THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT I
– a review of Neil Morris’ first module for the Devilscent Project
Sometimes, I wish my readers could be present when I sniff a perfume for the first time, just so they could get a sense of what manner of gut reaction I have, what epithets I exclaim, what numinous emotions I’ll then have to translate into words and phrases.
I have never wished it more in my entire lifespan as a perfume writer as I did this past week, when a dream that originated in my own twisted mind for reasons I’ll never know became a concrete reality in the shape of the first edition of the Devil’s scent as it’s described in my novel, Quantum Demonology.
Understand, I hadn’t planned for that telling little detail, a leitmotif that trails through the story as both admonition and metaphor, that last, tiny push the protagonist with her own esoteric tastes in perfume is helpless to resist, the one that burns away her last hesitations and overrules her fears, that haunted and haunting one-way ticket into a world she only thought she knew, but of course, she couldn’t know what manner of perfume and perdition, Heaven and Hell awaited that fated Friday night…
The Devil’s scent stayed through eight revisions of its first appearance and stuck in my mind as an image I could invoke as clearly as I could invoke that Devil I created: heady, dark, otherworldly, emphatically male in a way that sings its devious purposes in a manner the protagonist can’t refuse.
So imagine what it will do to an excitable writer’s mind when that idea is given concrete form and interpretation, when she sees the logo she created for the project emblazoned on the bottle, the effect of what her words have caused and inspired.
It blew my mind. I had to sit down for a moment and center my hara, had to try not to repeat that mantra in my story, another red thread that weaves throughout the words and the world I had created, a metaphysical truth as old as time itself:
Be careful what you wish for. You will get it.
I did what I often do to gain a first impression – I sprayed a little out into the room to let it disperse.
That first reaction does not translate well. Just imagine something along the lines of …Oh! Wow! Wow!
Not very Baudelaire-ian, I know. This is not what made my suspect reputation in the perfumed blogosphere.
I rushed around getting ready to leave again and came back into the room five minutes later. Only this time, the ambience of my living room had changed. I heard the definite rhythm of cloven feet tap-dancing on my wood floor, echoes of a laugh I knew a little too well for comfort, a chill tickle at the back of my neck before rushing out the door and on through the remains of my day.
The rest of this past week, when not buried in webinars and headaches and marketing hyperbole, I would sniff at the contents of that heavy, glass bottle and wonder if I could ever find the words to do them the justice they deserved. Even now, even after giving up and slinking off to bed, even in the gray, damp twilight of an early morning, I’m not entirely sure I’ve found them.
Then, this happened.
“You’re going about it the wrong way.” said a voice in my otherwise empty room. “You’re fighting the Fail Demon, the one that says you can’t, but you’re wrong.” He pointed to that elegant matt black, embossed box on my desk. “You can.” He gave me a soon-to-be-famous five-year-old grin.
Dev, kicking back in my son’s chair by my desk, and I had not seen him for a very, very long time. He hadn’t changed a bit, but this morning he wasn’t wearing his trademark aviator shades.
“Well, what do you know,” I quipped. “A visitation from Cousin Id.”
“I’m not your cousin, baby. And I still say you’re not doing this right.” He reached out for that matt black box and took out the bottle. “Nice logo. You made that, right?”
“With a little help from Harry Clarke, but yes. I did.”
“So tell me…” he grabbed the card and read the note on the back. “Why are you making it so hard for yourself? Think about it. I may have started as a crazy idea in your head one boring Friday night, but think about how far you’ve come since then. More people have read your book than ever did while you wrote it as a serial. You’ve became a perfume blogger, and I gotta say it…no one else does it quite like you do. You even met the inspiration for me last summer and made a definite impression.” He gave me a grin I hadn’t seen since a Wednesday night on a tour bus and shook his head.
Off came the cap, and he sniffed. His eyebrows shot toward his hairline. “Now, you’ve got the Devilscent Project with some iconic cult-name perfumers interpreting your words into perfumes, you have a contact with an agent, you have all these bloggers participating – and let me tell you, they’re at least as excited as you are – and here’s a painful truth for you: if you made all that happen from nothing, which you did with a little help from your friends – you can manifest anything you like. You just need to slay that Fail Demon, and you’ll be fine.”
“Easy for you to say. I’m the one who doesn’t want to fall flat on my face.”
“Then I’ll say it another way. I. Dare. You.” He sprayed his wrist. What followed was one four-letter word that begins with F.
“That’s not fair. I can’t resist a dare.”
“Should I go get a brownie from the fridge, just so you can be done over in four irresistible ways?” he laughed. “A testosterone bomb issuing a challenge while holding a chocolate brownie?” He laughed longer.
“No.” I was curious to see his reaction to that other intangible Devil in the room.
