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!

Strawberry Dreams Forever

–   a review of Perfume Pharmer & Opus OilsStrawberry Passion Perfumes

Summers are short, sweet, filled with light and all too fleeting in this obscure part of Europe I call home. Days expand exponentially to twenty-one hours of daylight by Midsummer, and since the sun doesn’t sink further than eighteen degrees below the horizon, it never does get truly dark at night until late July. The elderflowers bloom, the wood doves coo their summer songs in the beech woods, the philadelphus bushes blossom and all the pent-up energy of long, dark winters explode with a fury as my fellow Viking descendants head straight for the beach on no provocation and the first hints of sunshine, ditching ten months of woolen layers as they go. Overexcited children wolf down ice cream cones the size of their heads, cats hiss and charge at the kitty TV just outside the window, and even cynical writer wannabes feel a pang in their hearts and a ray of sunshine in their souls.

It’s summer, and that’s the only excuse you need to indulge yourself in the fine art of dolce far niente, the sweet art of doing absolutely nothing but paint cloud pictures in the sky, play Frisbee on the beach and…indulge yourself in the one overriding sign of summer in these northern latitudes, a sign so important that it’s arrival makes the national news every year, with prognoses on how well – or bad – this year’s harvest will be…

Summertime is strawberry time, and it’s not summer until the strawberries appear at roadside stands and farmers’ markets, to be eaten straight from the punnet or plucked from a field in the very early morning, to splash with cream or turn them into tartes, jam, homemade ice cream, and dream our luscious, ruby-red dreams that this instant will never end and summer will be as infinite as our imaginings.

Now, Monica Miller of Perfume Pharmer and Kedra Hart of Opus Oils have captured that endless summer dream into two all-natural perfumes called Strawberry Passions, and now, maybe it’s even true that summer never does come to an end.

Strawberry flower essence is a flower essence said to boost low self-esteem, feelings of unworthiness and being ungrounded, and to confer dignity and poise, to be able to be fully present in the moment. Isn’t that something we could all use, any time of the year?

Monica sent her own strawberry flower essence to Kedra Hart, and Kedra returned with two shining, bespoke examples of summer-in-a-sample-vial, and whatever other effects these two might have on my crabby mood of late, it’s virtually impossible not to smile when I wear them.

Strawberry Green is the ode to the berry itself, the olfactory equivalent of biting into a fresh strawberry and letting that sharp, fragrant juice fill your senses with all its summery promises.

It’s the strawberry and the greenery around it too, all fruity tang and flowery punch and such flowers, they are, too. Once that jolt to your senses fades, here come the summer blooms dancing in on a sunbeam, a touch of rose, a whisper of tuberose, a hint of heavenly boronia and a lilting, laughing white water lily, all entwined around the greenery of an ivy and that bright bomb of blackcurrant that celebrates the sunlight and that perfect red strawberry of your most fevered, summer-starved January dreams.

I feel like I’m starring in an alternate version of one song that haunted my wanton twenties, only this one is called ‘Strawberry Beret’, and life will be happy, life will be grand, and summer will always be endlessly warm and infinitely sunny.

As it dries down, ambergris, sandalwood and patchouli gang up with the oakmoss to pull that strawberry back to earth and even you with it. Before you even realize it, you’re singing the lyrics to a song you thought you forgot, and remembering that other you that life somehow misplaced, the incurable optimist that ate up the summer and even life with every juicy berry, when one ruby-hued berry was one too many and two were not nearly enough!

Strawberry Cream was Monica’s wish to capture the cream teas of her British childhood, those decadent late-afternoon times hours with warm scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam, and it’s so delicious, I nearly want to eat my arm.

Perhaps you’re one of those – I would agree with you – whose thoughts of ‘gourmand’ and ‘strawberry’ want to make you run for the hills and far, far away in horrified memory of all those ultra sweet, fruity-floral, flesh-eating ogres that haunt so many perfumista nightmares.

These are berries of a very different sort, sweet as a cherished memory and as opulent as the caramel-tinged flavor of Devonshire cream itself as it seeps into the buttery, crumbly texture of a warm scone.

This is dolce far niente at its finest, when all other cakes seem so overwrought and overdone, this liquid ode to pleasure satisfies my sweet tooth just enough to justify being just a little wicked. Go on. Have another one. Marvel at the way the amber and the vanilla, the ambergris, the sandalwood and patchouli somehow combine so well you’re practically licking cream and strawberries off your fingers and the corners of your mouth. Never mind tomorrow. Forget all you knew about yesterday. Live a little. Laugh a lot. Lick cream off your fingers, too, just because you can.

