A Devil, of a Dude

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT XVI

devscent

– what happens when a dude meets the (liquid) Devil

Dear readers,

It’s that witchy hour of darkness right before the birds herald the sunrise, when even in the city that quietude sighs, breathes and all the world is cool and still, when a starless, dark sky hovers on the purple-cobalt blue edge of enlightenment, and very few creatures stir in the shadows.

This is when I slither in and insinuate myself between the empty spaces on a shadowy sidewalk, when I wind my way up the stairs to the Genie’s garret and expect to find a woman dreaming beneath her Fleurs d’Orangers scented feathers, guarded by a fat, jealous, orange-yellow cat.

This summer night, wafts of elderflower and night-scented stock wend their way in through the windows open to the courtyard below, Janice Divacat mewls in her sleep, and Hairy Krishna sighs in his own, rolls over on his back and snuggles closer to the Genie.

Only this night, she no longer sleeps alone with just her cats to guard her. This time, this night, something tall, hirsute, dark-haired and emphatically male has wrapped himself around her other side to keep the dragons and chimaeras from her dreams.

I call him the Dude. He has other names and other avatars, treads his path carefully around chimaeras and dragons of his own and others’ making, but… he’s definitely a dude. The Dude.

He and the Genie go back, as they say, not because they have a history – although they do – but because they have seen each other through disasters and miracles and laughed and cried and talked as they did, and all the while, a friendship was cemented and a connection maintained, and sometimes, being all in one to a writer is even too big a burden for this muse to bear, so I nudged a few things along in a few right directions, just to get that party started.

It was either that or hang the ‘crazy cat lady’ sign on the door, and between you and me, that would be a shame. She was already in mortal danger of blowing away like a desiccated Rose of Jericho in a hard desert wind, of losing her hopes for the future and her future dreams of glory, and her far more secret dreams, the ones she never tells anyone but me.

For contrary to what you might believe, the Genie is not all self-motivated and self-directed, but thrives on feedback and external energy sources and again between you and me, she’s suffered from an appalling, all-encompassing lack of faith in her ability to ever write anything meaningful again after her dreadful experience with publication.

She needs other people to kick her and prod her and galvanize her into action, so I located a friend who’s had a monumental crush on her for years, and instead of seeing a great and truly platonic friend, one night she looked up and saw the human equivalent of a gourmet chocolate truffle (and a decidedly Plutonic Scorpio, because she has a thing for those), saw past her own objections and dilemmas, and thought…

Why not?

They’re both there to heal each other, and while I can’t tell you whether or not it will last since that’s not the point, I can tell you in no uncertain terms that neither of them will be quite the same for it, and that, too is my reward for pushing a few obstacles out of the way to make something happen, something good, something… that might well lead to new stories, new reviews, new books for new audiences in new locations.

Which is my whole raison d’être in a nutshell.

So lately, the Genie’s garret has sounded more like a pigeon coop in spring, just with twice the amount of billing, cooing and telepathic Scorpio stares. There’s no talking to either of them these days. It would be fair to say they’re not even in the same galactic neighborhood as the rest of us.

But a Muse has gotta do what a Muse has gotta…. etc., and one evening, the Genie realized that for the first time in her life, she had the perfect excuse to bombard a dude with perfume. Not just any old perfume but Devilscents, just to sit back and admire the fireworks. To hear what he would say and what he thought about them, to discover whether her perfumers as well as her brief had managed to capture lust, love and redemption in liquid filigree, essence and absolutes.

To make sure he parked his preconceptions by the wayside, she even took the precaution of blindfolding him, so he wouldn’t be distracted.

What follows below is an abbreviated version of the running commentary on five Devilscents, five because eighteen were made and a dude can only handle so much at one time. Other posts could follow if her backlog doesn’t get in the way, but my job – if I have one – is to inspire, sit back and admire all the fireworks I’ve instigated.

