The Best of 2012 – Worn & Adored!

sophiemagdalenecrown

 – Being the true confessions of a hapless perfume writer…

Ah, the perils of a perfume writer’s existence. So many perfumes – according to Basenotes, 1366 new fragrances were launched in 2012 –so very little time! Without being able to sometimes club flotsam and jetsam reviews together – meaning I review more than one at a time – I’d be toast.

As it is, my ghost will probably be typing away in the afterlife long after my hopefully timely demise just to catch up on the backlog, wondering if Stygian WiFi is reliable…;-)

I also try to have a perfume free day every week to recalibrate my nose, which makes it easier to delve into the ones I do review.

Some of the perfumes I wore most in 2012 are repeats from my other two lists, for no other cause than I couldn’t live without them, others I have yet to review but I wore them anyway. Yet for all those new and/or newly discovered perfumes, sometimes, all this girl wants to do is wear a familiar favorite, and I’ve certainly done that, too.

These are the ones I have wafted and adored beyond all reason. For as surely as my readers know, reason had nothing to do with it!

Aftelier

Few things are more fun than scenting some of your favorite characters in books. It doesn’t get any cooler than to perfume the characters of your making, as my own project proved. Yet I suspect that Sophia – one important character who appears in my book Quantum Demonology – would wear Aftelier’s Fig, and whenever I’ve needed to borrow some of her own earthy grounding, Fig was a perfect fit. I loved it in an instant when I found it, and I love it dearly still. I hear Sophia’s Flatbush twang whenever I put it on. “C’mon, hon,” she seems to say, “just cut the bs already, whydoncha?” I do try.

Amouage

Some days, nothing but an Amouage will do. I’ve had a few of those this past year, especially with Memoir Woman, Beloved, and certainly Opus VI. I also came to discover that bone dry, bitter cold – as we had in late January last year – turns my Cloak of Invincibility, Epic Woman, into a very moody, oud-y creature. I suspect that’s why my sister hates it. Considering some of the stink bombs she’s hit me with over the years, it’s only fair.

Aroma M

It’s said that the scent of Artemisia – which we sometimes know as wormwood and also as absinthe – furthers creativity. Who am I to argue with the Fée Verte glories of the Belle Époque? Aroma M’s Geisha Green is one of the most beautifully rendered absinthe perfumes I know, and whatever it takes ‘to further creativity’, I’ll do. That I received it as a present from a very dear friend makes it even more special.

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

Ah, the lovely Dawn, she breaks my heart. For creating such stellar works of beauty as indeed she always, always does, and for making me cry, as I did when she so sweetly sent me her YSL Retrospective Collection made in collaboration with the Denver Art Museum’s Yves Saint Laurent exhibition. Those lucky enough to see it were treated not only to some of the most seminal – and spectacular – creations of my all-time favorite designer, they were also tempted with Dawn’s olfactory reinterpretations of some of his designs – and perfumes. La Vie En Rose – her tribute to one of my own Great Immortals, vintage YSL Paris, was so flawless, it made me cry. To be hit over the head by a massively packed suitcase of Guilt Trip for not reviewing that collection yet. The best defense in the face of Major Procrastination is an attack. Dawn, darling, yours will be my first review of 2013. As for the rest of you – read all about it!

Editions Frédéric Malle

Last year was my year of The Tuberose. It was a note I approached with some trepidation – one does not mess with this floral diva – only to find just how much I adored it, especially when it’s as stunning as the justly celebrated Carnal Flower by Dominique Ropion. I suspect that the equally lovely Lys Méditerranée won’t be too far behind its sister in the Flawless Floral department. I am so doomed.

The Ex (Dev) Factor

I’m single now, so alas I don’t know a lot of (willing) masculine lab rats for when I needed to skin-test assorted testaments to Thermonuclear Testosterone Bombshells – also known as the Devilscents. For this reason and several others, mainly his resigned-to-the-inevitable sense of humor, I recruited Super Mario Sr. He then proceeded to ruin the female wait staff one night at a local Italian trattoria by deviously dabbing their boyfriend chefs in the kitchen with House of Cherry Bomb’s Dev. Those ladies  – usually quite clearheaded and competent in a busy, popular restaurant – were useless that night. Resistance was futile. The next day, so he told me, everyone showed up with Epic Night To Remember grins on their faces. The guys all demanded to know, as only red-blooded Italian males can – “WHERE can we buy that stuff prontissimo???” He never told them. Some things – and some secrets, apparently – are just…too good to share! Some time later, Monica Miller of Perfume Pharmer was sweet enough to send me a liquid decant of the scent of her own Dev massage lotion bar. I had just enough time to sniff it, before he declared this was his new liquid definition of awesome, and stole it with that elegant sleight-of-hand Geminis so excel at. I never saw it again.

Exotic Island Aromas

Here comes Guilt Trip suitcase no. 2. Monica also flattered me this past year by requesting my dubious services for her Primordial Scents Project. As part of it, I received Juan Perez’ – the creator of Exotic Island Aromas – two contributions, and never in my life was a sample vial drained faster than his utterly unearthly Flor Azteca. You can therefore imagine how happy I was to win a roll-on of this wonder in a draw. Full review forthcoming or I am so dead, but this feral phantasm of a tuberose is to breathe – and die! – for.

House of Cherry Bomb

As if the devastation wrought by their Dev weren’t enough, the Awesome Twosome of the House of Cherry Bomb also made Lilith, and as opportunity would have it, on one of two dates I had last year, I wore it to see a former boyfriend I hadn’t seen in eighteen years. I really don’t know what came over me. Or him. Let’s just say the reunion was a happy one. I blame the perfume. It couldn’t possibly have been me.

Neela Vermeire Creations

When your preconceptions are blown to smithereens, when you’re blown to dandelion fluff on a high summer wind by beauty, if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to wear it again as often as you can. In the case of the truly spectacular Trayee and Mohur, this could never happen often enough, and I’ve worn both of them frequently in 2012 with no end in sight. On those dire, far-too-early mornings when I told my reflection despairingly that Attitude Is Everything, I’ve worn Bombay Bling. I dare anyone to wear it without a smile on their faces! All three NVC creations have been plastered all over almost everyone’s Best of 2012 lists, and I’m not about to argue with splendor.

Neil Morris Fragrances

Among perfumistas, the astonishing Neil Morris is one of those great cult figures of American perfumery, far too cool to be a household name, much, much too talented not to be. No one was more flabbergasted than I when he chose to participate in the Devilscent Project – with alacrity and an infernal amount of glee, I might add. It pains me more than I can say to know that I only have two more Neil Morrises to review for the DSP, but on the other hand, it thrills me beyond compare to know that Neil,my darling, I’m not letting you get away! Rumi, made for his Vault Collection has become a signature I never want to be without, but I could certainly say the same for all five of his creations for the project. The good news for the rest of Planet Perfume is I understand they’ll soon be made available to the general public. Be afraid – in all the most perilous, perfumed ways…

Niki de Saint Phalle

In the Bad Old Days of the Eighties, when I wasn’t wearing my usual sock-it-to-‘em wonders, I was a definite green chypre kind of chica. No one was more thrilled than I when the opportunity to acquire this oft-overlooked gem came along. Niki de Saint Phalle is a softer, mossier and more approachable sibling of my beloved Bandit, and today, it is so unusual among the usual fruitchoulis in my vicinity, it always gets me noticed.

