Archive of ‘scents & sensibility’ category

A Year In Fragrance: Hateful ‘fumes

hateful fumes

This is has not been a great month, but I am not even going to get into it, because I am angry–I’ve been at a low boil for days–but if I delve into and explore any reasons why, even in some vague, oblique way, I just know I will commit to words something regrettable. Suffice it to say I am taking many, many deep breaths and trying not to spend too much time dwelling on things.

However, it has put me in a perfect mood to talk about the perfumes that I hate. I am in fine form to go on about such things right now, there is no doubt about it. Without further preamble, here are some shitty-ass perfumes that I despise. Folks who know my preferences and predilections have probably read these rants before,  and for that I apologize; feel free to skip right to the comments where you can tell me all about a scent that you loathe. Let’s commiserate together, stinky friends.

The first scents on this list are probably the most hateful because they evoke an aggressive emotional response from me. The rest, eh, they’re just really gross.

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I hate Victor and Rolf’s Flowerbomb so much that I nearly fly into a rage. Described as “an explosive bouquet of fresh and sweet notes”, I personally think it smells like a conflagration of petty spite, mean-spiritedness, and small minds.  Like bigoted small town pageant moms and the shitty popular girls in 80s movies. It simultaneously makes me want to cringe and cry. It’s one of Daim Blond’s (see below) awful cronies. It’s all the Heathers. Also: it’s an enormous lie. It smells nothing like any flower. As to what it does smell like, precisely, I cannot pinpoint. A shallow dish of sugar water with some sneezy, cloying powder mixed in. Like Koolaid, I guess. It smells like a celebutaunt-inspired Koolaid. Or…unless, of course, there is a blossom or bloom that smells like Bongo jeans and hair-sprayed bangs and the wretched duo of Jennifer W. and Amanda P. in the 7th and 8th grade. How’s it feel to be the inspiration for the world’s worst fragrance, you dumb, hateful bitches.

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With regard to Serge Luten’s Daim Blond, I do smell all of the things that people seem to love about it: the elusive whiff of soft suede from the inner pocket of an impossibly expensive handbag, the cool floral iris, the bowl of apricots sitting in a beam of afternoon sunlight.And I almost feel badly saying anything negative at all, since it came from a very special, generous person. On me, however, this does not add up to anything special – just a lightly sweet, vaguely fruity scent that lingers just above my skin and doesn’t seem to want to get to know me very well. Pretty much like most of my high school experience. But then again, this smells like everything I didn’t like about most girls my age in high school, and honestly, probably many people who are my age now (see also: everyone in Naples, FL).

This isn’t to make a judgement about you folks who love it, of course – it takes all kinds. But it’s difficult to look at something like fragrance objectively, when it conjures so many associations and memories with it. And to me, Daim Blond is starting to smell like everyone who every ignored me, and so I in turn came to the conclusion that I wouldn’t want to waste my time with these boring, uninteresting people anyhow. See? Now I am making judgements. It’s gone from a slightly pretty, expensive smelling scent to boring and uninteresting. I think Daim Blonde basically sums up Normcore for me; I have taken to calling it “Dame Bland”.

And there’s more…

💩 Burberry Brit: expecting scones & Earl Grey? Nope, you get fruit cocktail and jello molds

💩 Comptoir Sud Pacifique’s Matin Calin is all cursed, sour milk & Miss Havisham’s garbage

💩 Lady Gaga’s Fame is akin to a musty fruit bowl in a girl’s locker room after soccer practice

💩 Flora by Gucci smells like #allpinkeverything and a significant drop in IQ

OKAY. I think I have got all the bile and vitriol out of my system by being passive aggressive and mean to a bunch of perfumes.  Carry on!

PREVIOUS INSTALLMENTS
A Year In Fragrance: Scents For Sleep
A Year In Fragrance: “Inexpensive” Stuff
A Year In Fragrance: Youth Dew
A Year In Fragrance: a dude thinks on stinks
A Year In Fragrance: Witch’s Workbench
A Year In Fragrance: Willow & Water
A Year In Fragrance: Tea Rose

A Year In Fragrance: Scents For Sleep

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Image: Sofia Arjam (this same print hangs above my bed)

You’d imagine that after obsessing about fragrance all throughout the day I would give it a rest, so to speak, as night falls, and I ready myself for bed. Surely, you think, there is no need for perfumes and potions while you are dead to the world for 6 to 8 hours a night.
Not so, friends!

