Fantabulous Karma

  • A review of LUSH/Gorilla Perfumes’ Karma

Do you believe in karma? Not as supernatural divine retribution, but as something along the lines of Albert Einstein’s famous quote, and one which I more or less live by: 

“Everything in the Universe is energy. To attract what you want is as simple as tuning in to the right frequency.”

It therefore follows, if we pursue Einstein’s thought a little further, that bad karma = bad energy/bad deeds or decisions, one way or another. However you personally may choose to define them.

In my nearly 59 years on this Earth, if I believe in anything, I can certainly believe in that, because my experience has proved it true. Every. Single. Time. 

A few years ago, a huge vintage bottle of a 1980s mainstay, the superlative chypre Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum, was put up for sale on one of my European FB perfume sale/swap groups. As part of the deal, it included a vintage Lush edition of Karma. 

Take a Chance

I paid my change for Mon Parfum and glory days nostalgia. I stayed for brand-new-to-me Karma

By that time, I had been reading about Lush perfumes, bath bombs and various toiletries  for years. We have no Lush stores in Denmark. Strangely enough, they do in Sweden and Norway, but Denmark has so far passed them by. This pains me more than you know.

 One – their Orange Blossom. Two, their Kerbside Violet. Some sunshiny day they shall be mine, all mine.

Last but never least, if Karma is anything to go by, never mind the countless reviews I plowed my way through for the purposes of this review, the perfuming minds of Mark and Simon Constantine work in strange and wondrous ways. In an era of same-trends-different-packaging-hyperluxe pricing, that level of talent is remarkable – and should be lauded and appreciated. Hence, this review.

I may be an over-the-hill/dales/suburbs included  D-list perfume blogger with a reach of influence measured in nanometers, but by golly, universal energy or Mary Magdalene, patron saint of perfumers, great perfumes are great perfumes are great perfumes, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, and those are the ones I choose to write about. 

Not long after it arrived, I sprayed myself lavishly with Karma before bed to see what dreams it would cause. It was scrumptious. Orange and lavender and lemongrass and lemon and pine, no associations of any cleaning products whatsoever. The patchouli – and Karma has loads – smelled A-grade great. For quite some time, I owned a bag of patchouli leaves originating in a West Hollywood garden, courtesy of a dear friend. Patchouli, yes, earthy and earth-bound, certainly, but all ‘proper’ patchouli in my unhumble opinion should contain a minty green foundation garment – meaning a green/herbal/licorice/mint/galbanum undertone, as the leaves certainly did and the patchouli in Karma also does. 

That night, I competed for space in my bed with my two cats, neither of whom could snuggle quite close enough. I can remember falling asleep that night holding – as I often did – one ginger, Karma-scented paw. 

The dream I can recall was disquieting, like all the best dreams. 

The next day, in a rush out the door, I tossed the bottle of Karma into a light-protecting perfume drawer for regular rotation purposes. 

And to my eternal shame and disgrace  promptly forgot all about it. 

Retribution Station

Every so often, whenever I opened that drawer, Karma would wink at me from below. Always, I’d find an excuse – wanting to wear something else, weather, the company of perfume-averse millennials at school I had no wish to offend, especially not in exam season.

But sometimes, in moonlight, in moods, in deepest night, I’d dig out Karma, spray – and swoon. My fate was sealed, my kismet complete, and even my good karma kitty approved. 

Rinse, lather, repeat. For years. My bad.

Blonde Karma

Two months ago, I landed a job as a teacher at a primary school in Copenhagen, teaching art, English and science. Since I was moving in with my sister for a while, that meant trying to decide which perfumes to bring, perfumes that a) I loved and b) wouldn’t stink up the apartment, since she has never quite forgiven me an episode in 2012 that involved twelve sprays of Epic Woman and an aftermath that lasted over a month, not to mention c) would add a little sass to my step in the mornings, in class, with a gaggle of fifth-graders I dearly hoped would like me. 

One of the perfumes I chose to bring was Karma. Perhaps it would be more correct to say it chose me, since I have no recollection of packing it, and that, too, must be kismet. 

A few days ago, my sister – a curvy, petite brunette and the most uniquely stylish woman I know – and I had a discussion about patchouli.

 “Aren’t you too fair and blonde for patchouli?” she asked. The question surprised me. Memories of that beloved bag of Maggie’s patchouli leaves, now sadly departed, of Oncle Serge’s wondrous Borneo 1834, of, well, any number of hard-hitting Eighties diehards I adored – oh, I did love patchouli with a will. If perhaps not so much as the original Prada she loved and I can’t wear if you paid me. 

Because, as every friend I have and certainly my sister will attest: 

I’m too damn blonde. 

My Marrakech moment

Sometimes, though, kismet throws me a bonbon or two. One of those is surely LUSH Karma. The Sanskrit name notwithstanding, never mind all the headshop/Haight-Ashbury/hippie associations, Karma is a unique perfume, surely the grooviest perfume I own. 