Olympic Orchids

One of my favorite things about inspiration is I never know in advance where it will take me. I suspect my partner-in-crime Ellen Covey would agree. So far as I’ve been able to tell, our notorious little project has redefined quite a few of her own sensibilities, and it’s certainly shown a far more dangerous, if not sinister side of her as a perfumer than anyone could have expected, least of all this longtime fan on the other side of the world. Labdanum – one of the oldest, most sacred perfumery materials – was a leitmotif of the DSP, and her opulent, labdanum-rich Dev #4 puts labdanum front and center in a whole new, peerless – and heartbreaking – light. (Ellen, I’m saving those other Devs for the (unlikely?) event I find a testosterone bomb to put them on…😉 ) Her Lil unnerved my colleagues many times this past year, before I swiped them off the floor in a photorealistic rosy swoon with her glorious Ballets Rouges.

Opus Oils

When I get rich, I want of everything Isis by Opus Oils. Because blue lotus – one of my favorite floral notes – really, truly doesn’t get any better than this. And when I want to bring out my inner hell-raising bad-gal, Opus Oils and Michelle Kredd Kydd’s M’Eau Jo no. 3 is the best intoxication to be found this side of a bottle of Jack D’s. In no time at all, I’m backstage again on a sofa in a green room with a libertine, cleavage-loving guitarist, sharing the filthiest jokes we know…

Ormonde Jayne

When a line has more hits than misses with me, I know I’m in trouble. Or I am trouble. Which is precisely what I am whenever I’ve worn Orris Noir, and that happens often with this luminous, rich and decadent iris. This past summer and early fall – or just whenever I’m in the mood for bluer skies and warmer climes – I’ve added Frangipani to my Ormonde Jaynes, simply for being the embodiment of everything tropical and happy and positively perfect, which is how it makes me feel, although I really should know better. Do I care? Not in the slightest.

Puredistance

If there is a celestial location where the epitome of spring is kept on tap, where Green reigns serene as well as supreme, then surely, it smells like Annie Bezantian’s masterpiece for Puredistance,Antonia? If there isn’t, there certainly should be.

Parfums Serge Lutens

2012 was the year I delved quite a bit deeper into the nefarious doings of Mssrs. Lutens and Sheldrake thanks to the interventions of a few perfume fairies. I’m not sure whether to thank them or curse them for that…but I’ve worn a lot of Lutens this past year, among them Rousse – I come from a long, long line of redheads, or at least that’s my excuse, De Profundis, which was everything in a chilly green kiss I could possibly have hoped for, and the breathtaking Sarrasins, which shot to the top of my jasmine exosphere in a flash and sank me to the floor in a heartbeat, overcome by this outrage of night-blooming jasmine so stunning, my world twirled, tilted and has never been quite the same since.

The Japanese Zen masters have yet another word for that instant when suddenly, all those random little factoids and odds and ends of things you know – or thought you did – fall into place as if by magic, and everything becomes as obvious as breathing, as clear and as sparkling as Baccarat crystal. That heartbeat when suddenly you get it, you get it all – the beauty, the peril, the earth, the sky, the air…the art? Zen wrapped all of it into one word and called it…satori.

Aren’t those the very moments we live and breathe for?

With thanks to all the perfume fairies!

Sweet Damnation

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT IV

–  A review of Cherry Bomb Killer Perfumes’ submission ‘Dev’ for the Devilscent Project

We humans like to believe that we have codified, catalogued and categorized everything. Everything we think and feel and believe can be boiled down to the chemical soup of hormones, every original thought somehow classified by identifying which areas in our brains fire up in a particular sequence, and some day, even our most primal, quintessential selves will probably be defined by some biochemical equation that all adds up to – human.

Unless you happen to be an incurable romantic like me. I take my own perverse delight in knowing that not all that equates me can be so neatly defined, in proving I still have mysteries to decode.

Including the enigma of precisely what it is that sparks that phenomenon called ‘lust’. Lust as I define it isn’t passion (that comes later if you’re lucky), certainly not love (that comes later if you’re very, very lucky), and not quite the more polite term ‘desire’ either. What provides that spark-out-of-the-blue that makes you look again, that sets your imagination free, that catches on those half-overgrown train tracks of your thoughts and makes you wonder…what would it feel like, what would it be like, would he, should you…

You get the idea. My own idea about that particular ignition point would be this:

It may start with the eyes, but the nose…knows.

I suspect that idea played at the back of my mind that fated Friday night I plugged myself into my iPod and wrote the first chapter of what would become “Quantum Demonology”, and wove into my storyline an idea about a perfume so dangerous, so delectable, so sinfully sexy and seductive, only the Devil could ever wear it.

Since the Devilscent Project began, these nine perfume renditions of Devilscent have all shown me different aspects and interpretations of Dev in his many guises and moods, some haunting and haunted, some as bittersweet as all the best and most fatal love affairs, some fevered and erotic, all of them heartbreaking. Even the one on my skin as I type these words, but this Dev really does put the ‘dev’ in devious and defines that singular, insidious creature that lurks within us all and goes by a four-letter word…lust.

Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl of Cherry Bomb Killer Perfumes are no strangers to perfumed perdition, as they proved beyond all doubt when they participated in the Clarimonde Project last year with their ‘Immortal Mine’. I was convinced I would very likely never sniff anything quite so dangerous again.

Wrong.

I love it when that happens!

If Immortal Mine were the phantom of perfumed perdition, then this Dev is so downright incendiary, I’m surprised the contents of my little skull bottle don’t just burst into flames. Wearing it, I almost wish I would.

This is not anyone’s usual idea of that pop-culture creature of temptation. This Dev is damnation-in-a-bottle, lasciviously liquid like all the very best of love potions, as illicit and as delicious as sin, but you are helpless to resist it and wouldn’t want to even try. You know he’s a rotter. Your heart will be broken. There will be tears.

You don’t care. It will be worth it, if only in hindsight, if only to know that one instant, you knew precisely what it means to… burn.

Like all fatal fallen angels, he begins with sweet. I don’t have a list of notes – Dev came with a sealed-wax stamp and the words:

By Satanic decree. The essences of this elixir are not to be divulged to mortals. As sealed by Dev.

So I’ll wager the soul Saint Augustine claimed I don’t have and say…cocoa, a dark, decadent chocolate teardrop that sears away any leftover inhibitions and second thoughts and better judgments. What woman in her right mind could possibly resist chocolate? But chocolate is only the first of many veils and the first of many of Dev’s most dangerous disguises. Before long, an opulent, seamless floral note insinuates itself, orange blossom, rose, a heady jasmine, a touch of tuberose?

You were helpless to resist the chocolate, and the next thing you know, you are an equally hapless victim of all these flattering, flowery words. Breathe it all in and believe it, believe it will be beautiful, believe it will be worth it, believe that you’re worthy…

Believe.

Because as you do, you’re reeling on your feet, you’re so dizzy, so delirious with all these potent promises and perfumed wonders, you could almost fail to notice after a long, long while what other secrets this Dev contains, multitudes of layers unfolding like the pages of an arcane book, blooming in slow-motion like the very human and infinitely complex character he also is.

Vade Intro Satanas – let him all the way in now, now you’ve been lured to your fate by the temptation of chocolate, next you’re swooning in that heady, floral embrace with all its heavenly intimations and promises, and here comes that night-black, animal doom…labdanum and myrrh, frankincense and oud, dragon’s blood with their blast of heat and hellfire, and yet somehow above and behind it all, that sweet promise of chocolate that never quite fades away.

I could say it of this perfume, too – it lasts, it lingers, it seems to go on forever and even when it’s gone, even after days, in some midnight moment it will steal into your consciousness to haunt you, and you can breathe it in all over again and discover facets you might have overlooked before, be surprised as you rarely are, and you will never, ever forget it.

