Angel by Bernini.

Angelic, adj.: Of, resembling or pertaining to angels. 

In my own peripatetic history, angels are not my preferred form of supernatural being. If anything, I tend to gravitate to the other, darker side of that particular fence. Although I was baptized and later confirmed in the evangelical Lutheran faith mainly to conform to a cultural norm, both my sister and I were by and large raised without religiosity in any officially sanctioned form, which is not at all to say that I, at least, never sensed the presence of something other, larger and more numinous than myself. 

In my early childhood, I lived too isolated to have playmates, so instead, I made the forest that surrounded our house my playmates. The trees, the ants, the birds, the raccoons and their antics – they knew the score. I brought wildflowers as offerings to certain trees I loved, and when I could, would sneak peanut butter sandwiches to the raccoons, who would follow me around to thank me.

I knew of the concept of church, of course, knew grownups talked sometimes of something called ‘God’, but the word didn’t have any meaning for me. 

 Somewhere around age three or four, I became a raging pantheist. Faith in my view wasn’t some joyless congregation in a church, where you couldn’t kick the pews if you were bored and had to be silent, by God, or else

Faith was something I could live and breathe and touch in the trees and sense in the wind. No deity I could ever define would ever be as horrified as the grownups in our community to discover I played quite happily in a graveyard with my teddy bear, a doll and two old tin cans.

Aged all of six, my fate was sealed. By then, I went to Sunday school and sang in a Presbyterian children’s choir, because above all else, I loved to sing like an angel, so sing, I did. I tried to be a good little girl and do as I was told. I never made trouble or too much fuss. Things came to a head at the church Christmas party, however, when all the children at Sunday school received big, fancy Christmas presents in big, fancy wrapping paper with fluffy, green bows. 

Except me. When I asked why, the grownups in my life retreated to a corner of the church. They argued and hissed. I followed behind. I didn’t understand. God was love, so the grownups said, and forgave everything, so they said, and I had tried my best to be good, so why? One outstanding member of the church council had the last word: “I’ll be damned if I buy that demon whore child a Christmas present.”

I didn’t know what those words meant, but I certainly caught the sentiment behind them. Afterwards, I went only because it was the only way I could still sing in the choir, until that fatal day my curiosity could bear it no longer and I asked one question no one would ever answer. “If God is everywhere, then why do we have to go to church?” 

I was instantly expelled.

Ever since, I have had a questionable view of organized religion, angels included. It didn’t help when, aged eighteen and deadly curious, I set a library copy of Saint Augustine’s City of God on fire after reading and threw it (still burning) out of a sixth story window for its outrageous misogyny. To this day, press me hard enough and I will tell you I’m an unrepentant heathen/Vanatru/Wiccan/Pantheist/Tibetan Buddhist eclectic and my faith emphatically feminist to its core. 

Angels? I call them Valkyries, handmaidens of Freyja, who takes pride of place in my personal polyglot pantheon. Angels are intermediaries between divinity and humanity, between Heaven – or the celestial spheres – and Earth. When I thought about this post and about which perfume I would deem angelic, one perfume of all I own came to mind. 

Painting by A. Andrew Gonzalez

The Romantic movement of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, itself a reaction to the rationalist Enlightenment, elevated one sentiment above all others – the sublime. The sublime is that sense of something larger than yourself, something awe-inspiring, something frightening in its perfection and entirety. 

In other words, something angelic, at least as I interpret the word. For me, that perfume of angels is Serge Lutens’ Fleurs d’Oranger.

 Fleurs d’Oranger takes me back in an instant to one very particular Monday in my life, a day that life would change forever, a day I experienced a joy so great, I had no words to define it but simply the emotion to decline it. I was eleven, just home from school, and this day, I was locked out of the house. So I did what I sometimes did, went around to the backyard and climbed one of the orange trees. I knew how to sidestep the thorns on the branches and knew where to place myself on one of the biggest branches. It was September, and the tree was full of Valencia oranges, slowly turning their signature color, but it would be another two months before they could be plucked and eaten. Still, a bunch of errant blooms remained, exuding their narcotic perfume in the hot Florida afternoon in a suburban backyard.

The most angelic bloom I know.

