way into a dream as he so often does. Sometimes, he’s a glimpse over my shoulder, seen out of the corner of my eye as a Cheshire Cat grin that wavers in the air as substantial as smoke, as wishes, as all dreams must be, and other times as concrete and as tangible as the reality of the keyboard beneath my fingers trying to make all those fervent dreams just as solid, and just as touchable.

The thing is, I never know.

So that night I woke with a start at some nameless hour in the dark. The cobwebs from a jumbled dream still clung to my mind, a dream of people I knew and places, too, a dream where he appeared and kept to himself, glowering with a stiff set to his shoulders, aloof and alone behind the aviator shades. When I had a chance, I reached out and asked like an idiot: “Are you all right?”

He never answered. He shrugged me off and disappeared behind a concealed door. As I opened it and saw a concrete service stairwell heading down, I was surprised awake.

Dev was up against the wall at the foot of my bed, with Hairy Krishna on his back plastered up against his leg, belly fur glinting silver sparks in the moonlight almost as loud as his purr.

“Miss me?” he said with a soon-to-be-famous grin.

“Umm…I’m not sure. You’ve been gone a long time.” I rubbed my eyes and tried not to think about that perfume in the air that surrounded me like the gossamer shreds of a dream. It was so incredibly distracting. It was the scent of trouble, just waiting to happen.

“How can I be a muse if I can’t make things happen for you? Trust me, baby, if you got used to having me around for too long, it would get old. So… I wandered out in the world and…made things happen.”

“That you did.” I decided to let it slide. “So…what do you think? Does the idea of being ‘flagellated by euphoric hops, dangerous damiana and stinging nettles’ do anything for you?” I referred to the very tongue-in-cheek description I received with my little sackcloth bag of wonder, stuffed full of herbs and a decadently perfumed green massage bar at least as devious as its description.

“Depends on who’s cracking those nettles!” he laughed. “I really, really like the concept, though. Perfume on the pulse points. Sure. That’s all fine and good. But why stop there? Why not be dangerous all over, from…” he leaned forward, right beside me in the dark, and dangerous was at least as good a word as any for how I felt that moment as he breathed into my ear, “your neck all the way down to your toes?” As he moved away, I could see a twinkle in his eyes, even in the dark.

This perfume was trouble, no question about it, with stinging nettles and without them.

“I’m not sure I’m awake enough to have this kind of salacious conversation. I’ve got other places to put those, if you want to be salacious.”

“True. It’s not entirely fair.” Dev shrugged, and as he did, Hairy Krishna rolled over with a whimper and jumped off the bed with an irritated swish of his tail as he headed for a midnight snack and a chance to sneak up on Janice Divacat, his other favorite midnight activity.

“You know,” he went on after a while, “I think one of the most interesting things is how your perfumers took the same brief, the same ingredient – labdanum – and the same characters – Lilith and me – and did such vastly different things with them. Monica’s…here’s the feral Dev, the wild one, the sylvan Dev, the Pan in the forest, lurking behind an Arcadian bush to trap a lucky nymph…”

“Or just one unlucky nymphomaniac in the concrete jungle. The bush is optional.” I countered. Maybe I was awake enough to have salacious conversations?

“You’re such a comedian,” he deadpanned. I knew precisely where to locate the origins of that brand of sarcasm on the map. “Hush. I’m writing your review.”

“You are?” This was news to me. “If I had known you were coming, I would have baked brownies.”

There was an ominous flash from the other end of my bed.

“I’m not finished. Sharp, biting, very, very green…what is that? Peppermint, pepper, basil, orange – whatever it is, it shocks you aware and even…” he laughed again. “Awake! So you did. I thought that would never happen. Aroused, even. In far more ways than even I can count!”

“I was dreaming about you.”

“That wasn’t me. That was your cousin Id. He’s crabby because he thinks you’ve ignored him for too long.”

“I knew I wore this to bed for a reason.” What I didn’t tell Dev was my reason was a hope to have precisely this conversation, but I would never, ever admit it.

