A Gothic Grimoire

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–  The Genie’s Guide to the Supernaturally Sublime

Something about October, the dance of glowing leaves in the wind, the shift in mood from the exuberance of spring and the dolce far niente of summer to a tinge of delicious melancholy, the very perfume of the air itself, with its first hints of looming winter and quietude, the mushroom scent of a forest floor after the rain, the sharp tang of fallen apples and the sudden epiphany of wood smoke in the air – all of these combined add up to what is without question one of my favorite times of the year.

If I were to put an epithet that somehow sums up all of October, it would surely be ‘Gothic’.

These days, Gothic conjures up associations of horror, darkness and menace, if not an entire subculture I once upon a storied time did my own small part to define the first time it surfaced in the zeitgeist of the mid-Eighties. While I may have outgrown my predilection for acres of black eyeliner and ditto lipstick, certain elements of that era have stuck with me ever since – a taste for melodramatic literature written at an operatic pitch of intensity, music, and a certain nineteenth-century feel and line in clothing. Although I still own an outsize amount of very black clothes, one indispensible item more than any other brings out that inspired state of being that consists of equal parts preternatural frisson, high drama, twinges of mortality, and the delectable, unbearable, existential darkness of being.

Perfume.

But what in all that chthonic murk constitutes a Gothic… perfume?

It goes without saying that all the happy-go-lucky flirty florals and fruity wonders we adore so much in high summer no longer cut it.

For a perfume to be deemed Gothic requires a few non-negotiable elements. First of all – that all-important question, my own pop-culture criterion:

Would Morticia Addams wear it?

If it is too light, too young, too obvious, too fleeting, the answer is likely a resounding ‘no’. Anything that doesn’t reduce our own resident Gomez Addams (should we have one) to a helpless pile of smoking ectoplasm need not apply. Speaking of ectoplasm…

All Gothic perfumes must by necessity contain an element of the numinous or the supernatural about them. It could be a question of composition, of overall texture, of unusual fragrant elements in mutual tension, but if it doesn’t give you a superstitious shiver down your spine and you can’t even explain why, what’s the point?

Since the Gothic mood and mindset is dark, intense, and brooding, the perfume must somehow convey all of these things. Therefore, Gothic perfumes are often very plush, with a lot of basenotes that may often include frankincense, labdanum, oud, patchouli, sandalwood, oakmoss, castoreum, civet, musk, leather and other wonders of that fertile alchemical undergrowth that provokes all our darkest, most secret, subconscious desires.

Last but never least, if you can answer an affirmative ‘yes!’ to the question…

Would you wear this to a graveside Halloween party?

Then you’ve found your very own Gothic perfume!

What follows below are my own personal decidedly Gothic favorites, arranged from vintage (and therefore, sadly, the current versions are reformulated beyond recognition and merit) to currently available.

Vintage Glories

Magie Noir – Lancôme

This 1978 classic by Gerard Goupy was a harbinger to come of those opulent Eighties orientals. It is also without question one of the witchiest perfumes ever made. I’ve worn it off and on since 1983, and it remains the single most complimented perfume I own, even today. In fact, I’ve never met a man who didn’t tilt backwards for this one, such is the Circe spell it weaves, turning any modern Odysseus into a slavering hog whether they want it or not. Although still in production, it’s not even a wan, pale echo of its former glory.

Narcisse Noir – Caron

Sometimes, I wonder at the fragrant bombshells I wore in my wanton youth, wonder I even dared to wear them. This great immortal classic, beloved of both Norma Desmond and Anaïs Nin, more than any other delineated my long-ago Goth days. It slew several wannabe latter-day Baudelaires I knew by taking a perfumery trope – orange blossom – and turning it completely inside out. Orange blossom is usually a joyous, summery, sunshine bloom. Ernest Daltroff’s 1912 classic inverts all those expectations and turns them inside out by being a dark, smoky, slinky animal of midnight and divine delirium. Narcisse Noir is still available, although it has irrevocably changed from its inky, slinky, seductive self to a prim Park Avenue mistress in palest dove gray.

Parlous Blooms

If ever an entire perfume house’s resident aesthetic somehow encapsulates all that is Gothic with a decadent French twist, it would surely be Serge Lutens. I doubt it’s an accident it is one of my all-time favorite perfume houses for precisely that reason. Best of all, Serge Lutens has – aided by resident alchymist Christopher Sheldrake and before him Maurice Roucel – subverted several classic florals into new, unnerving territory by making them eerie, and not just through their inscrutable press copy or their names, but throughout their very souls. Iris Silver Mist will send chills of otherworldly orris down your spine, Tubereuse Criminelle shall disturb you to your depths in all its heady jolie laide beauty, Sarrasins might sink its feral feline jasmine fangs into your nose and De Profundis exude its own cold kiss of mortality down your neck, but you will not forget them – nor will anyone who gets close enough to sniff.

Numinous Numbers

Certain perfumes are more than a little… numinous. Meaning they convey a hint or a whole ruined abbey of emotion, legend, ghosts of stories past and premonitions to come. They range from the transcendental to the uncanny, which is precisely why they’re so beloved.

