A Gothic Grimoire

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-  The Genie’s Guide to the Supernaturally Sublime

Something about October, the dance of glowing leaves in the wind, the shift in mood from the exuberance of spring and the dolce far niente of summer to a tinge of delicious melancholy, the very perfume of the air itself, with its first hints of looming winter and quietude, the mushroom scent of a forest floor after the rain, the sharp tang of fallen apples and the sudden epiphany of wood smoke in the air – all of these combined add up to what is without question one of my favorite times of the year.

If I were to put an epithet that somehow sums up all of October, it would surely be ‘Gothic’.

These days, Gothic conjures up associations of horror, darkness and menace, if not an entire subculture I once upon a storied time did my own small part to define the first time it surfaced in the zeitgeist of the mid-Eighties. While I may have outgrown my predilection for acres of black eyeliner and ditto lipstick, certain elements of that era have stuck with me ever since – a taste for melodramatic literature written at an operatic pitch of intensity, music, and a certain nineteenth-century feel and line in clothing. Although I still own an outsize amount of very black clothes, one indispensible item more than any other brings out that inspired state of being that consists of equal parts preternatural frisson, high drama, twinges of mortality, and the delectable, unbearable, existential darkness of being.

Perfume.

But what in all that chthonic murk constitutes a Gothic… perfume?

It goes without saying that all the happy-go-lucky flirty florals and fruity wonders we adore so much in high summer no longer cut it.

For a perfume to be deemed Gothic requires a few non-negotiable elements. First of all – that all-important question, my own pop-culture criterion:

Would Morticia Addams wear it?

If it is too light, too young, too obvious, too fleeting, the answer is likely a resounding ‘no’. Anything that doesn’t reduce our own resident Gomez Addams (should we have one) to a helpless pile of smoking ectoplasm need not apply. Speaking of ectoplasm…

All Gothic perfumes must by necessity contain an element of the numinous or the supernatural about them. It could be a question of composition, of overall texture, of unusual fragrant elements in mutual tension, but if it doesn’t give you a superstitious shiver down your spine and you can’t even explain why, what’s the point?

Since the Gothic mood and mindset is dark, intense, and brooding, the perfume must somehow convey all of these things. Therefore, Gothic perfumes are often very plush, with a lot of basenotes that may often include frankincense, labdanum, oud, patchouli, sandalwood, oakmoss, castoreum, civet, musk, leather and other wonders of that fertile alchemical undergrowth that provokes all our darkest, most secret, subconscious desires.

Last but never least, if you can answer an affirmative ‘yes!’ to the question…

Would you wear this to a graveside Halloween party?

Then you’ve found your very own Gothic perfume!

What follows below are my own personal decidedly Gothic favorites, arranged from vintage (and therefore, sadly, the current versions are reformulated beyond recognition and merit) to currently available.

Vintage Glories

Magie Noir – Lancôme

This 1978 classic by Gerard Goupy was a harbinger to come of those opulent Eighties orientals. It is also without question one of the witchiest perfumes ever made. I’ve worn it off and on since 1983, and it remains the single most complimented perfume I own, even today. In fact, I’ve never met a man who didn’t tilt backwards for this one, such is the Circe spell it weaves, turning any modern Odysseus into a slavering hog whether they want it or not. Although still in production, it’s not even a wan, pale echo of its former glory.

Narcisse Noir – Caron

Sometimes, I wonder at the fragrant bombshells I wore in my wanton youth, wonder I even dared to wear them. This great immortal classic, beloved of both Norma Desmond and Anaïs Nin, more than any other delineated my long-ago Goth days. It slew several wannabe latter-day Baudelaires I knew by taking a perfumery trope – orange blossom – and turning it completely inside out. Orange blossom is usually a joyous, summery, sunshine bloom. Ernest Daltroff’s 1912 classic inverts all those expectations and turns them inside out by being a dark, smoky, slinky animal of midnight and divine delirium. Narcisse Noir is still available, although it has irrevocably changed from its inky, slinky, seductive self to a prim Park Avenue mistress in palest dove gray.

Parlous Blooms

If ever an entire perfume house’s resident aesthetic somehow encapsulates all that is Gothic with a decadent French twist, it would surely be Serge Lutens. I doubt it’s an accident it is one of my all-time favorite perfume houses for precisely that reason. Best of all, Serge Lutens has – aided by resident alchymist Christopher Sheldrake and before him Maurice Roucel – subverted several classic florals into new, unnerving territory by making them eerie, and not just through their inscrutable press copy or their names, but throughout their very souls. Iris Silver Mist will send chills of otherworldly orris down your spine, Tubereuse Criminelle shall disturb you to your depths in all its heady jolie laide beauty, Sarrasins might sink its feral feline jasmine fangs into your nose and De Profundis exude its own cold kiss of mortality down your neck, but you will not forget them – nor will anyone who gets close enough to sniff.

