Unholy Smoke (& a giveaway!)

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT VII

– a review of Mermade Magickal Arts‘ ‘Mephisto’.

How far we perfumaniacs have come from that mystical, mythical matter we love so much. We dream in it, we bathe in it, we enrich ourselves, our chosen perfumers and our surroundings with it, we save for it, splurge for it, lust for it. Those magical elixirs and ethereal blends of heaven and earth, of balsam and resin, flower and herb satisfy our souls as few things else, and yet – in this lightning-tempo age and this instant gratification time, we forget what it once was, have somehow lost what it once did, have blithely obliterated all notions of its very form and function – to reconnect us, to realign us, to summon and to appease.

Perfume. The very name means “through smoke”, essences and absolutes distilled over fire in an alembic (which also gives its name to this blog), or, as perfume indeed was used once, as lumps of costly incense, burned in an offering to appease and to invoke the gods, and in so doing, to evoke – as well as please – our highest, finest, most divine selves.

Or.

To invoke an altogether different sort of beast.

I’m no stranger to alternate forms of perfume. I’ve burned Armenian papers and joss sticks, I’ve had potpourri in jam jars all over my homes at different times, pressed roses in old books, made my own lavender water. I’ve indulged my senses in a wantonly extravagant scented candle that’s still scenting my bedroom nearly a year later. And with the exception of potpourri, all of these demand fire to release their potent odors, that primeval element that is both beginning and end, metaphor and transformation. Just as fire begins with a spark, so does life itself, or another kind of life, when you glance across a glass of mulled wine in a dark midnight café at a stranger who sits so close beside you…

Here we have another kind of perfume, a very primeval kind – because here is a Devil’s scent as an incense, and it is by far the most extraordinary kind of incense I’ve ever had the pleasure to be inspired by.

It began at the behest of Monica Skye Miller, the Perfume Pharmer, when she suggested that Katlyn join our devilish endeavor, and I could only agree. I had of course heard of Katlyn’s alchymistical blends, had perused her website, and dreamed, that some day – or some night, I, too, might have a chance to breathe in their wonders. A few emails, some days and the Devilscent Project perfume brief later, I was completely unprepared by what came back in the mail.

What would I be as a human animal? I’m the Devil, so they’ve said. Neither animal nor human, but a combination of both, just enough of each to be dangerous, and that’s the whole idea. Danger. I want her to be able to know exactly who I am by her sense of smell alone. So. The perfume. Labdanum is a note she loves, labdanum is animal and sexy and slightly goatish.” – From the Devil’s Brief, the Devilscent Project

To which the saucy Katlyn retorted in her accompanying letter:

Did I just read ‘Goatish Labdanum’, something dark, sexy and extremely untamed? Ah, yes, I have just the thing…Within my cabinettes of curiosity there just happens to be something just waiting for this project. Labdanum from Crete complete with a few goat hairs. I knew there must be a place for this strange fragrant black stuff…The Devilscent Project. The most wonderful black frankincense from Oman. And then dark patchouli, tears of myrrh, contraband aloeswood…Incense is always needed to conjure up a spirit. And this has the scent of the crossroads at midnight and a little hair of the goat. Best burned on an electrical burner. Or a bit of brimstone if you have some handy. Use sparingly. May cause unnatural urges. Save this one for a dark night when you need a bit of company.

As I finished the quote above, I had reached 666 words. For a moment, that gave me pause for thought. You’d pause too, for this puts ‘incendiary’ into ‘incense’. I’m typing out these words as it burns in its dish above sea salt and charcoal, not in the dead, dark hours of night, but in the long twilight of midsummer when it never does get dark, yet I tell you…it may as well be that rainy, windblown Friday night in early November when I had my first harebrained idea that led all the way to…this.

That goatish labdanum (and yes, it does contain a little hair of the goat!) with its sweet, heady, animal air is all the more potent for the luscious patchouli and that touch of aloeswood that we know as the note du jour called oud. This is a living, breathing Dark Art. That chilly, dangerous alliance of myrrh and frankincense is never far behind it, exhaling its own numinous breath of otherworldly beneath that heated, heavy heartbeat. It doesn’t smell like goat, but it certainly smells sacred, sacred in a way most of us have forgotten. It smells like sin, if I believed in such a thing. Not so much as an act of moral transgression, but as the kind of act you would never tell in polite company, the kind of sin that must be kept secret, or else lose its delicious, subversive edge. The kind of sin that makes you glow in the dark. And the morning after, too.

If you think you know what incense is and what it does to your mood, if you’ve never thought about the tricks ambient scent can play on your suggestible mind – or even if you have – you’re in for a surprise. Just as the hapless protagonist of Quantum Demonology was whenever she caught a whiff of the Devil from afar, that otherworldly, bitter, dark that made her blood run cold in her veins and her heart beat faster.

Mephisto made my heart beat faster and ignited my imagination as all the Devilscents have, ignited it as few perfumes ever have before. In this dark, Monday night hour, I see it smoldering, and in those formless wisps of smoke, I can squint my eyes and almost see him hovering above.