I’m so not a fruity perfume person. Yet if anyone could convince me, it’s Kedra – and Monica – with these two odes to my favorite sign of summer. Strawberry Green is what I’d wear to kick out that crabby self and stand a little taller, happier and more confident. Strawberry Cream is what I’d dab whenever a cake craving strikes and there’s none to be had. When I want to feel a little reckless, a little daring, and metaphorically lick cream and strawberries off my fingers.

Never forget, that just as the flower remedy promises, you are deserving of all happiness and all pleasures – so why not indulge yourself? It’s summer! Kick back, be happy, be present in the moment and dream those strawberry dreams…forever!

Strawberry Passions is available directly from the Perfume Pharmer’s etsy site.

Notes for Strawberry Green: Martha’s Vineyard strawberry flower & leaf essence, pink pepper, white water lily, red mandarin, ivy accord, rose, tuberose, boronia, strawberry, blackcurrant, peach, green tea, sandalwood, patchouli, beach found ambergris, oakmoss.

Notes for Strawberry Cream: Martha’s Vineyard strawberry flower & leaf essence, pink pepper, bergamot, tangerine, boronia, peach, strawberry, raspberry accord, amber, vanilla, patchouli, beach found ambergris, sandalwood.

Disclosure: Samples of both Strawberry Passions perfumes were provided by Perfume Pharmer.

With special thanks to Tiger Powers, who pointed to the main image, which says everything you need to know about strawberries – and passions!

Unholy Smoke (& a giveaway!)


– a review of Mermade Magickal Arts‘ ‘Mephisto’.

How far we perfumaniacs have come from that mystical, mythical matter we love so much. We dream in it, we bathe in it, we enrich ourselves, our chosen perfumers and our surroundings with it, we save for it, splurge for it, lust for it. Those magical elixirs and ethereal blends of heaven and earth, of balsam and resin, flower and herb satisfy our souls as few things else, and yet – in this lightning-tempo age and this instant gratification time, we forget what it once was, have somehow lost what it once did, have blithely obliterated all notions of its very form and function – to reconnect us, to realign us, to summon and to appease.

Perfume. The very name means “through smoke”, essences and absolutes distilled over fire in an alembic (which also gives its name to this blog), or, as perfume indeed was used once, as lumps of costly incense, burned in an offering to appease and to invoke the gods, and in so doing, to evoke – as well as please – our highest, finest, most divine selves.


To invoke an altogether different sort of beast.

I’m no stranger to alternate forms of perfume. I’ve burned Armenian papers and joss sticks, I’ve had potpourri in jam jars all over my homes at different times, pressed roses in old books, made my own lavender water. I’ve indulged my senses in a wantonly extravagant scented candle that’s still scenting my bedroom nearly a year later. And with the exception of potpourri, all of these demand fire to release their potent odors, that primeval element that is both beginning and end, metaphor and transformation. Just as fire begins with a spark, so does life itself, or another kind of life, when you glance across a glass of mulled wine in a dark midnight café at a stranger who sits so close beside you…

Here we have another kind of perfume, a very primeval kind – because here is a Devil’s scent as an incense, and it is by far the most extraordinary kind of incense I’ve ever had the pleasure to be inspired by.

It began at the behest of Monica Skye Miller, the Perfume Pharmer, when she suggested that Katlyn join our devilish endeavor, and I could only agree. I had of course heard of Katlyn’s alchymistical blends, had perused her website, and dreamed, that some day – or some night, I, too, might have a chance to breathe in their wonders. A few emails, some days and the Devilscent Project perfume brief later, I was completely unprepared by what came back in the mail.

What would I be as a human animal? I’m the Devil, so they’ve said. Neither animal nor human, but a combination of both, just enough of each to be dangerous, and that’s the whole idea. Danger. I want her to be able to know exactly who I am by her sense of smell alone. So. The perfume. Labdanum is a note she loves, labdanum is animal and sexy and slightly goatish.” – From the Devil’s Brief, the Devilscent Project

To which the saucy Katlyn retorted in her accompanying letter:

Did I just read ‘Goatish Labdanum’, something dark, sexy and extremely untamed? Ah, yes, I have just the thing…Within my cabinettes of curiosity there just happens to be something just waiting for this project. Labdanum from Crete complete with a few goat hairs. I knew there must be a place for this strange fragrant black stuff…The Devilscent Project. The most wonderful black frankincense from Oman. And then dark patchouli, tears of myrrh, contraband aloeswood…Incense is always needed to conjure up a spirit. And this has the scent of the crossroads at midnight and a little hair of the goat. Best burned on an electrical burner. Or a bit of brimstone if you have some handy. Use sparingly. May cause unnatural urges. Save this one for a dark night when you need a bit of company.

