The Sanctity of Solace


The Clarimonde Project – Part Three

Aftelier Perfume’s ‘Oud Luban’

It is a paradox of Roman Catholicism that even as its doctrine denounces the sensual world in favor of a life of the mind and the spirit, its rituals are deeply sensuous. Sunlight streaming through the jewel colors of a stained glass window depicting the lives and deeds of saints and apostles, the ornate vestments of its celebrants, the flowers adorning the altar and the pews on holy days scenting the air, the smoke of the thurible, burning its ethereal bridge between Heaven and Earth, mundane and divine.

This was the world that Romuald, the narrator of ‘Clarimonde’, knew as his own, that cloistered world apart of seminary and church, mind and soul. In all his short life, he held no other ambition than to give himself completely to God and be perfectly content in his choice and his renouncement of the mundane world and all its pleasures.

Until that fateful day of his ordination, when he glanced away and saw Clarimonde, and all he knew and thought he loved and believed came into question by his first awareness of Woman. And ever after, that duality of carnal and spiritual, dark and light would haunt him night and day, with Clarimonde and in all those endless years without her, an unending dream war between pleasure and priesthood. What was the dream and what the reality – the decadent princely paramour in Venice, who denied himself no indulgence yet was still tortured with a vision of a life he had renounced, or the poor parish Curé attending his duties and his flock, thinking his life of luxury with Clarimonde no more than a fevered, sensuous dream? Or was all his ecstasy and sorrow but a dream born of the one heartfelt longing in his soul not even God could fulfill?

This is the dilemma Mandy Aftel seeks to bridge with ‘Oud Luban’, her perfume solid contribution to the Clarimonde Project, and just as with Monica Miller’s ‘Sangre’ and Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl’s ‘Immortal Mine’, to call ‘Oud Luban’ anything so prosaic as mere perfume is a bit like pointing to a perfect blood-red rose and calling it ‘flower’.

‘Oud Luban’ sings in both melody and harmony – the opening melody of a sunshine-bright soprano aria of orange and Hojari frankincense, an illuminating sunbeam of light through a window, Romuald’s first glance at Clarimonde, that fated moment when all he knew and thought he loved fell away to dust, and a plush, richly faceted basso profondo that soars and sweeps to the rafters of the cathedral and sings its song of the eternity he lost with one fevered beat of his heart.

As ‘Oud Luban’ warms and evolves on my skin, oud entwines around those basso profondo notes like the smoke of a thurible, but this is no oud I have ever encountered before. Blended from eight varieties of oud, it glows its unearthly, animal aura through a decadent velvet patchouli dream that lingers with the smoky burnt aroma of choya ral, opoponax and benzoin and conjures visions of Clarimonde, blonde hair embers of gold over her pearly white shoulders and in another wisp of smoke, she is gone, a haunting dream that never left him or a reality that negated all Romuald’s other life into nothing more than a dream.

In the way of all evocative dreams that stick like cobwebs in the mind long after they’re gone, ‘Oud Luban’ haunted me for days and nights on end, haunted me harder than any ghost for being so familiar a memory and yet I could not place it, until it came to me in a dream, a dream much like Romuald’s secret life. I had breathed this in before, had been haunted by this perfume of soul and longing, oud and incense, elemi and patchouli, sanctity and solace.

At the very top of Mount Lykavettos in Athens, there is a chapel to Saint George, built in the nineteenth century on a Byzantine ruin in the Byzantine style,. It is tiny, and would fit inside a space not much larger than my living room, a simple, white-washed structure with its small golden icon at the altar, a few wooden pews, a box of candles to light and a strongbox for the coins to buy them. Saint George is a saint very dear to my heart – I was born on Saint George’s Day. I entered that little chapel on a blustery January day, intent on lighting a candle and making a wish or saying a prayer, and all too often, they are one and the same. But as I entered, I was struck by two things…the chapel’s complete barebones simplicity in a city filled with opulent Byzantine churches, and that scented air of sanctity, of what to my inexperienced nose was the perfume of countless centuries of faith and prayer and sacred space. I had no reference for that perfume, had never encountered it in my own agnostic upbringing. I only knew of my own frantic heartbeat and a perfume that touched my soul in a way I had never known before and never quite would again, not in any other of the many churches I visited in my time in Greece, not in all the many years that followed.