This Dev is a creature of magic both occult and very, very dark. Not black, not any preconceived caricature of ‘evil’, but something – or Someone – so much more than the sum of parts, something whole and entire, masculine and virile that constantly defies any definition of ‘black’ or ‘white’. Sinful and taboo, deliriously and deliciously verboten, he glows in those subterranean spaces where all desire is born and all lust begins and all inhibitions are silenced. The only way to know is to go, the only way to see is to dare, and he throws down the gauntlet in a challenge you want to resist so badly, but you can’t and you don’t and you won’t.

I had an idea in my mind when I first conjured up the Devil’s scent, an idea that has been manifested through the funhouse mirror of my brief and my story, and above all by the many and varied inspirations the perfumers have chosen to follow. Each of these Devils are very different, each have their own stories to tell and their own brand of perdition to exude, and above all else, each and every one of them so much more than I could have imagined, and so much more than I think I did imagine. Sniffing Maria and Alexis’ ‘Dev’, I am blown away (again!) by their interpretation, and so incredibly privileged they chose to share it with me.

Like the Dev in my story, this perfume is thoroughly damned. Like my protagonist, I sold my own soul for the one dream I have left. But this dream is no fiction, and this perfume is no dream, but a fervent wish I sent out into the Universe that was returned a thousand-fold. It is nothing I have any kind of reference for, nothing like anything else I’ve ever encountered, but then again…the best kind of perdition never is, is it?

See much more on the Devilscent Project and Quantum Demonology on our Facebook Page. or on the Perfume Pharmer’s overview page.

Find the astounding creations of Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl at House of Cherry Bomb. Maria is also the mastermind behind the beauties of Aroma M Geisha Perfumes.

Final words: Alexis Karl has informed me that they have future plans to launch ‘Dev’ as a masculine companion to Immortal Mine. Stay tuned for details!

Images: ‘Lust’, by Kaaaay at Deviant Art. Photo of Maria and Alexis’ ‘Dev’, my iPhone.

Primeval Forces of Perfume

In Quantum Demonology, there is a term for what the protagonist calls…primeval forces, a phrase that refers to those musical epiphanies that are above superstardom and even above musical gods on an altogether different plane of existence. The ones she can’t live without, ever. The ones who never leave her iPod playlists. Ever.

But I have them in perfume terms, too. And a recent Skype conversation with one of them brought the concept up again. Which made me think, something this particular august personage does quite well. So what creates such paragons of fragrant epiphanies – what does it take to elevate illustrious perfumers and creative directors into my nosebleed stratosphere? Who are they? And why do they loom so important – on my person, in my cabinet, in my perfume subconscious? Read on, and I’ll tell you.

Understand that once upon a time, although I used – and likely abused – a wide range of perfumes starting at age 14, I did not always have such a visceral, emotional connection with perfumes. I operated on the time-honored French principle of “Ça sent beau”… “It smells…good!”, and so long as it worked on my mood, my manner or my nefarious plans, often horizontal, then all was well, until…

Until I began reading about perfume on a scale I never had before. In those days, it was olfaction by proxy, since I couldn’t afford any, but at least I could educate myself, and so I did, right up to the moment I read about a certain Paris-based perfume house, whose perfumes were described as ‘bottled emotions’. For whatever reasons, that idea stuck in my receptive mind. How did you…bottle emotion? And which ones? What did they smell like? Would they be different than the ones I already knew and loved, if no longer owned?

If I only knew what I know now.

Since becoming a perfume blogger in earnest, I’ve discovered that emotions could indeed be bottled – good, bad, even horror! (Secretions Magnifiques, here’s looking at you!). My tastes have evolved to such an extent that I love all sorts of perfumes – greens, chypres, opulent Orientals, knock ‘em dead florals, woods, gourmands, ouds…you name them, I’ll love them. There’s still room for improvement – musk is a note I struggle with – but I’m all for…fragrant transport to …elsewhere and otherwise, to new horizons and time travel, too!

Primeval Forces, however, elevate themselves above the rest. These creations are the ones I will wear without fail and with total surrender, the ones that suck me into a vortex of wonder, the ones I never hope to be without again, the ones that define not just this perfume writer, but this woman – and this soul. Which takes a lot more than simply…smelling good!

1) In every peerless work of art, so say the discerning, there is a hint of..strange, some oddity that catches the eye, the ear, or the nose. True beauty will always be unusual, always make you pause and take another look, another sniff, another snag that catches on the cogwheels of your imagination and sends it down a new and unexplored path. So that whiff of…strange that compels you to breathe deeper, that stops you cold and fires your imagination, would be my first criterion.

2) Every artistic creation – or collaboration, and some of my Primeval Forces are – contains some detectable droplet of the minds that conceived it. You could say that there’s an invisible ribbon in these bottles that goes straight from the creator(s) to that secret, bedrock location in my soul that was waiting for this reminder to shoot towards the light of awareness. I have to sense the heartbeat(s) behind it, which could explain why I tend to gravitate towards the niche and independent lines these days. They rarely disappoint me.

3) All my Primeval Forces excel at transport and the unexpected…they surprise me, they show me wonders, they make me cry, they take me places I’ve never known before, and as they do, my world is somehow larger, richer and far more colorful for it. Some kind of seismic perspective shift occurs, and how I define ‘perfume’ will never be the same.

4) Last, but not least…inspiration! When the time comes to sift through my impressions and turn them into expression, do I find myself tearing my hair out, grappling with metaphor and simile, trying to say something new, trying to expand – if not explode – my limitations as a writer? If that’s the case, I know I’m on to something spectacular. The less control I have over my own creative process, the better the end result. The perfumes that remove that illusory ‘control’ and just write my review for me – these are the ones I know I won’t be able to live without!

5) Each of these houses and perfumers march to their very own and distinctive beat. This means they can be as ground-breaking and as creative as they please, and so they are. Each has their own style and signature, and each of them make only their own rules.

So here they are – my fragrant Primeval Forces. There is no hierarchy here, no order of preference – these perfumers and houses are all laws unto themselves, continuing to take my breath away and explaining in liquid and essence, why I love to live and live to sniff!

Parfums Serge Lutens/Serge Lutens & Christopher Sheldrake

When I first read about Serge Lutens perfumes, I had this cold chill of intuition…there was something there, some secrets I needed to know. Not many understand quite so well the compelling beauty of strange and spectacular, of redefining by deconstructing. When I finally had the opportunity to try them, my world view changed…forever. I’ve been amazed ever since and I remain amazed every time I wear a Lutens, for familiarity does not take away that thrill of discovery and epiphany. I haven’t loved all of them, and in a few cases not at all, but of those I fell for – nearly twenty at last count! – I’ll love them for as long as I live.

Aftelier Perfumes/Mandy Aftel

Encountering the marvels of Mandy Aftel was one of the happiest ‘coincidences’ of my life. Mandy’s perfumes are nearly impossible to categorize, which qualifies her right there, but that’s only where she begins to pull those rabbits out of her hat. Strangely beautiful, beautifully strange, earthy, shockingly sensuous and opulent or ethereal as dancing moonbeams, she always surprises me and never compromises on her artistic vision. I have yet to encounter an Aftelier that hasn’t blown me away. They compel me and inspire me and fortify me in ways very few other perfumes do, so much that I usually have one drop of an Aftelier somewhere on me regardless of whatever else I wear, just because it’s the final cross on this T!

