Falling Forward

 – an ode to my favorite fragrant Fall thrills

Autumn is one of my favorite times of the year. A little melancholy, slightly tinged with regrets for what might have been and what should have been done, autumn has also proven itself to be the season of cataclysmic change this year, a change so drastic, it’s been all I can do to hang on by the skin of my teeth and know…that all I can do is to go with the flow and give myself over…to evolution and the knowledge that from here on, life can only get more exciting.

And I can give myself over to the many pleasures of falling forward…into autumn, into the incendiary glow of golden-leafed trees, ruby-hued leaves, and the intoxicating sharp scent of burning wood fireplaces and bonfires, the smell of mushrooms and cepes sprouting up overnight, the sound and scent of apples falling to the ground, that looming breath of steel and stone that lurks beneath the colors and the chills in the air. Wrapping my chilly, wintry self into favorite woolen sweaters, and wrapping favorite scarves and mufflers around my neck, inhaling that palimpsest of perfumes worsted in the wool.

Autumn is also an excuse for hauling out the heavy, heady perfumes with which to slay the unsuspecting world – the ones I wear as I would wear cashmere, the ones that comfort and console me on rainy days and Thursdays, the ones I wear like scented armor, and all the ones I love…

Below, you’ll find some of my favorite autumn fumes, the ones that contain October  and November in their essence, the ones that trail behind me like the ghosts of autumns past as well as harbinger angels of the future possibilities that lie ahead, waiting for when life returns and all is green again.

L’Artisan Parfumeur – Seville à l’Aube

It’s generally agreed that Bertrand Duchaufour is one of the greatest perfumed geniuses alive today. His work has ruined me several times over this year, when I was introduced to Neela Vermeire’s breathtaking perfume odes to her native India and all three of them shot to the top of my Most Worn of the year list. Next came an introduction to L’Artisan’s Dzongkha – one haunting, numinous iris – and Sienne L’Hiver, no less haunting and evocative. They all broke my heart. But when I read of Duchaufour’s collaboration with one of my own inspirations, Denyse Beaulieu of Grain de Musc, and heard the fated words ‘orange’ and ‘blossom’, I was had at the first syllable. Oh! So imagine my anticipation when I moved in on a split of Seville à L’Aube blind (this very rarely happens any longer), and all it took to tip me over the edge was one fatal sniff…My full review will be up in a few weeks, but this mesmerizing blend of orange blossom, lavender and incense is …flawless.

Amouage – Memoir Woman

Something about autumn brings out my inner Goth, which is to say, that part of me that appreciates seriously depressed-mode music, rainy days, and lots of witchy black velvet. While I wouldn’t be so bold as to say Memoir Woman is Goth per se, I will say that it is a moody, magnificent, haunting perfume of a kind that tends to stick in the mind long after it wears off. I didn’t like it much at first, but I couldn’t stop sniffing. It reminded me of a advertising tagline I once cooked up for a story I wrote: “Haunted. What he will be.” Haunting, unforgettable, there is nothing quite like it and nothing quite like a love that grows and grows to haunt you.  As it has. As I have been. As I remain.

Serge Lutens – De Profundis

Some claimed that dear Uncle Serge had somehow lost his marbles when De Profundis was released, and I have no idea what mushrooms they nibbled, because De Profundis – inspired by the treatise by Oscar Wilde, death and funereal chrysanthemums – is simultaneously green, cool and impossible to forget. Incense, chrysanthemum and a mesmerizing icy green-tinged, tear-stained violet chill all add up to ‘spellbinding’ in my book, but if any Lutens is perfect for that delicious melancholy that pervades October Sunday afternoons, it’s this one.

Aftelier – Cepes and Tuberose

My first introduction to the fabled perfumes of Aftelier was Mandy Aftel’s justly famous and unorthodox Cepes and Tuberose, which is earthy, floral, spicy, heady bottled magic – or else a horror story of mildewed mushroom and airy tuberose. There is truly nothing at all else quite like it, and you either adore it or hate it. I have since that fatal introduction loved it so much, a mini of the parfum goes where I go and a dab often wafts as I breathe no matter what else I wear. It smells golden to me – golden as the maple leaves that now are turning red to bloom in midair and dance their leafy sigh into the ground.

Neela Vermeire – Trayee

Whether it’s the blaze of color or the sudden shock of chill in the air, there is something numinous about autumn, something that reminds you of the passage of time and the ephemerality of all life. When that sudden pang of mortality hits me with the delicate slap of a falling leaf, I often reach for Trayee, a swirling, whirling, spicy Mahabarata epic in a bottle, wit its fiery, feisty cardamom, a wink or two of sacred bhang, smoke, incense and samsara. In no time, my spirits lift and my mood improves, and I dream such faraway dreams of other times and other, sacred spaces.