It begins with an orange. Not just any orange. This is the OG orange-you-glad, all zest, smiles and warm sunshine. While it’s not listed as a note, my nose detects a significant amount of orange blossom absolute – this is orange with a great deal of heft, longevity and substance behind it. Then, a fugue of lavender and lemongrass comes out to play with the orange, and if you were miserable before, that sorry state of mind should surely be impossible now. Orange you glad? How could you not be? 

You are, now and always, fantabulous. Darling. Feisty, spicy, green and luxuriously happy with just a touch of luxe hippie, as the base makes itself known a little at a time. Is Karma a b*tch? 

Not now, and not this one. 

In fact, Karma makes me feel like Talitha Getty, ca. 1967, pictured above, when all was still love, light and happiness, and everyone who was anyone boogied down to Marrakech, to sample life at a slower pace, to enjoy all the wonder, the shock to the senses,  the beauty Morocco had to offer, to hang out with Saint Yves and Pierre, Karl and Mick Jagger, and all fashion, all of the arts were transformed forever by mutual inspiration. 

I’m not rich, not famous, not anything as beautiful as the tragic Talitha surely was. Yet Karma makes me feel as if I am. 

And that patchouli? Here, it sings in a perfectly tuned chorus with cinnamon and pine and lemony elemi, a fresher, sweeter, and altogether flirtier perspective on patchouli, but unlike any patchoulis you may have tried before. That sweetly structured drydown lasts and lasts and lasts. I get about 18+ hours out of two small sprays.

My perfume fantasies and time travels aside, I own nothing at all in the slightest like Karma

It will get you, sooner or later. But your karma will be fantabulous. Always. No matter who or where you are.

With special thanks to Maggie Mahboubian of Lalun Perfumes for those patchouli leaves, and in memory of Janice Divacat (2006-2021) and Hairy Krishna (2007-2022), for their love of Karma

Karma is available in several incarnations at LUSH perfumes. 
Notes (via Fragrantica): Orange, lemongrass, lavender, pine tree, lemon, cassis, patchouli, fir resin, elemi, cinnamon.


  • Scent Semantics no. 5

My built-in dictionary gives me *a sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past* for this month’s word: 


In 2022, nostalgia is a luxury I can no longer afford. I’m ditching nearly everything left that has defined my life for the past almost two decades, and I feel not so much as one whiff of regret. Goodbye to all of it – and to none of it, for everything I gained in seventeen years, I’m already taking with me: my new profession, my values (such as they are), my burgeoning career in writing Things Not Related to Perfume Writing. 

And yet – why not indulge a little? Or a lot? What period of my peripatetic life makes me feel nostalgic, what perfume more than any other in my life is tied into it, where will those words take me? 

Time travel with me back, back to when I was young enough to think I had possibilities, that I could change the world and make it a better place, that one pint-sized sarcastic slice of humanity could make a difference, until she realized, a few short years later, that she couldn’t.

Time travel back … to the autumn of 1981. 

Then and now

These days, Copenhagen is one of the truly hip and happening capitals of the world. Our influencers and fashion create trends the rest of the world follows, our three-star Michelin restaurants have become tourist destinations in their own right, and Copenhagen has become its own byword for ultimate, drop-dead cool. Cool art, cool culture, cool music, cool fashion (so you can look cool while doing Cool Things) – this city I call my hometown is nothing if not cool in 2022.

But in the autumn of 1981, it was a very different story. The late 1970s recession had hit Copenhagen hard, the shipyards closed, the countless factories and shop artisans that had made Denmark and Danish design famous in the 1950s and 1960s had all packed up and moved elsewhere, where living was cheaper, the labor was cheaper and the government gave you at least 50% less hassle and bureaucracy. 

The Saddest State of Affairs

In the autumn of 1981, yours truly was emphatically not at the top of her game by any stretch of the imagination. My gymnasium grade point average had been 0.1 point shy of guaranteed admission to the University of Copenhagen since discovering sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, and every plan I had ever made for my life since age 11 had collapsed into smoking ruins to rival the industrial wasteland along the harbor front of Copenhagen. Unemployment was high. Prospects were dim. I was eighteen years old, living on my own at a concrete student housing project, a dangerous age to be without direction. 

So I did what rudderless eighteen-year-olds did at the time. I developed a massive crush on a 6’4” radical anarchist/teaching student I had met at a Rock Against Racism fundraiser (It was the early 1980s), and faster than you can say Emma Goldman, I became a raging militant anarchist myself, spouting off meaningless Proudhon platitudes with all of Emma’s blithe self-assurance.

The next thing I knew, I was a punk. It went with the anarchism, the chaos both inner and outer, the sense of everything going to ashes and ruin, so you might as well light up the joint, drink all the cheap vodka, go to the show, find a safe corner to pogo in at concerts at the Salt Warehouse, where the floor was sand and sawdust, and where I never came home without massive bruises from pogoiing in unsafe corners at punk concerts, sawdust notwithstanding. 

At some point during that time, I became involved with the outer fringes of a very radical group called BZ. Their aim was to land a youth center run by youth as opposed to parents who were still faithful to their own Sixties ideals, on our terms, with our music – which of course could be nothing but punk. 

