The Best of 2012 – Perfumes and Perfumers

C4crown

 – Perfumes and perfumers

It’s that time of the year again when I have the agonizing task of determining the best perfumes of 2012. What did I love, what did I loathe? What did we write and what did I wear?

Just as last year, my Best of list will be in three (long) parts. First, the perfumes and perfumers that – and who – blew my mind in so many different ways. This list is limited to those I’ve actually tried and/or reviewed. I can’t keep up any longer, and I’m not sure what irritates me most – that so many perfumes were launched, or that no matter how I try, I just can’t try them all, darn it! Next comes an ode to the words, the friends and the facilitators who did so much to improve upon what I otherwise consider an annus horribilis of my own, and last, but not least, my personal list of what I wore and adored this year.

The more I’ve written about perfume, the more I’ve discovered the truth of that maxim – it doesn’t get any easier. If anything, quite the reverse. What does get easier is determining the duds from the dudes (and dudettes), the spectacular from the super-bad. As the saying goes – experience is a witch! 😉

Meanwhile, I have three fervent pleas.

Dear EU. You have a problem. Several powerful political lobbies and the IFRA wish to strengthen the substance ban and add far more natural substances used in perfumery for fear of allergic reactions. You also have a billion-euro industry of unparalleled history and heritage who depend on those very substances to make their money and so employ growers, suppliers and the thousands who work in the worldwide perfume industry. Here’s your problem. Do you give in to the political pressure – and lose all those thousands of jobs and billions of euros that pay your salary? Or do you wise up to an irrefutable fact – the people who might react are not the people who wear perfume. I hope for the best – and try to quell that tiny smidge that makes me fear for the worst…

Dear perfume houses – niche, indie and otherwise. Please. For the love of contraband oakmoss – no more oud ANYTHING, OK? Enough is enough. Let those poor, overharvested aquilaria trees just grow for a change, and get back to me in about 30 years.

One more thing. I do hope you’re listening. If you’re going to call something ‘Noir’, make sure it emphatically IS…Noir. (This doesn’t apply to Tom Ford, who knows better.) Instead, I got saddled with Chanel’s Coco Noir. I had such high hopes. Once again, they were dashed to smithereens. Note to Jacques Polge – next time, call it Chanel Greige.

Here are my fragrant epiphanies of 2012 – the best and the worst of what this year had to offer.

Best New Line:

Although technically launched at the very end of last year, the trio of carefully curated perfumes from Neela Vermeire Creations has taken the perfume world by storm this year – for a very good reason. Orchestrated with perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour, her fragrant odes to her native India past and present – Trayee, a numinous song of the distant past and sacred ceremony, the luminous Moghul rose that is Mohur, and the Bollywood extravaganza of exuberance that is Bombay Bling  – an homage to India’s dynamic, fast-moving present and future – are all richly complex, ever-evolving, multi-layered and textured tapestries, a bit like the mood rings I wore as a teenager, since I never quite know what magic carpet rides they will provide this time or what stories will follow, except they will be as fabulous, as colorful and as kaleidoscopic as India surely is and ever was.

Best Discovery:

Sometimes, I suspect that Fate/Destiny/Kismet has plans for me. I rarely enter draws or competitions, but one competition I did enter was a Facebook competition from Roman luxury retailer Campomarzio70 for a chance to try vero profumo’s newest launch, and vero profumo was at the very top of my Dying to Try list and has been for years. Lo and behold, I was one of the lucky ones, and lo and behold – not only did I receive a sample of Mito, I also received samples of both the extraits and eaux de parfums of Vero Kern’s line. I’ll have more to say about vero profumo, but I’m thoroughly, utterly delighted to state that they were all of them everything I could have hoped for and so very much more.

Theme songs

1. The War of the Roses

2012 was a year of some spectacular roses, not simply variations on a theme but roses reinvented and made into new, improved versions of themselves, and this year brought me three breathtaking roses – and one I have yet to review, but I’ll be getting back to that one. My personal 2012 Trinity of Rose – I can’t choose between them and wouldn’t dare to try – consists of the decadent, mossy, silk-velvet Ballets Rouges by Olympic Orchids, Aftelier’s joyously delicious Wild Roses and Neela Vermeire Creations opulent, majestic Mohur. The war referred to in the heading is simply the one that goes on in my mind deciding which one to wear!

2. The Color Of My Hopes

This diehard green-floral fan was thoroughly delighted to see that she wasn’t the only one who loved her greens and wore them, too. The most original take on that particular theme was definitely vero profumo’s Mito, which is my Green of the Year. But another new line’s highly original spin on that well-loved riff deserves singling out, and that is the Green Feral Thang that is Kerosene’s aptly named Creature. Alas, I loved that tiny sample so much I have nothing left to review it with.

3. The Chypre Continuum

Despite whatever the IFRA might say to the contrary, three stellar chypres were launched this year that bear no resemblance to those wan, pathetic, patchouli-laden wannabes called ‘chypres’ in mainstream perfumery. These three are far, far above and way beyond them all. Two I’ve already reviewed, Amouage’s Beloved and the effervescent Parfums d’Empire’s Azemours L’Oranger, the last of the three came to me fairly recently thanks to a perfume angel. MDCI’s Chypre Palatin – yes, expect to see a review soon – is a blatant, deliriously great gauntlet thrown in the face of all who would do away with those dark, earthy, mossy depths so many of us love – and wear with no ill effects whatsoever.

