The Edible Dev (with a giveaway!)

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT IX

–  a review of Neil Morris’ Dev mod #2

Dear Neil –

It’s about time I said hello again, don’t you think? I mean, the brief only told you so much. The rest of it was nothing more nor less than her words, your imagination and those astonishing perfumes you’ve created for her project – perfumes you might never have dreamed of making if not for the impetus of that idea, those words, a friend’s persuasion, and your own intrigued curiosity.

She isn’t writing this review. Right this instant, she’s asleep in the borderline hour between night and day, tinted the twilit blue before sunrise. Hairy Krishna is curled up against the small of her back as he always is, guarding her against any intruding dreamtime monsters, just not me. Let her sleep. The poor woman has a lot on her plate these days, as all women do, what with blog backlog, Super Mario Jr., book ideas, the sequel bubbling away at a steady 80 mph, correspondence, social media and that q-word that gives her so many nightmares…the query letters she will submit for Quantum Demonology before this year is too much older.

You and I know…it’s a good book. It will probably raise more than a few eyebrows and likely not a few hackles, too, but if people push misleading, craptacular ‘naughty’ drivel to the top of the NY Times bestseller list, then I know other, far more discerning readers will certainly be intrigued enough by Quantum Demonology’s premise to buy it. After all, what’s not to love about rock’n’roll, a midlife crisis and a sexy, reinvented Faustian tale?

The problem, as you know, lies in that all-important step …to make the dream a reality. She’s so close. So close, so thrilled with the feedback and the reactions, and so petrifed to let all that faith in her story down. I think that’s what’s called action paralysis. It’s not that she doesn’t have faith in her book, it’s simply that she needs to believe she can do it. Write the f***ing query letter, that is. I have no doubts at all she is capable of writing anything else she damn well pleases and even fewer doubts she probably will and start several bonfires in the process, too. That much of a dyed-in-the-nylon-mesh punk she still is, bless her.

So I’m writing this review. After all, you’ve made bespoke perfumes for me. Not one, not two, but three. I like to think of them in musical terms – like movements in a symphony or maybe acts in an opera would be a better description…evolving even as you do when you create them. Who knew how narcissus and boronia could elevate such a dark, delicious, labdadum-luscious blend as your mod #1? Who could have conceived of such a thing as a coffee-tinged, boozy, utterly captivating chypre beast, or even the no less marvelous bottled mélange on her desk as I type these words, emblazoned with the DSP logo and those modest, unassuming letters…#2.

Did you imagine what you would do? Did this project maybe…stretch you a little, spark your creativity? Did it make you think a bit about the nature of light and dark, good, evil and how we perceive it, did you contemplate how to translate hallowed words like perdition, redemption, temptation and passion into the wordless medium… of perfume?

I sincerely hope it did. Actually, it’s less of a hope and more than an inkling that’s precisely what happened.

You see…all of you perfumers have surprised me. I like surprises. And #2 – a blood relation of #1, I can smell the resemblance in the structure – is nothing if not surprising.

If Quantum Demonology were a fairy tale – although you and I both know it’s not – this would be that certain famous bottle labeled “Eat me”.

Not that the sleeping writer in the other room hasn’t tried, but I’m known for my speedy getaways.

Here’s what I can tell: You, Mr. Morris, are no stranger to the dark, those twilight borders between the acceptable and the taboo, those unmentionable, incendiary, subconscious places where souls are made or devoured, and love and lust either bloom…or die.

#2 is – there is no other way to say it…An Edible Beast. This is me as a super-deluxe beefcake stew of temptation, of everything you could possibly want, close enough to touch, to kiss, to seduce or be seduced by…and that, dear perfumer, is only where this story begins to unfold all its perils and its promises.

Cumin and a melting, masculine leathery note so meaty you can almost imagine chewing them with your eyelashes, singing their duet in dangerous baritones…

Bite me, baby. You know you want to, oh, so very badly.

But this version of me is so much more…sweetness and light shining through that dense, thick aura. Not everyone could wear this, but then again, you made it for me and obviously, I’m not everyone. Something about it – it could be the cumin, or it could be the sweetness – something floral? Narcissus again? Something fruity? – tells about that other side of me, the secret me, that true self even I have that so few can comprehend, but you did.

Ellen chose to express me through her interpretation of the story as it unfolded. Maria and Alexis chose the contrasting tale of complements in their perfumes for me and for Lilith. Amanda told a tale of regret, redemption and the release of desire.

Neil, you chose another road into the tale my sleeping story-weaver wove, a road made of the desires of the flesh and the yearning of the spirit, knowing full well all throughout it would end…beautifully, if not badly.