DSH Perfumes/Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

Right when I thought I was fast becoming my own living anachronism, mourning the death of Immortal Green Chypres, along came hope in a bottle in the form of a sample sent by Lucy of Indieperfumes. That sample was Vert pour Madame, and repercussions could be detected as far away as Buenos Aires at least. Dawn’s epic range and vision don’t stop there. Her knowledge of perfumes through history is unparalleled, her recreations and her own creations are…peerless, and just as Mandy, she knows just how to pull the rug from under my feet and expectations and swipe me sideways in all the best ways. I’ve yet to meet a DSH creation I couldn’t instantly fall for with a vengeance. As indeed I have! She’s simply…THAT…great!

Amouage Perfumes

Luxury in this day and age has become such an overused, over-hyped word. Ridiculously overpriced, average perfumes sold on pretentious PR copy are not how I define it. My perfume budget is so low, it’s a joke, yet I’m not laughing. I was laughing the day I caught myself ordering two fated (and outrageously expensive) samples of Amouage with the thought that I would be impervious to the hype, I would simply let these two speak for themselves, and despite many warnings from the Greek chorus of my fellow perfume bloggers (who knew precisely what I was in for), I was convinced Amouage couldn’t possibly be that stupendous. Famous last words, for heaven help me – they are. Every single one of them! Since the arrival of Creative Director Christopher Chong, Amouage has made perfumes so plush, unique and persuasive (if not addictive!), that all I can do is shrug at my own bloody-mindedness and surrender to their charms. In the case of Amouage, I’m so easy, it’s ridiculous. Or I am!

Opus Oils/Kedra Hart

Opus Oils, to my line of thinking, should be a smash success if there were any justice in this world. Because Kedra Hart makes perfume – always in danger of being just a little precious and high-minded – f-u-n. That might make you think they couldn’t be complex, tell stories, or take your breath away. Not so. Look past the tongue-in-cheek vintage-inspired copy (not that I’m complaining) and you will find perfumes as stellar as any others on my Primeval list, as rich and as surprising and evolving. As I work my way through my samples of Kedra’s creations, my FB wish list is getting ever longer. That they are all so easy to wear and to love can take away the fact that they are so masterfully constructed, with a sleight-of-hand that makes the very difficult look so very artless – always the sign of a true, dedicated, epically talented artist!

Neil Morris Fragrances/Neil Morris

Neil is a recent addition to my Primeval list, although I’ve been aware of him for quite some time. My introduction to Neil’s art was through a Vault collection perfume, and it literally wiped me off the floor in a swoon. But distracted as I am by all the details of my quotidian life, even I can feel that cold chill brush of intuition that sings… “Here we go – again!” For since that fatal discovery, thank all the perfume Gods!, Neil and his titanic talents have joined the Devilscent Project, and what a revelation they both have been! No neophyte to the Dark Arts of perfumery, he has reduced me to tears with his mods, because…by golly, he gets it! All of it – the light, the dark, the joy and the tragedy of my story. Our common fragrant journey has only just begun, but I am so grateful to have such a talent to explore,l and so privileged to have so many wonders to anticipate.

Olympic Orchids/Ellen Covey

If my (mis)education as a perfumoholic began with reading perfume blogs and evolved with the discovery of Serge Lutens, then it was surely cemented (or I was doomed!) when I discovered Olympic Orchids. Ellen Covey and her scents – orchid-inspired and otherwise – have done so very much to educate me and astonish me as well as delight me. She was my first indie perfumer, and has since been a perpetual surprise. Her orchid perfumes are spot-on, true to life and utterly spectacular (just ask the head gardener of the Orchid House at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Copenhagen, when I came to visit as the cattleyas bloomed, perfumes in tow), and the rest of her range is no less magnificent. But then – since this is the trouble we both like to make when we can! – we cooked up the Devilscent Project…and neither of us will ever quite be the same. The four Devils she conjured – and the synchronicity of their creation in her perfumes and my words – have shifted some major ground in my world, which has yet another reason for never quite… being the same!

Maria McElroy & Alexis Karl, Cherry Bomb Killer Perfume

Trouble always awaits when you’re sent eight samples of a new line and you can’t say one bad thing about any of them, only that you want…one of everything, pronto! This happened last summer when I was introduced to Aroma M and the lovely Maria McElroy, but little did I know the epiphanies that awaited when she joined forces with her Cherry Bomb Killer Perfumes partner Alexis Karl of Scents by Alexis fame for the Clarimonde Project and their Immortal Mine, nor what I would be inspired to write because of it. (There’s another kind of novel in that story/review just begging to be written!). These two have the kind of spectacular creative synergy between them I can only marvel at, marvel and be grateful I’m privileged to write about it. Coming soon are my reviews of their contributions for the Devilscent Project, and if perfumes are perilous – as I’ve always fervently believed – then this Devil and this Lilith, Queen of the Succubi – are surely proscribed by a top-secret Papal bull!

Neela Vermeire Creations/Neela Vermeire & Bertrand Duchaufour

Even in niche perfumery, there’s no shortage of hype – or launches. I’m well aware of all the lines I have yet to discover, or the one I’m dying to. So it takes more than PR machinery, a luxury label and ditto price tag to convince this perfume writer. It takes…that ribbon, that soul connection, that Aha! moment. When everyone started talking in hyper-excited tones about a new trio of perfumes unlike anything at all else around the time of the Elements NY exhibition, a line inspired by memories of that storied sub-continent of dreams that is India, my nose pricked up. When my sample set arrived on a gray day of forever goodbyes, I wondered whether it might be a sign of new beginnings. It was. For the trilogy and evolving stories that swirl and eddy within Trayee, Mohur and Bombay Bling are indeed those singular, vivid and personal narratives in perfume we all say we want to sniff and all too rarely do. All three reached out, grabbed my heart in fated, fabled, fragrant hugs and wouldn’t let me go. Their intricate, many-faceted wonders are there to stay!

Tauer Perfumes/Andy Tauer

When it comes to Andy Tauer, I usually joke I want to parade him down Fifth Avenue in a sedan chair with an adoring crowd throwing rose petals. I doubt this would ever happen – or even that the very modest Andy would stand for it! – but it says something of the impact he has – or the seismic potential of his perfumes. They are sometimes challenging and always unusual, and have done so much to reinvent my own perfume vernacular, no matter what the context or the materials. Whether rose – and no one does roses quite like Andy – incense, lavender or amber, or just the olfactory bomb that is Orange Star, I’ve had to really push my words to describe them and the places they took me to, and that, too is another kind of genius and another unique talent for which I can never thank him enough!

Primeval Forces are personal epiphanies, the ones you can’t live without and wouldn’t want to try. The ones you can find on yourself when all you want to do is feel that sigh of perfection in a world that all too often is anything but.

Do you have Primeval Forces, too?

Best of the Best 2011 – Worn and Adored

Being the true confessions of a dedicated perfumoholic

The problem with being a perfume blogger – apart from the fact that most of your surroundings think you’re certifiable –  is that you by necessity wear a lot – I do mean a LOT – of perfume that you sometimes may love and sometimes…may not. It will inevitably happen that you encounter your own brand of philistinism when you introduce your skin to a highly touted house and your chemistry flips you the bird as this much-marketed brand turns into either a hydra on your skin – sprouting another head of awful the more you scrub – or else…that you’re falling in love with juice that will entail selling off your seven-year-old to pay for it.

