All Flued Out

Ladies and gents, I have an announcement. Due to circumstances beyond even my ability to control, I’ll be away from the computer for a few days due to either flu or walking pneumonia, I’m not quite sure which, but the doctor will tell me tomorrow. Darn it, and I even had the titles of four new blogs written down, but my sense of smell has almost completely disappeared, and right when I have a truckload of samples in front of me, too! 😦

I’ll try to get better, but the prognosis is iffy, I’ve been trying for years!

Typed by a friend by dictation, who can attest to the fact that she’s utterly wretched…so it’s the perfect opportunity to steal some of her Balsamo della Mecca…;-)

Two-Faced T

– On the strange things skin can do to perfume…

Yesterday, on the night of a full Cancer Moon, something exceedingly strange happened, something possibly explained by Moon Magic, but I’m not too sure because this sort of thing has happened before.

I’ve been suffering from a slight case of writer’s block, not anything debilitating, but enough to stare into space and the wall behind my laptop thinking…I should do…something.

So in a fit of pique, I reached for the large Southwestern gourd, carved, stained and embellished by a member of the Zuni pueblo tribe of New Mexico, that contains a selection of my samples and decants. This has been known to do wonders for my writing, and at other times the precise opposite. I never know, but on a night like yesterday, I’d take my chances.

Since yesterday was a fairly light day, perfume-wise, I thought I’d see what I’d spontaneously reach for to try again.

Into my hot little hands fell…Mandarine Mandarin and Bois de Violette by Serge Lutens.

It’s no secret I sold a fair chunk of my olfactory soul to Uncle Serge. It’s likewise not a secret that sometimes Lutens perfumes can be shape-shifting creatures that take you on journeys you never expected, to places you never knew or even wanted to know. Rather like a lot of the music I love.

Ambre Sultan is the perfect example of that, but there’s a topic for another blog post.

I’ve tried both of them before, and sat firmly on the fence of ‘maybe/maybe not.’ The last time I tried Mandarine Mandarin, the celery seed note bloomed to such an extent, it drowned out all the other notes and threatened to eat me alive, unless I gnawed off my arm first. This was supposedly an Oriental, a luscious, complex mandarin/candied orange/Lapsang Souchong/amber blend that on paper at least sounded like something I should love to death, but that day, the celery seed was out to eat me, and that did not make me happy.

Which, after all, is partly the reason I wear perfume to begin with.

Alors, then – no. Never. Not even in my nightmares, and trust me, with the book I’m writing, they’re plenty bad enough.

On to Bois de Violette. Now, I do like violets, and I love violet candies and candied violets, but the bottled variety, not so much. From reviews and raves, I gathered this was a different, not-that-kind of violet, so I was looking forward to it. Violet paired with Atlas cedar, it couldn’t be too bad. So I thought before applying.

It promptly dropped me into a gargantuan pencil box of very expensive art pencils – and stayed there. Violet???? What violet? This should have been titled Bois de Viol, because it was…rape by pencil shavings, enough to fuel the Ècole des Beaux Arts and several sketch artists for at least ten years. Yikes! I used kitty litter that smelled better than this! I’ve used cedar shavings on my rose geranium that smelled exactly the same.

Something was very wrong with these pictures. These were not the mind-blowers I had come to expect. I put them away in their Pueblo gourd and forgot about them.

Until a full moon night, a night I couldn’t write, and they flew into my hand as if propelled unseen by Uncle Serge, whispering in the ether…

“Really. You should try them. You’ll see.”

Two perfumes. Two wrists. On the left, Mandarine Mandarin, Bois de Violette on the right.

I waited the prerequisite five minutes, staring into my wall, wondering if I’d want to shoot myself.

Well, I do. For other reasons than I expected.

Mandarine Mandarin, that celery-seed arm-eating gargoyle, was on her best behavior last night. Holy Orange Blossom, this was glorious stuff. Mandarin zest and candied mandarin, orange blossom and black tea and… hello, lover, where have you been? Can I marry you, or should I just settle for embalming when I leave Planet Earth?

