Vanilla Thrills

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– reviews of Aedes de Venustas’ Cierge de Lune & aroma M’s Vanilla Hinoki

Pity this orchid the Aztecs called tlilxochitl. Once upon a time ca. 1840, its fruit was a byword for all that was exotic, prohibitively expensive, New World and marvelously, epically fragrant like few other plants on Earth. Five hundred years after Hernan Cortés introduced it to Europe, it’s been reduced to a synonym for conventional, boring, safe, mainstream, middle-of-the-road and/or mundane. An awful letdown for one of the world’s two most labor-intensive and expensive spices, for tlilxochitl we know today as one of the world’s most well-beloved aromas – vanilla.

For a perfume lover, vanilla is its own kind of thrill. Vanilla has been used as a base note in perfumes since 1889 when Aimé Guerlain had the bright idea to add it (as the newly available vanillin) to Jicky in 1889, and ever since, vanilla has elevated untold thousands of perfumes, whether to add a touch of its own sultry heat and sweetness, to enhance or soften other, louder notes, or – this happens too – to amp up perfumery candy-floss basenotes to eleven. The aroma of vanilla – whether vanillin or vanilla bean – also has a remarkable effect on the human brain – it enhances all other sensory experiences. Those Aztecs were on to more than they perhaps knew, when they added those fermented and dried orchid pods to xocolatl, which was served as an aphrodisiac.

My own angle on vanilla came with a bang ten years ago, when I worked as a pastry chef apprentice in the town’s most prestigious bakery. There, I learned about the different vanillas and their uses; the deep, leathery incense tones of Madagascan Bourbon vanilla, the woody, spicy, almost dark-chocolatey tones of Mexican vanilla, and the floral-fruity perfume of Tahitian vanilla.

But I was a vanilla fan way before, as witnessed by my (then) appalled husband in an Albuquerque supermarket when I had a dedicated Euro-cook’s total meltdown over the barbaric and ubiquitous – to my purist mind – custom of selling vanilla extract, proudly proclaiming ‘with real vanilla’. In Denmark, vanilla existed for a large part of my life in one of only two available forms – as Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans, sold in glass lab tubes two at a time and as a proprietary brand of vanilla sugar in distinctive packaging, the same brand that sold the vanilla beans in tubes, and made with the same vanilla. The ‘real vanilla’ in that Albuquerque supermarket was vanillin made from lignin or wood pulp, not vanilla beans. Most so-called ‘vanilla’ aroma is vanillin of the wood-pulp or the castoreum variety, which also provides the natural aromas of strawberry, raspberry and, umm … castoreum. I wanted real vanilla beans, darn it, not what I considered ‘that McCormick travesty of vanilla’, since I knew well before I ever became a writer, whether love or vanilla, there’s no substitute for the Real Deal.

Vanilla has thrilled me no end as both flavoring and fragrance, in that gold standard vanilla, Guerlain’s Spiritueuse Double Vanille, the limited edition Shalimar Ode à la Vanille Sur La Route de Madagascar that you may know by the name Shalemur, Mona di Orio’s Vanille or Téo Cabanel’s famous Alahine, to name but four stellar vanillas.

Now, I have two more vanilla thrills to add to the list, two very different vanilla-centric perfumes that are as far removed from anything dessert as you can imagine – aroma M’s new release, Vanilla Hinoki, and Aedes de Venustas’ new Cierge de Lune.

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The Queen of the Night

My grandmother, like green-thumbed grandmothers everywhere, had a spidery, spiky and not at all prepossessing plant in a very fancy ceramic pot in her bedroom window. This plant, a vaguely cactus-looking creature, was tended and coddled like a particularly fractious baby – watered with special plant food, repotted with succulent-friendly soil into another fancy ceramic pot once a year, and kept warm in cold weather. I believe she once told me she even chatted to it. What I know for a definite fact is this: she called it the Queen of the Night, not after Mozart’s famous ditto from his opera The Magic Flute, but after that magical event that happened on one single night of the year, when that frankly fugly plant bloomed into a drop-dead beautiful and drop-dead scented white flower that paid for all her dedicated care with its perfume. For years, she would watch for signs of its impending bloom, take pictures, and call to edify me with her description of ‘the best vanilla-y perfume in the world’. One year, I happened by complete coincidence to be there at the perfect time, and finally saw what all her fuss was about. The flower as well as its perfume really was all that, we both agreed, and I would never again complain about the time I had to spend dusting the volutes and crannies of that Art Nouveau flowerpot.

With its 2016 release Cierge de Lune, the New York perfume house of Aedes de Venustas brought me back to that night with my grandmother in an instant, and straight to that incredible, indelible bloom.

Cierge de Lune – which is the French name of Selenicereus Grandiflorus – translates as ‘Moon altar candle’, and if there’s any more mellifluous name for that flower in French or Latin, I’m not aware of it. Created with perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin, it sings beautifully both on its own terms and within the overall evolving arc of Aedes de Venustas’ perfume releases, all of which hold a special place in my personal olfactory dreamscape, and two of which I have literally loved beyond all hope of reviewing, because they’re now …gone, loved, worn, inhaled, thoroughly enjoyed and disappeared. I hope to curb my enthusiasm some day, but I might have to buy at least four bottles first.

A common theme of all the Aedes de Venustas perfumes is a singular sleight-of-hand effect: somehow, they all manage to be highly complex perfumes of a kind you’d expect in dense, plush sillage bombs and yet, their texture – and their sillage – is as sheer as silk chiffon. In other words, they’re all complex enough to satisfy any sophisticate’s perfume itch, but never so loud or obvious as to overwhelm your surroundings.

If you like your vanilla thrill to be a chewy, gourmand, wearable pastry cream, this is emphatically not that vanilla. On the other hand, if you too have a memory of that indelible flower – once seen and sniffed, never forgot – then Cierge de Lune will surely make your vanilla-loving synapses sing. It comes incredibly close to my own fond memory of cereus, from the subtle but immediately apparent vanilla – a special dense, woody, leathery and incense-y Madagascan variety – to the bright kick of pink pepper. Black pepper is in there too from the outset to the finish line, and adds its own earthy, slightly ashy, mineral chiaroscuro to the vanilla. If that were all, I’d be perfectly content.

It isn’t. For in minutes, just like the flower itself, it unfurls, opens and …blooms. There’s no other way to state it. A buttery, warm ylang ylang and the expansive feel of hedione underscore the vanilla and give it a distinct floral aura, if not any flower I’ve had the pleasure to meet before. A very sultry flower, I might add, fully able to carry that name, Queen of the Night, with all its associations of a magic flute, two star-crossed lovers and a fabled, fiendishly difficult coloratura F6 over high C. When the show is nearly over and the curtain comes down on this one night of glory, what we’re left with is a sultry, intelligent, superbly unisex whisper of amber, leather, black pepper and that breath-taking, woody vanilla, wrapped up in a flower you can never quite forget. It lasted the better part of eight hours with just two sprays, and elicited scores of compliments wherever it went.