Not until a dark October night, when ‘Oud Luban’ made me remember what I thought I had forgotten, and a timeless perfume took me back in time and forward through space and on through the words of Théophile Gautier and ‘Clarimonde’.

‘Oud Luban’ is the bridge between dream and reality, and it is also the heritage the Abbé Serapion offers Romuald as a consolation for his loss of Clarimonde – here is your heritage and our shared history, the light of faith that will illuminate the dark of your soul and console you, here is all you know and all you lost, here…is the smoke of the thurible and the sunlight through a stained-glass rosette window, here… is the sanctity of solace.

Notes for Oud Luban:
Top: Elemi, orange terpenes, blood orange, Hojari frankincense CO2
Base: Oud, opoponax, choya ral, benzoin, aged patchouli

‘Oud Luban’ is available as a solid perfume from the Aftelier website.

My sample was provided for review as part of the Clarimonde Project by Mandy Aftel.

In the Clarimonde Project, ‘Oud Luban’ has also been reviewed by Monica Miller of Perfume Pharmer, Scent Hive and Indieperfumes.

Other reviews in the Clarimonde Project:
Monica Miller’s ‘Sangre’ and her two lipstains:
Scent Less Sensibilities

Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl’s ‘Immortal Mine’:
The Perfume Pharmer
Scent Less Sensibilities

LostPastRemembered has a stunning entry on Clarimonde, vampires and other lore of the dark, as well as an opulent recipe for perfumed port.

Alexis Karl has also composed music inspired by the story. Find it here.

Blood and Kisses


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.

Scents of Adventure!

In a fortituous series of serendipitous occurrences, I was asked some time ago if I would like to guest blog for Penhaligon’s blog ‘Adventures in Scent’. I believe this had something to do with my review of ‘Amaranthine’…;-) Now, the time is nigh, as they said in all the best serial stories…

So then, ladies, gentlemen, and fellow perfumoholics…read all about a letter found in a Scent Library, a runaway bride, and the allure of an exotic location in 1893…

A Journey Down the Phial

The story will be concluded in Part Two to follow later – and I’ll keep you informed when it does!

Illustration: From the Illustrated London Gazette, ca. 1890. An engraving from the entrance to Shepheard’s Hotel, Cairo, Egypt

In Sheherezade’s Skin

– a review of Serge Lutens’ ‘Arabie’

Once upon a fabled time not so many centuries ago, when reason ruled with an enlightened hand, a discovery of hitherto unknown tales sang new stories for an old world, stories that conjured magic and mayhem, thieves and brigands, tales of love and redemption, stories of djinn who lurked in bottles, awaiting new masters and new opportunities for trouble.

Those tales sang of another, foreign world, a sensuous world of searing heat and blinding sun, of sand that blew across the skin soft as a silken veil or sharp as a scythe, visions of all the colors of earth and sky, a paradise glimpsed through a shimmering veil of spice and fire, fruit and wood and like all tales and any paradise, it was only a dream, a shimmering fata morgana in some fertile imagination.

So even I thought, too, once upon a fabled time, thought that everything contained in the word ‘Oriental’ was some impossible, sensual dream of a world that surely never lived and breathed outside the visions of painters and poets and writers evoking their most exotic, fever dreams.

Yet I tell you this tale, I write down this dream and every word is true…Ephemeral as all dreams are, yet it lingers in the air above me, as all the best dreams do, a dream that wraps me in a storyteller’s skin and sings a song of…Arabie.

Arabie, created by Serge Lutens and Christopher Sheldrake in 2000, is a journey in a bottle like all the very best, revelatory perfumes, but to call it anything so prosaic is no way to do it justice.

