The Four Devils of my Undoing

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT  III

– a review (of a kind) of Ellen Covey/Olympic Orchids‘ four submissions for the Devilscent Project

Understand, these things don’t happen to me. I live such a drab, ordinary, invisible life…going to work, dropping off Super Mario at school and picking him up, existing only for those late night places in my imagination where shadows reign in the corners, when the boy and the cats are asleep, when all is quiet and only the click-clack of a keyboard taps its erratic rhythm in my room as I evoke the ghosts I find in sample vials and bottles and write down the stories they tell. Sometimes, it’s bliss and sometimes it’s a rarified form of torture when the words play hide-and-seek beyond my sixteen hour old days, or when those liquid chimaeras spark amber glints of defiance, choose to hide behind the Fail Demon’s back and won’t come out to play.

I nearly thought that happened again when Ellen Covey’s four Devs arrived in their tissue-wrapped box, thought that after all this time and anticipation, my vocabulary would surely fail me, fail to convey the flood of emotions I felt when I sniffed at their contents. This was so important, loomed so large in my imagination for such a long time as I wondered and I wandered down the primrose path of perfumed perdition that nothing I could possibly say would ever do them justice. They were all four like nothing Ellen had ever made, like nothing I had ever encountered before, each of the four a unique facet, a gossamer thread, a highlight, an ancient tale of long ago and a futurity for that storied creature I had conjured one night out of boredom and music and an old and archetypal story.

There I sat and I pondered and I fretted as I twirled my hair and drank my tea and felt a faraway ghostly presence breathe down my neck. That was me as I waved my blotters of Fabriano paper in the air and paced the floor, as I perused my thesaurus and bit my nails and sprayed my skin, that was the despairing writer who finally gave it up and went to bed with only Hairy Krishna’s ginger purr to console me, a faint trail of perfume hidden in his fur.

No one has ever had much faith in you, have they? I do.

At some unknown dead hour of night, I woke with a start. Was it a dream? I didn’t know, I knew only that Krishna had finally moved away from the small of my back and I could roll over, and as I adjusted the pillow and grabbed my duvet a little tighter, I heard a voice behind me in the dark, felt a human heat burn down my back in my single bed, an arm around me.

“Shhh. Don’t move.” Dev’s voice right by my ear. “If you do, you’ll ruin the spell. Lie still. Tell me what you feel, tell me what you smell.”

“Something both very light and very dark and very complex, so much going on in this bottle, something that tells me…to be careful, something woody and plush but very bright, bright like spice and evergreen together. There has to be oud in it, too, that same raspy edge, yet it’s sweet, too…sweet like..vanilla or maybe tolu, yes, I think that’s it and…” I shifted in the darkness. He was right behind me, this wasn’t a dream, this was real, and if this was real, this was very, very dangerous. As it got warmer under that duvet, his scent grew even headier, smokier and animalic without ever losing that bright, woody, oud-y, spicy bite. This one had teeth, but they were hidden behind an alluring veil of something very much alive and aware, was it frankincense I could sense in the distance, so many ancient secrets, something that read my stories and read between the words too, read the secrets and the truths I concealed behind them.

“This is you…” I whispered to the dark, “this is you in the beginning, before she knows what she’s getting herself into, when you read her mind and you know what she wants. You know but you’ll never tell her, you’ll let her believe that you can make it happen, that her wishes will come true…but there’s a danger here she won’t know until it’s far too late…

That animal heat burning down my back, that human animal pulsing in the dark in my room, breathing that perilous dream alive. I had no sooner thought those words when my eyes shot open, and Krishna’s amber eyes glowed feline for an instant above my leg. I was alone. But was it a dream?

My continents shifted, my ice caps melted, my magnetic poles were realigned.

I was lost…lost in some kaleidoscopic whirling Technicolor reverie of running breathless down a street, someone hot in pursuit behind me, then, there was no street, only the hard surface of a locked door, and next, nothing but this dense, demanding fiery dream, this multitude of sensations and scent, this another, fevered heat. This was a complex, fragrant fever that took and demanded, that overrode all my hesitations, that never asked and never told, this…blend of layers upon layers of meaning unfolding as I dreamt.

