How To Be A Perfume Writer

GerhardterBorchWomanwLetter

 – some thoughts on returning to the fray

All my life, I’ve always been considered a bit … strange. Whether caused by an early childhood playing alone with my teddy bear and a rusty tin can in a cemetery among the headstones, or evolving into the dreamy, geeky, bookworm teenager I later became, never mind the pint-sized over-the-hill irrelevance I am now, weird has always been my unofficial middle name.

Yet nothing – and I do mean nothing – shuts people up faster when they ask about what I do, and I tell them among other things that I’ve been writing about perfumes these 8+ years and counting. A l-o-n-g pause ensues. Next thing I know, the punch line arrives.

“Why?”

Well …

And if not why, they ask me how.

I’m never sure what to reply to that question, either.

I just do it.

Meanwhile, erudite seminars are held at EsXence in Milan on the language of perfume, hosted by none other than the eminent Michael Edwards. Also meanwhile, scores of people who have never attended any expensive seminars on perfume writing in their lives (or if they have, they’re very discreet!), are posting YouTube reviews or comments on those reviews, or writing reviews for perfume blogs, or perfume books, or writing about perfume on one or another of the many perfume groups on Facebook, sharing their experiences with perfume A, B or Z.

Perfume nutcases/people are strange. Strange for no other reason than they’re trying – and sometimes failing – to articulate what to all intents and purposes is a wordless art. Our sense of smell is one of the most rudimentary and in evolutionary terms one of the oldest of our sensorial input methods, and for that reason, olfactory impressions bypass the cerebral cortex – home to abstract thinking, logic and other hazards to our sanity – entirely and head straight for the hippocampus, the gateway to memory.

In less time than it takes to type this sentence, we are mid-memory and in the grip of an emotional response, and this, boys and girls, is the essence of the invisible, indelible art that is … perfume.

Back to the why

Why do I write about perfume? Once upon a time, I was so destitute, I had no perfume at all. By which I mean – no perfume. At all. For someone who throughout her adult life always had at least five in regular rotation, this was akin to torture. Soap and water are all fine and dandy thank you, but not being able to establish a presence (by which I’m not referring to sillage, but simply presence) when I already felt increasingly invisible, was a horror I couldn’t handle.

So as a cruel exercise in contemplation, I landed myself on Makeupalley one day by accident, ca. 2003. It blew my mind. People were discussing perfumes I had never heard of, from brands I’d never heard of, in ways I had never imagined.

Top notes? Heart notes? Drydown? Had someone been messing with the English language?

When the first perfume blogs arrived ca. 2006-2007, I set about educating myself with everything I didn’t know. Materials, evolution, perfumers, perfumes, perfume families (thank you, Michael Edwards!) – something in my own brain was coalescing as I read. But I wasn’t quite there yet.

‘There’ arrived on the night of August 5th, 2010, at about 2 AM. I was still reading perfume blogs. I was also fast approaching the finish line of my first finished novel, and I needed a break from my subject matter, something with an aesthetic dimension, something, well, girly.

That night, after the third glass of white zinfandel, or it could have been the fifth, I thought, well, I could always start a perfume blog. Just for me. As a writing exercise. Before I went to bed, I had emptied the wine bottle, signed up for Blogspot, created a blog called Scent Less Sensibilities and called it a day.

By that time, thanks to my then mother-in-law (and fellow Taurus), who got my desperation, bless her forever, I owned three perfumes. They were Balmain Ivoire, Lancôme’s Magie Noire, and Caron’s Bellodgia, all hunted down by me at online perfume discounters for bottom basement budget prices for several birthdays and Christmases in a row.

My first review was Ivoire. I tried to write a straight-up, non-interpretive review, really, I did. Except I didn’t.

For lo and behold, someone in the ether had found my writing exercise, liked what they read, and left a comment. (Those were the days when people commented!) A comment stating something about ‘my unique voice’.

Whaddaya know, I did become a better writer. I learned by observation from the best of the best: Ida Meister of Cafleurebon, Lucy of Indieperfume, Elena Vosnaki of Perfume Shrine, Angela, Beth and Donna of Now Smell This, and the beyond wonderful, irreverent Perfume Posse, all of whom brightened my far less than happy existence.

I learned about pacing, about writing things out, about trusting my instincts and my voice. I learned to edit and pare things down in ways that are still with me to this day.

More than anything else, above the writing exercise/girly outlet/aesthetic dimension, I wrote about perfume to give myself some micro-degree of success. From 2010-2013, my life went from not-great to smoking ruins. I was too “old” to be hired anywhere, too over-qualified for the jobs I could get, and likely just too outright weird. I had no social life, no friends, and very little family.

Suddenly, I found community, commonality, and dare I write this – virtual friendships, too. I could scarcely believe my luck.

In April of 2019 with The Alembicated Genie, I still can’t.

Listen up, padawan

That’s me. Maybe you’re the one who thinks this could be something you could do. While I can’t tell you anything about your particular ‘why/how’, I can tell you something about writing.

Writing is a skill like any other. The more you do it, the better you get. Anyone can learn to be more articulate and precise in their writing. Which, I hasten to add, is not at all the same as saying that if you do it long enough, you’ll turn into the F. Scott Fitzgerald of the perfume world.

