The Adventures of Ms. Hare and Madame Hyde

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 - help to look as good as you waft!

As a blogger myself, I also read a lot of blogs. I don’t always comment as much as I know I should, but by golly, I read them. Of all those many blogs I read, not all of which are perfume-related, I have nothing at all but bottomless admiration for those intrepid ladies who (also) blog about the perilous business of beauty. My idols are not those countless twenty-somethings who wax poetic over the anti-aging benefits of Korean snail extract BB creams (I can’t take them seriously), but ladies like myself ‘d’un certain age’ who haven’t given up and packed it in. Who try stuff so I don’t have to as one of them succinctly states, who go where I can’t, test what I can’t afford or am able to obtain and always keep their sense of perspective in order, as well as their sense of humor.

Therefore, before I incriminate myself any further, may I say it: Jane, Gaia, Jen and CharlestonGirl ladies, I bow down before your utter, jawdropping awesomeness and dedication. You have never led me astray. And although this isn’t strictly speaking a perfume post, I’m no competition. Nevertheless – your stellar advice has changed my life in more ways than you know.

Yet, after a winter that has seemed to drag endlessly on and a milestone birthday ahead I dearly wish I could hibernate through if not bypass altogether, even impoverished perfume bloggers in the BFE sticks (that would be me) can sometimes get lucky and try things that neither cost the sun, the moon or all the stars but also deliver good on their promise without ever promising more than they deliver!

To that end, I recruited some help from my intrepid former roommate and present downstairs neighbor for an alternate perspective on some beauteous goodies I was dying to try. We can call her Ms. Hare. She’s 32, a definite Leo, and thanks to knowing yours truly, a reformed and dedicated lover of all things niche, including the contents of my perfume cabinet. Ms. Hare has a thick, wavy bush of dark brown hair – apart from the color the kind of hair I once had before age, offspring and years of coloring abuse caught up with it. She has taught me the proper use of a hair dryer. (And much else besides). She is therefore uniquely qualified as a test bunny for one particular product I shall get back to in a bit.

Meanwhile, there’s yours truly. I stubbornly refuse to make Botox or cosmetic surgery part of my future, but south does seem to be the general direction in which I’m heading, in spite of all I do, massive amounts of daily sunscreen for over twenty years and a year-round perma-pallor. And something has to be done. I’m not dead yet. Neither, much as it pains me to say, is my vanity. Which received a bit of a dent last year when a dermatologist diagnosed me with atopic dermatitis and put a serious cramp in my style.

What to do, what to do…

The Miracle Workers

Skye Botanicals African Gold Shea Butter

Shea butter has long been the ingredient du jour in the battle against dry skin, psoriasis and other epidermal ills. I had never encountered the Real, Undiluted Deal until Monica Miller of Skye Botanicals/Perfume Pharmer was sweet enough to send me a jar of Skye Botanicals ‘African Gold Unrefined Shea Butter’ when I complained about my horrible traitorous dry skin. This is – let me say it – marvelous, magnificent stuff. Bright yellow and with the consistency of a salve, I’ve used it on my face, the frayed ends of my hair, on scaly elbows, knees and heels, dry hands and everywhere else I could think of, which is basically – everywhere else. I haven’t woken up with the face of a twenty-five year old, but that’s OK, too. A little goes a long way, my skin and I have been on very civil speaking terms since and I never want to be without it again. As if those wonders weren’t enough, it won’t break out your skin or even the bank. Run, don’t walk, straight to Skye Botanicals and buy it. Your skin will thank you by looking the best it ever has, considering that compass is headed south…

Also from Skye Botanicals is the gentle Rose Facial Toner, which has not only convinced me to use toner after cleansing (this is called progress, darlings), but is also great for setting my makeup. Plus, it smells deliciously of wild roses. What’s not to love?

