A Ticket To India Contest!

Lord Shiva as Dakshinamurthy

Or…what happens when the Genie is felled by a cold…

Ladies and gentlemen, I had so many plans – and so many posts to write. New, unknown wonders to discover, other wonders to find the words for, a hotly anticipated release to review… And then.

And then, a rhinovirus had other ideas and zapped me with the common cold. In spite of ginger/lemon/honey infusions, steam baths with thyme oil and massive quantities of thermonuclear chiles, it stands resolute and makes sure that nightmare of all perfumoholics everywhere is all too real:

I. Can’t Smell. A. Thing. My voice is gone, too. I sound like a lovesick frog. It’s one way to shut me up! 😉

But that’s no excuse for not having a little fun for my readers while I can, is it? Thanks to the generosity of Neela Vermeire Creations, I have a little giveaway contest. Two lucky and sagacious readers can win:

One Discover Your India set; 10 ml of all three of Neela Vermeire Creations; Trayee, Mohur and Bombay Bling in spray atomizers.

One Try Your India sample set of 3 x 2 ml of Trayee, Mohur and Bombay Bling.

If you haven’t had a chance yet to try this trinity for yourself and find out what all the fuss is about (trust me, it’s there for a reason!), these three celebrated perfumes created by Neela Vermeire with Bertrand Duchaufour might be just what you need to banish the winter (or summer!) blahs.

The Fine Print:

The contest is open to readers and/or followers anywhere in the world with the exception of Italy and Russia. The contest closes Sunday, February 24th, at midnight CET, and a winner will be announced on The Alembicated Genie Monday, February 25th. Participants must provide a valid email address and contact me here with their shipping address within 48 hours after closing, so I can forward them on to Neela Vermeire, who will then ship the prizes from Paris.

The Contest!

Trayee, Mohur & Bombay Bling were all inspired by different periods of India’s history and heritage. To participate, answer the three questions in a comment, and all correct answers will be entered into a draw at random.org.

temple

1. Trayee is a fragrant ode to the sanctity of India’s distant Vedic past. Which of the three principal gods mentioned in the Rig Veda acts as a messenger between the gods and humanity?

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2.  Mohur was partly inspired by Moghul Empress Nur Jahan, who retired in luxury after a coup d’etat following the death of her husband, the Emperor Jahangir. When she retired, she devoted her time to poetry, her gardens and manufacturing perfumes. What famous building immortalized her niece? 

Lagaan

3. Bombay Bling is a liquid poem to both the modern, dynamic India of today and the exuberance of Bollywood. One Bollywood movie, 2001’s Lagaan was an international success and nominated for an Oscar as Best Foreign Film of 2002. (If you haven’t seen it yet – do! I promise – you won’t regret it!) Did it win the Oscar?

Write the correct answers to these three questions in a comment below and who knows – maybe it will be your lucky day?

Good luck!

As for me, I’ll be back with more wonders as soon as this cold is gone, no worries!

Find out more about Neela Vermeire Creations on her website, Facebook page and follow her on Twitter as @NeelaVermeire.

With many thanks to Neela Vermeire for the giveaway, and with gratitude for whoever invented Kleenex.

The giveaway contest is now closed. Thanks to all who entered. 

The Best of 2012 – Worn & Adored!

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 – 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!

The Best of 2012 – Perfumes and Perfumers

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 – Perfumes and perfumers

It’s that time of the year again when I have the agonizing task of determining the best perfumes of 2012. What did I love, what did I loathe? What did we write and what did I wear?

Just as last year, my Best of list will be in three (long) parts. First, the perfumes and perfumers that – and who – blew my mind in so many different ways. This list is limited to those I’ve actually tried and/or reviewed. I can’t keep up any longer, and I’m not sure what irritates me most – that so many perfumes were launched, or that no matter how I try, I just can’t try them all, darn it! Next comes an ode to the words, the friends and the facilitators who did so much to improve upon what I otherwise consider an annus horribilis of my own, and last, but not least, my personal list of what I wore and adored this year.