The things, the monsters, the hydras I have endured…I rarely wrote about. It just didn’t seem the polite thing to do. But surely, some day I should write about that infamous rite of passage for any hardcore perfumista…sitting out the duration of three whole dabs of Etat Libre d’Orange’s ‘Secretions Magnifiques’ on my skin without scrubbing. It was a bit like Anthony Bourdain drinking venomous snake blood in Vietnam because he wanted to be that guy who could brag about it with impunity…Well, I wanted to be that gal, and if Katie Puckrick had the ovaries to do it, then by Golly, so did I!

I did. I also turned green, then purple, then blue from holding my breath among other things. I dare say Anthony of NKDMan now owes me a bathtub sized drink…;)

On the other hand are the ones I simply…loved. Loved for their beauty, their peerless construction, the heart-rending drydowns and mood-enhancers and sex-me-uppers and just. Plain. Loved.

Aftelier

Cepes and Tuberose was my gateway into all things Aftelier. So compelling, so stunning, so simultaneously earthy and divine, spicy and sweet, it’s now become one of my Great Immortals, and on most days, there will be a tiny dab of it on my person somewhere. My Goddess Freya ‘fume. Sophia, another goddess in my novel Quantum Demonology, would surely love Fig. Something about jasmine sambac gets me. When it gets with fir and turns to fig, I’m done for. I’ve loved it – that much! I take Tango and Candide with me wherever I go just to breathe in their wonder. Whether it’s the completely seamless opulent bouquet of heaven that opens it or the perfectly balanced animal drydown of yes! Civet! Yes! Castoreum!…my little vial of Secret Garden is going fast. My ex hates it, which makes it a classic right there!

Atelier Cologne

Call me a philistine, but I have yet to meet an Atelier Cologne I haven’t loved, worn and killed off completely. I want one of each in those big, glorious 200 ml bottles. But for now, I’ll settle for a small bottle of Trefle Pur. Because it’s lucky! I just know…

Amouage

Ah, the many perils of Amouage. I first fell in love with Ubar – fatally and forever – and next with Epic Woman, although that took a while longer, but it crept up on me. Then, I met Memoir Woman. That took five tries and I was…toast. An instant love was the outrageousness of  Opus V – a slam dunk for this iris lover which will soon be reviewed – and then, Suzanne sent me a sample of Jubilation 25. “If this isn’t you…” she wrote ominously. I’m terrified it is…me! The good news, from my perspective, is that Lyric Woman is gorgeous …and hates my skin. I now eye that sample vial of Gold somewhat askance…and I don’t want to hear anything about Memoir Woman in extrait. I’ll wait until the day I show up in Knightsbridge, smoking plastic in tow, and they can tell me anything they like, so long as they tell me they take Amex as I take one of everything!

Aroma M

I’ve drained my sample set of Aroma M d-r-y. Geisha Blue (a verdant sanity saver for total stress-out days), Green, which is my other favorite absinthe, Violet, a deliciously subversive chocolate violet, Rouge, the spice fest to spice up anything at all, or the newest, Amber Rouge…Aroma M perfume oils are stunning, beautifully packaged in their Yuzen paper wrappings and they last and last and last. So will our love affair, I just know it!

Balmain

When I need a break from p-e-r-f-u-m-e, when all I want is to get on with my day and not worry about what I wear, when I get hit by acute indecision in the morning, Balmain’s Ivoire is what I reach for. A seamless, perfect dream of a green floral chypre that does everything a perfume is supposed to do – make me feel beautiful. It always does.

Caron

SuperMario Jr’s favorite perfume on his mother is Caron’s Bellodgia, one of the greatest carnations ever made. I make a point of wearing it when he’s sick to cheer him up. (His own, to his mother’s horror, is Amouage Memoir Man. He has sometimes insisted on wearing it to school…) Maman, meanwhile, has become addicted to the bad-gal leather of Tabac Blond extrait, thanks again to Suzanne. Yes, it’s the current formulation. I’m sure it was better before. But this is now and this is it and Tabac Blond is surely one of the sexiest scents I’ve worn this year? Wear wisely. I never did hear back from the guy I was with last I wore it to such stunning effect!

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

Ah, Dawn…she breaks my heart. First, there was…Vert pour Madame, and I have maybe three drops left, it’s such a perfect throwback to those Great Green Chypres we loved and adored. Then, I received a tiny vial of 1000 Lilies, and lilies don’t get any better, no matter what they say. Next, I discovered Sampsuchinon, which really puts the sass to my spice, and finally, she slayed me with Pandora and Paradise Lost. I love all of them when I can. Which is nowhere often enough for my liking.

Etat Libre d’Orange

Yes, I know. I know. But Etat Libre also gave us Like This…and I did indeed, like that, so much it’s all gone…as is Rossy di Palma, a thorny, spiky, green rose I also dearly loved.

Guerlain

In my year of revelations, two Guerlains – both from the L’Art et La Matière line – have converted me into a huge fan of Thierry Wasser. I haven’t yet tried Shalimar Parfum Initial – although I would like to – but Spiritueuse Double Vanille and Iris Ganache have made it into my regular rotation, and I’m so not a gourmand gal. I blame Carrie of EyelinerOnACat. That’s right. My nose had nothing to say in the matter at all!

Histoires de Parfums

There is no justice in this world if I don’t get my grubby hands on at least a decant of HdP 1740 – Marquis de Sade. Should be classified as a drug of a most lethal kind, so naturally, I’ve gotta have it!

ODIN NYC

I’ve only ever tried ODIN NY-04 Petrana (although I’ve heard so many great things about the others!), but for an iris lover, it doesn’t get any better, or classier, or chewier, or cooler. Then, I had the inspired idea – no such thing as too much iris! – to layer it with Iris Ganache. Petrana cuts some of the white chocolate overload of IG, and they dance in such beautiful tandem all day and well into evening…

Opus Oils

SInce I was done in by a dangerous bloom, my Flapper perfume oil from the Les Bohemes collection has seen a lot of action in my neighborhood, and never fails to land me compliments. So does Giggle Water. And Absinthia, my other favorite absinthe. Does this mean I’m dangerous? No. It means you must run, not walk, straight to Opus Oils and try them for yourself! You know you want to!

Ormonde Jayne

Linda Pilkington, how do I love thy genius? Let me count the ways…Tolu, a golden, glorious wreath of resinous perfection, Orris Noir, the world’s richest, warmest, thickest, sex-me-up iris got me into a flirt…five hours after I’d applied it and it was still going strong! Taïf, a dark, rich, red desert rose…Frangipani, Osmanthus and Champaca when life’s a bowl of cherries on a flawless summer’s day…oh, yes! Genius!

Penhaligon’s

Once upon a time, I received a Penhaligon’s Scent Library..and then proceeded to murder Malabah and Blenheim Bouquet. That’s love! Amaranthine’s utter strangeness and so-wrong-it’s-right-ness was stolen by a colleague. That’s purloined love!

Puredistance

There is no right way to say this, but say this I must – yet again. If you have the kind of skin that cozies up to green, then you must surely adore Puredistance Antonia. It is a masterpiece of a perfume – at once a reference to all those Great Greens of old and yet totally modern, too. It makes me happy and grateful beyond belief to know that Anne Bezantian felt as I do – and created what is – or what should be – a Classic with a capital C. Sigh. A forever love!

