The Best of 2012 – Worn & Adored!


 – 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!


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.


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.


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!

A Light for the Dark

– a review of the Amouage Epic Woman candle

Everyone past a certain age knows that love – the kind of love that changes you forever, the kind of love you never expected – will some day creep in on stealthy feet when you least expect it. Some day, maybe a rainy day, you will look up, your heart will stop for five breathless beats and …wham! Pow! You have been hit by that coup de foudre, that punch that knocks you sideways and never leaves.

Perfume, too, is no exception. In a year full of revelations, I’ve stuck my nose in marvels I never knew existed, been taken on journeys I could never have imagined. Opportunities have opened up for me, connections have been made and friendships distilled in the virtual alembics and fertile crosswires of perfumes and phrases.

It all began that night I decided to invest in a few samples of all those wonders I was tired of reading about, because really, nothing could be so wonderful, so fabulous, so much the epitome of everything that makes me literally incensed enough about perfume to write about it and share that passion.

I have never been so thrilled to be proven so wrong in my entire life.

In that sample pack were two Amouages. I had read about them, read about that maximalist sensibility, the very best of absolutely everything, the all-out opulent swoonability of them all, and the time had come to see if one post-punk attitude problem had grown too old and too jaded to swoon.


What happened was no less than astonishing. Ubar was first since I had a hunch about it, a hunch that it might be perfect for me. Except that instead of writing a straight-up review, I wrote a story of a courtesan and a conjuror perfumer in ancient Alexandria, the captured essence of a life told in a perfume, and I don’t know where that came from, either.

Next I knew, it happened again. Only this time, it was Epic Woman. And it was…an epic story of an immortal rose that traveled from East to West and from Samarkand to a hidden, secret valley in Oman, where it blooms to this day, exhaling all its storied past if only you are lucky enough to find it.

Since then, my Amouage reviews have been told as stories, not because I want to write them out that way, but because they want to be written out in narrative form no matter what I do. I suspect it’s meant as a compliment, but it’s a hard way to write.

Epic I did love, and I did wear, although at times, it seemed to wear me. Glorious stuff, but maybe I just wasn’t…Epic enough? Too mundane, too ordinary, too short, too…blonde?

Other marvels, other wonders wandered in and out of my cabinet and into my treasure boxes, and sometimes I wrote them as stories and sometimes I didn’t.

One day, I frightened several small children at my local post office when I came to collect a package I only knew came from London. This was before I saw the box. The second before I screamed.

It contained a candle and a note and the scent inside that emerald green glass was…Epic Woman. I’ve kept it on my desk, which is where I write and sometimes on my nightstand when I want to feel decadent. As I would write, even when it wasn’t lit, I would catch a trail of something so haunting, so beautiful, it would remind me why I love what I do, even as I tear out my hair trying to get my words to fit the page.

It would burn when I wrote, and many things I’ve written since have been accompanied by that emerald glow and the scent of Epic Woman, and somehow, it crept all the way into my synapses and all the way into what I need and aspire to be. In this year of reinvention, when I’ve started over on so many levels and in so many ways, that trail of fiery spice and burning flower and glowing incense and oud was the New, Improved, Intrepid edition, the trail of that woman who banishes the ghosts and conjures genies and transforms them into possibilities and hopes in a half-darkened room, lit only by a desk lamp and an emerald green glow.

The scent is thicker than the perfume, with more of the glorious, opulent base, but it’s perfectly true to the scent. I think my wick had a bad hair day the day the wax was poured. It flickers, despite being kept trimmed and draft-free, stationary and carefully burned in the ‘Fame and Reputation’ section of my Feng Shui-ed desk. The only mishap was when a moth somehow landed in the unlit candle. Hairy Krishna was all over it in an instant. He scratched the glass but he caught the moth.

My living room no longer smells like little boy and the orange pomanders I make with ribbon, cloves and oranges. Now, I breathe as I type…the possibilities I create, the hopes I now have, the connections that I treasure and the many inspirations that find me.

I’ve been a woman for quite some time, have become rather good at it, even. In a momentous year, I have become intrepid, audacious, daring.

Thanks to a flickering, emerald, hyperfragrant glow, on this darkest night of the year, I look up and I discover…that I’ve become Epic, too.

The Epic Woman candle is available from First in Fragrance and the Amouage website.

Disclosure: The candle was sent by Amouage for my consideration.

Epic Woman and Epic Man were created in 2009 by perfumer Daniel Maurel and Amouage Creative Director Christopher Chong.

Image of Winter Solstice sunrise: Paleocave

Image of candle: Amouage.

Her Serene Empress of Rose

A review – and a long-ago tale – of Amouage “Epic Woman”

Very many sunsets ago in the fabled city of Samarkand lived a widow who had grown rich from the many rivers of treasure that flowed through like water from all ends of the great Silk Road. Silks, samite and ebony from faraway Cathay, spices and perfumes and gems from India to the far south, rare and costly incense from distant, mysterious desert trees, woods and essences from Chenla of the many wondrous stories the merchants exchanged like their goods in the teahouses by the riverside on breathless, hot afternoons.