The more I’ve written about perfume, the more I’ve discovered the truth of that maxim – it doesn’t get any easier. If anything, quite the reverse. What does get easier is determining the duds from the dudes (and dudettes), the spectacular from the super-bad. As the saying goes – experience is a witch! 😉

Meanwhile, I have three fervent pleas.

Dear EU. You have a problem. Several powerful political lobbies and the IFRA wish to strengthen the substance ban and add far more natural substances used in perfumery for fear of allergic reactions. You also have a billion-euro industry of unparalleled history and heritage who depend on those very substances to make their money and so employ growers, suppliers and the thousands who work in the worldwide perfume industry. Here’s your problem. Do you give in to the political pressure – and lose all those thousands of jobs and billions of euros that pay your salary? Or do you wise up to an irrefutable fact – the people who might react are not the people who wear perfume. I hope for the best – and try to quell that tiny smidge that makes me fear for the worst…

Dear perfume houses – niche, indie and otherwise. Please. For the love of contraband oakmoss – no more oud ANYTHING, OK? Enough is enough. Let those poor, overharvested aquilaria trees just grow for a change, and get back to me in about 30 years.

One more thing. I do hope you’re listening. If you’re going to call something ‘Noir’, make sure it emphatically IS…Noir. (This doesn’t apply to Tom Ford, who knows better.) Instead, I got saddled with Chanel’s Coco Noir. I had such high hopes. Once again, they were dashed to smithereens. Note to Jacques Polge – next time, call it Chanel Greige.

Here are my fragrant epiphanies of 2012 – the best and the worst of what this year had to offer.

Best New Line:

Although technically launched at the very end of last year, the trio of carefully curated perfumes from Neela Vermeire Creations has taken the perfume world by storm this year – for a very good reason. Orchestrated with perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour, her fragrant odes to her native India past and present – Trayee, a numinous song of the distant past and sacred ceremony, the luminous Moghul rose that is Mohur, and the Bollywood extravaganza of exuberance that is Bombay Bling  – an homage to India’s dynamic, fast-moving present and future – are all richly complex, ever-evolving, multi-layered and textured tapestries, a bit like the mood rings I wore as a teenager, since I never quite know what magic carpet rides they will provide this time or what stories will follow, except they will be as fabulous, as colorful and as kaleidoscopic as India surely is and ever was.

Best Discovery:

Sometimes, I suspect that Fate/Destiny/Kismet has plans for me. I rarely enter draws or competitions, but one competition I did enter was a Facebook competition from Roman luxury retailer Campomarzio70 for a chance to try vero profumo’s newest launch, and vero profumo was at the very top of my Dying to Try list and has been for years. Lo and behold, I was one of the lucky ones, and lo and behold – not only did I receive a sample of Mito, I also received samples of both the extraits and eaux de parfums of Vero Kern’s line. I’ll have more to say about vero profumo, but I’m thoroughly, utterly delighted to state that they were all of them everything I could have hoped for and so very much more.

Theme songs

1. The War of the Roses

2012 was a year of some spectacular roses, not simply variations on a theme but roses reinvented and made into new, improved versions of themselves, and this year brought me three breathtaking roses – and one I have yet to review, but I’ll be getting back to that one. My personal 2012 Trinity of Rose – I can’t choose between them and wouldn’t dare to try – consists of the decadent, mossy, silk-velvet Ballets Rouges by Olympic Orchids, Aftelier’s joyously delicious Wild Roses and Neela Vermeire Creations opulent, majestic Mohur. The war referred to in the heading is simply the one that goes on in my mind deciding which one to wear!

2. The Color Of My Hopes

This diehard green-floral fan was thoroughly delighted to see that she wasn’t the only one who loved her greens and wore them, too. The most original take on that particular theme was definitely vero profumo’s Mito, which is my Green of the Year. But another new line’s highly original spin on that well-loved riff deserves singling out, and that is the Green Feral Thang that is Kerosene’s aptly named Creature. Alas, I loved that tiny sample so much I have nothing left to review it with.