No Snake Oil In Sight

Aroma M Camellia Facial Oil

Skincare oils are suddenly everywhere, even here in the BFE boonies. Had you told me even six months ago I’d be a convert too, I wouldn’t have believed you. Aroma M’s incredible Camellia Face oil – concocted from camellia, carrot seed, golden jojoba, apricot kernel, evening primrose, virgin argan, jasmine, geranium, frankincense and neroli oils – was inspired by Maria McElroy’s expertise with both Western aromatherapy and Japanese Gion Geisha beauty rituals and not only combines the best of both worlds, but also does wonders to rehydrate and nourish the skin, even mine. I love nothing better than to eat my own words on facial oils. My skin adored it. I adored it. I woke up in the mornings without wanting a steam iron for my face. Although I still haven’t woken up with the face of a twenty-five-year-old, I certainly feel far more fabulous than I ever did! Which is also the perfect description of the scent – fabulous.

Aftelier Jasmine Face Elixir

Jasmine oil, so says my aromatherapy research, has anti-aging properties, works to calm the nervous system and relaxes. Mandy Aftel has combined the organic oils of grapeseed, sweet almond, rice bran, squalene, camellia and rose hip to concoct a heavenly, jasmine-scented blend. I’ve used it at night both over and under my night cream, and this has really put the capital G in my g-l-o-w. If that’s not a recipe for sweet dreams, I don’t know what is.

Aftelier Lavender Fresh Ginger Body Oil & Hair Elixir

Since I was brainwashed in childhood with Yardley’s English Lavender soap, I’ve had a soft spot for lavender in perfumes and body care products. I was a bit disconcerted to discover that this dark green gem has since been discontinued, but in the “I can’t believe it’s good for my skin” department, Lavender Fresh Ginger Body Oil checks all the boxes. It’s a favorite color. It smells utterly divine, with both the calming green, herbal and floral scent of lavender and the kicky, spicy fire of fresh ginger. It smoothes my crocodile hide to sensuously silken softness. It has also gone on the frayed ends of my hair with great results, so long as I remember a little goes a long way. All that’s missing is someone to appreciate it, but at least Hairy Krishna has been known to snuggle a little closer and purr a little louder when I wear this to bed. It  comes in several other varieties that are not one whit less delicious – for your skin and your senses.

Aftelier Ancient Resins Body Oil and Hair Elixir.

Originally custom-made for the legendary Leonard Cohen, this is the classiest skin-solicitous celebuscent ever – an oil with all the same benefits for your hair and skin as the Lavender and Fresh Ginger. It smells impossibly luxe, dense and incredibly deep – the olfactory equivalent of Mr. Cohen’s plush, silk-velvet baritone, and I have a thing for those…With frankincense, poplar buds, benzoin, elemi and labdanum. I’ll happily take Manhattan – right after I take this along with it. Or any guy who wears it. They have been warned.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Aroma M Camellia Hair Oil

No kidding, there we were, my friend and I – one bushy-haired brunette Amazon Leo, one pint-sized Doña Quixota Taurus with rather fine, limp, slightly wavy hair color-treated nearly every shade of the rainbow since the early Palaeolithic. These days, however, I stick in the general neighborhood of my own shade if slightly lighter, what with lighter being younger, or so they tell me. Basically, we both have fried hair, although I’ve had a haircut two months ago, so my hair is in better shape and with far fewer split ends.

To put it another way – we were both of us in dire need of some hair therapy, but in a manner of speaking from opposite ends of the spectrum.

Aroma M’s Camellia Hair Oil was created according to the very best and most effective traditions of hair care known to geisha – and Japanese women in general. They take protecting their skin and hair from the elements very seriously, and camellia oil has been used for centuries as a hairdressing aid, protecting and purifying the hair and scalp. It contains camellia oil, virgin argan and golden jojoba oils, and the essential oils of rosemary and Moroccan tuberose.

First impressions first – this is without question the most heavenly scented dedicated hair oil I’ve ever used, and I say this as a diehard tuberose lover and sometime user of Moroccan argan oil.

Ms. Hare and I used it in three ways over a period of three weeks. As an overnight hair mask, as protection before blowdrying, and as a pick-me-up on the ends before the onslaught of hair clips and elastic.

She noted her hair was in noticeably better shape than before. It was smoother, much less inclined to frizz in high humidity and far easier to manage. She did say – despite my warnings that a little went a long way – it seemed to weigh her hair down more than other oils, but she couldn’t argue with the results. Not so that ever stopped her. You can’t argue with a Leo!

