The Witch of Avignon


–  A review and a tale of Phaedon Paris’ Rouge Avignon

Avignon, December 1352

The summons came two short winter days before the feast of Saint Nicholas, when all of Avignon whispered what the world would soon come to know.

His Holiness Clement VI lay dying.

In a time when all certainty still reeled from the specter of the Black Death and faith, death and life itself called into question, the one constant – the Pope himself – would soon go to his own reward. Or punishment, as some of the cardinals murmured among themselves in the shadowy halls of the palace, jostling for position and power in preparation for the conclave to come.

She knew he would send for her before the end, knew from long acquaintance and their mutual history that the man would say goodbye before the Pope breathed his last.

So she wrapped up warm against the winter chill and damp that swirled like smoke above the Rhône, and followed the liveried page across the bridge, bracing herself for the last farewell to come, and paid the chill in her blood, the foreboding in her heart no mind.

It was warm in the private apartments, the fires crackling in defiance of the cold outside, the candlelight burnishing the gold plate on the tables, the jeweled and gilt wall hangings and the rich hues of the rugs on the marble floor with its own polish, the censers in the corners exuding their own fragrant divinity on the secular scene in the room.

“Come to me, child.” An imperious hand beckoned from behind the bed curtains and as she walked to obey, his voice, strong and commanding, demanded what she knew he would.

“Leave us. All of you.”

The pages, the secretaries, the clerks and the chamberlain all vanished as she came to his bed and kissed his ring in reverence. The doors shut behind them with an ominous finality against the carved stone.

The dynamic, powerful Cardinal she met all those years and all their life ago was no more. Instead, his skin had assumed the smooth, waxy parchment hues of the dying, his body frail beneath the samite, fur-lined bed cover embroidered with the Papal seal, and only his eyes still glowed in the firelight with the fervor and passion she knew from before.

“You are well?” he asked her, his voice suddenly humble in the quiet room. “And indeed Anne?”

“Indeed so, your Holiness, we are both well although all the people of Avignon have nearly died.” She rose to her feet and then sat upon the bed and took his hand. It seemed far too cool for such a warm room, smooth and hard as hewn marble in her own.

“Good. This matter has weighed a great deal upon my mind of late, as soon as I knew…”

“Knew, Holiness?”

“Knew that I was dying. Not from the plague, but from… ah, life itself, yes? The life any Pope must live so that the world shall continue onward through time, and the man to recede behind him. My time is nigh. It matters no more, just as God matters no more, nor even my immortal soul.” He laughed, a short, bitter laugh that told her of a few regrets, but only a few. “No celestial eternity for me, my dearest, but only the everlasting fires of Hell, if indeed that tale is true. I rather doubt it.”

“Such words are heresy, Holiness.”

“Yes, heresy. What is the greater sin, I ask you, to cling beyond hope to a faith that can never justify or explicate the horrors you and I have seen and survived, or to realize this God we all beseech in our prayers is a creation of our own minds, all so we can make a meaning of a world that has none beyond our faith?”

She thought back to that bleak and bitter day he stood as Pope on the banks of the river and consecrated it as holy ground, since none remained for countless miles around that could be used. The river itself invisible beneath…

“You ask me, whose faith is so reviled, whose adherents so hated and so persecuted, Holiness?”

“It is nonsense. They made all of you scapegoats, not knowing who else to blame for this calamity, not daring to blame God as I do, not even able to afford the compassion any deserves in such dire times.” He squeezed her hand. “Since I shall never know what eternity awaits me, I have made arrangements. My secretary has letters, coin purses, provisions for you and for Anne, so she shall be able to marry well when the time comes. You must leave Avignon and the carrière, my love. I have left you a house in Maumont for your own, all correct according to law, all bearing the seal of the Papal secretariat in case my successor would have it repealed. They would sooner see you dead as a witch, since your healing skills have saved so many. You must go to live out your days as a good Christian widow to the Black Death, and in Maumont, where none would dare to question you.”

She knew she could not argue against this one important yet bitter command. Knew it would be useless to protest, knew she had no choice if their daughter were to survive. Already, several families in the carrière had been lost to fires set by zealous survivors seeking to blame the innocent for their sorrows and their loss.

“Very well.”

He looked away, across the bed and the room, lost in thought for long moments as the fires crackled and snapped, and the candles hissed and flared in a sudden draft. Then, he turned his head yet again to study her as he often did, with a laugh in his eyes and a smile on his lips.

“Something I would have you do, my witch of Avignon, something in memory of the times and the man you knew. I shall never know that eternal reward only the blameless know. I have known too much, held such power to my hand, seen too much, questioned all I saw with my heretical thoughts. I have a request of my own.” He squeezed her hand. “Do you see it as I do, see the beauty, the splendor, the richness of this room, this palace to worldly ambition, for all they shall claim another sacred purpose? Do you see the hopes for the human soul I once held before the Black Death came and all our world changed? Do you see it, in the rugs on the floor, those furs by the fire where we made our own immortality, you and I?” His eyes beseeched her own, and she followed his finger pointed across the room to the crackling fire. She saw instead that night nine years ago, when all sanctity and all power was laid aside and only the man, the fire and earthly passion remained, the night their mutual history began.