All four of these perfumes have been reviewed by the Genie (you’ll find the titles linked to the relevant posts), yet these aren’t her reviews but the Dude’s.

The Elegant Dev – Neil Morris Fragrances Dev #3

“If this is Dev, then he’s a slick bastard.”

“So slick, he slides up walls.”

“No, I mean… this is the urbane Dev, the metropolitan Dev, the guy all those women say they want, but secretly aren’t sure they can handle. Hmm… it smells dangerous, swellegant, dead-sexy… no, make that smexy – I like smart AND sexy – and expensive and like a whole lot of heartbreak in there, somewhere.”

“Hers, maybe?”

“No. His. Who’s to say even the Devil’s heart can’t be broken? How would you know? I mean… he’s the Devil, for crying out loud. Everyone suspects he doesn’t have a heart, since he’s Evil Incarnate, but what if he does? And she breaks it?”

“Milton said he did. But you don’t know how it ends.”

Yet. But this perfume is a great start. Very expensive, very deadly, very alluring sins all wrapped up in one literal helluva perfume. I’d wear it, but I’m not sure it wouldn’t wear me. Maybe that’s the point. Find me at the bar exuding testicular ‘tude. Call me Damien. I promise to text you the next morning. With something so twisted, you can never, ever tell a soul.”

“I promise I’ll be grateful.”

“No, you won’t. But you won’t forget it, either.”

The Hungry Dev – House of Cherry Bomb Dev

“Caramel and chocolate and wow, heat! An awful lot of heat. Hand over the chocolate and no one gets hurt. It’s making me crave chocolate. And things that remind me of chocolate but aren’t precisely… edible. I smell hunger. I smell rock’n’roll. More danger. A dangerous hunger, maybe? It could be a hunger for food, or the other kind. Wait. Screw the food. This is definitely the other kind.”

“The other kind?”

“You know. The kind that makes you bite and scratch and want to tattoo yourself all over someone else’s skin. That kind. The kind that makes you lose control of everything, anything, the kind that changes history and everything you thought you knew. The kind that burns it all to the ground, the kind that burns you to the ground. Once you’re all ashes and embers, there you are – ashes and embers. Done for. Ruined. Spoiled for anything else. Except these embers never die. So long as you hand over all the chocolate, just in case. For as long as you crave that burn. Which you will. Forever.”

The Fiery Dev – Olympic Orchids Dev #2

“<unrepeatable language>. WHAT is THAT? That’s just… wrong! That’s just so wrong and so … wrong, and holy <bleep>, is it scary! Eeeeep. Give me a minute here. Geez. There should be laws. Has this perfume been banned by Pope Francis yet? He totally should. And the UN. Not to mention NATO. This perfume is a biohazard. Meaning it’s hazardous to any female who sniffs it. I don’t even want to know how you can have this in your perfume cabinet without encasing it in lead.”

“That would be a bit counter-productive.”

“True. For one thing, I’d never get a decant. You’re giving me some, right? I mean, I’ve got to test-drive this on a receptive audience.”

“That was last night.”

“The Devil made me do it.”

“No, he didn’t. You made you do it. Or we made us do it, same thing.”

“Not true. This perfume did. O…………K. I’ll behave, I promise. Actually, I promise to do everything this perfume promises. It’s white hot, fire and brimstone, off-the-charts erotic stuff. Lethal stuff – hell, they all are. But this… this kills it for me. I’ve never, ever smelled anything like it. I kind of hope I never will. On anyone else who isn’t me. Or Dev.”

“In which case, I can’t be held responsible for the consequences.”

“Great! We’ll send out for pizza and live horizontal lives.”

“I have to write, you know.”

“I’ll buy you a Dictaphone. And a secretary to transcribe. But you’re not allowed to leave. It’s that kind of perfume.

The Anticipation Will Kill Me – Neil Morris Fragrances Midnight at the Crossroads Café.