Numinous Numbers

Certain perfumes are more than a little… numinous. Meaning they convey a hint or a whole ruined abbey of emotion, legend, ghosts of stories past and premonitions to come. They range from the transcendental to the uncanny, which is precisely why they’re so beloved.

Trayee & Ashoka – Neela Vermeire Crèations

It may seem a bit of a stretch to call Neela Vermeire’s Trayee and Ashoka ‘gothic’ when perhaps the first word that comes to mind is ‘exotic’, but think again – if we take the word to mean transporting in an emotionally compelling, numinous sense, then they both do precisely that in two different, very complex and nearly supernatural ways. Trayee with its sacred incense, oud and sandalwood, Ashoka with its sudden, shocking shift from deepest dark to luminous light – either is perfect for that lingering trail of sanctity we all aspire to leave behind us – or the samsara we all hope to achieve.

Rouge Avignon – Phaedon

Rouge Avignon, inspired by the Papal palace at Avignon, embodies the very best of Gothic sensibilities in its very DNA. Rose, incense, smoke, dark, deep woods – it is its own unholy witchy brew of blackest red and reddest black, the shade of a drop of blood, of power and of carefully concealed secrets, too.

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Mad, Bad and Dangerous To Know or… Les Hommes Fatales

Lady Caroline Lamb may well have had all sorts of personal reasons to describe George Gordon, Lord Byron as all of the above, but certain masculine-tinged perfumes will haunt me to my grave if not devastate me into a swoon, whether they’re worn by short, dark and interesting exemplars of the male gender or by tall, fair, rockstar poets in aviator shades fueled by Friday night and Pinot Grigio.

Baudelaire – Byredo

No fan of the Gothic can avoid a fatal predilection for the poetry of Charles Baudelaire. While I somehow doubt Byredo’s Baudelaire would be worn by its namesake, who did indeed have a great affinity for perfume, there’s no question in my demented mind it does full justice to the spirit of his words…erotic, evocative, subversive, and more than a little perilous to short, busty writers with (oversized) nitroglycerin imaginations. Poets beware!

1740 Marquis de Sade – Histoires de Parfums

This thick, heady, delirious leather/spicy/immortelle bombshell of a perfume was inspired by that greatest libertine of them all – or so the notorious Marquis liked to see himself. I say it’s much too good for his ghost, but absolutely grand for modern-day libertines out to slay the unsuspecting with everything they’ve got. So long as they’re careful never to promise more than they’re capable of delivering. I also say 1740 is everything any hopelessly romantic, Gothic-leaning female could wish to inhale, although the consequences of doing just that might be harrowing. My lips are sealed in scarlet ink. To paraphrase Tennessee Williams, things occur in the dark of night that make anything happening in daylight seem… all right.

A Haunted History

Perfume, I heard myself saying some time ago, is every bit as legitimate a way of telling a story as a painting, a sculpture, a film, a novel. Few perfumes tell quite such a timeless story as the most haunting pair I know…

Memoir Man/Woman – Amouage

The great thing about Amouage paired perfumes is the way both the feminine and the masculine versions reflect two sides of the same story, and here, it’s that eternal epic love story of a tempestuous heaven and a mutual melodrama heartbreak. Either of them have utterly ruined me for life for other so-called ‘bottled love stories’, since so far as I’m concerned, this one is unbeatable. Certainly, it’s unforgettable. As all the best love stories – and worst heartbreaks! – always are.

Les Femmes Fatales

Ladies – you’ve been waiting for these. These perfumes are the dragon-slayers and pale-faced Succubi of the perfume world, the pearlescent vampires, the Liliths, Ligeias and Morellas and the Annabel Lees, the transgressions, the most ebony of carnal sins and ultimate, bottled evils, the justifications for terrible, heart-rending beauty and bone-chilling emanations.  If you think about it – what is Ulalume compared to all of those? Edgar? Anyone?

Midnight At The Crossroads Café – Neil Morris

Gothic literature has been such a mainstay of popular fiction for so long, it’s increasingly hard to imagine anything new could ever be done with it. Unless you happen to be that justly famous Boston treasure, perfumer Neil Morris, who took an unknown writer’s opening chapter and turned it into a upgraded Gothic perfume novella for the twenty-first century without overlooking any single essential: a witching hour, a vulnerable woman, a glass of mulled wine, an empty café and the distinct, supernatural thrill of the definitely dangerous and dangerously erotic Devil himself. It can be classified as a chypre, but this is unlike any chypre you think you know – this is as good as fragrant perdition gets. Take it from me. I know.