3. The Chypre Continuum

Despite whatever the IFRA might say to the contrary, three stellar chypres were launched this year that bear no resemblance to those wan, pathetic, patchouli-laden wannabes called ‘chypres’ in mainstream perfumery. These three are far, far above and way beyond them all. Two I’ve already reviewed, Amouage’s Beloved and the effervescent Parfums d’Empire’s Azemours L’Oranger, the last of the three came to me fairly recently thanks to a perfume angel. MDCI’s Chypre Palatin – yes, expect to see a review soon – is a blatant, deliriously great gauntlet thrown in the face of all who would do away with those dark, earthy, mossy depths so many of us love – and wear with no ill effects whatsoever.

4. Perfume stories

Two tales involving perfume have become a huge part of my own personal scent trail in 2012, and I say this in all humility since one of those stories was my own. The one that wasn’t (which I have yet to read) was L’Artisan Parfumeur’s showstopping Seville à l’Aube, created by Bertrand Duchaufour (I swear, the man was everywhere this year!) in collaboration with Denyse Beaulieu of Grain de Musc for her book ‘The Perfume Lover’. Once that fatal word ‘orange blossom’ began to be thrown around as the rumors grew before its launch, I swept in like a hawk on the hunt and acquired a decant of Seville à l’Aube blind – and never in the history of this perfume blogger did the level of perfume drop so fast in a decant, not for lack of alternatives. This blend of rose-tinted memory and glorious orange blossom, beeswax, a most unusual lavender and thick, dancing swirls of incense is, in a word, flawless. Rumor has it that Denyse and Bertrand have plans for an extrait version called ‘Duende’. I pale to contemplate what it might be like. When that decant goes, I will cry. Buckets. Streams. Rivers!

About that other one…Once upon a time, I concocted a story out of boredom that I wrote all the way to the day I wrote ‘The End’ – and have rewritten several times since. Thanks to my partner-in-crime, Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids, the Devilscent Project was resurrected as a group project involving some of the very best bloggers in the blogosphere – and the very best indie perfumers in the US. Neil Morris, no stranger to danger and a monumentally talented perfumer, joined the project and then proceeded to blow my poor proboscis to smithereens by bottling up the first chapter of the tale – and calling it Midnight at the Crossroads Café. All the elements of that first chapter are contained within its depths: the smoky, late-night café, the chill of looming winter, the cinnamon and spices wafting from the mulled wine, the remnants of an evening to remember, the danger, the desire, the Devil, the deal…There’s nothing at all on Planet Perfume quite like it. I cried my immensely flattered, floored, grateful tears the day it arrived and many times since whenever I wear it.

Speaking of invoking my inner Drama Queen…one august personage loves nothing more than to induce apoplexy at the post office, apoplexy that means a large, smoking trail of blackest profanity, a not-at-all clandestine spray because I can’t bloody help myself and eff-what-they-think, followed by that unfortunate I-so-have-to-sit-down-now moment. Christopher Chong has had not just an awful lot on his plate this year, he also has that on his conscience! As well as…

Best Post Office Apoplexy – and my Amber of the Year:

Amouage Opus VI. If anything redefined amber as something new and audacious, surely it was Opus VI. Dry, smoky, woody, complex and raspy, it’s extraordinary and yet a definite Amouage, and that’s precisely how I like my ambers – and my Amouages. Meanwhile, I’ve received funny looks at that post office ever since. They probably think I’m getting controlled substances in the mail. I am. And it’s all HIS fault!