Bedtime is without a doubt, my favorite time of all the times. After a long, tiresome day I have been known to run toward the bedroom murmuring  bedbedbedBedBedBEDBED with increasing urgency before flinging myself onto the bed with a satisfying thwunk! as I sink into our approximately 100 year old mattress.

Whether this is because I long for several hours of uninterrupted me-time with no one making any demands of me, or because I love my dreamland adventures, I don’t quite know for sure, but I can tell you that before clocking out for the evening, I do like to treat myself to a scented nightcap.

I don’t think I am alone in this practice. Whether you like to spritz a fragrance all over the bed linens in a puff of decadence, or just dab a soothing scented oil on your wrists–bedtime is a lovely occasion to swath yourself in cozy comfort with a scent that is neither complicated nor intricate or –on the opposite end of the spectrum–it’s a great time to test out a new fragrance you might not want to wear in public just yet.

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Some folks have favorite warm night or chilly evening fragrances that work best for them, some prefer aromas that send them straight to the snoozes, and some seek out special scents that amplify and intensify their dreams–personally, I probably do all of these things.

What scents work best for these purposes?  Well, I think it is a matter of preferences. I know that lavender oil is highly touted as having a somewhat sedative effect that is good for anxiety and restlessness, but I find the odor too sharp and camphorous to be conducive to calm. Chamomile, also said to be a calming scent, is one that I find much more tolerable with its sweetly herbal, mildly apple-y fragrance. Though to be honest, I think I prefer it as a cup of tea before sleep rather than a blanket of scent in which to wrap myself. (Actually, I don’t pay any attention to any of holistic, aromatherapeutic stuff most of the time. It either smells like sleepy dreams to me, or it doesn’t.)

One such dreamy scent is the Warm Milk & Honey Sleep Body Mist from Bath and Body Works. I don’t know that this was necessarily something I would have purchased on my own, but it was in a gift bag from my best good friend, and I was thoroughly surprised by how much I love it.  So of course it is probably discontinued (here is a link to the lotion). I think it’s like your very favorite mug–that lovely big one with the chipped ridge–filled with softly sugared, steamed milk, in which a lovely stick of cinnamon has been steeping. It’s a spice that’s been tempered and lullabied by creaminess and a warm sweetness that’s not terribly cloying–just enough to promise the best sort of dreams. For what it’s worth, my beau says it “smells like bread”.

Moonrise was a collaboration between Alchemologie’s Julianne Zaleta and Phantasmaphile’s Pam Grossman, and is inspired by plants historically connected to the moon. Notes are “…artemesia, inspired by the Greek goddess, Artemis, who represents the new moon.  Artemis is portrayed in the fragrance by a few spare drops of wormood in the top note, supported by bergamot and petitgrain.  The heart of the perfume is made of luminous jasmine, honey absolute and balanced with rose.  Sandalwood, frankincense and oak moss form the base chord.” I find most moon-inspired fragances to be pale, wan things but Moonrise is not that at all.  Upon first application it’s got a really delightful, heavy, old fashioned dressing table sort of feel, a powdery, balsamic chypre, but with time and wear becomes quite glowing and luminous. I dare you to apply this at the base of your throat while glimpsing peeks of the full moon from an open window–it’s absolutely magical and transportive.

Astral Projection from ForStrangeWomen is composed of plant essences known for their sedative & dream-inducing properties: sweet lemon myrtle in a powdery bed of chamomile, hops, and lavender creates a relaxing aura. Valerian anchors the blend to a deep undercurrant that pulls you further into your dreams. The sedative effects of these plants are combined with the lucid clarity induced by Clary sage, cedar, and clove. When dreams are vivid, lucid, and oddly profound, it is said, you have reached the astral plane.  I don’t know that I find this a very comforting scent, but I break it out when I am feeling adventurous. Unfortunately I do not record my dreams as regularly as I used to, so I can’t say what sort of subconscious thoughts or images it may have conjured! Perhaps I will give it a go this evening.

I’m afraid that some of the scents I’ve mentioned here are discontinued…though I find, as with most things in life, it never hurts to ask! Sometimes businesses have excess stock lying around that they may sell to you. Sometimes not. But you never know if you don’t reach out to them and ask the question.

I will, however, add that for before bedtime in warm weather I love a cooling spritz of  Comme des Garçons Incense Series Kyoto (incense, cypress oil, coffee, teak wood, vetiver, patchouli, amber, everlasting flower, Virginian cedar), which is austere and meditative and calls to mind a dark prayer in a cool, shadowy forest temple. In cool weather I’ll envelop myself in Serge Lutens Chergui (honey, musk, incense, tobacco leaf, hay sugar, amber, iris, rose and sandalwood), which is an intoxicating scent that smells foreign and familiar all at once; like maybe if your idea of “exotic” is from the sumptuous illustrations in a well-worn book of fables from a far-away land. It’s all lofty sandalwood, honeyed musks, and and liquid amber tea on me, and it makes me feel like a desert queen in a strange, dusty tale.

What about you? Do you have special bedtime scents? Fragrances that encourage sweet slumbers or crazy dream trips? Tell me all about them in the comments!

If you are interested in reading previous installations from my Year In Fragrance series, see below for 2016’s entries thus far:

A Year In Fragrance: “Inexpensive” Stuff
A Year In Fragrance: Youth Dew
A Year In Fragrance: a dude thinks on stinks
A Year In Fragrance: Witch’s Workbench
A Year In Fragrance: Willow & Water
A Year In Fragrance: Tea Rose

A Year In Fragrance: “inexpensive” stuff

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I think I am just hardwired to have expensive tastes.  I don’t quite know where that comes from, for growing up, I think we were probably what you would call a lower middle-class family. Maybe not even that. My mother was divorced with three children, didn’t receive adequate (or sometimes any) child support, and for most of the time I was still living at home, she did not have a job.

Our groceries, clothing, utilities, mortgage–maybe everything– was taken care of by my grandparents. Without them we might have been in a pretty bad way, but as it is, I can’t remember wanting for much of anything. We were very, very lucky in that regard, and I’m certain I’ve never properly expressed my gratitude to them–but then again, I don’t think grandchildren ever do.

I do recall constantly sneaking into my mother’s room to sniff at her perfumes and play with her lovely makeup collection. She owned some beautifully enticing products. Thinking back upon it now…for a lady with no money, she sure had a lot of Lancôme and Clinque and many other not entirely inexpensive cosmetics. I’m not one to begrudge someone their beautiful things, but that is a bit of a head-scratcher.

When it came time for me to begin painting my face, well, let’s face it. I had been spoiled. I couldn’t just buy Wet-n-Wild from Wal-greens, no way, no how! And so I would save my baby-sitting dollars (and later, my hamburger flipping monies) and spend it all on department store makeup counter treasures.

Later, as I grew into my fascination for perfumes and began to explore the myriad options presented by niche and independent perfumers, I never forgot my early loves from the Christian Dior and Clinique counters in the mall. Though they are not as fancy as say, a Serge Lutens bell jar scent or an Exclusive Collection Guerlain fragrance, they’re certainly not cheap, either. I know many people would find the thought of spending $300 on a bottle of perfume absolutely ludicrous, but no doubt there’s quite a few who would feel no less offended at the thought of a $75 dollar fragrance (the category into which most of the scents pictured above would fall.)

Aromatics Elixir is described by Clinique as an “intriguing non-conformist fragrance”, and sure, I suppose that is one way to describe it. It’s a bitter, balsamic, astringent, herbal, alien thing–not at all the sort of scent that I imagine most people are used to smelling in a perfume bottle.

Aromatic top notes are verbena, sage and chamomile, which give way to the floral notes of geranium, rose and white flowers, with oakmoss and patchouli note at the base. Described by some reviewers as “a chypre on steroids”, it somehow smells both of a different time, something quite classic, and yet also wholly strange and new.

Chandler Burr describes it as “deep” and “thoughtful” and remarks that if one were to judge it by the first hour, it would be a two-star scent. However, he says, “…judge it after it has unfolded, breathed, burned off the shadows and begun its work, and it has to be five.” It never struck me as particularly shadowy, but you know how it is, once you’ve read something and it strikes a chord, no matter how fanciful. Now it’s difficult to smell it any other way. I wore this scent when I was 19 years old,  attending community college and floundering about–it reminds me of failings and indecision and the gnawing pit in one’s stomach when one’s future is unclear, and yet somehow when I am most troubled, it is a very comforting thing to smell.

Addict by Christian Dior quite honestly reminds me of an Esquire Magazine cover, but back during the time when they featured more women and lots of cleavage on the front pages. It would have been in black and white. Eyes, heavily rimmed with kohl and smoldering. She’s probably chomping on a cigar.

Addict is an Oriental fragrance that smells like a statuesque, expensive, night blooming call girl. With notes of mandarin leaf, orange blossom, Bulgarian Rose, bourbon vanilla, Mysore sandalwood, and tonka bean, it is breathy, velvety, and narcotic. I’m not certain that this scent is, or ever was, very “me”, but I think it’s quite beautiful in the overblown erotic femininity of Anna Nicole Smith as shot by the tastefully provocative Ellen Von Unwerth sort-of-way.

I wore this when I was 28 and in transition, in the winter months while packing to move from Florida to New Jersey. It reminds me of waiting for the other shoe to drop and asking myself why did I want to be with someone when it felt like they loathed me. And maybe I despised him as well. Obviously, I don’t wear Addict very often anymore, but I will always appreciate the imagery it conjures.

Dune, also by Christian Dior, never fails to surprise me with its presence on my shelf. My mother owned and wore this scent, but I cannot remember smelling it on her. I recall stealing a small spritz here and there in my senior year of high school and thinking that it seemed a somber, yet transparent and inoffensive fragrance.

I forgot about it entirely until I purchased the marvelous Perfumes A-Z Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez (and I am not embarrassed to tell you this was perfect by-the-toilet reading for several years! Seriously, get a copy for that purpose alone.) With notes of vanilla, mandarin, and peony, Dune is officially described ” an oceanic fragrance, created in harmony with nature … radiant, fresh and subtle accord captures the landscape where the sky meets the sea in a warm, oceanic floral bouquet.” And while I suppose it may smell like driftwood and beach glass, it’s more a deserted beach on a cloudy day sort of thing.

Furthermore, if Luca Turin is to be believed, Dune is a “disenchanted, lady-like gem…unsmiling from top to bottom”.  He suggests that “true, menacing darkness” is to be found in this fragrance, and it is a strong contender for “the Bleakest Beauty in all perfumery”.  I am sure it is no surprise to you that I am dreadfully influenced by this sort of hyperbole and you can bet I had purchased a bottle for myself within seconds.  This was six or seven years ago, and I am still not entirely convinced Dune is the bleakest thing I have ever smelled (edit: I’ll be straight with you. It’s Viktor & Rolf’s Flowerbomb), but it is rather evocative nonetheless and puts me in an interesting frame of mind when ever I wear it.

I shared the book’s description with my sister, who has also developed an appreciation for fragrance, and now every time she visits me, she sniffs at my scents and ask if she may try something.  Nine times out of ten, she will settle on smelling bleak.

 

Perfumes for the dark

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You’ve carefully cultivated your strange, unearthly beauty and gothic mystique, and as a finishing touch you must pair it with a fragrance befitting the vision of dark decadence you’ve conjured forth.

Indulge me, won’t you? Over at Haute Macabre I’ve a few scented recommendations for dark muses and femme fatales alike that I think will complement your All Black Everything wardrobe perfectly.

Oh, what’s that? You require wardrobe selections, too? Well, you know I will never disappoint you…

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A Year In Fragrance {Youth Dew}

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I have often spoken of my mother’s love of perfume, but I suppose I never considered where that might have stemmed from. A peek at her mother’s–my grandmother’s–perfume tray reveals a shimmering collection full of both beautiful bottles and a small number of beloved scents, and I think this is an interesting glimpse of the woman herself. A lover of birds and cut glass and loyal in her lifetime to a scant handful of fragrances, her influence has clearly inspired several generations.

My great-grandmother wasn’t the type (that we know of) to go in for the vanities of this world. She was, to quote my youngest sister, into “rhubarb pie and good bread and Baptist churches.” I imagine her only daughter though, one girl among seven brothers and after spending so much time among so many males, probably developed a fondness for whatever frivolities were available to her. A love which would grow, slowly, and steadily and sensibly over time.