 

 

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The Geiko’s Thrill

You may have heard of the vanillas of Madagascar, Réunion, Mexico or Polynesia, each with their own olfactory profiles. But did you know that Morocco – for centuries a prized source location of many things grand and aromatic – grows it, too?

Neither did I, until Maria McElroy of Aroma M chose a very rare (and most unusual) Moroccan vanilla for her latest Aroma M release, Vanilla Hinoki. Five years in the making, here is another vanilla nothing at all like the vanillas you think you might know.

Maria’s inspiration was that unique Japanese institution of the onsen, the hot springs baths often – as in the image above – associated with inns in the mountains, and also hinoki wood, used to build everything from palaces, Noh theaters, shrines, temples and bathtubs. Hinoki has a very particular fragrant profile; at once lemony and pine-y with incense undertones, and its remarkable pairing with the Moroccan vanilla she used is nothing short of inspired.

Inspired, because of that vanilla to start. This vanilla is thick, woody, smoky and not at all sweet – indeed, it’s arguably one of the woodiest vanillas I’ve encountered in a perfume. Another rabbit from Maria MacElroy’s mischievous hat was the fact it took me a few minutes to even register the vanilla at all, since Vanilla Hinoki starts with something of an olfactory shock. A sunshine-bright bergamot and spice kick to the senses – maybe the olfactory equivalent of that shock of heat you get when lowering yourself into one of those very hot onsen tubs? – kicks me awake and aware, but in no time at all, the green-herbal-woody-piney heart takes over and leaves me incapable of coherent thought beyond several deep breaths and a far less articulate if no less heartfelt ‘Aahhh!’

Ah as in … this is truly stellar stuff. That vanilla may be woody and smoky, but it’s been polished to a sparkling, effervescent fare-thee-well and behaves itself beautifully with the other star of the show, the hinoki, which makes those herbs do everything they’re supposed to; wind you down, relax you, and make you contemplate the brocaded Zen intricacies of existence. In a leisurely fashion to be sure, because who can be rushed when surrounded by such twilight beauty?

But wait! Once the drydown arrives – and all aroma M Geisha perfumes take time to develop and appreciate – it’s yet another, sultrier story, with sexy, smexy (yes!) leather, cedar and patchouli notes, in the event someone else should come close enough to appreciate it.

All of Aroma M’s Geisha perfumes exist in some highly evocative, creative space between the subtle Japanese olfactory aesthetic and Western perfumery traditions, but Vanilla Hinoki especially strikes me as more Japanese than Western. It owns a certain restraint, a very subtle delicacy and light polish rarely found in new perfumes today, yet it never seems alien or foreign to this Western nose, just evocative, contemplative and perfectly all its own creation.

I can imagine a geiko – a fully-fledged, mature geisha – taking it with her on her next sanity-restoring trip to an onsen, for her own private pleasure. Somewhere between the clean, fragrant mountain air, the heat of the onsen, the quietude of the Japanese countryside, she too will discover … there’s nothing at all ‘vanilla’ about Vanilla Hinoki.

The day I received Vanilla Hinoki, I presented my wrist to the Dude after a few hours to ask his opinion. ‘Do I need this?” I asked.

“It smells Japanese. In a good way. Oh. And yes. Yes, you do.”

One of my own favorite things about the aroma M Geisha line is the fact they come in both a roll-on perfume oil and as a spray eau de parfum. Both have amazing longevity on their own, but if all that Zen restraint is a bit much to ask, I can only recommend you get them both in your choice of perfume. Apply the eau de parfum, and then add perfume oil on your pulse points. You may not slay your surroundings with your sillage, yet you will be magically, wondrously, deliciously fragrant for the better part of 24 hours. Which is a thrill I have no problems at all announcing in public!

 

Notes for Cierge de Lune: Madagascan vanilla, pink pepper, black pepper, ylang ylang, Ambroxan.

Notes for Vanilla Hinoki: Bergamot, clove, cardamom, nutmeg, Moroccan vanilla, hinoki, cedar leaf, lavender, leather, patchouli, amyris, cedar wood.

Aedes de Venustas Cierge de Lune is available as 3.4 oz./100 ml eau de parfum at First in Fragrance, at Aedes de Venustas online and in their Greenwich Village store.

Aroma M Vanilla Hinoki is available as 50 ml eau de parfum and as a roll-on perfume oil  at Indiescents, Luckyscent, the Aroma M studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn and directly from the Aroma M website.

Disclosure: Samples of Cierge de Lune and Vanilla Hinoki were provided for review by Olivier Le Didroux of Beauty Entreprise and Maria McElroy of Aroma M. With thanks to them both for their faith – and their patience. I am never compensated or paid for reviews, and the opinions of the Alembicated Genie are entirely and always my own.

Image of vanilla orchid and night-blooming cereus, Wikimedia Commons. Image of Tsurunoyu Onsen, Akita Prefecture, Japan.

Vintage Divinity

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– a review of vintage Balmain Jolie Madame

Once upon a storied time in the early Nineties, I found myself by happy accident in a very exclusive consignment shop in Copenhagen. So expensive was this shop, in fact, there was nothing I could afford at the time, something I came to rue that moment I located a stupendous 1950s strapless black velvet cocktail dress that might have actually fitted yours truly, nothing to sneeze at if you’re in the category of Really Serious Cleavage.

Then, as I checked the lining, I saw the label – Atelier Balmain.

The dress was haute couture, made to measure for some fortunate lady who cared enough to look her superlative best, even if she were – like me to this day – short, short-waisted and stacked.

Yet the genius of that fairly simple dress, or 1950s haute couture itself for that matter, lay not so much in its outer glory – that super-plush silk velvet! The heavy silk satin lining! The peerless workmanship! – but in its inner construction, for this was a dress with everything built in, shapewear and brassiere included, with cunning and surprising nips, tucks, seams and folds to conceal any multitude of sins and accentuate that thing the French did so well, once upon a time; la ligne. The Line! Say what you will about modern fashion and its love of ectomorph bodies – one common theme of the fashions of the 1930s to 1950s was precisely that they looked great on many different body types.

The shop owner was having a slow day. She offered that I could try it on. Lo and behold, it fit me like a glove, which was the first eye-opener, and the second was the way I looked in that dress. For this, dear readers, was THE dress, that much-vaunted LBD you could take anywhere; a fancy dinner party, the theater, or a Very Important White-Hot Date. It would not have looked at all out of place in any of those locations, not in 1992 and certainly not in 2016. I was instantly five inches taller, 15 pounds lighter and my girls had not been so prominently or lusciously displayed since my mid-Eighties Goth days of partying in not much else but net skirts, knee-length Doc Martens, a veiled fascinator, a black satin Merry Widow and a few metric tons of sooty eyeliner.