“Man. This is… something else. This is… what anticipation smells like. It smells like how those old blues records you play sound. Like this is something mere mortals never know, and probably couldn’t handle if they did. It’s dark and spicy and it’s delicious, and just maybe they’re the same thing, but you’re hooked into it, you can’t leave and don’t want to, because that road up ahead says “Perdition Avenue”, and you’re like… yupp, that’s where I’m going, because that’s where all the fun is. Redemption, schmedemption. There’s no such thing anyway. So go ahead. Follow the magic footprints right down to the crossroads of Perdition Avenue and Jeopardy Lane, sit down, drink the wine and live, whydoncha?”

“So whydoncha?”

“Because I like it when the anticipation will kill me. It always does. And because no matter what I anticipate, reality always trumps it. But that whole idea… you know it will be gruesome, you know it will be terrible, you know it in your bones even… and you do it anyway, because hey… you can’t not.”

“Which was the general idea.”

“No. That’s the reality of these perfumes you ended up with.”

The Melancholy Dev – Olympic Orchids Dev #4

“Ah. Man. More heartbreak. This is an aftermath perfume… the ‘it’s all over now’ scent. It’s grounding and sort of comforting, but there’s a lot of tears in there somewhere. Tears the color of India ink. It’s sort of moody and introverted and introspective and ummm… melancholy? Yeah! That’s it! It wants to be Dev #2, but of course, you can’t go back, you never can, so we end up at heartbreak. I say that if these perfumes are anything to go by, Dev did have a heart, and it was broken. Only he’s too cool and too proud to ever admit it, so he sulks inside this green-black cloud. I’ll tell you this – it’s some cloud! Bring your own thunderstorm. Or just your own tornado. Brace yourself for the consequences.”

“That C word again.”

“Not my favorite one. It’s a dark, dense, twisted forest of a perfume. Like bottled Mirkwood. With added heartbreak.”

“Is that all?”

“That’s all. And that’s enough. It’s already much more than I deserve.”

“Deserving had nothing to do with it.”

“No, but you did.”

I’d better go. The sun is just up, and pretty soon, the Genie will be getting ready for her day before she wakes him up for his own with a cup of coffee, and they’ll waltz through their week, surviving on sunbeams, suggestions and highly salacious text messages, like all twenty-first century lovers everywhere, like all those stories throughout time, borne on the heated scents I inspired through all those likewise infernally inspired perfumers called the Devilscents.

Dev.

Neil Morris Fragrances Dev #3 and Midnight at the Crossroads Café are available by special request through the Neil Morris website’s Vault Collection. Olympic Orchids’ Dev #2 and #4 are available through the Olympic Orchids’ website. House of Cherry Bomb’s Dev is available at the House of Cherry Bomb studio in Bushwick, and by special request.

With thanks to the Dude. Who said that was so much fun, they really should do that again…

 

The Epiphanies of 2014

C4crown

  • the thrills and spills of the past year in perfume

It’s that storied time of year again when I finally sit down and decide on my favorites of (the thankfully passé) 2014. In spite of a frantic year that was frantic for all the wrong reasons, and in spite of far too much to review and not nearly enough time to write about it, I did indeed, thanks to dear and generous friends and my own initiative, get to stick my nose in not a few things I loved this year, many I very much liked and a few I absolutely loathed.

This time, instead of posting three separate lists, I’ve decided to mix things up a bit on one ultra-list, otherwise you and I will be here ‘till Doomsday, and I don’t know about you, but I have a long to-do list this year…

Another thing I feel compelled to point out is that many of the perfumes that have made it to this list have yet to be reviewed. Some because… well, that’s a surprise I’ll be getting back to in a bit. In so doing, that violates a principle I have about only including the things I reviewed, but we all have things to do. Some will be reviewed here on TAG, and others… well, I’m getting ahead of myself here.

The Worst of 2014

We might as well get the bad stuff over with.