Immortal Mine – House of Cherry Bomb

Two years ago (and how it could be two years I’m still not sure), I had the great good fortune to participate in the Clarimonde Project, a cross-media collaboration of perfumers and writers to explore in prose and perfume one of the earliest and most unusual vampire stories ever – Thèophile Gautier’s 1836 La Morte Amoureuse. House of Cherry Bomb’s Immortal Mine is one of the superlative finest and supremely Gothic perfumes money can buy. It’s as deep and impenetrable as Nietzsche’s abyss, as black and vast as a winter hour before dawn, as licentious as any celebrated courtesan and as haunting (if not daunting) as Gautier’s story and his creation both.

Babylon Noir – Opus Oils

Hundreds of perfumes claim to be noir. Most of them barely qualify as wannabe noir, if that much. Babylon Noir, created by perfumer Kedra Hart of Opus Oils for the Devilscent Project, is such an audacious, outrageous, luscious feline carnivore of a perfume, it makes vintage Narcisse Noir (no slouch in the darkness department) blanc in comparison. Equally suitable for vampires and aspiring Liliths, it will slay anyone it touches, guaranteed, because darkness gets no blacker nor more alluring. Wear it to any Halloween party and watch the competition turn orange in envy.

Ormonde Woman – Ormonde Jayne London

Some very long time ago, when I was still fairly new to niche perfumery, I won a sample of Ormonde Woman on another perfume blog. That it was a green and witchy creature, I already knew from the review, but I wasn’t at all prepared for my own reaction. It was without question the most terrifying perfume I had ever encountered in my life, so much so, it was the original inspiration for Lilith’s perfume. Not for being repellent (which it wasn’t) nor even poisonous (although there was that hemlock absolute…) but precisely because it was such a feral thing of the forest. It took me a good long time (and very many perfumes) to come around to Ormonde Woman, but now I have another wafting weapon at my disposal to put the capital B in bewitching.

Lil – Olympic Orchids

Still with me on this fragrant descent into the heart of October darkness? In which case, you’re in for a very big surprise, because Olympic Orchids’ Lil – also created for the Devilscent Project – is not dark in the slightest. Ellen Covey happily took every Gothic trope and cliché in perfumery and subverted them into an absolutely terrifying – and horribly beautiful – perfume of sharp, piercing, eerie green light, as if she had somehow managed to capture a will-o’-the-wisp in a perfume bottle that will haunt (and taunt) your surroundings for a very long time. Wimps and wannabes need not apply.

The Moody, Magnificent Monster

Opus VII – Amouage

I’m a bit at a loss to describe Opus VII (although I’ve certainly tried) and its effects, but basically, this is a huge, shape-shifting beast of Faërie that takes oud, black leather, cypriol, fenugreek and galbanum and provides them all with the most delirious fangs  – or pangs! – you could never have imagined. You can wear it ten times and encounter ten different stories. You will catch a waft and think you have managed to parse its depths to your satisfaction. Ten minutes later, you’ll catch another and wonder what you were thinking. Then hours later, the only thing you can be sure of is one literal wild ride – or wild hunt through the undergrowth? – that surely explains every Dionysian mystery rite from antiquity to the present. Or does it? Only its sillage knows…

In short, if you seek the unusual, the preternatural thrill, the mysteries and the magic of a most magical time of year, these perfumes will be honored to send eerie shivers down your spine.

Because every day should be Halloween!

At least in October.

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Serge Lutens perfumes are available from Luckyscent and for European customers, directly from the Serge Lutens website. Trayee and Ashoka are available at Luckyscent and from Neela Vermeire Crèations. Rouge Avignon is available directly from Phaedon. Baudelaire is available from Luckyscent and First in Fragrance. Histoires de Parfums 1740 is at Luckyscent and First in Fragrance. Amouage Memoir Man & Woman can be found at Luckyscent and First in Fragrance. Neil Morris’ Midnight is available through his Vault collection of perfumes by request. House of Cherry Bomb’s Immortal Mine is available at Indie Scents. Opus Oils’ Babylon Noir is available directly from the Opus Oils website, Ormonde Woman from Ormonde Jayne London, Lil directly from Olympic Orchids. Amouage Opus VII is available from Luckyscent, First in Fragrance and directly from the Amouage website.

With thanks to the reader who inspired the post…;)

Illustrations: Franz von Stuck, Die Sünde, 1893 and Lucifer, 1890.

Symphonies For A Devil

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT XV

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 – 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.

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

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

NeilDev3&Katarina

- 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 – 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!

The Winners Were…

First things first…My sincere and most profound apologies for being so late to post the winners of my two recent giveaways. I have been buried in job hunting, novel writing, motherhood, the impending return of the School Year and querying literary agents, which explains my delay in posting.

Randon.org has spoken, and determined…

The winner of the Edible Dev giveaway is: Sharon.

The winner of the Blogoversary Giveaway is: RVB

For both of you – please email me at tarleisio [at]gmail[dot]com with your addresses so I can send these on their merry way!

To all of you who participated in both draws – Thank you all from the bottom of my heart!!! Stay tuned – more wonders are yet ahead!