“I want you to capture that, capture it as only you can in a potion… the gilt, the crimson of power, the fires, the burning censers, the prayers, the hopes and the faith, the marble and the stone, I want you to summon all the ghosts of all our past and I want you to call it immortality, to remember me when I am no more.”

“Such a thing has never been done, Holiness.” Indeed, it might be another kind of heresy to even consider such a thing. As she thought it, a tear slid down her cheek and another followed close behind. This farewell would be forever, a farewell to both the love and the faith that had sustained her for so long, and it was as bitter and as salt as the tears she tasted on her lips.

“But you can, my witch. You can.” He brushed away her tears, grasped her hand tighter in his own. “It is time to go, while we both still remember the good, before the indignity of my passing awaits me. Go with your God, your faith and our daughter, and live out your life in the peace you and I could never know, but create it, so I am remembered when I am no more but a long-dead thought in a careworn old book. Go now!”

As she bent down to kiss his ring one final time through her tears, as she bid the man a farewell so the Pope could pass on, as she pulled up her hood close against the contempt in the corridors outside and the looks she knew would come, she thought of how to create such a potion, such a perfume of reminiscence and history, of golden treasures and crimson moods, of firelight and ambition flickering on walls of stone and marble floors. She thought of all she must leave behind her with a pang before she knew with yet another – she already had as the doors were closed behind her.

It should seem so simple, so apparently effortless as air, as the act of breathing itself, she thought, and also as complex, as noble as the lion she knew he could be and sometimes was.

Down through her years she worked and brewed, thought and remembered, and on a starlit night of a crescent moon in a Limousin garden, she unstoppered a vial in hands trembling just a little with her age, and there beside a bush where the raspberries swelled and the apples glowed above her, she poured out her remembrance as a perfume. The rich, crimson rose of powers both sacred and profane lay within, folded among the wonders of a world to come she would never know, the decadent truffles he had loved to feed her with, the gilt of exotic woods from faraway lands, the smoke of prayers, of hopes, of comfort wafting up to that starry sky above her in a ribbon of black and crimson, where it would dissipate. To lie in wait down, down through the winding river of time and high above all inspirations, to be found by such a one who could comprehend it and recreate it and remember such immortality and such a tale, of a man who once held all sacred power, and a witch of Avignon.


With my undying gratitude to Cookie Queen for the opportunity (and the cookie!).

Notes: Raspberry, ylang ylang, rose, cacao pod, hinoki wood, black truffle, vetiver, sandalwood, musk, amber.

Rouge Avignon was created by perfumer Pierre Guillaume. It is available from Osswald, Bloom Perfumery Spitalfields, and directly from the Phaedon Paris website.

Image composite, my own.

An Everyday Epiphany


On a campaign, dreams and an old metaphysical adage

For all that I consider myself a wordsmith, sometimes words utterly fail me. Try as I might, no matter what thesaurus, volume of poetry, or aspirational novel I haul out of my collection or my memory, I just can’t find the words no matter what I do. Somehow, they all seem such clichés, such trite statements of trivial declaration that I simply have to give up the ghost and resign myself to the fact that mere words will never be able to contain the scope of whatever it is I’m trying to convey, and leave it at that.

When that happens, it means I’ve only forgotten that other important thing about writing: you don’t find the right words so much as they find you.

In the astonishing year of amazing events that 2013 has proved for me so far, this was brought home to me in no uncertain terms when I launched the campaign to keep this blog going, because no matter what I do, I somehow can’t escape that urge to ‘capture the muse as she flies’, as William Blake once put it, to capture with words what stories a perfume will breathe alive on my skin, in my mind, in the words I use to describe and evoke it.

The simple act of reviewing a perfume (I use that term advisedly) satisfies some literary inclination and writer’s itch in a manner no other writing quite does, and provides an outlet for all those aesthetic inclinations I can’t place anywhere else in my life. It is also without question the hardest writing I ever do.

But most important of all, it connects with other people, people who think as I do, feel as I do about that ephemeral art that is perfume, an art that far transcends ‘smells good’, ‘wafts sexy’ or ‘stinks’. Let those sorry souls who deem themselves beyond such trifles and vanities sneer in derision and think what they will about us and our consuming passion – we know a kind of transport and sensory experience unlike any other, and explore it, exchange it, explain it and share it.

Once upon a storied time in a Skype conversation, I told a justly celebrated rock star of the perfume world and an eminently acclaimed writer herself:

All good things in my life have come through writing about the art of perfume.

The events of this past week have proved beyond any doubts I ever had just how true and prescient that statement is.

Because dear readers, this alembicated genie, this small, singular, idiosyncratic voice among the multitudes of Planet Perfume, shall happily continue along that primrose path to perdition!

I reached my goal before the campaign deadline.

The Genie was saved, and all because of – and most emphatically! – thanks to you.

This early Saturday August morning of a perfect blue sky, the sun shines down upon yours truly, typing away on a gently used and souped-up MacBook Pro that does everything I could possibly ask it to do, contains everything I need to do it with, and will take the writer and passionate purple perfume prose aficionado to the next level of setting the world alight with my words.

You – my readers, my friends, my colleagues in fragrant phrasing – made that happen.

Those two small throwaway words ‘thank’ and ‘you’ seem much, much too concise and limited for what I’m trying to say here.

