Falling Forward

 – an ode to my favorite fragrant Fall thrills

Autumn is one of my favorite times of the year. A little melancholy, slightly tinged with regrets for what might have been and what should have been done, autumn has also proven itself to be the season of cataclysmic change this year, a change so drastic, it’s been all I can do to hang on by the skin of my teeth and know…that all I can do is to go with the flow and give myself over…to evolution and the knowledge that from here on, life can only get more exciting.

And I can give myself over to the many pleasures of falling forward…into autumn, into the incendiary glow of golden-leafed trees, ruby-hued leaves, and the intoxicating sharp scent of burning wood fireplaces and bonfires, the smell of mushrooms and cepes sprouting up overnight, the sound and scent of apples falling to the ground, that looming breath of steel and stone that lurks beneath the colors and the chills in the air. Wrapping my chilly, wintry self into favorite woolen sweaters, and wrapping favorite scarves and mufflers around my neck, inhaling that palimpsest of perfumes worsted in the wool.

Autumn is also an excuse for hauling out the heavy, heady perfumes with which to slay the unsuspecting world – the ones I wear as I would wear cashmere, the ones that comfort and console me on rainy days and Thursdays, the ones I wear like scented armor, and all the ones I love…

Below, you’ll find some of my favorite autumn fumes, the ones that contain October  and November in their essence, the ones that trail behind me like the ghosts of autumns past as well as harbinger angels of the future possibilities that lie ahead, waiting for when life returns and all is green again.

L’Artisan Parfumeur – Seville à l’Aube

It’s generally agreed that Bertrand Duchaufour is one of the greatest perfumed geniuses alive today. His work has ruined me several times over this year, when I was introduced to Neela Vermeire’s breathtaking perfume odes to her native India and all three of them shot to the top of my Most Worn of the year list. Next came an introduction to L’Artisan’s Dzongkha – one haunting, numinous iris – and Sienne L’Hiver, no less haunting and evocative. They all broke my heart. But when I read of Duchaufour’s collaboration with one of my own inspirations, Denyse Beaulieu of Grain de Musc, and heard the fated words ‘orange’ and ‘blossom’, I was had at the first syllable. Oh! So imagine my anticipation when I moved in on a split of Seville à L’Aube blind (this very rarely happens any longer), and all it took to tip me over the edge was one fatal sniff…My full review will be up in a few weeks, but this mesmerizing blend of orange blossom, lavender and incense is …flawless.

Amouage – Memoir Woman

Something about autumn brings out my inner Goth, which is to say, that part of me that appreciates seriously depressed-mode music, rainy days, and lots of witchy black velvet. While I wouldn’t be so bold as to say Memoir Woman is Goth per se, I will say that it is a moody, magnificent, haunting perfume of a kind that tends to stick in the mind long after it wears off. I didn’t like it much at first, but I couldn’t stop sniffing. It reminded me of a advertising tagline I once cooked up for a story I wrote: “Haunted. What he will be.” Haunting, unforgettable, there is nothing quite like it and nothing quite like a love that grows and grows to haunt you.  As it has. As I have been. As I remain.

Serge Lutens – De Profundis

Some claimed that dear Uncle Serge had somehow lost his marbles when De Profundis was released, and I have no idea what mushrooms they nibbled, because De Profundis – inspired by the treatise by Oscar Wilde, death and funereal chrysanthemums – is simultaneously green, cool and impossible to forget. Incense, chrysanthemum and a mesmerizing icy green-tinged, tear-stained violet chill all add up to ‘spellbinding’ in my book, but if any Lutens is perfect for that delicious melancholy that pervades October Sunday afternoons, it’s this one.

Aftelier – Cepes and Tuberose

My first introduction to the fabled perfumes of Aftelier was Mandy Aftel’s justly famous and unorthodox Cepes and Tuberose, which is earthy, floral, spicy, heady bottled magic – or else a horror story of mildewed mushroom and airy tuberose. There is truly nothing at all else quite like it, and you either adore it or hate it. I have since that fatal introduction loved it so much, a mini of the parfum goes where I go and a dab often wafts as I breathe no matter what else I wear. It smells golden to me – golden as the maple leaves that now are turning red to bloom in midair and dance their leafy sigh into the ground.

Neela Vermeire – Trayee

Whether it’s the blaze of color or the sudden shock of chill in the air, there is something numinous about autumn, something that reminds you of the passage of time and the ephemerality of all life. When that sudden pang of mortality hits me with the delicate slap of a falling leaf, I often reach for Trayee, a swirling, whirling, spicy Mahabarata epic in a bottle, wit its fiery, feisty cardamom, a wink or two of sacred bhang, smoke, incense and samsara. In no time, my spirits lift and my mood improves, and I dream such faraway dreams of other times and other, sacred spaces.