That blistering shock to my senses, far richer, denser and thicker than before, and all I could do was to take it without question, the animal feel and exultation of this arm around me, this skin, this impenetrable, all-pervasive need. I had no secrets I could hide, no doubts I could slip in between the spice and the leather, nowhere to run before this inhuman, intangible creature of sacred smoke and beastly appetites, couldn’t possibly refuse to follow where it led me, where it took me further into that dark I never knew before. All I knew was this lava in my blood and this tempest in my mind and all I would ever want ever again was this many-layered landscape of wanted and needed, even if it hurt, even if I cried, even if I never would know daylight again, I didn’t care, I didn’t care…

I bolted upright in an instant. A dream. It was a dream. Only a dream, witnessed by the dark outside my window and my frantic heartbeat singing in my ears and a cat that dug its claws in my arm so softly as it stretched, sighed and jumped off the bed in search of a snack.

It was only a dream.

There’s an old saying about love affairs. You can always remember the first time, but you can never remember the last.

“There’s an old saying about love affairs. You can always remember the first time, but you can never remember the last.”

Two dreams in this strange and almost endless night, dreams provoked by these haunting, haunted perfumes, dreams that brought me back to my story in ways I could never have imagined, dreams unfolding as that story of Dev and that desperate woman he ensnared who had so little left to lose except the one dream she had left, and this sleepless night, with this bittersweet perfume, it all comes back…with this exceptional and unique heartbreak-in-a-bottle. I looked out of the window into a moonless black night, and intimations of the animal from the dream before purr their low mumble in the background, but this is a moody, melancholy, tetchy Dev, because he knows the price he’ll pay, the price he’s always paid for being the Guardian of nightmares and negatives, it’s soaked into this spiky, raspy, redolent wood like her tears, seeped into the fabric of good and evil and even Earth itself with that underlying heartbeat of furry beast and sacred being, of despised monster and eternal scapegoat, of otherwordly and all too human. Frankincense – it must be – wafting its ancient, arcane secrets with its siblings myrrh and labdanum, and it won’t matter and won’t change what will and has to happen. The play must go on, the charade must continue to its inevitable end, and endings are the price we all pay for any dream come true.

I lay back down and pulled up the duvet, and as it rustled, Krishna ran into the room and jumped up, as if to say… “Get over it. You’re still dreaming.” He prodded a leg into a more comfortable position and curled up behind my knees.

Maybe Krishna was right. Or Buddha, and I was still lost of this world of mana and illusion, an illusion I created, and Ellen brought back to life?

I remembered everything. And everything hurt to remember.

“Don’t move.” Again, that familiar voice in the dark, that familiar weight of an arm over my waist, and a different, haunting heat burning down my back. SO solid, so warm, so fragrant, it had to be real.

“Am I still dreaming?”

“Maybe you are, and maybe you aren’t. Maybe this project in the intangible – your words and these perfumes – is an exercise in materializing your dream, have you thought of that?”

“Just like my story…and my harebrained idea…about you, about frankincense and labdanum and peril and passion, but this is…” I breathed it deeper. That cool and pine-like breath,  something evergreen, frankincense, that plush and furry labdanum, it must have been, there was a drop – just one – of something sweet. Not benzoin, not vanilla, maybe Peru or tolu balsam, but still just a tiny drop.

“This is me, and this is you, not your protagonist.” I felt his breath on my neck, felt his hand brush my hair away as he nestled closer and whispered in my ear. “The time for fiction and disguises is over, baby. Those were just the tools you needed to set things in motion to make them real.”

“But you’re not real. You’re just a figment of my imagination.”

“How can you be so sure? Once upon a time a very long time ago, a girl of fifteen heard the Devil in her head saying… ‘You, girl, should write. That’s what you were meant to do, that was your purpose.’ Somewhere down the line, you forgot that dream and that conversation. I’m reminding you now. All those years and all that life between became fuel for that fire that made you write this story and these words.” He laughed softly in the dark, so softly, not even Krishna on my other side stirred.

“Now, I’m becoming more real, now that ghost you conjured has materialized in another kind of alchemy, and now, maybe other fictions can become fact, too.”