I never did buy that dress, for all I wanted to so badly, but I also never forgot it.

A Balmain haute couture cocktail dress, 1953

A Balmain haute couture cocktail dress, 1953

Last week, I was reminded of that dress and that moment – through a perfume. Not just any perfume, but one of those famous vintage glories any perfumista really should sniff, if only to determine the many reasons why its creatrix Germaine Cellier is one of the 20th-century’s greatest noses.

Nothing at all ‘petite’ about the mains who embroidered this!

Nothing at all ‘petite’ about the mains who embroidered this!

 

The perfume was an adorable mini of vintage Balmain Jolie Madame (in, I’m guessing, the extrait), Bakelite cap included, a kind offer from a perfumista friend, and I was over the moon for another and highly personal reason.

Jolie Madame was the first perfume I can remember my late mother wore, so much so I always remembered that glorious sillage, even if I didn’t know the name for many, many years. Yet I remembered the way her sheared beaver fur coat – a 1950s ‘swinger’ coat in a leopard print my present self would have loved to death and beyond – would smell when I was collected at the babysitter’s after parties and I was wrapped up half-asleep in that coat.

This was, so concluded my three-year-old self, what a lady should smell like. What it contained, I couldn’t know at the time, but in rural Virginia in the 1960s, I knew enough to know that most of my playmates’ mothers didn’t wear expensive French perfume every day and my mother did, yet another thing that set her apart.

This was another moment that brought me back in a heartbeat as soon as I’d applied two smidges of Jolie Madame. While I can’t honestly say this is precisely as I remembered it, given that memory is fifty years old this year, I can say this:

Vintage Jolie Madame, dear readers, is heartstopping stuff.

To my own surprise, it checked very many of my own favorite boxes: it was a very green leather chypre, it had one of the superlative best leather notes in perfumery and a violet/floral note to die for, and last but never, ever least: it was a Cellier, damn it.

Let me begin, as this should have begun, with the big one: I own bottles of vintage Bandit and Fracas, and now this mini, the third in my private Mlle. Cellier Perfumer Hall of Fame trifecta. (The Vent Vert tetralogy can’t be too far behind.)

Just as you can sniff something of the creator’s/originator’s DNA in ALL truly spectacular perfumes, or at least I believe so, Jolie Madame could not be anything but a Cellier creation. Green in the opening like Vent Vert, a feline leather and feminine floral bouquet that somehow all adds up to ‘violet and leather’ purring away in perfect harmony in the heart and base, and a mossy, bossy and exceedingly smexy drydown somewhat akin to Bandit some long, long time later.

It’s a tad disheartening to stoop to modern slang for this writer who specializes in 19th-century purple prose, but the best description of the one common element of all the three Celliers I’ve tried so far is ‘smexy’, meaning smart and sexy. You might argue her use of perfume ‘bases/accords’ (according to Luca Turin) instead of raw materials is questionable, whereas I would argue that is precisely what makes them so stunning: each and every Germaine Cellier perfume is nearly impossible to pick apart, much like those complex ladies who lunched in the 1950s. And just as they were – any Cellier adds up to so much more than the sum of its parts.

Jolie Madame – Beautiful Lady – is no exception.

She is the perfect embodiment of the bien élévée, well-mannered 1950s woman, not a hair out of place, stocking seams dead-straight, fetching hat, chic flannel suit and shoes, gloves and matching handbag included.

Feminine, despite the rather severe cut of her form-fitting suit as the violet blooms to sing its tale, a violet born and bred not in Parma with all its sweet connotations nor Toulouse, which is sweeter still, but only in Paris, a violet that knows to flirt with that bad-gal leather just right, just enough to charm rather than titillate, and how could you not be charmed by a violet? What are you – heartless?

Of course not. You are simply a very intelligent, immaculately put together woman, from the angle of your hat to the shade of your lipstick. Any one of these details – the limited but elegant makeup, the gleam of your jewelry, the violet leather of your gloves, the line of your handbag and even your shoes has been carefully considered as a flourish to accentuate rather than advertise, to stand on its own, and sometime in a magic hour between midnight and dawn, to fall away like the pearls that slither from your neck to the floor in the moonlight.

Dovima with elephants, by Richard Avedon, 1955. Her dress was designed by a very young assistant to Monsieur Dior named Yves Saint Laurent

Dovima with elephants, by Richard Avedon, 1955. Her dress was designed by a very young assistant to Monsieur Dior named Yves Saint Laurent

(The divine Dovima, in other words, only this time without the elephants. Jolie is all too short a word for the multitudes she contains, and Madame?

“Oh, please.” I seem to hear her say. “I am a woman. Mademoiselle sounds so… adolescent after a certain age, don’t you think?”

Indeed I do. Because when the drydown arrives to dazzle, I begin to understand something about why my late mother might have chosen Jolie Madame to define herself, and something about that prototypical Parisian femme du bon famille those tailored-to-within-an-inch-of-their-sillage 1950s perfumes, as well as the current perfumes they have inspired.

Leather, tobacco, vetiver, cedar, patchouli, oakmoss and musk, states the notes list, which is a bit like saying the Mona Lisa was painted in sepia hues. On my skin, I smell the leather, the oakmoss, a whiff of the green, grassy violet leaf, and lo and behold, the drydown sent me off to locate that vintage Bandit to confirm what I suspect is present in this vintage incarnation of Jolie Madame: those uncanny, glorious (and now banned) nitro musks that growl beneath the basenotes, giving a rather different, animalic and not at all prissy spin on such a tailored perfume.

Just as I can marvel at my own audacity aged fourteen in choosing the rather naughty Jicky for my first perfume, I can wonder that my mother chose Jolie Madame. I suspect like all twenty-one-year-olds, she wanted to define herself in better, more glamorous terms, to set herself aside and apart from the common run of 1960s housewife, to show her fragrant story just enough not to give the game away. She never did.

Jolie Madame is still in rather limited production, reformulated, revised and rewritten for an IFRA-compliant age. I haven’t tried it, so I’m unable to compare the modern version with the vintage.

What I can say is this: I really need to hunt down a vintage bottle of just about any incarnation I can find. It will be neither easy nor cheap (one vintage bottle I saw sells for 198$), but such is the price of divinity, and the echo of Pierre Balmain’s famous words:

Always dress women in the right look for the right moment.

Just don’t forget this perfume, and that moment will always be right.

With special thanks to Dagmar for the mini that made this review possible.

Notes: Artemisia, coriander, gardenia, neroli, bergamot, petitgrain, cloves, tuberose, narcissus, orris, jasmine, rose, orange blossom, violet leaf, lilac, leather, patchouli, musk, coconut, civet, oakmoss, vetiver, cedar and tobacco.