A Trinity of Ambers

Autumn is also the perfect time for ambers…those glorious, heady, drop-dead sexy golden potions I once hated and now love with a fury that teeters on obsession. Three in particular hold pride of place in my amber-tinted Pantheon, and I’m not even sure I can bear to know there will be others in their wake. The Great Khadine, Serge Lutens’ Ambre Sultan, with its opening green bite and its sumptuous drydown, whispers its secrets in my ear, while Amouage’s Opus VI speaks its twisting, turning, ever-evolving tongues of wood flickering in firelight, and when I stand still and listen to the beat of my heart in the moonlight, Neil Morris’ Rumi trills its transcendental tale of another kind of sweet-scented magic.

Labdanum dreams

The ongoing Devilscent Project has completely changed my life around in more ways than one. I could talk about these unbelievable perfumes until the cows came home to roost, but the one note the Devil insisted upon to his perfumers was labdanum, a whole fragrant universe unto itself, and one of the oldest perfumery materials in the world. When life has been known to grind me down, Olympic Orchids’ spare, pensive Dev #4, which puts a magnificent labdanum in the spotlight, centers me as nothing else will, so even I can envision such luscious, labdanum things come true. As I do, I’m often taken back to a midnight moment in time, and when I am, another spicier, darker, more ominous labdanum-tinged marvel wafts forward, and that is Neil Morris’ Midnight at the Crossroads Café.

Olivier Durbano – Black Tourmaline

One reviewer on Fragrantica stated that Olivier Durbano’s Black Tourmaline was ‘for real men only’. This is absolute nonsense. For Black Tourmaline is a stunning mélange of leather and the darkest, deepest, smokiest incense you can imagine, and I’ve received many, many compliments when I’ve worn it, despite being nothing masculine in the slightest, not even in a tux. It’s as otherworldly as a fog-drenched November morning and as warming as a firelight glow at night, and when it goes, it will be missed, like November, like firelight, like a ghostly wisp of cloud bearing down to kiss the earth one last and final time.

More than any other season, autumn sings to me of time passing, of moments as fleeting as the bloom of glowing leaves dancing in a deep blue sky. When Debussy’s ‘Clair de Lune’ seems to match the tasty tristesse of a rainy afternoon, and when the smoky thrills of firelight and flame warm the soul through.

What are your autumn favorites? Or just…your favorite things about autumn? I’d love to hear about them!

With many thanks to…Andrea, Amy, Ruth, Christopher, Mandy, Ellen, JoAnne, Neil and Christos. 

The Genie’s Split-Second Blogoversary! (with a giveaway!)

Two years ago today, I was in a rather sorry state. For almost nine consecutive months, I had my head and imagination submerged in a story that seemed to come out of nowhere and everywhere, a story I was compelled to write for reasons I didn’t understand. I had three readers at the time clamoring to know what happened next, and I had precisely three chapters left to finish it. The trouble was, after spending nine months in the company of testosterone bombs, leather, darkness, Lilith, far too much sex, emotional rollercoasters and the harder fringes of rock’n’roll, I was in dire need of virtual estrogen – and thoroughly bored with testosterone.

I never suspected that would happen, either!

On the night of July 31th, I stared into a third glass of wine and had a wild idea.

I could write a perfume blog.

I’d been reading them long enough and loyally enough, learning, lemming and laughing as I went. I thought that the worst thing that could happen was it might – in some alternate, dream-on universe – improve my writing if it did nothing else. After all, how hard could it be? That night, I created Scent Less Sensibilities where my very first review was Balmain’s Ivoire, a perennial favorite even today.

Whatever my spurious reasons, the distraction tactic worked. Six days later – nine months to the day I began – I wrote ‘The End’ to my story, and to celebrate, I made a pact with myself – the kind of pact any perfumoholic will understand if no one else will.

For every defining moment in my book’s journey to publication, I would celebrate with…a bell jar.

Today, it is among my most prized possessions. I hope to see a few siblings join it soon in my perfume cabinet. Especially since I still have nine bell jars left on my wish list.

Along the way…I learned a lot, about writing, about perfume, about how I write about perfume and how to plant that passion on the virtual page. I have sniffed more marvels than I could ever have imagined in the days I had no perfume at all. Although I haven’t loved all the ones I have sniffed, I’ve liked many and love many more today than I ever have before.

