Fantabulous Karma

  • A review of LUSH/Gorilla Perfumes’ Karma

Do you believe in karma? Not as supernatural divine retribution, but as something along the lines of Albert Einstein’s famous quote, and one which I more or less live by: 

“Everything in the Universe is energy. To attract what you want is as simple as tuning in to the right frequency.”

It therefore follows, if we pursue Einstein’s thought a little further, that bad karma = bad energy/bad deeds or decisions, one way or another. However you personally may choose to define them.

In my nearly 59 years on this Earth, if I believe in anything, I can certainly believe in that, because my experience has proved it true. Every. Single. Time. 

A few years ago, a huge vintage bottle of a 1980s mainstay, the superlative chypre Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum, was put up for sale on one of my European FB perfume sale/swap groups. As part of the deal, it included a vintage Lush edition of Karma. 

Take a Chance

I paid my change for Mon Parfum and glory days nostalgia. I stayed for brand-new-to-me Karma

By that time, I had been reading about Lush perfumes, bath bombs and various toiletries  for years. We have no Lush stores in Denmark. Strangely enough, they do in Sweden and Norway, but Denmark has so far passed them by. This pains me more than you know.

 One – their Orange Blossom. Two, their Kerbside Violet. Some sunshiny day they shall be mine, all mine.

Last but never least, if Karma is anything to go by, never mind the countless reviews I plowed my way through for the purposes of this review, the perfuming minds of Mark and Simon Constantine work in strange and wondrous ways. In an era of same-trends-different-packaging-hyperluxe pricing, that level of talent is remarkable – and should be lauded and appreciated. Hence, this review.

I may be an over-the-hill/dales/suburbs included  D-list perfume blogger with a reach of influence measured in nanometers, but by golly, universal energy or Mary Magdalene, patron saint of perfumers, great perfumes are great perfumes are great perfumes, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, and those are the ones I choose to write about. 

Not long after it arrived, I sprayed myself lavishly with Karma before bed to see what dreams it would cause. It was scrumptious. Orange and lavender and lemongrass and lemon and pine, no associations of any cleaning products whatsoever. The patchouli – and Karma has loads – smelled A-grade great. For quite some time, I owned a bag of patchouli leaves originating in a West Hollywood garden, courtesy of a dear friend. Patchouli, yes, earthy and earth-bound, certainly, but all ‘proper’ patchouli in my unhumble opinion should contain a minty green foundation garment – meaning a green/herbal/licorice/mint/galbanum undertone, as the leaves certainly did and the patchouli in Karma also does. 

That night, I competed for space in my bed with my two cats, neither of whom could snuggle quite close enough. I can remember falling asleep that night holding – as I often did – one ginger, Karma-scented paw. 

The dream I can recall was disquieting, like all the best dreams. 

The next day, in a rush out the door, I tossed the bottle of Karma into a light-protecting perfume drawer for regular rotation purposes. 

And to my eternal shame and disgrace  promptly forgot all about it. 

Retribution Station

Every so often, whenever I opened that drawer, Karma would wink at me from below. Always, I’d find an excuse – wanting to wear something else, weather, the company of perfume-averse millennials at school I had no wish to offend, especially not in exam season.

But sometimes, in moonlight, in moods, in deepest night, I’d dig out Karma, spray – and swoon. My fate was sealed, my kismet complete, and even my good karma kitty approved. 

Rinse, lather, repeat. For years. My bad.

Blonde Karma

Two months ago, I landed a job as a teacher at a primary school in Copenhagen, teaching art, English and science. Since I was moving in with my sister for a while, that meant trying to decide which perfumes to bring, perfumes that a) I loved and b) wouldn’t stink up the apartment, since she has never quite forgiven me an episode in 2012 that involved twelve sprays of Epic Woman and an aftermath that lasted over a month, not to mention c) would add a little sass to my step in the mornings, in class, with a gaggle of fifth-graders I dearly hoped would like me. 

