The Very Best of 2013 – Worn and Adorned

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-  Being the True Confessions of an Alembicated Genie

Oh, to be a perfume writer, you readers might think and sigh with envy, to sit at your leisure and wax poetic on the wafting wonders of the world. Imagine such a thing – to be able to translate concepts and PR releases, to read eaux and extraits as well and as easily as any bestselling novel.

Well, I hate to burst any soapy aldehyde-scented bubbles here, but the simple fact is… being a perfume writer/blogger is about on a par with being a writer of erotica – both are equally hard to do and for very nearly the same reasons. You are trying to translate the untranslatable into prose.

As a perfume writer, you are trying to capture the Muse as she flies from your skin to your nasal receptors and on to your pathetically limited (and verbally challenged) brain, trying to find a metaphor you haven’t already flogged to death five reviews ago.

When I left for Pitti Fragranze, I thought I would fly home on wings of incandescent inspirational sillage, fired up on all my jets with all the Things I Sniffed At Last and all the stories I would tell my readers. Wow, was I surprised when I came home and the very idea of wearing any perfume at all made me turn green, and as for writing about it… fuggeddaboutit! I had no other choice but to simply live out a few weeks scent-free to recalibrate my nose and my mind.

Sometimes, by Golly, you just want to enjoy a perfume without any attempts at analysis, storyline or opinion and for no other reason than it smells good to you. It enhances your mood, it floats your boat, it turns you on to other headspaces and mind places. What follows below is a collection of perfumes and adornments that did just that. Many have yet to be reviewed and to be honest only some of them will be, not for lack of will or interest, but simply because it’s just been that kind of year and this one could be worse…

Perfectly Simple and Simply Perfect

Serge Lutens – Encens et Lavande (Serge Lutens/Christopher Sheldrake)

The word ‘linear’ in perfumese is often used in a derogatory way, meaning a scent that doesn’t develop much from the initial spray all the way to the far drydown. But any artist will tell you that  ‘linear’ or ‘perfectly simple’ can be hardest of all to pull off successfully, and ‘simple’ nowhere implies a lack of complexity, meaning or context. When life ground me to a fine powder, when I was about ready to call it a day and a half, Serge Lutens’ haunting interpretation of incense – a thick, delicious fog of it – wrapped around a searing purple heart of lavender always, always made me breathe deeper and easier. It is exactly what it says on the bottle – incense and lavender. No more and no less and that’s already more than I deserve.

April Aromatics – Rose L’Orange (Tanja Bochnig)

April Aromatics’ owner and perfumer Tanja Bochnig took a very bright idea and made it even brighter and better than the sum of its parts. I love rose. I love orange blossom. Put the two together as effortlessly and as artlessly as Tanja did, and this is sunshine, love and laughter in a bottle, the happy, uninhibited belly laugh of a very happy baby, the thrilled giggle of the girl I never outgrew (and never will). It has made me smile more than I can tell this past year and still does today.

The Thinking Woman’s Incense

L’Artisan Parfumeur – Dzongkha (Bertrand Duchaufour)

A very dear friend gifted me a bottle of Dzongkha for my birthday last year – a great whopping 100 ml of it no less – and not exactly being short on perfume, I had the inspired idea to use it as a decadent (decidedly non-Buddhist) room spray, simply for the way it made me slow down and think. Dzongkha was sprayed onto the Tibetan prayer flag, the carpet, the bedding, the lightbulbs, and in an instant, I could just be… and think, contemplate and ponder without dashing madly around the racetracks in my mind. A wanton, wild extravagance, you might think, but oh, so worth it!

Liquid Courage

Neela Vermeire Creations – Trayee (Neela Vermeire/Bertrand Duchaufour)

In my younger days, whenever I needed a little fragrant fortification, I wore chypres to add a little titanium to my backbone. Unless I just gave in and poured Chanel no. 19 all over myself. Not any longer, since I came to discover that Trayee – a transcendent wonder of sandalwood, incense, oud, spice, bhang and fire is all I need to straighten my spine, face the world and take it on.

The Sweetest of Sins

Guerlain – Shalemur (Shalimar Ode à la Vanille Sur La Route de Madagascar/Thierry Wasser)

This is arguably the world’s sexiest lemur. Or the most utterly debauched yet fluffiest of vanilla/iris/lemon/tonka bean cupcakes, I’m not sure which. Whatever else it is, Shalemur has adorned my person quite often this past fall, because all sins should smell as sweet or should that be – all sweets should waft such sins? Sometimes, girls just want to get in trouble…

And speaking of trouble…

From the Swipe ‘Em Sideways Department

I have a separate section in my cabinet for Scents of Seduction. These are the ones that have definite ulterior motives, and they succeeded quite a bit more than I ever expected this past year.

Amouage – Jubilation 25 (Lucas Sieuzac)

My scent twin sent me a sample of Jubilation 25 (now known as Jubilation Woman) some (long) time ago with the ominous words: “If this isn’t you, then I’m a …” (Never, Suzanne!) It was an Amouage, so I set it aside for fear of the consequences, only to rediscover it this past summer and be blown to smithereens by its fruity-chypre glories. I wore it on a day when I sorely needed to feel as fabulous as possible, and succeeded beyond all imagining when a dashing rock-star poet commented on it. I can’t repeat what he said, but let’s just say there were… consequences. Always the best kind!

vero profumo – Rubj extrait (Vero Kern)

Another very dear friend gifted me with a treasure, this a small bottle of Rubj extrait, and somewhere in a peerless paradise, the white floral angels sang as down below a different kind of devil danced a tune or two of hot summer nights on velvet moonlit lawns. That devil was Rubj. I wear her – not wisely, but I suspect that’s the whole idea. I’m certain Vero Kern would approve.

And speaking of seduction…

Wafting Down The Rabbit Hole

The Devilscents

I’m not sure what to tell people when I say I rewrote an entire novel in just over a month. They give me strange looks and step slightly sideways as if they expect me to breathe fire and speak in tongues any second. What I can say is without a certain arsenal of perfumes, I rather doubt I could have. Just as I write everything to a set playlist, when I fell down the rabbit hole of my own story and its strange and eerie places as writers are wont to do, I needed all the help I could get to stay there, and what better help than the perfumes my story inspired? The ouroboros of inspiration goes around and around… I wrote a story, created the Devilscent Project, perfumes were made, sent and reviewed, and when the time came to knock a sorry mess into something fit for publication, I donned Olympic Orchids’ Lil, Dev #2 & 4, Neil MorrisDev #3 & Lilith, and House of Cherry Bomb’s Dev and Lil during the course of that month and waded into the verbal fray, metaphorical sword in hand. I’m proud to say I did it, proud to state it is now the book I wanted to write (but was unable to at the time, for which I thank the readers of TAG – you’ve taught me so much!), and ecstatic to know that the perfumes and the dear perfumers who rose so beautifully to that infernal occasion made the book that much better! True story. Ask Dev.