“On we go…this is outrageously complex stuff. It’s masculine, but not macho, teetering on the brink of floral but never quite falling all the way in, spicy, but nothing in the slightest like those other spicy Devs. Did I say it was green? Not Da-Glo green like Ellen’s Lilith, not those elegant dark green undertones of Neil’s first mod, but…it reminds me of something…”

With those words, Dev slid off the bed and rummaged around in my perfume cabinet. On one side – the left, of course – the Devilscents glowed their ominous ambers in the dark. “Ah! Here they are…” And he hauled out the little (green) velvet bag from Esscentual Alchemy.

“This is where things get fascinating,” he said after sniffing back and forth between my arm and the vials in their velvet bag. “See, Amanda put heartbreak into her Devs – at least, they broke my heart, and you know, they still do, with that punch of fir. Monica, on the other hand, has a different plan here…this sylvan Dev is the one you’re only too happy to follow into the dark, you really don’t give a good goddamn about the consequences, you’re too curious to find out what happens next and what happens next is…well, we all know what that is.”

I leaned back against the wall and watched his shadow in the moonlight from the window by the bed. “That sacred firelight of labdanum and frankincense,” I went on as I caught his train of thought like I had so often before, “the embers of patchouli and spice and cedar that glow in the dark like all the best secrets and unforgettable as all the most glorious transgressions…”

“Burning on your skin in the firelight,” he breathed into my ear again, “That skin as soft and as silken as all the best sins must be, the sins you always want to remember…”

I didn’t move. The room was at least fifteen degrees warmer than it was when I went to bed. Firelight and heat, sylvan secrets and silky sin…A very warm hand that slipped and slid up that velvet-soft trail of sylvan bonfires on my skin…

“As soft…” his voice was a low, baritone growl right by a very particular spot just below my ear… “as sin itself…”

I blinked, tried to grasp some gossamer threads of composure, and as I did, I caught a flash of silvery moonlight, that haunting, dangerous, green perfume called Dev, called Trouble, called perdition and much else besides…

But he was gone. All he left behind was that scent and skin, as soft as sin itself.

Notes: Pink pepper, peppermint, lemon, coriander, marjoram, blood orange, petitgrain, basil, fir absolute, tuberose absolute, geranium absolute, lavender absolute, clary sage absolute, strawberry furanone, labdanum, cocoa butter, frankincense, cedarwood, patchouli CO2, benzoin, cinnamon, beeswax, Javanol (synthetic sandalwood)

Original image: Orcatek Photography Workshops

Find Skye Botanical’s deviously delicious Dev massage bar here. It is also available as an eau de parfum by request. With profound thanks to Monica Miller of Skye Botanicals. Without whom …;-)

Strawberry Dreams Forever

-   a review of Perfume Pharmer & Opus OilsStrawberry Passion Perfumes

Summers are short, sweet, filled with light and all too fleeting in this obscure part of Europe I call home. Days expand exponentially to twenty-one hours of daylight by Midsummer, and since the sun doesn’t sink further than eighteen degrees below the horizon, it never does get truly dark at night until late July. The elderflowers bloom, the wood doves coo their summer songs in the beech woods, the philadelphus bushes blossom and all the pent-up energy of long, dark winters explode with a fury as my fellow Viking descendants head straight for the beach on no provocation and the first hints of sunshine, ditching ten months of woolen layers as they go. Overexcited children wolf down ice cream cones the size of their heads, cats hiss and charge at the kitty TV just outside the window, and even cynical writer wannabes feel a pang in their hearts and a ray of sunshine in their souls.

It’s summer, and that’s the only excuse you need to indulge yourself in the fine art of dolce far niente, the sweet art of doing absolutely nothing but paint cloud pictures in the sky, play Frisbee on the beach and…indulge yourself in the one overriding sign of summer in these northern latitudes, a sign so important that it’s arrival makes the national news every year, with prognoses on how well – or bad – this year’s harvest will be…

Summertime is strawberry time, and it’s not summer until the strawberries appear at roadside stands and farmers’ markets, to be eaten straight from the punnet or plucked from a field in the very early morning, to splash with cream or turn them into tartes, jam, homemade ice cream, and dream our luscious, ruby-red dreams that this instant will never end and summer will be as infinite as our imaginings.

Now, Monica Miller of Perfume Pharmer and Kedra Hart of Opus Oils have captured that endless summer dream into two all-natural perfumes called Strawberry Passions, and now, maybe it’s even true that summer never does come to an end.