What I learned

Writing about perfume is without question the most difficult writing anyone can do with the possible exception of erotica. (They’re more closely related than you think!) There were times I had to ‘park’ a review for days, weeks, or in one instance over a month and even after tearing my hair out and fifteen drafts, it still wasn’t what I really wanted to say. On one occasion, it didn’t matter what I did. My words went one way, the perfumes another. Oh, well. Next time. Or so I hope.

I learned a lot about my limitations as a writer – that no matter how I try or what I do, the writer will out before the perfume critic, and that’s just how it works for me. I admire and adore so many excellent perfume writers who do what I can’t and go where I don’t. Having said that, I could quote from one of my own reviews here. ‘I’m me. Deal with it.’ As of this writing, 65 of you do!

I learned about the astonishing generosity of the perfume community, not just in sending me samples of wonders I might not otherwise have known, but in welcoming an absolute beginner to the fray. That so many of you – perfume writers and bloggers yourselves – have done so much to welcome me, encourage me and offered your friendships along the way continues to takes my breath away even today.

I learned I had a Scent Twin! I never knew that anyone besides myself would have a love of ostentatious florals and take-no-prisoners chypres and even wipe ‘em off the floor leathers, yet I do. My admiration for Suzanne of Perfume Journal as an exceptional friend is only outdone by my certain conviction she’s twice the perfume writer I’ll ever be.

I learned to appreciate and distinguish different olfactory vocabularies and styles. I can close my eyes (I’ve tried it) and I can immediately determine who made it or conceived it, provided it’s someone whose work I’m familiar with.

I’ve learned that it is quite possible to wax impossibly purple and on occasion even inspired perfumed prose while listening to Nine Inch Nails. And Blackacidevil. As opposed to, say, Mozart. I do that sometimes, too.

I’ve learned that my samples tend to propagate while I sleep. It is so uncool to have an orgy and not invite me.

I learned to my complete dismay that there is a certain accord of notes I call ‘wet dog’ – I know no other way to describe it – which means there is an entire house I can never review, and also…that ‘wet dog’ accord is a note that terrifies me for some reason and I don’t know why. I’ve found this note in everything from mainstream – one Guerlain comes to mind – to artisanal. It’s not ambroxan or Iso E Super, because I’ve found it in al-natural perfumes as well as prestige brands.

I learned that whoever suggested layering Amouage Jubilation 25 with Serge Lutens’ Fleurs d’Oranger – each titanic perfumes in their own way – should be shot on sight without trial. Or else I should be shot for trying. I had an entire clowder of rabid, fighting, hissing cats on my skin that day.

I learned never, ever, ever, ever…to layer an Amouage. Ever. It will devour you if you do.

I learned that I will never know everything there is to know about perfume. This has been known to make me very happy.

I learned I’ll never be a 100% oud person.

I learned never to say ‘never’. Case in point: ambers. The exception? Layering an Amouage.

I learned that perfume geeks are the best people on Earth.

I learned that social media can change your life. It changed mine. Forever.

What I’ve loved

The thrill of discovery.

That perfume leads on to many roads, and some of them are paved with great intentions and amazing friendships that are based on many other things in common besides perfumes. Above all else, the people who make up my corner of Planet Perfume make me laugh, cry, howl, think and sniff something new – every day, and without them – which is to say, without YOU – my life and my world would be immeasurably poorer and smaller. Now you know.

I’ve loved meeting – in a virtual sense at least – some of the most spectacular olfactory talent on Earth. You know who you are. But do you also know how important you are to an unknown writer wannabe in BFE nowhere who is now unable to imagine life without you?

Well, you do now!

I’ve loved participating in group projects such as Clarimonde – among my own finest writing hours – and also the Devilscent Project. I have three upcoming group blog projects in the months ahead I can’t wait to begin. I love that synergy field between the same perfumes and the different interpretations, and the synergy between story and scent. I love to kick myself and think: ‘Damn! Why didn’t I think about that?’

I’ve loved reading each and every one of my favorite blogs each and every day. But I’ve hated not always having the time to comment as often or as much as I liked. But on the other hand…maybe that’s a good thing?

I’ve loved each and every comment to each and every blog post I’ve received. I still do. And I always, always will!

I’ve loved to see the name of a perfume friend light up on my phone, a friend who says “We’ll have to make this short, darling, I have so much to DO, but I just wanted to hear how you are.” Two hours later, we’re still talking. About perfume, among other things. We could happily do it for six hours more in person, I’m sure. Just as I’m sure that some day, we will.