Next, yours truly, wimpy-haired blonde. Whether wishful thinking, that sublime tuberose scent or just using a little less oil, since I began using aroma M’s Camellia Hair Oil, I’m no longer tempted by the idea of a really drastic haircut. My hair is definitely smoother, softer, more manageable and certainly glossier, and given I’m blonde, that’s not to be sneezed at. I’ve styled it, curled it, braided fishtails, blowdried it and French braided it, all with no ill effects. The bottom line -  I feel a bit like the girl in a cheesy 80s shampoo ad. Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful. I’ll tell you my secret. It’s not my hair, it’s my hair oil.

You can keep a secret, right?

Everyone knows it – whatever can protect a delicate camellia flower – or a likewise delicate flower-like complexion – from the frost, snow and ill effects of a winter that seems never to end can’t possibly be bad!

Disclosure: Samples were provided for review by Skye Botanicals, aroma M and Aftelier. For which I thank them most sincerely!

Skye Botanicals products are available from the website and Perfume Pharmer’s Etsy store. Aroma M Camellia Hair and Face Oils are available from aroma M’s website and select retail outlets. Aftelier Face Elixirs and Body Oil and Hair Elixirs are available from the Aftelier website. With thanks to the intrepid Ms. Hare. And the very inspirational CharlestonGirl, the Non Blonde, Jane and Jen.

Photo: Dabney Rose. Used by permission.

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!

Soft as Sin

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT X

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT X

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

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

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

The thing is, I never know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I was dreaming about you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original image: Orcatek Photography Workshops

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

Best of the Best 2011 – Worn and Adored

Being the true confessions of a dedicated perfumoholic

The problem with being a perfume blogger – apart from the fact that most of your surroundings think you’re certifiable -  is that you by necessity wear a lot – I do mean a LOT – of perfume that you sometimes may love and sometimes…may not. It will inevitably happen that you encounter your own brand of philistinism when you introduce your skin to a highly touted house and your chemistry flips you the bird as this much-marketed brand turns into either a hydra on your skin – sprouting another head of awful the more you scrub – or else…that you’re falling in love with juice that will entail selling off your seven-year-old to pay for it.

The things, the monsters, the hydras I have endured…I rarely wrote about. It just didn’t seem the polite thing to do. But surely, some day I should write about that infamous rite of passage for any hardcore perfumista…sitting out the duration of three whole dabs of Etat Libre d’Orange’s ‘Secretions Magnifiques’ on my skin without scrubbing. It was a bit like Anthony Bourdain drinking venomous snake blood in Vietnam because he wanted to be that guy who could brag about it with impunity…Well, I wanted to be that gal, and if Katie Puckrick had the ovaries to do it, then by Golly, so did I!

I did. I also turned green, then purple, then blue from holding my breath among other things. I dare say Anthony of NKDMan now owes me a bathtub sized drink…;)

On the other hand are the ones I simply…loved. Loved for their beauty, their peerless construction, the heart-rending drydowns and mood-enhancers and sex-me-uppers and just. Plain. Loved.

Aftelier

Cepes and Tuberose was my gateway into all things Aftelier. So compelling, so stunning, so simultaneously earthy and divine, spicy and sweet, it’s now become one of my Great Immortals, and on most days, there will be a tiny dab of it on my person somewhere. My Goddess Freya ‘fume. Sophia, another goddess in my novel Quantum Demonology, would surely love Fig. Something about jasmine sambac gets me. When it gets with fir and turns to fig, I’m done for. I’ve loved it – that much! I take Tango and Candide with me wherever I go just to breathe in their wonder. Whether it’s the completely seamless opulent bouquet of heaven that opens it or the perfectly balanced animal drydown of yes! Civet! Yes! Castoreum!…my little vial of Secret Garden is going fast. My ex hates it, which makes it a classic right there!