4. Perfume stories

Two tales involving perfume have become a huge part of my own personal scent trail in 2012, and I say this in all humility since one of those stories was my own. The one that wasn’t (which I have yet to read) was L’Artisan Parfumeur’s showstopping Seville à l’Aube, created by Bertrand Duchaufour (I swear, the man was everywhere this year!) in collaboration with Denyse Beaulieu of Grain de Musc for her book ‘The Perfume Lover’. Once that fatal word ‘orange blossom’ began to be thrown around as the rumors grew before its launch, I swept in like a hawk on the hunt and acquired a decant of Seville à l’Aube blind – and never in the history of this perfume blogger did the level of perfume drop so fast in a decant, not for lack of alternatives. This blend of rose-tinted memory and glorious orange blossom, beeswax, a most unusual lavender and thick, dancing swirls of incense is, in a word, flawless. Rumor has it that Denyse and Bertrand have plans for an extrait version called ‘Duende’. I pale to contemplate what it might be like. When that decant goes, I will cry. Buckets. Streams. Rivers!

About that other one…Once upon a time, I concocted a story out of boredom that I wrote all the way to the day I wrote ‘The End’ – and have rewritten several times since. Thanks to my partner-in-crime, Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids, the Devilscent Project was resurrected as a group project involving some of the very best bloggers in the blogosphere – and the very best indie perfumers in the US. Neil Morris, no stranger to danger and a monumentally talented perfumer, joined the project and then proceeded to blow my poor proboscis to smithereens by bottling up the first chapter of the tale – and calling it Midnight at the Crossroads Café. All the elements of that first chapter are contained within its depths: the smoky, late-night café, the chill of looming winter, the cinnamon and spices wafting from the mulled wine, the remnants of an evening to remember, the danger, the desire, the Devil, the deal…There’s nothing at all on Planet Perfume quite like it. I cried my immensely flattered, floored, grateful tears the day it arrived and many times since whenever I wear it.

Speaking of invoking my inner Drama Queen…one august personage loves nothing more than to induce apoplexy at the post office, apoplexy that means a large, smoking trail of blackest profanity, a not-at-all clandestine spray because I can’t bloody help myself and eff-what-they-think, followed by that unfortunate I-so-have-to-sit-down-now moment. Christopher Chong has had not just an awful lot on his plate this year, he also has that on his conscience! As well as…

Best Post Office Apoplexy – and my Amber of the Year:

Amouage Opus VI. If anything redefined amber as something new and audacious, surely it was Opus VI. Dry, smoky, woody, complex and raspy, it’s extraordinary and yet a definite Amouage, and that’s precisely how I like my ambers – and my Amouages. Meanwhile, I’ve received funny looks at that post office ever since. They probably think I’m getting controlled substances in the mail. I am. And it’s all HIS fault!

Finest WTF moments:

Amouage Interlude Man & Woman

But Beloved wasn’t enough for this Perfume Torquemada. Opus VI wasn’t enough. Then came the coups-de-grace that were Interlude Man and Woman, and my doom was as total as my confusion, since I came by necessity to discover that the labels has been switched on my samples. Interlude Woman was Interlude Man, and vice versa. Or his vice was my versa. Or something. Whatever the case, these two bottled odes to the cacophony and chaos of modern life – and the deep, deep breaths we take in order to cope with them – were astonishing. And nearly impossible to review, since I barely knew where to start. Even now, even today, I wrestle with those obstinate genies who refuse to give anything away, yet insist all the same… “We haff vays to make you talk…” Oh, yes. In tongues long dead and likely forgotten, but talk, I do! The problem, as my readers are surely aware, is shutting up!

That other Christopher (Sheldrake) whose work I so adore – and the devious if not diabolical Creative Director he works in tandem with, M. Lutens  – was no slouch this year, either. Parfums Serge Lutens gave us…

My Favorite Bottled Air Conditioning:

The Serge Lutens line known as L’Eaux tend to be a bit divisive. I happen to like the original L’Eau, (a decided minority), but ‘like’ turned to love when L’Eau Froide arrived in February during an epic spell of freezing weather. It since became a summer staple on those (rare) hot summer days with its unique combination of rosemary/pine/eucalyptus and chilly Somali incense. No matter where I went or what I did, I was – literally – Cool, Calm and (very) Collected. If there were two words that encapsulate all L’Eau Froide is to me, they would be Chill and Out.

Got Wood?

Sandalwood? If we’re talking the fabled Mysore sandalwood, the answer is probably not. Over-harvested to near-extinction, adulterated and even counterfeited, the real Mysore sandalwood is nearly impossible to come by any longer. Australian sandalwood, however – a different species of tree and a different fragrance – is not. Frankly, I don’t mind too much, since the arrival of Santal Majuscule – using that Australian sandalwood – will likely completely make you forget you even miss the real thing, with its spicy cocoa-rosy ribbons wrapped around a rich, creamy sandalwood heart. Obey my commands if not my deeds, ye sandalwood lovers. Try it!

Most Dangerous/Sexy Perfumes of 2012, Masculine:

Anything named Dev, from Esscentual Alchemy, Neil Morris Fragrances, House of Cherry Bomb, Olympic Orchids or the Perfume Pharmer. Trust me. I know.