“C’mon. It’s just a story, yet another clichéd Faustian first novel, a metaphor for my own silly dreams.”

“Didn’t you know? That’s how all reality begins. With a dream.”

Before I could protest, a harp chord began to play in the dark, and I woke up for the last time this night and turned off my alarm. As Krishna stretched and began his own early morning song, as I staggered out to the kitchen and switched on the kettle for my coffee, that phrase reverberated in my head and stayed for the rest of that day.

“All reality begins…with a dream.”

That haunting scent of labdanum and frankincense and otherworldly, bitter, dark…

And sometimes it happens…that even dreams come true.

As the perfumer who made me a perfume writer just proved…

_______________________________________________

Notes: (taken from the enclosed envelope Ellen added with stern instructions not to open it until after my review!)

Dev no. 1: Three kinds of synthetic oud, woody base notes, black vanilla, clear labdanum absolute, synthetic musk deer accord, Africa stone tincture, ambergris tincture, synthetic civet, tolu balsam, beeswax absolute, frankincense, African bluegrass, giant arborvitae and cinnamon leaf.

Dev no. 2: Clear, dark and green labdanum, tolu balsam, black agar, woody base notes, musks including ambrette and the deer musk accord, castoreum, a different version of civet, cistus, incense accord, immortelle absolute, cade, davana, leather, rose, clove CO2 extract, cardamom, cinnamon and cinnamon leaf.

Dev no. 3: New Caledonian sandalwood absolute, dark labdanum, clear labdanum, red spikenard, fossilized amber, ambergris tincture, black truffle tincture, cistus, cassie absolute, frankincense, davana, African bluegrass, myrrh tincture, motia attar & cinnamon leaf.

Dev no. 4: Clear labdanum absolute, tolu balsam, dark labdanum, woody base notes, frankincense, arborvitae. 

Ellen Covey’s stunning perfumes are available at Olympic Orchids.

Shut up, Gertrude!

– Or…not all roses are created equal!

Among my collection of books and cookbooks is a book, ostensibly a cookbook but actually very much more. It contains not only a plethora of outrageous recipes that would have health fanatics screaming for their heart fibrillators, but also anecdotes from two extraordinary lives in extraordinary times, two lives that openly dared to fly in the face of convention – and sometimes propriety – and as such became inspirations for me as well.

The book is ‘The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook’, part cookbook of questionable virtues, part extraordinary testimony to the lives and times of two fabled iconoclasts of the early 20th century – Alice B. Toklas, partner, helpmeet, and frontline editor, and Gertrude Stein, art collector, literary salon hostess and resident genius.

Like all relationships viewed with the rose-tinted glasses of reminiscence and in hindsight, the reality of Alice and Gertrude was much more complex and far more extraordinary than the book would suggest – they were both raised at the tail end of the Victorian age, after all – but what’s really telling in our own iconoclastic age is that today, we remember Gertrude for two things, one of which I don’t consider relevant at all and the other for a simple throwaway poem that came to define her in popular culture. Gertrude Stein was considered a literary superstar in her day, but now, say the name (if it registers at all!) Gertrude Stein, and unless you’re well-versed in art history, famous American ex-patriots or impenetrable poetry, this is what you’ll think:

 ‘A rose … is a rose…is a rose’.

An entire lifetime of literary output, and you’re remembered for five words. As they say…

You don’t get to choose what you’re famous for.

This is when I say…shut up, Gertrude! As dedicated gardeners, flower lovers, perfumers and perfumoholics are very well aware, entire olfactory universes lie waiting for discovery within those velvety petals, and with the exception of those scentless blooms sold at florists these days, there’s no such thing as just…a rose.

Roses occur in nature in every hue except blue, green and black, and depending on the variety, exude a unique, multifaceted perfume that can be…lemony, tea-like, musky, greenly fresh, narcotic, spicy and fiery, earthy and warm – and these are just the living flowers, mind, well before they’re turned into concrete and absolute and essential oil in their infinite varieties, all of which will reflect the qualities of the roses themselves. Rose is also attributed to the goddess Aphrodite – no accident, since the scent of roses can be very erotic, quelle surprise!