Trayee & Ashoka – Neela Vermeire Crèations

It may seem a bit of a stretch to call Neela Vermeire’s Trayee and Ashoka ‘gothic’ when perhaps the first word that comes to mind is ‘exotic’, but think again – if we take the word to mean transporting in an emotionally compelling, numinous sense, then they both do precisely that in two different, very complex and nearly supernatural ways. Trayee with its sacred incense, oud and sandalwood, Ashoka with its sudden, shocking shift from deepest dark to luminous light – either is perfect for that lingering trail of sanctity we all aspire to leave behind us – or the samsara we all hope to achieve.

Rouge Avignon – Phaedon

Rouge Avignon, inspired by the Papal palace at Avignon, embodies the very best of Gothic sensibilities in its very DNA. Rose, incense, smoke, dark, deep woods – it is its own unholy witchy brew of blackest red and reddest black, the shade of a drop of blood, of power and of carefully concealed secrets, too.

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Mad, Bad and Dangerous To Know or… Les Hommes Fatales

Lady Caroline Lamb may well have had all sorts of personal reasons to describe George Gordon, Lord Byron as all of the above, but certain masculine-tinged perfumes will haunt me to my grave if not devastate me into a swoon, whether they’re worn by short, dark and interesting exemplars of the male gender or by tall, fair, rockstar poets in aviator shades fueled by Friday night and Pinot Grigio.

Baudelaire – Byredo

No fan of the Gothic can avoid a fatal predilection for the poetry of Charles Baudelaire. While I somehow doubt Byredo’s Baudelaire would be worn by its namesake, who did indeed have a great affinity for perfume, there’s no question in my demented mind it does full justice to the spirit of his words…erotic, evocative, subversive, and more than a little perilous to short, busty writers with (oversized) nitroglycerin imaginations. Poets beware!

1740 Marquis de Sade – Histoires de Parfums

This thick, heady, delirious leather/spicy/immortelle bombshell of a perfume was inspired by that greatest libertine of them all – or so the notorious Marquis liked to see himself. I say it’s much too good for his ghost, but absolutely grand for modern-day libertines out to slay the unsuspecting with everything they’ve got. So long as they’re careful never to promise more than they’re capable of delivering. I also say 1740 is everything any hopelessly romantic, Gothic-leaning female could wish to inhale, although the consequences of doing just that might be harrowing. My lips are sealed in scarlet ink. To paraphrase Tennessee Williams, things occur in the dark of night that make anything happening in daylight seem… all right.

A Haunted History

Perfume, I heard myself saying some time ago, is every bit as legitimate a way of telling a story as a painting, a sculpture, a film, a novel. Few perfumes tell quite such a timeless story as the most haunting pair I know…

Memoir Man/Woman – Amouage

The great thing about Amouage paired perfumes is the way both the feminine and the masculine versions reflect two sides of the same story, and here, it’s that eternal epic love story of a tempestuous heaven and a mutual melodrama heartbreak. Either of them have utterly ruined me for life for other so-called ‘bottled love stories’, since so far as I’m concerned, this one is unbeatable. Certainly, it’s unforgettable. As all the best love stories – and worst heartbreaks! – always are.

Les Femmes Fatales

Ladies – you’ve been waiting for these. These perfumes are the dragon-slayers and pale-faced Succubi of the perfume world, the pearlescent vampires, the Liliths, Ligeias and Morellas and the Annabel Lees, the transgressions, the most ebony of carnal sins and ultimate, bottled evils, the justifications for terrible, heart-rending beauty and bone-chilling emanations.  If you think about it – what is Ulalume compared to all of those? Edgar? Anyone?

Midnight At The Crossroads Café – Neil Morris

Gothic literature has been such a mainstay of popular fiction for so long, it’s increasingly hard to imagine anything new could ever be done with it. Unless you happen to be that justly famous Boston treasure, perfumer Neil Morris, who took an unknown writer’s opening chapter and turned it into a upgraded Gothic perfume novella for the twenty-first century without overlooking any single essential: a witching hour, a vulnerable woman, a glass of mulled wine, an empty café and the distinct, supernatural thrill of the definitely dangerous and dangerously erotic Devil himself. It can be classified as a chypre, but this is unlike any chypre you think you know – this is as good as fragrant perdition gets. Take it from me. I know.

Immortal Mine – House of Cherry Bomb

Two years ago (and how it could be two years I’m still not sure), I had the great good fortune to participate in the Clarimonde Project, a cross-media collaboration of perfumers and writers to explore in prose and perfume one of the earliest and most unusual vampire stories ever – Thèophile Gautier’s 1836 La Morte Amoureuse. House of Cherry Bomb’s Immortal Mine is one of the superlative finest and supremely Gothic perfumes money can buy. It’s as deep and impenetrable as Nietzsche’s abyss, as black and vast as a winter hour before dawn, as licentious as any celebrated courtesan and as haunting (if not daunting) as Gautier’s story and his creation both.