Finest WTF moments:

Amouage Interlude Man & Woman

But Beloved wasn’t enough for this Perfume Torquemada. Opus VI wasn’t enough. Then came the coups-de-grace that were Interlude Man and Woman, and my doom was as total as my confusion, since I came by necessity to discover that the labels has been switched on my samples. Interlude Woman was Interlude Man, and vice versa. Or his vice was my versa. Or something. Whatever the case, these two bottled odes to the cacophony and chaos of modern life – and the deep, deep breaths we take in order to cope with them – were astonishing. And nearly impossible to review, since I barely knew where to start. Even now, even today, I wrestle with those obstinate genies who refuse to give anything away, yet insist all the same… “We haff vays to make you talk…” Oh, yes. In tongues long dead and likely forgotten, but talk, I do! The problem, as my readers are surely aware, is shutting up!

That other Christopher (Sheldrake) whose work I so adore – and the devious if not diabolical Creative Director he works in tandem with, M. Lutens  – was no slouch this year, either. Parfums Serge Lutens gave us…

My Favorite Bottled Air Conditioning:

The Serge Lutens line known as L’Eaux tend to be a bit divisive. I happen to like the original L’Eau, (a decided minority), but ‘like’ turned to love when L’Eau Froide arrived in February during an epic spell of freezing weather. It since became a summer staple on those (rare) hot summer days with its unique combination of rosemary/pine/eucalyptus and chilly Somali incense. No matter where I went or what I did, I was – literally – Cool, Calm and (very) Collected. If there were two words that encapsulate all L’Eau Froide is to me, they would be Chill and Out.

Got Wood?

Sandalwood? If we’re talking the fabled Mysore sandalwood, the answer is probably not. Over-harvested to near-extinction, adulterated and even counterfeited, the real Mysore sandalwood is nearly impossible to come by any longer. Australian sandalwood, however – a different species of tree and a different fragrance – is not. Frankly, I don’t mind too much, since the arrival of Santal Majuscule – using that Australian sandalwood – will likely completely make you forget you even miss the real thing, with its spicy cocoa-rosy ribbons wrapped around a rich, creamy sandalwood heart. Obey my commands if not my deeds, ye sandalwood lovers. Try it!

Most Dangerous/Sexy Perfumes of 2012, Masculine:

Anything named Dev, from Esscentual Alchemy, Neil Morris Fragrances, House of Cherry Bomb, Olympic Orchids or the Perfume Pharmer. Trust me. I know.

Most Dangerous/Sexy Perfumes of 2012, Feminine:

Anything named Lil or Lilith from Neil Morris Fragrances, House of Cherry Bomb, Olympic Orchids, and certainly Babylon Noir from Opus Oils, too. Trust me. I know.

Tropical Escape Hatch

Another line that was new to me (if not to the rest of Planet Perfume) was Micallef, and my shameless self-promotion on Facebook and Twitter meant that a sample package arrived in the mail one sunshiney day – with one broken vial, but I won’t hold that against them. There will be more reviews of Micallef to follow – but for now, let’s just say that whenever the winter blahs blow too hard, I now have the tropical escape hatch that is their beautiful Ylang in Gold. Just knowing it’s there glowing in my cabinet tends to make the snow, the rain, the wind somehow easier to bear.

Disappointment, Guaranteed!

It was a spectacular campaign. It was a no less spectacular premise. Even the bottle was, well…spectacular. What wasn’t quite so spectacular were the contents of Lady Gaga’s ‘Fame’. I wish I could say that might have been the whole idea – you’ve been had by a concept – but alas, that might be asking for more meta than even Lady Gaga could supply. Likewise, the much-anticipated ‘Truth or Dare’ by Madonna was a monumental…letdown. I’ll give celebufumes a chance, but throwing Fracas into the cotton candy-machine and calling this fluffy-bunny over-sugared Da-Glo pink tuberose ‘Truth or Dare’ is neither truthful nor particularly daring. C’mon, Madge. We had expectations. Until we didn’t. Sic transit…For one, I never in my wildest flu-ish phantasmagorias expected to write ‘fluffy bunny’ about a tuberose. ‘Nuff said!

From the overthought Unintentional Hilarity Department:

Brad Pitt for Chanel no. 5 could have really rearranged everyone’s mental furniture. It did, but in ways not even the marketing department of Chanel could have anticipated. We were howling with laughter…over the pretension of it all. Since Brad Pitt as a rule doesn’t make me laugh and neither does Chanel these days, that’s…something, just not what Chanel might have been hoping for.