Photo of Dovima in violet by Edwin Blumenfield via My Vintage Vogue. Dovima with elephants by Richard Alvedon, 1955. Balmain haute couture dress, 1953 via Balmain.

 

The Space I Take

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– on the Genie’s overlong absence, perfume writing, and real life roadblocks

Ladies, gentlemen and fragrant entities –

It’s been far too long. I have in the past six months removed myself from social media to a greater or lesser extent due to work issues (my first major freelance assignment, now completed) and life issues, and somewhere along the way, perfume fell by the wayside in the sense that I for good or for ill didn’t and couldn’t … write about it. I’ll be getting back to that one.

Future Music

A new novel will, Dev willing, find its way into the world of publication in two languages this year, Danish and English. It will be a prequel to Quantum Demonology, with a very different narrator and a very different story.

In publishing, there’s a phenomenon called The Follow-Up Act. In layman’s terms, the Difficult/Impossible Second Novel. Since Quantum Demonology was in a sense handed to me on a platter of id and dissociation, what this means is the second book in the series (which in terms of story arc is actually the first, and makes QD the third) has caused me more grief than I ever knew existed. This time, the stakes are higher. This time, I have something to prove, which always gets a writer in trouble, and this time, some aspirations of achieving what I hoped for with the first, thanks to a Danish publisher who could be a soul brother in terms of common inspirations, idols and predilections. Not to mention being a Capricorn with plans for world literary horror domination, quite a few connections and an epic talent pool of writers to urge that outcome along.

Sibling rivalry also plays its part. My beloved sister is a journalist, an often incisive columnist for one of Denmark’s largest women’s magazines and a published novelist. I’ll be damned and dipped in tar and feathers before I let her have that last distinction on her own, because why should she have all the fun? Luckily, she agrees. We write nothing alike and each have our own literary preoccupations, but by Golly, we’re going for it. Because we can, bolstering each other’s porcelain egos and talents with sisterly bubble wrap as we go. It’s what these two sisters do.

Fragrant Epiphanies

All along, perfume wafts in my wake. New releases have made my heart sing in ways I never thought it could by their sheer virtuosity, and other possible ones that just might also set the heartstrings quivering. I bought two hotly coveted perfumes in the past few months, one Estée Lauder’s Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia, and the other L’Artisan Parfumeur’s genius Seville à L’Aube. Next on my list is another favorite FBW, perfectly appropriate for the spring exploding forth everywhere around me as I type: Hermès 24 Faubourg. I’ve ripped through three decants and every single sample I have, which tells me it’s love. But having just upgraded my shoe collection, that’s not happening just yet, no matter how much I wish for it. And more indie perfumes for my FBW list: Envoyage Perfumes’ astonishing floral symphony, Fiore di Bellagio, Olympic Orchids’ White Cattleya, DSH Perfumes’ Giverny in Bloom and Fleuriste, Neela Vermeire Crèations Pichola, Aedes de Venustas’ Oeillet Bengale, Iris Nazarena, Palissandre d’Or, Cierge de Lune and.

And.

The perfumes I’ve loved in my absence: my arguable HG, that intransigent, unapologetic bad-gal masterpiece that is vintage Robert Piguet Bandit. It has the effect of a hydrogen pulse bomb on the Dude. Should I ever doubt the towering genius that was Germaine Cellier or the delicate touch of Aurelien Guichard who reorchestrated it beautifully in 2007 to comply with modern IFRA standards, it takes just one sniff. I dare not contemplate what would happen if I ever encounter vintage Balmain Jolie Madame, or Vent Vert. I. Shall. Be. Toast. Bandit in the modern eau de parfum is on my FBW shortlist, if only so I can spray with abandon and let the world think what it will of that perfect, naughty, borderline disgusting/wrong note of cold ashtray.

Amouage’s Sunshine Man knocked the gender-bender out of the ballpark for me and has rapidly become my Favorite Masculine/Schmasculine Stupid-Happy-Delirious Perfume of All Time. It’s a lavender-almond cookie with an electrifying jolt of Curaçao/Cointreau/Grand Marnier that somehow all adds up to making me feel, well, deliciously delirious, maybe? It also has salubrious/salacious effects on the Dude, who loves it on me and nowhere else.

Aedes de Venustas’ Palissandre d’Or, a silky-smoothly burnished spicy wood unisex wonder, is as transparent and as glowing as maroon silk chiffon, and has become something I crave very badly, which does not bode at all well for my wallet.

The Case Against TAG

Yet something I’ve also found myself doing with increasing frequency lately is pondering that space I take in the blogosphere, the state of the perfume industry and the hair-raising amount of new releases, new brands, and new brands of headache to consider, and what – if any – role I should try to fulfill.

I’ve been writing about perfume for almost six years, as part of the – let’s call it – second wave of perfume bloggers that began somewhere around 2010. In that time, I’ve seen the social media landscape around blogging in general and perhaps perfume blogging in particular change in ways that emphatically do not appeal to my comfort zone. That sweet-smelling (?!) world has become so much nastier, no matter what I do to convince myself otherwise. Some of my mainstays from those early days are still very much around and are as awe-inspiring as they’ve ever been. A few more have had to quit the blogosphere due to real-life issues, and I miss their particular voice and perspectives on this thing called perfume.

All of these things somehow all add up that soup of contemplation I’ve been stewing in for so long, and in the past year or so, a few things more have given me long, hard pauses for thought.

I began to write about perfume for two big reasons. First and most importantly, to become a better writer. At the time I began my first perfume blog on Blogspot, I was heading toward the finish line of my novel Quantum Demonology, and thought it might do me good as a writer to find an outlet for all those girlie sensibilities the hard-boiled QD protagonist would have mocked to infinity and beyond.

I dare say that YOU – if you’re reading this – have forced me to up the ante and succeed in ways I could never have imagined that August night in 2010 I cooked up the idea to become a perfume writer.

Thank you. For bearing with my idiosyncracies and predilections, and for being with me this far.

On that note …

I’ve also been the victim of trolling on more than one occasion in the past year or so in particular. I’ve received more or less “anonymous” emails blasting me with vitriol and undiluted verbal hydrochloric acid for daring to redefine perfume writing on my own terms and in my own way, for not knowing enough about my subject matter, for shoddy, slapdash research into my subject matter (FWIW, some of those reviews required over a full month of research to write with any degree of credulity), and a blatant inability to locate even the most “obvious” notes in the perfumes I’ve reviewed. Some of these mails have gone so far as to state I should just STFU already ‘if you can’t write like ‘normal’ perfume bloggers!’

There IS such a thing, and I didn’t know?

O.M.G.

I realize an entire segment of online entities out there take great pride in destroying reputations, credibility and what in social media has been dubbed ROI, or Reach of Influence, on the mistaken assumption that our entire self-worth rests solely on the opinion of such human pondscum.