Almost Over. Almost

At that time, punk itself was on the verge of being over. In London, where it all began in 1976 with Vivienne Westwood’s Sex, with Malcolm McLaren, with the Sex Pistols and everything and everyone that followed, it already was. 

But Copenhagen wasn’t hip back then, and neither were we. We were too busy arguing we really could change the world, starting with our own.

So there I was, with my ratty hair and my ratty, fourth-and fifth-hand clothes, arguing the finer points of the revolutionary act of squatting in empty buildings and on some fundamental level, in a permanent state of aesthetic outrage. 

Surely, this wasn’t why I had been to Paris with my hyper-stylish, drop-dead mother, why I loved unfashionable art and culture, why I would sometimes sneak out to matinee performances of demodé operas on the sly because I loved Mozart, or why, if I were really in a snit, I’d grab my flute and blow my way through all four movements of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. It certainly wasn’t why I showered more than once a week, or why even my own rags were usually laundered dark gray, as opposed to black. 

All the wrong things

I had come to discover that punk itself or radicalism was just as exclusionary, just as reactionary, as any other movement. Everything was sharply delineated into Right – as in acceptable – or Wrong. You could not listen to wrong music, see uncool movies (Pasolini and Fellini be damned) do wrong things like eat Israeli oranges because they oppressed the Palestinians, and you could certainly not ever, ever, ever wear proper perfume. Especially not if it were French. 

One rainy day, I walked into my favorite department store to get out of the rain. Here, punk and politics and internecine verbal fights didn’t exist, had never existed, here, all was beautiful and polished and not at all cheap, here was all the aesthetic a disaffected, disillusioned punk could possibly wish for on a rainy, windswept October day. 

My mother, far, far away in Northern Greenland at the time, would laugh herself silly if she knew. 

Glittering on a glass counter, there it was, a perfectly polished and flawlessly proportioned perfume bottle of rigid, rectiinear Art Deco symmetry, down to the very letters on the small label: no. 19.

The Best Me

I tried it on for size, after the sales assistant eyed me with suspicion, in case I stole it. Instead, in those first few, heady, head-spinning minutes, I found what I can only describe with the benefit of hindsight my best self, the self I truly wanted to be: flawlessly cool, perfectly beautiful, secure in her intellect, her opinions and values. From that first galbanum rush – and even then, I loved that sugar snap pea green sap, to the silky iris heart and the satin leather finish, if I were a perfume – a heretical thought … 

This Would Be It.

No. 19 was sexy. It was smart. One did NOT preclude the other here, as I myself was told on countless ego-bruising occasions, it was the perfume of a person even a rudderless eighteen-year-old could aspire to be – confident, audacious, calm, collected, in control, nothing, in short, I was at that time. 

Best of all – because I WAS a punk – it was iconoclastic, it was classy, and it was as far away from all the cheap nag champa and patchouli oils the other punks wore as you could get. 

I bought the bottle of eau de toilette and carried it home to my student dorm convinced I had landed a priceless treasure, which of course, I had. 

Only to land in scorching hot water for it. 

Politically Incorrect

Punk dudes anno 1981 had no defense against no. 19. It upended all their presuppositions about how punk girls should smell – of cheap nag champa and patchouli. I wiped them up with it, with my acres of black eye makeup, my ratty if scrupulously clean clothes, with the cloud of no. 19 that trailed me wherever I went. 

Punk girls, on the other hand, laid into me with a will. I was supporting animal cruelty by buying a Chanel perfume, I was supporting the establishment, I was buying into the whole consumerism game lock, stock and barrel and from now on, I would be DOOMED to a life of mediocrity and non-distinction and never making any difference of any kind. They said.

I grabbed my bag of Israeli navel oranges in my cloud of no. 19 and never looked back. 

Ever Green

Since that day in late 1981 and on to the present day over forty – how did that HAPPEN? – years later, Chanel no. 19 has been my most consistently owned perfume. I’ve had the eau de toilette, the parfum, the eau de parfum. I’ve bought it and rebought it, over and over and over. It created memories for my daughter, it landed me at least two jobs, it exuded class and composure and deathless cool to a blonde who usually blows hot and cold. It never ever grows old, or stale, or boring. 

At this point in time, all I have is the deodorant in a dresser 200 km away, but I know, even after almost twelve years of perfume writing and other writing and life, I will, in the not too distant future, slink into that department store with nary a shred of guilt and ask for the eau de parfum, the version closest to my heart, at least until I can afford the extrait, which is to die for. I will wrap myself up in that familiar, beloved satin cloud, sniff a little at the memories of that long ago time, put on Joy Division at full blast and remember with a pang a time I really thought I could change the world. 

I can afford that now. 

I just can’t afford nostalgia.


Daisy and


Old Herbaceous


Note: As I came of age in an analog time, no photos exist of me or my punk phase ca. 1981. The photo of Siouxsie Sioux was taken at the Salt Warehouse in Copenhagen in the autumn of 1981 as THE exemplar of a Punk Goddess. (Which she still IS, bless her)