Dear readers, you have all been so patient, so forgiving of all the verbiage. But wait! There’s more! For this year, I hand the baton of Truly And Epically Spectacular Perfumers to…a collective united by a project that took them places and made them create perfumes as perfumes might never have been created before, and an individual that means I’ll likely cook my goose most thoroughly. Since I’m not afraid of controversy – or flying bottles of Britney Spears Circus Fantasy – I’ll plow in regardless.

Perfumers of 2012 – Collective

The perfumers of the Devilscent Project as a whole claim one half of the Perfumer’s Prize. I had no idea one snowbound weekend in January preparing the brief, just what would lie in store or what marvels would be created. But in essence and absolute, Amanda Feeley of Esscentual Alchemy, Neil Morris of Neil Morris Fragrances, Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids, Monica Miller of Perfume Pharmer, Katlyn Breene of Mermade Magickal Incense Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl of House of Cherry Bomb and Kedra Hart of Opus Oils threw away all the rules and the book they were written in, too – and made my Faustian tale of desires, dreams, love, rock’n’roll and redemption into something brand-new and most wondrous strange – strange for being impossible to classify, wondrous for being, well, some of the sultriest, sexiest, most salaciously hair-raising, inhibition-killing, zipper-popping, bodice-ripping perfumes ever made – anywhere, so long as you parked your preconceptions by the wayside and followed them down the rabbit hole, the Chelsea Hotel, a street in Ditmas Park – or that midnight café.  I’ll have much more to say about them – I have four reviews to go and a wrap-up post, but for now and for always, the technical skills and all-out sinfulness of all the Devilscent Project’s seventeen scents are staggering testaments to a maxim I learned while writing the book – that inspiration is everything, and so long as you dare to follow where it takes you, anything can happen, and sometimes, miracles, too.

Independent Perfumer of 2012

I’ve been writing this post off and on in my head since October, thinking about what should make my list and who I should single out for praise. Yet no matter which ways I sliced or diced it, my mind kept coming back to a man with a stunning string of massive successes just this year alone, and he’s given us perfumistas so many epiphanies in so many bottles for quite some time.

Therefore, I’m going to court controversy and hand it to… Bertrand Duchaufour. For his work with Neela Vermeire Creations, for his work with L’Artisan Parfumeur and Denyse Beaulieu, for the breathtaking Chypre Palatin and for never, ever falling back on a formula and repeating his own artistic predilections. Like all the best of any art in any genre, a Duchaufour is always recognizable, yet always surprising.

Having said that, one of his artistic collaborations blew up in his face and all over the blogosphere as well as perfume boards – namely, his creation of a line of perfumes for Gulnara Karamova, the daughter of Uzbekistan’s dictator, who apparently has plans to become either a fashion designer or a pop star with a celebufume of her own. The problem isn’t that she at least had the supreme good taste to go for the best – the problem, of course, is whether an artist is ethically responsible for the questionable actions of his patrons.

Never mind we mortals will likely never even see these perfumes in our part of the world. The rest of Planet Perfume learned about it via an article in the UK newspaper The Independent, which was picked up by a number of perfume blogs. Next we knew, all hell broke loose as so many rushed to deride the ubiquitous M. Duchaufour, his works and his choice of collaborators. People swore never to buy another of his perfumes again. People threw out entire, costly bottles. Planet Perfume felt somehow betrayed in its illusions of the beautiful world of perfume, when the fact is – it’s every bit as dirty, as filthy, as infested and as cutthroat as any other business these days. And much as it pains me to say it – it IS…a business, for all we prefer or hope to believe otherwise.

It was an interesting debate, not least for what it never really said. If M. Duchaufour were to lose his professional reputation over his trip to Uzbekistan (one commenter stated his career was over, which is a tad over-dramatic) – one of the most severely repressed countries in the world – shouldn’t it by rights follow that the august fashion houses of Dior, Chanel, Balenciaga, Balmain, Dolce & Gabbana et al. should surely be shunned/boycotted, too, for clothing Miss Karamova? After all, it is the precise same problem.