Anyone can learn to write, yes, but not everyone will do so equally well. Some people are articulate in person, while others need to think things through. It follows that having a certain degree of eloquence helps, as well as access to a good thesaurus. I use the Oxford online thesaurus, but you may prefer something else.

Like any other creative human endeavor, talent also enters the equation. Everyone can write – or learn to do so – but some people have an aptitude for language, and some don’t. Yet talent matters not at all unless you keep at it. That’s what gets you noticed. Consistent effort over time. The End.

Nuts and bolts

Still there? Now, we’re at the part that separates the wannabes from the survivors. First that maxim stated above: consistent effort over time. I’m not kidding. Second, if not in terms of importance:

The prose.

Generally speaking, perfume writing tends to land in one of two categories. There are the straight-up reviews.

This is what perfume X, Y or Z smells like, these are the notes and how it develops, this is what I think.

In other words, the kind of reviews I wish I could write, but can’t. I know, because I’ve died numerous agonizing deaths trying to do just that, and my twisted brain has other ideas. My admiration for those who can is boundless.

Remember, experiencing a perfume is a wordless act. Here you are, tearing your hair out, trying to communicate a sensory experience in words. A bloody thankless task, if you ask me. As they say in book publishing: if everyone could write a novel, they would. Yet relatively few people do. By the same token, not everyone who writes about perfume will do so equally well.

Then, there are those other perfume writers. I count myself – vain as I am – in this second category. They are usually of a literary persuasion, meaning they read, they keep informed, and have a laser-sharp eye for the well-turned phrase, the polished metaphor, the rhythm and flow of words. They use their knowledge from other culture-vulture areas for their reviews; art, history, music, literature. Given that our vocabulary in describing perfumes is severely limited, we resort to metaphor and simile, tricks of rhetoric and semiotics to get the point across, provided we even succeed. You have to be aware that when you write about perfume, you won’t always get it right. Put another way, sometimes a review will state everything you wanted to say, and sometimes, it won’t matter what you do. You still feel as if you’re falling at the fences if not being catapulted straight across them (to use a show-jumping metaphor). That’s OK, too.

I became notorious for turning perfume reviews into literature. Instead of writing a review, I’ve written a short story, a whole, short, self-contained world, to better convey my impressions of a perfume. Sometimes, that approach worked. Sometimes, it didn’t, usually when I neglected to trust my own instincts, or simply tried to force a story when I should have settled for an ‘ordinary’ (my version) review. Don’t forget, I’m also a novelist, and everything and everyone is grist for that literary mill, even – or perhaps especially – perfume. Jean-Paul Guerlain, who once famously stated that perfume is liquid literature, would be thrilled. Those reviews are my personal favorites and among my best writing anywhere, and I’d give my eyeteeth for a chance to turn them into a book of their own. One day, I will.

The YouTube conundrum

What if you’re one of those people who don’t like to read? (And read. And read.) Or for whom the idea of banging out 2000 words on latest release A, B or Z causes a) bad memories of school assignments and b) severe orthographical and/or grammatical anxiety?

Perhaps your personality is so naturally gregarious, charming and extrovert, you could become a YouTube reviewer?

Well, you’re going to need to invest in a better camera than your laptop, some good ambient lighting and a proper microphone, to start. You’ll need to become familiar with video editing software. In television production, a rule of thumb is one minute on screen equals one hour of work. Put another way: a five minute video is five hours of work. In comparison, I usually spend between two to four hours on a review, but a few have taken me up to a calendar month to write.

And above all things else, it helps heaps to have some general ideas of what you’re going to say beforehand. So you’ll also have that to consider. There’s nothing wrong with ad-libbing or spontaneity, but you’ll likely soon discover that what looks easy, spontaneous or natural on screen in reality is anything but.

I have an exceedingly low opinion of most – but not all – YouTube perfume reviews. I find them repetitive, lacking in imagination and often redundant. Nine out of ten bore me to tears, but there are definite exceptions. Who knows? You yourself might even become one of them.

The Social in Media

Writing a post/uploading a video is just the first step. You’ll have to do research on the brand, on the perfumer (presuming one is named, and they aren’t always), on the inspirations behind the perfume. For a written review, you might need an illustration or photo. You might need to invest in your own unique domain name, web hosting, plug-ins. You should think about reading up on other reviews of the same perfume to check your impressions against others’. Not because it will influence your own review, but because other people will often have a perspective that might help your own.

Should you be so vainglorious you want hits or views – as indeed most of us do – then the single most important thing you can do for your blog/vlog is establish a presence. And for that, you’ll need social media, a terminal case of what I call the fuckits, and a complete lack of shyness in tooting your own horn without being obnoxious about it.

So from the top …

Comment on your favorite blogs/vlogs. Nothing delights a reviewer faster. I lurked on all my own favorites for years before I ventured to comment, and that didn’t happen until I realized no one is expecting you to be 100% brilliant. Just be yourself. State what you appreciated, what stokes your curiosity, where you disagree – or not. This is called engagement, and engagement is (also) how you get a reputation for your reviews.