Done In By Splendor

It inevitably happens I have what I call Wayne’s World moments – moments I want to kowtow to the floor in front of the perfumer and yell at the top of my lungs: ‘I’m not worthy!’ Many friends have unwittingly sent me a few of these, and others – one I call Evil Incarnate, and I’m not entirely joking – sent these marvels knowing full well I’d freak. These count among my biggest freak-out instances.

Amouage – Epic Woman Extrait (Christopher Chong/Daniel Maurel)

Ah, Epic… how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Twelve sprays on a freezing cold night nearly asphyxiated a rock star (plus everyone else in Scandinavia and most of Northern Europe that night) but did I care? No, and he hugged me goodbye anyway. If I thought the eau de parfum was perdition, I wasn’t at all prepared for the extrait. Swoon.

Krigler – Topaze Imperiale 13

The marvelous thing about Krigler’s Topaze Imperiale 13  – a flawless amber – is that it seems by some strange sleight-of-hand to be constructed upside down, beginning with a decadent sandalwood/patchouli/labdanum and then glowing in the dark with rose, oud, vanilla and orange blossom. In other words, it’s many things I love wrapped up in something that smells like a few handy million after taxes and expenses. I really don’t understand why it doesn’t get more love because by Golly, I’d love it to death and beyond.

Oriza L. Legrand – Chypre Mousse

Once a year these past two years, a perfume will alight out of the blue aether into a world that I suspect is not entirely prepared for it. Last year, MDCI’s Chypre Palatin blew all our socks off, and shortly before New Year’s, this apparition really blew my mind. You see, I cut my perfume teeth on chypres, and I never apply the term lightly – chypres oblige. As Chypre Mousse did by being improbably lush, velvety plush, loaded with thickly applied, musty oakmoss to the max (or whatever accords were used to approximate it) and a definite vintage heritage that ensures there is nothing at all like it, and nothing at all you can compare it to. I know my chypres. Trust me on this one.

Best Comeback Moment

Aftelier  – Cuir de Gardenia (Mandy Aftel)

Dear darling Mandy, you have been very much missed. Rumor has it there is a book underway (I don’t know if it’s true, but wouldn’t that be grand?), but then, you gifted the world with this outrageously sensual out-of-body bombshell of a perfume, and my poor heart has fluttered ever since. I will have much more to say about it, but for now, I can certainly say this much: I’m not worthy!

Score for The Memories

A great tip, a finished manuscript and money in my PayPal account is a dangerous combination. Especially when it involves two of my all-time favorite perfumes in a perfectly preserved vintage incarnation. With a few exceptions, I tend to stay away from vintage perfumes, unless I really, truly, absolutely adored them to death back in the day. For no better reason than this – not only do I live in the niche-free Empty Quarter of Northern Europe, it’s also vintage free, at least where I live. Surely kismet played its fragrant hand on the day I encountered two absolute (vintage) loves. And bought them.

Grès – Cabochard (Bernard Chant)

My mother had a thing for pulpy 70s paperbacks, which was how I first learned about Cabochard in an Irving Stone novel called ‘The Fan Club’ at an impressionable age. Not that many years later, I came across Cabochard in a Copenhagen department store, remembered the book, and bought it. It took me a while to come around to this sexy, slinky leathery green chypre, but come around I did – I was never without a bottle of it again for almost twenty years. When it was gone, I missed it sorely– for the memories, for its slinky-sexy Kim Novak-in-Vertigo vibe, for everything I felt I was when I wore it. So the day I found a vintage version, I bought it pronto and found it to be everything I remembered and loved. In other words, perfect for all the Hitchcock moments I anticipate.

Dior – Dioressence (Guy Robert)

My first Dior was the original Miss Dior, but no Dior quite grabbed me as the louche, bohemian and more than a little risqué Dioressence. Part green, part dirty, part dark and all feline, it wafted behind a short, busty punk in a blue Mohawk through several years of thrills and spills and can now work its green, feline magic on a short, busty blonde all over again. One can never be too louche past a certain age…

The Devil In The Details

I loathe narcissism, but I approve of vanity. (Diana Vreeland)

Sequestered behind my screen, I can pretend all I like I am everything I ever was, but as events no doubt will prove in the year to come, I can’t hide there any longer. This past year, the Genie ventured into beauty products, and although my main focus here will always be perfume, beauty is as beauty does and leopard print pjs will never do for public appearances. I was never more grateful for upgrading my image than when two spectacularly talented perfumers also ventured into skin and haircare…

 aroma M Camellia Oils

Perfumer Maria McElroy of aroma M ventured into haircare and skincare this past year with her Camellia oils (for hair, for the face and a delicious bath and body oil). I have this to say about them all – they are heavenly fragrant, highly effective and utter bliss to use. I’ll take ten of each to go, please.

Aftelier Ancient Resins Body Oil & Jasmine Facial Oil

With Aftelier, you know it will be good. Actually, it will be so good, you’ll be doomed – or spoiled for life – to revel in these wonders and know your face, your skin, your nose and your very soul will thank you for them forever.

Underrated Gratitude

Everything, so claimed James Burke once upon a time, is connected. Nowhere was this truer than when I encountered an issue  – vanity or narcissism, take your pick – and asked one of my Beauty Swamis about concealer. If I have a day I look better than usual, I can thank Gaia the Non Blonde, because she has never steered me wrong, starting with…

Ellis Faas – Concealer & Hot Lips

There are few things cooler than finding a perfect product that does exactly what it says it will, performs impeccably, and makes you feel well, perfect. Thanks to the Non Blonde, I bought a concealer to start, followed by two shades of Hot Lips – a lip stain of a different kind – and wow, what a difference! I’ll never need an excuse not to act my shoe size ever again.