So where does it end, my perfumer – where does this perfume land on the virtual page, what song does it segue into on my mortal, borrowed skin or even my immortal soul?

It ends with that heartbreaking, pitch-black labdanum, of frankincense and a melancholy tinge of myrrh. That too is a secret only a true initiate would know – sacred and profane, that darkness and light, good and evil, sweet and bitter, lust and love… are all one and all the same.

All aspects of the same story, all shades of the same profound emotions, and all of them here…part of, let’s call it…The Edible Dev.

I have to go. As I’ve written these words, the birds are blaring away outside and sunlight glows through her open window, as she dreams her restless dreams of what she could write. Hairy Krishna is flat on his back now, his head on her arm and I can tell, it won’t be long before he starts thinking about breakfast, and when he does, she will certainly wake up.

When she wakes, she’ll find this review already posted, and she’ll wonder at that, wonder at how and where and when…

Yet one thing will not surprise her – that I really truly was here in this room, typing away on her laptop, writing you these words.

She will know – since you told her that, too.

I’ll write you again, Neil. Count on it. If your art is anything to judge by, you and I have met before – so why not meet again – and soon?

Yours,

Dev

Neil Morris Fragrances are available here. 

******A Giveaway!*****

The devious Neil Morris was sweet enough to provide me with a sample spray for a giveaway! If your curiosity is killing you, leave a comment by July 31st at midnight CET. Everyone worldwide is eligible to enter. One winner will be determined by random.org on August 1st.

***********************

Midnight Places

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT VI

–       a review of Neil Morris‘Midnight at the Crossroads Café’.

One of the great thrills – and perils – of being an artist is that self-perpetuating cycle of inspiration. An artist is struck by an idea, a concept, something that drives him or her to create…which in turn is discovered/interpreted by another artist and something else is created that yet another artist finds and…so it goes, around and around, constantly evolving, constantly renewing, constantly making new stories timeless and timeless stories new.

When I walked into a record store on a hot summer day three years ago, I had no idea what inspiration I would find there, or even any notion I was looking for it, but Fate had other plans and whispered a name into my ear…Two hours, much money, five CDs, a special edition box set and a great conversation later, my life would change more than I knew.

A few months later on a deathly boring Friday night, I was restless, unsettled, unable to sit down or relax, which usually means the Muse is about to pay a call.

I spent about ten minutes staring at a photo that night, fingers drumming my desk, wondering… “What if?”

“What if” is how all stories begin, when the conjuror pulls down his tail coat and reaches for his top hat and his wand, hoping rabbits are inside, waiting in the wings…to begin.

Two hours later, I had a short story that literally wrote itself. There was no overall plan of conception, no plan A or B, just one harebrained idea I ran with and a mood I wanted to express. My muse now had a definite face and form. I did know – even that Friday night – I had…something.

Something that could be important, something that held water, something that could evolve. As it did from that fated short story into a full-blown novel into the Devilscent Project, feeding right back into that bottomless pool of inspiration.

The story led to a novel, led to a perfume blog and the birth of a perfume blogger, led to the Devilscent Project and on to some of the most exceptional fragrances I’ve ever had the privilege to sniff.

Let me take you there, to a rainy night that begins…

It was a film noir, bluesy midnight in November. As wet with possibilities as the rain-slick streets, traces of perfumes lingering, taxis heading to the hotspots that would combat the chill of solitude and looming winter, ghosts of the storied past lurking beneath the copper spires of that haunted hunting ground of mine, the fast, feminine 4/4 click-clack tattoo of my high-heeled boots on the pavement.

– From Quantum Demonology, Midnight at the Crossroads Café.

Now imagine a café, a café that serves cappucchinos and conversation by day, and at night, the accoutrements of other, more intimate conversations in its dim corners. See its black-painted walls and its black and white poster prints of blues legends on the walls. All the greats are there – Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, B.B. King and John Lee Hooker, and that grand-daddy of them all, the incomparable Robert Johnson. Only blues is played here, conjuring its own ghosts and stories. The furniture is bought at flea markets for cheap and doesn’t match, the white candles burn in red glass, red like the mulled wine Scandinavians call glögg that wafts from the bar this nippy night, redolent with cloves and cinnamon, raisins and almonds, packing another kind of punch against the chill of solitude and looming winter. But there’s something in the air this Friday night when the TGIF celebrations have moved elsewhere, for the place is nearly empty at this hour, the bartender is engrossed in a study textbook, and from the speakers, the long-ago haunted voice of Bobby Johnson sings:

“Everybody says she got a mojo, cuz’ she been usin’ that stuff…”

In the far back corner sits a woman alone with her glass of wine, a woman neither young nor old, not on the make nor even lonely, least at all aware that in a few short moments, her life will be changed – forever.