Do not, no matter how desperate, bludgeon your audience over your head by promoting your blog all the time, or even half the time you’re interacting on social media. Most people usually get it the first time. Leave it at that.

Courtesy and civility pay and pay and pay. Negativity, over-sharing and bludgeoning people over the head with your unique take on perfume doesn’t.

It’s that simple.

Next, you’ll need Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Post links to your blog/vlog to your FB profile, tweet about it, post your illustration on Instagram, and tag everyone relevant to your post. (This is reputation building, step two) This means following brands on FB, Twitter and Instagram, interacting with them, and tagging/hashtagging everything you possibly can. Join a few perfume groups on FB, and participate in the discussions you find there. Have Twitter conversations with perfume people. Again: courtesy and civility pay and pay and pay. Negativity, over-sharing and bludgeoning people over the head with your unique take on perfume doesn’t.

You will guaranteed encounter a brand that ignores you, if it’s even aware you exist to begin with, no matter how frequently you tag/hashtag them. This could be caused by that brand being narrow-minded (you’re not influential enough/you don’t have a big enough presence, followers or enough engagement, say), but could also be caused by your particular review not being ‘right’ for that brand – they can’t use it for marketing purposes. That is their prerogative to choose, not yours. Don’t take it personally. It’s not you, it’s them. Move on.

The Good Ship Relation

My inbox, meaning my email/Messenger/DM, blows me away on a daily basis. Many of the most touted/celebrated/platinum-coated-with-pavé-pink-diamonds/award-winning names in perfumery can be found in it, not because I’m so bloody bleeping fabulous, but because I’m a fellow human being and relate to them as such.

In writing about perfume, you are building relationships with the brands you review whether you realize it or not. Again – courtesy, gratitude and civility pay and pay and pay. Negativity, over-sharing, and bludgeoning people over the head with your unique take on perfume doesn’t. Neither does indiscretion. You might be given access to privileged information, snark on other reviewers or super-juicy industry gossip. This will be a test of whether or not you can be trusted to be professional. So your reputation among brands – and trust me, if you keep it up, you’ll get there – will also be based on your ability to keep your mouth/keyboard shut when appropriate. Pick your battles wisely. Nurture your relationships with those people. You might be surprised at what you discover; friendships, common ground or interests, a shared sense of the ridiculous. Even a life-long friend or two. Or forty.

Brands are not the only place to establish relationships. Share your love of other blogs/vlogs. Send an email/comment/PM/DM to those colleagues you appreciate. Link to them. Social media is often predicated on the principle of mutual back-scratching. They might – and often do – the same for you.

Which brings me to …

The (not so) free lunch

If you’re venturing into perfume reviewing for ‘free’ bottles or samples – since many bloggers/vloggers review new releases – Stop. Right. There.

Walk away. This business is NOT for you.

First of all, there’s never, never, never ever any such thing as a free lunch. If a brand offers to send you samples or bottles (as opposed to you outright asking for them, or worse, demanding them), bet your vintage no. 5 extrait they want some bang for their buck. And no samples arrive without strings – a sliver of hope for a review at the least.

Those samples represent a substantial investment and cost, in terms of shipping, the man hours required for decanting, packaging, postage etc compounded to whatever costs the brand have in raw materials, research, marketing (when applicable), bottles (which are expensive) and perfume development. Should they offer you samples, it will be due to two things: a) they’re interested in your particular perspective, aka. The Best Case Scenario or b) they’re just shooting samples at any blogger/vlogger who moves because they have a new release and they need the PR. Option a) is something you will have earned by your consistency, your reliability, your discretion and your professionalism.

But it must be earned.

I’ve been alarmed by stories – yes, by perfume brands you know and love – of bloggers contacting brands and demanding full bottles for reviews. Should you be or become one of those, you will be ignored and deplored. The perfume industry is relatively small, the niche/indie part is even smaller, and word will and often does get around.

Think about it.

Likewise, bloggers attending industry events such as EsXence or Pitti Fragranze have been handing out price lists. Want a review? It will cost you XXX€.

If that’s your thing, by all means go for it. Just be aware that if you choose that option, in effect that brand is hiring you for PR. You may be fine with that.

call it corporate whoring.

Having said that, quite a few perfume bloggers have written copy for brands in other contexts and places. Even me. Yet when I have, I’ve done so under my real name and not as The Alembicated Genie. You’ll find not one sponsored post on this blog.

Not one.

One option is to buy your own samples. I’ve done this on a few occasions and never regretted it. For one, it demonstrates a definite interest in the brand and a commitment in cash. For another, it’s marvelous for keeping reviews honest. And lastly, it frees you from all commercial interests and agendas, to write what you choose.

Should I choose to review a perfume, you can be assured it’s for one reason only: to provide my own perspective. Period.

As an EU citizen, I’m not required to give disclosure for review samples, but a large part of my readership is international, so I always do.

On very rare occasions, I’ve been gifted with bottles. Notice the ‘gift’. Those bottles are considered and given in the spirit of appreciation and respect, and treasured accordingly. My entire current income is a student grant which is barely enough to live on, never mind buy perfume with. The irony of my perfume blog’s existence is that I can’t afford to buy what I review at all.