The widow herself was of indeterminate age, not quite old and wizened by her years, but not so young she was an easy prey for the traders out to make a profit. Once, so the local gossips said, she had been a slave girl brought from a mountain kingdom to the south and west, but this slave girl had somehow managed to marry into a trading house, and when her husband died, she had continued his business, handling merchants and caravans and all manner of goods and trade with equal and admirable ease. No merchant was ever short-shifted in a trade, no caravan mistreated, and even the camels she knew to make happy in her care.

Like all women in any age and indeed all traders, this widow had a secret. In a private, locked room in her apartments grew her most prized possession. Not a huge Indian diamond sparkling in the sunlight, not any bauble or trinket of any empire north, west or south.

It was a rosebush. No more, no less, nothing else. One small, perfect rosebush, easy to overlook on its ebony tray in a sunlit spot were it not that it flourished in a priceless, ornate vessel of jade the green of the riverbank willows. It was a rose bush, yet no rose bush ever held such velvety blooms of such a ruby hue, and no rose along the Silk Road east or west ever held such a scent. To breathe it in was to know the true significance of the word ‘rose’, to know this rose was to know the secrets of all roses who ever bloomed, and any woman who loved roses. To know this rose was to know the very soul of a flower beloved of the world entire.

Yet today, this day like any other in the still heat of a Samarkand afternoon, the time had come for the rose bush to move on. The widow, her black eyes smiling through the fragrant steam of the silver tea tray, leaned forward on her pillow. This man, she knew to tell, had not come from Samarkand. He could have been from anywhere further west along the Great Road, from Persia, perhaps, or further south and west still, from Damascus of the many marvels, or the storied Bagdad where the great Harun ar Raschid ruled still, so it was said.

He was a tall, upright man in his late thirties, with the watchful, guarded eyes of a desert hawk, and as any hawk would, he never looked away from the widow. “You have cared for your secret well these twenty years, and you have prospered because of it. I was told to bring it on, many, many leagues away to where the incense trees grow beneath the desert stars, and to give you this…” he reached in his robe and laid a small object on the costly carpet – “as a reminder of your pledge.”

It was a carved rose in a singular hue of jade, the cloudy pink of a fading sunset, and the widow had not seen it for over twenty years. It was indeed a reminder of a promise she had made so many years ago, a promise that this rose bush would never wither, never die, and so long as she held faithful to her pledge, her care should be rewarded. Indeed it had, and yet, as the widow saw the sunlight through the screen sparkle on the jade, she felt a pang deep within her soul to realize she would never breathe its scent again, never know such a heartfelt, visceral joy. There would be other pangs, other joys, this much she knew, but none like this little rose bush.

The sun streaming through the latticework of the window onto the carpet was not enough to comfort her. Nevertheless she had promised, and she never made a promise she would not keep. It was time. That jade rose before her was proof. She sighed, clapped her hands to summon a servant, and sent for the rose.

“You will tend it with care?” She grabbed the man’s sleeve as he prepared to leave with his little treasure. “You will make certain this rose will not perish on its journey?” In her eyes, the man read a fervent plea, as earnest and as passionate as any mother’s for a beloved child.

“This, lady, is a rose that will never die so long as my people tend it,” he simply said, before he wrapped it with the utmost care and bowed before her. “As you gave your pledge, I give you my promise.”

He was gone in an instant down the teeming Samarkand street, golden in the late afternoon.

All along the wide and winding Silk Road the little rosebush traveled, and as it did, it seemed to absorb the many scents of the goods it met. Spices in a pouch on a passing camel, rare woods from Chenla and India on a merchant’s laden wagon, the jasmine and geraniums blooming in the courtyard of a Persian caravanserai. At last the rosebush came to grow in a secret oasis in a hidden mountain pass, where the Bedouin stood guard beneath the stars by their own costly treasures of myrrh and frankincense, and those, too, the rose absorbed and enriched with its presence.

For over a thousand years and many more the rose bush grew in its hidden valley oasis, grew and bloomed and thrived, forgotten by all but one family who kept their secret well, until the day came, as it had so long before, when it was time for the rose bush and its secrets to move on through time and out into a wider, wilder world.

One day, a perfumer in an Omani teahouse heard a rumor of a rose in a remote oasis, a rose unlike any other, a rose that knew all secrets and held all its history and all its long journey within the velvet folds of its blooms. As the perfumer stared into the depths of his peppermint tea, he thought to himself; “Such a rose is like a fairy tale. It never existed as anything but a rumor. But if it doesn’t yet, then I shall create it.”

So he did.

Yet in a remote and hidden oasis in the mountains, a deathless rosebush blooms still, for so long as one heart, one soul can truly love a rose, it will never die.

Notes: Pink pepper, cinnamon, damascene rose, geranium, jasmine, tea, amber, musk, frankincense, oud, sandalwood, guaiac wood, patchouli, vanilla and orris.

Amouage Epic Woman is available at Luckyscent, Aedes and First in Fragrance, and from the Amouage website.