Nars – Pressed Light Reflecting Setting Powder

It was a Nightmare Scenario. My first professional photo shoot at a time in my life I looked (and felt) about thirty years older than my already advanced age. I was mid-deadline (and nearly dead on my feet) and terrified I’d look like microwaved death soup on my dust jacket. A bit of research and a long Skype conversation with my awesome publisher (who knows these things matter!) landed this indispensible item in my mailbox the day before the shoot. It impressed the makeup artist and the photographer impressed me (and quite a few other people) no end with the results.

Dear Non Blonde. Thank you. Signed, a Blonde.

And as I look through my notes for these Best Of posts, somewhere in the borderlands between beauty and vanity, between fragrance and fragrant, connections and people, I think that in my own evolution as a perfume writer, as a writer and perhaps most of all as a woman these past three-plus years, maybe this is the greatest of all year-end wrap-ups and the greatest of all gifts – to know that somewhere out there on the other side of your screen, is a frothing, seething lot of truly inspiring people who believe as you do in the importance of capturing beauty – or the Muse – as she flies. And above all else,  in passing its wisdom on.

Here’s to the thrills and spills that lie ahead in 2014!

With profound thanks to Ida, Lucy, Ruth, Gaia, Tami, Tamsin, Claudia, Maria, Ellen, Neil, Alexis, Mandy and all those friends I feel so blessed to have in my life. 

A Necessary Evil

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT XIII

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- a review of Neil Morris’ ‘Lilith’ for the Devilscent Project

Do you know that feeling when the fine hairs on the back of your neck rise up in some numinous awareness you can neither articulate nor define, you just have the sensation that something – or someone is… there?

You see a glimpse out of the corner of your eye, hear steps on the stairs, scan the room as you enter, look down the street and yet, nothing and no one is there. Your imagination plays its tricks on you again, that occupational hazard all writers have that will manifest those shadows and echoes of their mind into being and another kind of reality.

I’ve felt that way for weeks, felt as if someone hovered just out of sight, just around the corner, just down the street from where I stood. Someone leaving a lingering trace behind, a fleeting memory, a touch of another human awareness, a nearly undetectable ribbon of interwoven light and dark, a few scant molecules hovering on like motes of dust sparking possibilities forth from the sun streaming through an open window.

It was like that. I was being stalked in some indescribable way, but what it was I didn’t know and couldn’t guess until today, when finally, the return of the sun and intimations of heat became too much for even this sun-starved, workaholic writer, and I could bear it not one minute longer. I put on my boots, my Poiret-inspired fur-lined winter coat and my teal scarf, and walked to the beech woods that hug the hills and line the fiord of this town I live and write in, searching for this slippery spring I couldn’t find, trying to forget that ephemeral presence of something …or someone who wanted to elude me.

I walked out along the path that led through the woods along the fiord, seeing the patches of melting snow that clung against a few north-facing beeches, saw the green beginnings of wood violets peep through last year’s weather-blasted leaves, saw celadon shoots that would soon become star-dotted carpets of aconites on the forest floor, and the wild garlic’s emerald tide that sang its own lusty, aromatic aria with the wood doves billowing in the trees above.

They all told me the same tale, all sang the same melody despite the chilly, easterly wind:

It’s spring, it’s spring, it’s spring!

I walked through the woods until I came to a favorite bench by a bridge across a stream, out of the wind but well in the sun, until I sat down for a while to breathe in April, and suddenly, without warning, the fine hairs on the nape of my neck rose up underneath my collar, and there it was again, that interwoven dark and bright, a revealing trail…of perfume.

It was sweet as the wood doves, heady as the promise of heat that lurked underneath the leaves, lusciously dancing somewhere between rays of champagne bubble aldehyde and lemon, bergamot and a deeper, candied apricot the color of September, the faraway taste of an unimaginable, future October.

Which was when I saw a fleeting shadow underneath a beech across the bridge, and as I inhaled that perfumed ribbon in the air and the ambient perfume of burgeoning spring, that shadow froze, grew deeper, darker, ever more substantial and less spectral, until finally, it materialized, as real and as solid as the soaring gray columns of the beeches around me. A woman, impeccably clothed in a black wool suit and coat, flawlessly coiffed, impossibly, inhumanly perfect, with the April light caught in the ambery glints of her hair.

It was Lilith, Queen of the Succubi. Long dead yet never, never forgotten, she haunted me still with her presence, her story, her tragedy and her beauty, too. She walked across the bridge, her boots tapping out a steady 4/4 on the mossy, slippery boards and sat down next to me on the bench.

For a moment, we sat in silence, listening to the birdsong and the wind in the trees above, watching the squirrels chase each other on the boughs over the stream.

“Did you know,” she said after a while, “I was born only a few miles away from here, some very long time ago.”

“I did know. I promised myself, if I ever write the prequel, I would write your story, of how you came to be what you are.”

“What I was, you mean. Ah, the promises of writers, as substantial and as solid as anything I could scribble on the water in that stream.” She nodded toward the gurgling water down below us, chattering to the birds above as it rushed downhill to join the water in the fiord. “You’ll have other ideas. And an agent who tells you which ones to sell and ways to sell them, and which ones to drop.” She picked up a pebble on the ground and threw it into the stream. “You’ll move on to another life far away and other stories and other demons you’ll conjure on virtual paper to haunt your readers, whereas I…” her voice trailed off. “I’ll live between the pages of a book you wrote a long time ago and a story you told the world.” She kept her eyes on the beeches across the bridge.

“So long as one person remembers you, you are immortal,” I quoted. “You’re forgetting something. You’ll live on in four perfumes that illuminated you in four different ways.”

She stretched out her legs. “How fitting, it was four perfumes. The first, Ellen’s, that of power, initiative, will and domination, one perfectly poised and perfectly poisoned fragrant attack, Maria and Alexis’, such a velvety balance of contradiction and opposites when I see what the protagonist will do, Kedra’s majestic Babylon Noir, culmination and advantage. Fully appropriate for the Queen of the Succubi. And now…this one. Fitting, it should be the fourth, and the last of my perfumes. The number of persistence and endurance and evolution.”

As she said it, she looked up into the crowns of the trees far, far above us, where the buds on the branches echoed the intricate lace of her suit against the sky, the nearly abstracted complications of an opulent rose and decadent narcissus thrumming her floral secrets out on an April wind. Rich, beautifully evolving, endlessly compelling, as mysterious as midnight and as dark as her heart.