“No need for that,” say a voice I know too well. “I’m right here. Did you know that in the ancient world, it was said the gods were helpless to resist the lure of burning incense? When it’s as good, as rich, as decadent and dangerous as this, I might as well give up the ghost completely. I can’t resist.” He leaned closer and whispered in my ear. “Just like you, baby.” He gave me that grin. “Just like you.”

“So what do you think?” I asked.

He picked up the letter from Katlyn, printed on parchment-like paper with cursive writing, and read the words with an even bigger grin. “I think…” he said after a while, “that Katlyn nailed it. Trust me, if the batcave has a scent, it would be this one. This is a lot of what I am. He shook his head and laughed. “Cretan goat hairs included! And I do believe it’s time I came back.”

“Where have you been?” I wouldn’t let him know he’d been missed. Hell wasn’t that cold yet.

Another long, fraught pause. Another long, level, red-brown stare. “Removing obstacles. Rearranging events, putting other things in motion, doing…what I have to do.” Dev tipped his head back and took a long, deep breath. The incense was so potent, it scented the entire apartment.

“And what would that be?” I sat back on my chair, looked him right in the eye.

“Telling you…that we made a deal, you and I. I take care of my own, I always will. And while I’ve been gone, you’ve somehow lost track of what you need to do. You need to believe. You need to have faith. I can make it happen for you. In fact, it already is happening. Since you forgot, and the incense reminded me, I’m here to tell you again.”

“Dev…I hate to say this, but you’re a fictional construct. I cooked you up, remember?”

“No, you didn’t. You conjured me out from the shadows. So I came back to remind you of what you forgot.” He leaned closer, much closer. I could feel his hot breath on my neck, feel him blowing in my ear.

“Forgot what?” I was confused. Or else it was that hot air and those lips by my ear, that subtle shiver down my spine, that dangerous, sexy, evocative scent that filled the room.

“Be careful what you wish for, baby. You will get it!” Light as a feather, his lips brushed my ear and he breathed down my neck.

When I turned my head to look, he was gone, and only the unholy, dangerous smoke of Katlyn’s incense remained.

Find ‘Mephisto’ at Mermade Magickal Arts here.

Disclosure: Samples were provided by Mermade Magickal Arts. For which I thank Katlyn Breene and Monica Miller most profoundly and sincerely.

I have a giveaway! Two lucky readers will receive a sample set of ‘Mephisto’. Leave a comment by June 30th at midnight CET to be eligible! Open to readers worldwide. The winners will be determined by random.org on July 1st.

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Blood and Kisses

THE CLARIMONDE PROJECT

The Clarimonde Project – Part One

The Perfume Pharmer ‘Sangre’ Eau de Parfum and lip stains developed for Clarimonde, ‘Scarlet Kiss’ and ‘Purple Shadow’

Imagine that you are a young man of twenty-four. All your short life, you have lived for the sole purpose of committing your soul to God as his servant, you have no other ambition, hold no other dream but to become a priest, and so the day of your ordination arrives, the moment you have anticipated for so long. No shadow has ever touched you, no doubt ever plagued you. You shall live your life for God, and God shall return your devotion in equal measure. Until one fated, fatal moment when you look up at a point in your ordination ceremony at the cathedral, and you see a not just a woman, you see Woman, the epitome of all the Church denies and demonizes, the quintessence of all desire, all beauty, of all that offers another kind of love you have never known before and in a heartbeat, all your former self falls away and all your devout ambition dies and you can see, imagine, dream and breathe of nothing at all else.

So begins the story titled ‘La Morte Amoureuse’ by Théophile Gautier, or as it is known in English, ‘Clarimonde’. Published in 1836, it is a story of love and loss, desire and delusion, a simulacrum of life and the bitter reality of death.

On Scent Less Sensibilities and elsewhere, the story of Clarimonde marks the start of a unique group collaboration of five bloggers and six perfumers, namely Mandy Aftel of Aftelier, Ayala Moriel, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Monica Miller of Skye Botanicals and Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl of Aroma M and Cherry Bomb Killer Perfume. Each of the contributing bloggers will provide their own perspectives on the perfumers’ individual interpretations of the story.

My readers will know I came over to the dark side a very long time ago. Every day is Halloween chez Tarleisio! When I was asked to join The Clarimonde Project by curator, instigator, friend, Great Facilitator and fellow blogger Lucy Raubertas of Indie Perfumes, I couldn’t help a little devilish happy dance of excitement. As we all read the same, haunting story Gautier wrote so long ago, we each will have our own personal twists to add, whether our medium is perfume or prose, and so, I have spent the past three days since the arrival of my first perfumed tribute letting the ghosts of Monica Miller of Skye Botanical’s unique interpretation of ‘Clarimonde’ speak to me, as all ghosts do if I only will sit still enough to listen. Now, as I sit with my cooling Earl Grey, my iPig on low and my green magic candle burning just past the midnight witching hour, the ghosts have finally emerged to tell their tale.