Or – if the questionable ethics of patrons really were the point, then how do you explain the Italian Renaissance – financed by a whole bunch of emphatically and epically questionable so-called ‘nobles’ in Florence, Milan, and Rome? Do we now boycott the Mona Lisa since Leonardo Da Vinci was employed by Cesare Borgia (no Snow White!) at one point in his illustrious career? Would Da Vinci be responsible for what Cesare Borgia and the Papal armies did to Italy? He did make several lethal war-machines, after all…

Or do we simply say…even artists are people, too, and people do like to eat and support themselves and their families as best they can. So artists will go where the money is and hope for a creative challenge if they’re lucky, and the rest is…what it is. You don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

Here’s what I believe. Anyone can make mistakes. If they’re smart – as I definitely suspect M. Duchaufour is – they’ll learn from them and…move on. As I suspect he will, and hopefully, his legions of enlightened fans will follow. The art supersedes the artist, and the art Duchaufour has created and unleashed upon the world this year alone has done so very much to improve upon my world and my life.

As for the artist – I also have reasons to believe he still has a few aces up his sleeve, and is just waiting to unleash them upon an eager world. Here’s hoping! Bertrand Duchaufour, this was your year. You do have a few more left, yes?

So many perfumes – and so little time! What were your favorites of 2012? What trends did you love – or hate – and what do you hope lies in store for 2013?

Stay tuned for Part Two of the Best of 2013 – in friends, in phrases and in facilitators…

Note: This blog expresses my own independent opinions and views and I am never compensated for any reviews or review lists.

Heartsongs for a Heritage

  – a review of Neela Vermeire Créations

Far away from where I type these words lies a land that has fired and inspired Western minds for over two thousand years. A land so vast, so diverse, so rich, so teeming with life and history it seems to exist somewhere in the Occidental mind between legend and reality, in time and yet somehow above it, only fitting after all for a culture that also gave the world the concept of ‘the eternal now’. Conquering armies have marched across its plains and deserts, through its jungles and mountains in search of its riches and spices, writers and adventurers took its ideas and concepts back to an incredulous Europe, who thought they surely exaggerated, only those Europeans who did come found the stories they were told, the books they had read were far too simple to even begin to describe the world-within-this-world that was, that is and that always has been…

India.

For all I know myself about ancient history and even India’s history, for all my future plans to visit Kerala and Tamil Nadu just to start, for all my favorite Indian-born writers, I’m yet another gobsmacked European trying to wrap my mind around all it was and even is today. When I first began sketching out ideas for my review, I did a brainstorming association exercise first, writing down every adjective or noun that came to mind with the one noun that was India. I counted fifty-five before I had to actually think about the next one, such is the scale of its scope on my imagination.

When the perfumosphere first began to exude rumors of the new niche brand Neela Vermeire Creations shortly before Elements NY, which is where I first read of them on The CandyPerfumeBoy, those first intimations of intrigue and wafts of (imagined) wonders pricked at my relentless curiosity and my nose began to dream in an instant of all this trio of perfumes could evoke and all they might contain.

When Indian-born Neela Vermeire, who is trained in social sciences and has worked as a lawyer, decided to create her own tributes to her Indian childhood, she worked for over a year with Bertrand Duchaufour to pay homage to three aspects of India – the ancient past of the Vedic era of legend, lore and faith with Trayee – the glorious era of the Moghal Empire and the British Raj with Mohur – and the modern, exuberant India of today with Bombay Bling.

Just as friends who traveled to India have said time after time … ‘It was nothing like I thought it would be’, they turned out to be nothing like anything my paltry imagination could conjure.