One of the perfumes I chose to bring was Karma. Perhaps it would be more correct to say it chose me, since I have no recollection of packing it, and that, too, must be kismet. 

A few days ago, my sister – a curvy, petite brunette and the most uniquely stylish woman I know – and I had a discussion about patchouli.

 “Aren’t you too fair and blonde for patchouli?” she asked. The question surprised me. Memories of that beloved bag of Maggie’s patchouli leaves, now sadly departed, of Oncle Serge’s wondrous Borneo 1834, of, well, any number of hard-hitting Eighties diehards I adored – oh, I did love patchouli with a will. If perhaps not so much as the original Prada she loved and I can’t wear if you paid me. 

Because, as every friend I have and certainly my sister will attest: 

I’m too damn blonde. 

My Marrakech moment

Sometimes, though, kismet throws me a bonbon or two. One of those is surely LUSH Karma. The Sanskrit name notwithstanding, never mind all the headshop/Haight-Ashbury/hippie associations, Karma is a unique perfume, surely the grooviest perfume I own. 

It begins with an orange. Not just any orange. This is the OG orange-you-glad, all zest, smiles and warm sunshine. While it’s not listed as a note, my nose detects a significant amount of orange blossom absolute – this is orange with a great deal of heft, longevity and substance behind it. Then, a fugue of lavender and lemongrass comes out to play with the orange, and if you were miserable before, that sorry state of mind should surely be impossible now. Orange you glad? How could you not be? 

You are, now and always, fantabulous. Darling. Feisty, spicy, green and luxuriously happy with just a touch of luxe hippie, as the base makes itself known a little at a time. Is Karma a b*tch? 

Not now, and not this one. 

In fact, Karma makes me feel like Talitha Getty, ca. 1967, pictured above, when all was still love, light and happiness, and everyone who was anyone boogied down to Marrakech, to sample life at a slower pace, to enjoy all the wonder, the shock to the senses,  the beauty Morocco had to offer, to hang out with Saint Yves and Pierre, Karl and Mick Jagger, and all fashion, all of the arts were transformed forever by mutual inspiration. 

I’m not rich, not famous, not anything as beautiful as the tragic Talitha surely was. Yet Karma makes me feel as if I am. 

And that patchouli? Here, it sings in a perfectly tuned chorus with cinnamon and pine and lemony elemi, a fresher, sweeter, and altogether flirtier perspective on patchouli, but unlike any patchoulis you may have tried before. That sweetly structured drydown lasts and lasts and lasts. I get about 18+ hours out of two small sprays.

My perfume fantasies and time travels aside, I own nothing at all in the slightest like Karma

It will get you, sooner or later. But your karma will be fantabulous. Always. No matter who or where you are.

With special thanks to Maggie Mahboubian of Lalun Perfumes for those patchouli leaves, and in memory of Janice Divacat (2006-2021) and Hairy Krishna (2007-2022), for their love of Karma

Karma is available in several incarnations at LUSH perfumes. 
Notes (via Fragrantica): Orange, lemongrass, lavender, pine tree, lemon, cassis, patchouli, fir resin, elemi, cinnamon.

Shadow Play

–  a review of Montale ‘Boisé Vanillé’.

Have you ever noticed how your perceptions change in the dark? Somehow, everything except your sense of sight is heightened, sound and smell take on a new significance, and what you can see shapeshifts into other, more ominous things that almost seize a life of their own in the shadows that recede into the darkness. Even your thoughts morph into other forms and patterns, and what seems preposterous in daylight somehow makes far more sense in the witching hours after midnight. Those daytime stories of crystal-clear delineated form and logic fade to darkest gray like old Polaroids, and instead, the mind opens to myths and magic, to all the primeval elements that make us what we truly are and feed the dreams and stories we create, and so we grow, if only we will dare to look into that dark.

I think of all of these things, I think of that interplay of shadow and light, logic and dream, and I think of a perfume that somehow also exhales on the borders of light and shadow, its form shifting and changing into something otherwise and other ways unexpected, and that is another reason I love what I do – to meet the unusual and follow where it leads, even if it takes me further into the shadows. That perfume is Montale’s ‘Boisé Vanillé’, surely one of the most unique vanilla-themed perfumes I have ever encountered.