It happens I fall in love with something utterly beautiful, only to wail in despair once the sample goes. Two examples that come to mind are Palissandre d’Or and Sunshine Man. Notice they haven’t been reviewed, for no other reason than I’ve literally loved them to death, fumes and micro-droplets, and it was painful to see them go. Two hundred+  euros is my entire food budget for a (good) month, and I need to eat more than I need perfume, alas. So those ‘free’ bottles – which are actually earned the hard way, by writing and writing and writing about perfume – are treasures beyond rubies and emeralds. They shall never be sold, provide huge amounts of goodwill and heartfelt gratitude but will be drained to the last drop. While thinking fragrant, warm and fuzzy thoughts about the people who sent them. Because those incredibly kind and utterly generous people are worth it, and wonder of wonders, they thought I was, too.

Danger Zone

Some long time ago, a super-famous (and super-smart) feminist writer once wrote an essay about the dearth, comparatively speaking, of women artists. She had grown tired of all those who airily dismissed them as being afraid of failing. As she saw it, it wasn’t so much the fear of failing that held women back as artists, but the fear of judgment.

Things may have changed in countless ways since that essay was written in the 1970s. I’d say that they certainly have. Yet I would also say that she was right then, and right now.

Put your neck out, state your case, have an opinion, by all means. Just be prepared to be judged and found wanting. Since the advent of internet anonymity, any Jane or Joe Schmo can castigate anyone at all for any reason at all – real or perceived. They have nothing to contribute except their own negativity, and take it from me – that’s no way to live.

We call them trolls. They’re out there, and they are out to get you. Be prepared to stand your ground if you have to, and should you walk this perilous path of perfume reviewing, you will have to.

A few years ago, I received so much vitriol for my reviews I almost gave up writing. But that would mean they won.

Enter the terminal case of fuckits. Do it anyway if you dare, and this enormous post hasn’t completely discouraged you.

I see plenty of room in the perfume community for whatever type of reviews you choose. One form is no better than any other. Each has its own merits and drawbacks, and more to the point, each and every writer on this planet has his or her own unique voice. With just a little practice, that voice will out. Let it.

With super-special thanks to Margo and Liz for the spirited FB discussion that inspired this post.

Painting: Gerhard ter Borch, Woman Writing A Letter (1655)

A Once and Future Genie

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– Where we were and where I hope we go from here

You may have wondered. You may (or not!) have wondered when the Genie would get her derrière in gear and start posting those reviews and musings again, checked the TAG Facebook page to see if you might have missed a post (no worries, you haven’t!). You wonder …

Is that it? 265 blog posts and <BAM!/POW!> – no more? No more rambling reviews that haul in everything from history to literature to … well, whatever I can think to throw into a review of that odiferous stuff of dream and emotion we call perfume?

Well, no.

As I’ve stated before numerous times, back in the day (2010, and I can’t believe that, either), I began my first perfume blog, Scent Less Sensibilities, as a writing exercise. The more you do it, the better you get, so both the saying and Stephen King’s On Writing go, therefore, if I could sink my verbal fangs into communicating what is in effect a wordless art, I might learn a thing or two about writing along the way.

I dare say I have. Writing about perfume taught me so much about writing, in fact, I applied every single trick I learned by the time the fall of 2013 rolled around and my first novel of over 780 pages was edited for publication from the ground up in a blistering five weeks, including proof-reading, cover compositing and final adjustments, which also taught me a thing or two about deadlines and my ability to fulfill them.

Here you and I are these four years later. You’re still reading, and I’m still writing – if rather less than I used to, not because the words have dried up, but because my time is no longer my own.

But what if it could be?

To that end, and all thanks to the Dude and his “you’re-way-too-good-not-to-get paid/far-more-people-need-to-read-you” attitude, I decided back in June to join Patreon and hook a paywall into The Alembicated Genie.

The paywall goes live on September 20th. It would have been earlier, but Mercury Retrograde got in the way.

How it will work

Patreon is basically your chance to feel – if even a little – like a Medici. You – the Lorenzo or, say, the Eleonora de Medici – contribute a token sum to the starving artist, which would be me. For this, you will have five options:

The Subscription Option:

For a measly $5.00 a month, you subscribe to the latest TAG posts – meaning, the latest two. If there’s an interest, I can add a monthly newsletter with things like rebates and special offers, short articles on materials, spotlights on perfumers, Creative Directors and so on as well as links to other revelations from Planet Perfume. TAG has – and this still surprises me – 225 subscribers at the time of writing. If everyone subscribed through Patreon, I could not only finance TAG’s overhead, I’d also have created my very own student job. The job of edifying YOU, my readers, twice a week, and not only that. You would in effect be my employers, which really puts the onus on me to deliver the smelly verbiage twice a week, posted every Wednesday and Saturday. No more, because I’m also a student at the moment with a heavy work- and reading load.

The Gift Subscription

Maybe you like what I write and you read so much, you’d like to gift a subscription to a friend, colleague or family member. For the exact same price of $5.00 a month, you can do just that. Tell the world! Tell your friends! Or simply gift them a subscription and let them judge for themselves.