As I finished the quote above, I had reached 666 words. For a moment, that gave me pause for thought. You’d pause too, for this puts ‘incendiary’ into ‘incense’. I’m typing out these words as it burns in its dish above sea salt and charcoal, not in the dead, dark hours of night, but in the long twilight of midsummer when it never does get dark, yet I tell you…it may as well be that rainy, windblown Friday night in early November when I had my first harebrained idea that led all the way to…this.

That goatish labdanum (and yes, it does contain a little hair of the goat!) with its sweet, heady, animal air is all the more potent for the luscious patchouli and that touch of aloeswood that we know as the note du jour called oud. This is a living, breathing Dark Art. That chilly, dangerous alliance of myrrh and frankincense is never far behind it, exhaling its own numinous breath of otherworldly beneath that heated, heavy heartbeat. It doesn’t smell like goat, but it certainly smells sacred, sacred in a way most of us have forgotten. It smells like sin, if I believed in such a thing. Not so much as an act of moral transgression, but as the kind of act you would never tell in polite company, the kind of sin that must be kept secret, or else lose its delicious, subversive edge. The kind of sin that makes you glow in the dark. And the morning after, too.

If you think you know what incense is and what it does to your mood, if you’ve never thought about the tricks ambient scent can play on your suggestible mind – or even if you have – you’re in for a surprise. Just as the hapless protagonist of Quantum Demonology was whenever she caught a whiff of the Devil from afar, that otherworldly, bitter, dark that made her blood run cold in her veins and her heart beat faster.

Mephisto made my heart beat faster and ignited my imagination as all the Devilscents have, ignited it as few perfumes ever have before. In this dark, Monday night hour, I see it smoldering, and in those formless wisps of smoke, I can squint my eyes and almost see him hovering above.

“No need for that,” say a voice I know too well. “I’m right here. Did you know that in the ancient world, it was said the gods were helpless to resist the lure of burning incense? When it’s as good, as rich, as decadent and dangerous as this, I might as well give up the ghost completely. I can’t resist.” He leaned closer and whispered in my ear. “Just like you, baby.” He gave me that grin. “Just like you.”

“So what do you think?” I asked.

He picked up the letter from Katlyn, printed on parchment-like paper with cursive writing, and read the words with an even bigger grin. “I think…” he said after a while, “that Katlyn nailed it. Trust me, if the batcave has a scent, it would be this one. This is a lot of what I am. He shook his head and laughed. “Cretan goat hairs included! And I do believe it’s time I came back.”

“Where have you been?” I wouldn’t let him know he’d been missed. Hell wasn’t that cold yet.

Another long, fraught pause. Another long, level, red-brown stare. “Removing obstacles. Rearranging events, putting other things in motion, doing…what I have to do.” Dev tipped his head back and took a long, deep breath. The incense was so potent, it scented the entire apartment.

“And what would that be?” I sat back on my chair, looked him right in the eye.

“Telling you…that we made a deal, you and I. I take care of my own, I always will. And while I’ve been gone, you’ve somehow lost track of what you need to do. You need to believe. You need to have faith. I can make it happen for you. In fact, it already is happening. Since you forgot, and the incense reminded me, I’m here to tell you again.”

“Dev…I hate to say this, but you’re a fictional construct. I cooked you up, remember?”

“No, you didn’t. You conjured me out from the shadows. So I came back to remind you of what you forgot.” He leaned closer, much closer. I could feel his hot breath on my neck, feel him blowing in my ear.

“Forgot what?” I was confused. Or else it was that hot air and those lips by my ear, that subtle shiver down my spine, that dangerous, sexy, evocative scent that filled the room.

“Be careful what you wish for, baby. You will get it!” Light as a feather, his lips brushed my ear and he breathed down my neck.

When I turned my head to look, he was gone, and only the unholy, dangerous smoke of Katlyn’s incense remained.

Find ‘Mephisto’ at Mermade Magickal Arts here.

Disclosure: Samples were provided by Mermade Magickal Arts. For which I thank Katlyn Breene and Monica Miller most profoundly and sincerely.

I have a giveaway! Two lucky readers will receive a sample set of ‘Mephisto’. Leave a comment by June 30th at midnight CET to be eligible! Open to readers worldwide. The winners will be determined by random.org on July 1st.