Until now, I have never tried any of Montale’s perfumes, kept away by other olfactory distractions and hesitant because of one note in particular that gave me serious pause for thought. Montale is a house known for its use of oud. With a few exceptions, oud and I do not get along well. That note of medicinal and apothecary puts me off in a bad way, unless it’s so seamlessly blended with other notes I hardly notice it’s there, or of such an extraordinary quality I can appreciate its other facets.

No oud smolders in ‘Boisé Vanille’, but ‘smolder’ is the operative word here…this is a perfume that pulses in the shadows, that changes and evolves, and is surely one of the moodiest perfumes I’ve ever had the privilege to sniff.

Vanilla, that glorious cured pod of a jungle orchid, can be interpreted in so many ways. From the cupcake ubiquitous of celebufumes and tweenie scents to the star player in the famous ‘Guerlainade’ of Guerlain, who used it to such stunning effect in Shalimar, or focused on the pod itself to effect no less stellar in Spiritueuse Double Vanille, or to Serge Lutens’ olfactory candied dream of Un Bois Vanillé – in all of them and countless more, vanilla lurks to evoke memories of childhood and a sweet-toothed comfort against the vicissitudes of life, or else to seduce with its likewise aphrodisiac pleasures. The scent of vanilla has been scientifically proven to heighten all other sensory impressions, something every perfumer knows who attempts to bottle seduction and succeeds.

‘Boisé Vanillé’ is not that kind of vanilla. This isn’t sweet in the slightest, has no associations with food or childhood comfort scents, and as I wrote before…it’s moody, shifting the ground and the expectations beneath your nose whenever you think you understand it to something else and otherwise and very, very different.

Many perfumes start out on a bright, soprano note of hello before they take you away on that magic carpet ride, but ‘Boisé Vanillé’ has other plans and another kind of ride in store. I read of notes like lemon, geranium, bergamot and lavender and conjure up luminous green, fougère ideas, but here, those ideas are subverted almost immediately by a darker heartbeat…cedar leaves, dark and smooth and bitter. A fiery tendril of allspice glows, intertwined with a patchouli so velvety plush and rich it pulses in the halflight that surrounds you, a suggestion of iris adding its own air of intrigue. This perfume is not short on intrigue.

Vanilla even I can detect above, below and throughout it all, but this vanilla is all base and all basso profondo, it chooses to show another earthier, woody face. If there were such a thing as vanilla machismo, I offer Boisé Vanillé as Exhibit A, although I think it should wear equally well on both sexes, so long as you have the attitude it seems to demand.

After a long, long while, as it leads you through its twilit dark, a magnificent tonka bean makes itself known. Combined with the basso profondo vanilla, the smouldering embers of allspice and that velvet-black patchouli, it evokes certain types of incense, yet no incense is listed, and that, too, is astonishing. Like all the Montales I’ve ever read of, it has the half-life and staying power of radioactive isotopes. When I wore it last, I could detect it quite clearly over twenty-four hours later, even after a bath and a shower.

I can imagine anything with the right kind of cattle prod and very slight provocation. Yet I could never imagine in my wildest, phantasmagorical dreams conjure such a thing as Gothic vanilla, Gothic in the sense of melodrama, of shape-shifting intrigue, of those tales of the Mahabharata enacted by the Wayang shadow puppeteers of Bali. Tales that shift the ground beneath the audience’s feet as they watch, when heros prove to be villains after all, and villains another kind of unexpected hero, changing loyalties and evolving in the dark beyond from light to black, playing out their archetypal tales that lurk in the shadows that make us all encounter what we truly are or dare to be.

Notes: Lemon, geranium, bergamot, lavender, cedar leaves, allspice, iris, patchouli, vanilla, tonka bean.

Montale is available in many locations online, including Luckyscent, and First in Fragrance.