Robert Piguet

I never expected to conjure up the ovaries to fall for Fracas this year, but I did. With a vengeance. But there’s more intrigue from Piguet…since back in my Badass Days (when I was a good deal younger), I wore Bandit extrait…So I ordered a sample of the EdP from First in Fragrance, so I’d have something to complain about, only to find it was only slightly softer and not too changed these days, and that thrilled me no end. Bandit is another of my Great Immortals. Next I knew, I ordered a decant from TPC, because I’m still that kind of badass…and then, things got a little…weird. For this Bandit was not MY Bandit, with its bitter leather-violet-galbanum vibe and ashtray undertone (which is precisely why I love it, something only perfumistas can understand), but rather a fluffed-down, muskier version. Not even the color of the juice was the same. Came to find out that the US version is markedly different – why, I don’t know – and also, that I want that Euro ashtray version, so bad, I can taste it! On the other side of February 1st, I foresee an order…My sample is almost gone. I will cry my bitter isobutyl quinoline tears.

Serge Lutens

It gives me an evil amount of pleasure to state that I have managed to turn four of my friends and acquaintances into diehard Lutensoholics. Now, there are five of us where I live. I lured them in with Fleurs d’Oranger (best orange blossom ever created!), hooked them with Boxeuses, and wiped them up with Ambre Sultan. The Arabie is m-i-n-e. (and Suzanne’s! Cumin lovers, unite!) The Vitriol d’Oeillet I can share. If L’Eau Froide is half as good as I hope, this town is toast. Meanwhile, I have an inexplicable craving for the glories of Encens et Lavande…and want to try De Profundiis very badly. Cèdre I’ve loved for a quite a while, and thanks to JoanElaine, it can love me right back!

Skye Botanicals

The boy of the household – whatever Hairy Krishna, the ginger fiend thinks to the contrary – is a bit blasé about the amount of sample vials in different locations around our apartment. “Argh, Mom…why do you always smell of something?” he asked me yesterday. Nevertheless, he’s being indoctrinated by proximity. A seven-year-old who wears tiny dabs of Memoir Man to school has, I foresee, a very bright future. But one he loves beyond all reason is the one I spray on his pillow every night – Skye Botanicals Fuzzy Blue Blanket. It has replaced the lavender/neroli blend I used to use to get him to sleep. It works! He sleeps, if usually a half hour later than his mother would like…

Mainstream hits and misses

I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t like very much of what came out this year at my local shops…Chanel no. 19 Poudré was such a massive disappointment for me, Prada Candy hated me with a fury. These two words should never occur in the same sentence: Caramel and hairspray. Gah! Bottega Veneta made my best of list. There are a few Guerlains I need to investigate properly – Insolence among them, and yes, you may shoot me! But the closest thing to a mainstream find – and I can’t even find it here – that I loved was a flanker to one I do like: Mugler’s Alien. I said it – I’m a sucker for intergalactic jasmine sambac. When Aromi of IlMondodiOdore sent me a sample of Alien Liqueur de Parfum, it took me no time at all to decide I. Just. Have. To. Have. It. It’s Alien but better, smoother, richer, with a smoky, satinwood, resinous amber drydown to die for.

Ah, we perfume bloggers have it rough. So many ‘fumes, so little time. The ones we had to wear to review, the ones we wanted to love but couldn’t, the ones we loved so much, we couldn’t review them, and the ones we love so much, we wear them even on the days we claim we’re wearing nothing at all! These were mine in 2011. What were yours?

Image: The Queen’s Crown, made for Queen Sophie Magdalene by court jeweler Frederik Fabritius, 1731. Royal Danish Collections, Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen.

Sailing Through Byzantium

–  a tale of the Empress Theodora  – and a review of Aroma M’s Geisha Amber Rouge

Today is the day the world shall truly be mine. Today is the day I shall be crowned Empress, today is the day I never thought would happen, the day everyone but Justinian so fervently prayed would never arrive.

Today, the world shall be ours.

I can hear them outside these doors in the Palace, see it in the eyes of my slaves and waiting-women as I’ve seen it on the faces of my detractors…Euphemia, most vehement of them all, not more than an ambitious temple priestess in her day, opposed our liaison, opposed our marriage with all the weight of law behind her, and all to no avail. Procopius, that sniveling little chronicler with his ink-stained hands and his all-seeing, snake-like eyes, lurking in the shadows behind his patron Belisarius’ broad and faithful back. Euphemia is gone, Justin is dead, and Justinian and I remain behind, today to be crowned and rule this world of Rome and of Byzantium.

Today, that world is ours.

I have come so far since I danced with my sisters as a child for the Blues at the Hippodrome, come farther still since the geese ate their supper on my naked form, come farther and climbed higher than even I could guess the day I decided to abandon my old trade and my old ways, and one day came to entertain one well-dressed stranger with my stories as I spun my wool and linen in the sun.

Now, that world awaits me on the other side of two bronze doors, this moment countless courtiers cool their heels in the corridor. At the cathedral, the Archbishop’s acolytes are preparing the oils to anoint us, the resins for the censers, the rose petals for the roaring crowds. On my bed lies the gold-embroidered silk brocade robe, the thousands of pearls to adorn my neck beside it, and just as surely as any beast of burden is yoked to a plow, this jewel-studded collar will yoke me for my lifespan to this all-devouring many-headed monster of multitudes known as …Byzantium.

Let them wait a little longer as I linger with my old familiar self some precious moments more, as I bid my last farewell to Theodora, child mascot of the Blues, Theodora, toast of the Hippodrome in my diaphanous robes, Theodora, celebrated Constantinople courtesan…Theodora, common whore.

“Kyria…” a slave dressed in the livery of the Imperial Court calls me to attention with a small box in her hands, an ornate gilt wooden box, perfectly fit for an Empress of Byzantium. “This has arrived from Just…” She corrects herself, blushing a pretty shade of pink as she recalls, “The Augustus, for you. It has been proved safe…”

Yet another peril it will not do to forget, to trust no one, to try nothing new until all danger is disproven.

Inside the box, wrapped in precious silk, I find another priceless treasure, a small glowing vial of carved amber that sparkles all the fiery gold of sun through my window, and in the vial, a perfume oil, a perfume such as the old Theodora would never own or even know, so costly is this vial, so rare this blend of essences.

Let them wait. The Empress shall arrive soon enough. But this woman needs a few precious moments more to breathe in this fragrant glimpse of her new and august self.

I inhale my husband’s gift, a perfume for this day of all the days of a life I never could have hoped or dreamed before that day he came to me. No flowers for this all-too mortal rose, no lilies for this lady, but only all the spice and fire, heat and blood that he and I would know alone, have known in this very room.

Captured in its amber cage are all the spices of faraway Cathay and fabled India and likely places farther still, spices that saw all the wonders of that long and storied road that ends here this day at this center of the only world I shall ever know. Yet spice alone is only half the song it sings and less than half the road this perfume travels in my mind as I breathe deeper. Heat, yes, the blaze of a Syrian sun riding the endless blue above, the cool and sacred secrets of the balsams of Tyre are woven into the vial, the darker, deeper mysteries of myrrh and frankincense pulsing their heathen heartbeat prayers beneath, prayers so primeval no God will acknowledge them and no mortal can ignore them.

This perfume is me in sum and total, all my questions answered and all my hopes fulfilled and all my deepest dreams come true. I shall be proclaimed Empress today, I shall be anointed, I shall co-rule this world, and yet…

He knows me well, my Emperor, knows that even this day, the woman underneath the silks and brocade, buried in her pearls and gold must be appeased if the Empress is to rule, and so he gave me this…and captured all my secret selves and that one heated secret we share in a carved and costly amber vial.

I shall wear this perfumed secret beneath my robes of gold, my jeweled yoke, my ropes of pearls. I shal wear this costly blend, this my secret self, this fragrant song on my skin as I pass through the bronze doors and into my new self and on through all my life ahead.

I shall wear this as I sail through Byzantium on this day of days, as proud as any ship that salutes from the Bosporus, I shall wear this…sailing through Byzantium, this day the world shall become mine.