Out front, an occasional thud of coconut on the lawn could be heard, the bees buzzing in the grapefruit, key lime and lemon trees on either side. Further away, I could hear some of my classmates, also home from school, riding their bikes, tossing footballs, throwing Frisbees to each other in backyard pools. But here underneath that glossy green canopy, I was drunk on orange blossom, euphorically high on a favorite, tiny flower. I breathed in beauty and exhaled angelic, at one with the flowers, the ripening fruit, the tree itself rooted in that fertile earth where anything and everything grew. I knew nothing else, thought nor sensed anything else until some time later, I was startled out of my orange blossom reverie by a neighbor arriving to take me in for the night. For this day, I would become a sister, which explained why my mother wasn’t home. 

That memory would keep me warm for many years to come, until it was buried under that avalanche called ‘life’, only to come hurling back at hurricane force the day I first sniffed Fleurs d’Oranger. It was the scent of unlimited, sublime joy, the perfume of complete abandonment to a moment when time itself stood still, and I felt protected by that angelic presence – of orange blossom. Before I knew life, before I knew so many things that would later define and decline me. 

To this day, I can drop whatever foul moods may haunt me and head straight to that celestial nudge of a joy that could only and ever be divine … with Fleurs d’Oranger. I have not been without it for eleven years, and spray it on my pillows on the days I change the sheets. My current bottle is running low on this cold, snowy day. But what price should I pay for such an angelic perfume, such a breath of sublime? 

Whatever it takes, so long as it defines angelic

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Daisy and


Old Herbaceous


For that Perfectly Pretty Day

– a review of Illuminum ‘White Gardenia Petals’

A little girl plans it in her head for years and years. That perfect, perfect day where she gets to star in her own movie of being the eternally adored center of attention, surrounded by her fawning family and friends, lavished with presents chosen from a carefully compiled list and registered at all the right stores, wearing her ultimate whipped-cream-and-meringue fantasy of silk and lace.

Her wedding day. Somewhere is a groom of course, like all Prince Charming fantasies, but he’s nearly incidental. After all, on this perfect day, this perfect fantasy is all about her!

Somewhere and somehow, that little girl grows up, outgrows her Barbies and mostly her Disneyfied fantasies about that perfect, perfect day. Prince Charming may evolve into Charming Only After That Third Bottle of Champagne, or devolve not just into a frog, but an entirely new sub-species of amphibian loudmouth.

Unless she never does outgrow the Disney brain damage, in which case, she may well turn into Bridezilla.

Not all that long ago, Catherine Middleton slayed cake-eating viewers and hopeless romantics all over the planet on that perfect day she became the Duchess of Cambridge, perfectly composed, perfectly attired in a stunning Sarah Barton wedding dress for Alexander McQueen. I didn’t watch the wedding itself (mea culpa!) since I had a deadline and other preoccupations. I saw pictures and sent the radiant bride and bashful groom only my very best well wishes.

This being the perfumosphere, of course, it was a matter of minutes before every perfume blogger on Planet Earth was asking…

“What perfume did she wear?”

The dress was British, so we all mentioned our favorite British perfume houses and suitable-for-wedding perfumes…Ormonde Jayne, Penhaligon’s, the newly resurrected Grossmith, who went one step further and re-orchestrated ‘Betrothal’.

She wore ‘Illuminum White Gardenia Petals’, by perfumer Michael Boadi of Boadicea the Victorious fame, we learned, and soon, we were all scrambling for a sample.

Here it is on my desk as I type, and I can tell you this… it is indeed perfectly…well, the word ‘bridal’ does come to my cynical mind. It is soft, sweet, and very, very white. I do not, at any stage in its development, smell anything like gardenia.

Instead, what I sense is…something I might call first plastic doll, then ‘tropical accord’ that quickly fades away and cedes center stage to lily of the valley and jasmine without so much as a whisper of indole.

This is where my inner cynic shows her true colors. No gardenia, with that undertone of skank and Roquefort, and a jasmine that has been sent packing to reform school to learn proper, ladylike behavior, to sit up straight, mind her p’s and q’s, speak only in well-rounded vowels and never, ever, ever make a public scandal.

