Tag Archives: Olympic Orchids Perfumes

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.

Stupid Cupid

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 – or…the Genie’s antidote to Valentine’s Day Disease

Close your eyes and imagine, say, Fifth Avenue in New York in mid-February. Imagine that today of all days, there’s no insane traffic, only a frenzied crowd awaiting the arrival of countless city dignitaries, Mayor Bloomberg and likely moguls such as The Donald himself, running bare as babies or in goatskin loincloths down Fifth Avenue in a haze of ticker-tape and confetti with whips in their hands. Women and girls rush forward with their hands held out for a lash or two to assure they’ll never need fertility clinics, hormone treatments or anesthetics during childbirth ever again.

Romance? What romance?

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Lupercalia, arguably the origins of Valentine’s Day, although that is still a matter of some debate in academic circles. Replace Fifth Avenue with the Palatine Hill of first-century Rome, if that makes you feel better.

Of all the hyper-commercialized holidays on Planet Earth – never mind Planet Perfume – Valentine’s Day is the one I detest the most, and not just because a) I’m single b) will get nary one Valentine, box of chocolates or red silk teddy never mind c) an actual date because d) I’m a post-punk diehard cynic of a certain age wondering if Restylane will somehow galvanize romance back in my life. (Doubtful).

No, the reason I take such umbrage with this whoopee cushion-shaped holiday is the underlying assumption that romance is or should be dead the other 364 days of the year.

If that’s the philosophy of anyone who wants to survive a first date with yours truly, we’ll never get past that first cup of coffee before I invent a fictional friend’s domestic disaster that requires my immediate assistance and PDQ out the door, never to return.

You see, I’m such a hapless romantic, I believe in romance every day of every year. (I’m a former Goth, surely you expected no less?) I believe that if you truly have a heart’s desire, let it all out in every way you can, say it in every way you can, and say it on any other day but that wretched February 14th that comes built in with all sorts of fraught emotion and expectations. That’s just me.

Yet you, dear reader, have other and more delicate sensibilities, since you are only too aware that if you don’t do something, have something planned for that date, you are so dead. You are so dead, you’d make mummies look animated. You need help. You need a suggestion, a roadmap, anything at all…

You need a perfume that spells romance with a capital R, or caring with a capital C, or even, dare I write it, the infamous four-letter L word. Your choice as to whether it ends in an ‘e’ or a ‘t’…

But where to start? What to do? And that biggest heartbreak of them all…what to wear?

No worries, darling. The Genie goes where even Cupid fears to tread, and in no time at all, you’ll actually be looking forward…to red velvet whoopee cushions, cheesy greeting cards, chocolate covered cherries and champagne.

First of all, contrary to whatever La Perla might have you believe…

1) Don’t buy lingerie for Valentine’s Day. If you get the size wrong, you’re so doomed, and not the way you hoped for, either. Save that for some humdrum Wednesday, when your darling least expects it (and you know what size to get), where it might have better consequences than even you could imagine.

2) Chocolate is always, always good, unless you have one of those rare creatures who don’t care for it, in which case, you likely don’t read this blog. Buy the very best you can obtain. Handmade, Belgian (or handmade Belgian)…truffles, what-have-you. Make sure to have it beautifully wrapped (presentation IS half the battle) and kept cool.

3) Roses…OK, I’m not about to argue with the appeal of a dozen long-stemmed, red roses (hopefully, the fragrant kind), but be a little original here. Six tiny, adorable baby cacti might be just as effective. Three perfect red cattleya orchids, one for each heartfelt word? Two dozen adorable violets? The flawless Casablanca Lily that ate Manhattan? Thirteen tuberose blooms? Just be sure to get them from a proper florist, and not from the checkout line at your local supermarket. As I said – presentation is half the battle.

4) If your own pathetic attempts at poetry fail you and Hallmark fails you, too – buy a plain, cream-colored card with an envelope at a stationery store, ally yourself with the Web, and go hunt for the words of Pablo Neruda, Rumi, Rainer Maria Rilke, Paul Verlaine or even Lord Byron, if you’re that way inclined. If she/he’s a diehard cynic, you can’t possibly go wrong with Baudelaire. Ever. And if you do, then you deserve better.

5) Unless you have an idea of what your Valentine likes/loves – and that might not always be the case – don’t buy perfume. Honest. Just don’t. I have formerly been the owner of a few perfumes bought by well-meaning sweethearts I later came to dislike. But say…you do want to make that particular gesture of appreciation, only you don’t know where to start. You just want your Valentine to be the sexiest-smelling s/he can be. May I recommend the stellar Discovery Set from Ormonde Jayne. Whether a woman of mystery or a L’Homme Fatal, there’s sure to be a fragrant treasure for every taste, and it’s exquisitely presented. Perhaps s/he is a true cosmopolitan with a taste for sublime, fragrant adventure? Neela Vermeire Creations’ Discover Your India Set is a likewise beautifully presented passage to India in all its most opulent glory.

6) If your human whoopee cushion is artistic, I hereby point you to Jardins d’Écrivains, a French company who took famous writers as their inspiration for scented candles to write/create by. Tickle their inner Colette, tease out the closet Kipling or bring along the Baroness Blixen and write up a Serengeti lion hunt of your own…

Which brings us back to you and that agony of indecision. What, oh what to wear?

I’ll go on a few blanket assumptions here and say that Valentine’s dates tend to fall in one of four categories. Great Expectations, Twenty Tones of Torrid, Folie-à-deux and Surely, You Jest? Therefore, from the top…

Great Expectations

The worst thing you can do at this particular stage of affaires is to try too hard. But, oh! The possibilities! The butterflies! The 1001 Sighs of What-if! Which is not to say you can’t waft fabulosity and romance at one and the same time. And romance to many people means red as in…rose. Swipe that sweetheart off the floor in a rosy swoon with Aftelier’s Wild Roses, DSH Perfumes’ American Beauty, Olympic Orchids’ Ballets Rouges, Etat Libre d’Orange’s Eau de Protection, Amouage Lyric (M/W) or Neela Vermeire’s Mohur.

Twenty Tones of Torrid

With any luck, we know this one. At this stage it matters less what you wear than how quickly you can take it off. The beauty of perfume is…it stays! ;) This is when those super-sexy scents have their moments. Take them by surprise with the magnificent Ambre Sultan by Serge Lutens, Opus Oils’ Dirty Sexy Wilde, Aftelier’s Secret Garden, Histoires de Parfum’s 1740, Amouage Memoir (M/W), Aroma M’s Geisha Noire, House of Cherry Bomb’s Immortal Mine (bottled sin!), Francis Kurkdjian’s Absolue Pour le Soir (ditto) or if you prefer a tumble on the wilder sides after midnight, Olympic Orchids’ Dev no. 2.

Folie-á-Deux

So you’ve made it this far, and have slightly less to prove. Does that mean an end to the rolling r of romance? Of course not! Now, you can cuddle up in blissful, mutual appreciation by taking it to the next level of l-o-v-e…with the incredible, edible Spiritueuse Double Vanille or Tonka Imperiale by Guerlain, Amouage Beloved, Esscentual Alchemy’s Moon Valley or Serge Lutens’ Santal Majuscule, and have an evening to remember as perfect as the two of you together surely are.

Surely, You Jest?

Oh, dear. Familiarity has set in. Or romantic rot. Or something. Therefore, it’s the perfect time to galvanize that human sofa pillow (or whoopee cushion) back to life and other four-letter L-words. This day of all days is not the time to be too edgy, unless that’s what it will take. If that means wrapping yourself in bacon in front of ESPN or finding alternative uses for Nutella, then who am I to argue? On the other hand, attitude is very much in the ambience you create. If you feel sexy, chances are, you act that way, too. So go ahead. You can’t go wrong with the classics. Dig out that half-hidden bottle of Piguet’s Bandit you were saving for a rainy day. That day has arrived n-o-w. Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Get out of that sofa pillow rut and into another kind with Skye Botanical’s ‘Strawberry Passion’, or break out your inner rock star with Opus Oils’ M’Eau Joe no. 3 and prove that romance – rock’n’roll and otherwise – isn’t dead, and Stupid Cupid has nothing at all on you!