As a perfume blogger, I could not have cared less. There is no shortage of blogs out there to read or to watch on YouTube, and no shortage of compelling perspectives and quality prose. I link to the best of them.

But as a writer, I was devastated nearly into giving up the ghost altogether, and that conclusion almost did me in. If I can’t write, if I am silenced into nonentity or figuratively ball-gagged into shutting up, then just kill me now.

I do not, and have never that I’m aware, ‘write about’ perfume. I write to express my impressions or to communicate the experience said perfume gave me. You may beg to disagree, and that’s perfectly all right. Should I sometimes – as indeed has happened – be inspired by a particular perfume so stellar I feel compelled to write my review as a story and you take offense at that, then by all means unsubscribe and read something else. My perspective is a novel writer’s and storyteller’s perspective, and I can’t and won’t change that, not even to shut up the trolls who take offence at my approach or indeed anything else about me.

But with the arrival of more and more and more and more …. blogs, vlogs and the general proliferation of the perfume community, I have had to question what I as a perfume writer can contribute to the conversation.

As I stated before, the conversations we’re having about perfume have changed. Likewise, the relationships between brands and perfume bloggers has also changed. I was shocked to learn that at Pitti Fragranze last year, some bloggers walked around with price lists for reviews, which was somewhere around the point where my own brain imploded.

Call me old-fashioned. But a paid review in my book = no credibility whatsoever as a reviewer. In any size, shape or form.

I began with a passion – my own passion for perfume, and my passion for verbiage. That passion is not, nor will it ever be for sale. I couldn’t live with myself if it were. You may choose to believe me when I say that a rave is a rave because I think something is great/stellar/incredible, or you may take issue with the – indisputable – fact that certain brands on TAG always get raves. For one simple reason, and I state this with my hand on my heart and swear on my cat’s fur: because they’re always that great. Emphatically not as a compliment to a brand that provided me with a sample free of charge.

But more than anything, I’ve thought about that space I take, thought to utilize it better and more, thought to do whatever I could to entertain, or illuminate, or sometimes even confuse/bemuse my readers, and that has happened, too.

No one is renumerating my time or my efforts in trying to find the words to match my nonverbal impressions of a perfume.

More to the point, no one cares. Or do they? If you’ve read this far, do you?

Let me know in the comments! And let’s continue the conversation – about perfumery, about the blogosphere, and about… that space we take.

Illustration: yours truly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STFU

STFU

– something on brands, bloggers, dedication and not shutting up

Two days ago, which was Sunday in my part of the world, life was grand. All was good. Or it would be, as soon as I replenished that pan of blondies that had somehow vanished between Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning.

So I thought, until I opened up Facebook and discovered an all-too-real horror story to strike terror, outrage and sorrow in the hearts of many, many perfumistas and any perfume bloggers.

Horror Story

Our most treasured resource on all things fragrantly Guerlain, the blog Monsieur Guerlain as well as the Monsieur Guerlain Facebook page and Twitter account was gone, shut down without warning, explanation or recourse by Guerlain PR.

For the few who are unaware, Monsieur Guerlain was a blog devoted to the house of Guerlain, created, maintained and impeccably researched by a lifelong fan of the brand. Whether you were looking for information on reformulations, differing editions of a perfume, or simply the historical context of, say, that white unicorn of vintage perfumes, Djedi, Monsieur Guerlain delivered the goods with a clarity and precision that only underscored his love of one of the world’s most justifiably beloved and renowned perfume houses.

Like many others, I, too, have had a lifelong love of several Guerlains ever since that first visit as a teenager to the Champs-Élysées flagship store that ended with my first perfumed self-definition – Jicky.

I have reviewed Guerlain perfumes I’ve loved, liked or loathed, and never in a New York minute ever considered that my somewhat snarky/underwhelmed opinions on new releases in particular might have unwanted – or unwarranted – consequences.

To have such an event happen to you must be doubly devastating coming from a brand you have done nothing but promote and gild with your encyclopedic knowledge. My sympathies here are solely on the side of Monsieur Guerlain.

Silence is golden, but…

But stop for a moment and think about the bigger implications here. Guerlain – owned, as we’re all well aware, by that corporate juggernaut monster known as LVMH – is adopting non-negotiable bully tactics without recourse to silence a blogger who has given them nothing but the superlative best kind of complimentary and free-to-Guerlain PR.

Seriously?

No matter what degree of awareness the general public has of the name Guerlain, the bottom line is this: Guerlain is a purveyor of products. Whether it’s a lipstick (and this brand makes some nice ones) or a perfume, these are all of them ‘luxury goods’, things that would not make a whit’s difference in the event of a zombie apocalypse, although you might enjoy it more should it happen.

So …these products, some of them with well over a century of prestigious perfume behind them and some released just last week (limited editions, darling) are then sent out into the world. One person – who just so not so coincidentally happens to ardently adore all things Guerlain – decides to spend his free time, his cash resources and his creative capital creating original content at his own initiative and does this for years. Content that gains a loyal following on social media, gets quoted, content far more entertaining and informative than any Guerlain sales assistant I’ve ever met? Content (and this is important, people) Guerlain can then take and transfer into bottom lines and numbers in the black, and everyone knows that’s where the money is.

More’s the pity that in this day and age, it’s never just about the money but the reputation, and that lies with followers, readers, subscribers and backlinks. Could there be an issue with Mr. Guerlain’s followers, subscribers, readers, in that they aren’t controlled by the Guerlain PR department? Even though that blogger celebrates precisely all things perfume and Guerlain?

Was their copyright infringed or their trademark impinged by an article on, say, the creation of Djedi, or the history of Mitsuko? This was not material made available or controlled by Guerlain, so perhaps?

To the PR mavens of Guerlain – I have some rather unsettling news for you. Welcome to the twenty-first century, the two-way street and the archaic bully tactics. Taking away someone’s virtual entire online identity and labor of love does not equal a great PR moment, and with all you’ve been through PR-wise since the turn of the century, one would think you’d be aware of it by now.

You do not own your own brand on social media. Your fans do. It would behoove you to remember this, but seeing as you’re owned by LVMH, who own all the legal sharks any rapacious corporate monster could wish for, that degree of humility is not bloody likely.

Furthermore, in shutting down Monsieur Guerlain in such ratty fashion, instead of showing a bit of class and at least giving some kind of justification, never mind some credence to a blogger who loves your brand, you dare assume you will have control over the consequences.

Any dubious bloggers (that would be me) should just quake in their cheap (non-LVMH name) boots for fear of retaliation.

OMG… we’ll be taken down!

Do we have the right to remain silent in the event we disagree? And if we dare disagree, does that imply possible/probable legal consequences? In which case, why aren’t LVMH targeting those ‘impartial’ fashion bloggers (!) who savage the fashions of LVMH brands yet still get invited to their runway presentations?