Down below, the stream carried our words out to the fiord and into the Baltic, out to the world and its endless, roiling oceans.

“A bit ironic, how imagination works in such nefarious, diabolical ways.” This time, she turned to look straight at me. I was struck yet again how much my creation resembled me, and then again, not at all. “I mean, ironic, is it not, that it took a woman to understand the Devil – at least as you did – and it took a man to understand my motives and reasons, and then captured them in a perfume?”

“Well, I’m not surprised. Neil is exceptional at that. It’s what he does so beautifully, and so successfully. Perfumes are hardest of all to articulate, unless you know how.” I shifted on the wooden bench, and now, I supposed we looked nothing more nor less than two friends chatting on a bench in the sun on a spring afternoon.

“You do that well. This…” she breathed it in deep, “is a Lilith to remember. That narcissus! Is it narcissus? The illusion of vanity, or just its reflection writing on water, on hopes and dreams that are just as substantial. The rose to tell another tale, that once upon a far-off time I did love and I did care, and I was not so evil nor so unforgiving.”

“I think it’s funny that we always need to explain evil,” I said. “We have to understand it, understand its motivations, and the evil we can never comprehend is the evil that has no reasons, no rhyme, no…rationale except its own existence.”

“You’re right, of course.” She breathed in again, and in the air, the rose faded to a memory as the narcissus drew up smoke and mirrors, more illusions and mysteries, was it tobacco, subversively, seamlessly folded into Lilith’s depths, a touch of arcane labdanum, the unifying theme of all the Devilscents, and coumarin – all grassy, new-mown hay, lighting its own bonfires beneath narcissus, the fires it took a woman like Lilith to inspire.

“Except sometimes” she pushed her hair back over her shoulder, “evil is a necessary counterpoint to good, like dark to light, to make us appreciate what we would otherwise take for granted.”

If evil were the sum and total of this lascivious, decadent drydown, it would be hard to imagine it as anything bad.

“Like antagonists in suspect first novels,” I said. “They have to be bad to make the hero look good.”

“No,” she stated, with a flat finality, with shades of her former resolute self and to my complete surprise. “They have to be bad to get the hero to move, to get the story to evolve, or otherwise, what story is it? Who would read it? Human lives and real life stories are plenty banal enough. Readers want to live vicariously, want to feel that thrill of suspense and the awe of the unknown, because so much of it has been eradicated from your lives.”

“You’re right.” I was not so arrogant, I couldn’t concede that much. It was impossible to be arrogant on such an April afternoon.

She stood up. “Of course, darling! I always am. So what was I, caught in the liquid filigree of this perfume of Neil’s? Was I that paradox of femininity, the sweet and the light, or the deeper, darker floral heart? Was I all illusion, as all characters in novels must be, yet an illusion you somehow made real? Or did Neil do that, explicating all that Lilith of the Succubi must be, should be – less a villainess for the ages and more…a tragedy of beauty? I’ll tell you. But first, you must make me a promise.”

“A promise? To the Queen of the Succubi? That sounds like a dangerous prospect!” I laughed, laughed since I knew where this was headed, I knew Lilith that well.

“Yes!” Her face was so earnest, her voice so adamant, I felt it as much as I breathed it in that perfume of promise and deliverance, of enigma and explanation. I rose to my feet, and instantly, she grabbed me by my collar. “Promise me…to take it out into the world, promise you won’t let this hope die, promise me I’ll live on forever after today.” She looked me right in the eye as she said it, not as the Lilith I had known and feared for so long, but as the woman she must have been one very long time ago, not so far away.

“Promise!”

There was nothing else I could say. I thought – in that heartbeat from one moment to the next where all possibilities lie, where stories are written, where everything, everything changes – of all my fears of failure, and all my black and far bleaker terror of success, and then, I knew it. I could feel it in my bones and in the wind, feel it in this liquid filigree of a perfume and its potential.

“I promise.”

She walked toward the bridge and began to cross it, and as she did, as the wind carried her perfume with her, wrapped her warm in her secrets and her story, she grew more and more transparent, more and more ephemeral, like the breath of a narcissus in April. I saw her go, felt that perfume fade with a pang in my heart, for I knew I would never see her again except where I saw her first – in that dark place in my mind I never knew I had until she told me through my words.

“So what was it?” I shouted into the wind. “What were you?” My voice sounded haunted, misplaced in this spring wood of beeches and flowery covenant.

I heard a laugh as a puff of wind blew her away into the air, blew her perfume into a limitless blue sky.

“You didn’t know?” she called out, from beyond the bridge now, gone with her evanescent perfume, her own promises and portent. “Tell Neil – he got it right! That I’m all of this and one thing more, one thing you should have known.”

As if the trees wanted the answer too, the wind quieted down, the birds in the trees stopped singing for an instant, even the burbling stream ceased its song and Lilith’s voice was all I heard.

“A necessary evil!”

She laughed again, laughed with all her smoky promises, laughed like that narcissus must have at the wonder of the spring, and was gone.

The stream carried out her words and her perfume into the fiord, into the Baltic, and into the ocean of the world.

————————————————

Neil Morris‘Lilith’, created for the Devilscent Project, is available through his Vault collection of perfumes.

Illustration: Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, ‘La Mort Parfumée’ (1921), pencil, watercolor, gouache and gold paint on paper, The Hunterian Gallery, Glasgow,  Color edit by me.

With profound gratitude to Neil Morris, and to Lucy, who inspired this review in a recent Skype conversation.

The Occult Topography of Desire

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT XI

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- a review of Neil Morris’ ‘Dev #3’ for the Devilscent Project

The biggest drawback – or delight, take your pick – of writing fiction is when those figments of your imagination called characters take on a life of their own, as surely they will. Sometimes, they come to you fully fledged and rounded out, personalities intact, and sometimes, they seem to elude you, mocking you and hovering on that brink of existence just beyond your reach. Some characters gatecrash your story without an invitation and no bouncer no matter how big or burly can throw them out again, not even you.

There’s another kind of character. One who haunts your dreams and stalks your waking hours, one who somehow slides serpentine and silent in between the words whether you want it or not, the one who comes to stay, casting long, ominous shadows over all you create in that haunted house of mirrors you call your imagination, the one who must be or should be as real as anyone you know.