Babylon Noir – Opus Oils

Hundreds of perfumes claim to be noir. Most of them barely qualify as wannabe noir, if that much. Babylon Noir, created by perfumer Kedra Hart of Opus Oils for the Devilscent Project, is such an audacious, outrageous, luscious feline carnivore of a perfume, it makes vintage Narcisse Noir (no slouch in the darkness department) blanc in comparison. Equally suitable for vampires and aspiring Liliths, it will slay anyone it touches, guaranteed, because darkness gets no blacker nor more alluring. Wear it to any Halloween party and watch the competition turn orange in envy.

Ormonde Woman – Ormonde Jayne London

Some very long time ago, when I was still fairly new to niche perfumery, I won a sample of Ormonde Woman on another perfume blog. That it was a green and witchy creature, I already knew from the review, but I wasn’t at all prepared for my own reaction. It was without question the most terrifying perfume I had ever encountered in my life, so much so, it was the original inspiration for Lilith’s perfume. Not for being repellent (which it wasn’t) nor even poisonous (although there was that hemlock absolute…) but precisely because it was such a feral thing of the forest. It took me a good long time (and very many perfumes) to come around to Ormonde Woman, but now I have another wafting weapon at my disposal to put the capital B in bewitching.

Lil – Olympic Orchids

Still with me on this fragrant descent into the heart of October darkness? In which case, you’re in for a very big surprise, because Olympic Orchids’ Lil – also created for the Devilscent Project – is not dark in the slightest. Ellen Covey happily took every Gothic trope and cliché in perfumery and subverted them into an absolutely terrifying – and horribly beautiful – perfume of sharp, piercing, eerie green light, as if she had somehow managed to capture a will-o’-the-wisp in a perfume bottle that will haunt (and taunt) your surroundings for a very long time. Wimps and wannabes need not apply.

The Moody, Magnificent Monster

Opus VII – Amouage

I’m a bit at a loss to describe Opus VII (although I’ve certainly tried) and its effects, but basically, this is a huge, shape-shifting beast of Faërie that takes oud, black leather, cypriol, fenugreek and galbanum and provides them all with the most delirious fangs  – or pangs! – you could never have imagined. You can wear it ten times and encounter ten different stories. You will catch a waft and think you have managed to parse its depths to your satisfaction. Ten minutes later, you’ll catch another and wonder what you were thinking. Then hours later, the only thing you can be sure of is one literal wild ride – or wild hunt through the undergrowth? – that surely explains every Dionysian mystery rite from antiquity to the present. Or does it? Only its sillage knows…

In short, if you seek the unusual, the preternatural thrill, the mysteries and the magic of a most magical time of year, these perfumes will be honored to send eerie shivers down your spine.

Because every day should be Halloween!

At least in October.

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Serge Lutens perfumes are available from Luckyscent and for European customers, directly from the Serge Lutens website. Trayee and Ashoka are available at Luckyscent and from Neela Vermeire Crèations. Rouge Avignon is available directly from Phaedon. Baudelaire is available from Luckyscent and First in Fragrance. Histoires de Parfums 1740 is at Luckyscent and First in Fragrance. Amouage Memoir Man & Woman can be found at Luckyscent and First in Fragrance. Neil Morris’ Midnight is available through his Vault collection of perfumes by request. House of Cherry Bomb’s Immortal Mine is available at Indie Scents. Opus Oils’ Babylon Noir is available directly from the Opus Oils website, Ormonde Woman from Ormonde Jayne London, Lil directly from Olympic Orchids. Amouage Opus VII is available from Luckyscent, First in Fragrance and directly from the Amouage website.

With thanks to the reader who inspired the post…;)

Illustrations: Franz von Stuck, Die Sünde, 1893 and Lucifer, 1890.

Beloved of the Gods

 

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– a review of Neela Vermeire Créations Ashoka

Close your eyes and let your imagination run with the wind a while, let yourself fall far back through time and imagine…

Imagine you are the undisputed ruler of all you see, a topic of conversation from West to East. Ptolemy in faraway Egypt knows your name and reputation well, and Antiochus the Seleucid king, and neither can scarcely believe the tales they are told nor the words your peoples and your emissaries spread on the winds that blow from East to West.

Nothing shall ever be denied you, no desire for conquest can ever be anything than a self-evident victory.

And so, it has come to this appalling day the world will know as the last Battle of Kalinga and yet another plume to your glory, yet another place to add to the lists of peoples and lands who now call you Emperor.

It could be this day of triumph when everything changes, or it could be later, when the treaties have been signed, the levies decided, the razor sharp memories of war and sorrow dulled to an ache.

It could be the memory of that fateful day: an old man, mourning the loss of a son, or the endless tears of a woman trying to wash away the pain of her dead children, it could even be you turned a corner and saw a spotted puppy amid the smoking ruins your armies caused, a puppy with no one left to care for him, a puppy who glanced up from the rubble and looked at you, a mighty conqueror and ruler whose praises were sung throughout the lands and plains of a fabled country, looked at you with both hope and apprehension in those liquid brown eyes, looked right through to that innermost, carefully concealed part of you, and something in you shifted, moved and gave way, crumbled like the plastered walls of conquered cities… and was changed forever.