I’ve been thinking about roses and wearing rose-centered perfumes a lot lately. Rose has a stimulating, uplifting effect on my overall mood, and during a very frantic March, I needed all the help I could get…

Gertrude may have considered rose as just another ‘flower’, for which I’ll forgive her since she was an Aquarius, yet I have other plans for your delectation…here are my personal favorite perfumed Odes to the Rose in no particular order of preference, which each prove that even Shakespeare got it wrong on roses. By any other name they might well smell as sweet, but they would not be those multiverses of perfume and poetry contained within the velvet folds and musical tones…of rose.

The Maharani of RoseNeela Vermeire Créations Mohur

We perfume bloggers live for those moments of olfactory epiphany when suddenly, a seismic shift occurs in our amygdalas and our noses blow our minds. This happened to me when I was given the opportunity to discover a brand-new line that is currently taking the perfume world by storm – Neela Vermeire Crèations. I knew Neela had collaborated for over a year with Bertrand Duchaufour, I had read the reviews. I thought I knew from roses. I was delighted to be proved so very, very wrong. For Mohur, Neela’s tribute to both the glorious Mogul empire and the British Raj, is nothing less than a Maharani – a Great Queen – of roses. Spicy and fiery, earthy and decadent, with more rosy-floral facets than any diamond can boast, it’s an outrageously spectacular rose perfume, opulent yet also as ethereal as a fervent wish on a full moon. It’s one of the most magnificent roses I’ve ever had the pleasure to sniff and to wear. As I have and I do and I indeed will for as long as I can ever love a rose…

The Wildest HeartLiz Zorn’s Sinti

Liz Zorn, indie perfumer extraordinaire, was unknown to me when I received a decant of her heart-stopping tribute to rose centifolia, Sinti. Sinti is not your usual rose perfume cliché, there’s nothing in the slightest that will remind you of rose soap or Eau de Granny. For one thing, this rose is wild at heart, wild and untamed and blooming unseen in a secret Saharan desert oasis, as green as nature itself and as surprising as a sudden beam of sunlight on that instant shock of …rose. It is bitter and a bit thorny, with its herbal bite of sage and galbanum that blooms into a fevered dream of one feral flower, easily unisex, easily worn, and all too easy to love, even though it never can be tamed.

A Rosy Dance on Moss Olympic Orchids’ Ballets Rouges

Olympic Orchids’ Ballets Rouges took no time at all to pirouette its way into my rosy heart – it was love at first sniff! Ballets Rouges is by bounds and leaps a green, silky opening that segues into a pas-de-ballet of roses so real, I’ve had people turn to look for the bouquet when I’ve worn this. Yet rose is not the whole story in this perfume, for down below beats a heart of green and a pulse of chypre with a ribbon of oakmoss so dark and luscious, this diehard chypre fan is reduced to molten jelly in gratitude that there are still perfumers who love oakmoss and roses as we do. Put the two together in this peerless pas-de-deux as Ellen Covey did, and even I can dance en point forever more those perfect, mossy, rosy steps.

Iconoclast RoseEtat Libre d’Orange’s Rossy di Palma L’Eau de Protection

If anyone knows how to do celebuscents (that hated category) flawlessly, it would be Etat Libre d’Orange. Their tribute to Rossy di Palma, the feisty, fiery actress Pedro Almodovar so adores, is a thorny, spiky, emerald-green and crimson red tattoo rose that obeys no laws but its own, which is every reason to adore it just as much as Rossy herself. From that bright, green opening bite to the dark patchouli pulse below, Rossy the rose perfume is the quintessential Rossy…unusual, unsettling and beautiful in its defiance of all those tired, trite rose tropes. This is a rose that shows its thorns plain as day and glows its crimson-lipped beauty as soon as you come closer. If you dare.

The Mozart of RoseEnvoyage Perfumes L’Emblem Rouge

When perfumer Shelley Waddington of Envoyage Perfumes worked with master distiller Dabney Rose, they danced a tandem that made precisely the rose perfume no one else would dare – the very essence of a classical rose perfume wrapped in a burgundy promise of perfection. L’Emblem Rouge is a thick, lavish, Oriental rose, spicy, green, and darkly romantic. It dances its own Mozart minuet on your skin with its burst of orange and spice, violet and orris, and all its pleasures proves as you muse that Mozart may be music, and rose may be a flower, but that doesn’t make L’Emblem Rouge any less a marvel – or Mozart any less a genius!