All our online identities, social media, Twitter accounts, blogs we maintain at not a little expense and time etc. etc – are now up for grabs should we ever dare state (as opposed to whisper sotto voce) what’s staring us in the face at Sephoras and department stores worldwide?

Everyone’s a critic

For instance, and I speak only on my own behalf, that most new Guerlain releases seem to be made by a marketing committee hell-bent at whatever cost on catering to either sugar-addicted, angora-brained teenyboppers or newly minted gazillionaires with way more money than discernment.

Given that the house perfumer of Guerlain is Thierry Wasser, that seems to me a spectacular waste of talent, not to mention a waste of opportunity to redeem yourself for slipshod reformulations of the truly breath-taking, beauteous perfumes that planted you in that public consciousness to begin with, and where you bloomed so fragrantly for so long.

A friend of mine in the know with the duds and the deeds to prove it once said that true luxury is always inclusive. Think about an alternate scenario for a moment.

What if Guerlain – and by extension, its parent brand LVMH – had decided to embrace this extra exposure? Taken him into the fold, included him, celebrated a fan who has many fans of his own? Would that have been so detrimental to their overall image, or subtracted from their luster? ?

I suspect a lot of indie perfumers would disagree since so many of them have been doing just that with both success and increasing public awareness as a result.

Yet, what about perfume bloggers? Those of us who write about many brands, those of us who are non-commercial, those who do what we do for nothing more than love of our subject, so dear to our souls – the very perfumes we write about.

Why go after a fan and take away all he’s built in a keystroke, when you could have turned this into a PR coup with just a tad more finesse?

I can’t answer these questions, but I can tell you what I’ve done. I’ve written to the PR person listed on the Guerlain website to protest the closing of Monsieur Guerlain’s blog and Facebook page.

Feel free to do the same: irousseau@guerlain.fr.

Please share this post with anyone or everyone who loves perfume, perfume writing and the delicate arts of celebrating beauty. Share the image below on Instagram. Tweet. Spread the word.

The only thing we shouldn’t do is…

STFU.

 

bringmrguerlainback

 

L’Incasta Diva

callasbyhirschfeld

– a review of Amouage Opus IX

Whether by accident or (infernal) design, I grew up in an opera-mad household. Family Christmas traditions included (among other things) at least one viewing of Milos Foreman’s Amadeus (because Wolfgang was the household god) and if my mother the histrionically addicted opera buff could get tickets for it, an Xmas ticket to another Christmas tradition at the Royal Theatre of Copenhagen – a performance of Carl Nielsen’s Maskarade. One year, the ticket gods conspired to send Maman, her mother and both her daughters to see ‘Maskarade’, and my sister laughed as the orchestra struck up the overture and my giddy anticipation was painted all over my face.

Since I’m also the only one of my family to play a musical instrument (classical flute, violin and viola) and I did not run away screaming for my first live opera performance (Monteverdi’s Poppaea, not exactly entry level stuff), she hauled me to many, many others throughout the years, on the stage of the Royal Theatre (too many to count) as well as opera cinema – Carmen, Zeffirelli’s La Traviata, Bergman’s indelible The Magic Flute, and (my all-time favorite opera and opera film) Joseph Losey’s Don Giovanni. Her one hesitation was hauling me to a one-time only performance of Wagner’s Parzifalbecause Wagner!”, and six hours of bum-numbed, utter flabbergasted stupefaction later, I still wasn’t sure I’d ever forgive her.

All of this is by way of saying that a) I’m no stranger to opera, live OR recorded and b) opera is the plural of ‘opus’ not to mention c) when you initiate your first-born into the opera lovers’ club, be prepared for the consequences.

Among them was our shared propensity for arguing about opera divas. Maman, you see, was a diehard Maria Callas fangal, and I… was not so much. So she would bludgeon me with ‘Casta Diva’ (from Bellini’s Norma), and I’d bash her right back with Kiri Te Kanawa’s Arabella. Or when I really wanted to get her goat: Renée Fleming.

This elicited one of two responses. Either I’d get frozen in the headlights of a Scorpio Glare (trust me, it’s a Thing) before a lecture on how altos (that would be me) never did see the point of sopranos out of spite since all the best female opera parts are always, always written for sopranos (true), or else, she’d haul out her trump card:

La Traviata.

You don’t argue with Maria Callas’ interpretation of Violetta. You. Just. Don’t.

Apparently, neither did Christopher Chong of Amouage when he cited La Divina Callas’ Violetta as his inspiration for the latest in the Opus line of Amouage perfumes , Opus IX.

My experiences with the perfumes of the Opus line have been a bit like singing a blonde bimbo version of Wagner’s Parzifal: I know I’m looking for something but I’m never sure what it is, and I’m always asking all the wrong questions and looking in all the wrong places. Opus V was an instant love, and so was VI. VII has to be my most confounding moment in my five years as a perfume writer, and VIII was… I’m still not sure. The Jasmine That Ate Manhattan?

Here and now, we have one of the most famous voices and characters on Earth, bottled. So how does it smell? Does it conjure up images of divinity, sublime musicality and all the fabulous ferocity and staggering beauty Maria Callas called her own?

Well, I’ll begin with the big one: Opus IX belongs to what I call The Brunette School of Perfume, meaning it will likely do wonders for the hordes of jasmine-fanatic brunettes out there.

Ms. Hare – a brunette, a Leo and rabid Amouage fangal – borrowed it for nefarious purposes and was quite pleased with wafting a fantastically fragrant, flawless honey-sweet jasmine sambac F over C# along with the not at all sotto voce animal growls of those nefarious purposes.

Try as I may, I can’t argue with skin chemistry, and you, dear reader, know as well as I do that genetics, diet, temperature and mood all have their parts to play in how to make a perfume sing on the stage of your skin no matter what the press release copy/libretto wants you to believe. My theory of what I’ve come to call the Brunette School of Perfume is this: certain types of grandiloquent Oriental perfumes smell infinitely better on brunettes.

Yours truly – a pale, buxom, vertically challenged dishwater blonde Taurus – tends to pull perfumes in a greener, more bitter direction, which goes a long way towards explaining my lifelong love of green floral chypres and fougères.

Opus IX is no chypre (In my demented imagination, if chypres sang they’d be altos out of spite!), but a great, grand, 24-karat whopper of an Oriental Diva with a scintillating Capital D.

Camellia is listed as a note and a reference to Dumas’ La Dame aux Camélias which in turn inspired the plot of La Traviata, but so far as I’m aware almost all camellias are scentless. Not something you could ever say about jasmine sambac, which in this instance is dusted with pepper, a slightly powdery puff of an imaginary fragrant camellia and curled around a woody, fiery and sweetly leather-flecked heart.

Don’t be fooled. This jasmine can s-i-n-g, hitting that fabled F over C smack bang on those bright, pulsing quarter-note dots of beeswax and ambergris.