A big, fat hug and thank you to the very devious Dee of Beauty on the Outside, who made this review possible and once again put me on the primrose path to perfumed perdition!

For other reviews of ‘Boisé Vanillé’, I highly recommend my Scent Twin Suzanne’s, and Dee’s, too.

Image of Balinese shadow puppets: Wayang2u

Not Mad, Not Bad but Dangerous to Know!

– a review of Byredo’s ‘Baudelaire’

Picture an eighteen-year-old punk, circa 1981, small, tattered, all in black and wearing way more eye makeup than any two eyelids should ever have to bear. She was curled up on a mattress on the floor with her nose stuck in a book, which was indeed the case quite a bit of the time, when she wasn’t arguing political theory (more books!), throwing toilets out of second story windows (true story), or planning what would happen once the revolution came, and that was due, any day now…

One of her main partners in subversion was a 6’4” stringbean of a guy, a dead ringer for Henry Miller at 23 and just as avid and voracious for life and all it included. He kept throwing books at her, and she kept reading them – Emma Goldman, Henry Miller, Piotr Kropotkin, Marx, Hemingway and Kerouac, Lessing and Jung and Horney and Laing, Huxley and Capek…and on one long February night, sandwiched somewhere between Kant and Kierkegaard, a certain long-deceased Frenchman of dubious reputation. (Always the best kind!)

The well-worn cover of this fifth-hand book read “The Flowers of Evil”, by Charles Baudelaire. Just as his poetry had done so much to revolutionize poetry, poetic subject matter and even literature itself on both sides of the English Channel and the Atlantic, this one byword for bohemian decadence and dissolution completely and utterly rearranged this poor eighteen-year-old punk’s mental furniture…for life.

Byredo, a niche house based in Stockholm, isn’t a line I’ve tried before. In choosing to create a perfume and give it the name of my other favorite poet on Planet Earth, all I can say is – they have a lot to live up to! I look at that sample bottle and wonder what’s inside it. Can I expect laudanum phantasms and opium dreams on Montparnasse divans, as Jeanne Duval laughs mocking in the background? Could this be Baudelaire’s incendiary poetry in bottled form, slithering out of the bottle and sliding into my nose to perform unspeakable acts of depravity on my Jacobsen’s organ?

I’ll answer those questions first: Not quite, not really and…I wish!

First of all, Baudelaire is…very, very smooth. Very peppery and even bitter-green intriguing on the outset, before it intrigues even more with a smoky, dark brown, bitter incense that settles and stays and never strays. The incense gets in league with patchouli and black amber somewhere along the way – here we enter a color located precisely between brown and black – and gets only a bit sweeter. It’s slightly animalic and yet not well-behaved, either. There’s a tinge of naughty in there, but naughty is not subversive, and subversive is not quite so smooth or so alluring.

Sexy. Borderline dangerous. Definitely a masculine scent, because I don’t have nearly enough cojones to wear this with any degree of conviction. It is very intelligent, with that exceptional incense note that is miles away from any other incense I’ve tried, and yet there’s something in there that reminds me of that famous line said of Lord Byron: Mad, bad and dangerous to know.

Baudelaire is neither mad nor the slightest bit bad. It hasn’t received a lot of love from the perfumosphere, and that baffles me a bit, because it is intriguing, intelligent, and decadent in a good way. Opulent might be a better word to describe it, but I have to say it – this is a walk on the dark side, and if you can’t walk that walk…you’d better stay away.

I found a good home for the rest of my sample – and a little goes a long, long way. I gave it to the Scorpio. It suits him perfectly. He’s exceedingly smart, funny, very sexy and indeed…dangerous to know! 😉

For another take on ‘Baudelaire’, Brian of I Smell Therefore I Am had this to say about it.

Notes according to Fragrantica:
Top notes: Juniper, Pepper, Caraway
Middle notes: Incense, Hyacinth
Base notes: Papyrus, Patchouli, Black Amber

Image of Charles Baudelaire: