Writing On Fumes

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– the future of alembicating, and also the Genie…

Ladies, Gentlemen, Fragrant Humanity all —

Perhaps you might have noticed over the course of the past year or so how the blog posts and reviews on this blog have become few and far between. It would be far beyond the scope of this blog to state exactly why, or how that happened, except to state that life has been sprouting monumental roadblocks all across the superhighway of my creative process, especially the creative process that is and was part and parcel of my perfumed self – writing about perfume.

Excuses, excuses

Over the course of the past eighteen months, my life has changed to an incredible degree. A certain Dude moved in, old detritus moved out, and finding the space to get any writing done became an exercise in logistics and diplomacy, when all my former writing habits went flying out the window for getting involved with an ultra hardcore gamer who was not at all about to divorce either the monster TV or the PS4, and the garret has exactly two (tiny) rooms.

Along the way, I had to do some very serious thinking about this blog, the other blogs I own and write for on occasion, my presence on social media which has become virtually non-existent lately and even the state of Planet Perfume itself, and asked myself a rather pertinent question:

Was this really, truly what I wanted to do any longer? Why? Or more to the point: why not?

Believe it or not, and I’m still not sure I do, I have been writing about perfume – in fits and starts and stops – since August 2010. In those seven years, I’ve seen blogs come and go, I’ve seen the landscape of Planet Perfume change and evolve and not always for the better, and I’ve seen the meteoric rise of YouTube vloggers who speak fluent Adobe Premiere/Garageband, do all their own special effects and have followers numbered in the thousands.

Yet this is emphatically not YouTube but WordPress, and probably not why you, dear readers, are devouring these very words. You read this blogger’s idiosyncratic/iconoclastic words on perfume because you are a reader, not a spectator. You appreciate not just literature but liquid literature, which is to say, perfume writing with a literary bent and a metaphorical ear for prosody and phrasing.

Many of you – bless you! – have followed this blog since its beginnings and stuck with me ever since, well aware that I can’t write like anyone else, not even about perfume, which could very well be the precise reason why you’re here.

Thank you.

The Writer’s Lament

Remember those monumental roadblocks of a few paragraphs ago? Two of them will become pertinent to the future of this blog, but bear with me a moment.

The thing about reviewing perfumes, researching them, wading through acres of hyperbole-blasted PR copy, reading other blogs who reviewed this new It release, keeping up with the Joneses of Planet Perfume – it all became so much work. Work was the one thing I haven’t lacked these past eighteen months, and sometimes, it took all I had to just ignore that squeaky voice in my head berating me for not writing the next review, and the one after that, not because I had nothing to say about it, not because my inspiration ran dry, but because it felt like shouting into a void – a whole lot of headache, hassle and heartache for not a lot of payback or feedback which became harder to justify given that this blog alone costs me almost $200 a year I can ill afford and that I don’t get to blow on perfume. Somewhere, somehow, I forgot to have fun with it, which begged the question: what would make it fun again? How could I recapture the joy of 2011 in particular, when I posted twice a week Tigger-bouncing all over my keyboard and couldn’t wait to review something new?

Money, honeys!

How do you know you’re a professional writer? When you get paid to do it. After one published novel and three upcoming projects, I may now look in the mirror, shriek in horror at the sight and scream:

“Well, at least I get paid…” Not a lot and not often, but still…

Since I began on Blogspot all those years ago, I’ve resolutely steered past any notion of monetizing my perfume writing. I did not want to be beholden to advertisers or perfume houses, thank you very much, and ad clicks surely meant a sellout of my integrity, such as it was. The concept of charging perfume houses for reviews (this happens!) left a very bad taste in my mouth or my soul, pick one.

Then, two things happened. First, thanks to the aforementioned Dude, I was suddenly exposed to the biggest form of entertainment on Earth – video games. Along with that bombardment of sensory overload came exposure to a whole new kind of review; the cutthroat world of game reviews, and some of the best ones were monetized, not by ads but by subscription, via something called Patreon.

That made me think long and hard. Yet, I still wouldn’t do it.

The Dude and I had many, many discussions about Patreon, about money, about writing-for-hire and about, as he put it, “being way too good not to get paid for it.” (He was referring to yours truly.) Still, I sat on the fence, hoist on the petard of that wretched ‘integrity’.

About that second thing … In March, I applied for what the US would call college, but the rest of us education, to become a teacher in four years. In May, I was summoned for a two-part interview that would determine whether or not I was accepted on the basis of my 36-year-old classics baccalaureat, my life experience and my general (questionable) intellectual capacity. Two case studies, interview sessions and days later, I was informed that I passed my interviews and fulfilled the criteria for acceptance, although I won’t know for certain until July 28th. What this means for me personally is invaluable (I get to go back to school, yippieeee!), and yet, it will also mean that for the next four years, I’ll be living off what you’d call a student grant which is, all told, about USD$400 a month less than the pittance I pay bills with now, or roughly what it costs me to be an independent blogger every year. Meanwhile, I’m writing up a storm and will likely continue to do so – a novel is on its way, more short stories (one of which is coming to Amazon in July/August), a perfume book of stories I’m rewriting, flotsam, jetsam and …

Back to that daily morning horror story in the mirror. Am I a professional writer, or just a ditzy middle-aged D-list blonde throwing away her ‘brand’ for free? And if that’s the case, the brutal bottom line is the ‘free’ part has become a luxury I’m sadly no longer able to afford.

Future Fuming

After a lot of soul-searching, wrestling that damned integrity and removing myself from the perfume community so I could gain some degree of static-free clarity, I had some very hard decisions to make.

I could a) shut down TAG, say goodbye and sayonara and vanish into the sunset. Which made me all sorts of sad, since the perfume community – that means YOU! – had made me what I’ve become over the course of the past seven years. Each and every interaction everywhere, each comment, each blog post hit has made my soul sing in ways nothing else does except writing – about perfumes.

Or there was option b) move the blog to a free WordPress site, leave it for posterity and walk away. I could sit there among company, all teary-eyed and nostalgic, and tell stories of those halcyon days when ‘I used to be a perfume writer of dubious repute …

But what about option c) Throw caution to the wind, sign up for Patreon and dangnabbit, see how that goes? What’s the worst thing that can happen?

I can lose every tattered shred of perceived integrity I might have, lose every subscriber/follower/perfumista friend I have acquired in the past seven years for being considered a money-grubbing, avaricious louse and swan-dive right bang-smack onto dry land from a lofty height, with the added hashtag #epicfail. A distinct probability.

So far as I’m aware, there are no perfume blogs on Patreon. There are monetized blogs and vlogs via ad revenue, but that’s all.

I would be the first of my kind on Patreon, and I can handle that. I can handle that after almost seven years, a fury/passion for perfume has got me about as far as I can go, but passion won’t pay the web hosting bills, alas.