Atelier Cologne

Call me a philistine, but I have yet to meet an Atelier Cologne I haven’t loved, worn and killed off completely. I want one of each in those big, glorious 200 ml bottles. But for now, I’ll settle for a small bottle of Trefle Pur. Because it’s lucky! I just know…

Amouage

Ah, the many perils of Amouage. I first fell in love with Ubar – fatally and forever – and next with Epic Woman, although that took a while longer, but it crept up on me. Then, I met Memoir Woman. That took five tries and I was…toast. An instant love was the outrageousness of  Opus V – a slam dunk for this iris lover which will soon be reviewed – and then, Suzanne sent me a sample of Jubilation 25. “If this isn’t you…” she wrote ominously. I’m terrified it is…me! The good news, from my perspective, is that Lyric Woman is gorgeous …and hates my skin. I now eye that sample vial of Gold somewhat askance…and I don’t want to hear anything about Memoir Woman in extrait. I’ll wait until the day I show up in Knightsbridge, smoking plastic in tow, and they can tell me anything they like, so long as they tell me they take Amex as I take one of everything!

Aroma M

I’ve drained my sample set of Aroma M d-r-y. Geisha Blue (a verdant sanity saver for total stress-out days), Green, which is my other favorite absinthe, Violet, a deliciously subversive chocolate violet, Rouge, the spice fest to spice up anything at all, or the newest, Amber Rouge…Aroma M perfume oils are stunning, beautifully packaged in their Yuzen paper wrappings and they last and last and last. So will our love affair, I just know it!

Balmain

When I need a break from p-e-r-f-u-m-e, when all I want is to get on with my day and not worry about what I wear, when I get hit by acute indecision in the morning, Balmain’s Ivoire is what I reach for. A seamless, perfect dream of a green floral chypre that does everything a perfume is supposed to do – make me feel beautiful. It always does.

Caron

SuperMario Jr’s favorite perfume on his mother is Caron’s Bellodgia, one of the greatest carnations ever made. I make a point of wearing it when he’s sick to cheer him up. (His own, to his mother’s horror, is Amouage Memoir Man. He has sometimes insisted on wearing it to school…) Maman, meanwhile, has become addicted to the bad-gal leather of Tabac Blond extrait, thanks again to Suzanne. Yes, it’s the current formulation. I’m sure it was better before. But this is now and this is it and Tabac Blond is surely one of the sexiest scents I’ve worn this year? Wear wisely. I never did hear back from the guy I was with last I wore it to such stunning effect!

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

Ah, Dawn…she breaks my heart. First, there was…Vert pour Madame, and I have maybe three drops left, it’s such a perfect throwback to those Great Green Chypres we loved and adored. Then, I received a tiny vial of 1000 Lilies, and lilies don’t get any better, no matter what they say. Next, I discovered Sampsuchinon, which really puts the sass to my spice, and finally, she slayed me with Pandora and Paradise Lost. I love all of them when I can. Which is nowhere often enough for my liking.

Etat Libre d’Orange

Yes, I know. I know. But Etat Libre also gave us Like This…and I did indeed, like that, so much it’s all gone…as is Rossy di Palma, a thorny, spiky, green rose I also dearly loved.

Guerlain

In my year of revelations, two Guerlains – both from the L’Art et La Matière line – have converted me into a huge fan of Thierry Wasser. I haven’t yet tried Shalimar Parfum Initial – although I would like to – but Spiritueuse Double Vanille and Iris Ganache have made it into my regular rotation, and I’m so not a gourmand gal. I blame Carrie of EyelinerOnACat. That’s right. My nose had nothing to say in the matter at all!

Histoires de Parfums

There is no justice in this world if I don’t get my grubby hands on at least a decant of HdP 1740 – Marquis de Sade. Should be classified as a drug of a most lethal kind, so naturally, I’ve gotta have it!

ODIN NYC

I’ve only ever tried ODIN NY-04 Petrana (although I’ve heard so many great things about the others!), but for an iris lover, it doesn’t get any better, or classier, or chewier, or cooler. Then, I had the inspired idea – no such thing as too much iris! – to layer it with Iris Ganache. Petrana cuts some of the white chocolate overload of IG, and they dance in such beautiful tandem all day and well into evening…

Opus Oils

SInce I was done in by a dangerous bloom, my Flapper perfume oil from the Les Bohemes collection has seen a lot of action in my neighborhood, and never fails to land me compliments. So does Giggle Water. And Absinthia, my other favorite absinthe. Does this mean I’m dangerous? No. It means you must run, not walk, straight to Opus Oils and try them for yourself! You know you want to!