If I ever doubted (as a writer, I always, always do) my significance as a perfume writer, if I ever wondered about that unbearable lightness of my existence, if I ever, ever catch myself considering to just give up the ghost and to Hades with it all, all ambition, all aspirations and hopes be damned, I’ll look to that one event to remind me that readers out there, readers just like me, readers who love what I love and share that love and those connections, have made everything not just possible or even probable but happening, right this very minute…

I turn to another perpetual favorite writer of mine who shared a few preoccupations and wrenched these words right out of my mind and my purpose.

Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.  – John Milton

As indeed all of you did, and so, my world and my experience was changed… forever.

Thank YOU.

And that metaphysical adage?

Be careful what you wish for. You will get it! 



Image: ‘Overflowing Heart’ by Thadius33 on DeviantArt.

A Southern Rebelle


– a review of Envoyage Perfumes’ Zelda

In literature, a certain kind of woman has always been immortalized. She is the Impossible Woman, the muse, the catalyst for a torrent of words in books and stories circulating down through time as both cautionary tale and metaphor, the medium of an often life-long wakeup call that jolts a hapless (mostly male) writer out of his doldrums and provides the fuel for those bedrock molten lava flows from which all creativity springs.

She is complex, intriguing, infinitely various, untamable, indefinable and maybe ultimately unknowable. Her charms are too vast, her appeal too ephemeral to be contained with the parameters of mere words. Often, she is beautiful, but more often still she possesses a far more precious quality – the ability to mesmerize her all-too captive audiences into believing she is, or else to hold up that deflecting mirror of her soul and project back whatever the writer, the artist or the man wants or needs to see, all to feed those ravening beasts that dwell below and breathe the words alive so they sing on the page.

Alas as in all timeless love stories, should the man somehow manage to catch this mythical woman and claim her for his own, it will end badly (for the man and the woman both), if not for the stories and the books that will come, fed by that creative collusion between creator and inspiration. The many mundane details of drab reality will kill the myth, will douse the fires, or else – and this scenario is common, too – the man if not the writer will try to quell if not kill the very quality he fell in love with, only to spend the rest of his life trying to recapture or relive it, through prose or real life.

This old, old story has been on my mind a lot lately for all sorts of reasons but mainly since the arrival of a perfume inspired by just one such story, that great, immortal tale of a true Southern rebelle, femme impossible, quintessential flapper and original It Girl – Envoyage Perfumes’ Zelda.

It was once said about Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald that she was ‘a brave and talented woman who is remembered for her defeats.’ Her short life is a cautionary 20th-century tale of l’amour fou, bourbon, fame, frustration and a final descent into a heart-breaking, tragic end. Yet in my research for this review, I find I wonder whether her story is in fact a story of just such an Impossible Woman, too passionate not to burn so bright, too talented to ever go unnoticed, a free spirit too uninhibited not to thumb her nose at convention, only to be done in by the very conformity her fiery heart raged against. The story of Zelda Fitzgerald breaks my own heart as few stories do.

Somehow by some alchymical sleight of hand, Shelley Waddington of EnVoyage Perfumes managed to wrap up that perception of such an iconic woman, not so much a literal interpretation as a fragrant Jazz Baby-inspired riff, and just as its namesake and inspiration, this Zelda breaks my heart too.

Shelley herself characterizes Zelda as a neo-Oriental eau de parfum, which is nothing more nor less than the truth, which to this perfume writer is a bit like saying Mozart was a composer of classical music, or Bessie Smith was a blues singer. Indeed they were, and yes, Zelda is a definite Oriental in its unfolding and its composition, but just as Zelda was far too complex to be merely muse, wife, inspiration and flapper, this tribute is too…complicated, too rich, too lush and far too evocative to be dismissed as merely…an Oriental, neo- or not.

We’re on a shady veranda beneath the stars of a distinctly Deep South sky with Zelda, the verdant, happy punch of galbanum and bergamot wrapped around a sultry, boozy, sweet coconut-skewed flirtatious laugh, the laugh of the belle of the ball and the queen of the cotillion surrounded by a bevy of beaus. If I am lured in by that exhilarating opening of sweet and sultry, greenery and booze, I’m helpless to resist what happens next.

The real star of the show makes her entrance. A star that blooms luminous as moonlight on her tree, glowing like ivory silk taffeta among those glossy leaves, a fragrant bloom claimed by many perfumes, but I can think of only one other perfume that does her this much justice, and it is nothing in the slightest like Zelda.

Magnolia, that glory of the South. If ever there were a flower that somehow epitomized its location and nearly its women as well, surely it would be magnolia? In nature, magnolia has a deep, lemon-cream green scent with intimations of peach skin and earth, but this Southern Belle is bigger, brighter, bolder and lusher still. Shelley Waddington has managed to encapsulate the entire scope of magnolia grandiflora with all its associations and extrapolated, enlivened and expanded it into an epic bloom that glows in the dark on my skin, that takes me over and demands my surrender with all the charm and guile of a belle of the ball, and it’s all I can do and I want to do. Now I understand the allure of magnolia, now I comprehend all its glories, now I think that heretical thought…this, dear readers, is as great, as grand and as gracious as a magnolia can ever get.