Which means that whoever is in charge chez Parfums YSL will be the first to go down in flames in my revolution dream. It evidently wasn’t enough to slaughter one of the greatest perfume heritages of the late 20th century in terrible/lazy/rushed refomulations, nor even to pour ‘PVC+phthalate doll accord’ into the dregs of (badly reformulated) Paris and call it ‘Parisienne’. But did whomever-should-be-shot-with-current-version-Tabu stop to think about how we would perceive Black Opium? Because it is neither ‘black’ in the slightest, nor Opium in the least particular. It’s as forgettable and unremarkable as last year’s haute blondes. Henceforth, I shall proceed to call it (“perfume”) Methadone, except it neither alleviates Opium withdrawals nor the nostalgic pangs of prior highs. When Hedi Slimane, chief designer at YSL, finds it necessary to dissociate himself from it in a press release, you know it’s one terrible idea. Horribly executed. Alas, not fatally.

Oud

Perfumers and perfume houses: I have a announcement for you:

I. Am. So. Over. Oud.

And yes, I do like oud, except not so much the barnyard stable ‘fierce’ ouds, and certainly not the synthetic oud that passed for the real thing this past year. This is a trend that needs to die. You still have flowers, woods, resins, plants, all with their own languages to explore and their stories to tell. Start listening.

Hyperinflation

True luxury, stated a friend of mine in the know, is always inclusive. Meaning that inflating an already hefty price tag on a niche perfume, pouring gold dust all over the bottle (or whatever gimmicks are used to justify the price tag) and marking it all up by at least 5000% is not, in fact, luxurious at all. It’s simply, as I see it, pandering to the lowest audience of all: those who are too unsophisticated and too rich to know better. There are far too many ‘hyper-luxe’ sheep masquerading as big, bad wolves worth their prices. If I ever have 1000€ to spend on perfume (because I can dream!), I hope to spend it where my business is properly appreciated, not where I leave with a big, fat “SUCKER” tattooed in risible ink on my forehead. Roja Dove and Diaghilev extrait, here’s looking at you, and I say that because Diaghilev in extrait is literally flawless. And forever and always out of my reach. Damn it.

Flankers.

Because they display a distinct lack of inspiration or ambition, and I can’t decide what’s worse. Maybe both?

Worst idea:

Guerlain Shalimar Souffle de Parfum. I spent the better part of two hours trawling through a large Copenhagen Sephora this Christmas on the first day of the sales, and lo and behold, there was Shalimar and Souffle, and I thought I might as well live a little. While I was certainly impressed with the original current-version Shalimar (although I much prefer the amped-up vanilla frangipane of Shalemur), this was a baby-faced powder puff girl desperately trying to look about 30, because that’s, like, old. Or mature. Or something. I wonder whether the marketing department of Guerlain has a huge THINK YOUNGER neon sign somewhere. The problem is, those ingénues don’t have the cash to go to town on perfume. We gens d’un certain âge, on the other hand, do. Grow up, Guerlain! Thierry Wasser – you’re better than that. And you know it.

Worst trend:

Before I shoot myself in the metaphorical foot here, let me start by saying this is me. Your mileage may vary. Yet for all I adore consuming both chocolate and coffee, sometimes together, I’m emphatically not a fan of wearing either of them. (There are a very few exceptions.) It could be my skin chemistry, it could be something else, but as soon as I try, virtually all the perfumes I’ve tried with either note just grows and grows and grows into an espresso-choc Godzilla, the second before I’m eaten alive. Argh!

The Best of the Best

Biggest Overall Unexpected Surprise:

Jardins d’Écrivain’s Junky.

Please forget that I’m a perpetually immature overgrown teenager who took an inordinate amount of glee in wafting Junky a good deal of this past summer and fall, and then laying it on my unsuspecting audience when they asked what I was wearing. But Junky – just as the other things I’ve sniffed so far from Jardins d’Écrivain’s line – is a super-seamless unisex green floral I can’t get enough of whatever the season or the reason. I’m hopelessly addicted. You can bet your vintage My Sin I hope to explore the rest of Jardins d’Écrivains in detail, tout de suite!