Trayee is a tribute to the Vedic era, that time of legend contained in the Vedas, in the many stories of the Mahabharata and the tales of that far distant beginning when the world began, the sacred texts of the Vedas with their hymns, their prayers and their songs. Trayee is the perfume of spirit and devotion, the scent of Indian temples with their spices and their prayers ascending to the Gods in a cloud of color and all the holy fragrances of faith. It starts with a bright, uplifting opening of ginger and cinnamon, with an underlying pine-lemon slightly animalic undertone I suspect is the blackcurrant, but as it evolves a wisp of sacred incense, cardamom and jasmine sambac (one of my most favorite notes) peek out and dance their own devotion on my skin and I become my own cliché – transported elsewhere and otherwise to where that seamless blend of spice and wood, oudh and oakmoss somehow manage to weave my many fragmented selves into a prayer all my own. Like not a few Duchaufour creations I’ve tried, the list of notes – complex as they are – read several shades of ‘how-is-this-possible?’, but the evolution is flawless – from that first heady rush of spice all the way through to the rich, earthy, woody drydown breathing its many shades of ‘divine’. I would characterize Trayee as a uniquely transcendental perfume, transporting me to where ritual may be complicated yet true faith is very simple, and for truly evoking that sense of sanctity and history, a perfumed prayer all its own, and those are as rare as unicorns and as precious as any Indian rubies!

Notes for Trayee: Top: Blue ginger from Madagascar, elemi oil, cinnamon bark, ganja effects, blackcurrant absolute, basil Heart: Jasmine sambac absolute, Egyptian jasmine absolute, cardamom absolute, clove, saffron, sandalwood Base: Javanese vetiver, Haitian vetiver, incense, Mysore sandalwood oil, patchouli, myrrh, vanilla, cedar, amber notes, oudh palao from Laos, oakmoss 

Mohur – named for the most valuable gold coin India made until 1918 –  is another facet to the many-hued jewel that is India, a tribute to the glorious, opulent era of the Moghul Empire and the British Raj and to one woman in particular who shaped the Moghul era like perhaps no woman before or since. Her name became Nur Jahan, meaning ‘The Light of the World’, and when she arrived at the court of the Emperor Shah Jahangar in 1607 as a widow, it took no time at all for him to decide that she should become his wife number twenty, and still less when – so their many love stories go – he never touched wives 1 through 19 ever again. Noor Jahan ruled as the unquestioned power behind the throne for over twenty years before a palace revolt exiled her. She devoted the remainder of her days to the art of perfume making.

I can well imagine, if Mohur is anything to go by, that it could have been one of the very perfumes Nur Jahan could have made for herself, or – as I think the intention was here – to create the quintessence of …rose, but not just any rose. Just as Trayee, it begins with a spicy, fiery kick, this time of cardamom and coriander, intimations of musky ambrette and carrot and that incandescent black pepper and before you know it, that fatal, flawless beauty, a veritable Maharani of rose unfurls in slow-motion beneath your nose, defying every rosy perfume cliché you think you know to define something larger than life yet as intricate as any inlaid jewels on a marble Moghul-era façade, with a suggestion of richly tooled leather and a gossamer-fine embroidered veil of violet and orris. A veil that slowly slips to the floor to reveal all this rose’s darkest secrets of wood and oud in sparkling shades of light and dark, patchouli and amber, before it vanishes in a rosy dream with a last sweet sigh of goodbye and vanilla, benzoin and tonka bean. I grasp at the words here, desperately thumbing through thesaurus and dictionary trying to find some description that does it justice, before I realize I’ve written it already.

A Maharani…of rose.

Notes for Mohur: Top: Cardamom absolute, coriander seed oil, ambrette seed, carrot, black pepper, elemi oil Heart: Turkish rose oil, Moroccan rose absolute, 11% rose accords, jasmine accord, orris, aubepin flower, almond milk notes, violet flower and orris, leather vitessence Base: Sandalwood, amber, white woods, patchouli, oudh palao from Laos, Siam benzoin, vanilla, tonka bean

It’s all too easy to overlook the modern India when you’re sideswiped by 5000+ years of history and heritage. Yet modern India doesn’t live in the past or for the future but in the ever-evolving ‘now’ with all the endless exuberance and energy a young population can bring. This is Neela’s wink to the India of today, with the over-the-top glamour of Bollywood dream factories to the streets of south Mumbai and the hectic, glitzy nightclubs where beautiful Bollywood film stars dance the night away with instant stock market millionaires. I came to discover during my research, for instance, that there is a very ritzy nightclub in Mumbai called…Bling!