I’ve loved each and every hilarious Twitter exchange. They’ve made many days so much better and brighter.

I’ve loved getting strange looks from my mailman. I’m sure he thinks I’m doing a sideline in something criminal, he’s just too polite to say anything about it!

Thanks to a perfume-blogging mother, Super Mario Jr. has been known to insist on wearing perfume to school. Unfortunately, the only one he’ll wear is Memoir Man. This bodes ill in about seven years.

Serendipity

Winning a sample draw on Ellen Covey’s blog. Her work made me the perfume writer I since became. She was my gateway into the world of artisanal perfume. She was my partner in crime with the Devilscent Project. She is also an exceptionally talented perfumer. Trust me. I know.

I owe so very, very much to Lucy of Indieperfumes. We are vastly different people but we share many, many inclinations. Without Lucy, I would have missed out on universes I would never know, marvels I would never sniff and friendships I cherish every day. Without Lucy, I would also not be what I am today.

I most emphatically owe a thank you to all of you who migrated with me after moving to WordPress, buying my own domain and carrying on where Scent Less Sensibilities left off. And to all the new readers I’ve gained since then.

It would never have been so much fun without you!

So what do you think – should we just continue down this path and see where it goes? I think so. I would love to! Especially with you! Who knows what magic carpet rides lurk ahead – or what genies we might conjure? I can’t wait to find out!

Thank you for that, too!

************A GIVEAWAY!***********

Since it’s my blogoversary, I have a giveaway! One lucky reader will win a carefully curated selection of samples from my collection. Anyone anywhere in the world is eligible for the draw. Just leave a comment before midnight CET on August 4th to enter. A winner will be determined by random.org on August 5th.

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Original image: The Cake Genie Photoshop work, my own.

The Four Devils of my Undoing

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT  III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was only a dream.

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

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

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

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

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

I remembered everything. And everything hurt to remember.

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

“Am I still dreaming?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“All reality begins…with a dream.”

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

And sometimes it happens…that even dreams come true.

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

_______________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

A whiff of perdition…

The Devilscent Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read all about it in the weeks to come!

Honeyed Blooms and Meadows Sweet

– Reviews of Aftelier Perfume‘s ‘Honey Blossom’ and ‘Wildflowers’

Last night, trying to ground myself after a frantic Saturday that completely conspired against me, I went out for a walk in the summer twilight, which this time of year is well past 10 PM. As I walked around my neighborhood on a Saturday night, noting the honeysuckle blooming on walls, the elderflowers with their musky, earthy scent that my compatriots like to convert into a favorite summer drink, breathing in all the ghostly aromas of a summer night in July, a luminous, intoxicating ribbon of something green and unmistakable wove its way into my awareness.

High summer is finally here, and the linden trees are blooming, and if ever a high summer night had a signature scent, linden blossom would surely be one of them. There could be no better time to review Aftelier Perfumes’ ‘Honey Blossom’.

‘Honey Blossom’ was created as part of a unique perfumer’s collaboration with Andy Tauer to highlight a linden blossom CO2 extract. Last year as the project unfolded, readers of Nathan Branch’s blog were able to get a unique look into the process of perfume making and the challenges both Andy Tauer and Mandy Aftel encountered along the way.

Andy Tauer created ‘Zeta’, which I reviewed in late April, and although I can certainly appreciate its beauty, I couldn’t wear it at all. I had no choice but to dub it the Honey Monster, because it very nearly ate me alive.

So I was more than slightly apprehensive when I opened up that tiny vial of ‘Honey Blossom’, wondering if this one, too would devour me whole and entire.

In a word – no.

‘Honey Blossom’, I’m thrilled to say, is an entirely different perfume, for all that it highlights the same linden blossom CO2 extract. Mandy Aftel chose mimosa, with its particular sunshine-yellow sweetness to highlight it, and these two, the mimosa with its almond/marzipan facets and the linden blossom with its green, heady character dance a perfect waltz in tandem, seamlessly whirling on towards a dizzying orange blossom heart that never dominates or takes over. The orange blossom opens up its doors and joins in that mimosa and linden blossom waltz and this somehow becomes linden blossom but better, a unique twist on a beloved summer perfume accord that normally tends to take the alternate name for linden – lime – a little too literally.

There is no lime in this linden, just the near-narcotically addictive, sweetly dripping nectar of the blossoms themselves that teeter towards honey but never do fall into the beehive, waltzing their sweet, joyous ménage à trois with the mimosa and orange blossom on my skin in dizzying figures that whisper of warm summer twilight and puffs of sunshine caught in thousands of creamy yellow blooms. As it dries down, a downy accord of ambergris and benzoin with its vanilla touch wind down the waltz and slow down the linden blossom to a glow that fades away like the stars above in a high summer sky that never gets completely dark at this time of year.