Best Seamless Floral, Part One:

aroma M Camellia Perfume.

If your heart belongs to that grand age of perfumes à la Française, if Coco Chanel had a few great ideas in perfumery at least, if you like your flowers bold and luxurious, if you also love the glories of frankincense all wrapped up in a bow of Parisian Ooh la la!, if in short you’re a nostalgia freak like me, then you might love aroma M’s stupendously beautiful Camellia Perfume.

Best Perfume I didn’t expect to like, but did:

Parfums Serge Lutens Borneo 1837

It smells like unearthed secrets and undiscovered sins of the most glamorous, Baudelairean kind. A dry, dusty, ever-so-slightly rose-flecked, cocoa-dusted patchouli that shouldn’t work at all, but does. This past autumn, I’ve been rereading J.K. Huysmans’ Against Nature and The Damned. I suspect Des Esseintes would be all over Borneo, just as Huysmans would be all over Parfums Serge Lutens, when the paradox is actually the other way around!

Honorable Mention: I’m ashamed I haven’t tried this one before now, even considering I’m such a fan of leather perfumes. But Chanel’s Cuir de Russie has been growing on me like a fungus, and the more I wear it, the more I love it. Who knew?

Best Mainstream releases:

Even in my backwater part of the world, miracles happen. Such as the time I discovered Dior Homme Parfum

in my local chain shop. Since I consider the original Dior Homme (and Dior Homme Intense) among the greatest masculines ever made and I wear them whatever the label, I had to sniff this one. I was not disappointed. François Demachy, you have almost redeemed yourself. I dreamt about smelling this on the right kind of man for days. Lacking that option, I’d wear this super-sexy film noir beast, too.

Balmain Ivoire Eau de Parfum:

The original (I have a vintage eau de toilette) Ivoire is such an all-star favorite of mine, it was the very first true perfume review I wrote. There is neither a season, a reason nor an occasion when it is less than perfectly satisfying, perfectly lovely in its green soapy-sappy-aldehyde aura and perfectly appropriate. So I was expecting another hot-mess reformulation when Balmain launched the eau de parfum in 2014, only to find they’ve kept virtually everything that made the original so great except the oakmoss base. And speaking of…

Best “We’re not worthy!” perfume, Part One:

Every so often, it happens that a perfume launches I suspect Planet Perfume isn’t entirely prepared for. In 2014 came Bogue Profumo’s MAAI. Holy St. Mary Magdalene! Antonio Gardoni took tuberose, that most erotic of flowers, and super-glammed and super-sexed it up, and up and up and UP. No Superman would stand a chance against this perfume Kryptonite. It is as luxe, as grand, as velvety-plush, as mossy, as heady and did I mention s-e-x-y? as anything the Eighties ever dreamed of. I’m saving that sample for a date night with definite ulterior motives, presuming that ever happens. As they say, hope springs eternal, and Signor Gardoni – I’m not worthy! Of either hope or this perfume, I can’t quite decide… ;)

Best New Perfume House:

Aedes de Venustas. AdV, the storied Greenwich Village perfumery store, has a very special place in my black and decadent heart, because once upon a time, their printed catalog provided all the perfumes I had – to dream about. Some time later, my sister brought me back a modestly priced perfume from Aedes, and whoever sold it to her was also sweet enough to provide samples for a severely aesthetically and perfume-starved woman. I never forgot it. So when Robert Gerstner and Karl Bradl launched their own perfume line in 2012 with their eponymous Aedes de Venustas, naturally I sat up and paid attention. Fate had plans when I was sent samples of everything AdV and they all blew me away. The running theme of Aedes de Venustas is incense – heartstopping, sacred, swoon-worthy incense, in unexpected combinations that both intrigue and hugely please this jaded perfume writer. I’ll be getting to those marvels in future posts. On that note…

Best Resurrected Floral, Part One:

Why carnation has such a fuddy-duddy, dowdy reputation is completely beyond me. I can’t get enough of carnation; peppery, rosy, clove-ish, fiery, feisty, thick, sweet and utterly delicious. Carnation sprang into my awareness with a bang when I had the chance to try a brand-new carnation (or so I thought) through a perfume split of Aedes de Venustas’ Oeillet Bengal. I bought a decant blind and promptly… adored it. Oeillet Bengale – actually, the name of a rare China rose – is a peppery, rich, rosy incense-laden wonder that shot to the top of my Hotly Coveted FBW wishlist, especially since that decant is going, going…

A Rose is a Rose is a Marvel… a.k.a. Best We’re Not Worthy, Part Two:

Not many perfumers can claim to have not one perfume that doesn’t do me any favors. The one who does like no other is Vero Kern of vero profumo. Heaven help me, I love all her work in any version: Rubj, Kiki, Onda (Onda did take a while) and Mito. So Vero gave us Rozy, her fragrant tribute to Anna Magnani in ‘The Tattooed Rose’, and just when you thought there was nothing new to say about rose, here is Rozy: emphatic, dramatic, sensuous and earthy, with a honey-flecked sweetness that shows a true maître’s effortless hand. I’ll have a time-travelling tale for Rozy’s crimson glories, but more on that one later…

Best Heatwave Antidote/Best Re-Release:

Tauer PerfumesCologne du Maghreb.

Bless dear Andy Tauer for re-releasing this instant 2011 classic, for it subverted much I thought I knew about Tauers and everything I assumed about colognes, mainly that most of them are boring, as Cologne du Maghreb never, ever is. It is sparkling, subtle, intricate, cooling, distinctively different and utterly delicious, and over several sweaty weeks of a summer heatwave, it kept me and my composure as cool as a glass of chilled cedary lemonade. I think of ‘July’, and I think of this cologne. Because It’s That Good.

Best All-Round Unisex:

Olympic OrchidsBlackbird.

‘Fruity’ – as in ‘berry’ – and I don’t get along that well. But Ellen Covey’s perfume for Seattle store Blackbird is an exception to that rule. This wondrous green concoction with a heart-of-darkness is an ode to the blackberry bushes (something of a plague) of the Pacific Northwest, and if you think blackberry and balsam firs don’t mix, think again. Many of Ellen’s creations have an extraordinary sense of place, and Blackbird’s verdant ode to where the sweet wild things are has been known to make me sing in the dead of night and high noon too, showing just how much one of my favorite perfumers just keeps on getting better and better. And better.

Best Bottled Gothic Autumn:

Neil Morris Fragrances’ October & Chasing Autumn.

Neil Morris is another perfumer whose nose has an exceptional sense of place, and never more dexterously demonstrated than in his two tributes to the beauty of a New England fall, October and Chasing Autumn. Everything I love and adore about autumn is here: the scent of apples on trees and on the ground cradled by leaves, burning leaves and bonfires, the breath of forest trees breathing their seasonal farewells as flaming leaves dance a timeless measure to the forest floor. I do mean everything. If October is mulled wine, apple cider and all things sweetly great on a peerless Sunday October afternoon, then Chasing Autumn is a forest… of Halloween bonfires and eerie shadows in the dark beyond, a resolutely Gothic ode to all things autumnal with no signs of that fabled new England restraint. Nathaniel Hawthorne could do them justice. I’m not sure I could. I’ve never come across anything quite like either of them, and since they’re Neil Morris creations, I know I never will.