Opulent and rich and heady, my favorite kind of smoky citrus scent, the kind that slays the unsuspecting. Yes, I need that at my age. Whatever it takes. Take me. Please. Not like its sibling, Fleurs d’Oranger, which to my untrained nose is bottled sunshine-y days, this is an evening perfume that sends out certain messages of expensive dinners at Lapérouse in Paris, in one of the cabinets particuliers, champagne included and fireworks likewise.

I really need to get a life. Or else a less dangerous imagination.

On to Bois de Violette. Last night, there was no pencil box in sight, only the pensive, slightly melancholy yet flirtatious air of wood violets talking, not whispering, from a cedar-forest floor. I caught myself thinking this would be perfect for a Pisces kind of girl, someone sweet and cuddly and but with hidden depths you could never guess. BdV would be perfect for those days you should be concentrating on Serious Things, like splitting atoms or infinitives, just not so serious you want the world to forget you’re a girl after all, or forget yourself in all that serious cedar. Make no mistake, this is very woody in the best way, yet the violet sweetens it just enough to push it over the frilly edge of feminine, at least on my skin.

I had a bad case of perfume schizophrenia on my arms last night. Just call me Two-Faced T. Whether it was hormones, mood or the phase of the Moon, I didn’t know what to expect except the unexpected.

Be careful what you wish for. You will get it! Such as – a cure for writer’s block!

Have you had any surprises on your skin? Perfumes that turned traitor, right when you thought it was love eternal and everlasting, or else Demons of the Dark that hid their angelic side underneath, only to spring it upon you unaware?

Mandarine Mandarin and Bois de Violette are in the Salon-exclusive line of Salons Shiseido at Palais Royale, although Bois de Violette is also in the export line available at Luckyscent, Aedes and Barneys NY, Samples and decants can be bought from The Perfumed Court.

Image: Yours truly, seriously mangled.

Coming Attractions

In the unlikely event anyone has been wondering, I have not forsaken you! As the snow has thawed, I’ve been snowed under elsewhere, and 36 hours in a day are just not…enough. This is not at all the same as saying I’m going to wimp out – so instead of a new perfume post, I’ll give you a sneak preview of what’s in store!

I know I’m on the road to perdition when…I spent the better part of an evening yesterday on First In Fragrance’s website, trying to decide what to try. Decisions, decisions…so many choices, and so little time.

But in the next few weeks, expect to see my takes on a few button pushers and the ones I ordered just because my curiosity is killing me.

Birgit of Olfactoria’s Travels has a lot to answer for – among them, my curiosity over Amouage. Oh, that slope is so slippery and steep, and Epic Woman is on the list…and it’s all her fault! 😉

Robert Piguet’s Bandit has been ‘walking her catgirls on leashes in leather‘…so I have to, I absolutely have to try this again, it’s been so long…

Byredo is a line I’ve never tried, but when someone pays an homage to one of my all-time favorite poets, I have to sit up and take notice! So…Baudelaire and Green are thrown in, too.

I’ve heard plenty of great things about Odin New York. C’mon. With a name like that, it’s like throwing a spear into a Viking horde in berserker mode. So in goes…Odin New York – 02 Owari.

Heeley is another line I’ve heard lots about…and just because the name tickles my fancy, I’ll start with Esprit de Tigre.

The fun won’t stop there. Another package from Olympic Orchids arrived today and is waiting for a pickup at my local post office tomorrow.

It will be glorious, I promise you!

So what are you, dear reader, dying to try? Let me know!

Image: Edmund Dulac, Psyche and Cerebus

Dead of Winter Antidote

– a review of Olympic Orchid’s ‘A Midsummer Day’s Dream’

Today was a day when it was as if spring would never come, as if summer were a bout of desperately wishful thinking. The landscape was everywhere sere and brown and dead, and the fog never lifted from the barren, sleeping trees that seemed to pull their cloak of cloud and mist a little closer, a little tighter and denser, as if to say…wake us when it’s over. We’re sleeping in.