There was another path for you to choose, another way to act and live, another way of life and faith for all creatures under a searing sky. A heart that burned with a warrior’s heat found that way to another path and so you traveled the length and the breadth of your empire and told your peoples of that path you now walked, that way that became known as the dhamma, the path to justice, to compassion, to enlightenment and peace and prosperity. As you traveled and as you spoke to your people in person, you had pillars and stones carved with your words, so they would know and not forget. Down through that swirling axis of time and history, on through other conquests and other eras, your memory was kept alive as both an inspiration and a wonder for hundreds of generations to follow.

Nearly two thousand, three hundred years on, the world has not forgotten neither those memories of the man nor the words he left behind.

I, Piryadasi, beloved of the Gods, speak thus: To do good is difficult. One who does good first does something hard to do.”

Now…open your eyes. You are here, in this moment, in this time, and for just a moment more, indulge me, dear reader. Only here, in the frantic, flashing LED lights of the twenty-first century, imagine all of such an incredible tale from a nearly mythical time had somehow materialized in essence and absolute, in vision and dedication and many, many versions… transformed by alchemy both profound and mundane into… a perfume.

A trio of perfumes was launched by Neela Vermeire last year that were inspired by three different eras of her native India’s history. They were a sensation, partly due to an incredible amount of hard work and promotion on her part, and more importantly because there truly is nothing at all else like them.

All three somehow bridge a gap between heritage and future, simultaneously as sophisticated, as complex, and as intellectually satisfying as any of the great creations of the twentieth century, and at the same time as thoroughly modern and unusual as the very best of niche perfumery today. Neither Trayee, Mohur nor Bombay Bling paid the slightest heed to any fragrant clichés we cynical perfumistas might have supposed, but if three perfumes ever somehow managed to bottle that whirling kaleidoscope of impressions that is an Occidental dream of India in all the very best of novel Oriental ways, they certainly did.

All three, I came to discover myself over the course of this past year when I have worn them very, very often, have an extraordinary effect on my mood in a way few perfumes do. I’m old enough to remember that Seventies relic we teenagers wore then called mood rings, which is precisely what these three are.

The numinous effect of Trayee eddies around sacred smoke and contemplation, the luminous, majestic rose of Mohur winds around oud, cardamom and almond delicacies, the bright, fragrant lights of Bombay Bling elevate endless rainy days with its energetic, solar-powered optimism.

So here the story continues with Ashoka, and this is a story just as extraordinary. In this little vial is yet another theme, not faith and contemplation, not majesty, heritage and opulence, nor even exuberance and optimism, but, in a word… enlightenment.

Don’t believe me? What if I told you it starts its tale with a fierce, almost shocking opening burst? Fig leaves – those bitter, grassy green wonders – paired with a bracing, nearly brutal but reined-in leather, as if to stop those chariot horses before they run away. This is Ashoka as he was, the merciless Emperor who vanquished his enemies without a second thought or a single sign of remorse. For long moments, they play out against each other, but before you crown leather the victor, remember that Buddha himself was enlightened beneath the leafy shade of a fig tree. Sure enough, soon enough, the leather recedes, the bitterness fades, and a far softer and infinitely tender floral heart blooms, so seamlessly blended and satiny it’s hard to parse out the individual notes.

How Neela and Bertrand Duchaufour pulled it off, I can’t imagine, but that’s what it does – it opens up, petal by luminous petal like the lotus blossoms it contains. This is Ashoka’s well-guarded secret, the one you could never, ever guess. A sweet yet never saccharine secret, wrapped with care and cunning both around the sap of fig milk. Ashoka is no gourmand, so I’m guessing it’s the osmanthus exuding its dulcet apricot soprano, in perfect harmony with a golden-hued mimosa and very plush rose, the rose again in perfect counterpoint with that green hyacinth, echoing back to those green, fig-laced beginnings and bridging the evolution to come.

Ashoka takes its own time to tell its story, and compressed in these relatively few words are hours and hours of wear and wonder, of florals soft as peacock feathers and a dark green heartbeat underpinning them all, as touching and as tender. In the base, I sense a common pulse or vision that ties Ashoka to all of its siblings in the Neela Vermeire Creations line, the sandalwood, incense and myrrh made different shades of a dark viridian green with that vetiver and with fir balsam adding its own sense of timelessness.

For if another word could sum up Ashoka, it would be just that – timeless. Like all the very best stories and the superlative best of perfumes it tells that tale of a seismic shift in your consciousness, of that tiny flutter of a butterfly’s wing, a puppy’s liquid eyes, the patience of an elephant in a teeming crowd that touches that secret part of your soul the world has never known and so changes you…forever, and that, too is part of the Dhamma – to manifest what you had never before even dared to dream.

As Ashoka very likely said himself:

One who does good first does something hard to do.

Which is always and forever another path to… enlightenment. Or being… beloved of the gods.

Notes: Fig leaves, leather, pink and white lotus, mimosa, fig milk, osmanthus, rose, water hyacinth, vetiver, styrax, incense, sandalwood, myrrh, tonka bean, fir balsam.

Neela Vermeire Créations Ashoka was created by Neela Vermeire in collaboration with perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour. It will be available worldwide in the autumn of 2013.

Images: The Great Stupa at Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh, commissioned by Emperor Ashoka in the third century BCE, superimposed with the First Rock Inscription at Girnar, ca. 257 B.C.E. Translation of the Fifth Edict by Ven. S. Dhammika, via Buddhanet.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons, Photoshop montage my own.

Disclosure: A sample was provided by Neela Vermeire for review.

The winners of the Neela Vermeire Creations Giveaway Contest!

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We’ve found two winners of my Neela Vermeire Creations giveaway contest!

The winner of the Discover Your India set of 3 x 10 ml of Trayee, Mohur and Bombay Bling is … DKChocoman!

The winner of the Try Your India set of 3 x 2 ml spray samples is … Gail!

Please email your shipping address to thealembicatedgenie(at)gmail(dot)com by midnight Wednesday, February 27th, CET, so I can pass it on to Neela Vermeire.

Thanks to absolutely everyone who entered! That was so much fun, we really should do that again…;)

Stay tuned this coming week for two great new discoveries and a Hotly Anticipated Item…

 

 

 

Stupid Cupid

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 – or…the Genie’s antidote to Valentine’s Day Disease

Close your eyes and imagine, say, Fifth Avenue in New York in mid-February. Imagine that today of all days, there’s no insane traffic, only a frenzied crowd awaiting the arrival of countless city dignitaries, Mayor Bloomberg and likely moguls such as The Donald himself, running bare as babies or in goatskin loincloths down Fifth Avenue in a haze of ticker-tape and confetti with whips in their hands. Women and girls rush forward with their hands held out for a lash or two to assure they’ll never need fertility clinics, hormone treatments or anesthetics during childbirth ever again.

Romance? What romance?

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Lupercalia, arguably the origins of Valentine’s Day, although that is still a matter of some debate in academic circles. Replace Fifth Avenue with the Palatine Hill of first-century Rome, if that makes you feel better.

Of all the hyper-commercialized holidays on Planet Earth – never mind Planet Perfume – Valentine’s Day is the one I detest the most, and not just because a) I’m single b) will get nary one Valentine, box of chocolates or red silk teddy never mind c) an actual date because d) I’m a post-punk diehard cynic of a certain age wondering if Restylane will somehow galvanize romance back in my life. (Doubtful).

No, the reason I take such umbrage with this whoopee cushion-shaped holiday is the underlying assumption that romance is or should be dead the other 364 days of the year.

If that’s the philosophy of anyone who wants to survive a first date with yours truly, we’ll never get past that first cup of coffee before I invent a fictional friend’s domestic disaster that requires my immediate assistance and PDQ out the door, never to return.

You see, I’m such a hapless romantic, I believe in romance every day of every year. (I’m a former Goth, surely you expected no less?) I believe that if you truly have a heart’s desire, let it all out in every way you can, say it in every way you can, and say it on any other day but that wretched February 14th that comes built in with all sorts of fraught emotion and expectations. That’s just me.

Yet you, dear reader, have other and more delicate sensibilities, since you are only too aware that if you don’t do something, have something planned for that date, you are so dead. You are so dead, you’d make mummies look animated. You need help. You need a suggestion, a roadmap, anything at all…

You need a perfume that spells romance with a capital R, or caring with a capital C, or even, dare I write it, the infamous four-letter L word. Your choice as to whether it ends in an ‘e’ or a ‘t’…

But where to start? What to do? And that biggest heartbreak of them all…what to wear?

No worries, darling. The Genie goes where even Cupid fears to tread, and in no time at all, you’ll actually be looking forward…to red velvet whoopee cushions, cheesy greeting cards, chocolate covered cherries and champagne.

First of all, contrary to whatever La Perla might have you believe…

1) Don’t buy lingerie for Valentine’s Day. If you get the size wrong, you’re so doomed, and not the way you hoped for, either. Save that for some humdrum Wednesday, when your darling least expects it (and you know what size to get), where it might have better consequences than even you could imagine.

2) Chocolate is always, always good, unless you have one of those rare creatures who don’t care for it, in which case, you likely don’t read this blog. Buy the very best you can obtain. Handmade, Belgian (or handmade Belgian)…truffles, what-have-you. Make sure to have it beautifully wrapped (presentation IS half the battle) and kept cool.

3) Roses…OK, I’m not about to argue with the appeal of a dozen long-stemmed, red roses (hopefully, the fragrant kind), but be a little original here. Six tiny, adorable baby cacti might be just as effective. Three perfect red cattleya orchids, one for each heartfelt word? Two dozen adorable violets? The flawless Casablanca Lily that ate Manhattan? Thirteen tuberose blooms? Just be sure to get them from a proper florist, and not from the checkout line at your local supermarket. As I said – presentation is half the battle.