I call him Dev. Dev came to me on a wind-blown November night of rain and portent the night I began what would later become ‘Quantum Demonology’, yet somehow, through all I put him through and all I wrote, something about him remained just outside my grasp. He was too nice in the first draft, so he complained. (I rewrote accordingly.) He took me black and bleak places I never knew I had, made me realize and write what I never dared before, often breathed softly down my neck as I wrote and one 3 AM spooked me senseless when I looked up from the laptop for an instant to see him standing by the window watching me wrestle the words. (True story, I swear. I blame the music playing at the time.)

Yet not until the perfumers of the Devilscent conjured – or decoded? – all his multiple selves did he crack through that third wall and become entirely and completely real, as real as this room, or the people walking through the rain down on the street below as I type. All of them different, all of them true, all revealing insights into that complex entity he is, as well as who he chose to be at certain points in my story.

Here on my desk is another Dev, a Dev of super sexy Sturm und Drang, and supreme, suave elegance, a Dev you could never, ever forget and would never, ever want to. An homme fatal, if ever there were.

“OK, that’s enough of the purple prose, baby. At the rate you’re going, you won’t be able to publish this on TAG, but I’m sure a few erotica publishers might be interested.”

I jumped four feet and banged my head on my sloping dormer ceiling.

Dev sat in the windowsill right beside my desk, looking for all the world as if he had been there all along, keeping a jaded, knowing eye on me and my (horrid) procrastination habits. Same beat-up leather jacket, same wellworn jeans, same incendiary grin that could persuade me to do anything, write anything, go…anywhere. Only this time – it’s February, after all – he wore a midnight-black cashmere scarf draped casually around his neck that matched his turtleneck sweater, also black.

“I thought…” it took me a while to find my voice again, “I thought I’d never see you again. I mean…I moved, and…” I stammered.

“And you’ve been through the wringer meanwhile, poor baby. I know. I know everything. I’m sorry I had…things to do. But I’m back. And I’m not leaving any time soon, if that makes you feel any better.”

“I’m not sure. That could get complicated.” I thought of my former roommate on the ground floor, who liked to pop up to say hello every so often in the hopes I’d cook dinner for her again. She’d live on just-add-water anything otherwise.

“Hush. Let me deal with complications. They’re my specialty. So…Neil is at it again. A very prosaic #3 on the bottle. You know, I always thought it was the greatest thing that Neil Morris decided to join. I mean, estrogen interprets your prose in a certain way – that’s perfectly all right, and tells me you could have a monster hit on your hands – but Neil is a guy. He notices other things, keys off other words and other aspects. We had the overture with Midnight. And we had the first movement I could call Great Expectations with his Dev no. 1.” He turned the bottle over in his hands, pushed up a sleeve and sprayed his wrist. The elegant nostrils of a long, straight Italian nose twitched with pleasure. “Dev no. 2 was a spicy, fiery, allegro con brio Eat me’ creature.” He laughed. “So you did. Well, this is…something else, something just as intricate, but it goes another way.”

“Tell me about it.” I was writing my fifth pathetic attempt to review it when Dev popped up, praying that maybe this time, I’d manage to nail my impressions with the beautiful prose the perfume assuredly deserved.

“Sure.” He shrugged. A definite Noo Joisey shrug. “This…is the andante con fuoco, the point of no return, the inevitable. This one is the secret Dev you tucked away in your words, the one it took Neil to find.” He leaned closer to where I sat before my laptop, spellbound by his words.

It had been so long, so long. I thought my muse had left me forever. I breathed in those smoky, thunderous, floral overtones, the labdanum flowing its heated lava heartbeat current underneath. This stuff was so sensuous, it would surely be banned for Lent. If not bought up lock, stock and barrel by a certain global organization in Rome and stashed away in a secret vault as being too incendiary for the faithful.’

“It balances on a very fine point – floral, sweet, heady. Supremely elegant, but this isn’t elegant like any clichéed tropes of perfumery – this is…a dangerous elegant, an occult elegance, one you might need a certain level of sophistication to truly appreciate. This one, baby…” he growled it sotto voce in my ear, and it took all I had to take dictation – “maps the topography of desire. All of it, and all you wrote into your story. Why do we want the ones we want, what is it we see reflected back to our secret, subterranean selves? We see what we could be and what we could invoke. We see what we could be, what we could feel if there were no limits, no inhibitions, if nothing else mattered at all.”

Before I let review be review and to Hades and Tartarus with it all, he moved away, back to the windowsill. I could breathe again.

“Why me?” He shrugged. “Because I took you to bedrock, baby, took you where you had never been before and didn’t know you needed to be and now…you can’t go back ever again to what you once were. Muses are dangerous. Trust me. I know.”

Now, I breathed in something else besides that molten lava labdanum, the seductive floral promises he might or might not keep, of narcissus? Jasmine? A whisper of rose? An animal stirred in that fragrant deep, an animal of an unmistakable kind…If this perfume really were that ‘topography of desire’ – which described it exceedingly well – then here was the mountain range of ‘want’ we try to climb, beating our heartbeat paths to the forest of ‘need’ that lies along the way.

Dev sniffed again. “Oh, yes. Here it is, that river of Lethe, not the one whose waters make you forget your earthly life, but the one that plants you in this instant, this moment with this person, this living reflection of your primeval self…animal, bitter, white-hot, musky, leathery. This is way out rock’n’roll rapaciousness, baby. What did you call it?” He peered over my shoulder as I typed, and again, it was all I could do to keep my fingers on the keyboard when they had other, more nefarious plans. If I ever had any inhibitions, any doubts, any secret places I feared to tread, they were long gone so long as I could breathe this.

“Ah! Yeah, that’s it precisely, ‘the forest of need…’ Here’s where you throw away the roadmap. There’s no road. No map. No mountains, no inhibitions and no forest, only two people and one heartbeat, one question and one answer. Nothing matters except where you are and who you’re with and it’s exactly where you want to be and what you want to do. Right where everything can be lost, and everything can be won.” He looked out of the window for a moment at the people passing by. “And then…” he said to his ghostly reflection in the window, “that final kiss of floral after the tempest has passed on elsewhere, that last caress of labdanum as a reminder of what was, and where you were. Entirely present in a perfect, supercharged, white-hot moment and there was nothing at all else.”

I was speechless. “Damn. Maybe you should write all my reviews.”