It’s perfectly demure, perfectly appropriate and I must say it, pretty in white. I could see why this would be a good choice on a day when over one billion people on Earth are parked in front of TVs with champagne and cake and all-out British mayhem to stare at you and take apart every element of your wedding. It’s not the kind of perfume to call attention to itself, it’s not old-fashioned but rather very modern in a clean, white manner, and somewhere well before that pianissimo, indistinct amber wood drydown, I’m well and thoroughly…bored.

I wouldn’t mind this on someone as elegant as the Duchess, in fact, I wouldn’t mind it at all on anyone else but me. There is not one jarring note, nothing except a smooth, white, floral seamless blend that reminds me of nothing so much as scented feminine hygiene products.

That alone should make it huge in Japan.

Meanwhile, I sit here and contemplate…weddings. I wore vintage Magie Noir to my own almost eleven years ago, a hastily arranged affair orchestrated by the mother-in-law-Zilla in her living room, where the bride wore a black suit and sandals one size too big with five-inch heels, so I wouldn’t look too embarrassing beside the 6’ 6” groom.

Now, that part of my own life is over, and in the highly unlikely event I ever say ‘I do’ again, I wouldn’t wear Magie Noir, and I could never wear white. I would want something rich and complex and even indolic. Say, Serge Lutens’ ‘Fleurs d’Oranger’ for instance, which does have wedding associations but is not demure in the slightest. Amouage ‘Ubar’ is another complicated joyride I might consider, or Ormonde Jayne’s ‘Frangipani’, perfect for a barefoot ceremony on a Hawaiian beach with your feet in the surf.

But in my own perfect world, saying ‘I do!’ to someone as idiosyncratic, complex and iconoclastic as myself, I’d choose something else. I’d want something to reflect the complicated woman I am now and the challenges we would meet. I would honor, cherish, respect and love – if never obey! – and I would wear Aftelier’s ‘Cepes and Tuberose’. It suits my sensibilities in a way White Gardenia Petals doesn’t. I’m not tall enough, thin enough, young enough, idealistic enough or nearly pretty enough to wear it, but I’ll bet plenty of women will.

Illuminum White Gardenia Petals should be a smash success. And huge in Japan!

A big fragrant hug to Thomas, who made it possible!

Notes according to Luckyscent: Lily, white gardenia, muguet, jasmine, amber wood.

Illuminum White Gardenia Petals is available in the US at Luckyscent, and at Roullier White in Europe.

L’Eau Déesse – Goddess Water

A review of Serge Lutens’ Fleurs D’Oranger

My mother always said I’d come to no good. My mother also said that one should never underestimate the importance of a very good bra – and a killer perfume.

She was right in both instances. Then again, in a certain manner of speaking, it’s all her fault anyway. She should never have taken me to Paris, never have taken me to Dior and Guerlain, never have bought me my first bottles of Miss Dior and Jicky, never, ever worn so many of the glorious perfumes I will always associate with her – Fidji, Shalimar, Mitsouko, Narcisse Noire, First. As a child, I remember sneaking into her closet and closing the door, breathing in Eau de Maman, and thinking – if this was what womanhood smelled like, it couldn’t possibly be bad.

Now that I’m a woman grown, now that my mother has passed away, now I discover that – it is. Not just bad – but horrific.

Because now, I have graduated into the perfumeaholic equivalent of heroin, of crack cocaine, of…one is far too many and two not nearly enough.

Now, I own my first bell jar of Serge Lutens, and it’s all a slippery downhill ski jump from here. My bank account may never recover.

Back when I first grew addicted to perfume blogs, one name kept coming up. Serge Lutens. The sweet, occult secret of the initiated few. It was said that Serge Lutens perfumes were emotions bottled, olfactory journeys caught in glass, the epitome of what all true perfumes should be, but in this over-regulated, mass-market, youth-obsessed fruitchouli age, so rarely are. They are not mass market, not made to definite demographics, not…common.

These epiphanies are not advertised and in a few cases, rather discombobulating as perfumes go. So…some long time later, I made an effort to investigate the brouhaha for myself, draw my own conclusions and sample them for myself.

It didn’t take more than a few minutes to determine that in my quest for liquid divinity, my perpetual search for something as unusual and unique as myself, Absolute Essence of Tarleisio, I had, at last, arrived.