The One-Off

If a dedicated subscription is a bit more commitment than you’re able to handle, you have the option to pay $0.99 for reading the latest two reviews. That might be feasible so you can decide whether or not my idiosyncratic style and perspective is a good fit for you – or not. And it’s only 99 cents. I’ll wager you’ve blown far more than that on perfume, yes?

The Tip Jar

Once upon a storied time a long, long time ago, I used to busk with a friend on Strøget, the Walking Street in Copenhagen. We sang a capella whatever we could think of at the time, but I recall a distinct predilection for Kid Creole and the Coconuts songs, and ‘Gina, Gina’ in particular. The tip jar option is that virtual hat on the ground. Contribute however much or little you please, but for reasons of logistics I’m unable to control, the minimum is $1.00.

The Freebie

Paywall, schmaywall. Blogs should be free, you might think. They have been for this long – whether with advertising or without – so why stop now? This option is for you: Pay nothing. That’s right. Nothing. Because I garnered a reputation, such as it is, for something, and you want to know why, you just don’t want the obligation or the commitment of subscribing. So in the future, all reviews, musings and general fragrant blathering except the last two are free to read, to comment upon (something I greatly applaud/appreciate, and all comments get a reply), and to link to. (I will be notified if you do, and I’m more grateful than you know.)

The Filthy Lucre

I enter this perilous undertaking on the premise that I’ll be lucky to get five subscribers, if that many. I’m only too aware that I’ve lost a metric ton of street-cred and influence these past meagerly posted years, and I’m not sure I’ll ever get back to where I was in 2011-2012, but by golly, I’ll die trying. What I’m emphatically NOT out to do is score a bunch of free cash and leave you, my dearly beloved readers, in the lurch. In other words:

I’m not doing this for the money. I’m doing this for the motivation.

Say, I do land five subscribers – well, the way I see it, that’s $25 I didn’t have before – for writing about perfume. Any amount is x amount of dollars I didn’t have before.

Each of the four first options has a specific purpose ear-marked. The subscription and the one-off money goes toward overhead; web hosting (I no longer use WordPress hosting), domain upkeep, and blog templates, and the best ones are more expensive than you’d think. 2017 has been an expensive year in that regard, but I have some hopes things will run very much smoother in the future.

The gift subscription and tip jar options will go towards something equally vital to the purposes of TAG – a new computer. Four years ago, I crowd sourced a ‘new’ used 17” MacBook Pro, which has been a godsend for this writer. Four years on, I’m still profoundly grateful many of you made that happen.

Having said that, it was used. Like every Mac I’ve ever owned since 1997. It still works beautifully and without a glitch, but it IS nine years old by now, the frame around the screen has broken, and I’m no longer able to close it properly, and therefore, no longer able to transport it everywhere. (I suspect Janice Divacat and her annoying, forbidden habit of lying on top of the closed computer, something she well knows is strictly verboten.)

I’ve been given a Windows 8 laptop (which is big, bulky, and an Epic Pain) for school by the Dude, who is vehemently against everything Apple. I have no words for how much I loathe and detest Windows 8, and I can’t afford to upgrade to Windows 10. Even if I could, I’m emphatically NOT a Windows person, although I mean no slight to those who are.

As I’ve tried to explain to a linear-thinking, rational, stats-and-specs-obsessed, non-creative IT supporter, it’s not about the specifications. It’s about something else.

Since I began writing in earnest in 1998, I’ve written on Macs. Some were big and bulky and beige (my least favorite color), and two others were sleek, silver laptops. All could – and indeed still do – run my beloved Adobe package of graphics software (a necessity), MS Word and all the other bells and whistles.

So it’s become a habit and also more than a little superstition. Those two MacBooks I’ve owned since 2008 have made these very words possible. Closer to my point is this significant revelation:

A Mac lights my imagination on fire in ways Windows never, ever could. Not only that, I consider my MacBook to be an indispensible family member the same way I regard my iPhone 6. It engages my emotions daily, takes care of all the background stuff, and offers the shortest way from the A of ideas of the Z of execution in the most painless way possible. If that means I’ll be forking out an insane amount of money, then yes, I’ll pay for that lack of (daily) aggravation.

So the tip jar and the one-offs will go towards saving for this beauty. Like my battered 17”, it can do absolutely everything I’ll need a computer to do – for TAG, for my future books and stories, and for school. Also, like I said earlier, I’ve never unpacked a computer straight from the box to use, all shiny, fresh and pristine. I can take it with me everywhere. And – important for my personal sense of aesthetics, and to hell with stats and specs – it’s pretty. These things matter, or is that just me and my own demented mind? I might get it. I might not. But it would be at least a possibility, and I can hope for that.

Anything left over – and as I said earlier, I have extremely low-key expectations – will go towards keeping the Genie afloat in samples and/or decants for review.

The Future Genie

I’ve been sitting on a stash of what I dub Big Reviews. Meaning important perfume releases I can’t wait to edify you with. Some are stories, some are simply reviews, but all of them are proof of why I love to write about the art (which it is) of perfume. A few are brands I haven’t reviewed before, and that’s another tangent I’d like to go on – to review those brands who don’t get so much attention, along with some too important to ignore. I’ve found things to blow my socks off, and things to rile me up for being so uniquely horrifying.