A Trinity of Ambers

Autumn is also the perfect time for ambers…those glorious, heady, drop-dead sexy golden potions I once hated and now love with a fury that teeters on obsession. Three in particular hold pride of place in my amber-tinted Pantheon, and I’m not even sure I can bear to know there will be others in their wake. The Great Khadine, Serge Lutens’ Ambre Sultan, with its opening green bite and its sumptuous drydown, whispers its secrets in my ear, while Amouage’s Opus VI speaks its twisting, turning, ever-evolving tongues of wood flickering in firelight, and when I stand still and listen to the beat of my heart in the moonlight, Neil Morris’ Rumi trills its transcendental tale of another kind of sweet-scented magic.

Labdanum dreams

The ongoing Devilscent Project has completely changed my life around in more ways than one. I could talk about these unbelievable perfumes until the cows came home to roost, but the one note the Devil insisted upon to his perfumers was labdanum, a whole fragrant universe unto itself, and one of the oldest perfumery materials in the world. When life has been known to grind me down, Olympic Orchids’ spare, pensive Dev #4, which puts a magnificent labdanum in the spotlight, centers me as nothing else will, so even I can envision such luscious, labdanum things come true. As I do, I’m often taken back to a midnight moment in time, and when I am, another spicier, darker, more ominous labdanum-tinged marvel wafts forward, and that is Neil Morris’ Midnight at the Crossroads Café.

Olivier Durbano – Black Tourmaline

One reviewer on Fragrantica stated that Olivier Durbano’s Black Tourmaline was ‘for real men only’. This is absolute nonsense. For Black Tourmaline is a stunning mélange of leather and the darkest, deepest, smokiest incense you can imagine, and I’ve received many, many compliments when I’ve worn it, despite being nothing masculine in the slightest, not even in a tux. It’s as otherworldly as a fog-drenched November morning and as warming as a firelight glow at night, and when it goes, it will be missed, like November, like firelight, like a ghostly wisp of cloud bearing down to kiss the earth one last and final time.

More than any other season, autumn sings to me of time passing, of moments as fleeting as the bloom of glowing leaves dancing in a deep blue sky. When Debussy’s ‘Clair de Lune’ seems to match the tasty tristesse of a rainy afternoon, and when the smoky thrills of firelight and flame warm the soul through.

What are your autumn favorites? Or just…your favorite things about autumn? I’d love to hear about them!

With many thanks to…Andrea, Amy, Ruth, Christopher, Mandy, Ellen, JoAnne, Neil and Christos. 

For that Perfectly Pretty Day

– a review of Illuminum ‘White Gardenia Petals’

A little girl plans it in her head for years and years. That perfect, perfect day where she gets to star in her own movie of being the eternally adored center of attention, surrounded by her fawning family and friends, lavished with presents chosen from a carefully compiled list and registered at all the right stores, wearing her ultimate whipped-cream-and-meringue fantasy of silk and lace.

Her wedding day. Somewhere is a groom of course, like all Prince Charming fantasies, but he’s nearly incidental. After all, on this perfect day, this perfect fantasy is all about her!

Somewhere and somehow, that little girl grows up, outgrows her Barbies and mostly her Disneyfied fantasies about that perfect, perfect day. Prince Charming may evolve into Charming Only After That Third Bottle of Champagne, or devolve not just into a frog, but an entirely new sub-species of amphibian loudmouth.

Unless she never does outgrow the Disney brain damage, in which case, she may well turn into Bridezilla.

Not all that long ago, Catherine Middleton slayed cake-eating viewers and hopeless romantics all over the planet on that perfect day she became the Duchess of Cambridge, perfectly composed, perfectly attired in a stunning Sarah Barton wedding dress for Alexander McQueen. I didn’t watch the wedding itself (mea culpa!) since I had a deadline and other preoccupations. I saw pictures and sent the radiant bride and bashful groom only my very best well wishes.

This being the perfumosphere, of course, it was a matter of minutes before every perfume blogger on Planet Earth was asking…

“What perfume did she wear?”

The dress was British, so we all mentioned our favorite British perfume houses and suitable-for-wedding perfumes…Ormonde Jayne, Penhaligon’s, the newly resurrected Grossmith, who went one step further and re-orchestrated ‘Betrothal’.

She wore ‘Illuminum White Gardenia Petals’, by perfumer Michael Boadi of Boadicea the Victorious fame, we learned, and soon, we were all scrambling for a sample.