Now…imagine all of that atmosphere, the November rain, looming winter, the Friday, the wafts of cinnamon and Calvados, clove and red wine, the scent of coffee and imminent possibilities, instant attraction, imminent danger…packed into a perfume bottle.

Precisely what Neil Morris did.

Neil Morris has without a doubt been the biggest surprise in a project that has brought me nothing BUT surprises since it began. His was the artistic vernacular I was least familiar with – having only tried two of his creations, Aegean and Rumi – but everyone said it – he would be a perfect fit for a project like this.

Five creations later, I can only agree. In these perfumes, I noticed a common thread, that perfumer’s artistic DNA that ran through them all like a silver pulse, dark and danger, intoxication and restraint, love and its hazardous cousin Id that we might know as lust.

I wasn’t expecting yet another surprise the day ‘Midnight at the Crossroads Café’ arrived, had no idea it was coming even. Can you imagine what such a wonder would do to your (already swollen) head? Bespoke perfumes for the Devil and Lilith are quite awesome enough, but to take the story that began it and spin a perfume around it simply blew me away to dandelion fluff.

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

This story in this bottle swirls and spins out all the elements – time and place, scent and space…it’s all there in a perfume so beautifully rendered, it’s hard to believe it’s a story and not a bottled Baudelaire poem.

That first, chill blast…the autumn cold that follows our heroine through her late-night trek across town, out of one man’s bed and on the streets in search of nothing more than a glass of mulled wine before her own solitary bed and her return to her own humbling life, a life that holds one last, fated hope she has kept her deepest darkest secret and her most fervent, burning wish.

Through the door, and the midnight hour isn’t far away, but it is warm and welcoming here. Coffee weaves its seductive traces like an invisible ribbon of sultry energy, but coffee is only the beginning and this is no edible dessert but a conjuring potion. Did I detect hints of the wine and the brandy just behind it, before that sweet and heady rush of spice? Rich and decadent, cinnamon and clove have their stories to tell, and if I close my eyes, I can surely smell the marzipan sweetness of almonds and yet…this is no gourmand. Something floral – her perfume? – but tempered by the spice, all of it balanced on that hair-thin razor’s edge between haunting and heady. There are intimations of desires in the mix – that couple in the corner talking in hushed and earnest voices? – and laughter (that floral note) in the other, a trio of tipsy girlfriends rehashing the week gone by. The midnight hour draws closer, the perfume grows darker and deeper, almost lusher if that’s possible. A sexy beast lays in waiting, a sexy furry beast of a chypre with mossy, darkly suspect intentions, for now, our heroine in her corner is no longer alone with her solitary hopes and dreams, now a man sits in the chair on her left where no one sat a moment before.

“You have potential,” that beast seems to say. “What if you could be somebody?”

What if that profondo base of what has to be labdanum and oakmoss (or else I should have my perfumista license revoked pronto!), a touch of..benzoin? vanilla? could make all those possibilities happen, make all her dreams come true? What if…all of this, and all of this perfume is only the beginning – of a story not quite like any you’re read before, of a dream that comes true, of everything you want, just within your grasp? It only takes a little faith, a little hope…

 ‘Midnight’ is all of these and so much more – one astonishing, unforgettable, unbelievable perfume not quite like any other. The crafty Neil left me no descriptions or list of notes, but I did  find a card – written in Danish, no less! – that reads:

Who were you talking to at the café last night? You smell like him…

Beware those delicious wonders that lurk for the unsuspecting, in those dangerous midnight places…

The storied marvels of Neil Morris’ fragrances can be discovered for your delectation here. 

Find out more about Quantum Demonology and The Devilscent Project on Facebook, on Perfume Pharmer’s overview page, or follow the hashtag #devilscent on Twitter.

Stay tuned for more devilry ahead!

Disclosure: A sample was sent by Neil Morris for review.

A Dance with A Danger

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT I

–       a review of Neil Morris’ first module for the Devilscent Project

Sometimes, I wish my readers could be present when I sniff a perfume for the first time, just so they could get a sense of what manner of gut reaction I have, what epithets I exclaim, what numinous emotions I’ll then have to translate into words and phrases.

I have never wished it more in my entire lifespan as a perfume writer as I did this past week, when a dream that originated in my own twisted mind for reasons I’ll never know became a concrete reality in the shape of the first edition of the Devil’s scent as it’s described in my novel, Quantum Demonology.