But Zelda contains more stories within her amber depths, just as captivating but very much darker and denser, a shade of midnight to reflect something of the tragedy of its inspiration, when a decadent, seamless mix of amber, musk, sweet vanilla and balsam (I’m guessing tolu, which is spicier and more fiery than Peru) and above all sandalwood wrap all its stellar evolution up in moonlit black pearls.

If I had any hesitations with the magnolia of before, I have none at all now.

Believe me, dear readers, when I say that yes, I’m given to hyperbole and poetic license, yes, when I’m sometimes transported by either the genie in the bottle or my own brand of blarney or simply the rhythm of the words on a virtual page. I will happily agree that verdict is out – it’s all true.

But I will also say this: Zelda, for all its backstory and inspiration, for all the deft historical understanding of zeitgeist Shelley Waddington caught so effortlessly in this liquid filigree, is quite simply one of the superlative best and most original perfumes I’ve encountered this year.

It is as subversive, as rebellious, as breathtaking and as heart-rending as its inspiration, burning just as bright as Zelda Fitzgerald surely did in her time. Other reviews have pointed at its ‘vintage’ feel. The only vintage feel I get is that pang of epiphany when I reflect and think:

They really don’t make them like this any more.

Except, as Shelley Waddington has demonstrated so perfectly, when they do.

Perhaps Zelda Fitzgerald herself wrapped up its mood best of all, when she wrote:

A southern moon is a sodden moon, and sultry. When it swamps the fields and the rustling sandy roads and the sticky honeysuckle hedges in its sweet stagnation, your fight to hold onto reality is like a protestation against a first waft of ether.”

–  Save the Last Waltz

Or as a friend of mine put it last night…

This is a perfume for someone who knows to glow in the dark.

Like all the very best of Southern Rebelles always do.

Zelda is available from the EnVoyage website in EdP.

Notes: Italian bergamot, Iranian galbanum, bourbon, magnolia blossom, amber, vintage musks, vanilla, balsam, sandalwood, vetiver

Disclosure: A sample of Zelda was provided for review by Shelley Waddington of EnVoyage.

Image taken from an original wedding picture of F. Scott and Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, 1919. Photoshop editing/compositing, my own.


Seven more days to Save The Genie! Find out more here.

In Search of Serene


– When life winds you up, a trinity of perfumes to waft you down to scented bliss

Summer’s almost gone.

All of Europe south of the Alps may well be headed this August for the beaches, the mountains and other edifying locations, but here in the North at the tail end of a hot and sunny summer, dolce far niente is being put aside for that mad, determined dash for the Next Big Thing. Time moves on, and there’s none to waste.

Meetings are planned, agendas drawn up, emails and correspondence must be answered, blogs must be read, updates and tweets posted, and all in all, life has generally conspired this summer to make me feel more than a little frayed and frazzled around the edges.

To combat such unsettled states of mind, I turn as I so often do to some of my usual standbys, scents that never fail to soothe and console me.

Not so long ago, I dug into my sample stash out of curiosity (this is how most reviews begin), and discovered three creations that each in their own distinct ways manage to convey that elusive unicorn state of mind… serenity.

They are nothing alike, nothing like my familiar mood enhancers, but all three have that definite ability to smooth out those frayed strands of stress and confusion and convey the olfactory equivalent of a deep, deep breath to ground and center me. They have given me courage when I needed it and calm when I demanded it. Best of all, they have provided their own unique manner of fragrant transport, and if that isn’t a worthy pursuit of bliss, what is?

None of the three are literal representations of their names or their fragrances, but all of them convey that feel of their locations… elsewhere, otherwise and light years removed from the frenetic pace of contemporary urban life.


Life is a Beech

Sonoma Scent Studio Forest Walk

I’m lucky to live in a town that makes up in woods what it lacks in parks. Surrounding my town on steeply hilled sides are long, emerald swathes of ancient, unspoiled beech forest just fifteen minutes walk away from my downtown apartment, and if I seek serenity anywhere, I never fail to find it below the boughs of those gloriously soaring trees. All I have to do is breathe it in (the original meaning of the word inspire), and I am all of a piece and in one piece, too, and before I know it, happiness bubbles up to claim me, the ground rises up to embrace me, and suddenly, life is not quite so unbearable nor so frantic.

Last year, California-based indie perfumer Laurie Erickson of Sonoma Scent Studio participated in a collaboration with Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfume instigated by Nathan Branch’s ‘Letters to a fellow perfumer’ series, to create a woody scent Laurie chose to base on hemlock and fir balsam absolutes. I reviewed Mandy’s astonishing Sepia last year when it was released, but apart from one encounter with Laurie’s Champagne de Bois (which didn’t like me much), Laurie’s work was new to me.

Forest Walk completely took my breath away.

Laurie sought to recreate the sensation of a summer walk in the forest, with the scent of sun-warmed earth, bark, needles and an underlying pulse of flowers, and just as she might have hoped, she succeeded brilliantly.