The Rosy RevolutionsTauer PerfumesUne Rose Chyprée & Incense Rosé

I’ve said it before in several locations and I’ll happily say it again – I personally consider Andy Tauer a perfumer of such stellar magnitude, I think he should be paraded down Fifth Avenue and carpet-bombed with rose petals by an adoring crowd, except I suspect he’ll have turned them into Un Rose Vermeillé (which I have yet to try) or something else equally spectacular before the parade reaches East 81st Street. The man knows his roses, knows them as only a truly dedicated rose lover can, and has done audacious things to roses that only prove how little Gertrude – or Shakespeare – knew of roses. When I recently was given a chance to name a bunch of samples to try, these two jumped off my keyboard and into the email before I could even blink. Certain things – and certain perfumes – you just…have this hunch about, although in this case, it was more of a neon blinking billboard. Une Rose Chyprée is a rose of reinventions and revolution, dark and light, depth and sweetness, no one element taking a backseat to the other. It’s Rose, Oh, Yes! But Wait! There’s So Much More! A breath of oakmoss, a kiss of vanilla, a whole library of everything rose and fire and all its splendors, too! Incense Rosé is yet another sleight-of-hand rabbit from Andy’s hat – again, not a rose, and not an incense and not like anything else your imagination could dream but something otherwise and elsewhere…from the blinding sunshine brought of its orange/citrus open to the smoky-tinged labdanum and frankincense drydown, if you’re curious what else can possibly be said about roses…look no further. I can guarantee you one thing only – you will be surprised! And roses will forevermore never be the same…

So Gertrude…hush. Yes, I know you’re dead, but I can still feel your crotchety ghost breathing down my back as I type, said with a sneer and a hint of that grande dame you also were:

“Well, obviously, I had other, more important things to contemplate than roses!”

But stop a moment and think…about a rose, and know that by any other name, it’s very much more than sweet…

Original image of Gertrude Stein, Alvin Langdon Coburn, 1913, from indicommons.org. ‘Gertrude en rose’ version – me.

With big thank you hugs to the Great Facilitators: Shelley Waddington, Ellen Covey, Anthony of NKDMan, Nick of Les Senteurs and the incredible Neela Vermeire.

A whiff of perdition…

The Devilscent Project

A year ago, I had a little project-for-fun on my old blog, Scent Less Sensibilities, in collaboration with Doc Elly of Olympic Orchids. We called it Devilscent. The idea was to create a scent for the Devil as he is portrayed in my rock’n’roll Faustian novel, Quantum Demonology.

What do you know, dear readers, it is now a year later and things have…changed! 

I want to get Quantum Demonology out there, out to where it becomes a viral phenomenon, out where someone wants to get it in print, get it in Kindles, on iPads, and who knows where it could go from there? And what better way to do it in a way no one has ever quite done before – through the medium of…perfume?

A year later, Doc Elly is still very much a part of it. But so are several other very distinguished niche perfumers and some of the best perfume writers and bloggers in the blogosphere.

A year later, we’re going to take it to the next level. Through Facebook, through Twitter, through social media and PR and through the words of our bloggers and the perfumes our perfumers will create for the Devil – not your usual brand of Evil Incarnate – and for his much malcontented wife, Lilith, Queen of the Succubi.

Because in this version, the Devil stalks our hapless Faust, haunts her many dreams and lures her to perdition through…a perfume.

But what would such perfumes be – and what havoc could they wreak?

Read all about it in the weeks to come!

Lost and Found

–       on the pleasures of finding misplaced treasures, and reviews of One Truly Great Facilitator

I am not by any stretch of the imagination the world’s most organized person. Although I’ve developed total OCD concerning my work and writing habits and my laptop hard drive is sorted to an electric fare-thee-well, my desk displays all the signs of an easily distracted artist…one catch-all notepad for incidental thoughts, one blue workbook for even bigger thoughts, one black spiral-bound notebook for notes on perfume reviews and blog ideas, one small perfume journal containing a review list with dates, and finally another notebook that contains immortality in 140 characters or less – my #Follow Friday diary, with dates, write-ups, people I add, follow and recommend. This doesn’t include my dictionary/thesaurus, books I’m reading, music CDs (yes, I buy them), things to tape to my Inspiration Wall of Fame, pens, pencils and samples in different stages of disarray. I admire the minimalist Zen mindset, really I do. But until that day I’m able to hire a personal assistant, forget it.