Understand, I hadn’t planned for that telling little detail, a leitmotif that trails through the story as both admonition and metaphor, that last, tiny push the protagonist with her own esoteric tastes in perfume is helpless to resist, the one that burns away her last hesitations and overrules her fears, that haunted and haunting one-way ticket into a world she only thought she knew, but of course, she couldn’t know what manner of perfume and perdition, Heaven and Hell awaited that fated Friday night…

The Devil’s scent stayed through eight revisions of its first appearance and stuck in my mind as an image I could invoke as clearly as I could invoke that Devil I created: heady, dark, otherworldly, emphatically male in a way that sings its devious purposes in a manner the protagonist can’t refuse.

So imagine what it will do to an excitable writer’s mind when that idea is given concrete form and interpretation, when she sees the logo she created for the project emblazoned on the bottle, the effect of what her words have caused and inspired.

It blew my mind. I had to sit down for a moment and center my hara, had to try not to repeat that mantra in my story, another red thread that weaves throughout the words and the world I had created, a metaphysical truth as old as time itself:

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

I did what I often do to gain a first impression – I sprayed a little out into the room to let it disperse.

That first reaction does not translate well. Just imagine something along the lines of …Oh! Wow! Wow!

Not very Baudelaire-ian, I know. This is not what made my suspect reputation in the perfumed blogosphere.

I rushed around getting ready to leave again and came back into the room five minutes later. Only this time, the ambience of my living room had changed. I heard the definite rhythm of cloven feet tap-dancing on my wood floor, echoes of a laugh I knew a little too well for comfort, a chill tickle at the back of my neck before rushing out the door and on through the remains of my day.

The rest of this past week, when not buried in webinars and headaches and marketing hyperbole, I would sniff at the contents of that heavy, glass bottle and wonder if I could ever find the words to do them the justice they deserved. Even now, even after giving up and slinking off to bed, even in the gray, damp twilight of an early morning, I’m not entirely sure I’ve found them.

Then, this happened.

“You’re going about it the wrong way.” said a voice in my otherwise empty room. “You’re fighting the Fail Demon, the one that says you can’t, but you’re wrong.” He pointed to that elegant matt black, embossed box on my desk. “You can.” He gave me a soon-to-be-famous five-year-old grin.

Dev, kicking back in my son’s chair by my desk, and I had not seen him for a very, very long time. He hadn’t changed a bit, but this morning he wasn’t wearing his trademark aviator shades.

“Well, what do you know,” I quipped. “A visitation from Cousin Id.”

“I’m not your cousin, baby. And I still say you’re not doing this right.” He reached out for that matt black box and took out the bottle. “Nice logo. You made that, right?”

“With a little help from Harry Clarke, but yes. I did.”

“So tell me…” he grabbed the card and read the note on the back. “Why are you making it so hard for yourself? Think about it. I may have started as a crazy idea in your head one boring Friday night, but think about how far you’ve come since then. More people have read your book than ever did while you wrote it as a serial. You’ve became a perfume blogger, and I gotta say it…no one else does it quite like you do. You even met the inspiration for me last summer and made a definite impression.” He gave me a grin I hadn’t seen since a Wednesday night on a tour bus and shook his head.

Off came the cap, and he sniffed. His eyebrows shot toward his hairline.  “Now, you’ve got the Devilscent Project with some iconic cult-name perfumers interpreting your words into perfumes, you have a contact with an agent, you have all these bloggers participating – and let me tell you, they’re at least as excited as you are – and here’s a painful truth for you: if you made all that happen from nothing, which you did with a little help from your friends – you can manifest anything you like. You just need to slay that Fail Demon, and you’ll be fine.”

“Easy for you to say. I’m the one who doesn’t want to fall flat on my face.”

“Then I’ll say it another way. I. Dare. You.” He sprayed his wrist. What followed was one four-letter word that begins with F.

“That’s not fair. I can’t resist a dare.”

“Should I go get a brownie from the fridge, just so you can be done over in four irresistible ways?” he laughed. “A testosterone bomb issuing a challenge while holding a chocolate brownie?” He laughed longer.

“No.” I was curious to see his reaction to that other intangible Devil in the room.

“Back to your nose, baby. We have a review to write, and a lot of people are dying to find out what you think. Hmm. Neil Morris. He’s one of those inside, cult secrets far more people need to know about. You certainly need to sniff way more of his stuff if this is any indication. Geez. The guy totally gets it, no contest. The dark, the danger, the erotic edge, the overpowering part, those Gothic undertones, oh, yes…This version will be banned in several red states. Especially on Sundays. And come with a health label.