The only sound I could hear was the black metal caw of the rooks headbanging on the lawn, taking flight in a flurry of funereal, ominous black metal notes when a girl in a pink parka ran to the bus stop, the only shock of vivid color among the patches of melted snow and ice, the dun of the trees and bushes, the green of the grass dulled to a faded Polaroid moment memory of green.

Spring will never come. Summer never happens. This barren, this damp, marrow-aching cold, this sere, this brown…is all you will ever know.

Those days of ease and warmth, that still and breathless, restless heat, that scent of green and growing things in a rage to bloom and blossom, that heady trail of elderflowers and philadelphus, the purr of the wood doves under the eaves of the beeches…it was a dream, one fervent, fevered wish to feel entirely alive, entirely there, entirely connected to all that grows and wants and desires…to laugh in winter’s despite.

Unless…summer can be invoked in other ways, by opening that tiny vial of ‘A Midsummer’s Day Dream’. All is quiet as I do, the house is asleep, even the cats are snoozing on their cushions above the radiator, noses to tail tips, twitching in their dreams.

I’m convinced there are genies in these little vials, different genies of times and places and spaces, not at all alike, that sleep and await their moment to rise up and creep out on their fragrant trails and invoke their place and time.

This is the quintessence of a temperate summer, the days that we live for, that heated solstice shocking kiss of life to live, the days that seem an eternity, an aeon away on a fog-cloaked January morning. This is the green that burns your retinas and wakes you all the way up, and up – or down, lying on the emerald grass watching the clouds dance a measured, lazy waltz across a blue, blue sky, and beneath you, crushed wildflowers, bruised grass, trees full of sap and full of leaves inhaling sunshine, exhaling joy – that this day, this moment, this grass that tickles your nose and snaps your synapses, these nameless flowers imprinting themselves on your skin – life is nothing but perfect and you are never less than perfectly content.

Such a perfume, you might think, has never been bottled, such genies never captured, such scents, such moments never happen…outside of books and poems and Shakespeare plays.

Yet I’m telling you that they have. In a tiny little vial called ‘A Midsummer Day’s Dream’.

The perfect dead-of-winter antidote. Breathe it in, all the way in, breathe in that grassy, floral, emerald green all the way out to your fingertips and feel it tickle your nose and your fancies, and you could believe, as I did, that a fog-cloaked, dismal day was surely a figment of your imagination.

Unlike that little vial of bottled sunshine that is very, very real.

I’m speechless. Hard to find the words when all I want to do is lie back against the wildflowers, write cloud stories in the sky, and whistle with a blade of grass between my lips…

“A Midsummer Day’s Dream” can be sampled or bought at Olympic Orchids. Spread the word. Doc Elly is a genius. Or a genie, I’m not sure which…;-)

Image: Frank Cadogan Cowper: Titania Sleeps (1928)

Thanks to Josephine for the inspiration – and to my followers who make me write!

Black No. 1

– a review of Narcisse Noir by Caron

A few days ago, I was cleaning out the Augean stables of my storage room, and found a few scant drops of early Eighties vintage Narcisse Noir stashed away at the bottom of a box full of odds and ends. I had completely forgotten I had it or had even managed to hold on to it for this long, but one pull at that black stopper, and out floated memories and words…

In my novel, “Quantum Demonology”, which I’m currently revising when I’m not writing perfume blogs, my protagonist has a nemesis named Melina.

“Melina was the product of a Greek father and a Danish mother who had met on Santorini and never quite recovered. If you ever wondered what a Greek Goth Goddess looked like, there was Melina, all six feet of sheer drop-dead intimidation.”

Melina, we find out later, has a weakness for Caron, which is currently not available in Denmark. Our heroine bribes her at one point in the story with a bottle of urn extrait Narcisse Blanc, later followed by Narcisse Noir, with ulterior motives, of course!