So it was…until I decided to turn a new leaf and get my derriére in gear and get organized. I sat down in my bedroom where most of my ‘fumes are located and sorted through a large pile of bubblepak envelopes, cards and sample vials. Somewhere in a decreasing pile of chaos, I came across a letter I had all but forgotten in the chaos of the last six months or so.

It was a letter from my very first Great Facilitator and indie perfumer Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids, and I was instantly hit with a large suitcase packed full of guilt trip.

It was – believe it or not – only a year ago I really began to write about perfume, to push my limits in terms of writing in general and writing about perfume in particular, and – true story! – if not for Doc Elly, it would likely never have happened at all. Not only is she one of the nicest people I’ve met this past year of discoveries, she is also – I’m not the only one to say this – one of the most unique. Just as all my favorite perfumers this past year have their own aesthetic vocabulary, so does she. She creates breathtaking true to life perfumes based on scented orchids – her Red Cattleya was spot-on, I discovered at the Orchid House of the Royal Botanical Gardens in Copenhagen last year – and has also made a wide range of mostly undiscovered wonders, some of which I’ve worn – and worn out. It’s a definite  testament to her talent that all her masculine-slanted perfumes have instantly been purloined by the Ex and worn, not that I blame him. They’re that good!

Five sample vials glowed in her letter, named Emergence, Salamanca, Rose Chypré, and Café V 1 and Café V 2. She enclosed another sealed envelope with instructions not to open it until I’d tried them – and I swear, I didn’t. That letter is still sealed as I type. I know nothing of their notes, have blithely forgotten everything I might have read about them elsewhere, and have only my nose and my associations to go on.

Emergence

Emergence is something I can recognize instantly, almost like finding an old friend in a crowded room…because it’s a sibling of another favorite of mine, Golden Cattleya. Golden Cattleya – I reviewed the prototypes here – is a thick, opulent, orange-centered Oriental, just as Emergence strikes me. But unlike Golden Cattleya and its airier, floatier base, Emergence is darker and plusher, with a headier, more animalic version of the drydown I find in many of Olympic Orchids’ perfumes. There’s a lot of labdanum and likely cistus* too in this – not my least favorite note, and it dances out of the vial on an orange-vanilla sunbeam and wraps its tendrils around you in the best kind of oomph-inducing, richly fragrant hug. It strikes me as an evening perfume, one for high heels and a little black dress and a gleam in your eye that might or might know how the night will end…

 

Salamanca

Salamanca is the most masculine-slanted of the five, a dry, grassy, slightly smoky leather. Leather! Lots of leather…black, soft, spicy yet not understated leather, maybe a touch of birch tar in the mix somewhere, and what I smell as vetiver? Calamus? Yerba Maté? Named for the Spanish town, I presume, it has a definite Latin lover, flamenco vibe…If it were a man, I’d say this would be perfect for Antonio Banderas, not that I would ever complain. It’s very classy, slightly dark, very sexy and very unlike most masculine, slightly clichéd leathers I can think of, and I make a point to try most of them. I absolutely love it, but it’s probably more for a man. This takes a certain amount of cojones, and alas, I don’t have any.

 

Rose Chypré

It’s such a crying shame rose perfumes have become such clichés, because if you do a rose right, it can satisfy as no other flowers except maybe tuberose and jasmine. I love roses, I love rose perfumes, and I’m not surprised at all this was an instant favorite. This is – I’ll hazard a guess – a Damascene rose, a velvet-red, plush, almost photorealistic rose with a green, mossy pulse beneath it, but not so green as, say, a relation, which would be Etat Libre d’Orange’s Rossy de Palma. I did like Rossy the perfume very much, but I have to say it – I love this so much more for being so perfectly balanced. Delicious. Not so long ago, I tried YSL Paris, knowing it would end in tears, which it did, and bemoaned the fate of the classic, stellar rose. No more. So if you love roses…and chypres that won’t carpet-bomb you to the floor with the patchouli blends that pass for chypres these days – run, don’t walk! Try it and you won’t regret it.