As for me, I’ve given up on Valentine’s Day. Whoopie cushions, cheesy cards, wilted roses and all. But I’ll never give up…on romance!

The Hidden Art

- Is it… the art of perfume or perfume as art?

Whiling away a dismal Sunday November afternoon can be a most perilous undertaking. For one thing, I have been known to wade my way through all the internecine happenings on blogs, magazines and online newspapers I might have missed out on during the week. For another, this sudden surfeit of information overload has been known to cause something much, much more dangerous to my mind.

It makes me think. Watch out, world!

No kidding, there I was in my usual Sunday demeanor of microwaveable death-warmed-over beneath several layers of ratty wool and a cozy cloud of a favorite perfume, when my Facebook newsfeed alerted me to an item that somehow had managed to pass me by.

Chandler Burr, perfume writer and author of ‘The Perfect Scent’ as well as curator of Olfactory Art at New York’s Museum of Art and Design, has created an exhibition called The Art of Scent, the first major exhibition to highlight perfume as an artistic medium of expression in its own right, and to focus on how perfumes have evolved since the 1889 ground-breaking game changer that was the addition of synthetic coumarin in Houbigant’s Fougère Royale and Guerlain’s Jicky, the latter included in the exhibition itself.

You will find no iconic bottles, no advertising, nothing to distract you from the experience of the perfume itself, inhaled through specially designed snifters created expressly for this exhibition. In other words, not unlike Burr’s recent OpenSky experiment, where decants could be bought in plain bottles of the scents he chose to include, devoid of all marketing mystique.

But is it art? How can it be in an age that provides so many opportunities for redefining sensory artistic expression that relatively few exhibitions have focused on that most atavistic, primitive sense of all – our sense of smell?

After all, scents travel that little-understood information highway from our nasal receptors straight to our memories, emotions and associations, and completely bypasses that neocortical off ramp to language – just like another and not unrelated art form – music. And while no one will argue that an artist isn’t equally artistic in whichever medium he or she chooses whether it’s paint, Carrara marble or decomposing pork carcasses, the idea that perfume is every bit as valid as an expressive medium raises a few eyebrows among many non-perfumistas, simply for being such an unorthodox idea – or is that for turning a much-needed spotlight on the least-understood of all our senses?

Can it be that perfume straddles that great divide between ‘artistic medium’ and ‘artisanal product’, being not enough of one and too much of the other? In which case, perhaps it’s a good thing Mr. Burr chose that loaded headline-grabber for his exhibition…The Art of Scent, for no other reason that it brings us – the audience – to question and maybe even to redefine what we name ‘art’.

I haven’t seen the exhibition, so I can’t say anything you can’t already read in the press release. What riled me up and made me think, however, was Alyssa Harad’s take on Chandler Burr’s intiative, since her excellent blog post echoed many of the thoughts that ran through my own overheated Sunday afternoon mind, and Denyse Beaulieu’s own blog post did not much more to prevent me chewing on my nails.

I’m in no position to argue whether or not perfume is an art form in its own right and with its own merits – and limitations. For one, you could say I have a vested interest.

I’m a perfume writer, and perfume happens to be one of my own personal passions. To me, perfume is a means of artistic expression as valid, as rich, as rewarding, as challenging and as complex as any painting, sculpture or piece of music. To my fellow perfumoholic friends and acquaintances, I rattle off the names of famous perfumes and perfumers as easily as I can reference works by Titian, Gentileschi, or Alexander Calder. These liquid epics and novels, these allegorical redolent poems and metaphorical operas in magic, however, all exhibit a few characteristics in common no painting or sculpture can claim.

For one, I take issue with the general perception of ‘art’ (you insert your own definitions here) as a mode of creative expression that exists in a vacuum, outside any context or touch points with our ‘real’ lives. Art as a means of cultural expression  – in the sense of being ‘fine art’ – often ends up on private hands and out of reach to the general public or in the museums and art galleries who can afford to lend or buy them whereupon they exhibit them as ‘works of art’ to accentuate whatever statements the museum – or the curator – is trying to make. Art to me is something much more inclusive and dare I write it – quotidian. It is whatever enriches your life, makes you appreciate beauty, makes your personal horizons wider and maybe takes you somewhere out of yourself and into a place you would otherwise never know.