If you read the notes and reach for the smelling salts or your running shoes to run a mile the other way, dear reader, let me say this is not your deathly ubiquitous fruity-floral generic joke, this is instead a bubbly, happy, day-glo colored perfumed dream that zaps you awake in all the best, most joyous ways, so effervescent, you won’t dare a peep of protest but simply surrender, just as I did, to that intriguing tropical blend of green mango and lychee, with the blackcurrant, cardamom, cistus and cumin adding their own sultry midnight heat. As it develops, the florals – a heady, glorious mix of floral notes that include jasmine sambac, ylang ylang, tuberose, frangipani and gardenia – bloom and sing and dance, and it’s all you can do not to dance a little Busby Berkeley/Bollywood number of your own. Just…roll with it, feel as young and as carefree as you dare, dance the night away and watch the sun rise along with your hopes and your optimism, sense all the colors of life on your skin bloom. A plush drydown of patchouli and tobacco and sandalwood will set you gently down again and make you think in possibilities you thought were too old and jaded to envision – but you weren’t! Life is the eternal ‘now’. Live it!

Notes for Bombay Bling: Top: Mango, lychee, blackcurrant, cardamom, cumin, cistus, rose accord, Turkish rose Heart:  jasmine sambac absolute, Madagascar ylang ylang, white floral accord of tuberose, frangipani, gardenia Base: Patchouli, tobacco, white woods, sandalwood, cedar, vanilla

As a perfume writer, I’m no stranger to the hyperbole of press releases and sometimes hysterically overwrought copy not even I could cook up. I tear my hair out every time I try to express the intangible and describe the perfumes I have the supreme luck to experience. Many have been marvels. Some have made their own way into my perfume cabinet and into my heartstrings and because I’m a hapless if hopeful romantic – in spite of all my life has taught me – there they remain, arguing amongst themselves like the harem of any Moghul emperor… ‘which one will her Majesty pick today?’ ‘Me!’ ‘Me!’ ‘Me!’

This can make anyone a little – or more than a little… jaded. With thousands of new releases a year, with the constant clamor of ‘New!’ ‘Astounding!’ and hyper-luxurious price tags, there’s no lack of wafting wolves out to eat my money or feed my fragrant addictions.

Yet the kind of fragrant transport, the storied genies, the ghosts of a distant past and all the dimensions of teeming, swirling, dancing multitudes of color and life and spice contained in just three sample vials from a brand new line have utterly, completely taken my breath and certainly my words away. I could have said – as my friend Olfactoria once famously did: ‘Great juice! Go buy it!’

Instead, I will say that  each of these extraordinary jeweled juices that travel through time and place have a heartbeat of heritage and an exuberant future ahead.

Life is the eternal ‘now’. Live it!

Neela Vermeire Creations is available at Luckyscent, Jovoy Paris, Parfümerie Osswald in Zürich, Sündhaft München, and directly from Neela Vermeire’s website, where sample sets are also sold.

Images: Vedic artwork of the Shiva in his aspect as Dakshinamurthy, guru and teacher of all knowledge & the Next and Last Incarnation of Lord Vishnu from vedic-art.weebly.com

Image of Nur Jahan: exoticindia.fr

The garden of Diwan-i-Am, Fatehpur Sikri, Uttar Pradesh from gordonbrentingram.ca

Indian Bride, worldstylo.blogspot.com

Photo of the Mumbai skyline known as ‘The Queen’s Necklace’, classygal.wordpress.com

Disclosure: Samples were sent to me for review by Neela Vermeire