Primordial Elements


– 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.


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…


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?


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


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…


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


– 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’.