Aroma M Geisha Amber Rouge is available in a roll-on perfume oil from the Aroma M website.

Painting: Benjamin Jean Joseph Constant, ‘L’Imperatrice Theodora au Colisée’

A Philter Perilous

THE CLARIMONDE PROJECT

– a tale and a review of Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl’s ‘Immortal Mine’, inspired by ‘La Morte Amoureuse’ by Théophile Gautier

Such sadness in our village when Curé Romuald passed away and finally found his peace with God. You must understand how important he was, this gentle man, who seemed to live all his life under some impenetrable, black pall of melancholy and we never knew its cause, can perhaps even say, now that he is gone, that we knew him not at all.

So many of us had never known another curé, never known of a time when he had not somehow been present to comfort our ill, to ease our poor, to speed the dying onward to their heavenly reward, there to name a new soul into his flock, or to bless the union of some of us, in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer.

I had myself been one of them, welcomed into his congregation as a babe, recited my dutiful Hail Marys at First Communion, been blessed by those heartrending eyes the day I wed my Pierre, only to bury him with our infant son a mere year later on a desolate winter day of wind and snow.

That day, I stood by the newly dug graves of both my loves, and I wept my bitter tears of loss, and that day, Curé Romuald offered me a purpose and a reason to drag my unwilling soul through the sorry remainder of my life, rather than hurl myself, my hate and my fury at God for my loss onto Pierre’s simple pinewood coffin and never rise again. It was not to be, said Curé Romuald, for God has his reasons we mortals could never know, and there he was without a housekeeper, and I without a home, a husband, a babe in my arms.

It came to pass that I, the widow Séverine, came to the presbytery and never truly left it since.

In all our years together, Curé tended his parish and his duties as our shepherd, and in all our years, he took very great pains to ensure all propriety was observed. He taught me my letters and to read in Latin as well, and when I had become certain enough of my new skill, I would often read to him from those few books he collected, stories from the greater world outside our village or fantastical tales of angels and demons, epics of lost empires, mellifluous poems that flowed like rivers of words, singing their songs of good and of evil.

I remained in this humble presbytery these ten years on, ten years of tending a man so utterly unassuming, so modest, he gave his small stipend to his parishioners rather than use it for himself. I cooked his meals, I darned his vestments as well as his socks, and on those long winter nights that stretched before us as endless as eternity itself, I would read to him those tales, those stories, and all the while, I never knew, never knew…

The Abbé would surely make some small provision for his belongings, so it came to pass that I sorted through his trunk of clothes, the black wool serge worn to a shiny finish, the countless darns of his shirts beginning to fray with age and use and laundering. I set them aside for the rag merchant, unless the Abbé wanted them returned, but surely, they were far too worn for that?

Strange, one of his coats was rather heavier than it should be, and as I unfolded it, I discovered a large box, made of some foreign, fragrant wood and exquisitely carved in a phantasmagorical, vine-like pattern on all sides, a pattern that seemed to play tricks on my eyes as I looked, one moment losing that flowery, fluid vine, and the next, there it would be, nearly vibrant and alive on that strange box, with neither lock nor key to open it.

Ten years of thorough house cleaning and tidying and laundering had made me believe he had no secrets for his housekeeper, yet this box I had never seen before. I pulled at the lid and it came off with a long-forgotten sigh and a whiff of perfumed wood.

Nestled inside was a length of dark red velvet, so sumptuous, so outrageously opulent in these poor surroundings, so rich, it glowed in the afternoon sun through the window like the ruby-tinted pelt of some otherworldly animal. I ran my fingers over it and they tingled with a newborn pleasure as I did. The velvet, too, seemed almost to breathe beneath my fingers, and nearly powerless to stop myself, I pushed the velvet aside and saw what it concealed, what secrets the box had kept all these many years.

A sheaf of papers written in the Curé’s hand, but with an intensity to the blackness of the lines and the haste with which his pen had formed the letters on the page I had never seen before.

If I could yet say I would come to regret that moment in time when my life changed so utterly and forever, there might yet be some redemption for my soul, but I had buried it with my husband and my son. I did what any woman would do. I sat down on that narrow bed, and I read the story on those fevered pages.

All these years, the Curé and I had shared this roof, and I had never guessed at the length and the breadth and the scope of the passion and the torment contained within those words. Yet they explained so much of his unrelenting melancholy state, his utter desolation at losing God and gaining a knowledge he had been better off without, a knowledge of pleasures and palaces, a knowledge of a woman – or a beloved monstrosity named Clarimonde.

Underneath them a flash of gold sparkled, a locket that contained a painted portrait of a woman, an eerie, strange beauty with hair much the same shade as my own, and below, a philter of clear glass, sealed with a blood red wax seal that dripped down its sides, stamped with a ‘C’. It was an oil of some kind, some sacred relic for a rite I could not imagine, a shade of dark amber no less magnificent than the velvet that concealed it.  I opened it.

It was a perfume. I had no knowledge of such grand and costly things, owned none of my own apart from the Marseilles soap I used in the household over the Curé’s insistence that lye soap cost rather less. Yet I inhaled it, then with a compulsion I could neither comprehend nor articulate I applied a precious drop to my skin, and as it warmed to my skin and I breathed, I felt my heart and soul expand and my blood roil dizzying in my veins, I felt my heart beat in my chest as I had not these ten years past, I felt as I could imagine my poor Curé at the day of his ordination as he gazed upon Clarimonde, when all he knew and thought burned to cinders before his eyes, when all his old self fell away.

All my old life of these ten years past was torched in a moment in a roaring conflagration by this perfume that bloomed upon my skin. Was this her perfume, or was this her captured soul that once had lived and beat and flamed undying for my Curé in his youth?

In this philter made of glass were all the secrets of all women throughout time, women who loved and lived and laughed, women who dared dangerous, sinful, decadent things. The glories of the entire world were captured in its amber depths, orange blossom and jasmine in foreign garb, spices that sang their many different songs of a burning Oriental heat, herbs that now would grow fragrant forever more, precious, dark woods from mythical trees thought only to exist in fairy tales, a dragon’s kiss and a unicorn’s heart and all of it entire, all of it the sum of a desire which could scorch to ash in an instant.

This perfume exhaled that danger, that ruby-hued desire and its epic depth and everlasting dark, it whispered its secrets on my skin even as my old self, my half-dead self and all my half-lived life went up in flames. I rocked half-moaning on the Curé’s bed as I learned all I never knew in a single breath, as I knew what I would now be compelled to do, as I breathed in that long-lost soul of that unknown face in the locket.

This little philter in my hand and its contents on my skin could compel the world entire to do my bidding, and not one soul would realize the perils of that compulsion, would comprehend this magic to my hand, invisible, yet compelling, tangible yet untouchable, a cousin to the grief I still felt for my poor Curé. This philter contained a magic so perilous yet so masterful only a woman would know to harness its infinite power.

A woman had worn it. Very well, a woman would wear it still. As I carefully closed the philter and wrapped it carefully in the velvet in its costly box with the papers and closed it, I knew what task I had before me.

Clarimonde had died and the Curé had died with her, tormented all his life by what he knew. What I knew was that now, my time of mourning was over, my losses behind me like all my other, careworn life.

I should go to Paris, once the Curé’s affairs were settled, I thought. I thought many things as I went about my tasks in the days that followed, thought of a future I could now believe in thanks to a captured love in a small glass philter.