I’m reminded of those lines from William Blake’s ‘Songs of Innocence’, although here, the angels are the blooms of a linden tree…

“Unseen they pour blessing.
And joy without ceasing,
On each bud and blossom,
And each sleeping bosom.”

It was a privilege to be privy to the process of creating a linden blossom perfume through Nathan Branch’s blog, and an even greater privilege to be able to compare the two different interpretations of the same CO2 extract. Both ‘Zeta’ and ‘Honey Blossom’ share that same soft yellow glow, but the similarities stop there. I can admire ‘Zeta’ for the beauty that it is, but I can never wear it. Unrequited love is so over-rated! ‘Honey Blossom’ sings in a different key with a different pitch, pouring its joy and blessing on all things good, waltzing around in a summer twilight beneath the blooming linden trees.

‘Honey Blossom’ was one of three of Mandy Aftel’s creations (The others were ‘Lumiere’ and ‘Candide’, which I reviewed here) to be nominated as a finalist in both the European and American FiFi awards as Fragrance of the Year, Indie Brand.

Meadows Sweet

There was a moment back in January I can clearly recall on a July afternoon, a moment I stood outside my work on a lunch break on a dismal, cold, foggy day and thought to myself…this cold, this damp, this gray…is all you will ever know, and winter will never end. When summer seemed an all but impossible concept, some delirious fevered dream of light in a month that has so little at my latitude in January, and heat that seems so outrageous on such a chill, gray day.

I can remember I went home and wrote a perfume review that night, the kind that would remind me of what I knew but could scarcely believe in January…sooner or later, summer will return and the flowers bloom again, sooner than I always think it will be summer, and I will feel that delicious kiss of sunlight on my skin that makes me think of things I can so easily forget..like hope, like possibilities, like feeling every inch alive.

The review was for Olympic Orchids’ ‘A Midsummer Day’s Dream’, but where Doc Elly’s perfume takes you out on the grass and beneath the fig trees, from the bark of the wood to the leaves and the fruit in all its stages, Mandy Aftel’s ‘Wildflowers’ takes an entirely different tack.

‘Wildflowers’ is a solid perfume, a delicious way to wear perfume entirely for yourself and no one else. It has little sillage and an understated presence, but when something is this beautiful, I don’t much care. The feel of the solid on my skin is probably the best I’ve ever encountered in a solid perfume, smooth as silk charmeuse, and if this were a body butter, I’d buy it by the tub, it’s…that good.

Instead of grass and a whole fig grove, this is a meadow full of flowers, all the flowers of a hot, perfect summer day of sunshine and blue skies, the larks singing high in the air and the buzz of bumblebees in the flowers, some of which you know, and many which you don’t.

So lie back in the meadows and watch the world from the ground as you breathe it all in….the verdant kick of lime awakening your senses to your surroundings, a whole bouquet of heedless, fragrant flowers blooming in random profusion and careless, elegant abandon by nature, all if it spelling the kind of peerless beauty artifice can never know, and as that meadow seeps into your consciousness, draining away all worries and cares, the demands of your day and the weeks ahead, a sweet scent of hay, some of it fresh-cut, some of it dried gathers force, and you become, as so often happens with Aftelier perfumes I’ve noticed, one with the moment, the flowers far too many and too beautiful to pluck and take with you, the larks in the sky above you and that sugary hay that is nothing more or less than the quintessence of every summer-blooming, sunshine-soaked grass that ever grows.

Maybe I should just amend that to…every summer day that lives forever in our memory, the kind we need to be reminded of on dismal, foggy January days. A memory, a recollection of S-u-m-m-e-r, period.

If summer somehow eludes you, if you need a reminder that some day, heat and light and sunshine will return, the wildflowers will bloom and hopes and possibilities will be every inch alive, that even you will be every inch alive and aware in a perfect meadow moment, then you need to try ‘Wildflowers.’

Meadows should always be so sweet, and flowers should always bloom in such plentitudes, just like those possibilities that seem such a distant, nebulous dream on a dismal January day.

Notes for ‘Honey Blossom’:
Top: Mimosa, linden blossom CO2
Heart: Orange blossom absolute, phenyl ethyl alcohol
Base: Ambergris, benzoin

Notes for ‘Wildflowers’:
Hay, wildflowers, Mexican lime

‘Honey Blossom’ and ‘Wildflowers‘ are available from the Aftelier website, from Scent and Sensibility for UK customers, and from Sündhaft.