4) If your own pathetic attempts at poetry fail you and Hallmark fails you, too – buy a plain, cream-colored card with an envelope at a stationery store, ally yourself with the Web, and go hunt for the words of Pablo Neruda, Rumi, Rainer Maria Rilke, Paul Verlaine or even Lord Byron, if you’re that way inclined. If she/he’s a diehard cynic, you can’t possibly go wrong with Baudelaire. Ever. And if you do, then you deserve better.

5) Unless you have an idea of what your Valentine likes/loves – and that might not always be the case – don’t buy perfume. Honest. Just don’t. I have formerly been the owner of a few perfumes bought by well-meaning sweethearts I later came to dislike. But say…you do want to make that particular gesture of appreciation, only you don’t know where to start. You just want your Valentine to be the sexiest-smelling s/he can be. May I recommend the stellar Discovery Set from Ormonde Jayne. Whether a woman of mystery or a L’Homme Fatal, there’s sure to be a fragrant treasure for every taste, and it’s exquisitely presented. Perhaps s/he is a true cosmopolitan with a taste for sublime, fragrant adventure? Neela Vermeire Creations’ Discover Your India Set is a likewise beautifully presented passage to India in all its most opulent glory.

6) If your human whoopee cushion is artistic, I hereby point you to Jardins d’Écrivains, a French company who took famous writers as their inspiration for scented candles to write/create by. Tickle their inner Colette, tease out the closet Kipling or bring along the Baroness Blixen and write up a Serengeti lion hunt of your own…

Which brings us back to you and that agony of indecision. What, oh what to wear?

I’ll go on a few blanket assumptions here and say that Valentine’s dates tend to fall in one of four categories. Great Expectations, Twenty Tones of Torrid, Folie-à-deux and Surely, You Jest? Therefore, from the top…

Great Expectations

The worst thing you can do at this particular stage of affaires is to try too hard. But, oh! The possibilities! The butterflies! The 1001 Sighs of What-if! Which is not to say you can’t waft fabulosity and romance at one and the same time. And romance to many people means red as in…rose. Swipe that sweetheart off the floor in a rosy swoon with Aftelier’s Wild Roses, DSH Perfumes’ American Beauty, Olympic Orchids’ Ballets Rouges, Etat Libre d’Orange’s Eau de Protection, Amouage Lyric (M/W) or Neela Vermeire’s Mohur.

Twenty Tones of Torrid

With any luck, we know this one. At this stage it matters less what you wear than how quickly you can take it off. The beauty of perfume is…it stays! 😉 This is when those super-sexy scents have their moments. Take them by surprise with the magnificent Ambre Sultan by Serge Lutens, Opus Oils’ Dirty Sexy Wilde, Aftelier’s Secret Garden, Histoires de Parfum’s 1740, Amouage Memoir (M/W), Aroma M’s Geisha Noire, House of Cherry Bomb’s Immortal Mine (bottled sin!), Francis Kurkdjian’s Absolue Pour le Soir (ditto) or if you prefer a tumble on the wilder sides after midnight, Olympic Orchids’ Dev no. 2.

Folie-á-Deux

So you’ve made it this far, and have slightly less to prove. Does that mean an end to the rolling r of romance? Of course not! Now, you can cuddle up in blissful, mutual appreciation by taking it to the next level of l-o-v-e…with the incredible, edible Spiritueuse Double Vanille or Tonka Imperiale by Guerlain, Amouage Beloved, Esscentual Alchemy’s Moon Valley or Serge Lutens’ Santal Majuscule, and have an evening to remember as perfect as the two of you together surely are.

Surely, You Jest?

Oh, dear. Familiarity has set in. Or romantic rot. Or something. Therefore, it’s the perfect time to galvanize that human sofa pillow (or whoopee cushion) back to life and other four-letter L-words. This day of all days is not the time to be too edgy, unless that’s what it will take. If that means wrapping yourself in bacon in front of ESPN or finding alternative uses for Nutella, then who am I to argue? On the other hand, attitude is very much in the ambience you create. If you feel sexy, chances are, you act that way, too. So go ahead. You can’t go wrong with the classics. Dig out that half-hidden bottle of Piguet’s Bandit you were saving for a rainy day. That day has arrived n-o-w. Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Get out of that sofa pillow rut and into another kind with Skye Botanical’s ‘Strawberry Passion’, or break out your inner rock star with Opus Oils’ M’Eau Joe no. 3 and prove that romance – rock’n’roll and otherwise – isn’t dead, and Stupid Cupid has nothing at all on you!

As for me, I’ve given up on Valentine’s Day. Whoopie cushions, cheesy cards, wilted roses and all. But I’ll never give up…on romance!

The Best of 2012 – Worn & Adored!

sophiemagdalenecrown

 – Being the true confessions of a hapless perfume writer…

Ah, the perils of a perfume writer’s existence. So many perfumes – according to Basenotes, 1366 new fragrances were launched in 2012 –so very little time! Without being able to sometimes club flotsam and jetsam reviews together – meaning I review more than one at a time – I’d be toast.

As it is, my ghost will probably be typing away in the afterlife long after my hopefully timely demise just to catch up on the backlog, wondering if Stygian WiFi is reliable…;-)

I also try to have a perfume free day every week to recalibrate my nose, which makes it easier to delve into the ones I do review.