My idea was to make TAG a subscription service. For the princely sum of USD$5.00 a month and not one penny more! (about the price of a Starbucks latte), you, dear readers, would get early access to two reviews/perfume stories a week posted every Wednesday and Saturday, smartphone wallpaper, video bottom line reviews, a monthly newsletter of coming attractions and ‘insider’ info if there’s an interest and a guaranteed ticket for sample giveaways. After a week, those early access reviews go public – which is to say, are available to read for free – by which time you will have two new reviews to read. Whatever I might earn goes toward blog upkeep, web hosting (since I’ll have to move TAG to wordpress.org) blog templates and reader goodies. You would of course have the option to cancel your subscription at any time. TAG could be kept ad-free. Yours truly would be obligated and exceedingly motivated to bring you the best dang perfume writing I can possibly supply, and it goes without saying – at least, it should?! – my reviews as always are my own opinions and impressions.

Say USD$5.00 every month is way more commitment than you can handle, but you’d still like to share your appreciation of my writing. For you, there will be a ‘tip jar’ which will give you access to the latest review at 99 cents a read, and that’s the most I’d ever ask for thanks to that damn integrity.

Yesterday – Midsummer’s Eve, an auspicious date in my part of the world, I signed up for Patreon. The Patreon page and the new format for TAG goes live in early July, but I’ll announce it everywhere when it does; my Facebook profile, a few perfume groups if I’m allowed, the TAG Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram as well as a (free-to-read) post on THIS version of TAG.

As of this moment, I have samples from … Houbigant, Ormonde Jayne, Amouage, Serge Lutens, DSH Perfumes, House of Cherry Bomb, Scent By Alexis, Opus Oils, Maison Francis Kurkdjian, Memo Paris, Atelier Cologne, Le Jardin Retrouvé, Neela Vermeire Creations, Perris Monte Carlo and Oriza L. Legrand to review. Most of those samples were paid for by me in the hopes of revitalizing TAG with a bit of the ‘new’, and all of them are fully worthy of alembication. I can not w-a-i-t to sink my purple prose fangs into each and every one of them.

Would YOU be excited to read about them?

Do you think I’ve completely lost my mind? Would you subscribe or leave a tip and if not, why not? Should I just slink away and die, already?

Let me know what you think in the comments, thank you for reading and sharing our fragrant journey so far and as always, here’s to the wonders we all have yet to discover!

Love, always!

The Alembicated Genie

A Better Brand of Fishbowl

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– On the Genie’s absence, the changing state of the blog/vlogosphere and those all-important New Beginnings

Dear readers,

That I have you reading this still, even after being MIA with no reviews for so long, is an honor I’m nowhere sure I deserve. Therefore, I’ll start with the Big One:

Thank you from the bottom of my black and overflowing heart.

Yet for the longest time, it seemed my life was expanding in all sorts of ways that left no room for perfumes, for contemplation, or indeed for any kind of sensual appreciation involving words, bottled genies or meandering musings in the intersections of all three. I seemed to live in one mode only: pedal to the metal and predilections as well as perfumes be damned. Somehow, some way, there was simply Too Much To Do between waking at godless hours and sleeping, and perfume writing became yet another guilt trip I could beat myself over the head with for not doing, or I could just dump it altogether. (Trust me, I thought of it!)

But at a time when my writing is going other, more noticed places alongside other, far more noted writers, I came to realize a rather startling fact:

My life was missing a dimension, and maybe even all my writing, too. I still wore perfumes daily, still found myself almost automatically searching for context, for story, for texture and association, even as I now wore it solely for my own pleasure, and even focused on the perfumes I loved without reservations or inhibitions, the ones that felt like a second-skin extension of my own self on different days.

I rarely posted my SoTD on Instagram or Twitter (I gave up on Twitter for a time), I didn’t participate in the myriad Facebook groups of Planet Perfume, and in fact, simply removed myself from the conversation altogether. It wasn’t a conscious decision at all, it just happened that way. Lemming new releases, participating in splits and conversations about this or that creation, Keeping Up With the Hi’s and L’Eaus – all failed to fill me with even a sliver of excitement when I had other and weightier things on my mind.

This might have had something to do with certain emails and PMs I received castigating me for non-conformity, sucking up to brands and/or my particular brand of fragrant iconoclasm/bs. It was a knife straight in the aorta of all the cardinal sins a writer may be guilty of; vanity, narcissism or simply a sense of relevancy. Most of you are well aware I subscribe to the Room For Everyone School of Writing, but apparently, there wasn’t, if … ‘there shouldn’t even be room for crappy, hysterically overwrought writers like you who can’t just tell it like it is.’

Well … no. I can’t do that. I tried. I failed. I also for no reason at all forgot or overlooked emails I should have answered, and in general behaved like a massive, unprofessional flake. Maybe I should have been just a short-lived blip on the radar of Planet Perfume, here one year, gone and forgotten all these years later?

I also tried to ignore that small voice at the very bottom of my existential soup bowl that said and certainly felt I had failed YOU – for really, what – or even where? – would I be without you? As an individual, as a perfumoholic or as a writer?

Each and every one of you readers has made me the writer I am today. I say this without so much as a smidge of irony and my hand on my heart. Not only have you made me a better writer, you have made me a better, more well-rounded, less stuck-in-the-mud person. By not writing, by not reviewing, by not and by knots (the ones I tied myself into), I felt I had somehow failed everyone who had ever believed in me, in my idiosyncratic/weirdo approach to perfume writing that kept insisting on context, on texture, or on story.

For, as a job counselor stated recently in an unrelated context, the storyteller in me will o-u-t, even in situations it might not be entirely appropriate.

So far as I’m aware, that’s the hallmark of a writer, which indeed is how I choose to define myself above almost all things else. A writer of stories (mostly horror, for reasons best explained elsewhere), a lover of history, and a perfumaniac diehard who misplaced her iconoclastic/idiosyncratic/oddball/weirdo brand of magick trying to chase all sorts of dragons who would much rather roast me than revere me. That, too, has Got To Change.

As of this moment – noon on a chilly Easter Sunday that is gray, overcast and with a lot of rain promised later – I stand before you on the edge of a precipice called Reinvention. Over the course of the next few months, my life will be turned entirely upside down. Hinging on an upcoming interview, I hope to be accepted into a new and shinier career four years from now. I’m in the process of re-evaluating my living situation, my bad habits and even my wardrobe.

If that were all, that would be plenty, yet the headstrong Reinvention Tour doesn’t stop there, for two scant weeks ago, I submitted my first short story to my editor/publisher/fellow iconoclast friend to debut in a Danish horror/weird fiction anthology called ‘Project 1900’, which for me is a Really Big Deal. Ten writers – of which I’m one – were each given a brief and a decade of the 20th century, and instructions to capture as best we could the temporal flavor of our chosen time.