Maria_Callas_(La_Traviata)_2

Ecce La Diva

Ecce La Diva.

If you’re looking for the kind of drop dead glamourie that sweeps up its audience in a swoon, this is emphatically it. I’ve never smelled anything like it, and after this I don’t know why I’d even bother. The opening reminds me of those famous lines from Shelley’s Ozymandias, but with a twist:

Sniff on this art, ye mighty, and despair.

And then comes a slinky, silky feline on not-at-all stealthy paws and begins to purr, growl and roar right along with the jasmine in a duet to the death where neither will back down an inch. Ever.

The notes listing has ambergris (quite apparent) and civet, and I’ll come right out and say it: if you dislike civet, this will not change your mind. Civet happens to be one of my two most favorite animalic notes, but I’ve never, ever met a civet base note quite so lascivious? Lecherous? Licentious? as this one. This jungle cat is on the prowl looking for a decidedly different kind of carnal dinner for a fantasy blue movie rated a whole lot more than triple X.

Which is where Opus IX remains on this bathetic blonde for well over 24 hours. It’s the jasmine that gobbled up Manhattan before devouring Milano, Venice, Paris and London, until the civet jungle cat challenged her to a duelduet where they’ll both go down in fragrant flames – or crimes – of passion that might explicate the faint whiff of melancholy I detected in the far drydown.

Violetta expires – ah! The tragedy! – in the third act of La Traviata, right when all possibilities are opened up, when Alfredo returns, ‘Gran Dio … morir si giovane’, ‘Great God, to die so young…’, and just as the tragic Violetta, La Diva Callas, too, left this world far too soon, leaving behind, as all great artists do, a legacy of superlative musicality, a voice unlike any before or since and drop-dead, deathly intimidating glamour on top.

Some long, long time later came a perfume fully worthy of everything Maria Callas was and all she did – called Opus IX.

But somewhere between Maria Callas, my operatic memories and Opus IX, I have an urge to call it something else. A spin on another of her immortal arias, and with all due apologies for mangling the beautiful Italian language.

I’d call it ‘L’Incasta Diva’. ‘The Unchaste Goddess’.

Gaze upon her work, ye mighty, and despair.

Amouage Opus IX is available from First in Fragrance, Luckyscent and directly from the Amouage website.

www_amouage_opus_ix_01

Notes: Camellia, jasmine, black pepper, gaiac wood, leather, beeswax, vetiver, ambergris and civet.

Disclaimer: A sample of Opus IX was sent by Amouage for review. With thanks to the Very August Personage. And the ghost of a diva.

Illustrations: Caricature of Maria Callas by Al Hirschfeld, 1958. Photo of Maria Callas in the Royal Opera House 1958 production of La Traviata. Photo of the Library Collection Opus IX, Amouage. Used by permission.

An Olfactory Postcard

tulum_mexico-1920x1200

– a review of Aedes de Venustas’ Copal Azur

Of all the many memories we pack into our luggage on leaving foreign shores and returning home, none are so evocative as the scents and smells of place. Whether the fishy, invigorating tang of saltwater and iodine in a Nordic city harbor, the assault of the spice market in the medina of Marrakesh, the lemon and orange-redolent Amalfi coast or the coconut, Coppertone and frangipani-soaked Caribbean recollections of my own peripatetic childhood, you can close your eyes to remember – and you are there all over again, wrapped in both the atmosphere and the mood of a time and place.

Such a memory was also the inspiration for Karl Bradl of the storied Aedes de Venustas store in New York and for a 2014 addition to their eponymous line of fragrances, Copal Azur, this time inspired by the salt air, the cerulean hues of the sea, the powdered-sugar sand of the beach and the ever-present perfume of copal incense in Tulum, Mexico.

In Central America, copal incense – sometimes but not always the resins of several species of Bursera tree – has been used since the Mayan era, as a natural mosquito repellant, as food for the Gods, to cleanse sick bodies and dispel evil spirits and as a natural glue for leather, ceramics and woods. Because several tree resins are described as “copal”, copal notes in perfumery are often reconstructed with other materials, mainly frankincense, whose odor profile greatly resembles it.

As incense is the common theme of the Aedes de Venustas’ line, it makes absolute sense that the perfumer who first put incense front and center with Comme des Garçons’ ground-breaking 2003 Avignon would be perfect to recreate the ambience and entire atmosphere of a sacred scent the Mayans called pom.

Bertrand Duchaufour began by using three types of frankincense to capture the many facets of copal. Although the press release doesn’t mention which ones, this frankincense aficionado is going to hazard a guess and say Boswellia sacra, or Somali frankincense, with its pronounced cold, spiky, dark green pine-y note, Boswellia carterii, or Omani frankincense, which is sweeter and softer with floral lemony sorbet undertones, and Boswellia serrata, a frankincense native to India, which is sharper and dryer. Having said that, they’re so seamlessly interwoven you’d be hard-pressed to tease that first emphatic burst of incense apart, and it took me several tries and my frankincense olfactionary to realize it.

Copal incense is front, center and in the spotlight in Copal Azur, but that’s just the headline, because this incense comes with a twist of salt and sea spray, just enough to remind you this is not-your-usual-incense. As it moves into the heart and base some time later, softer, warmer and sweeter fumes rise up to greet you, a delicately green-flecked tonka bean burnishes the incense with its own sweet vanillic fumes, and over 7+ hours later, exudes its final breath in a puff of patchouli, myrrh – and copal incense.

Like the five other fragrances of the Aedes de Venustas line, Copal Azur is easily unisex if you’re an incense lover of perfumes such as the aforementioned Avignon or Serge Lutens’ L’Eau Froide. I’d wear this at the drop of a charcoal tablet (because I’m easy!), although some might find the opening blast of monumental incense skews it much more masculine than feminine.

Mainly, though, Copal Azur strikes me as the very best kind of olfactory postcard – or scented place memory? – by painting not just the tropical ambience of Tulum itself – the tonka-bean marzipan vanilla sands of the beach, the salty ozone of a scorching, impossibly blue, limitless sea and sky, the cardamom-green of the jungle, a distant patchouli growl of a jaguar and towering above them all, the monumental Mayan temple complex in all its steely gray-white majesty, conjured by a shaman out of sacred smoke – and incense.

I wish I were there!

copalazurPRphoto

Notes: Three different types of frankincense, ozonic notes, salt, patchouli, cardamom, myrrh, amber, tonka bean.

Aedes de Venustas’ Copal Azur is available at First in Fragrance and directly from the Aedes de Venustas website.

Disclosure: A sample of Copal Azur was sent for review. With thanks to François and Olivier.

Image of Tulum via Flickr. Image of frankincense tree courtesy of Aedes de Venustas. Used by permission.