 

Café V-1

Coffee, anyone? Coffee in perfume gave me all sorts of headaches, once upon a time. This was well before I ever encountered Aftelier’s ‘Tango’, which sold me on coffee. Café V-1 is nothing like Tango, instead it’s a flowery, spicy caffeine jolt to the nose, very different and not in the slightest gourmand. It intrigues me no end as it dries down for getting spicier and darker. I detect cinnamon and more than a touch of patchouli and maybe myrrh, and over and under this little marvel blooms that lovely coffee note – which is dark-roasted and strong yet delicate. If this were a coffee, it would be a single estate Ethiopian mocha bean…full-bodied, floral and with a slightly sweet finish, guaranteed to pick you up and jolt you out of the January doldrums.

 

Café V-2

Version 2 is a very different cup of java, an effervescent blend  – so sayeth my Dimbo nose – of what seems to be a touch of chocolate, coffee and…wait for it! Mint! Tea?Something that makes me think green. Whatever it is, it shouldn’t work at all, and yet, it does and beautifully so, accentuating the floral aspects without damping down the coffee, except maybe this is more vanillic – coffee with a dollop of cream?. It is decidedly more floral and less spicy than version one on my skin, and I would be hard-pressed to choose between them. It blooms into a smokier, more emphatic coffee as time goes on, and stays closer to the skin. Both of them are coffee notes done right…with respect and enough intrigue to keep you interested and on your toes, and nothing – let me repeat – nothing like so many throwaway coffee perfumes I’ve tried.

I could continue to extrapolate here and say that Olympic Orchids are all…nothing like anything else. Ellen Covey has a definite Orientalist, classic approach to perfume, and a dedication to maintaining her own uncompromising creative vision regardless of what everyone else is doing, which should be both applauded and appreciated. I really don’t know why she isn’t famous, since I think she should be!

Meanwhile, there was that sealed envelope…I quote from the contents:

Emergence

When cattleya orchids first start to bloom, their fragrance is often indolic and camphorous. Emergence represents the first days of the golden cattleya flower. Notes similar to Golden Cattleya, but also include civet, indolene, methyl benzoate and camphor.

Salamanca

It is based on the scent of dry, dusty grass and weeds with hints of old stone buildings, hand-crafted leather, and the jamon that hangs in so many of the shops. (Jamon is the air-cured, spectacular ham of Spain)

Rose Chypré

A classic chypre composition centered around the fragrance of rose. Specific notes include a cocktail of musks. Oakmoss (!!), clear labdanum, patchouli, rose de mai absolute, cyclamen, bergamot, ylang ylang, petitgrain, aldehydes, red mandarin and red thyme

Café V 1 & 2

Named for a famous café in Seattle’s Capitol Hill, specific notes include balsams, myrrh, cedar, coffee absolute, cacao absolute, a vanilla accord, Madagascar vanilla tincture, a leather accord, nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom. Version 2 also includes a creamy note.

So I guess I got a lot of the notes right, and not a few associations, too. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…if not for Ellen Covey, my nose, that questionable collection of cartilege, would be far less educated. It began with Olympic Orchids. It seems only fitting that a year later, I found her again. Her perfumes merit all the praise they can get  – and so does her dedication! If you’re bored with the present sorry state of ho-hum perfume releases, if you’re in search of something truly original, if you’re looking to expand your horizons or even if you’re such a niche diehard you’re looking for new talent, give Olympic Orchids a try.

* Labdanum and cistus – although they both stem from the same plant, the Mediterranean rock rose – are by no means the same thing. Both come in several different varieties – absolutes and CO2 extracts – that on their own are so rich and complex, it’s hard to believe they’re from the same source.

Images: Painting: A Lady Writing a Letter, Jan Vermeer, 1665-66

Illustration: “Square’s Waldo”, by Jonah Block, courtesy of Society6