Favorite Perfume Experiment:

Sometimes, instead of simply chasing after the Next New Things, it can be good to take a deeper look at what you actually have. The results may surprise you. I was very surprised to learn I owned no less than 22 different Serge Lutens/Christopher Sheldrake creations in varying degrees of full bottles, decants and samples. I then proceeded to wear each of them consecutively over the course of about two weeks, and gained a whole new artistic and aesthetic appreciation of all of them. It goes without saying I don’t have nearly enough of any of them, and wish for at least eleven more…

Happiest Perfume of 2014:

Amouage Sunshine

On rare occasions on Planet Perfume, a concept, the execution of that concept and the final result come so seamlessly and perfectly together it’s all you can do to keep your cool before you surrender with a helpless shrug and a laugh in the face of such beauty. Sunshine arrived with impeccable, supernatural timing at a time when I was seriously considering to pack it in as a perfume writer and just give up the ghost of ever trying to capture the ephemeral art through words. Yes, I reviewed it. No, my words didn’t convey what I had hoped they would. But a few scant days later, I held my daughter as she made me a grandmother to a lovely little girl, and since it was the only thing I had with me at the time, I gave her Sunshine. To see the joy on my daughter’s face as I did was all the sunshine that cold night in November needed. To experience the arrival of a new generation perfect baby girl was all the immortal sunshine I needed. Apropos finding the right words…

Proudest Moment in Prose, 2014 edition:

Amouage Journey

I’ll be honest – Christopher Chong made it very easy for me. Shanghai in the 1930s, Chinese film noir and all things grand and great (noblesse oblige!), wrapped up in the two parts of Journey Man and Woman, one a fiery gold Chinese dragon, the other a sublime osmanthus song, my story of Journey counts among my finest – and hardest – hours as a perfume writer. It took me into new and wondrous places in my research and made me wonder at that story’s continuation of ‘a celluloid cliché of a Shanghai that was an improbable fiction anywhere else but here’. You’ll find no clichés in either Journey, but just as all the best journeys do, you’ll be a changed person when you return home. Whenever I wonder at why I even bother to write about perfume, which happens at least once a day, I look to Amouage. Oh. Yes. That’s why.

Greatest Shapeshifter Perfume of 2014:

Aftelier Palimpsest.

Mandy Aftel’s Palimpsest, inspired by the layer-upon-layers-and-lines of ancient manuscripts, is without question the greatest shapeshifter I encountered in 2014. I’ve never experienced a perfume containing the Australian firetree before, which partly explains it, but this thick, honeyed animalic-peachy-ylang-ylang growl in a bottle did two spectacular things: It completely flummoxed a perfume writer of four years’ standing, and shape-shifted entirely from ‘dead-wildebeest-wearing-ylang-&-jasmine-wreath’ on a blonde semi-vegetarian to a sumptuously sexy come-hither Mae West on Ms. Hare, the carnivorous brunette. Which only goes to prove the artistry of Mandy Aftel and also the maxim, written through several layers of parchment… chemistry is everything.

Best Resurrected Floral, Part Two:

DSH Perfumes Scent of Hope

Among vintage perfume lovers, a select few perfumes stand out for their greatness of execution, their scope of imagination and their sheer, jaw-dropping sleight-of-hand artistry. When perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz was given the bespoke assignment of recreating one such perfume, Jacques Fath’s fabled 1947 Iris Gris for a private client, she apparently succeeded beyond all imagining and expectation. Luckily for those of us who don’t have access to the Jacques Fath original (and being an iris lover, trust me, it’s on my list!), Dawn decided to make it available for the rest of us, and if the original Iris Gris is even 10% of this, then by Golly, it deserves its reputation. Scent of Hope is the apex of Great, Grand Perfume and the perfumer’s art: a peerless, perfect contradiction of everything you’d suspect an orris-centric perfume could be, warmed by the caress of a sun-kissed peach. I thought she outdid herself with Iridum, another of her iris perfumes, but Dawn has had an astonishing creative year and Scent of Hope is among the stratospheric best perfumes I’ve ever encountered. In my life. Why my fixation on the art of perfumery? (Also) Because miracles like Scent of Hope happen. Stay tuned!