Devilscent – Part Four


– An update from the Producer and his apprentice…

No kidding, there I was, looking like death warmed up and microwaved four times too many, in my writing uniform of hair up in a plastic clip, bare scrubbed face, black yoga pants and a now-vintage black t-shirt that proclaimed on the back in orange letters: “Only the dead know Brooklyn.” Everything went so well with the Rouge Noir on my toes. The house was quiet, Spider-Man Jr. asleep and even the cats were crashed on the window sill, no doubt gathering strength for their usual 3 AM marital spat.

My desk was an absolute mess of stenographer’s pad, tea cup (it being Tuesday and all), and my iPod playing something that was, in fact, from Brooklyn. (See the t-shirt.)I also had an incredible collection of tiny extrait strength vials of the most amazing essences on Planet Earth. Doc Elly had indeed sent me a new package, and did she ever go to town with this one! Patchouli, cinnamon leaf, benzoin, opoponax, vetiver from Haiti and Sri Lanka, black and white vanilla and, and, and…something so utterly unearthly and vegetal at the same time, not even Ms. Verbosity 2011 could find the words to describe it. My New Oxford Thesaurus couldn’t find the words. When Oxford gives up, it’s …unearthly. Otherworldly.

I was…happy. This was like playing with sixty-four Crayola crayons, but for a ‘fumehead. Oh, the possibilities! Only this time, I was doing the responsible thing. I wrote down every addition onto my watercolor paper in order and approximate proportion and marveled yet again how Doc Elly did it. (Artist grade watercolor paper holds scent incredibly well. I recommend Arches and Fabriano)

This time, he really freaked me out. No warning, and that was his usual style, but this time, he tickled the back of my neck and made my hackles rise. Next thing I knew, he was on his usual chair up against the wall, one eyebrow cocked mockingly. Looking not like I usually saw him, which was that secret face no one knew, but like his current favorite disguise sans aviator shades.

“Having fun yet, baby?”

I plotzed all over my keyboard. My earbuds dropped out on their own volition. “Oh, hell! Couldn’t you at least send me a text message first?” I was frantically smoothing strands of hair out of my face, checking my phone for the date. May 24th. The Devil. Had to be.

I hated when he did that.

“No. Where’s the fun of that? I like catching you by surprise.” He cackled.

“Never.” If the Devil’s sausage casing came from a state that liked to think it invented sarcasm as an art form, then I could be sarcastic, too.

“What have you got on that blotter?” he pointed to the paper square on my desk.

“Round four, I think. Twelve different things including that surprise.” I waved it under his nose.

His nostrils flared. “Smells like…hmmm…the world’s cleanest orgy? The Ringling Bros’ Bacchanal? No elephants allowed today, and we charge extra for admitting tigers on Tuesdays.”

I laughed. “Not quite the effect I was looking for.”

“Nope.” He reached out and began opening vials at incredible speed. In no time at all, six different things were dripped onto blotter number two. He reached for the first box, stuffed with labdanum, frankincense and other divinities. Another sniff. A drop of choya loban, which is essence of burnt Boswellia. He reached for that unearthly thing again. “This…” he waved the tiny vial in his fingers, “blows my mind, if not my nose.”

I sipped my tea, lukewarm by now. “Mine, too. I like the name, and I like the idea of using it. I’ve never seen that anywhere.”

“Nope. Here…” he passed it beneath my nose. “What do you think?”

I sniffed. It was very different from the first blotter and a long way away from the bass line of our last round. It was very heady, very dark, and somehow both otherworldly and earthy at the same time. The frankincense came through loud and clear, and the labdanum had been tamed. It was that…thing, that amazing, incredible thing. Green and bitter, smoky and earthy, and yet like nothing else I had ever encountered.

When I closed my eyes and sniffed, I could almost hear a faraway voice singing down a long, echoing corridor, a story about a woman who never sold her soul to the Devil, but he took it all the same…

“Needs more sex.” The Devil reached for another vial. Before I could regret it, I blurted “Don’t we all?”

“Hush. Has anyone told you you’re crazy?” He shook his head and narrowed his eyes at the jumble of vials. He found what he was looking for and added some. Total concentration.

“Only my Rice Krispies this morning. And the voices in my head,” I sassed back.

He dropped the vial with a clatter onto my desk, tipped his chair back against the wall and laughed. “It’s called writer’s disease, baby. Or congenital insanity, I’m not sure which!”