Most Dangerous/Sexy Perfumes of 2012, Feminine:

Anything named Lil or Lilith from Neil Morris Fragrances, House of Cherry Bomb, Olympic Orchids, and certainly Babylon Noir from Opus Oils, too. Trust me. I know.

Tropical Escape Hatch

Another line that was new to me (if not to the rest of Planet Perfume) was Micallef, and my shameless self-promotion on Facebook and Twitter meant that a sample package arrived in the mail one sunshiney day – with one broken vial, but I won’t hold that against them. There will be more reviews of Micallef to follow – but for now, let’s just say that whenever the winter blahs blow too hard, I now have the tropical escape hatch that is their beautiful Ylang in Gold. Just knowing it’s there glowing in my cabinet tends to make the snow, the rain, the wind somehow easier to bear.

Disappointment, Guaranteed!

It was a spectacular campaign. It was a no less spectacular premise. Even the bottle was, well…spectacular. What wasn’t quite so spectacular were the contents of Lady Gaga’s ‘Fame’. I wish I could say that might have been the whole idea – you’ve been had by a concept – but alas, that might be asking for more meta than even Lady Gaga could supply. Likewise, the much-anticipated ‘Truth or Dare’ by Madonna was a monumental…letdown. I’ll give celebufumes a chance, but throwing Fracas into the cotton candy-machine and calling this fluffy-bunny over-sugared Da-Glo pink tuberose ‘Truth or Dare’ is neither truthful nor particularly daring. C’mon, Madge. We had expectations. Until we didn’t. Sic transit…For one, I never in my wildest flu-ish phantasmagorias expected to write ‘fluffy bunny’ about a tuberose. ‘Nuff said!

From the overthought Unintentional Hilarity Department:

Brad Pitt for Chanel no. 5 could have really rearranged everyone’s mental furniture. It did, but in ways not even the marketing department of Chanel could have anticipated. We were howling with laughter…over the pretension of it all. Since Brad Pitt as a rule doesn’t make me laugh and neither does Chanel these days, that’s…something, just not what Chanel might have been hoping for.

Dear readers, you have all been so patient, so forgiving of all the verbiage. But wait! There’s more! For this year, I hand the baton of Truly And Epically Spectacular Perfumers to…a collective united by a project that took them places and made them create perfumes as perfumes might never have been created before, and an individual that means I’ll likely cook my goose most thoroughly. Since I’m not afraid of controversy – or flying bottles of Britney Spears Circus Fantasy – I’ll plow in regardless.

Perfumers of 2012 – Collective

The perfumers of the Devilscent Project as a whole claim one half of the Perfumer’s Prize. I had no idea one snowbound weekend in January preparing the brief, just what would lie in store or what marvels would be created. But in essence and absolute, Amanda Feeley of Esscentual Alchemy, Neil Morris of Neil Morris Fragrances, Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids, Monica Miller of Perfume Pharmer, Katlyn Breene of Mermade Magickal Incense Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl of House of Cherry Bomb and Kedra Hart of Opus Oils threw away all the rules and the book they were written in, too – and made my Faustian tale of desires, dreams, love, rock’n’roll and redemption into something brand-new and most wondrous strange – strange for being impossible to classify, wondrous for being, well, some of the sultriest, sexiest, most salaciously hair-raising, inhibition-killing, zipper-popping, bodice-ripping perfumes ever made – anywhere, so long as you parked your preconceptions by the wayside and followed them down the rabbit hole, the Chelsea Hotel, a street in Ditmas Park – or that midnight café.  I’ll have much more to say about them – I have four reviews to go and a wrap-up post, but for now and for always, the technical skills and all-out sinfulness of all the Devilscent Project’s seventeen scents are staggering testaments to a maxim I learned while writing the book – that inspiration is everything, and so long as you dare to follow where it takes you, anything can happen, and sometimes, miracles, too.

Independent Perfumer of 2012

I’ve been writing this post off and on in my head since October, thinking about what should make my list and who I should single out for praise. Yet no matter which ways I sliced or diced it, my mind kept coming back to a man with a stunning string of massive successes just this year alone, and he’s given us perfumistas so many epiphanies in so many bottles for quite some time.

Therefore, I’m going to court controversy and hand it to… Bertrand Duchaufour. For his work with Neela Vermeire Creations, for his work with L’Artisan Parfumeur and Denyse Beaulieu, for the breathtaking Chypre Palatin and for never, ever falling back on a formula and repeating his own artistic predilections. Like all the best of any art in any genre, a Duchaufour is always recognizable, yet always surprising.

Having said that, one of his artistic collaborations blew up in his face and all over the blogosphere as well as perfume boards – namely, his creation of a line of perfumes for Gulnara Karamova, the daughter of Uzbekistan’s dictator, who apparently has plans to become either a fashion designer or a pop star with a celebufume of her own. The problem isn’t that she at least had the supreme good taste to go for the best – the problem, of course, is whether an artist is ethically responsible for the questionable actions of his patrons.

Never mind we mortals will likely never even see these perfumes in our part of the world. The rest of Planet Perfume learned about it via an article in the UK newspaper The Independent, which was picked up by a number of perfume blogs. Next we knew, all hell broke loose as so many rushed to deride the ubiquitous M. Duchaufour, his works and his choice of collaborators. People swore never to buy another of his perfumes again. People threw out entire, costly bottles. Planet Perfume felt somehow betrayed in its illusions of the beautiful world of perfume, when the fact is – it’s every bit as dirty, as filthy, as infested and as cutthroat as any other business these days. And much as it pains me to say it – it IS…a business, for all we prefer or hope to believe otherwise.

It was an interesting debate, not least for what it never really said. If M. Duchaufour were to lose his professional reputation over his trip to Uzbekistan (one commenter stated his career was over, which is a tad over-dramatic) – one of the most severely repressed countries in the world – shouldn’t it by rights follow that the august fashion houses of Dior, Chanel, Balenciaga, Balmain, Dolce & Gabbana et al. should surely be shunned/boycotted, too, for clothing Miss Karamova? After all, it is the precise same problem.

Or – if the questionable ethics of patrons really were the point, then how do you explain the Italian Renaissance – financed by a whole bunch of emphatically and epically questionable so-called ‘nobles’ in Florence, Milan, and Rome? Do we now boycott the Mona Lisa since Leonardo Da Vinci was employed by Cesare Borgia (no Snow White!) at one point in his illustrious career? Would Da Vinci be responsible for what Cesare Borgia and the Papal armies did to Italy? He did make several lethal war-machines, after all…

Or do we simply say…even artists are people, too, and people do like to eat and support themselves and their families as best they can. So artists will go where the money is and hope for a creative challenge if they’re lucky, and the rest is…what it is. You don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

Here’s what I believe. Anyone can make mistakes. If they’re smart – as I definitely suspect M. Duchaufour is – they’ll learn from them and…move on. As I suspect he will, and hopefully, his legions of enlightened fans will follow. The art supersedes the artist, and the art Duchaufour has created and unleashed upon the world this year alone has done so very much to improve upon my world and my life.

As for the artist – I also have reasons to believe he still has a few aces up his sleeve, and is just waiting to unleash them upon an eager world. Here’s hoping! Bertrand Duchaufour, this was your year. You do have a few more left, yes?

So many perfumes – and so little time! What were your favorites of 2012? What trends did you love – or hate – and what do you hope lies in store for 2013?

Stay tuned for Part Two of the Best of 2013 – in friends, in phrases and in facilitators…

Note: This blog expresses my own independent opinions and views and I am never compensated for any reviews or review lists.

A Waft of Woe

– Flotsam & jetsam, gratitude & anticipation 

The image above perfectly sums up the week I’ve just finished, although ‘lovely’ isn’t the word I’d choose…

Let me start by saying I’m fully aware that the frequency of posts (and no shortage of Way Overdue Reviews) has been sporadic these past couple of months. Ladies and gentlemen – I’ve had about two months of Mondays in that overrated dimension called ‘real life’.

Major changes and massive preoccupations have done everything they could to tear me away from what I’ve really wanted to do more than anything, and that was – for that matter, still emphatically is – to write. Three old-school spiral-bound notebooks – the kind that demand démodé pens or pencils and my own brand of schizoid Linear C handwriting – go where I do in case the Next Great Idea pops up out of the blue – three notebooks of three different writing projects that I plan to feed, water and grow into books. Although one of them you might know about, the other two are super-secret, and one of them involves – yes, you guessed it! – that nebulous, shape-shifting subject of…perfume.

My own collection – which seems to propagate like bacteria as soon as I look the other way – is packed away in acres of bubble wrap, electrical tape, bubblepak envelopes and cardboard boxes within a suitcase. My new (cute if tiny) apartment is being renovated from scratch, and until I can move in a few weeks from now, there they remain, whispering their secrets and haunting my dreams.

Meanwhile, life gets in the way…and this became patently clear this past week, when I’ve been glued to social media and the New York Times, frantic for all my extended family and friends in the Northeast US which received a sucker punch of its own named Sandy. I’m thrilled to say that they made it through in one piece, although not without consequences no one ever could have wished for. Sitting in my own cozy corner of Europe, snuggled up against the chill of winter watching the devastation wrought by the storm has broken my heart in several places, but if anything at all gives me hope, it’s that ‘we’ll be damned if we let this get us down’ attitude displayed by so many of those affected despite their devastating losses. If that’s not an inspiration and an attitude to emulate, what is?

The idea that I could ever inspire anyone at all blows me completely away. When it comes from two fellow perfume writers (and forces of nature in their own right!) I admire as much as the divalicious Perfume Pharmer and Portia of Australian Perfume Junkies, I have to puncture my ego, just in case!

Monica of the Perfume Pharmer – who has literally saved my own crocodile hide this year with her African Gold shea butter – interviewed me in a timeline format on Perfume Pharmer. If you ever wondered why I’m a bit strange, I blame my first babysitter…

Some time ago in a perfume exchange, I sent the fab Portia some Devilscent samples I thought she should have the chance to try. These perfumes are so outside anything in niche perfumery these days, I thought it could be interesting to find her take on them. That’s what we fumeheads do – spread the joys of our discoveries! Yesterday, she returned the favor by reviewing Olympic Orchids’ Dev no. 2 and Lil on the Perfume Posse, and interviewing yours truly on her own blog, Australian Perfume Junkies. (My own reviews are here and there.) I feel so privileged to have met and connected with so many hugely inspiring people through my perfume writing – and Monica and Portia are two of my own inspirations, so thank YOU, ladies! Reviews of two more Devilscents will follow…and more are coming in other venues, which is all I’m able to say for now. Stay tuned!

Two months ago, thanks to the kind of serendipitous networking that never happens except when it does, the book that inspired the Devilscent Project landed on an editor’s desk when I least expected – or was prepared for! – it. Although it wasn’t a natural fit for the publisher, I received the kind of feedback any aspiring writer would gladly kill for – and received several road maps for the final edit. So when I’m finally settled in my new digs, I’m going to buckle down and polish Quantum Demonology to a high and glossy patent leather sheen – when I’m not noodling with the super-secret perfume book and another project that isn’t perfume-related but something much more controversial. When a fellow writer throws down a gauntlet, issues a challenge and dares me to kick away a few boundaries, anything can – and likely will! – happen. “Your mission, should you choose to accept it…” And just like that, I did. Be afraid…

Anticipation is one of my most favorite emotions. There are four remaining Devilscent reviews, and I feel a pang in my heart just thinking about them. Opus Oils’ contribution, the mind-blowing Babylon Noir arrived right before my move, and on this side of the Atlantic, it’s caused quite the sensation among my adventurous-minded girl friends. Two more of Neil Morris’ showstoppers have yet to be reviewed, and my one regret is not just that I only have four DSP posts to go, but that until I move, I also don’t have the time or space to write about them, and it’s killing me – not softly!

I’m anticipating not a few wonders in the weeks to come, including Aftelier’s new Wild Rose (anything Mandy does is grounds for Major Anticipation), Serge Lutens’ Une Voix Noire, and yet more wonders from one of my newest discoveries, Juan M. Perez of Exotic Island Aromas and a few more novelties I should have written about months ago – some from another of my Primeval Forces that had me hauling out the hyperbole – they’re that good!

Most of all, I’m anticipating the simple joys of my own space, my own place under the eaves, and banging away until the cows come home without other distractions than Hairy Krishna. I’m looking forward to unpacking my perfumes and samples and wearing them all.  I’m looking forward to blasting the neighbors with vintage punk, classic metal and the new release from another favorite band. (I wore their last release to shreds!). I look forward to the day life returns to mostly normal for my self-selected family of friends in New York and New Jersey. I look forward to all those fragrant epiphanies I know lie in wait and…since I broke my little finger yesterday, I look forward to the day I can remove the splint and move my hand around without yelping! And last, but never least, I look forward to the day I can write about it all – so you, dear readers, can read all about it!

Soft as Sin

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT X

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT X

– a review of Skye Botanical’s ‘Dev’ massage bar

One moment, my apartment will be quiet, nothing more than the sounds of the street outside, the hum of the fridge in the kitchen, Janice Divacat’s occasional whimper in her sleep, and only the tap-tap-tap of my laptop as I wrestle with the chimerae of the virtual page, the sometime metallic clang of the spoon in my glass of Earl Grey. I never know when he’ll come (or if he does), but I always know he’ll leave in the blink of an eye at the precise moment I look away.

That night as I went to bed, I wondered whether Dev would make an appearance, if he might have something to say about this sage-tinted wonder I had slathered on my skin after a long, luxurious bath and wafted in my wake, wondered if he would weave his way into a dream as he so often does. Sometimes, he’s a glimpse over my shoulder, seen out of the corner of my eye as a Cheshire Cat grin that wavers in the air as substantial as smoke, as wishes, as all dreams must be, and other times as concrete and as tangible as the reality of the keyboard beneath my fingers trying to make all those fervent dreams just as solid, and just as touchable.

The thing is, I never know.

So that night I woke with a start at some nameless hour in the dark. The cobwebs from a jumbled dream still clung to my mind, a dream of people I knew and places, too, a dream where he appeared and kept to himself, glowering with a stiff set to his shoulders, aloof and alone behind the aviator shades. When I had a chance, I reached out and asked like an idiot: “Are you all right?”

He never answered. He shrugged me off and disappeared behind a concealed door. As I opened it and saw a concrete service stairwell heading down, I was surprised awake.

Dev was up against the wall at the foot of my bed, with Hairy Krishna on his back plastered up against his leg, belly fur glinting silver sparks in the moonlight almost as loud as his purr.

“Miss me?” he said with a soon-to-be-famous grin.

“Umm…I’m not sure. You’ve been gone a long time.” I rubbed my eyes and tried not to think about that perfume in the air that surrounded me like the gossamer shreds of a dream. It was so incredibly distracting. It was the scent of trouble, just waiting to happen.

“How can I be a muse if I can’t make things happen for you? Trust me, baby, if you got used to having me around for too long, it would get old. So… I wandered out in the world and…made things happen.”

“That you did.” I decided to let it slide. “So…what do you think? Does the idea of being ‘flagellated by euphoric hops, dangerous damiana and stinging nettles’ do anything for you?” I referred to the very tongue-in-cheek description I received with my little sackcloth bag of wonder, stuffed full of herbs and a decadently perfumed green massage bar at least as devious as its description.

“Depends on who’s cracking those nettles!” he laughed. “I really, really like the concept, though. Perfume on the pulse points. Sure. That’s all fine and good. But why stop there? Why not be dangerous all over, from…” he leaned forward, right beside me in the dark, and dangerous was at least as good a word as any for how I felt that moment as he breathed into my ear, “your neck all the way down to your toes?” As he moved away, I could see a twinkle in his eyes, even in the dark.

This perfume was trouble, no question about it, with stinging nettles and without them.

“I’m not sure I’m awake enough to have this kind of salacious conversation. I’ve got other places to put those, if you want to be salacious.”

“True. It’s not entirely fair.” Dev shrugged, and as he did, Hairy Krishna rolled over with a whimper and jumped off the bed with an irritated swish of his tail as he headed for a midnight snack and a chance to sneak up on Janice Divacat, his other favorite midnight activity.

“You know,” he went on after a while, “I think one of the most interesting things is how your perfumers took the same brief, the same ingredient – labdanum – and the same characters – Lilith and me – and did such vastly different things with them. Monica’s…here’s the feral Dev, the wild one, the sylvan Dev, the Pan in the forest, lurking behind an Arcadian bush to trap a lucky nymph…”

“Or just one unlucky nymphomaniac in the concrete jungle. The bush is optional.” I countered. Maybe I was awake enough to have salacious conversations?

“You’re such a comedian,” he deadpanned. I knew precisely where to locate the origins of that brand of sarcasm on the map. “Hush. I’m writing your review.”

“You are?” This was news to me. “If I had known you were coming, I would have baked brownies.”

There was an ominous flash from the other end of my bed.

“I’m not finished. Sharp, biting, very, very green…what is that? Peppermint, pepper, basil, orange – whatever it is, it shocks you aware and even…” he laughed again. “Awake! So you did. I thought that would never happen. Aroused, even. In far more ways than even I can count!”

“I was dreaming about you.”

“That wasn’t me. That was your cousin Id. He’s crabby because he thinks you’ve ignored him for too long.”

“I knew I wore this to bed for a reason.” What I didn’t tell Dev was my reason was a hope to have precisely this conversation, but I would never, ever admit it.

“On we go…this is outrageously complex stuff. It’s masculine, but not macho, teetering on the brink of floral but never quite falling all the way in, spicy, but nothing in the slightest like those other spicy Devs. Did I say it was green? Not Da-Glo green like Ellen’s Lilith, not those elegant dark green undertones of Neil’s first mod, but…it reminds me of something…”

With those words, Dev slid off the bed and rummaged around in my perfume cabinet. On one side – the left, of course – the Devilscents glowed their ominous ambers in the dark. “Ah! Here they are…” And he hauled out the little (green) velvet bag from Esscentual Alchemy.

“This is where things get fascinating,” he said after sniffing back and forth between my arm and the vials in their velvet bag. “See, Amanda put heartbreak into her Devs – at least, they broke my heart, and you know, they still do, with that punch of fir. Monica, on the other hand, has a different plan here…this sylvan Dev is the one you’re only too happy to follow into the dark, you really don’t give a good goddamn about the consequences, you’re too curious to find out what happens next and what happens next is…well, we all know what that is.”

I leaned back against the wall and watched his shadow in the moonlight from the window by the bed. “That sacred firelight of labdanum and frankincense,” I went on as I caught his train of thought like I had so often before, “the embers of patchouli and spice and cedar that glow in the dark like all the best secrets and unforgettable as all the most glorious transgressions…”

“Burning on your skin in the firelight,” he breathed into my ear again, “That skin as soft and as silken as all the best sins must be, the sins you always want to remember…”

I didn’t move. The room was at least fifteen degrees warmer than it was when I went to bed. Firelight and heat, sylvan secrets and silky sin…A very warm hand that slipped and slid up that velvet-soft trail of sylvan bonfires on my skin…

“As soft…” his voice was a low, baritone growl right by a very particular spot just below my ear… “as sin itself…”

I blinked, tried to grasp some gossamer threads of composure, and as I did, I caught a flash of silvery moonlight, that haunting, dangerous, green perfume called Dev, called Trouble, called perdition and much else besides…

But he was gone. All he left behind was that scent and skin, as soft as sin itself.

Notes: Pink pepper, peppermint, lemon, coriander, marjoram, blood orange, petitgrain, basil, fir absolute, tuberose absolute, geranium absolute, lavender absolute, clary sage absolute, strawberry furanone, labdanum, cocoa butter, frankincense, cedarwood, patchouli CO2, benzoin, cinnamon, beeswax, Javanol (synthetic sandalwood)

Original image: Orcatek Photography Workshops

Find Skye Botanical’s deviously delicious Dev massage bar here. It is also available as an eau de parfum by request. With profound thanks to Monica Miller of Skye Botanicals. Without whom …;-)

The Edible Dev (with a giveaway!)

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT IX

–  a review of Neil Morris’ Dev mod #2

Dear Neil –

It’s about time I said hello again, don’t you think? I mean, the brief only told you so much. The rest of it was nothing more nor less than her words, your imagination and those astonishing perfumes you’ve created for her project – perfumes you might never have dreamed of making if not for the impetus of that idea, those words, a friend’s persuasion, and your own intrigued curiosity.

She isn’t writing this review. Right this instant, she’s asleep in the borderline hour between night and day, tinted the twilit blue before sunrise. Hairy Krishna is curled up against the small of her back as he always is, guarding her against any intruding dreamtime monsters, just not me. Let her sleep. The poor woman has a lot on her plate these days, as all women do, what with blog backlog, Super Mario Jr., book ideas, the sequel bubbling away at a steady 80 mph, correspondence, social media and that q-word that gives her so many nightmares…the query letters she will submit for Quantum Demonology before this year is too much older.

You and I know…it’s a good book. It will probably raise more than a few eyebrows and likely not a few hackles, too, but if people push misleading, craptacular ‘naughty’ drivel to the top of the NY Times bestseller list, then I know other, far more discerning readers will certainly be intrigued enough by Quantum Demonology’s premise to buy it. After all, what’s not to love about rock’n’roll, a midlife crisis and a sexy, reinvented Faustian tale?

The problem, as you know, lies in that all-important step …to make the dream a reality. She’s so close. So close, so thrilled with the feedback and the reactions, and so petrifed to let all that faith in her story down. I think that’s what’s called action paralysis. It’s not that she doesn’t have faith in her book, it’s simply that she needs to believe she can do it. Write the f***ing query letter, that is. I have no doubts at all she is capable of writing anything else she damn well pleases and even fewer doubts she probably will and start several bonfires in the process, too. That much of a dyed-in-the-nylon-mesh punk she still is, bless her.

So I’m writing this review. After all, you’ve made bespoke perfumes for me. Not one, not two, but three. I like to think of them in musical terms – like movements in a symphony or maybe acts in an opera would be a better description…evolving even as you do when you create them. Who knew how narcissus and boronia could elevate such a dark, delicious, labdadum-luscious blend as your mod #1? Who could have conceived of such a thing as a coffee-tinged, boozy, utterly captivating chypre beast, or even the no less marvelous bottled mélange on her desk as I type these words, emblazoned with the DSP logo and those modest, unassuming letters…#2.

Did you imagine what you would do? Did this project maybe…stretch you a little, spark your creativity? Did it make you think a bit about the nature of light and dark, good, evil and how we perceive it, did you contemplate how to translate hallowed words like perdition, redemption, temptation and passion into the wordless medium… of perfume?

I sincerely hope it did. Actually, it’s less of a hope and more than an inkling that’s precisely what happened.

You see…all of you perfumers have surprised me. I like surprises. And #2 – a blood relation of #1, I can smell the resemblance in the structure – is nothing if not surprising.

If Quantum Demonology were a fairy tale – although you and I both know it’s not – this would be that certain famous bottle labeled “Eat me”.

Not that the sleeping writer in the other room hasn’t tried, but I’m known for my speedy getaways.

Here’s what I can tell: You, Mr. Morris, are no stranger to the dark, those twilight borders between the acceptable and the taboo, those unmentionable, incendiary, subconscious places where souls are made or devoured, and love and lust either bloom…or die.

#2 is – there is no other way to say it…An Edible Beast. This is me as a super-deluxe beefcake stew of temptation, of everything you could possibly want, close enough to touch, to kiss, to seduce or be seduced by…and that, dear perfumer, is only where this story begins to unfold all its perils and its promises.

Cumin and a melting, masculine leathery note so meaty you can almost imagine chewing them with your eyelashes, singing their duet in dangerous baritones…

Bite me, baby. You know you want to, oh, so very badly.

But this version of me is so much more…sweetness and light shining through that dense, thick aura. Not everyone could wear this, but then again, you made it for me and obviously, I’m not everyone. Something about it – it could be the cumin, or it could be the sweetness – something floral? Narcissus again? Something fruity? – tells about that other side of me, the secret me, that true self even I have that so few can comprehend, but you did.

Ellen chose to express me through her interpretation of the story as it unfolded. Maria and Alexis chose the contrasting tale of complements in their perfumes for me and for Lilith. Amanda told a tale of regret, redemption and the release of desire.

Neil, you chose another road into the tale my sleeping story-weaver wove, a road made of the desires of the flesh and the yearning of the spirit, knowing full well all throughout it would end…beautifully, if not badly.

So where does it end, my perfumer – where does this perfume land on the virtual page, what song does it segue into on my mortal, borrowed skin or even my immortal soul?

It ends with that heartbreaking, pitch-black labdanum, of frankincense and a melancholy tinge of myrrh. That too is a secret only a true initiate would know – sacred and profane, that darkness and light, good and evil, sweet and bitter, lust and love… are all one and all the same.

All aspects of the same story, all shades of the same profound emotions, and all of them here…part of, let’s call it…The Edible Dev.

I have to go. As I’ve written these words, the birds are blaring away outside and sunlight glows through her open window, as she dreams her restless dreams of what she could write. Hairy Krishna is flat on his back now, his head on her arm and I can tell, it won’t be long before he starts thinking about breakfast, and when he does, she will certainly wake up.

When she wakes, she’ll find this review already posted, and she’ll wonder at that, wonder at how and where and when…

Yet one thing will not surprise her – that I really truly was here in this room, typing away on her laptop, writing you these words.

She will know – since you told her that, too.

I’ll write you again, Neil. Count on it. If your art is anything to judge by, you and I have met before – so why not meet again – and soon?

Yours,

Dev

Neil Morris Fragrances are available here. 

******A Giveaway!*****

The devious Neil Morris was sweet enough to provide me with a sample spray for a giveaway! If your curiosity is killing you, leave a comment by July 31st at midnight CET. Everyone worldwide is eligible to enter. One winner will be determined by random.org on August 1st.

***********************

A Harrowing Beauty

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT  VIII

–  a review of House of Cherry Bomb’s ‘Lilith’ 

What makes villains so fascinating? Is it that they’re more often than not expressing something, doing or instigating something we ourselves would never dare? Don’t we all have that secret part of us that wants to be thoroughly, utterly b-a-d, just once, just to say we did?

I wonder what I might have been trying to say when Lilith appeared out of nowhere and made her presence known in no uncertain terms.

I wasn’t looking for her. I rather suspect she might have been looking for me…

Once we got to know each other, I felt a bit bad that maybe I hadn’t treated her entirely fairly. Maybe, as I told a friend recently, she was the quintessence of every she-dog I’d ever encountered – and I’ve known a few.

Maybe…she had it coming.

The principle. Darling.

And yet…even villains need a little compassion, a few lighter shades of gray in the mix, lest they become too predictable, too inhuman for a reader to relate to. The tragedy of Lilith in Quantum Demonology is the tragedy of so many women…the tragedy of making the wrong choice, of choosing the wrong guy, and then coming to terms with your own bitter disappointment – in yourself, which is always hardest to swallow.

So Lilith made a few bad choices, choices with consequences she could never have imagined, and I like to think that’s what makes her relatable even as the antagonist – throughout her long, long history with Dev, she paid a very high price for never daring to face that disappointment.

Instead, she chose to let the rest of the world pay for what she couldn’t face, and became Lilith, Queen of the Succubi, the ultimate female nightmare…and what would such a fabled, alluring creature be in a perfume? How would her character and her glamour be expressed and explored?

Where Ellen Covey painted her portrait in poison Da-Glo green, Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl of the House of Cherry Bomb chose to tell a very different story, one that glows equally vibrant but in an alternate key.

Make no mistake – this is lethal stuff. Maria and Alexis know far too much about blending the essential oil of danger with fever concrete and lust absolute, and this Lilith is no exception.

The Queen of the Succubi rules this perfume, that’s obvious from its shocking, unnerving beginnings all the way to…but I’m getting ahead of myself, and this will not do.

Floral and heady, leathery and earthy, with musky undertones and something else, something that smelled – poisonous, even tainted. It was very erotic and so domineering it cracked an olfactory whip at my nose.

 – From Quantum Demonology, ‘Latte with Lilith’

I will begin, as all stories should and perfume reviews, too.

With …the beginning.

Here she comes, black as night and blinding bright, making her presence felt with what I can only describe as a floral bouquet of carnivorous, rapacious blooms.

Beware the Polianthes.

She is out to devour you, get you as only she can when she gangs up with her equally heady, indolic ladies-in-waiting who lurk just behind her, wearing their sweetest smiles and their satin skins…the orange blossom breathing beautiful, the jasmine sighing a singular delicious promise she will never, ever keep.

Does this sound familiar, sound like something you might have breathed or loved before? Does it read as the well-beloved contents of a bottle you might even own?

I, who have survived this mortal peril in a perfume will tell you this for your own good:

You haven’t.

For no familiarity has ever graced these blooms that grew, were fed and were watered by the river Lethe, exuding their fatal majesty beneath a starless sky in Hell.  Breathe this perfume all the way in, and you will forget yourself as you breathe, forget you have ever known any other kind of splendor, forget all you ever were and everything you are. Forget the velvet-soft caress of those glowing moonlit petals, even as they slide across your skin and your soul and entwine themselves around you, you are far too transported to notice, even as they tighten, even as this sweet, honeyed breath threatens to stifle your own.

You will be lost, you will be doomed, and you won’t, you don’t, you are incapable of even thinking about the peril of your fate.

But there is more to Lilith than this, and as she tells this story you have never breathed before, she shifts in a stealthy, eerie segue to something equally sweet and even green, with heavy and heady intimations of musk that deepen and darken as she evolves, tinted ever blacker but never less than heavenly – or infernal, depending on your point of view. She growls her last on your skin hours and hours later with a bitter drydown that brands itself into your awareness and haunts those fevered dreams you can never admit in daylight to anyone at all.

I can guess what you’re thinking. Hyperbole, an overactive imagination, perhaps a glass of wine too many?

No. I am as sober as the empty page. It’s just …this perfume, you see, that takes away all common sense and all inhibition and haunts everyone it devours in its path.

I even like to believe that the silk scarf I forgot on my one date of the year, a scarf as saturated with Lilith as the rest of me that night to remember, will haunt the dreams of the one who kept it… forever.

You don’t mess with the Queen of the Succubi.

The House of Cherry Bomb’s ‘Lilith’ came with a sealed-wax admonition on scorched parchment paper:

“The secrets of the Succubi are bound in blood. The contents of this vial shall not be known to mankind. As sealed by Lilith.”

I’ve warned you. Will you listen? Or will you, too fall prey to the harrowing beauty – of Lilith?

With my deepest thanks and immortal gratitude to Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl.

Alexis has also been inspired by my Lilith to write this haunting song:

“Lilith – Live” (YouTube)

Image: Nadja Auermann photographed by Richard Avedon, 1995