I have learned a little of the wily ways of M. Lutens and Mr. Sheldrake by now. I had certain expectations – to expect the unexpected, to anticipate the unusual. Nevertheless, even after a year filled with so many fragrant revelations and a few select epiphanies, I was not prepared for this epiphany, this little vial of sensual assault.

In less than a heartbeat, in the time it took me to inhale one fated, fatal breath, I was transported…elsewhere, on a magic carpet ride to another time and place, a very long time ago, when I was still young enough to believe that anything was possible and everything could happen.

With that first surprise of candied mandarin peel, date and fig, that shock of spices – nutmeg with its sweet, woody aura, cumin adding its depth and hint of human, cardamom promising more dusky marvels in store and clove smoldering like embers in a brazier, I am…gone. Far away from my desk, over all the hills and vales of that old and weary world and my own worn and weary self to another world so long ago…and a medina in Morocco, where anything familiar had somehow become alien and everything exotic was instantly familiar. I knew this, I had seen it, smelled it, heard it, tasted it in the air and felt it on my skin burning in the sun.

My nose breathed it in, my brain connected the dots, and my incredulous mind could not fathom what my nose told me, and what it told was that instant when an eighteen-year-old girl walked into a Moroccan medina for the first time and yet again that momentous summer, her world shifted on its axis and grew many times larger than before.

That moment was captured – in this perfume called Arabie. I can breathe it in and relive it these many years later…the scorching heat of afternoon, the narrow, winding alleys, the swirl and eddy of humanity waking from siesta, the cries of the sellers enticing customers to their shops, shops the size of wardrobes packed floor to ceiling with a dizzying array of goods glowing every hue beneath that incendiary blue, and up ahead, baskets of fruit and spices breathing their many secrets into that foreign heat, everywhere the scent of tea and mint, dust and desert, human and history.

Perfume takes me to so many times and spaces, but it doesn’t happen often I time-travel in a breath, and even less that I remember what I was at eighteen.

Arabie is a shapeshifter, it evolves and changes over a long while from that first sweet and heady rush of dried fruit and spices into a sumptuous, redolent, opulent dream of Oh! for Oriental, with benzoin and myrrh, tonka bean and labdanum, a whiff of tobacco smoke caught in passing, and when you pass by, an intimate touch of musk. It smells like an old, heirloom sandalwood box, exhaling all its centuries of secrets, ancient tales told to an adoring audience, tales that begin, as all the best ones do…

“Once upon a time, in a faraway place…’

I wear Arabie, and I find myself staring into space and imagine impossible things, imagine I am wrapped in the aura of Sheherezade’s skin, and as she did, I too can weave my fragrant tales from all the books and all the poets I have ever read and loved, all the knowledge I now hold. I can dream improbable dreams of magic and mayhem, marvels and djinn biding their time in brass lamps – or elegant glass bottles such as this one.

I can recite another poem written so very long ago by a poet who never knew Arabie, but would surely have loved and understood it when he said:

“I want your sun to reach my raindrops
So your heat can raise my soul upward like a cloud.”

The careless girl who traveled alone to foreign lands is long gone, but the traces left behind by her adventures, adventures she had forgotten in all the life she has lived linger on in the invisible aura above her storyteller’s skin, and all she has to do for inspiration is to breathe in the tales of…Arabie.

Notes: Cedar, sandalwood resin, candied mandarin peel, dried fig, date, nutmeg, cumin, clove, Ceylon cardamom, bay leaf, balsamic resins, tonka bean, Siamese benzoin, myrrh, cistus labdanum, rockrose, tobacco, musk.

My darling Scent Twin, the devious and beautiful Suzanne of Perfume Journal had something to do with this…so I thanked her as best I could – with a story!

‘Arabie’ is in the export line of Serge Lutens perfumes, available in many locations, among them Luckyscent, and the Serge Lutens website.

Illustration: Virginia Frances Sterrett, Tales from the Arabian Nights. (1928) “Sheherezade continues her tale.”

Quote from Rumi and ‘The Thief of Sleep’, translated by Sharam Shiva