I can’t wait to share them with all of you, can’t wait to discuss them, argue about them, and expand all our horizons in the process.

Speaking of process, YOU – yes, you! – are the most important part. I’d love to read what you might think and feel and say about all of this.

Watch this space – and let me know in the comments what you think!

Photo: A still from Fritz Lang’s 1925 film, Metropolis.

 

A Better Brand of Fishbowl

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– On the Genie’s absence, the changing state of the blog/vlogosphere and those all-important New Beginnings

Dear readers,

That I have you reading this still, even after being MIA with no reviews for so long, is an honor I’m nowhere sure I deserve. Therefore, I’ll start with the Big One:

Thank you from the bottom of my black and overflowing heart.

Yet for the longest time, it seemed my life was expanding in all sorts of ways that left no room for perfumes, for contemplation, or indeed for any kind of sensual appreciation involving words, bottled genies or meandering musings in the intersections of all three. I seemed to live in one mode only: pedal to the metal and predilections as well as perfumes be damned. Somehow, some way, there was simply Too Much To Do between waking at godless hours and sleeping, and perfume writing became yet another guilt trip I could beat myself over the head with for not doing, or I could just dump it altogether. (Trust me, I thought of it!)

But at a time when my writing is going other, more noticed places alongside other, far more noted writers, I came to realize a rather startling fact:

My life was missing a dimension, and maybe even all my writing, too. I still wore perfumes daily, still found myself almost automatically searching for context, for story, for texture and association, even as I now wore it solely for my own pleasure, and even focused on the perfumes I loved without reservations or inhibitions, the ones that felt like a second-skin extension of my own self on different days.

I rarely posted my SoTD on Instagram or Twitter (I gave up on Twitter for a time), I didn’t participate in the myriad Facebook groups of Planet Perfume, and in fact, simply removed myself from the conversation altogether. It wasn’t a conscious decision at all, it just happened that way. Lemming new releases, participating in splits and conversations about this or that creation, Keeping Up With the Hi’s and L’Eaus – all failed to fill me with even a sliver of excitement when I had other and weightier things on my mind.

This might have had something to do with certain emails and PMs I received castigating me for non-conformity, sucking up to brands and/or my particular brand of fragrant iconoclasm/bs. It was a knife straight in the aorta of all the cardinal sins a writer may be guilty of; vanity, narcissism or simply a sense of relevancy. Most of you are well aware I subscribe to the Room For Everyone School of Writing, but apparently, there wasn’t, if … ‘there shouldn’t even be room for crappy, hysterically overwrought writers like you who can’t just tell it like it is.’

Well … no. I can’t do that. I tried. I failed. I also for no reason at all forgot or overlooked emails I should have answered, and in general behaved like a massive, unprofessional flake. Maybe I should have been just a short-lived blip on the radar of Planet Perfume, here one year, gone and forgotten all these years later?

I also tried to ignore that small voice at the very bottom of my existential soup bowl that said and certainly felt I had failed YOU – for really, what – or even where? – would I be without you? As an individual, as a perfumoholic or as a writer?

Each and every one of you readers has made me the writer I am today. I say this without so much as a smidge of irony and my hand on my heart. Not only have you made me a better writer, you have made me a better, more well-rounded, less stuck-in-the-mud person. By not writing, by not reviewing, by not and by knots (the ones I tied myself into), I felt I had somehow failed everyone who had ever believed in me, in my idiosyncratic/weirdo approach to perfume writing that kept insisting on context, on texture, or on story.

For, as a job counselor stated recently in an unrelated context, the storyteller in me will o-u-t, even in situations it might not be entirely appropriate.

So far as I’m aware, that’s the hallmark of a writer, which indeed is how I choose to define myself above almost all things else. A writer of stories (mostly horror, for reasons best explained elsewhere), a lover of history, and a perfumaniac diehard who misplaced her iconoclastic/idiosyncratic/oddball/weirdo brand of magick trying to chase all sorts of dragons who would much rather roast me than revere me. That, too, has Got To Change.

As of this moment – noon on a chilly Easter Sunday that is gray, overcast and with a lot of rain promised later – I stand before you on the edge of a precipice called Reinvention. Over the course of the next few months, my life will be turned entirely upside down. Hinging on an upcoming interview, I hope to be accepted into a new and shinier career four years from now. I’m in the process of re-evaluating my living situation, my bad habits and even my wardrobe.

If that were all, that would be plenty, yet the headstrong Reinvention Tour doesn’t stop there, for two scant weeks ago, I submitted my first short story to my editor/publisher/fellow iconoclast friend to debut in a Danish horror/weird fiction anthology called ‘Project 1900’, which for me is a Really Big Deal. Ten writers – of which I’m one – were each given a brief and a decade of the 20th century, and instructions to capture as best we could the temporal flavor of our chosen time.

I chose the 1970s and disco, chose to completely divorce myself from my own self-created mythos of God and Dev(il), and proceeded to go all-out in a brand-new direction. I don’t know how it will be/was received, and really, that’s none of my business anyway. The Dude is the only one who has had the story read aloud, and his first reaction was unprintable. His second – which followed the first – was an indication that maybe I didn’t suck as hard as I thought I did.