Strawberry flower essence is a flower essence said to boost low self-esteem, feelings of unworthiness and being ungrounded, and to confer dignity and poise, to be able to be fully present in the moment. Isn’t that something we could all use, any time of the year?

Monica sent her own strawberry flower essence to Kedra Hart, and Kedra returned with two shining, bespoke examples of summer-in-a-sample-vial, and whatever other effects these two might have on my crabby mood of late, it’s virtually impossible not to smile when I wear them.

Strawberry Green is the ode to the berry itself, the olfactory equivalent of biting into a fresh strawberry and letting that sharp, fragrant juice fill your senses with all its summery promises.

It’s the strawberry and the greenery around it too, all fruity tang and flowery punch and such flowers, they are, too. Once that jolt to your senses fades, here come the summer blooms dancing in on a sunbeam, a touch of rose, a whisper of tuberose, a hint of heavenly boronia and a lilting, laughing white water lily, all entwined around the greenery of an ivy and that bright bomb of blackcurrant that celebrates the sunlight and that perfect red strawberry of your most fevered, summer-starved January dreams.

I feel like I’m starring in an alternate version of one song that haunted my wanton twenties, only this one is called ‘Strawberry Beret’, and life will be happy, life will be grand, and summer will always be endlessly warm and infinitely sunny.

As it dries down, ambergris, sandalwood and patchouli gang up with the oakmoss to pull that strawberry back to earth and even you with it. Before you even realize it, you’re singing the lyrics to a song you thought you forgot, and remembering that other you that life somehow misplaced, the incurable optimist that ate up the summer and even life with every juicy berry, when one ruby-hued berry was one too many and two were not nearly enough!

Strawberry Cream was Monica’s wish to capture the cream teas of her British childhood, those decadent late-afternoon times hours with warm scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam, and it’s so delicious, I nearly want to eat my arm.

Perhaps you’re one of those – I would agree with you – whose thoughts of ‘gourmand’ and ‘strawberry’ want to make you run for the hills and far, far away in horrified memory of all those ultra sweet, fruity-floral, flesh-eating ogres that haunt so many perfumista nightmares.

These are berries of a very different sort, sweet as a cherished memory and as opulent as the caramel-tinged flavor of Devonshire cream itself as it seeps into the buttery, crumbly texture of a warm scone.

This is dolce far niente at its finest, when all other cakes seem so overwrought and overdone, this liquid ode to pleasure satisfies my sweet tooth just enough to justify being just a little wicked. Go on. Have another one. Marvel at the way the amber and the vanilla, the ambergris, the sandalwood and patchouli somehow combine so well you’re practically licking cream and strawberries off your fingers and the corners of your mouth. Never mind tomorrow. Forget all you knew about yesterday. Live a little. Laugh a lot. Lick cream off your fingers, too, just because you can.

I’m so not a fruity perfume person. Yet if anyone could convince me, it’s Kedra – and Monica – with these two odes to my favorite sign of summer. Strawberry Green is what I’d wear to kick out that crabby self and stand a little taller, happier and more confident. Strawberry Cream is what I’d dab whenever a cake craving strikes and there’s none to be had. When I want to feel a little reckless, a little daring, and metaphorically lick cream and strawberries off my fingers.

Never forget, that just as the flower remedy promises, you are deserving of all happiness and all pleasures – so why not indulge yourself? It’s summer! Kick back, be happy, be present in the moment and dream those strawberry dreams…forever!

Strawberry Passions is available directly from the Perfume Pharmer’s etsy site.

Notes for Strawberry Green: Martha’s Vineyard strawberry flower & leaf essence, pink pepper, white water lily, red mandarin, ivy accord, rose, tuberose, boronia, strawberry, blackcurrant, peach, green tea, sandalwood, patchouli, beach found ambergris, oakmoss.

Notes for Strawberry Cream: Martha’s Vineyard strawberry flower & leaf essence, pink pepper, bergamot, tangerine, boronia, peach, strawberry, raspberry accord, amber, vanilla, patchouli, beach found ambergris, sandalwood.

Disclosure: Samples of both Strawberry Passions perfumes were provided by Perfume Pharmer.

With special thanks to Tiger Powers, who pointed to the main image, which says everything you need to know about strawberries – and passions!