Which is precisely how I think of Narcisse Noir – a perfume with ulterior motives. Think of the associations…Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard”, worn by Anaïs Nin in the 1930s, created in 1911 by Ernest Daltroff, the notes of narcissus, dark rose and orange blossom, incense and civet.

If any one perfume embodies Gothic femininity and sensibilities, the quintessence of Goth, it would arguably be Narcisse Noir. My vintage version was dark, dark, dark…smoldering and sexual and dangerous even, with that animal incense drydown that lasted forever and a day.

This stuff should be banned. It smells the way I imagine taking laudanum feels…floating away on a dark and dismal cloud of dangerous bliss, the kind you could never, ever tell your mother about. Unless you actually stole this from your mother, as I did.

My mother was all her short life the total perfume addict. Her list of fragrant loves was as elegant as it was classic, and I’m rather disheartened by the fact that I can’t wear them because she did; Mitsouko, Joy, Jolie Madame, Shalimar, First, Bal à Versailles, Fidji. As a Scorpio, she was no stranger to the Femmes Fatales of perfume and indeed was rather fatale herself.

One day, long after I had left home to make my way in the world, I came by to say hello, and in the course of the evening I discovered the most fatale of them all – stashed away nearly behind her vanity mirror was a bottle of Narcisse Noir. I had heard rumors of this one, seen “Sunset Boulevard”, knew it had been worn by Anaïs Nin. This was history, pedigree and devastation all in one small bottle.

I stole it. It took a few months before we were on speaking terms again.

Meanwhile, there was havoc to wreak, so I did. In that Stygian abyss known as the Goth underground in the mid-1980’s, Narcisse Noir had one of two possible effects on the opposite gender. Those guys either ran for the hills or the Himalayas, whichever was furthest, or they fell prey like so many drugged fruit flies. There was no middle ground.

This is one of the few perfumes that to me encompass everything “black”. Black suede, black velvet, black satin sheets. It takes no prisoners, does not take no for an answer, has all the attitude issues of black widows everywhere. Come closer. Dahling. So I may eat you alive. You will love every excruciating minute, I promise. Dahling.

The perfect scent for a succubus!

Perfect for the Capa of the Black no. 1 Mafia in my story, Melina. And perfectly described in female terms in the song “Black no. 1”.

I’m stashing it away behind lock and key, where its radioactive charms can be contained. I could be forgiven for wearing this at age 22, before I completely knew what it meant to be a woman. I’m now 47, and I know exactly what would happen if I ever ventured out wearing Narcisse Noir. I’d drape myself languidly over the stairs, sweep my hair back with one crimson-nailed hand and say:

“I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. De Mille!” Or else just ready to eat the next hapless male unlucky enough to walk by…

My version was a mid-Eighties vintage parfum, and the notes below are for the reformulation – I’m guessing the latest one, since my version definitely contains civet. I think there may be about ten drops of it left.

Notes according to Fragrantica:
Top notes: African orange flower and narcissus
Heart notes: jasmine, orange and tincture of rose
Base notes: vetyver, musk and sandalwood

The Red Velvet Revel

a review of Olympic Orchids’ ‘Red Cattleya

Yours truly is a biohazard. I have ten black thumbs not counting my toes, and my one living houseplant is a rose geranium named Vibeke, who resembles something out of a Dr. Seuss story, smells utterly fantastic and is nearly immortal. Like her inconstant gardener, she has a post-punk attitude problem. She simply refuses to quit.

So you can imagine my profound admiration for Doc Elly, who not only grows orchids in Washington State, she makes perfumes out of them, too. One of those was a sample of her ‘Red Cattleya’.

Scented orchids, I’ve come to learn, change their scent as they bloom, growing headier or heavier, fruitier or more indolic, evolving much the same way a perfume does on your skin. You would think that with an orchid such as the all-out velvety onslaught of that Red Cattleya pictured above, the perfume itself would also be something out of the ordinary.