I fully intend to translate it into English and make it available as a short story to publish on Amazon later this year. And just to be clear: an under-the-radar perfume features in the story, as well as a super-famous (for 1978) one. Now, you know!

You can take the writer away from perfume, but …

Thanks to that Reinvention Tour, there will also be changes to TAG. (You might have noticed the new logo/header above). I’ll still write about my dearly beloved indies, the other iconoclasts and weirdos and non-conformists I so adore, but I’d also and very much like to continue into new, uncharted territory with other under-the-radar perfumes, the ones that don’t get a lot of free PR, the ones not even you sophisticats have heard about and the ones I’ve never even considered before. Two reviews for three smash hits (at least on my part) are currently underway in terms of research, since these will be stories, and all I can do is hope I rise to the occasions these perfumes have inspired.

Every once in a while, I’ll also add a short video summation of a review, not to give any of the perfume review bigwigs on YouTube sleepless nights (which won’t happen), but more as a bottom line reference. Or irreverence, I’m still not entirely sure!

Most of all, it’s time for an upgrade. Because you’re worth it. And because the importance of a better brand of fishbowl can never be underestimated!

Yours always,

The Alembicated Genie

 

The Space I Take

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– on the Genie’s overlong absence, perfume writing, and real life roadblocks

Ladies, gentlemen and fragrant entities –

It’s been far too long. I have in the past six months removed myself from social media to a greater or lesser extent due to work issues (my first major freelance assignment, now completed) and life issues, and somewhere along the way, perfume fell by the wayside in the sense that I for good or for ill didn’t and couldn’t … write about it. I’ll be getting back to that one.

Future Music

A new novel will, Dev willing, find its way into the world of publication in two languages this year, Danish and English. It will be a prequel to Quantum Demonology, with a very different narrator and a very different story.

In publishing, there’s a phenomenon called The Follow-Up Act. In layman’s terms, the Difficult/Impossible Second Novel. Since Quantum Demonology was in a sense handed to me on a platter of id and dissociation, what this means is the second book in the series (which in terms of story arc is actually the first, and makes QD the third) has caused me more grief than I ever knew existed. This time, the stakes are higher. This time, I have something to prove, which always gets a writer in trouble, and this time, some aspirations of achieving what I hoped for with the first, thanks to a Danish publisher who could be a soul brother in terms of common inspirations, idols and predilections. Not to mention being a Capricorn with plans for world literary horror domination, quite a few connections and an epic talent pool of writers to urge that outcome along.

Sibling rivalry also plays its part. My beloved sister is a journalist, an often incisive columnist for one of Denmark’s largest women’s magazines and a published novelist. I’ll be damned and dipped in tar and feathers before I let her have that last distinction on her own, because why should she have all the fun? Luckily, she agrees. We write nothing alike and each have our own literary preoccupations, but by Golly, we’re going for it. Because we can, bolstering each other’s porcelain egos and talents with sisterly bubble wrap as we go. It’s what these two sisters do.

Fragrant Epiphanies

All along, perfume wafts in my wake. New releases have made my heart sing in ways I never thought it could by their sheer virtuosity, and other possible ones that just might also set the heartstrings quivering. I bought two hotly coveted perfumes in the past few months, one Estée Lauder’s Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia, and the other L’Artisan Parfumeur’s genius Seville à L’Aube. Next on my list is another favorite FBW, perfectly appropriate for the spring exploding forth everywhere around me as I type: Hermès 24 Faubourg. I’ve ripped through three decants and every single sample I have, which tells me it’s love. But having just upgraded my shoe collection, that’s not happening just yet, no matter how much I wish for it. And more indie perfumes for my FBW list: Envoyage Perfumes’ astonishing floral symphony, Fiore di Bellagio, Olympic Orchids’ White Cattleya, DSH Perfumes’ Giverny in Bloom and Fleuriste, Neela Vermeire Crèations Pichola, Aedes de Venustas’ Oeillet Bengale, Iris Nazarena, Palissandre d’Or, Cierge de Lune and.

And.

The perfumes I’ve loved in my absence: my arguable HG, that intransigent, unapologetic bad-gal masterpiece that is vintage Robert Piguet Bandit. It has the effect of a hydrogen pulse bomb on the Dude. Should I ever doubt the towering genius that was Germaine Cellier or the delicate touch of Aurelien Guichard who reorchestrated it beautifully in 2007 to comply with modern IFRA standards, it takes just one sniff. I dare not contemplate what would happen if I ever encounter vintage Balmain Jolie Madame, or Vent Vert. I. Shall. Be. Toast. Bandit in the modern eau de parfum is on my FBW shortlist, if only so I can spray with abandon and let the world think what it will of that perfect, naughty, borderline disgusting/wrong note of cold ashtray.

Amouage’s Sunshine Man knocked the gender-bender out of the ballpark for me and has rapidly become my Favorite Masculine/Schmasculine Stupid-Happy-Delirious Perfume of All Time. It’s a lavender-almond cookie with an electrifying jolt of Curaçao/Cointreau/Grand Marnier that somehow all adds up to making me feel, well, deliciously delirious, maybe? It also has salubrious/salacious effects on the Dude, who loves it on me and nowhere else.