A man had lost eternity, all for a woman. He was gone, yet I remained, and I would go out into the world, and claim my own eternity back, all thanks to a philter most perilous, and the soul it contained, and sorrow could touch me nevermore.

Notes for ‘Immortal Mine’: Soil from an unmarked grave. One single drop of blood from a slayed Wyvern, the sweet elixor of dying jasmine and fading neroli. Amber found in ancient tombs of civilizations lost. Longing. Essence of smoke from the funeral pyre. A cut of material from Bela Lugosi’s cape, the dust from a bat’s wing. Wood resins gathered from the Forest of the Dead, myrrh scraped from the cliffs of the Dark Realm. Precious ouds unearthed from burning desert sands. Wax dripping from balck, white and pink candles, ashes of a Phoenix, words froma dead poet’s mouth. Rare herbs found in a cathedral’s forgotten garden. Desire.

‘Immortal Mine’ was made exclusively for the Clarimonde Project and is available in two sizes from Indie Scents and also from the House of Cherry Bomb /Aroma M studio in Brooklyn.

Disclosure: Sample was sent to me by Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl for review.

The Perfume Pharmer’s reviews of
Oud Luban
Immortal Mine
Ayala Moriel’s Clarimonde
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ Paradise Lost

Jade Dressler

Deana Sidney’s post on Clarimonde, vampire lore and the perils of perfumed port

Scent Hive
Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Indieperfumes’ reviews of 
Sangre
Oud Luban
Immortal Mine
Ayala Moriel’s Clarimonde
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ Paradise Lost

Beth Gehring’s post for Perfume Smellin’ Things:

The Clarimonde Project

Painting: ‘Portrait of a young woman’ by Henry Fuseli, 1781. Photo: my iPhone.

The Twilit World of Falling Wisteria – Maiko



– Part Two of Aroma M Geisha Perfume Oils

In this part of the Gion district of Kyoto, the atmosphere is different. Here you will find all that is traditionally associated with ‘geisha’ in the Western mind, the elaborate hair with the cascades of ‘falling wisteria’, the graceful white-painted face with the alluring neck left semi-bare, and the elaborate folds of obi that designate not the geisha, but the maiko, the geisha-in-training who are learning all the geisha art. Artlessness, they well know, must be learned by first studying artifice, so in these tea houses, you will find a younger vibe, more in tune with twilight than night.

In this twilit world the maiko show their skill and are eager to entertain and to please. Here, the perfumes are lighter and airier, but no less complex and certainly no less surprising than their sisters among the geiko.

Follow me down this Kyoto street and into this tea house, and meet the maiko of the twilit world, a world where even the wisteria sparkling in its ebony hair knows to dance a singular tune, and the rustle of a heavy silk kimono contains a music like no other, artless in all its studied, careful art.

Geisha Green

Absinthe, the famous La Fée Verte, has been used in several modern perfumes, but this is no regular wormwood scent. It starts with a sweet, deep viridian kick to the senses, sharp with mandarin and blackcurrant yet none of blackcurrant’s sometimes animal vibe, and dries down in the course of several hours into another, equally haunting green fairy, the kind that won’t quite let you go, not that you mind. Apparently, the aroma of absinthe is known for not just being a famed aphrodisiac (I’ll attest to that one!) but a creativity enhancer, and I can see why. I put this on, and find myself daydreaming the story arcs of my next two novels…

Notes: Absinthe, blackcurrant, mandarin, violet, amber and tonka bean.

Geisha Blue

I had a day last week that qualified as a Day To Forget. The kind where nothing works out, no one understands you and might as well be speaking in ancient Sumerian for all you understand them, the kind where the kid won’t cooperate no matter what he’s bribed with and the day’s miseries drag unending on…and on. When peace and quiet finally arrived, I was so frazzled and exhausted, I didn’t know what to do. I applied this blue-green wonder on the strength of Lucy of Indie Perfumes’ beautiful review, and for the first time in over twenty-four hours, my shoulders sank down to their proper place, I could breathe, think and…relax. So much, I went to bed and slept like a happy baby, even with two cats on top of me. Valerian may work for you, but Geisha Blue is my new favorite chill pill. Some days, you need all the aromatic help you can get, and relief gets no better than this.

Notes: Blue chamomile, green tea, leafy greens.

Geisha Pink

The sweet fruity perfume is a genre much maligned among perfumistas, mainly for being so ubiquitous. In the case of Geisha Pink, that’s a shame, because Pink is a several miles above anything sold to garrulous mall-rat teenagers at Sephora. It is indeed sweet, fruity with plum and orange, and with a long, soft, vanilla cashmere-ish drydown that lasts, but not so long you get bored with it. I may feel too old and jaded for Pink’s girlie vibe, but I happen to know the perfect teenager, who will now receive a perfect – and perfectly unusual – Christmas present. She’ll be the envy of all her Cosplaying friends with Geisha Pink!

Notes: Sugared plum, orange, vanilla.

Geisha Blanche

White in many cultures symbolizes innocence and purity, and the white collars of a geisha’s inner kimono accentuate the erotic appeal of the neck. Geisha Blanche is a stunning, summery, airy floral scent with a special touch of lychee which elevates those white blooms and makes them dance above your skin. Dance they certainly do – this is the happiest, coolest summer day in a vial, and even if you’re not a fan of white florals, that lychee might make you reconsider. It’s nothing like the insipid floral blends you see and smell everywhere yet perfect as it is – and as perfectly feminine as you can make it! Wear it for a June wedding, even if you’re the bride!

Notes: White flowers, lychee.

There’s very much to love and admire in all the Aroma M Geisha Perfume Oils – their truly unique hybrid West-meets-East approach to perfume construction where they evolve in surprising and delightful ways, the underlying uncompromising aesthetic idea behind them, and the sheer range of scents in their stunning Yuzen paper packaging. Whether you’re a diehard Oriental fan (Geisha Noir & Rouge), you’re a Green fiend (Violet, Blue and Green) or you like your florals light, airy and a touch eccentric (Geisha Blanche & Pink), there will be a Geisha for you. I’ve read reviews that said something about ‘plastic doll head accord’, but I don’t get that at all.

What struck me most, apart from their evident beauty and surprising longevity, is their extraordinary ability to evoke or promote a mood. All the perfumes I love with a fury evoke certain moods and ambiences, aspects of persona, situation or moment I wish to enhance or tone down, yet all the Geisha line went straight for the jugular and created moods I wasn’t even aware I wanted. Noir…a night to remember, Rouge…a spicy, hot, invigorating kick to my writer’s block, Violet, a singing Mallarmé poem in a perfume, Green…la Fée Verte, which makes you dream visions and think possibilities, Blue, a calming, relaxing, centering deep, deep breath of a perfume that was the perfect ending antidote to an awful day…Blanche and Pink, floral, flirty and girlie, the perfect present for a floral, flirty, young girl I know who loves all things Japanese.

As for me, I know I’m in deep, deep trouble when I look at my scribbled wish list in my perfume notebook – and find six names!

For a magic carpet ride into another world I never knew before, and an experience I know I’ve never had before, I thank Maria McElroy. And Lucy, who introduced us!

So I come across another waka poet from another time and place, the lady Otomo of Sakanoue, and echo these words…

“How fine you are

So thinks my heart

In a rushing torrent

And though I

Dam it up

Soon, it is sure

To burst…”

The geisha, meanwhile, walk the streets of Kyoto’s Gion in the Floating World to this day, still weaving their enchantment for all to see in this compelling video.

Image: Wood-block print by Utamaro, c. 1820, ‘Geisha and Maiko’

Disclosure: Samples provided by Maria McElroy/Aroma M for review.