Some of the perfumes I wore most in 2012 are repeats from my other two lists, for no other cause than I couldn’t live without them, others I have yet to review but I wore them anyway. Yet for all those new and/or newly discovered perfumes, sometimes, all this girl wants to do is wear a familiar favorite, and I’ve certainly done that, too.

These are the ones I have wafted and adored beyond all reason. For as surely as my readers know, reason had nothing to do with it!

Aftelier

Few things are more fun than scenting some of your favorite characters in books. It doesn’t get any cooler than to perfume the characters of your making, as my own project proved. Yet I suspect that Sophia – one important character who appears in my book Quantum Demonology – would wear Aftelier’s Fig, and whenever I’ve needed to borrow some of her own earthy grounding, Fig was a perfect fit. I loved it in an instant when I found it, and I love it dearly still. I hear Sophia’s Flatbush twang whenever I put it on. “C’mon, hon,” she seems to say, “just cut the bs already, whydoncha?” I do try.

Amouage

Some days, nothing but an Amouage will do. I’ve had a few of those this past year, especially with Memoir Woman, Beloved, and certainly Opus VI. I also came to discover that bone dry, bitter cold – as we had in late January last year – turns my Cloak of Invincibility, Epic Woman, into a very moody, oud-y creature. I suspect that’s why my sister hates it. Considering some of the stink bombs she’s hit me with over the years, it’s only fair.

Aroma M

It’s said that the scent of Artemisia – which we sometimes know as wormwood and also as absinthe – furthers creativity. Who am I to argue with the Fée Verte glories of the Belle Époque? Aroma M’s Geisha Green is one of the most beautifully rendered absinthe perfumes I know, and whatever it takes ‘to further creativity’, I’ll do. That I received it as a present from a very dear friend makes it even more special.

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

Ah, the lovely Dawn, she breaks my heart. For creating such stellar works of beauty as indeed she always, always does, and for making me cry, as I did when she so sweetly sent me her YSL Retrospective Collection made in collaboration with the Denver Art Museum’s Yves Saint Laurent exhibition. Those lucky enough to see it were treated not only to some of the most seminal – and spectacular – creations of my all-time favorite designer, they were also tempted with Dawn’s olfactory reinterpretations of some of his designs – and perfumes. La Vie En Rose – her tribute to one of my own Great Immortals, vintage YSL Paris, was so flawless, it made me cry. To be hit over the head by a massively packed suitcase of Guilt Trip for not reviewing that collection yet. The best defense in the face of Major Procrastination is an attack. Dawn, darling, yours will be my first review of 2013. As for the rest of you – read all about it!

Editions Frédéric Malle

Last year was my year of The Tuberose. It was a note I approached with some trepidation – one does not mess with this floral diva – only to find just how much I adored it, especially when it’s as stunning as the justly celebrated Carnal Flower by Dominique Ropion. I suspect that the equally lovely Lys Méditerranée won’t be too far behind its sister in the Flawless Floral department. I am so doomed.

The Ex (Dev) Factor

I’m single now, so alas I don’t know a lot of (willing) masculine lab rats for when I needed to skin-test assorted testaments to Thermonuclear Testosterone Bombshells – also known as the Devilscents. For this reason and several others, mainly his resigned-to-the-inevitable sense of humor, I recruited Super Mario Sr. He then proceeded to ruin the female wait staff one night at a local Italian trattoria by deviously dabbing their boyfriend chefs in the kitchen with House of Cherry Bomb’s Dev. Those ladies  – usually quite clearheaded and competent in a busy, popular restaurant – were useless that night. Resistance was futile. The next day, so he told me, everyone showed up with Epic Night To Remember grins on their faces. The guys all demanded to know, as only red-blooded Italian males can – “WHERE can we buy that stuff prontissimo???” He never told them. Some things – and some secrets, apparently – are just…too good to share! Some time later, Monica Miller of Perfume Pharmer was sweet enough to send me a liquid decant of the scent of her own Dev massage lotion bar. I had just enough time to sniff it, before he declared this was his new liquid definition of awesome, and stole it with that elegant sleight-of-hand Geminis so excel at. I never saw it again.

Exotic Island Aromas

Here comes Guilt Trip suitcase no. 2. Monica also flattered me this past year by requesting my dubious services for her Primordial Scents Project. As part of it, I received Juan Perez’ – the creator of Exotic Island Aromas – two contributions, and never in my life was a sample vial drained faster than his utterly unearthly Flor Azteca. You can therefore imagine how happy I was to win a roll-on of this wonder in a draw. Full review forthcoming or I am so dead, but this feral phantasm of a tuberose is to breathe – and die! – for.

House of Cherry Bomb

As if the devastation wrought by their Dev weren’t enough, the Awesome Twosome of the House of Cherry Bomb also made Lilith, and as opportunity would have it, on one of two dates I had last year, I wore it to see a former boyfriend I hadn’t seen in eighteen years. I really don’t know what came over me. Or him. Let’s just say the reunion was a happy one. I blame the perfume. It couldn’t possibly have been me.