Ormonde Jayne

Linda Pilkington, how do I love thy genius? Let me count the ways…Tolu, a golden, glorious wreath of resinous perfection, Orris Noir, the world’s richest, warmest, thickest, sex-me-up iris got me into a flirt…five hours after I’d applied it and it was still going strong! Taïf, a dark, rich, red desert rose…Frangipani, Osmanthus and Champaca when life’s a bowl of cherries on a flawless summer’s day…oh, yes! Genius!

Penhaligon’s

Once upon a time, I received a Penhaligon’s Scent Library..and then proceeded to murder Malabah and Blenheim Bouquet. That’s love! Amaranthine’s utter strangeness and so-wrong-it’s-right-ness was stolen by a colleague. That’s purloined love!

Puredistance

There is no right way to say this, but say this I must – yet again. If you have the kind of skin that cozies up to green, then you must surely adore Puredistance Antonia. It is a masterpiece of a perfume – at once a reference to all those Great Greens of old and yet totally modern, too. It makes me happy and grateful beyond belief to know that Anne Bezantian felt as I do – and created what is – or what should be – a Classic with a capital C. Sigh. A forever love!

Robert Piguet

I never expected to conjure up the ovaries to fall for Fracas this year, but I did. With a vengeance. But there’s more intrigue from Piguet…since back in my Badass Days (when I was a good deal younger), I wore Bandit extrait…So I ordered a sample of the EdP from First in Fragrance, so I’d have something to complain about, only to find it was only slightly softer and not too changed these days, and that thrilled me no end. Bandit is another of my Great Immortals. Next I knew, I ordered a decant from TPC, because I’m still that kind of badass…and then, things got a little…weird. For this Bandit was not MY Bandit, with its bitter leather-violet-galbanum vibe and ashtray undertone (which is precisely why I love it, something only perfumistas can understand), but rather a fluffed-down, muskier version. Not even the color of the juice was the same. Came to find out that the US version is markedly different – why, I don’t know – and also, that I want that Euro ashtray version, so bad, I can taste it! On the other side of February 1st, I foresee an order…My sample is almost gone. I will cry my bitter isobutyl quinoline tears.

Serge Lutens

It gives me an evil amount of pleasure to state that I have managed to turn four of my friends and acquaintances into diehard Lutensoholics. Now, there are five of us where I live. I lured them in with Fleurs d’Oranger (best orange blossom ever created!), hooked them with Boxeuses, and wiped them up with Ambre Sultan. The Arabie is m-i-n-e. (and Suzanne’s! Cumin lovers, unite!) The Vitriol d’Oeillet I can share. If L’Eau Froide is half as good as I hope, this town is toast. Meanwhile, I have an inexplicable craving for the glories of Encens et Lavande…and want to try De Profundiis very badly. Cèdre I’ve loved for a quite a while, and thanks to JoanElaine, it can love me right back!

Skye Botanicals

The boy of the household – whatever Hairy Krishna, the ginger fiend thinks to the contrary – is a bit blasé about the amount of sample vials in different locations around our apartment. “Argh, Mom…why do you always smell of something?” he asked me yesterday. Nevertheless, he’s being indoctrinated by proximity. A seven-year-old who wears tiny dabs of Memoir Man to school has, I foresee, a very bright future. But one he loves beyond all reason is the one I spray on his pillow every night – Skye Botanicals Fuzzy Blue Blanket. It has replaced the lavender/neroli blend I used to use to get him to sleep. It works! He sleeps, if usually a half hour later than his mother would like…

Mainstream hits and misses

I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t like very much of what came out this year at my local shops…Chanel no. 19 Poudré was such a massive disappointment for me, Prada Candy hated me with a fury. These two words should never occur in the same sentence: Caramel and hairspray. Gah! Bottega Veneta made my best of list. There are a few Guerlains I need to investigate properly – Insolence among them, and yes, you may shoot me! But the closest thing to a mainstream find – and I can’t even find it here – that I loved was a flanker to one I do like: Mugler’s Alien. I said it – I’m a sucker for intergalactic jasmine sambac. When Aromi of IlMondodiOdore sent me a sample of Alien Liqueur de Parfum, it took me no time at all to decide I. Just. Have. To. Have. It. It’s Alien but better, smoother, richer, with a smoky, satinwood, resinous amber drydown to die for.

Ah, we perfume bloggers have it rough. So many ‘fumes, so little time. The ones we had to wear to review, the ones we wanted to love but couldn’t, the ones we loved so much, we couldn’t review them, and the ones we love so much, we wear them even on the days we claim we’re wearing nothing at all! These were mine in 2011. What were yours?

Image: The Queen’s Crown, made for Queen Sophie Magdalene by court jeweler Frederik Fabritius, 1731. Royal Danish Collections, Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen.

Blood and Kisses

THE CLARIMONDE PROJECT

The Clarimonde Project – Part One

The Perfume Pharmer ‘Sangre’ Eau de Parfum and lip stains developed for Clarimonde, ‘Scarlet Kiss’ and ‘Purple Shadow’

Imagine that you are a young man of twenty-four. All your short life, you have lived for the sole purpose of committing your soul to God as his servant, you have no other ambition, hold no other dream but to become a priest, and so the day of your ordination arrives, the moment you have anticipated for so long. No shadow has ever touched you, no doubt ever plagued you. You shall live your life for God, and God shall return your devotion in equal measure. Until one fated, fatal moment when you look up at a point in your ordination ceremony at the cathedral, and you see a not just a woman, you see Woman, the epitome of all the Church denies and demonizes, the quintessence of all desire, all beauty, of all that offers another kind of love you have never known before and in a heartbeat, all your former self falls away and all your devout ambition dies and you can see, imagine, dream and breathe of nothing at all else.

So begins the story titled ‘La Morte Amoureuse’ by Théophile Gautier, or as it is known in English, ‘Clarimonde’. Published in 1836, it is a story of love and loss, desire and delusion, a simulacrum of life and the bitter reality of death.

On Scent Less Sensibilities and elsewhere, the story of Clarimonde marks the start of a unique group collaboration of five bloggers and six perfumers, namely Mandy Aftel of Aftelier, Ayala Moriel, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Monica Miller of Skye Botanicals and Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl of Aroma M and Cherry Bomb Killer Perfume. Each of the contributing bloggers will provide their own perspectives on the perfumers’ individual interpretations of the story.

My readers will know I came over to the dark side a very long time ago. Every day is Halloween chez Tarleisio! When I was asked to join The Clarimonde Project by curator, instigator, friend, Great Facilitator and fellow blogger Lucy Raubertas of Indie Perfumes, I couldn’t help a little devilish happy dance of excitement. As we all read the same, haunting story Gautier wrote so long ago, we each will have our own personal twists to add, whether our medium is perfume or prose, and so, I have spent the past three days since the arrival of my first perfumed tribute letting the ghosts of Monica Miller of Skye Botanical’s unique interpretation of ‘Clarimonde’ speak to me, as all ghosts do if I only will sit still enough to listen. Now, as I sit with my cooling Earl Grey, my iPig on low and my green magic candle burning just past the midnight witching hour, the ghosts have finally emerged to tell their tale.

Monica chose a most unusual three-fold approach: a perfume called ‘Sangre’, and two 100% botanical, perfumed lip stains to accompany it, a red lip stain called ‘Scarlet Kiss’, perfumed with incense, and a purple stain called ‘Purple Shadow’, perfumed with myrrh and spices. When used together, they form a whole enveloping experience – a lip stain that also perfumes the breath, a perfume that accentuates and compliments the lip stains, even a lip stain that stings as surely as any vampire’s kiss would.