“Try it now.” He waved blotter number two under my nose. “Close your eyes, listen with your nose. Can you hear it? That slow, bass drum 4/4, and here comes the bass just above it, just a tritone…and now, a slow guitar, three chords, just slightly ominous…still the bass, still the drums…and an echo of a broken heart and a dream come true but all dreams have a price tag, don’t they…breathe it in, baby…”

I breathed it in. If I concentrated, I could still hear that faraway voice, the Devil took her soul all the same…

He broke the spell when he landed his chair back on all four legs. Blotter number one was sweeter, if no less gorgeous, but blotter number two was dangerous, unearthly, bitter, and very, very dark.

“We’ll try again in a day or so. Gotta go.” He stood up, smoothed back a few errant strands of hair that escaped my clip. “Write about it.” He whispered in my ear. “You know how. Find an editor for your book. You need one badly. Oh, and one more thing.”

I tore my proboscis away from the blotter and looked up. Damn it, it was so distracting when he looked like that. On a day I looked like microwaved death. It just wasn’t fair.

“Yes, Master?” I answered in my best Lurch impression.

He whispered again. “Cinderella is going to the ball. Check your email.” He turned around with that classic five-year-old grin. “I’ll send a pumpkin to collect you!”

With a laugh that hung in the air above my desk like the scents we had just made, he disappeared.

All that was left to do for the day was to write about it. So I did.

Image: *grim-inc at DeviantArt

The B Day wishlist


If wishes were fishes, we’d all throw nets in the sea…

In an ideal world, birthdays would always be special occasions to celebrate each other. Birthday parties would always turn out perfect, presents would always be perfectly chosen, and everyone would leave happy and stuffed with cake and goodwill towards man – and woman. Rather than look into the mirror every morning with something akin to terror, our most beautiful selves would beam right back at us, every day and every birthday.

And I am the Queen of Roumania.

Two days from now, That Day will arrive, the day I dread more than any other day in the year, dread it with a leaden heart and a leaden sense of dread. The day. The B day. The day I’d prefer to stay in bed with the covers over my head and just forget about the whole darn thing. I’ll happily remind anyone within earshot that it’s also Shakespeare’s birthday and even recite several words of deathless prose, or that Max Planck – who invented quantum physics – and Shirley Temple have a birthday, too. Me…fugeddaboudit! It’s just a day, and the sooner it’s over with, the better!

But I can dream…I can park those childish expectations in a corner and dream of all the grown-up things I wish I could have for a birthday in that best of all possible worlds in my imagination. Just don’t forget the cake!

To make my birthday perfume wishlist, a perfume has to be…very special, simply because ever after, I’ll associate it with that day, and not everything I try makes the list, even if I like it. Here are the ones that do – this year at least!

In My Dreams, Maybe

Amouage Ubar.
It hasn’t happened often – in fact, I can’t remember if it ever did – that a perfume made me cry, but Ubar did. For no other reason than I find it so breathtakingly beautiful, it breaks my heart.
Once, I laughed off Amouage for being overpriced and overhyped. That won’t happen again, since the three I’ve tried so far – Ubar, Epic Woman and Lyric Woman – have been flawless liquid artistry in a bottle, and although one was not for me, the other two are staggering. Epic can wait a while longer. Ubar can’t. I used to think they don’t make ‘perfume’ any more. Was I ever wrong! And they inspired three stories, which are among the better things I’ve written in my life.

One of everything:
Ormonde Jayne Tolu and Orris Noir.
I can’t decide. I want them both. I want them NOW. In every possible permutation, in any way I can. Tolu is smooth as satinwood, Orris Noir is quite possibly the Greatest Iris Ever Created. They last and last and last, and never make me feel less than perfectly happy and drop-dead sexy (Orris Noir is swoon-worthy) in my skin.
With the birthday I can look forward to, the importance of ‘happy’ can’t be underestimated. Don’t get me started on drop-dead sexy…

Serge Lutens Boxeuses and Ambre Sultan
If ever one perfume house were responsible for my slippery slide into ‘fanatic ‘fumehead’ status, it would be Serge Lutens. Uncle Serge has a lot to answer for. Challenging, shape-shifter scents that unfold like Proust novels, with layers and layers of meaning and evolution. Boxeuses should be everything I dislike in perfume – the complete antithesis of the green-chypre-anti-floral me. Instead, it’s one of the best leathers I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet.
Ambre Sultan – well, what can I say that hasn’t already been said a zillion times? I hate amber. I mean…I HATE amber. Too sweet, too heady, too obvious, too…much. Blergh! And then I met this amber, and it was over. I’ve graduated to another amber (Olympic Amber, by the severely under-rated Doc Elly of Olympic Orchids) that really floats my boat, but Ambre Sultan is my personal Khadine, my Empress of ambers. That bell jar can’t happen fast enough. And my decant is on its last sprays. I may cry.