Aedes de Venustas’ Palissandre d’Or, a silky-smoothly burnished spicy wood unisex wonder, is as transparent and as glowing as maroon silk chiffon, and has become something I crave very badly, which does not bode at all well for my wallet.

The Case Against TAG

Yet something I’ve also found myself doing with increasing frequency lately is pondering that space I take in the blogosphere, the state of the perfume industry and the hair-raising amount of new releases, new brands, and new brands of headache to consider, and what – if any – role I should try to fulfill.

I’ve been writing about perfume for almost six years, as part of the – let’s call it – second wave of perfume bloggers that began somewhere around 2010. In that time, I’ve seen the social media landscape around blogging in general and perhaps perfume blogging in particular change in ways that emphatically do not appeal to my comfort zone. That sweet-smelling (?!) world has become so much nastier, no matter what I do to convince myself otherwise. Some of my mainstays from those early days are still very much around and are as awe-inspiring as they’ve ever been. A few more have had to quit the blogosphere due to real-life issues, and I miss their particular voice and perspectives on this thing called perfume.

All of these things somehow all add up that soup of contemplation I’ve been stewing in for so long, and in the past year or so, a few things more have given me long, hard pauses for thought.

I began to write about perfume for two big reasons. First and most importantly, to become a better writer. At the time I began my first perfume blog on Blogspot, I was heading toward the finish line of my novel Quantum Demonology, and thought it might do me good as a writer to find an outlet for all those girlie sensibilities the hard-boiled QD protagonist would have mocked to infinity and beyond.

I dare say that YOU – if you’re reading this – have forced me to up the ante and succeed in ways I could never have imagined that August night in 2010 I cooked up the idea to become a perfume writer.

Thank you. For bearing with my idiosyncracies and predilections, and for being with me this far.

On that note …

I’ve also been the victim of trolling on more than one occasion in the past year or so in particular. I’ve received more or less “anonymous” emails blasting me with vitriol and undiluted verbal hydrochloric acid for daring to redefine perfume writing on my own terms and in my own way, for not knowing enough about my subject matter, for shoddy, slapdash research into my subject matter (FWIW, some of those reviews required over a full month of research to write with any degree of credulity), and a blatant inability to locate even the most “obvious” notes in the perfumes I’ve reviewed. Some of these mails have gone so far as to state I should just STFU already ‘if you can’t write like ‘normal’ perfume bloggers!’

There IS such a thing, and I didn’t know?

O.M.G.

I realize an entire segment of online entities out there take great pride in destroying reputations, credibility and what in social media has been dubbed ROI, or Reach of Influence, on the mistaken assumption that our entire self-worth rests solely on the opinion of such human pondscum.

As a perfume blogger, I could not have cared less. There is no shortage of blogs out there to read or to watch on YouTube, and no shortage of compelling perspectives and quality prose. I link to the best of them.

But as a writer, I was devastated nearly into giving up the ghost altogether, and that conclusion almost did me in. If I can’t write, if I am silenced into nonentity or figuratively ball-gagged into shutting up, then just kill me now.

I do not, and have never that I’m aware, ‘write about’ perfume. I write to express my impressions or to communicate the experience said perfume gave me. You may beg to disagree, and that’s perfectly all right. Should I sometimes – as indeed has happened – be inspired by a particular perfume so stellar I feel compelled to write my review as a story and you take offense at that, then by all means unsubscribe and read something else. My perspective is a novel writer’s and storyteller’s perspective, and I can’t and won’t change that, not even to shut up the trolls who take offence at my approach or indeed anything else about me.

But with the arrival of more and more and more and more …. blogs, vlogs and the general proliferation of the perfume community, I have had to question what I as a perfume writer can contribute to the conversation.

As I stated before, the conversations we’re having about perfume have changed. Likewise, the relationships between brands and perfume bloggers has also changed. I was shocked to learn that at Pitti Fragranze last year, some bloggers walked around with price lists for reviews, which was somewhere around the point where my own brain imploded.

Call me old-fashioned. But a paid review in my book = no credibility whatsoever as a reviewer. In any size, shape or form.

I began with a passion – my own passion for perfume, and my passion for verbiage. That passion is not, nor will it ever be for sale. I couldn’t live with myself if it were. You may choose to believe me when I say that a rave is a rave because I think something is great/stellar/incredible, or you may take issue with the – indisputable – fact that certain brands on TAG always get raves. For one simple reason, and I state this with my hand on my heart and swear on my cat’s fur: because they’re always that great. Emphatically not as a compliment to a brand that provided me with a sample free of charge.

But more than anything, I’ve thought about that space I take, thought to utilize it better and more, thought to do whatever I could to entertain, or illuminate, or sometimes even confuse/bemuse my readers, and that has happened, too.

No one is renumerating my time or my efforts in trying to find the words to match my nonverbal impressions of a perfume.

More to the point, no one cares. Or do they? If you’ve read this far, do you?

Let me know in the comments! And let’s continue the conversation – about perfumery, about the blogosphere, and about… that space we take.

Illustration: yours truly.