The first day, I applied the red stain, ‘Scarlet Kiss’. I’m a longtime fan of lip stains, and although it wore on me more as a lipstick on my lips, ‘Scarlet Kiss’ managed to last well into the morning and worked beautifully for my fair coloring, and I don’t normally wear red lipsticks at all. The shea butter kept my lips moisturized and smooth and semi-glossy, but the biggest surprise was the incense used to perfume it – it was a way to inhale/experience incense in a tactile, sensory manner I’ve never tried before. I can imagine this on the courtesan Clarimonde’s lips when she appeared in all her glory to the hapless young priest Romuald…the otherworldly beautiful sensual epiphany that shook his faith and his very being to its core.
I will wear this until it’s gone, and then I will mourn its departure. Or else I shall mourn that no other shade of red lipstain/lipstick is quite so flattering or so enticingly perfumed with incense, one of my most favorite notes.

The second day, I wore the purple stain, ‘Purple Shadow’. Here, dear reader, is the Kiss of the Vampire…or as I see it, the point in the story where Romuald is called upon to perform last rites for the dead Clarimonde, and as she lies still in all her deathly pallor and allure, he kisses her – calling her back to life. ‘Purple Shadow’ is perfumed with myrrh – used as a breath freshener since antiquity, too – and is tinted a delicious shade of purple. Alas, this color was not a requited love, but the effect of myrrh on the breath and that sharp tingle/sting of peppermint that made my lips swell slightly was worth it! If I can ever imagine a vampire’s kiss – no hard stretch to my decadent imagination – I can imagine it would burn and tingle precisely as Purple Shadow did. Ah, that fragrant myrrh that somehow seems both sacred and sorrowful to me, a perfumed tear you are compelled to shed simply for being so evocative.

Which brings me to ‘Sangre’ (Blood), the perfume. ‘Sangre’, writes Monica in her accompanying letter, is “a dark fruity floral designed to satiate and sedate the visions of the night’. Don’t let that description deter you. This is unlike any fruity floral I have ever come across.

I breathe in ‘Sangre’ and it does indeed evoke something of the sacrament of blood through that dark alliance of raspberry/blackberry and Roman chamomile, but it also has a clearly defined and ever darker base right from the start as it breathes on my skin. Combined with either lipstain, it envelopes you in scent in an all-pervasive manner we’re no longer accustomed to in our sanitized, breath mint present, and in a way I’ve never tried before. I breathe in the incense on my mouth, the dark, velvety floral and geranium strangeness of Sangre on my skin as it develops, and one word alone is enough to describe the combined effect – haunting as a memory you can never forget and both hope you never do and also desperately ache to do.

To my Gothic sensibilities, Sangre is a dual perfume…dark as all true desires, strange as love always is, and heartbreaking as all fatal love stories must be. It is both comforting and heartbreaking at one and the same time with that deep velvet heart and that dark, polished satinwood base of musk and honey, frankincense and patchouli…as if you had retired to your bed to mourn the loss of the love of your life, wept your bitter tears of regret to reach a fragile state of catharsis, and finally, many hours later, come to realize a hard yet necessary truth – that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. At least, you loved. You lived. You lost, as all star-crossed lovers do, since Eros is a fickle god like all gods, and no mere mortal can survive the celestial heights of Olympus for long.

Or, as Romuald concludes his tale…

”for however chaste and watchful one may be, the error of a single moment is enough to make one lose eternity, lose eternity.”

Romuald lived out his days with the loss of eternity. Nearly two hundred years later on a dark and cold, star-bright October night, a solitary blogger found his story and was wrapped in a perfumed experience unlike anything she had ever tried, a unique blend of sacred and sorrow, scent and stain, blood…and kisses.

Notes for ‘Sangre’:
Top: Roman chamomile, dark berry fruits
Heart: Jasmine CO2, Honeysuckle absolute, geranium absolute, white and red rose tinctures
Base: Musks, honey absolute, ambrette, frankincense CO2, patchouli CO2

A box sample set of Scarlet Kiss/Purple Shadow lip stains and a sample of Sangre is available at The Perfume Pharmer also available individually.

Monica Miller is also known as The Perfume Pharmer.

Disclosure: Sample provided by Monica Miller for review.

A spectacular introduction to both vampires as well as Clarimonde can be found at Lost Past Remembered, one of the participating blogs. Lucy of Indie Perfumes has also reviewed the set here.