He laughed, the kind of laugh I hadn’t heard for such a long, long time. “Nah. Don’t sell yourself short. This perfume is sheer genius. A perfumer at the very pinnacle of his art and big kudos to you for inspiring it. And that’s another reason I had to come back. You forgot to believe, baby. I’m not blaming you. I’m just here to remind you…Believe. We made a deal, you and I. I won’t let you forget it.”

Faster than I could blink, he moved in a blur of black and stood behind me, breathing those perfumed, occult secrets down my neck, breathing me alive again.

I hardly dared to move. Such a perfume, such a journey, such a rush to see my daimon once again…

“Believe, baby. Believe…in yourself, believe that you can manifest anything, do anything, go where you’re wanted, be what you need to be. And another thing…”

His breath was hot down my neck, the silky-soft fringe of his cashmere scarf a caress on my cheek.

“Never forget…about that occult topography of desire.” I thought I felt a kiss at the base of my neck, as soft as cashmere fringe, and he was gone.

Only the sultry, silken growl of that audacious no. 3 in the room to remind me…

Believe.

NeilsDev3

_____________________________________

Note: Neil has told me that his five breathtaking perfumes for the Devilscent Project will soon be made available to the public. Believe it!

Photo: ©Katarina Silva 2012. All rights reserved. Used by very grateful permission. Bottom photo of Neil Morris’ Dev no. 3 – my iPhone.

The Best of 2012 – Worn & Adored!

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 - Being the true confessions of a hapless perfume writer…

Ah, the perils of a perfume writer’s existence. So many perfumes – according to Basenotes, 1366 new fragrances were launched in 2012 –so very little time! Without being able to sometimes club flotsam and jetsam reviews together – meaning I review more than one at a time – I’d be toast.

As it is, my ghost will probably be typing away in the afterlife long after my hopefully timely demise just to catch up on the backlog, wondering if Stygian WiFi is reliable…;-)

I also try to have a perfume free day every week to recalibrate my nose, which makes it easier to delve into the ones I do review.

Some of the perfumes I wore most in 2012 are repeats from my other two lists, for no other cause than I couldn’t live without them, others I have yet to review but I wore them anyway. Yet for all those new and/or newly discovered perfumes, sometimes, all this girl wants to do is wear a familiar favorite, and I’ve certainly done that, too.

These are the ones I have wafted and adored beyond all reason. For as surely as my readers know, reason had nothing to do with it!

Aftelier

Few things are more fun than scenting some of your favorite characters in books. It doesn’t get any cooler than to perfume the characters of your making, as my own project proved. Yet I suspect that Sophia – one important character who appears in my book Quantum Demonology – would wear Aftelier’s Fig, and whenever I’ve needed to borrow some of her own earthy grounding, Fig was a perfect fit. I loved it in an instant when I found it, and I love it dearly still. I hear Sophia’s Flatbush twang whenever I put it on. “C’mon, hon,” she seems to say, “just cut the bs already, whydoncha?” I do try.

Amouage

Some days, nothing but an Amouage will do. I’ve had a few of those this past year, especially with Memoir Woman, Beloved, and certainly Opus VI. I also came to discover that bone dry, bitter cold – as we had in late January last year – turns my Cloak of Invincibility, Epic Woman, into a very moody, oud-y creature. I suspect that’s why my sister hates it. Considering some of the stink bombs she’s hit me with over the years, it’s only fair.

Aroma M

It’s said that the scent of Artemisia – which we sometimes know as wormwood and also as absinthe – furthers creativity. Who am I to argue with the Fée Verte glories of the Belle Époque? Aroma M’s Geisha Green is one of the most beautifully rendered absinthe perfumes I know, and whatever it takes ‘to further creativity’, I’ll do. That I received it as a present from a very dear friend makes it even more special.

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

Ah, the lovely Dawn, she breaks my heart. For creating such stellar works of beauty as indeed she always, always does, and for making me cry, as I did when she so sweetly sent me her YSL Retrospective Collection made in collaboration with the Denver Art Museum’s Yves Saint Laurent exhibition. Those lucky enough to see it were treated not only to some of the most seminal – and spectacular – creations of my all-time favorite designer, they were also tempted with Dawn’s olfactory reinterpretations of some of his designs – and perfumes. La Vie En Rose – her tribute to one of my own Great Immortals, vintage YSL Paris, was so flawless, it made me cry. To be hit over the head by a massively packed suitcase of Guilt Trip for not reviewing that collection yet. The best defense in the face of Major Procrastination is an attack. Dawn, darling, yours will be my first review of 2013. As for the rest of you – read all about it!

Editions Frédéric Malle

Last year was my year of The Tuberose. It was a note I approached with some trepidation – one does not mess with this floral diva – only to find just how much I adored it, especially when it’s as stunning as the justly celebrated Carnal Flower by Dominique Ropion. I suspect that the equally lovely Lys Méditerranée won’t be too far behind its sister in the Flawless Floral department. I am so doomed.

The Ex (Dev) Factor

I’m single now, so alas I don’t know a lot of (willing) masculine lab rats for when I needed to skin-test assorted testaments to Thermonuclear Testosterone Bombshells – also known as the Devilscents. For this reason and several others, mainly his resigned-to-the-inevitable sense of humor, I recruited Super Mario Sr. He then proceeded to ruin the female wait staff one night at a local Italian trattoria by deviously dabbing their boyfriend chefs in the kitchen with House of Cherry Bomb’s Dev. Those ladies  – usually quite clearheaded and competent in a busy, popular restaurant – were useless that night. Resistance was futile. The next day, so he told me, everyone showed up with Epic Night To Remember grins on their faces. The guys all demanded to know, as only red-blooded Italian males can – “WHERE can we buy that stuff prontissimo???” He never told them. Some things – and some secrets, apparently – are just…too good to share! Some time later, Monica Miller of Perfume Pharmer was sweet enough to send me a liquid decant of the scent of her own Dev massage lotion bar. I had just enough time to sniff it, before he declared this was his new liquid definition of awesome, and stole it with that elegant sleight-of-hand Geminis so excel at. I never saw it again.

Exotic Island Aromas

Here comes Guilt Trip suitcase no. 2. Monica also flattered me this past year by requesting my dubious services for her Primordial Scents Project. As part of it, I received Juan Perez’ – the creator of Exotic Island Aromas – two contributions, and never in my life was a sample vial drained faster than his utterly unearthly Flor Azteca. You can therefore imagine how happy I was to win a roll-on of this wonder in a draw. Full review forthcoming or I am so dead, but this feral phantasm of a tuberose is to breathe – and die! – for.