I chose the 1970s and disco, chose to completely divorce myself from my own self-created mythos of God and Dev(il), and proceeded to go all-out in a brand-new direction. I don’t know how it will be/was received, and really, that’s none of my business anyway. The Dude is the only one who has had the story read aloud, and his first reaction was unprintable. His second – which followed the first – was an indication that maybe I didn’t suck as hard as I thought I did.

I fully intend to translate it into English and make it available as a short story to publish on Amazon later this year. And just to be clear: an under-the-radar perfume features in the story, as well as a super-famous (for 1978) one. Now, you know!

You can take the writer away from perfume, but …

Thanks to that Reinvention Tour, there will also be changes to TAG. (You might have noticed the new logo/header above). I’ll still write about my dearly beloved indies, the other iconoclasts and weirdos and non-conformists I so adore, but I’d also and very much like to continue into new, uncharted territory with other under-the-radar perfumes, the ones that don’t get a lot of free PR, the ones not even you sophisticats have heard about and the ones I’ve never even considered before. Two reviews for three smash hits (at least on my part) are currently underway in terms of research, since these will be stories, and all I can do is hope I rise to the occasions these perfumes have inspired.

Every once in a while, I’ll also add a short video summation of a review, not to give any of the perfume review bigwigs on YouTube sleepless nights (which won’t happen), but more as a bottom line reference. Or irreverence, I’m still not entirely sure!

Most of all, it’s time for an upgrade. Because you’re worth it. And because the importance of a better brand of fishbowl can never be underestimated!

Yours always,

The Alembicated Genie

 

A Fool’s Paradise

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– on IFRA rules and new EU regulations

My original plan for a blog post was a perfume review. My backlog is not getting smaller, and I have all sorts of fragrant epiphanies dying for a touch of superheated prose. But life, as John Lennon once famously said, is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

Then two things prodded me with a lance and set off my inner Doña Quixota.

The first was a post on a Facebook perfume group concerning the possibilities opened up by new, non-allergenic fragrances and fragrance technologies. I’ll be getting back to that one later.

The second was a blog post by Kafkaesque concerning the new EU regulations on cosmetics and – a pivotal point – perfumes that may take effect by January of next year.

As of today, a petition to protest these proposed regulations and restrictions has gathered over 3400 signatures to protest the upcoming regulations and been given to the EU, along with an alternative to the proposed restrictions and bans.

So you don’t have to slog through a massive amount of turgid, brain-numbing prose, I should say that so far as perfume is concerned, the following three issues are first and foremost at stake:

–       A complete ban on oakmoss, tree moss and HICC, also known as Lyral, an aromachemical used to emulate lily-of-the-valley

–       Deliberating restrictions on citral (for all citrus-based perfumes and anything containing bergamot, which is at least 90% of everything, coumarin/tonka bean and eugenol, present in rose absolutes, concretes and essential oils

–       Deliberating labels on perfumes listing the substances they contain

The EU has also been considering severely limiting over 200 natural essences, oils and absolutes, all of which are (literally) essential to the production of perfumery as we know it today, whether mainstream, prestige, niche or indie perfumery.

Speaking of which…

They have also considered limitations on the sale and distribution of indie perfumes whose manufacture is based elsewhere – for instance, indie perfume houses based outside the EU. A requirement has been suggested that in order to distribute and sell indie perfumery, an EU-based business address will be required by law, which might be the death knell of those wonderful indie perfumes that aren’t IFRA-compliant (which is voluntary to a degree), meaning they contain ‘contraband’ substances, or lucky enough to have EU distributors or retailers.

This is the funeral bell of all perfumery. Or is it?

The Background

<sarcasm>We EU citizens should consider ourselves lucky to live under the aegis of a government so concerned with our personal health and welfare. </sarcasm>

Consider the indisputable fact that many of the potentially restricted raw materials have a proven cultural heritage that dates back at least 5000 years. Yet I don’t see any demonstrators or political activists waving placards near the famous frankincense trees of Dhofar or the fabled roses of Kazaniak in Bulgaria.

All of these proposed regulations and restrictions have been suggested solely for the benefit of potential allergenic effects, potential effects that down the road could mean litigation for perfumers and perfume houses.

Enter the tabloid headline: DIOR SELLS DEATH JUICE – CALLS IT “PERFUME”.

I’m certainly not arguing that perfume allergies don’t exist, nor do I want to disrespect the plight of those unfortunate people who suffer from them – sometimes excruciatingly so. I find it appalling that even unscented body products are often scented to mask the stench of the ingredients they contain.

But here’s the punch line: People who suffer from perfume allergies don’t buy or wear perfume.

The fragrant tachyderm in the room is what no one is saying. Not the EU and their hordes of political lobbyists representing the more sinister aspects of international politics, not the IFRA, certainly not the roaring, screaming silence of the perfume industry as a whole and with the exception of a few brave souls, not even the blogosphere, where most of us like to pretend that all is well, grand and divinely scented business as usual.

Because allergies and potential allergenic compounds are not the issue at all.

The Agenda

More fragrant food for thought – the IFRA, the industry regulator and watchdog that enforces (voluntary) regulations meant to ensure the safety of consumers, is not an independent entity – it is financed by Givaudan, Symrise and US-based International Flavors and Fragrances, in other words, the very perfumery companies it is supposed to regulate.

Let that sink in for a moment.

No matter what the label on the perfume bottle might lead you to believe, many times a perfume – whether mainstream, prestige or niche – originates with one of these companies. We perfumistas often kid ourselves that perfumes are discontinued due to IFRA regulations, but it is just as often due not to restrictions or the cost-effectiveness of materials, but to expiring patents of perfume formulae owned not by, say, a LVMH company (who own an appalling number of mainstream designer lines), but by – you guessed it – Givaudan, Symrise, Mane or IFF.

It’s interesting that LVMH or even Chanel have been so silent lately in this recent outrage, considering how much they protested when these proposed regulations and restrictions were made public. Then again, the perfume industry’s notorious conspiracy of silence is a public fact…

The plot thickens further.

Say the bill is passed in all its hideous, heritage-murdering glory. Will we all be doomed to a future of horrific sugar-sweet bubblegum fruitchoulis containing nary a single metaphorical rose petal?

Maybe not, since the rise of synthetic aromachemicals in the twentieth century have revolutionized perfumes and often, these materials are entire perfumes in and of themselves. If so many natural absolutes and oils are severely restricted, then they would be substituted with synthetic and/or nature-identical aromachemicals. Meanwhile, no one really knows the long-term effects of using these synthetics.