“Back to your nose, baby. We have a review to write, and a lot of people are dying to find out what you think. Hmm. Neil Morris. He’s one of those inside, cult secrets far more people need to know about. You certainly need to sniff way more of his stuff if this is any indication. Geez. The guy totally gets it, no contest. The dark, the danger, the erotic edge, the overpowering part, those Gothic undertones, oh, yes…This version will be banned in several red states. Especially on Sundays. And come with a health label.
“Keep away from pets, children and suggestible, celibate women.”
“Don’t remind me,” I groaned. “That’s the rest of my unnatural lifespan.”
He held out his wrist. “Don’t be such an optimist, baby. I rather doubt that. Sniff and tell me what you think.”
I sniffed. Labdanum, glorious, thick, heady and animal, dark as a starless midnight, bitter and leathery and rock’n’roll and pernicious, it was a carnal universe in a single note as deep and as clear as a vibrating bass string. One of my all-time favorite notes, and it was everywhere in the room with us, giving me all sorts of ideas I don’t usually think on a solo Saturday morning.
“It’s…” I had to think for a moment. “Filthy, dirty, skanky, stinky…yet in a very elegant way. I could get a bit more specific, but this is a perfume blog.”
“Keep going. We’re not there yet.” A huge ganache-covered brownie materialized out of nowhere and he bit into it with relish.
“I don’t have a list of notes. I thought it would be better that way.”
“You don’t need to read notes to appreciate music, either.”, he mumbled around a mouthful of brownie. “C’mon.”
As he spoke and I wrote, that dark-blue demon perched like a pigeon at the top of my laptop screen grew smaller and more transparent. Its tail twitched, slapping out a muted tattoo in 4/4 time to another sort of Devil singing on my iPig.
As this Devilscent no. 1 evolved, it became sweeter and even more sensuous, if such a thing were possible. Now, it was entirely different, a floral promise of dreams come true and that sensual anticipation you can feel as a tingle on your skin when you just know it will be better than good, it will be epic, it will change your life forever, so long as this otherworldly flower sings its siren song of surrender on your skin.
Meanwhile, several shades of baccanalian intimations were taking place on Dev’s skin. That floral promise of before bloomed and deepened, and now, my nose could detect the bitterness from the beginning come to the fore again, labdanum again, only this time, it seemed combined with frankincense and was that a hint of myrrh in the background, both of them at a whisper below that leathery labdanum pulse and weaving in, out and around in its unique way, that alternate universe floral aria of perdition in its alto key…So beautiful, so fated, it seemed to say, but …
Beware, beware what happens when you dance with your danger…
“I don’t want your soul, baby. According to Saint Augustine, you don’t have one.”
In a small puff of black smoke, the demon flashed and vanished.
Dev licked ganache off his fingers. “See? You slayed the Fail Demon. And you wrote your review.” A few gooey brownie crumbs remained at the corner of his mouth and whether it was the thrill of his presence or that perfume, I couldn’t resist an urge to brush them away with my finger. In a flash, he held my hand by the wrist and gave me a certain look I also knew rather too well for comfort.
“Well…” I shrugged. “I had a little help. The question is, what do you think about it?”
He took the bottle out of the box and stared for a moment at the logo, admiring the dark amber glow of the perfume. He took another sniff at his wrist. “I think Neil Morris is a genius,” he said after a long pause. “But I also think it needs a little more black, a slightly larger ghost…a touch more peril, a smidgen of abyss. More labdanum, definitely. Not that this is bad in the slightest. It’s freaking beautiful. It’s not like anything else I’ve encountered, that’s for sure. But…I…don’t know. I don’t think we’re quite there yet. If this is any indication, though…I think we will be. Just wait and see.”
He turned over my left hand and kissed my palm. Now, he stood up, his lips right by my ear. “Just don’t forget, baby…be careful what you wish for.”
In the blink of an eye, he disappeared. Yet I already knew what to write next.
You will get it.
As Baudelaire wrote…
Rich, complex, triumphant, other [perfumes] roll with the limitless range of all non-finite things…each sings the ecstasy of the senses and the soul.
With my most profound thanks to Chaya Ruchama and Neil Morris, and to Lucy of Indieperfumes, who introduced us.
Chaya Ruchama has written her own inimitable take on Neil Morris’ Devilscent here:
An introduction to the Devilscent Project with links is available at The Perfume Pharmer, who will also participate in the Devilscent Project. As will perfumers Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids, Kedra Hart of Opus Oils, Alexis Karl and Maria McElroy of Cherry Bomb Killer Perfumes and Aroma M.
Neil Morris Fragrances are priceless olfactory gems that beg discovery. Find them here.
Original Illustration: *Opposites Attract’ by Pelmo at Zazzle.
The Devilscent logo and Quantum Demonology, ©Sheila Eggenberger
Translation of Charles Baudelaire’s poem “Correspondances” from Les Fleurs du Mal, my own.