Best Floral Reinvention:

Envoyage PerfumesFiore di Bellagio

Readers, bear with me. I tried. I truly did. I tried to think of something else, tried to stir things up a bit, tried to come up with alternatives and be a little different this year. Only to have to give up the ghost, shrug in surrender and kowtow to the spectacular talent of Shelly Waddington of Envoyage as she once again blew my proboscis to smithereens with the companion perfume to last year’s no less spectacular Zelda. Fiore di Bellagio, her ode to Ernest Daltroff’s 1927’s Caron classic, Bellodgia, is neither Zelda nor Bellodgia, but something altogether otherwise and resolutely one of a kind. If you could somehow wrap up all the glamour, all the glitz, all the decadent fun and all the flowers of a 1920s summer day in a luxurious villa at Lake Como, you might come up with something this great, this grand and this glorious. Or, if you love carnations, summers, epically great perfumes and all those words imply, you could take the easier route and head straight for Envoyage and buy a vat of Fiore di Bellagio, the instant before you plant Shelley Waddington on an onyx pedestal in the Perfume Pantheon of Fame and crown her with 20 carat diamond-studded dianthus blooms. This was another high apex of 2014 perfumery for me and although I realize I’m repeating myself (and an army of other perfume bloggers and writers), but there is method to my madness: I recognize greatness when I smell it. That’s all. Go buy it!

My Greatest Perfumers of 2014:

I can’t even hesitate here, and if you’ve read this far, this is a foregone conclusion. But with everything I’ve stuck my nose in this past year, I’ll have to hand it to two. Understand that even the names that made this (overly long) list are at the very top of their game, but these two outdid themselves and their justly deserved stellar reputations:

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz & Shelley Waddington

I’m not quite sure what to say about Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, since I know I’m preaching to the choir, but Dawn has had the most amazing, productive and creative year. Whether it’s her tribute to the Impressionists in her Passport à Paris collection, her Cannabis Culture Collection (review pending), her Brilliant Collection (ditto) or the utterly flabbergasting Scent of Hope (likewise totally ditto), Dawn should be right up there will all the Great and the Grands of perfumery, indie and otherwise.

Shelley Waddington nearly did me in. After taking my breath away with Zelda last year, she pulled another epic rabbit out of her proverbial top hat with Fiore di Bellagio. I had some intimations of what I was in for. Only to find that they weren’t nearly big enough. But Shelley Waddington certainly should be. Make it so…

A Waft of Things To Come

Anticipation is part of the pleasure of writing about perfumes. I’ll never know what pleasures lie ahead. But apart from spending this winter catching up on my review backlog and returning full-speed as a perfume writer to the best of my capabilities, I anticipate becoming acquainted with two ‘new’ brands that have been on my radar for a while: Oriza L. Legrand and Stéphane Humbert-Lucas’ 777. Stay tuned!

Another thing to anticipate is the arrival of not-your-usual perfume book at some point in the year. If you appreciate my perfumed fictions, you might like this book, which will feature not just the Greatest Hits, but also ten brand-new perfume stories, some of which have not been reviewed yet. Watch this space for a book by yours truly with the salacious title: Stories of L’Eaux.

Rumor has it that Neela Vermeire Creations (another all winner line for me) will launch her newest perfume later this year. Are we excited yet? I know I am!

So what are you, dear readers, anticipating in the year to come? What took your breath away this past year, what do you hope to try, what floats you out the door in a cloud of scented bliss?

Tell me all about them in the comments! And have a happy, healthy, fortuitous 2015, too!

With special and perpetual thanks to my greatest enablers and loudest encouragers: Val, Portia, Lucy, Shelley, Dawn, Maria, Neil, Ellen, Andy and Mandy.

Photo: The crown of Danish king Christian IV, 1596.

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!