Here it is on my desk as I type, and I can tell you this… it is indeed perfectly…well, the word ‘bridal’ does come to my cynical mind. It is soft, sweet, and very, very white. I do not, at any stage in its development, smell anything like gardenia.

Instead, what I sense is…something I might call first plastic doll, then ‘tropical accord’ that quickly fades away and cedes center stage to lily of the valley and jasmine without so much as a whisper of indole.

This is where my inner cynic shows her true colors. No gardenia, with that undertone of skank and Roquefort, and a jasmine that has been sent packing to reform school to learn proper, ladylike behavior, to sit up straight, mind her p’s and q’s, speak only in well-rounded vowels and never, ever, ever make a public scandal.

It’s perfectly demure, perfectly appropriate and I must say it, pretty in white. I could see why this would be a good choice on a day when over one billion people on Earth are parked in front of TVs with champagne and cake and all-out British mayhem to stare at you and take apart every element of your wedding. It’s not the kind of perfume to call attention to itself, it’s not old-fashioned but rather very modern in a clean, white manner, and somewhere well before that pianissimo, indistinct amber wood drydown, I’m well and thoroughly…bored.

I wouldn’t mind this on someone as elegant as the Duchess, in fact, I wouldn’t mind it at all on anyone else but me. There is not one jarring note, nothing except a smooth, white, floral seamless blend that reminds me of nothing so much as scented feminine hygiene products.

That alone should make it huge in Japan.

Meanwhile, I sit here and contemplate…weddings. I wore vintage Magie Noir to my own almost eleven years ago, a hastily arranged affair orchestrated by the mother-in-law-Zilla in her living room, where the bride wore a black suit and sandals one size too big with five-inch heels, so I wouldn’t look too embarrassing beside the 6’ 6” groom.

Now, that part of my own life is over, and in the highly unlikely event I ever say ‘I do’ again, I wouldn’t wear Magie Noir, and I could never wear white. I would want something rich and complex and even indolic. Say, Serge Lutens’ ‘Fleurs d’Oranger’ for instance, which does have wedding associations but is not demure in the slightest. Amouage ‘Ubar’ is another complicated joyride I might consider, or Ormonde Jayne’s ‘Frangipani’, perfect for a barefoot ceremony on a Hawaiian beach with your feet in the surf.

But in my own perfect world, saying ‘I do!’ to someone as idiosyncratic, complex and iconoclastic as myself, I’d choose something else. I’d want something to reflect the complicated woman I am now and the challenges we would meet. I would honor, cherish, respect and love – if never obey! – and I would wear Aftelier’s ‘Cepes and Tuberose’. It suits my sensibilities in a way White Gardenia Petals doesn’t. I’m not tall enough, thin enough, young enough, idealistic enough or nearly pretty enough to wear it, but I’ll bet plenty of women will.

Illuminum White Gardenia Petals should be a smash success. And huge in Japan!

A big fragrant hug to Thomas, who made it possible!

Notes according to Luckyscent: Lily, white gardenia, muguet, jasmine, amber wood.

Illuminum White Gardenia Petals is available in the US at Luckyscent, and at Roullier White in Europe.

The Union of Heaven and Earth

– a review of Aftelier Perfumes ‘Cepes and Tuberose’

Serendipity and miracles have been known to happen. When I say that this blog was one such serendipitous idea that occurred one late, late night during my summer vacation last year after the third glass of wine and staring off into space, I had no idea what wonders would happen, what connections I could make, or what sensual journey I would embark upon, but I can tell you this – I am no longer that woman who had that seemingly hare-brained idea, no longer that writer who had found her voice and wanted to sing it all out as loudly as she could.

The writer has grown stronger, the woman has grown bolder, walks taller, talks back – all thanks to perfume. So many wonders have I met upon my long, winding road, so many marvels have I seen, and as my universe expanded and my tastes grew broader, I reached out and found readers, found those scented miracles, and somehow, some way, through some alchemical process I didn’t even fully understand, found the words to convey what those scents made me feel.

Because that’s what perfume boils down to for me…a bottled mood or emotion, a liquid glimpse of joy, caught as it flies in one fleeting, breathless instant, and one very mortal woman is no longer what she was the moment before but something…other, something different and richer and better.

Even with all of this, I wasn’t quite prepared for yet more serendipity. To she who gives much shall be given, say the Vanatru, and so there was. Marvels I wouldn’t be able to try otherwise were sent to me, connections were made that did so very much to restore my faith in friendships with common passions, and all along came the words, trying to grasp at the ephemeral and visceral art of…perfume.

Being a child of the Sixties and Seventies, natural perfumery to my mind brought up associations of cheap patchouli and badly made essential oil blends that never did impress me much.