Neela Vermeire Creations

When your preconceptions are blown to smithereens, when you’re blown to dandelion fluff on a high summer wind by beauty, if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to wear it again as often as you can. In the case of the truly spectacular Trayee and Mohur, this could never happen often enough, and I’ve worn both of them frequently in 2012 with no end in sight. On those dire, far-too-early mornings when I told my reflection despairingly that Attitude Is Everything, I’ve worn Bombay Bling. I dare anyone to wear it without a smile on their faces! All three NVC creations have been plastered all over almost everyone’s Best of 2012 lists, and I’m not about to argue with splendor.

Neil Morris Fragrances

Among perfumistas, the astonishing Neil Morris is one of those great cult figures of American perfumery, far too cool to be a household name, much, much too talented not to be. No one was more flabbergasted than I when he chose to participate in the Devilscent Project – with alacrity and an infernal amount of glee, I might add. It pains me more than I can say to know that I only have two more Neil Morrises to review for the DSP, but on the other hand, it thrills me beyond compare to know that Neil,my darling, I’m not letting you get away! Rumi, made for his Vault Collection has become a signature I never want to be without, but I could certainly say the same for all five of his creations for the project. The good news for the rest of Planet Perfume is I understand they’ll soon be made available to the general public. Be afraid – in all the most perilous, perfumed ways…

Niki de Saint Phalle

In the Bad Old Days of the Eighties, when I wasn’t wearing my usual sock-it-to-‘em wonders, I was a definite green chypre kind of chica. No one was more thrilled than I when the opportunity to acquire this oft-overlooked gem came along. Niki de Saint Phalle is a softer, mossier and more approachable sibling of my beloved Bandit, and today, it is so unusual among the usual fruitchoulis in my vicinity, it always gets me noticed.

Olympic Orchids

One of my favorite things about inspiration is I never know in advance where it will take me. I suspect my partner-in-crime Ellen Covey would agree. So far as I’ve been able to tell, our notorious little project has redefined quite a few of her own sensibilities, and it’s certainly shown a far more dangerous, if not sinister side of her as a perfumer than anyone could have expected, least of all this longtime fan on the other side of the world. Labdanum – one of the oldest, most sacred perfumery materials – was a leitmotif of the DSP, and her opulent, labdanum-rich Dev #4 puts labdanum front and center in a whole new, peerless – and heartbreaking – light. (Ellen, I’m saving those other Devs for the (unlikely?) event I find a testosterone bomb to put them on…😉 ) Her Lil unnerved my colleagues many times this past year, before I swiped them off the floor in a photorealistic rosy swoon with her glorious Ballets Rouges.

Opus Oils

When I get rich, I want of everything Isis by Opus Oils. Because blue lotus – one of my favorite floral notes – really, truly doesn’t get any better than this. And when I want to bring out my inner hell-raising bad-gal, Opus Oils and Michelle Kredd Kydd’s M’Eau Jo no. 3 is the best intoxication to be found this side of a bottle of Jack D’s. In no time at all, I’m backstage again on a sofa in a green room with a libertine, cleavage-loving guitarist, sharing the filthiest jokes we know…

Ormonde Jayne

When a line has more hits than misses with me, I know I’m in trouble. Or I am trouble. Which is precisely what I am whenever I’ve worn Orris Noir, and that happens often with this luminous, rich and decadent iris. This past summer and early fall – or just whenever I’m in the mood for bluer skies and warmer climes – I’ve added Frangipani to my Ormonde Jaynes, simply for being the embodiment of everything tropical and happy and positively perfect, which is how it makes me feel, although I really should know better. Do I care? Not in the slightest.

Puredistance

If there is a celestial location where the epitome of spring is kept on tap, where Green reigns serene as well as supreme, then surely, it smells like Annie Bezantian’s masterpiece for Puredistance,Antonia? If there isn’t, there certainly should be.

Parfums Serge Lutens

2012 was the year I delved quite a bit deeper into the nefarious doings of Mssrs. Lutens and Sheldrake thanks to the interventions of a few perfume fairies. I’m not sure whether to thank them or curse them for that…but I’ve worn a lot of Lutens this past year, among them Rousse – I come from a long, long line of redheads, or at least that’s my excuse, De Profundis, which was everything in a chilly green kiss I could possibly have hoped for, and the breathtaking Sarrasins, which shot to the top of my jasmine exosphere in a flash and sank me to the floor in a heartbeat, overcome by this outrage of night-blooming jasmine so stunning, my world twirled, tilted and has never been quite the same since.

The Japanese Zen masters have yet another word for that instant when suddenly, all those random little factoids and odds and ends of things you know – or thought you did – fall into place as if by magic, and everything becomes as obvious as breathing, as clear and as sparkling as Baccarat crystal. That heartbeat when suddenly you get it, you get it all – the beauty, the peril, the earth, the sky, the air…the art? Zen wrapped all of it into one word and called it…satori.

Aren’t those the very moments we live and breathe for?

With thanks to all the perfume fairies!