You would be right. It is.

Right out of the bottle, and with no preconceived notions whatsoever, I’m very much reminded of a classical French perfume, the kind they used to make before the big, bad IFRA restrictions took over. Back in the days when perfume was opulent and rich and rewarding, the ultimate gilding of the lily, or as Coco Chanel put it so succinctly, the only accessory that mattered.

Dream of a time when being a woman was a Serious Business, ca. 1950s, say, when getting out the door in the morning involved things like foundation garments and heels, eyebrow pencils and pancake makeup, hats and gloves. You know, back when women were supposed to look like women rather than overgrown schoolgirls playing with Mommy’s makeup.

Just as a red cattleya is a glamour puss of an orchid, Red Cattleya is a glamour puss of a perfume. I wouldn’t wear this to the office, but I’d certainly wear it to the opera. Provided the opera were something romantic like Verdi or Mozart, rather than Wagner. This is a done-up, updo orchid in a French twist, diamond earrings and an opulent 1950s Balenciaga creation in red silk velvet, strapless, naturellement!

It is intensely, opulently fruity, Floral with a capital F and more than a tad exotic – there is spice in the mix somewhere. It is, in fact, every bit as gaudy and showy as the orchid that named it. In fact, I could well imagine this orchid – or this perfume – scenting the conservatory that is part of the setting of Oscar Wilde’s “A Picture of Dorian Gray”, where Dorian in his innocence makes a terrible mistake…A Victorian conservatory, then, with blooms pillaged from the far-flung ends of the Empire, outrageous, show-stopping blooms that command your attention in an instant, and are ever so slightly unsettling in their overt sensuality.

Fruity, yes, but please forget everything you know about that horrid category “fruity-floral”. This is so heady, lush and ripe I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone under at least twenty-five.

I detect apricot, a whiff of heliotrope, perhaps, vanilla, rose, violet, and raspberry, all of them blended so well and so smoothly that they are a lot more than the sum of their parts – just as women should be. I say this not because I make any distinction between the masculine and the feminine, but because this is incredibly…femme, incredibly alluring, all dressed up in that glorious Balenciaga and with everywhere to go!

The sillage is stunning, even when dabbed with a cotton swab, the lasting power fully up to an evening at the opera and cocktails beforehand. What happens after that is entirely up to you!

I could imagine this being worn by Lisa Fonssagrives in her day, in that breathtaking Balenciaga gown, the epitome of feminine devastation and elegance with a capital E. For my own part, I begin to wonder about the strangest things…something in this perfume makes me want to…sit up straighter, wear gloves (because a lady must be careful where she leaves her dabs!), put up my hair in a French twist and finally hunt down that perfect shade of red lipstick.

Or maybe not. Maybe I should wear this the next time I go out for a date and report back on the results. Too bad the date is platonic, although he is a Scorpio, so you never know…

Red Cattleya is Red. Lush. Female. In the flower, and in real life!

Above all, I can remember a quote I wrote down a long time ago, which jumps into my mind as I write, and which seems perfectly appropriate for Red Cattleya:

“When two friends understand each other perfectly, the words are soft and strong like an orchid’s perfume.”

Like this orchid, and this perfume!

For another angle on “Red Cattleya

Image of Lisa Fonssagrives, 1951 by Horst P. Horst

Where the Wild Things Are

– a review of Olympic Orchids’ “Olympic Rainforest”

Surrounded as we are by all the questionable odds and ends that in the Western hemisphere encompass the term “civilization”, it can sometimes be easy to forget that in spite of all we do or have done to “tame” them, there are still wild and untouched spots on the globe where the wind still whispers, and trees still gather to sing the songs trees always seem to sing to me.

When I think of primeval places, wild and untouched forests without the human stain, places that epitomize “forest”, an immediate picture springs to mind – the temperate rainforest. They are nothing like the tropical jungles we normally associate with the term. Mosses and ferns grow so prolifically they almost take on a sentient life form of their own, ferns so lush, so large and so green it seems they could easily eat you under a full moon, and a few hours later, all that would remain would be one heavenly scented fougère burp, a sigh, a rustle of the trees above and order is once again restored – the order of the forest, where humanity is but a passing intrusion, until the next full moon. If any location on Earth could embody J. R. R. Tolkien’s Entwood to me and make me utterly believe in the existence of Ents, it would be a temperate rainforest.

Such a forest is what Doc Elly of Olympic Orchids pays homage to in her perfume “Olympic Rainforest” – an ode to the Olympic National Forest of Washington, and the largest expanse of temperate rainforest anywhere on Earth. I have never been to Washington, never seen that timeless forest or those monster ferns and mosses, but it just so happens that a member of my household went to college at Evergreen State in Olympia and has many happy memories of the Olympic peninsula. He was the obvious test subject. With no knowledge of perfume as such – beyond the standard male “I know what I like”, and with only the name to go by, his first statement was: “Oh. Oh! Oh, I like this! I’d wear this! This is great!” He promptly demanded I apply more – so I did. These few hours later, I have not heard a word of complaint, apart from the occasional “I still like it”.

Olympic Rainforest” is a fougère. Indeed, with those full moon man-eating ferns, how could it not be? But unlike so many other fougères of tarnished reputation and cursed ubiquity (Drakkar Noir, I’m looking at you!), this has nothing of the barbershop vibe so many of them nosedive into. This fougére is not your standard Harris tweed-wearing, well-mannered British gentleman exuding stiff-upper-lip suavity.

Instead, this fragrant green imp likes to take a walk where the wild things are, out where nature is never tamed or subjugated. It walks that verdant, fern-encrusted path where nature awes the human with its scale, its greenness and the splendor of its trees, that atavistic breath of growth and life that seems so much larger and more timeless than our own, exhaling the kind of oxygen that really does recharge all your interior batteries. And did I mention that just like the Olympic peninsula itself, it is…green?

Straight out of the bottle, there is that kick of lavender that characterizes so many fougères, but also a citrusy swirl, too, not lemon but bergamot, a bergamot with teeth, and I like bergamot with dentition. Beware the ferns!
Juniper sneaks in on stealthy feet, waking me all the way up to that atavistic forest, and a hint of wood, old-growth wood, rich in the centuries-old sap of the seasons, the quickening of spring and the slow drip of autumn, the deep, deep sleep of winter and the still of a breathless, warm summer day in the shade. There are florals in the mix somewhere, but I’d be hard-pressed to tell you precisely what they are. Cedar I found and maybe a dash of pine, a smooth, fresh cedar without any of that pencil-shaving edge that Atlas cedar can have. It smells redder and somehow richer, the pine without any aerosol associations whatsoever.

I’m reminded of a few lines from an old, old Welsh poem…The Câd Goddeu, or The Battle of the Trees, from the Book of Taliesin:

When the trees were enchanted,

In the expectation of not being trees,

The trees uttered their voices

From strings of harmony,

The disputes ceased

Breathe in. Breathe out. You are at one with the trees, the ferns, with every living thing that grows around you.

‘Olympic Rainforest’ is incredibly well-blended and tenacious – there are still verdant, woody traces over nine hours after I applied it on my skin.

If you love fougères, if you love to evoke that call of the wild and take an olfactory hike in a virgin, untouched forest, you will love this. I do, but it veers just a little too masculine to my nose. On my roommate, it’s heavenly. It must be all that testosterone. Call it the Green Man.

Thank you, Doc Elly, for that walk on the real wild side, and I enjoyed every minute of it! Somehow, ferns will never appear quite the same again…

If this is a taste of things to come – as indeed it is, since I have plans to review as many of Olympic Orchid’s scents as I can – then my nose is in for several treats. Doc Elly is undoubtably a perfume talent to watch for – and I haven’t even started on those orchids yet!

When I do…watch this space! 😉

Image: The Quinault Rainforest, WA