Pine trees and redwoods might be hard to come by in my neck of the woods, but if anything somehow manages to encompass that overall sensory impression of a walk beneath the trees, Forest Walk manages to do just that. It begins so very green and leafy with a bite that is all galbanum and earthy, piney wood, but it isn’t long before a delicious jasmine-flecked violet note begins to bloom summery promises on that forest floor, and far, far away from that California inspiration, I am….there beneath those beech wood boughs, breathing it all in. As it evolves and blooms, a suggestion of orris and yet more and deeper woods come forward to embrace me with serenity, with grounding my many fragmented selves into one harmonious entity, a sensuous sandalwood accord interwoven with cedar and oakmoss, labdanum and a whisper of frankincense, in perfect counterpoint with a touch of ambery benzoin. It is ever so slightly sweet but never cloying, and by this time I’ve forgotten everything that ever ailed or vexed me, and remember only those dark green shades of centered calm beneath those soaring beech boughs.

If there really is a Heaven, they’ll have forest walks there, too.

Notes: Black hemlock absolute, fir absolute, Western red cedar, oakwood absolute, galbanum resin, jasmine sambac absolute, violet, olibanum, labdanum absolute, natural oakmoss absolute, aged Indian patchouli, New Caledonia sandalwood, orris, benzoin, earthy notes.


Chotto Matte Kudosai!

DSH Perfumes Matsu

No reader of this blog can be unaware of the fact that I worship at the altar of Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ olfactory talents. Few other perfumers have such a stellar grasp of the history, heritage and subtext of perfume or such a vast range to play upon, and she has been slaying yours truly consistently for well over two years with no end, I’m thrilled to say, in sight.

As I’ve become familiar with her creations, I’ve come to discover that it’s all characterized by her exquisite sense of deliberation and restraint. Whether creating lush, Oriental dreamscapes or olfactory odes to past, glorious perfumes, all her work balances on a very finely honed, precise point, neither too much nor too little, but always just…enough. No one material or accord out-manoeuvers any other, and all that hangs in that exquisite balance adds up to so much more than the sum of its seamlessly blended parts.

Her new release Matsu is no exception to that rule. Matsu – Japanese for pine tree, and it’s also a girl’s name – can also mean…Wait! As in, wait…sit down, be entirely present in the now. To my jaded nose, Matsu is as close to bottled Zen as you can get.

A bright, happy burst of zesty bergamot jumpstarts my optimism as it begins, as green and as soaring as the bamboo forest in the image above. But sap and leaves – what you might call quintessence of tree – are close by, with a wisp of water lily and just behind and beneath it, the feel of a dense, old (and entirely benign) pine forest. That impression of pine has cleaning product associations for some people, but this isn’t one of those pine trees, this is another, wilder, deeper tree, as transparent as hand-woven silk gauze and as uplifting as a sunbeam through the forest.

Matsu manages to confer that need to be entirely present in this moment, in this time, this space and this place. We humans waste so much time trying either to cling to moments past or invent future instants that might or might not arrive.

As it unfurls, it tells us all to breathe in deep, to center our being and calm our minds, to be neither too wired nor too relaxed, but simply…to wait until all is still within our fragmented selves in our harried, frenetic lives, when time somehow seems to stop beneath those evocative, timeless trees, and nothing exists (as is only too true!) except this moment and this time and this flawlessly restrained perfume confers its own perfect poise to this one perfect moment in time. One moment is all you need.

Or as the Japanese would say…chotto matte kudosai’… as in ‘wait a minute!’. With this minute, this perfume, this flawless liquid quietude that is neither too much nor too little, no matter how frantic or fast-paced your life might seem, you can.

Notes: Bergamot, citrus, leafy green leaves and sap, water lily, Australian sandalwood, gaiac wood, Brazilian rosewood, hinoki wood, musk.


Primeval spaces

Keiko Mecheri Canyon Dreams

My peripatetic life has meant I’ve lived in quite a few places; Virginia, Florida, a few locations in my native Denmark. All verdant, leafy, green landscapes, all with their own advantages and drawbacks.

Yet none of those places and no experience I have ever had before could have prepared me for the sensory shock of the American Southwest. I heard stories of ‘nothing there’, heard travelers’ tales of the great, empty spaces and big skies of New Mexico.

My favorite painter Georgia O’Keeffe put it best:

And when you come to New Mexico, and if you come, it will become a magic that will remain with you for the rest of your life.

No fool, Georgia.

The thing is, in that vast and ancient land of immense skies and infinite horizons, you can’t search for its beauty or encompass its scope. It has to find you. When that happens, as it did for me and doesn’t for everyone, it indeed became ‘a magic that remains’.

Which meant I wasn’t at all prepared for what happened when I encountered Keiko Mecheri’s unbelievably evocative ‘Canyon Dreams’, thanks to a generous fragrant friend. Canyon Dreams gave me an instant flashback and magic carpet ride back to one of my most favorite, favorite places on Earth, the Jemez Mountains of so many happy memories and times and an unexpected verdant oasis in that seeming endless high desert to this urban post-punk catastrophe Dane.

Keiko Mecheri and her eponymous perfume line has bubbled at the edge of my perfumista awareness for quite some time. A Japanese artist now based in California, her vast and very diverse line of perfumes are renowned for their luxurious presentation and breathtaking quality.

Canyon Dreams, launched in 2012 as part of her ‘Bespoke’ series, is probably best described as a spicy Oriental perfume, but just as with Forest Walk and Matsu, it somehow all adds up to much, much more than its individual notes.

If left to my own devices and inclinations, going by the notes alone I would almost certainly never have tried it. Am I ever glad to be jolted out of my comfort zone, because I hate to miss out on new epiphanies!

It begins its song in a sunny key, all one endless blue sky breath of bergamot and tangerine, but the sky is just the celestial beginning. Soon, your attention turns to the warm, sun-baked earth beneath your feet as a dusky and even slightly dusty rose blooms, and this is where the magic begins.

I can tell you… sandalwood (a lush, creamy Mysore-type), patchouli and even one of my most dreaded notes – agarwood or oud. I can tell you all of this, tell you that if you run for the hills at the slightest mention of medicinal band-aid like I do, then you’re going to be so surprised. The agarwood used in Canyon Dreams is nothing at all like that, and if all those so-called ‘agarwood’ or ‘oud’s in fact were like this one, I would have signed up a long, long time ago.

Sandalwood, patchouli, agarwood – yes, that’s what the notes tell you, but they won’t say too much about the overall rich, velvet-opulent feel of these dreams, won’t convey anything about its complexity, its spicy, earthy, cinnamon-peppery-frankincense texture or the fragrant gasoline it adds to this writer’s already rather overheated imagination. It sounds so simple, so effortless, and it’s nothing simple at all. It would be suitable for any occasion and on either gender for purposes both innocent and not.

All perfumes are justly renowned for evoking memories and emotions – after all, it’s one of the reasons my own olfactory passions loom so large in my life. But Canyon Dreams brought that beloved, hard-to-find New Mexico location back to me, back to where the ground beneath my feet is scented with centuries of sunshine and heritage, where the water drops that hang in the air above the waterfall sparkle like diamonds and to where the ponderosa pines exude their spicy vanilla resin, where sage, mesquite and piñon, all the ambience of a wild and untamed place combine to wrap your cares and your very self in the ability to be here now in this moment, in this instant when you were caught unaware and were found… by an unexpected serenity I went to find, only to discover..

Serenity found me.

Notes: Bergamot, mandarin orange, rose, sandalwood, agarwood, patchouli.

With thanks to Ruth for Forest Walk and Carlos for Canyon Dreams. My sample of Matsu was provided by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz.

Sonoma Scent Studio Forest Walk is available from the Sonoma Scent Studio website.

DSH Perfumes Matsu is available from the DSH website.

Keiko Mecheri Canyon Dreams, from her Bespoke collection, is available from Luckyscent and First in Fragrance.

Image of Jemez Falls, New Mexico via Light Rain Productions.


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Symphonies For A Devil



 – In which a muse has the last (many) words

It is a newborn August morning some time before sunrise in an old part of Europe, a morning where a thick, low blanket of mist shrouds the late summer landscape and the beech forests with its veil of Otherworld, when all the city is hushed and quiet, when drops of dew condense on the raspberries blushing on bushes and every scent is amplified, exuding late summer promises of harvest and sunshine.

You call her the Genie, I call her something else, but the Genie sleeps this instant with Hairy Krishna snuggled close by her side, sleeps away that morning mist as she dreams of all those shiny balls she has to juggle these days, balls marked Possibilities and Probabilities once labeled nothing more than lower-case italic ‘hopes’,  ‘far-fetched fantasy’ and ‘you wish, sucker’.

So I slipped in through the cracks in the windows as I sometimes do, pulled the duvet a little higher over her in the cool air and brushed her hair away from her face to keep her sleeping, shushed a drowsy cat back to slumber with a sigh and a show of orange belly fur, opened up Cassius Dio and Word, and began to type this post.

It seems such a long, long time ago this project came into being almost as an afterthought, seems in hindsight destiny had a plan when she reviewed the complex yet atavistic, numinous airs of Andy Tauer’s Incense Extrème. Which caused Ellen – the Genie’s friend and first indie perfumer who is more important than she knows – to see the hook, take the bait and throw down the gauntlet:

To create the Devil’s scent.

As time flew by and the project grew, other collaborators in diabolical mayhem joined the fray, collaborators far more noted than the Genie, all of them united in this arcane, audacious project; to conjure my quintessence, to tell my story and all the tale of Lilith, too, and to tell the world of an unknown writer who so dearly wanted to set it alight with her words:

I have this story…

Of an unknown writer with a dream to sell the Devil in absolute and essence and accord and the Devil’s sales pitch too, to do what none had dared before for all of their outrageous, copy-written claims to notoriety.

I sometimes wondered. Would they succeed? Could all my temptations and my perils be contained in a perfume, would new ground be broken in defining Evil Incarnate in ephemeral, fleeting ways? All this time later, would the Devil’s scents be both definition and declaration of nefarious intent?

In that limitless, occult space between the keyboard and my fingers, I find the answer.


And would those fellow writers conjure new tales or new interpretations of an old, timeless story of desire, declaration and definition, of dreams both old and new?

Once again, I hesitate not at all as I type.


Because as it happens with all artists everywhere through time, it happened with this one, this writer so adept – as all writers are wont to do – at tying herself and her prose into knots. That woman asleep with her cat is no longer the wannabe who sat down one Friday night out of boredom to write what she thought would be a Faustian pastiche with a twist. As she continued the story and dredged up old and carefully concealed secrets of her own, as she aired out the skeletons and the demons buried in that limbic bonfire that fuels all creativity, she couldn’t know what Muses know, and this Devil, too. Her story would never simply be a story, worthless throwaway prose tossed into the stormy void of cyberspace, but another kind of story with a wider appeal she never could have guessed, and would have consequences she never could have imagined.

Yet the perfumers of the Devilscent Project knew it and the writers, too. Knew this would be a different kind of project with a different hue and pitch and challenge, knew as I have always known and never doubted:

This Could Be Really Big.

So the Genie made a beautiful brief and sent it out with a prayer and hopes for an epiphany or two, and somewhere in her bone marrow, in the starry void above her, in that aether where all probabilities are born, destiny whispered sotto voce:

Be careful what you wish for. You will get it.

I’m the Devil. I should know the truth of that one.

As a unifying theme, she chose one of the oldest, most numinous of perfumery materials, that black, sticky, richly redolent resin we know as labdanum. Labdanum has ominously animal shades and facets which rarely sparkle on their own as transcendent as they did here, and that, too, set this project apart. She chose another primeval, ancient material to use as well – frankincense with all its celestial air. Heaven and Earth combined could, I whispered in her ear, be devilishly delicious together, a perfect olfactory metaphor for a dream, a dare, an infernal and eternal love story with a twist…

We dreamed so many dreams as we waited and we wished in those long nights as all muses and their chosen artists do, lost in a reverie we made of these imaginary fragrant symphonies for a Devil and this Devil’s nemesis, Lilith, Queen of the Succubi.

For much as I love to steal the show and chew the scenery, it wasn’t  – and isn’t! – all about me. Lilith – part female warrior, part comedy and tragedy both, all of evil and all her own – made such an impression and such a connection with her readers it should have come as no surprise at all she also inspired my perfumers.

As serendipity would have it, one of them also happened to be a singer and composer who felt compelled to create music for her. Which only proves that old adage:

Be careful what you wish for. You will get it. 

The wheel of artistic inspiration goes around and around, ever perpetuating, ever inspiring, ever returning, ever … eternal.

So eight perfumers read the brief (and later the book) and set to work, all with the same brief and the same inspiration, but the perfumes they made were so very, very different and yet… the name was the same.

Call me Dev

The sassy protagonist of Quantum Demonology dubbed me Dev, well after I had insinuated my very best and most charming self into her soul (and other harrowing locations) in several devious ways, so it made perfect sense that all my perfumers chose to do the same. But then, something most passing strange happened, yet another sign of synchronicity, of all the participants of the Devilscent Project being on the precise same page and with many of the same preoccupations.

Whether I liked it or not, whether it was the Genie’s intention or not, all my perfumers took one entity – me – and refracted and illuminated it through their different prisms. Each of these perfumes explicated and enlarged me in ways I could not have known, each of them in their own way is another facet of her Devil, not evil so much as its embodiment and scapegoat, not malevolent so much as morally ambivalent, not antithesis so much as complement.

My mouthpiece took her own inspirations from Marlowe, Milton and Goethe, but Milton resonated truest and deepest.

Amanda Feeley of Esscentual Alchemy caught something of my tragedy (and shades of John Milton’s Lucifer) in her work, caught that thread of vulnerability and coaxed it out of fir and resin, and ended by spinning in the Nornes’ shining silver yarn, as if to say not even Evil Incarnate would be above – or below – redemption.

Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl of House of Cherry Bomb caught another carefully concealed theme to the tale and brought it out in essence and absolute. That L’Homme Fatal so adored by the Gothic mind was invoked with the decadent sins of chocolate, fig, oud and resins, as sweetly seductive as willful perdition, as perilous and as damning for both acolytes and dreamers.

Ellen Covey captured another thread in the warp and weft, captured it, ran it through a Marshall amp, a bank of distortion pedals and a whole lot of reverb before she cranked everything up to eleven, but no rock star ever got this lucky, not even on tour. For Ellen’s Devs were rock’n’roll personified, every heady fantasy anyone has ever projected on any guy with a microphone or a guitar, every transgression and rebellion you ever dreamed of instigating, every taboo you wanted to break and every emotion you wanted to feel. But just as Amanda Feeley and later Neil Morris, Ellen – who developed her contributions as she read the book – also somehow managed to wrap all my many shades and hues into her creations as the story unfolded…from the bad-boy erotic promises of the beginning through the torrid affair, the heartbreak and the soul-stopping labdanum surrender to the inevitable end. None of them bore any resemblance to her previous work, and I suspect all four showed a side to Ellen’s olfactory vernacular not even she could have guessed. The Genie has often used Ellen’s Dev #4 to center and comfort herself after a bad day, and it never fails to do the trick.