It was just a matter of time before I had my hot little hands on The Drug – a bell jar but which one? So many of them and so little cash.

So when I finished my first ever novel – all 170000+ words, and in less than nine months – I decreed that my carrot henceforward would be a bell jar of Serge for every completed book, and another – it is to be hoped – for every time I have a hardcover copy in my hand.

A good thing I’m just young enough to be prolific, because so far, nine bottles have my name on them, and those are just the ones I’ve tried.

Alors – a bell jar. I finally decided on the one that completely swept me off my feet from the second I tried it – Fleurs D’Oranger. Orange, bergamot, lemon and all citrus notes have always been my favorites, and orange trees are my favorite trees. I blame my Florida childhood.

Orange blossom is one of the most used notes in perfumes. You would be hard-pressed to name a few classics that don’t contain at least a little. Orange blossom can be…innocent, bridal, fresh, summery, invigorating or – ask anyone with access to an orange grove in full bloom – heady and dizzying.

A few years ago, I invested in a bottle of Dior’s ‘Escale à Portofino’, another orange blossom perfume, and loved it. Sultry, however, was not a word I would use to describe it. It was flirty, lighthearted, summery sunshine in a bottle.

Staring a long, dismal winter in the face in the not-too-distant future, heady sounded like just what I needed to put the va-va in my voom.

My precious arrived the day before yesterday. I almost swooned with pleasure, and that was before I had even opened the box.

I was not disappointed. Because this is the scent of Happy In A Bottle, distilled Absolute Essence of Tarleisio. From the first exuberant arpeggio of true orange blossom and the swelling orchestra of jasmine and tuberose building to a honeyed bright yellow-orange crescendo and finally, to a zesty drydown of orange and nutmeg, this is – heavenly. Not in the light, flirty, fashionable way of Escale á Portofino, nothing in the least like Prada’s wan, anorexic Infusion de Fleurs d’Oranger, this is hot-blooded, sultry, sexy, all-out w-o-m-a-n, drawing honeybees and testosterone bombs by the dozen. Small children will come closer and snuggle on your lap, strange men will ask for your phone number and a dinner date yesterday, just so they can breathe it in. Resistance will be futile. They will be assimilated. Other women will eye you askance, wondering what on Earth is THAT…that breath of celestial happy you exude?

Some have complained about the note of cumin that sneaks in, adding a touch of human sweat to the proceedings, but on me, the cumin combines with the nutmeg to become spicy and smoky, and I don’t get so much as a whiff of skank, or if I do, I could care less.

And that was only three drops. Three drops applied with a cotton swab that permeated my entire apartment, my clothes and even my pillow thirty-six hours later, wafting through my dreams. This is potent to the max. So potent, so outrageously sexy, I really can’t see this on anyone under the age of thirty-five. It takes experience to handle this kind of mojo with conviction. It takes confidence to handle this kind of sillage. A little dab will do you, and if you spray, spray wisely, otherwise your surroundings will be swooning.

On my skin, which usually eats citrus-based scents in nothing flat, it lasted over twenty-four hours, and on cloth, even longer. The orange blossom is apparent from the first seconds all the way to the far drydown, and that’s another unusual thing about this perfume. It’s all about the orange blossom, but it is not boring, not bland, not one-dimensional.

I breathe it in, and I am all of a piece, happy, comfortable in my devastatingly sexy skin, wafting blossom and promises I may or may not keep, knowing I have become – if only for a while – a Goddess walking the Earth.

If this perfume were a Tarot card, it would be the Queen of Wands. Self-contained, sexy, secure, creative, inspiring and strong.

A lot like the woman I try to be. So I better finish off those bestsellers…

Fleurs D’Oranger, an eau de parfum, is in the export line of Serge Lutens perfumes, and available in the 50 ml oblong bottle at Barneys NYC, Luckyscent and Aedes in the US, and at Salons Shiseido in Paris. The 75 ml bell jar – the limited edition – is only available to customers in Europe. I have read elsewhere that there is a definite difference in strength between the oblong bottle and the bell jar, with the bell jar being stronger.

Image: Parfums Serge Lutens, Salons Shiseido, Palais Royal, Paris