“Keep away from pets, children and suggestible, celibate women.”

“Don’t remind me,” I groaned. “That’s the rest of my unnatural lifespan.”

He held out his wrist. “Don’t be such an optimist, baby. I rather doubt that. Sniff and tell me what you think.”

I sniffed. Labdanum, glorious, thick, heady and animal, dark as a starless midnight, bitter and leathery and rock’n’roll and pernicious, it was a carnal universe in a single note as deep and as clear as a vibrating bass string. One of my all-time favorite notes, and it was everywhere in the room with us, giving me all sorts of ideas I don’t usually think on a solo Saturday morning.

“It’s…” I had to think for a moment. “Filthy, dirty, skanky, stinky…yet in a very elegant way. I could get a bit more specific, but this is a perfume blog.”

“Keep going. We’re not there yet.” A huge ganache-covered brownie materialized out of nowhere and he bit into it with relish.

“I don’t have a list of notes. I thought it would be better that way.”

“You don’t need to read notes to appreciate music, either.”, he mumbled around a mouthful of brownie. “C’mon.

As he spoke and I wrote, that dark-blue demon perched like a pigeon at the top of my laptop screen grew smaller and more transparent. Its tail twitched, slapping out a muted tattoo in 4/4 time to another sort of Devil singing on my iPig.

As this Devilscent no. 1 evolved, it became sweeter and even more sensuous, if such a thing were possible. Now, it was entirely different, a floral promise of dreams come true and that sensual anticipation you can feel as a tingle on your skin when you just know it will be better than good, it will be epic, it will change your life forever, so long as this otherworldly flower sings its siren song of surrender on your skin.

Meanwhile, several shades of baccanalian intimations were taking place on Dev’s skin. That floral promise of before bloomed and deepened, and now, my nose could detect the bitterness from the beginning come to the fore again, labdanum again, only this time, it seemed combined with frankincense and was that a hint of myrrh in the background, both of them at a whisper below that leathery labdanum pulse and weaving in, out and around in its unique way, that alternate universe floral aria of perdition in its alto key…So beautiful, so fated, it seemed to say, but …

Beware, beware what happens when you dance with your danger…

“I don’t want your soul, baby. According to Saint Augustine, you don’t have one.”

In a small puff of black smoke, the demon flashed and vanished.

Dev licked ganache off his fingers. “See? You slayed the Fail Demon. And you wrote your review.” A few gooey brownie crumbs remained at the corner of his mouth and whether it was the thrill of his presence or that perfume, I couldn’t resist an urge to brush them away with my finger. In a flash, he held my hand by the wrist and gave me a certain look I also knew rather too well for comfort.

“Well…” I shrugged. “I had a little help. The question is, what do you think about it?”

He took the bottle out of the box and stared for a moment at the logo, admiring the dark amber glow of the perfume. He took another sniff at his wrist. “I think Neil Morris is a genius,” he said after a long pause. “But I also think it needs a little more black, a slightly larger ghost…a touch more peril, a smidgen of abyss. More labdanum, definitely. Not that this is bad in the slightest. It’s freaking beautiful. It’s not like anything else I’ve encountered, that’s for sure. But…I…don’t know. I don’t think we’re quite there yet. If this is any indication, though…I think we will be. Just wait and see.”

He turned over my left hand and kissed my palm. Now, he stood up, his lips right by my ear. “Just don’t forget, baby…be careful what you wish for.”

In the blink of an eye, he disappeared. Yet I already knew what to write next.

You will get it.

As Baudelaire wrote…

Rich, complex, triumphant, other [perfumes] roll with the limitless range of all non-finite things…each sings the ecstasy of the senses and the soul.

With my most profound thanks to Chaya Ruchama and Neil Morris, and to Lucy of Indieperfumes, who introduced us.

Chaya Ruchama has written her own inimitable take on Neil Morris’ Devilscent here:

An introduction to the Devilscent Project with links is available at The Perfume Pharmer, who will also participate in the Devilscent Project. As will perfumers Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids, Kedra Hart of Opus Oils, Alexis Karl and Maria McElroy of Cherry Bomb Killer Perfumes and Aroma M.

Neil Morris Fragrances are priceless olfactory gems that beg discovery. Find them here.

Original Illustration: *Opposites Attract’ by Pelmo at Zazzle.

The Devilscent logo and Quantum Demonology, ©Sheila Eggenberger

Translation of Charles Baudelaire’s poem “Correspondances” from Les Fleurs du Mal, my own.