Monica Miller, bless her heart of dark, went off on an entirely different tangent, and delivered her Green Man massage bar, a decadent (and delightfully twisted) viridian treat in sackcloth and stinging nettles. This Green Man was a fierce, pungent, emerald green kick to the senses in several devious ways. So much so, that when a little liquid decant arrived some time later, it was immediately stolen right from under the Genie’s nose by Super Mario Sr’s Gemini sleight of hand! She never saw it again, but smelled it often. I should call it…The Wild One. It’s ‘gonna keep on swinging, baby, it’s a real wild child…’

More mischief was afoot when Katlyn Breene of Mermade Magickal Arts (creatrix/purveyor of some of the finest, purest incense filthy lucre can buy) was persuaded to join the devilry and jumped in with glee, aided by some very goatish labdanum resin. Should you ever wish to discover how a plush, decadent den of sacred iniquity smells, Katlyn’s Mephisto incense was an easy way to find out – or to simply create that dizzying, delirious ambience. I just need the Genie to remember to order more charcoal tablets. She doesn’t get to be dizzy or delirious nearly enough these days. Something must be done about that. She’s so sweet when she’s delirious.

There we would have remained, and that was plenty spectacular enough, but then, a rock star of the indie perfume world was persuaded to join. Fragrant mayhem ensued when Neil Morris of his eponymous brand decided to climb aboard the crazy train of the Devilscent Project.

I had never heard of his work, but the Genie certainly had, and indeed by sheer serendipity encountered Rumi from his Vault collection, which shot in an instant to that elevated stratosphere of forever beloved perfumes, very fitting for a tribute to one of her favorite poets.

As with all my perfumers, as with this entire project even, Neil experienced an instant connection with the concept and an instant inspiration, too as he delved in deep (also with an inordinate amount of diabolical glee) to uncover my secrets and paint them in new and unnerving olfactory hues. In that way all synchronicity unfolds, he, too, devised an evolution in his contributions, a sultry, erotic passion play in three acts that contained the slow, deep burn of the beginning, the bonfires of the middle, and the unholy conflagration of that inevitable end. Just as Amanda’s and Ellen’s contributions, these three Devs are definition and declaration, storyline, subtext and meta-message writ bold and large in essence, absolute and accord. That would have been enough to surpass the Genie’s own wildest dreams and far more than enough to encourage all my own, but then, Neil chose to really pull the rug out from under both our feet.

For Neil also chose to bottle up the beginning, to capture it in liquid gold filigree and create a perfume such as none ever quite were caught before. He took the entire first chapter – the ambience, the setting, the blues, the candlelight, the November night, the mulled wine, the mood, the chemistry and that underlying pulse of dark, danger and desire and called it ‘Midnight at the Crossroads Café’.

I remember the night she finally summoned the nerve to unwrap the envelope that arrived that afternoon, remember how she waited until Super Mario Jr. was asleep and the house was quiet, the cats settled, the day finally put to rest. I remember her happy, delicious laugh as she read Neil’s card, remember her as she sprayed her wrist and the air about her, and then I remember how she cried.

Great Implications

What are the odds of this happening, if you think about it? An unknown writer wannabe writes one story. It grows, as stories do, into a book. The writing expands to perfume, the perfume writer is born, a project conceived, and some long time later, a celebrated perfumer is inspired to create that story of one moment in time when all possibilities were open, where anything could happen, where everything, everything changes and destiny starts its inexorable turn. That ‘Midnight’ is also one hellishly stunning perfume – like all the Devilscents are – is just more fuel for her fire, and more tears for her Kleenex.

Let me assure you though, those tears were happy ones. Sometimes, it does happen that dreams come true.

You who breathe and live for fragrant epiphanies, you who read – and write! about perfume, you who have certain expectations of what perfume is, how it’s defined, what it can do to you, your mood, your own definitions and desires – you can’t begin to imagine just how different, how unusual all of these perfumes are. There are no simple categories of ‘Oriental’, ‘Chypre’, ‘Floral’ at play here, no handy ways to contain them, no familiar frames of reference they refer to. Just as my own self, just as the protagonist at one point in the story tells it, they are. I am.

I’m the Devil. Surely, you expected no less?

Many have in many ways sought to capture me, capture something of that Miltonian tragedy and epic. The world has no lack of perfumes that say ‘devilish’, ‘desire’, ‘danger’ in their copy or their name.

Each and every one of this Devil’s, this project’s scents will change how such dangers – and desires – are perceived. A classic rock song once demanded sympathy for the Devil.

That Guy wasn’t trying hard enough.

For everything I am, for everything I’ve been, done, dreamed and desired has been wrapped up here in these…

Symphonies for a Devil.

I’ll have to go soon. Krishna is awake and wondering about his breakfast, one eye open as he creeps up higher on the sleeping form in the bed. In a moment, he’ll begin to purr and lick her face, and she’ll wake up. I want to surprise her. But I’ll be back to tell the tales of Lilith, and all the awesome words this project has inspired.

A very special thank you to Lucy of Indieperfumes, whose friendship, encouragement and faith in this project has meant everything to the Genie, and to Chayaruchama, who has encouraged, befriended and believed no less.

With my immortal gratitude to Ellen Covey, Amanda Feeley, Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl, Neil Morris of Neil Morris Fragrances, Monica Miller, Katlyn Breene and Kedra Hart. I chose you well!

Amanda Feeley’s contributions are available from Esscentual Alchemy, Ellen Covey’s at Olympic Orchids, Monica Miller’s ‘Green Man’ EdP from her Etsy site. Neil Morris’ through his Vault Collection. House of Cherry Bomb’s ‘Dev’ and ‘Lilith’ available by special request.


Save the Genie and keep her writing! Find out more here.