Synthetics provided by Givaudan, Symrise, IFF. Who naturally – such being the supply and demand of market economics – stand to make an absolute killing, and not just of a cultural heritage. In other words, it’s not about potential allergies or allergenic reactions to known perfume components at all. It’s about the money, sadly, just like so much else in the world.

Hi-Tech Magic

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: there is no such thing as a natural perfume, unless you place a fragrant flower behind your ear and call it a day. I will also say that so far as I am personally concerned, I have no particular bias one way or the other. I have natural – which is to say, containing no synthetics – perfumes in my cabinet that rival any stellar perfumes I could mention in complexity and depth.

Likewise, I’m well aware that many, if not most of the other fragrant wonders in my red IKEA cabinet of doom are known as ‘mixed-media’ perfumes, because synthetic aromachemicals can provide lift, body and longevity to truly make a perfume bloom. I’ve even encountered all-synthetic perfumes that have been interesting adventures on their own.

What really fascinates me are the technologies of headspace and fractionation, since they open up entirely new vocabularies for perfumers to work with.

Natural materials have an astonishingly complex olfactory profile. For instance, roses contain upwards of 10,000 different fragrant components, all of which give rose perfumes their spicy, earthy, fruity, fiery and musky profiles. Fractionation allows extraction of singular aspects of natural materials. If eugenol – one of the hotly contested components – is the issue, you can simply ‘weed’ it out of the rose. This has been one of the suggested remedies for banning oakmoss – simply remove the allergenic component, and voilà! Mitsouko is restored to all its former glory. (We can dream!)

Headspace technology is another new thrill for perfumers, since it allows for chemical analysis of aromachemical profiles from plants and flowers that are usually reconstructed, since they can’t be extracted from the plant. Gardenia and lily of the valley are two examples of using headspace technology for perfumery. This means that perfumers will still have a vast range of new materials to combine to infinity in any number of ways for new, exciting perfumes.

Having said that, any perfumer – or perfume aficionado – will tell you in no uncertain terms: there is no synthetic substitute no matter how well-made for the complexity, the richness and the depth of natural essences and absolutes. For all of them provide a perfume with its soul, its terroir, that one core component that elevates a fragrant concoction from simply smelling good (or bad!) to transcendental in a way no synthetics can.

Murder They Wrote

The cultural history of humankind has been scented since the dawn of civilization. Whether for reasons of devotion or seduction, trade routes sprang up to supply the temples of Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and China and history was made, agriculture bloomed to provide raw materials, statues of gods and goddesses were adorned with garlands of fragrant flowers, and perfumes and incenses were used to impart divinity and power. Indeed, in some cultures it is required to meet the divine appropriately perfumed, whether with the sandalwood paste of Hindu temples of India, or the oud blends so beloved in the Middle East.

Today, we consider Paris the epicenter of the perfumery world, but in fact, the olfactory heritage of France did not originate there but in Italy, when Catherine de Medici set out for France and her future husband with a band of Florentine perfumers in tow.

The court of Louis XIV was known as the Perfumed Court, and in those days before indoor plumbing and regular baths, everything aristocratic and prestigious was scented and perfumed; clothes, gloves (to mask the stench of tanned leather), wigs, letter paper, wallpaper, surroundings.

The demand for perfumery with all its associations of luxury led to an industry that gave us the jasmines and roses of Grasse, the lavenders of Provence and the storied, world-renowned perfumeries of Paris. Colonization gave perfumers other and more exotic materials to work with, such as tolu and Peru balsam, ylang ylang and agarwood.

It gave us Paul Parquet of Houbigant, Aimé, Jacques and Jean Paul Guerlain, Ernest Daltroff of Caron, François Coty, Germaine Cellier (one of my own personal favorite renegade perfumers), Edmond Roudnitska, Ernest Beaux. It gave the world a quintessential pride in a shared scented history, and an even greater pride in the artisanal craft and alchemy of its perfumers. On perfume bottles the words ‘in honor of my art’ were engraved in invisible, fragrant ink in essence and absolute.

Along the way, we also had Paul Poiret, Chanel, Schiaparelli, Robert Piguet, Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, all fashion designers and visionaries who were quick to realize that even if a customer could never afford haute couture, he or she could afford that essential stamp of luxury, style and Parisian èlan by association; through a perfume.

Each and every one of these companies and their countless imitators milked the fragrant heritage of Paris and Parisian chic, luxury and seduction for all it was worth, and ever since, the rest of the world has been buying right into it, even as we knew we’d never in a million years be as fabulous as Jerry Hall in an Opium perfume ad or Marilyn Monroe between her sheets dressed only in Chanel no. 5, we could at least feel that way for as long as a perfume breathed on our skins and defined us.

But some time in the mid-1990s, shark fins appeared over the fragrant horizon in the wake of ubiquitous calone and aquatic perfumes. Perfume aficionados, myself included, began to notice that our long-beloved liquid definitions were no longer quite what they were. Some were discontinued, some were reformulated, but one thing became increasingly clear – the world of perfume was changing, and not necessarily for the better. Multinational conglomerate companies such as LVMH ate up renowned brands such as Guerlain, Dior and Yves Saint Laurent, and then proceeded to brutally murder everything that made those perfumes special without even the common decency to give them a proper burial.

Yet even as the Naughties gave us the rise of the dreaded Angel clones, fruitchoulis and celebufumes, times were changing. With the advent of sites such as Makeupalley, fabulously scented nobodies ventured forth and began to review perfumes for a burgeoning audience eager to learn, and with perfume blogging – fortuitously timed with the rise of indie and niche perfumery in the public awareness – the fragrant landscape changed yet again, and the international perfume community wafted dangerously expensive temptations in its wake.

My own descent in the maelstrom can be pinpointed to the late summer of 2003 and a post on Makeupalley that told of the bottled emotions of a certain Serge Lutens. I let my curiosity literally kill me, lurking on perfume blogs I read religiously for over six years before I found out for myself just how true that evocative description was.

Within three years, we would have perfume blogs to edify and educate us – and meanwhile, niche and indie perfumery rustled in the underground and took off, starting the trends and creating the perfumes and the brands both my readers and myself love and adore to this day.

The blogosphere I became a minuscule but proud part of in 2010 celebrated not only those immortal classics of the twentieth century, but independent perfumery and perfumers. Andy Tauer, Vero Kern, Neela Vermeire, Ormonde Jayne, the meteoric rise of Amouage as a global brand, the blooming advent of breathtaking indie perfumers based in the US such as Aftelier, aroma M, DSH Perfumes, Neil Morris, Olympic Orchids, Envoyage, even Tommi Sooni in Australia, the perfumer as rock star…

As we say in my native Denmark… our enthusiasm would never, ever end.

And if not for the wretched EU, the lobbyists in Brussels or the heavily vested interests of the IFRA, we might have remained blithely, blissfully unaware of those shark fins on the horizon.

Truth and Consequences

As it was written, the truth of the EU proposal would basically mean the death of perfumery as we define it today. Perfumes would by necessity have to be reformulated to the point of redundancy, growers in Bulgaria, Egypt, Morocco, France, Italy and Tunisia would have to find other, more profitable crops, hundreds of thousands of people would have to locate other employment in an inhospitable economic climate, and every single brand you’ve ever heard of would have to close its doors – forever.

Yet strangely enough, very few brand owners and perfumers rose to the occasion and decried their impending doom and demise. One of the few who put his passions right up front was Frédéric Malle of Editions de Parfums, who came right out and said what very few dared, least of all global players such as LVMH and Chanel, both selling perfumes on a scale where you’d expect them to have a definite opinion and with the kind of industry clout to put some political muscle behind it.

There we were, even I, yesterday, wrestling with the research and my own definite emotional response to this potential horror, when Michel Roudnitska – son of Edmond and a fabled former perfumer himself – posted a link to an article in French about the coming regulations and some new considerations the EU is taking into account, in part because of the protests of perfume consumers and concerned EU citizens.

It seems that the EU will, among other things, revise its testing methodology to also include non-allergic people, to allow the use of certain aromachemicals and problematic natural materials if the allergenic compounds are removed before use, and at least listened to some of the arguments from both the industry, such as they were, and consumers themselves. Then again, it’s hard to argue with a 19 billion € industry…

As I type these words, I’m wearing a perfume, one of my recent fragrant obsessions I have yet to write about. It has haunted and taunted me in ways all the best perfumes always do, defying my attempts to decline it and pin down its inherent mysteries. It shouldn’t work, shouldn’t exist, and yet it does, and as it does, I am taken out of myself and away from my woes and cares in a manner only literature and music can compete with, and even so, this perfume needs no words to explicate it. It simply is – no more and no less.

As I wonder, as I think about its marvels and its majesty, I wonder if we, the passionate perfumistas, bloggers and perfume writers of the world, haven’t been living in a kind of fool’s paradise, breathing in the flowers and essences of this perfumed Eden, and forgetting about the crumbling ledge beneath our feet.

The results of the EU consultation will be made public in July.

Stay tuned.

In Search of Serene

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– 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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Save the Genie! 12 more days to go, and we’re almost there! 🙂

Find out more here.

Price and Prejudice

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 – Of luxury and lemmings

Recently, while trolling trawling through the recesses of blogs, comments and forum threads scattered throughout Planet Perfume, I’ve more than once come across a confounding, if not confusing ‘trend’. Call it a tendency, call it a predilection or even a preoccupation, it’s nevertheless just prevalent enough to catch this perfume writer’s attention in the dog days of summer.

Once upon a time in this exalted fragrant stratosphere, a phrase reverberated in cyberspace:

One hundred dollars is the new free!

In other words, with price points being what they were and with niche and indie perfume houses trying to trump each other in their eagerness to scratch our luxury itch and reel in new customers, the ante only had one way to go… up. And up. For a while, it seemed that fragrant cognoscenti were only too happy to comply.

After all… you got what you paid for, right? Which was what, precisely? Olfactory masterpieces in exquisite packaging with drop-dead blood-curdling attention to detail every step of the way from a creative director’s mind to the hot UPS guy on your doorstep?

Or was it something altogether darker and more devious… a big, fat, expensive-looking stamp on your person (and your credit statement) in neon letters proclaiming:

You, dear customer, have been had.

Those were the days, dear readers, the days that implied a kind of innocence if not naïveté about the nefarious doings of that everlasting aspirational business: Planet Perfume.

Not any longer. For increasingly across those forum threads and blog comments, those customers are no longer so easily bamboozled by hyperbolic PR copy stating their brand-new snake oil is ‘distilled by angels with the morning dew of the summer Solstice from the jasmine fields of Grasse.’ (Or words to similar effect.)

Increasingly, discontent if not disillusion rumbles in the undergrowth. Whether due to ennui in the face of relentless  – and endless – launches or simple overdrawn credit limits, those fragrant cognoscenti are beginning to protest that those luxurious, redolent juices we so adore to adorn our personalities with simply cost…

Too Damn Much.

Luxury, schmuxury.

Before I shoot myself in the metaphorical foot (a favorite summer pastime), let me start with what I define as luxury as it pertains to the world of perfume. I should add this is my definition and may not be yours, so feel free to argue my claims in the comments.

Luxury in a perfume brand is…

¤   The expression of a particular aesthetic approach in terms of concept, design and execution, an approach that appeals to the customer’s urge to distinguish his or her individuality from everyone else’s.

¤   Meticulous attention to detail throughout that process from idea to delivered product that makes the customer feel validated and appreciated in their choices.

¤   Although by definition a luxury brand should not be too readily available, since luxury also implies a certain degree of exclusivity, luxury in itself should not be exclusive in the sense that it excludes potential customers but inclusive, by offering them options to make informed decisions before handing over their hard-earned/ill-gotten/cash, and welcoming in new customers-to-be.

Stop for a moment and think about all those brands who might embody that definition for you. I know several niche brands that are supremely luxurious, and also quite a few indie brands who scratch my luxury itch to heights of surpassing pleasure, even some indie lines who don’t make any particular claims to over-hyped luxury and/or superheated PR copy one way or another, but nevertheless fulfill one even more important criterion which is even harder to define:

¤   That emotional response we have to a given perfume in a way so it becomes an extension of whatever mood we wish to express. In other words, if a brand with all its symbolic associations and those contained in any given juice is able to evoke an emotional response in you as the consumer, that too can be defined as a kind of luxury.

The Hijacked Concept

Perfume is the ultimate aspirational – and indeed inspirational – art form. Any perfume will perform differently on whomever wears it according to body chemistry, weather and composition.

Unlike, say, a luxury handbag that proclaims its aspirational message right out in the open; “I am the inordinately proud owner of a Chanel handbag, and you are dead-jealous because I have it and you don’t”, no one except other cognoscenti will ever know or even care you just blew your rent money on Absolute Essence of Aphrodite because you simply… Had. To. Have. It.

It is, in effect, the ultimate in private luxury. Which doesn’t mean it can’t and often does have a profound effect on your mood on any given day to literally waft smelling (and it is to be hoped – feeling) like a million bucks.

The problem is… the very idea of luxury as it exists in the general cultural imagination today has been hijacked if not altogether kidnapped to such an extent by advertising and marketing as to become virtually meaningless. Which leads to that other problem in the world of perfume, price and prejudice.

Everybody wants it…

As long as they don’t have to pay too much. Or if they should, it behooves a brand to make that price tag as painless as possible.

By now, a lot of us are aware that there’s often a severe disconnect between price and epiphany. In some cases, you certainly don’t get what you pay for, and in others, the price point is ridiculously low for such stellar stuff.

Some brands I could mention – although I shall restrain myself, just – are prefabricated sheep dressed up as semi-bespoke wolves. Not so long ago, I had an opportunity to try one highly touted brand launched to a great deal of fanfare a few years ago as being the Brand With The Mostest Of Everything. (Insert your own over-the-top adjectives here). At that price level, I was expecting at least an out-of-body experience or an ‘Exorcist’ moment – eyes rolling to the back of my head, convulsions of outright olfactory ecstasy, head rotating a full 178 degrees etc.

It didn’t happen. What did happen was this: I had to sit down in amazement. Next thing I knew, I was digging frantically through my perfume cabinet and finding the original inspirations for nearly every single one of them. They were exquisitely crafted, high-quality perfumes, no question about it. I just wasn’t ready – assuming I even had that kind of expendable cash to spend, which I emphatically don’t – to buy into anything that basically had ‘sucker’ printed on the bottle in 23-karat gold.

So what are we buying?

Ladies and gentlemen… we are buying an experience. We buy perfumes on the assumption that they will somehow make us express what we could otherwise never say in words, to reflect our best (or worst! 😉 ) selves, to surrender ourselves to a dream we want to reflect, a persona we want to be, a uniquely personal story we wish to tell without words. But I have to marvel at whether or not there isn’t some kind of mind over money disconnect at work in the background.

Because as we complain about the price, we’re really complaining about the deplorable state of affairs that keeps us from buying it right this instant, to jump on that express train of lemmings in the wake of a new review, to distinguish ourselves and our own impeccable taste above the hoi polloi who settle for aspirational masstige rather than the ‘real’ deal, the silly fools.

Meanwhile, the perfumer/brand owner in question might very well be the kind of obsessive-compulsive nutcase who insists on the highest level of quality he or she can sustain or support as a brand.

If that means it costs the sun, the moon and the stars in raw materials, packaging, execution, time and the many sleepless nights keeping the whole wretched enterprise in the black, all the while dreaming up new launches, new directions, marketing, PR copy, distribution, new epiphanies, then…oh, well.

Perfumery is an aspirational business, after all.

Which means there will also always be a market for those prefabricated sheep in wolves clothing, since who’s to know except the brand owner laughing all the way to the bank as the juice in question is not, in fact, fabricated by cherubim working in moonlight on those fabled Provençal hillsides, but by a very prosaic anonymous supplier who trucks it in industrial steel tanks?

Who cares? We’re buying the dream.

Reality bites

Here’s a paradox for you. In my nearly three years as a perfume writer, I have never been so penurious in my life. But as my late mother used to say in a wry comment to her own rags to riches to rags life story:

If you can’t afford anything, you can at least aspire to the best.

My first four perfume reviews came from two years of accumulated birthday presents, hunted down on discount sites at bargain prices. The one full bottle I’ve bought in all this time (since we can all agree decants, splits and unloved bottle bargains from dear friends don’t count) was my reward for completing my first novel. I saved up for it by forgoing hair dye (a perilous undertaking as a (vain) woman in your forties, I might add) for nine long months – the time it took me to write my book, in fact.

The day it arrived – exquisitely packaged, with a personal card, with numerous extras, with that magnificent, splendiferous perfume of perfection within that equally exquisite bottle – I felt as if I had arrived. (I also cried, I was so happy.)

It became infinitely more than a perfume (and indeed, it’s mentioned several times in the book itself, so hotly did I covet it), infinitely more than a personal adornment or accessory – it became a symbol of all I had sacrificed to write a very personal story, a statement to all I could now achieve and become, a testament that I had the power to manifest any dream I desired.

Three years on, I still have that bottle, the only one of its kind. The dream is tantalizingly close to coming true. By now, I have about 8 ml left.

But that beautiful bottle, the value it represents, the song its contents sing on my skin and the way it always makes me feel to this very day, is not simply an expensive luxury. It is a treasure that makes me happy every time I see it in my cabinet, and maybe, in our relentless chase after our own lemmings over that cliff, this is what we’ve forgotten in our bellyaching over pricing and our eagerness to have our prejudices validated by our peers.

A beloved perfume, regardless of what it costs, is a treasure to be cherished, worn, adorned and adored.

In other words, the ultimate private luxury.

Think about it. Isn’t that what you should be paying for?

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Help save the Genie! Find out more here.

Primordial Elements

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– an introduction to the Primordial Scents Project

Long, long ago, the world and all it contains were made rather differently and metaphorically than this physical soup of amino acids, atoms and quarks that now defines us. Ancient wisdom had no use for deterministic explanations, but chose instead to identify their world through metaphor and allegory, and in so doing transformed it into something richer, deeper and more meaningful than that eternal, quotidian struggle to survive and hopefully, to thrive.

So they categorized the world according to the elements they saw and felt and the allegories to fit them – fire, earth, air and water. To each of these they attributed qualities, characteristics and even the temperaments to express them; choleric, phlegmatic, sanguine and melancholy.

All of these elements combined created in turn a new element of the immaterial, and this was called spirit, which stands for balance, space, faith and sanctity.

This is the premise behind the Primordial Scents Project by Monica Miller of Perfume Pharmer. Inspired by Starhawk’s book, The Fifth Sacred Thing, Monica decided to explore the elements through that most immaterial art form of all – perfume, taking each element back to its beginning, primal state.

If all matter is energy, as science has it, then what can we achieve by channeling and using those elements in our own lives and the lives of others?

Many indie perfumers chose to interpret the elements through absolute and essence, and many bloggers sought and still seek to define them through their words and thoughts on the perfumes themselves.

I was recruited for the Primordial Scents project an embarrassing long time ago, received three of the five elemental packages and then… life got in the way. Although I’m woefully late in adding my own perspective on these perfumes and the elements they represent, I very much look forward to discovering what arcane secrets may be hidden in those elements and what truths I may learn and what growth may sprout from these little perfume vials.

Primordialfire

Fire is the element of inspiration, creativity, love, passion, vision and transmutation. It heats up and illuminates all it touches, or it burns it to cinders and transforms it, ashes to ashes, earth to…

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Earth is the element of endurance, strength, manifestation, reality, stability, prosperity and sustenance. Earth is what grounds us and pushes us to sow, to plow and to reap, the element from which we come and to which we shall return, unless a breath of air shall blow us away?

primordialair

Air is the element of the intangible – of communication, intelligence and mind. Air is that heady, weightless realm of sky castles and lofty ideals, where all is as perfect and as limitless as the skies above our heads or own imaginations, conjuring possibilities in the clouds and probabilities in thin air, unless they’re washed down by

primordialwater

Water, that most adaptable element of all, the element of intuition, emotion and connection to those other elements, transmuting itself through fire into air, nourishing earth and all that grows, or else drowning and destroying all of them, unless it somehow remembers that the ultimate sustainer is that fifth element…

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Spirit, where all other elements combine and cease to be material, instead becoming balance, space, that inner space where we can believe and reconnect with all our disparate selves and with the infinite.

How could we each use and draw what we need to balance ourselves in our lives through these perfumes? Would a Fire perfume provide us with the inspiration we need? Would a perfume of air give us that breath of limitless ideas?

Each of these elements and the perfumes that define them will be explored in separate posts in the weeks ahead, beginning with an element very dear to my heart – the element of fire.

Find out more about the Primordial Scents Project here.

The participating perfumers are:

Amanda Feeley (Esscentual Alchemy) – AIR & EARTH

Ane Walsh (Ane Walsh) – BEACH/WATER

Anita Kalnay (Flying Colors Natural Perfumes) – SPACE/ ETHER

Anu Prestonia (Anu Essentials)- WATER

Bruce Bolmes (SMK Fragrances – website comings soon) – METAL

Dabney Rose (Dabney Rose) – FIRE

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz (Perfums des Beaux Arts / Essence Studio)- ETHER/SPACE

Emma Leah (Fleurage Perfume Atelier)  – METAL

Jane Cate (A Wing & A Prayer) – FIRE

Juan M. Perez (Exotic Island Aromatics)- FIRE & EARTH

Justine Crane (The Scented Djinn) – EARTH

Katlyn Breene (Mermade Magickal Arts) –FIRE

Kedra Hart (Opus Oils) – EARTH

Kirsten Schilling (Arabesque Aromas) – ETHER/ Space

Laurie Stern (Velvet and Sweet Pea) – AIR

Lisa Abdul-Quddus (Blossoming Tree Bodycare) – METAL

Lyn Ayre (Coeur d’Esprit Natural Perfumes ) – ETHER

Mandy Aftel (Aftelier Perfumes) – WATER

Maria Mcelroy (Aroma M) and Alexis Karl – FIRE

Marian Del Vecchio – FIRE

Michael Storer (Michael Storer Perfumes)- AIR & EARTH

Neil Morris (Neil Morris Fragrances) – AIR

Shelley Waddington (EnVoyage Perfumes) – ETHER, FIRE & WATER

Suzy Larsen (Naked Leaf Perfumes) – AIR

Tanja Bochnig (April Aromatics) – AIR, EARTH, ETHER

Participating bloggers:

Primordial Scents 2012

Primordial Scents explained on This Blog really Stinks

Primordial ScentsMission Statement on Perfume Pharmer

Book Review The Fifth Sacred Thing


Individiual Perfumer’s Primordial Scents Facebook Pages

Lyn Ayre, Couer d’Esprit “Ele-Metal Alchemy” ALL ELEMENTS

Juan Perez, The Exotic Island Perfumer, Flor Azteca and Oudh Nawab, FIRE and EARTH

Kirsten Schilling, Arabasque Aromas, Drann, EARTH to SPIRIT

Laurie Stern, Velvet and Sweet Pea Purrfumery, Honey, AIR

Suzy Larsen, Naked Leaf Perfumes, First Breath, AIR

Dabney Rose, Dabney Rose, Afternoon Slant, FIRE

Lisa Abdul-Quddus, Aegis of Neith, Blossoming Tree Bodycare, METAL

Anu Prestonia, Anu Essentials, Seascape, WATER

Anita Kalnay, Genie In A Bottle, Sweet Naam, SPIRIT

Bruce Bolmes, SMK Fragrance, Cyprium, METAL

Ane Walsh, Essaouira WATER meets EARTH

Amanda Feeley, Esscentual Alchemy, Moon Valley, Primordial Forest ,AIR and EARTH

 

Shelley Waddington, EnVoyage Perfumes, Chang Chang , A study in WATER and Durango. FIRE, WATER & EARTH

Justine Crane, The Scented Djinn, Lylli Bleu, WATER

Kedra Hart , Opus Oils, Mother, EARTH

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, DSH Perfumes, Chrysalis, SPIRIT

Tanja Bochnig, April Aromatics, Calling All Angels EARTH to Spirit

Mandy Aftel, Aftelier Perfumes, RAIN, WATER

Maria Mcelroy/ Alexis Karl, Cherry Bomb Perfumes, KISS of Agnayi, FIRE

Neil Morris, Neil Morris Fragrances, Spirit of AIR, AIR

Michael Storer, Michael Storer Fine Fragrances, Djin and Incubus, AIR and EARTH

Jane Cate, A Wing and a Prayer Perfumes, Caliente, FIRE

Primordial Scents 2012 Blog Posts

Fragrantica Primordial Scents Press Release

Fragrantica WATER Perfumes

Fragrantica FIRE Perfumes

WATER Scents on EAU MG

Sherapop, Primordial Scents 2012 

Donna Hathaway “Dancing Into The FIRE”

Ambrosia Jones The Traveling Perfume

The Meaning of the ELEMENTS in Tarot….. for Primordial Scents 2012 by James Wells

AIR Scents post by Marlen Elliot Harrison

FIRE Scents post by Marlen Elliot Harrison

AIR Scents post by John Reasinger

Indieperfumes AIR post, Lucy Raubertas

Flor Azteca and Oudh Nawab by Juan Perez on Indieperfumes

Perfume Smellin’ Things, Floating On AIR by Donna Hathaway

WATER post, The Perfume Critic, Dr. Marlen Elliot Harrison

My Body of WATER, Perfume Pharmer

FIRE Scents John Reasinger

Calling All Angels, Perfume Pharmer

Sweet Naam, Perfume Pharmer

Scentual Soundtracks WATER

First Breath, A Fragrance to Evoke the ELEMENT AIR by Suzy Larsen, Naked Leaf Perfumes

Carried Away on Scented AIR by Donna Hathaway

Hyacinth Skywater by Jeanne Rose

Justine Crane ~ Current State of Water

Ele-Metal Alchemy by Lyn Ayre

Sea Scape Perfume Anu Prestonia

Dabney Rose Prepares her FIRE scent

 

Bruce Bolmes METAL perfume CYPRIUM on Perfume Pharmer

Lisa Abdul-Quddus MEATL perfume Aegis of Neith

Feminine Things A Study In Water by EnVoyage Perfumes

Feminine Things RAIN by Aftelier

Feminine Things Spirit of AIR by Neil Morris

Feminine Things Djinn by Michael Storer

Feminine Things Honey by Laurie Stern

Feminine Things Moon Valley by Esscentual Alchemy

Feminine Things First Breath by Naked Leaf Perfumes

Scentual Soundtracks Interview with Monica Miller, Primordial Scents

Feminine Things Lylli Bleu by Justine Crane The Scented Djinn

Feminine Things Sea Scape by Anu Essentials Anu Prestonia

Feminine Things Essaouira by Ane Walsh

Love or Money

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– from the galactic center of WTF

As of this writing, so far as Planet Perfume is concerned, the epicenter of the galaxy right this instant is the Elements Showcase in New York. Here, brands new and established can reach out, show their wares and wheel and deal, here is where you can sniff, meet and greet to your heart’s content, and here is also where the US Fragrance Foundation hands out prizes for the best in perfumery. Let’s not forget, it’s awards season, people, and even the perfume world has its Oscars. Some of my favorite perfumers will be there in person and not a few of my favorite people, too and in not a few cases, they are one and the same.

In an ideal world, I would be there at the drop of a perfume strip. Some day, so I hope, I most assuredly will. Meanwhile, I can watch from the sidelines, wonder about new releases and whether or not we perfume bloggers and writers have anything to get excited about (there’s usually something), and…well, wonder.

Wonder at that fatal WTF moment I had this morning.

You see…once upon a time, those of us who have a deep and abiding love of independent perfumers and their creations had such hopes, that some sunshiney day the rest of Planet Perfume would catch on to the astonishing level of artistry indie perfumers have been been displaying for such a long time. Perfume artistry for the mainstream market may well be a (very nearly) lost art form, but in Europe and in the US, indie perfumers and companies are working themselves and their incredible creativity to the bone to deliver those fragrant epiphanies to an ever-growing and ever more appreciative audience on the hunt for the Next Great Discovery, that next great epiphany that awaited in the storied air above our skin.

I say this because my personal definition of indie perfumery – which might be different from yours – are all those names who in a certain manner of speaking go it alone. They have no corporate bottom lines to serve, no agendas to fulfill and no marketing departments to battle except their own creative vision and inspirations. Maybe it would be better to call them artisanal in the true sense of the word – artists who practice their ancient handicraft just as perfumers did in ancient Athens or Alexandria.

Whether in workrooms, garages, on kitchen tables and in studios, they breathe a little of their own souls into everything they send out into the world. Many of them are not classically trained in perfumery at all, which doesn’t preclude staggering works of perfume art. Some of these names you might now, and some of them – not so much. And the true artisanal perfumers do all of this, not for the fame, not for the glory and certainly not for the money (usually, there is only their own) – but for love of their art.

Last year, a glimmer of hope was sparked when the Fragrance Foundation announced a new initiative – an indie category for precisely those not-so-household names so many of us do care about, wear, and adore – on our persons, in our inboxes or our ears. But it was early days, the whole concept was new, maybe change on this level just took a while, maybe the Foundation needed to rearrange its own olfactory furniture to comprehend the appeal of ‘indie’. Next January was another year. Maybe next time.

January 2013 rolled around – and lo and behold, thirty nominees woke up to find themselves nominated for that prestigious, money-in-the-bank-&-write-ups-guaranteed FiFi award. Many of them have been reviewed on TAG – names like Mandy Aftel of Aftelier, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Neela Vermeire, Kedra Hart of Opus Oils (nominated no less than three times), JoAnne Bassett, Ineke Rühland, Monica Miller of Perfume Pharmer …it makes for a long list. Many of us cheered on the sidelines and wished our friends and favorites the very best of luck, for manybe this time, things would be different? Maybe this time, they would get some of the recognition they so richly deserve and work so hard for?

Apparently not, for the five FiFi award finalists were announced and nary a single one was what I would call indie or even artisanal. Niche – OK. Yes. Limited distribution, exclusive, not-mainstream and so on. The five finalists were all brands that had either existed for some time or else launched with a splash of (very expensive, top of the line) PR fanfare (exit all the indie brands I’m personally aware of)  but…indie? Really?

And I am the Queen of Roumania.

Back to that WTF moment this morning. The winner of the 2013 Indie Perfume Award for best Launch of 2012 was…By Kilian’s Amber Oud.

I nearly face-planted on my keyboard, a habit neither my geriatric laptop nor I can afford.

Before I roast my goose any further than it already is, let me state a few things. First of all, I have nothing but the utmost respect for Kilian Hennesey and his brand. He has done an amazing job in not very many years of putting By Kilian on the world map of Planet Perfume. I can say this in all honesty, since I am completely without bias or preference. Every By Kilian I have ever tried has without one exception loathed my vegetarian, strawberry blonde Viking skin chemistry with an intensity that borders on pathological. The line has legions of dedicated fans, so I’m fairly certain they’ll manage quite well without me. My beef in this instance is not with the perfumes themselves, nor with the brand. My beef is this:

What rock did the Fragrance Foundation crawl out from under, if By Kilian is an indie brand? Not only that – what happened to those twenty-five nominees who truly are indie, artisanal brands?

I don’t know how these things are judged, or what criteria even apply, but I do have to marvel at the double standard even a complete outsider with no affiliations whatsoever such as myself can see.

On the one hand, the august institution of the Fragrance Foundation are seen as doing the ‘right’, politically correct thing – acknowledging that burgeoning undergrowth of artistry that floats just outside the public awareness by at least nominating it. Fair’s fair – that’s free PR, too.

On the other, it looks to this D-list blogger as if they’re simply paying lip service to the idea, and not to either the nominated perfumers and Creative Directors, or the creativity they manage to display in spite of being tiny, artisanal businesses in a Big, Bad, Corporate world. If I take By Kilian in niche terms, it is a hugely successful brand. In other words, a brand that successfully bridges the artistic gap between the mainstream brands everyone knows, and those countless hundreds of artisanal companies no one has ever heard of, who make perfumes that might not necessarily have the same commercial appeal.

So there we have it – does it all come down to commercial, mass market appeal, that ubiquitous ten-second top note sell? And if it does, why bother with an indie category at all, if the real indies don’t stand a chance anyway? Artisanal perfumes take time to unfold their stories from top to base. (Once upon a fabled time, all perfumes did this.) They might be shape-shifting, ever-evolving chimerae that start with a bright burst of light, only to haul you along on a ride towards the dark, dark, base – several hours later. Which is no small part of their appeal to the growing hordes of perfume connoisseurs of Planet Perfume, many of who are trawling the Elements NY Showcase as I type.

Sadly, however, it looks as if I’m forced to acknowledge – not for the last time – that in a world that constantly claims all for love, bottom lines – and not true art – will always, always win. All we dedicated perfume lovers can do is shake our heads in bewilderment – and breathe it in.

Everything boils down to love – or money.

Image: Nadja Auermann in Richard Avedon’s 1995 series ‘Mr. & Mrs Comfort’.