Robert Piguet Bandit
Before I became “sophisticated” – or else just a raging, demanding, perfumoholic snob – my favorite perfume family of all time was undoubtedly anything containing galbanum, orris and an oakmoss base. Green chypres, in other words, ruled my world, and they still get a lot of love.
I remembered Bandit from my wilder single days, so when opportunity came knocking, I was very much looking forward to trying it again. Reformulated, yes, but not so you’d notice, drop the bottle and scream in outrage. Audacious, outrageous and bold, and she’s gotta have it, yes she does. I like to think of Bandit as my metaphorical riding crop for keeping the rest of the world in line…Now, if only I could rustle up the courage to try Fracas…

Andy Tauer Incense Extrème and Orange Star
Saying this with the supreme arrogance that comes with only having tried two of his line, I’ll say it again. Andy Tauer is a genius.
One of the greatest incenses ever, and one of the greatest orange/orange blossoms in the history of perfume, and when it comes to orange blossom and my love of orange, that says a lot. Two samples of Zeta are on their way, and I can’t wait to try them, either. Put me out of my misery and get me one of each, please. Or if you could, just one of everything! Who loves you, Andy? I do!

In the Real World
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz Antiu/Sousinon – 1000 Lilies
I can think of not a few lines I have yet to experience. Anything L’Artisan, Neil Morris, most Byredos. Odin NY, Xerjoff. Natural perfumers such as Joanne Bassett, Lord’s Jester, Sonoma Scent Studio, Aftelier…That’s what a sense of adventure is for, right? But of all those untried discoveries to make, one independent perfumer intrigues me no end – Dawn Spencer Hurwitz. For an exhibition at the Denver Art Museum, Dawn recreated several perfumes based on recipes from ancient Egypt. Of all of these, two in particular stand out and loom large in my imagination: Antiu and Sosinon – 1000 Lilies. Antiu is galbanum based, and I worship and adore galbanum. I’ve entered a draw on Dawn’s blog for a bottle of Antiu, and I have big hopes for this one.
Then, there is…Sousinon – 1000 Lilies. Lilies – not Casablanca nor stargazer lilies but Easter or Madonna lilies are my favorite flowers. A very long time ago, Laura Biagiotti created a scent called ‘Fiori Bianchi’, which was one of the truest representations of Madonna lilies ever made. I went through five 50 ml bottles, and if that’s not l-o-v-e…According to the lovely Olfactoria, whose judgment I trust, Sousinon is a very true Madonna lily scent, which is right about where Dawn Spencer Hurwitz had me. Madonna lily? Did someone say…Madonna lily? Sousinon was used to perfume Cleopatra’s sails as she sailed down the Nile. If it was good enough for Cleopatra’s sails, it’s good enough to propel me down the Nile of my own life…Crocodiles, be warned!

Olympic Orchids’ Golden Cattleya
As my blog posts attest, I can’t say enough hyperbole about Doc Elly’s creations. Every single one I’ve tried has been meticulously constructed and executed with all due care, and all of them – even the ones I can’t wear or aren’t me – are beautiful. Light as air or crystal solid, there’s not a bad one in the bunch. I have four on my personal wishlist, and of those four, Golden Cattleya takes the cake. It’s an orchid! It’s orange! And vanilla, sandalwood and a whole lot else besides. I’m in love.

Die before trying…
I hope this won’t happen, but nevertheless, there are a few I’d kill to try. Amouage Dia, Gold, Reflection Woman, Jubilation XXV – bring ‘em on! Who knows what stories they may tell? Odin NY 04-Petrana. It’s an iris. It’s a black iris. It’s something I must try…Tabac Blond. Lord’s Jester Daphne. And…

What else? A new MacBook Pro to replace my geriatric PowerBook, all the great books I have yet to read, an agent and a publisher, my Devil wrapped up in puff pastry and chocolate ganache…:)

Because if my nearly forty-eight years have taught me anything, it’s the wisdom of that ancient admonition…

Be careful what you wish for! You will get it!

About the image: I have a nickname at work. They call me the Dragon! Since I do know how to fly and have been known to spit fire at not much provocation! And that dragon…is a cake, if you can believe it. It seemed to fit…