House of Cherry Bomb

As if the devastation wrought by their Dev weren’t enough, the Awesome Twosome of the House of Cherry Bomb also made Lilith, and as opportunity would have it, on one of two dates I had last year, I wore it to see a former boyfriend I hadn’t seen in eighteen years. I really don’t know what came over me. Or him. Let’s just say the reunion was a happy one. I blame the perfume. It couldn’t possibly have been me.

Neela Vermeire Creations

When your preconceptions are blown to smithereens, when you’re blown to dandelion fluff on a high summer wind by beauty, if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to wear it again as often as you can. In the case of the truly spectacular Trayee and Mohur, this could never happen often enough, and I’ve worn both of them frequently in 2012 with no end in sight. On those dire, far-too-early mornings when I told my reflection despairingly that Attitude Is Everything, I’ve worn Bombay Bling. I dare anyone to wear it without a smile on their faces! All three NVC creations have been plastered all over almost everyone’s Best of 2012 lists, and I’m not about to argue with splendor.

Neil Morris Fragrances

Among perfumistas, the astonishing Neil Morris is one of those great cult figures of American perfumery, far too cool to be a household name, much, much too talented not to be. No one was more flabbergasted than I when he chose to participate in the Devilscent Project – with alacrity and an infernal amount of glee, I might add. It pains me more than I can say to know that I only have two more Neil Morrises to review for the DSP, but on the other hand, it thrills me beyond compare to know that Neil,my darling, I’m not letting you get away! Rumi, made for his Vault Collection has become a signature I never want to be without, but I could certainly say the same for all five of his creations for the project. The good news for the rest of Planet Perfume is I understand they’ll soon be made available to the general public. Be afraid – in all the most perilous, perfumed ways…

Niki de Saint Phalle

In the Bad Old Days of the Eighties, when I wasn’t wearing my usual sock-it-to-‘em wonders, I was a definite green chypre kind of chica. No one was more thrilled than I when the opportunity to acquire this oft-overlooked gem came along. Niki de Saint Phalle is a softer, mossier and more approachable sibling of my beloved Bandit, and today, it is so unusual among the usual fruitchoulis in my vicinity, it always gets me noticed.

Olympic Orchids

One of my favorite things about inspiration is I never know in advance where it will take me. I suspect my partner-in-crime Ellen Covey would agree. So far as I’ve been able to tell, our notorious little project has redefined quite a few of her own sensibilities, and it’s certainly shown a far more dangerous, if not sinister side of her as a perfumer than anyone could have expected, least of all this longtime fan on the other side of the world. Labdanum – one of the oldest, most sacred perfumery materials – was a leitmotif of the DSP, and her opulent, labdanum-rich Dev #4 puts labdanum front and center in a whole new, peerless – and heartbreaking – light. (Ellen, I’m saving those other Devs for the (unlikely?) event I find a testosterone bomb to put them on… ;-) ) Her Lil unnerved my colleagues many times this past year, before I swiped them off the floor in a photorealistic rosy swoon with her glorious Ballets Rouges.

Opus Oils

When I get rich, I want of everything Isis by Opus Oils. Because blue lotus – one of my favorite floral notes – really, truly doesn’t get any better than this. And when I want to bring out my inner hell-raising bad-gal, Opus Oils and Michelle Kredd Kydd’s M’Eau Jo no. 3 is the best intoxication to be found this side of a bottle of Jack D’s. In no time at all, I’m backstage again on a sofa in a green room with a libertine, cleavage-loving guitarist, sharing the filthiest jokes we know…

Ormonde Jayne

When a line has more hits than misses with me, I know I’m in trouble. Or I am trouble. Which is precisely what I am whenever I’ve worn Orris Noir, and that happens often with this luminous, rich and decadent iris. This past summer and early fall – or just whenever I’m in the mood for bluer skies and warmer climes – I’ve added Frangipani to my Ormonde Jaynes, simply for being the embodiment of everything tropical and happy and positively perfect, which is how it makes me feel, although I really should know better. Do I care? Not in the slightest.

Puredistance

If there is a celestial location where the epitome of spring is kept on tap, where Green reigns serene as well as supreme, then surely, it smells like Annie Bezantian’s masterpiece for Puredistance,Antonia? If there isn’t, there certainly should be.

Parfums Serge Lutens

2012 was the year I delved quite a bit deeper into the nefarious doings of Mssrs. Lutens and Sheldrake thanks to the interventions of a few perfume fairies. I’m not sure whether to thank them or curse them for that…but I’ve worn a lot of Lutens this past year, among them Rousse – I come from a long, long line of redheads, or at least that’s my excuse, De Profundis, which was everything in a chilly green kiss I could possibly have hoped for, and the breathtaking Sarrasins, which shot to the top of my jasmine exosphere in a flash and sank me to the floor in a heartbeat, overcome by this outrage of night-blooming jasmine so stunning, my world twirled, tilted and has never been quite the same since.

The Japanese Zen masters have yet another word for that instant when suddenly, all those random little factoids and odds and ends of things you know – or thought you did – fall into place as if by magic, and everything becomes as obvious as breathing, as clear and as sparkling as Baccarat crystal. That heartbeat when suddenly you get it, you get it all – the beauty, the peril, the earth, the sky, the air…the art? Zen wrapped all of it into one word and called it…satori.

Aren’t those the very moments we live and breathe for?

With thanks to all the perfume fairies!

The Best of 2012 – Perfumes and Perfumers

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 - 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!

Falling Forward

 - an ode to my favorite fragrant Fall thrills

Autumn is one of my favorite times of the year. A little melancholy, slightly tinged with regrets for what might have been and what should have been done, autumn has also proven itself to be the season of cataclysmic change this year, a change so drastic, it’s been all I can do to hang on by the skin of my teeth and know…that all I can do is to go with the flow and give myself over…to evolution and the knowledge that from here on, life can only get more exciting.

And I can give myself over to the many pleasures of falling forward…into autumn, into the incendiary glow of golden-leafed trees, ruby-hued leaves, and the intoxicating sharp scent of burning wood fireplaces and bonfires, the smell of mushrooms and cepes sprouting up overnight, the sound and scent of apples falling to the ground, that looming breath of steel and stone that lurks beneath the colors and the chills in the air. Wrapping my chilly, wintry self into favorite woolen sweaters, and wrapping favorite scarves and mufflers around my neck, inhaling that palimpsest of perfumes worsted in the wool.