Monica chose a most unusual three-fold approach: a perfume called ‘Sangre’, and two 100% botanical, perfumed lip stains to accompany it, a red lip stain called ‘Scarlet Kiss’, perfumed with incense, and a purple stain called ‘Purple Shadow’, perfumed with myrrh and spices. When used together, they form a whole enveloping experience – a lip stain that also perfumes the breath, a perfume that accentuates and compliments the lip stains, even a lip stain that stings as surely as any vampire’s kiss would.

The first day, I applied the red stain, ‘Scarlet Kiss’. I’m a longtime fan of lip stains, and although it wore on me more as a lipstick on my lips, ‘Scarlet Kiss’ managed to last well into the morning and worked beautifully for my fair coloring, and I don’t normally wear red lipsticks at all. The shea butter kept my lips moisturized and smooth and semi-glossy, but the biggest surprise was the incense used to perfume it – it was a way to inhale/experience incense in a tactile, sensory manner I’ve never tried before. I can imagine this on the courtesan Clarimonde’s lips when she appeared in all her glory to the hapless young priest Romuald…the otherworldly beautiful sensual epiphany that shook his faith and his very being to its core.
I will wear this until it’s gone, and then I will mourn its departure. Or else I shall mourn that no other shade of red lipstain/lipstick is quite so flattering or so enticingly perfumed with incense, one of my most favorite notes.

The second day, I wore the purple stain, ‘Purple Shadow’. Here, dear reader, is the Kiss of the Vampire…or as I see it, the point in the story where Romuald is called upon to perform last rites for the dead Clarimonde, and as she lies still in all her deathly pallor and allure, he kisses her – calling her back to life. ‘Purple Shadow’ is perfumed with myrrh – used as a breath freshener since antiquity, too – and is tinted a delicious shade of purple. Alas, this color was not a requited love, but the effect of myrrh on the breath and that sharp tingle/sting of peppermint that made my lips swell slightly was worth it! If I can ever imagine a vampire’s kiss – no hard stretch to my decadent imagination – I can imagine it would burn and tingle precisely as Purple Shadow did. Ah, that fragrant myrrh that somehow seems both sacred and sorrowful to me, a perfumed tear you are compelled to shed simply for being so evocative.

Which brings me to ‘Sangre’ (Blood), the perfume. ‘Sangre’, writes Monica in her accompanying letter, is “a dark fruity floral designed to satiate and sedate the visions of the night’. Don’t let that description deter you. This is unlike any fruity floral I have ever come across.

I breathe in ‘Sangre’ and it does indeed evoke something of the sacrament of blood through that dark alliance of raspberry/blackberry and Roman chamomile, but it also has a clearly defined and ever darker base right from the start as it breathes on my skin. Combined with either lipstain, it envelopes you in scent in an all-pervasive manner we’re no longer accustomed to in our sanitized, breath mint present, and in a way I’ve never tried before. I breathe in the incense on my mouth, the dark, velvety floral and geranium strangeness of Sangre on my skin as it develops, and one word alone is enough to describe the combined effect – haunting as a memory you can never forget and both hope you never do and also desperately ache to do.

To my Gothic sensibilities, Sangre is a dual perfume…dark as all true desires, strange as love always is, and heartbreaking as all fatal love stories must be. It is both comforting and heartbreaking at one and the same time with that deep velvet heart and that dark, polished satinwood base of musk and honey, frankincense and patchouli…as if you had retired to your bed to mourn the loss of the love of your life, wept your bitter tears of regret to reach a fragile state of catharsis, and finally, many hours later, come to realize a hard yet necessary truth – that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. At least, you loved. You lived. You lost, as all star-crossed lovers do, since Eros is a fickle god like all gods, and no mere mortal can survive the celestial heights of Olympus for long.

Or, as Romuald concludes his tale…

”for however chaste and watchful one may be, the error of a single moment is enough to make one lose eternity, lose eternity.”

Romuald lived out his days with the loss of eternity. Nearly two hundred years later on a dark and cold, star-bright October night, a solitary blogger found his story and was wrapped in a perfumed experience unlike anything she had ever tried, a unique blend of sacred and sorrow, scent and stain, blood…and kisses.

Notes for ‘Sangre’:
Top: Roman chamomile, dark berry fruits
Heart: Jasmine CO2, Honeysuckle absolute, geranium absolute, white and red rose tinctures
Base: Musks, honey absolute, ambrette, frankincense CO2, patchouli CO2

A box sample set of Scarlet Kiss/Purple Shadow lip stains and a sample of Sangre is available at The Perfume Pharmer also available individually.

Monica Miller is also known as The Perfume Pharmer.

Disclosure: Sample provided by Monica Miller for review.

A spectacular introduction to both vampires as well as Clarimonde can be found at Lost Past Remembered, one of the participating blogs. Lucy of Indie Perfumes has also reviewed the set here.