A Goddess, With Jasmine

Melina

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT XV

– a review of Neil Morris FragrancesEssence of Melina

(Note: Found on my laptap when I woke up this morning, a review! It seems I had a visitor last night…)

Dear readers,

You might as well know it right from the start: this is not the Genie. She sleeps in the other room now, Hairy Krishna spooned inside her outstretched arm, and on the sofa in the living room, Janice Divacat spreads her calico belly against a magenta silk throw pillow, dead to the world. From where I sit at the Genie’s desk, I can see her twitch her tail as she dreams and softly snores. At this dead-of-night hour, even the streetlights are asleep and only the red neon glow of a Coca-Cola sign at the burger joint across the street glows its admonitions against the dark of an April night. The downtown taxis are finally silent and the Saturday night bar crowds have all dispersed at closing time towards home, to their beds, to Saturday night intents and purposes.

Meanwhile, I was summoned by a perfume.

Yet before I can get to the perfume, I should maybe explain something about the woman who inspired it.

So close your eyes and imagine a woman. She stands six feet in her stockings, six feet of willowy, long-waisted, long-legged perfection (her mother was a fashion model) wrapped around a sarcastic heart of Gothic black. Visualize a waist-length, wavy fall of glossy, naturally blue-black hair, a pale, moonlit complexion touched with a tiny brush of petal-pink, eyes as luminous, sparkling green as a secret Mediterranean cove in high summer, and a full, rosaceous mouth that could send any man and several women dreaming.

I should also add before I cook my own goose that much as I like her, she’s not my type at all. Being somewhat <ahem> vertically challenged in my current disguise, for one thing she’s too damn tall. For another, I much prefer short, busty, rather less perfect blondes.

Why not let a short, busty, perfectly flawed blonde describe her, too?

If you ever wanted to know what a Greek Goth Goddess looked like, here was exhibit A.

(Quantum Demonology, Quotidian Pleasures)

Meet Melina, the nemesis of Quantum Demonology’s nameless protagonist. Since arriving in Copenhagen 12 years ago, she has been the doom (and on one occasion, the death) of bass players and other musical paragons of testosterone from Seattle to Siberia. Norwegian black metal bands you’ve never heard of have written songs about her, and one Swedish band scored a minor Scandinavian metal chart hit a couple of years ago when they released a song called ‘Melita’ inspired by a heartbreak night to remember (courtesy of Melina) that really put the capital D in doom.

Noblesse oblige so they say, so Melina created a group of female acolytes somewhat snarkily dubbed the Black no. 1 Mafia (inspired by this song), and she’s ruled those ladies with a titanium fist in a net glove ever since.

In other words, she’s so perfect you can’t have her.

(Off the record, I’ll tell you something else. She was inspired by a certain, über-Goth Empress of Snark. Now you know.)

There things stood for quite some time, beyond publication and (so far) great reviews, until Neil Morris of Neil Morris Fragrances decided to do something about it. Whereupon he promptly pulled the rug (and quite a few heartstrings) out from under the Genie by sending her a perfume she never, ever expected, from a project she thought had long expired, even if the perfumes certainly haven’t!

Voilà – Essence of Melina. The newest edition to the Devilscent Project.

And here you thought that labdanum, lascivious lechery and Lilith-littered cardinal sins were all the project had to say three years ago.

Neil Morris had another idea. He decided to explicate Melina through a perfume, inspired perhaps by the phrase ‘absolute essence of Melina’.

Call me biased, but I’ve always thought all of Neil’s creations had one thing in common, apart from an emphatic and profound understanding of Gothic darkness. They are all of them supremely delineated, seamlessly assembled and sublimely elegant.

Essence of Melina – capturing the demeanor and not a few of the contradictions of Melina herself – is no exception.

So how did he explain a half-Greek Goth goddess?

He began with a mainstay of Mediterranean gardens everywhere, even on the storied Greek isle Melina calls home: a fig.

A fig that wraps itself as tight as corset stays around an audacious and more than a little dissipated jasmine sambac, that bold and fruity floral babe that just dares you to come closer.

So she can eat you alive.

While that impudent jasmine breathes its celestial song of sins both sweet and salacious, her gal pals – in this case, orris, white patchouli flower and nootka that echo a hint of Melina’s consigliere Birgitte – sneak in to seal your doom.

I dare any red-blooded male to sniff this without a reaction. (In which case, check their pulse.) I’d also dare any jasmine-loving female to sniff this without swooning.

It’s that kind of perfume. Surely, you expected no less from a Devilscent?

Orris – one of the Genie’s own favorite perfumery materials – was a surprise. Its presence was unexpected, until I remembered two things: the Genie’s little lecture on orris adding depth and a certain intellectual hauteur to perfumes and also Melina’s own dirty little secret: she’s the fourth generation in her Greek family with impeccable academic credentials. A PhD underway no less, and no one knows except me since I make it my business to know everything.

But Melina is anything but chilly (except to the protagonist), and right when you think you have her all sussed out, somewhere between the jasmine, the orris, the patchouli flower, the nootka… Neil pulls the rug out from under our noses again.

Some long, long time later, nocturnal animals begin to growl.

Maybe the bestiaries so beloved by Goth culture; the vampires, the werewolves, the bats, the hordes of midnight-black cats.

That bass metal hum of vetiver, the hungry howls of civet, the purr of a feline, furry musk, the heat of castoreum and last but never least, a lecherous, leatherine lick of labdanum, and I know that one since I put it in my original brief.

All in all, a black, heady pulse bomb of a perfume! It fits Melina like a lace dress, like black tulle, like midnight and moonshine and arcane alchymical emanations.

Some time ago, I overheard a discussion between the Genie and Ms. Hare concerning a theory the Genie calls ‘the brunette school of perfume’.

‘The Brunette School of Perfume’ theory (patent pending) describes in a catchphrase the differences in skin chemistry between brunettes, blondes and redheads. Simply put, it’s the reason why Essence of Melina smells like a smexy, molten trainwreck of Goth salaciousness… on Ms. Hare. (A brunette). On the poor blonde in the bedroom, this astoundingly beautiful, flawlessly crafted perfume… smells like a wet, miserable dog shivering in a bubblebath.

But that wasn’t the point, for all the Genie does love a few select jasmine-centric perfumes, including the two she gave to Melina.

The point was to capture ‘Absolute essence of Melina.’

Where Neil Morris succeeded beyond all imagining – and gave her his own, uniquely creative spin.

Someone should have told him: ‘Beware when bearing presents to a Greek.’

Luckily for the rest of us, he never listened! Instead, he made her a Goddess. With jasmine.

Dev

NMMelina

Notes: Fig, jasmine sambac, orris, white patchouli flower, nootka, civet, vetiver, animalic musk, castoreum, labdanum.

If enough jasmine-lovers ganged up on him, I’m sure Neil Morris would make this available to the general public, as he should!

Disclosure: A sample of Essence of Melina was made available for review. For which this Devil thanks him from the bottom of his inky black heart.