Autumn is also an excuse for hauling out the heavy, heady perfumes with which to slay the unsuspecting world – the ones I wear as I would wear cashmere, the ones that comfort and console me on rainy days and Thursdays, the ones I wear like scented armor, and all the ones I love…

Below, you’ll find some of my favorite autumn fumes, the ones that contain October  and November in their essence, the ones that trail behind me like the ghosts of autumns past as well as harbinger angels of the future possibilities that lie ahead, waiting for when life returns and all is green again.

L’Artisan Parfumeur – Seville à l’Aube

It’s generally agreed that Bertrand Duchaufour is one of the greatest perfumed geniuses alive today. His work has ruined me several times over this year, when I was introduced to Neela Vermeire’s breathtaking perfume odes to her native India and all three of them shot to the top of my Most Worn of the year list. Next came an introduction to L’Artisan’s Dzongkha – one haunting, numinous iris – and Sienne L’Hiver, no less haunting and evocative. They all broke my heart. But when I read of Duchaufour’s collaboration with one of my own inspirations, Denyse Beaulieu of Grain de Musc, and heard the fated words ‘orange’ and ‘blossom’, I was had at the first syllable. Oh! So imagine my anticipation when I moved in on a split of Seville à L’Aube blind (this very rarely happens any longer), and all it took to tip me over the edge was one fatal sniff…My full review will be up in a few weeks, but this mesmerizing blend of orange blossom, lavender and incense is …flawless.

Amouage – Memoir Woman

Something about autumn brings out my inner Goth, which is to say, that part of me that appreciates seriously depressed-mode music, rainy days, and lots of witchy black velvet. While I wouldn’t be so bold as to say Memoir Woman is Goth per se, I will say that it is a moody, magnificent, haunting perfume of a kind that tends to stick in the mind long after it wears off. I didn’t like it much at first, but I couldn’t stop sniffing. It reminded me of a advertising tagline I once cooked up for a story I wrote: “Haunted. What he will be.” Haunting, unforgettable, there is nothing quite like it and nothing quite like a love that grows and grows to haunt you.  As it has. As I have been. As I remain.

Serge Lutens – De Profundis

Some claimed that dear Uncle Serge had somehow lost his marbles when De Profundis was released, and I have no idea what mushrooms they nibbled, because De Profundis – inspired by the treatise by Oscar Wilde, death and funereal chrysanthemums – is simultaneously green, cool and impossible to forget. Incense, chrysanthemum and a mesmerizing icy green-tinged, tear-stained violet chill all add up to ‘spellbinding’ in my book, but if any Lutens is perfect for that delicious melancholy that pervades October Sunday afternoons, it’s this one.

Aftelier – Cepes and Tuberose

My first introduction to the fabled perfumes of Aftelier was Mandy Aftel’s justly famous and unorthodox Cepes and Tuberose, which is earthy, floral, spicy, heady bottled magic – or else a horror story of mildewed mushroom and airy tuberose. There is truly nothing at all else quite like it, and you either adore it or hate it. I have since that fatal introduction loved it so much, a mini of the parfum goes where I go and a dab often wafts as I breathe no matter what else I wear. It smells golden to me – golden as the maple leaves that now are turning red to bloom in midair and dance their leafy sigh into the ground.

Neela Vermeire – Trayee

Whether it’s the blaze of color or the sudden shock of chill in the air, there is something numinous about autumn, something that reminds you of the passage of time and the ephemerality of all life. When that sudden pang of mortality hits me with the delicate slap of a falling leaf, I often reach for Trayee, a swirling, whirling, spicy Mahabarata epic in a bottle, wit its fiery, feisty cardamom, a wink or two of sacred bhang, smoke, incense and samsara. In no time, my spirits lift and my mood improves, and I dream such faraway dreams of other times and other, sacred spaces.

A Trinity of Ambers

Autumn is also the perfect time for ambers…those glorious, heady, drop-dead sexy golden potions I once hated and now love with a fury that teeters on obsession. Three in particular hold pride of place in my amber-tinted Pantheon, and I’m not even sure I can bear to know there will be others in their wake. The Great Khadine, Serge Lutens’ Ambre Sultan, with its opening green bite and its sumptuous drydown, whispers its secrets in my ear, while Amouage’s Opus VI speaks its twisting, turning, ever-evolving tongues of wood flickering in firelight, and when I stand still and listen to the beat of my heart in the moonlight, Neil Morris’ Rumi trills its transcendental tale of another kind of sweet-scented magic.

Labdanum dreams

The ongoing Devilscent Project has completely changed my life around in more ways than one. I could talk about these unbelievable perfumes until the cows came home to roost, but the one note the Devil insisted upon to his perfumers was labdanum, a whole fragrant universe unto itself, and one of the oldest perfumery materials in the world. When life has been known to grind me down, Olympic Orchids’ spare, pensive Dev #4, which puts a magnificent labdanum in the spotlight, centers me as nothing else will, so even I can envision such luscious, labdanum things come true. As I do, I’m often taken back to a midnight moment in time, and when I am, another spicier, darker, more ominous labdanum-tinged marvel wafts forward, and that is Neil Morris’ Midnight at the Crossroads Café.

Olivier Durbano – Black Tourmaline

One reviewer on Fragrantica stated that Olivier Durbano’s Black Tourmaline was ‘for real men only’. This is absolute nonsense. For Black Tourmaline is a stunning mélange of leather and the darkest, deepest, smokiest incense you can imagine, and I’ve received many, many compliments when I’ve worn it, despite being nothing masculine in the slightest, not even in a tux. It’s as otherworldly as a fog-drenched November morning and as warming as a firelight glow at night, and when it goes, it will be missed, like November, like firelight, like a ghostly wisp of cloud bearing down to kiss the earth one last and final time.

More than any other season, autumn sings to me of time passing, of moments as fleeting as the bloom of glowing leaves dancing in a deep blue sky. When Debussy’s ‘Clair de Lune’ seems to match the tasty tristesse of a rainy afternoon, and when the smoky thrills of firelight and flame warm the soul through.

What are your autumn favorites? Or just…your favorite things about autumn? I’d love to hear about them!

With many thanks to…Andrea, Amy, Ruth, Christopher, Mandy, Ellen, JoAnne, Neil and Christos.