Perfume, on the other hand, is a democratic, inclusive art form. It is an instant mode of transport and mood elevator available for the price of a bottle for anyone who can afford to buy it. You can and often do take it with you anywhere and everywhere you go. It exists in a physical, concrete form in the bottle as a chemical concoction of ingredients both ‘natural’ and/or synthetic, yes – but the true story, the true art, is written on your skin every time you wear it, and no two wearings will ever be entirely alike, depending on such factors as your genetic makeup, your diet, your very mood, weather and so on.

You may have been seduced to buy it by the story of its inspiration, by the aesthetic considerations and heritage of the perfume house behind it, but as any perfumista and not a few perfumers know, the ‘story’ is nothing but a marketing ploy to lure you in, and the real story – and my own test criterion of a truly ‘artistic’ perfume – is what happens in that sublimely seductive, intimate space above your skin where it blooms. Not in whatever abstract or elusive inspirations the perfumer/creative director chooses to share with the world to sell the juice.

You may buy into the perfumer’s aesthetic, but the real reason you buy it and love it as you do is what it does to you and for you – in other words, how that perfume sings in its infinite variety…to you alone. Your family and friends, your colleagues and even total strangers can define or explain you by your choices in clothing, hair, and general demeanor – but that hidden art form, that art that may trail behind you and explicate you when you’ve left – that is the true art…of perfume.

In other words – also as Alyssa Harad stated – perfume art is ephemeral art. It exists only in the moments it breathes its wonders on your skin and invents new, untold stories of you, of its materials, of its very existence and the spaces the perfumer chose to give expression.

Even the very language we use to evoke that art form somehow lacks the ability to crack through the fourth wall and open the doors for our readers to perceive it. Which is why the best perfume writers have a large reference frame of history, literature, art and last, but not least, music to call upon. It’s no accident at all that perfumes are often described in notes, whatever Chandler Burr might argue to the contrary.

I applaud Chandler Burr’s decision to create an exhibition around the Art of Scent. I can appreciate his endeavor to create a neutral, association-free space in which to approach it anew, from another, more radical and perhaps more abstractly intellectual, unbiased angle. The question is, if perfume is an art form, is there such a thing as a lack of bias?

And yet. And yet. I look to my little sea grass basket full of wonders, signed by the perfume world’s Titians and Caravaggios, Francis Bacons and Lucian Freuds and Magrittes, the Afteliers, the Jacques and Aimé and Jean-Paul Guerlains, the Dawn Spencer Hurwitzes, the McElroy/Karls, the Tauers, the Kerns, the Lutens/Sheldrakes and the Duchaufours, the Chong/?s,  the Shoens, the Orchids and the Harts and the Morrises too, and I shake my head at such marvelous ideas and laugh and laugh.

Perfume is indeed a form of art, a medium of artistic expression, a story unfolding its unique and ephemeral pages. And as it does, as we who love its art as we do, redefine those stories each in our own individual ways, every time we wear it and every time we breathe it.

Caravaggio’s works should have been so lucky.

For an entirely different take, I can highly recommend Legerdenez.

With thanks to Legerdenez, Lucy Raubertas, Alyssa Harad and Denyse Beaulieu.

Image: ‘La Dame et Le Licorn’, ‘Smell’, late fifteenth century Flemish tapestry, from the Musée du Moyen-Age, Cluny, Paris

The Road to Redemption

- Confessions of a perfume writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The allure – of perfume.

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

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

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

“Why? It’s only perfume, after all!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Famous last words.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s only perfume. How bad can it be?

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

How good it can be!

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. 

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

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

I never suspected that would happen, either!

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

I could write a perfume blog.

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

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

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

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

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

What I learned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I’ve loved

The thrill of discovery.

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

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

Well, you do now!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serendipity

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

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

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

It would never have been so much fun without you!

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

Thank you for that, too!

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

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

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