Yet once upon a time not even that long ago, all perfumes were natural. Someone, somewhere, had picked those flowers, let them breathe their last sighs in tallow or oil, distilled their essences in alembics to drops of divinity a man or a woman could wear. Louis XIV’s glittering, decadent court was known as The (naturally) Perfumed Court, and courtiers swooned on hot summer days when the tuberose hedges bloomed at the Grand Trianon so extravagantly, even Madame de Montespan complained.

So you can imagine my excitement when one of my Great Facilitators, Lucy of Indieperfumes, with no doubt a few devious ideas of her own, introduced one of the very best natural perfumers on Planet Earth to my humble, subterranean blog, and one bleary-eyed morning, I woke up to an email from Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes, asking if I would like to try some of her creations?

I promptly plotzed (sometimes, only Yiddish will do!) all over my keyboard. Oh, would I…

I had read of her collaboration with Andy Tauer (in my personal Pantheon of Greats) on linden blossom, I knew she was rightly nominated for FiFi Awards on both sides of the Atlantic, I had heard…things about this perfumer extraordinaire, and I couldn’t wait.

Now, I sit with my tea, my iPod, a few Q-tips for application and my little bottle of Cepes and Tuberose, and I’m…speechless. Speechless with admiration, astonished and with the kind of cold, numinous chill up my nose and down my spine I don’t often experience in everyday life.

Cepes and Tuberose reminds me of what I’m likely to forget – that in natural perfumes, you are dealing with…soul. The kind of soul never found in any clinical lab of formulae notebooks and abstract concoctions of abstruse concepts. Someone, somewhere, tended these flowers, herbs and woods, someone harvested them when the time was precisely right, someone cared enough to encapsulate the soul of these plants, the sunlight off the leaves, the scent of a rain shower, that marriage of sunlight and sustenance, moonbeam and mineral, heaven and earth.

I can honestly say I have never known anything like it.

Porcini, with their meaty texture and earthy, multilayered aroma can seem like a strange ingredient in a perfume, never mind allied with that diva of all flowers – the heady, sensuous tuberose, once deemed so dangerous by prim Victorian ladies, they actually forbade their daughters to smell it, lest they get… ‘ideas.’ The kind of ideas where the glories of the great British Empire was the very last thing on your mind – or your mother!

Take my word for it, Cepes and Tuberose is indeed very full of precisely those ideas that made those mothers nervous for their daughters. I read of leather and old books, I’ve read all sorts of contradictory opinions, but I get something else entirely…I get myrrh and autumn and spice, I sense cinnamon and pepper and cardamom and mushroom. It is sweet but not gourmand in the slightest, it is breathtaking, and then the diva tuberose makes her entrance, but this is no flowered sledgehammer, this tuberose plays just nice enough with everything else, not dominating but dancing in tandem with yet more wonders…a suggestion of incense and labdanum, a dream of patchouli unlike any other patchouli I’ve met. It’s so seamless, it’s hard to pick apart and dissect. So strange, it shouldn’t work and yet it does, so primal, only one association comes to mind – one very important in my world.

Once, says the Voluspa, there was a great war between Vanaheim, home to the gods of earth and sea and magic, and Asgard, home to the gods of air. A truce was called, the war ceased, and the Vanir took their place of honor among the Aesir. So it came to be that one goddess won the right to claim first pick of the fallen warriors of the battlefield, and that was Freya, embodiment of all desire and sensual pleasures and also – equally important – of magic so potent and arcane, only Odin of all the Aesir had the courage to learn it.

I can well imagine that when Freya dons her falcon cloak and ventures out into Midgard, she would surely wear Cepes and Tuberose. Primal and earthy, animal yet divine, and always with that fateful magic to her hand, the secrets of seidr and all of heaven and earth itself wrapped in the scented air just above the feathers in her cloak.

It is not for the faint of heart, not for the timid or unassuming. There is a mighty soul in that little bottle, a soul unlike any other, with a magic…like no other. It fades away slowly to a whisper, fades back to that earthy, carnal porcini, before it’s gone.

Desire and magic, secrets and all sensual pleasures, the power of the earth aligned with the might of the sky, all of it contained in one tiny bottle sparkling gold in the light on my desk, gold as the amber you can sometimes still find on the beaches here. It’s magic and mojo, sacred and earthy, and one of the most unapologetic, sensual perfumes I’ve had the privilege to smell.

What is magic but another tool to my hand? What is this perfume but a magic that I can wear?

What happened when Heaven joined with Earth? This perfume, and this magic.

Cepes and Tuberose is available from the Aftelier website.

Disclosure: My sample of Cepes and Tuberose was provided for review by Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes. For which I can’t thank her enough, but I tried.