It must be said that, that although this love of fine things was passed down through my grandmother to both my mother and I…well, the good sense–not so much.

Towards the back of that mirrored tray is a bottle of Youth Dew by Estée Lauder.  I have no idea how old it is, or when my grandmother last wore it, but my guess is that it’s been around for a great, long while, sadly unused.

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Youth Dew is a scent from childhood visits to my grandparent’s home in Ohio, when I was very young.  I would spend the whole weekend there, watching Dallas and Hee Haw with my grandfather, or helping my grandmother make a pot of chicken and dumplings…there must have been a lot of reading and walks in the woods and no small amount of undignified begging of the grandparents to take me to the toy store for something new.

Usually, at least once per visit, I would convince my grandmother to allow me to rifle through her jewelry box. This was a small but crucial ritual for me at that young age– I’d usually threaten that I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep without it! Permission granted, I would then begin the process of removing the sparkling brooches and dangling earrings and line them up one by one, pretending that I was a fancy grown up lady, and I had my choice among baubles for a ball. The truth was, I probably would have worn all of them at once, to bed, if I could have gotten away with it.

The scent of that box of jewels, a sort of musty, metallic tang, is entangled in my memories of Youth Dew. The fragrance was, as I recall, a strange witches brew of heady, formidable glamour and unexpected comfort. It’s been over 30 years since I’ve smelled it (I couldn’t even bring myself to uncap it and sniff the sprayer this past weekend, when I took the photograph featured above) and so my memory may be playing tricks on me. The comfort might have been from the bosomy grandma-hugs, and not the perfume at all, but I couldn’t tell the difference then, and I suspect I can’t today, either.

Youth Dew is described as a heavily spiced oriental, and apparently everyone’s grandmother wore it–to the extent that I think it’s often described as a “grandma/old lady scent”.  I personally hate that phrase, for what it’s worth, but I also do not think there’s really anything “youthful” about the scent.  With notes including bergamot, peach, aldehydes, clove, rose, ylang-ylang, frankincense, amber,  tolu, benzoin, oakmoss, and vetiver (and many more, I left a lot out), its aura has always seemed to me one of aggressive grandeur and luxury, the kind that takes a certain maturity to pull off.

Recently, in conversations with a fellow fragrance enthusiast, I was bemoaning my lack of knowledge regarding the technical language in describing perfumes. Most of the time I couldn’t tell you if something smells indolic or lactonic or if it is a soliflore or if it’s the original or reformulated. But you know, my brain doesn’t really break things down like that. Sure, I guess it would behoove me to educate myself more fully on notes and their nuances and learn how to recognize those facets of a scent, but I’m pretty sure I’d continue to process them and talk about them as I always have.

So while I can tell you that it’s a sticky, darkly balsamic scent, a warm resinous amber, and a bit of powdery vanilin at the dry down, what I really mean to say is that it smells like a velvet backed, diamond choker. Or, basically, like this:

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I can’t say for certain that’s what my grandmother was going for, but 30 years later my own love for baubles and jewels has not lessened one bit, so maybe I do need to spritz myself liberally next time I visit. I sincerely doubt I will ever have any such riches or glittering trinkets in my own jewel box and the imagery summoned by a luxe waft of Youth Dew is as close as I am likely to get.

 

Bathing Rituals For Ablutophobes

Photo credit, Mika

Photo credit: {Mika, flickr}

If cleanliness is next to godliness, then I’ll be honest with you here–I’m closer to Divine than The Divine when it comes to wallowing in my own filth.

Simply put: I hate bathing.  Or spelled out even simpler than that: I hate being wet.

OK, so maybe the title of this post is a little misleading.  I am not an ablutophobe, per se– that is, I am not afraid of bathing. And don’t misunderstand me, I like the feeling of being clean and nice smelling and having hair that doesn’t fall in a dank, greasy mess across my face, but I absolutely detest the process it takes to get there. The prospect of undignified, soggy nudity and a sopping wet, 50-pound mop of tangles on top of my head that takes all day to dry is one that I dread and avoid for as long as I possibly can get away with.

No doubt if I polled my friends regarding when they showered I would  hear things like “oh, every morning”.  Or “oh, at night after I work out”, or sometimes even twice in one day (you weirdos).  For me, it prompts a rather different question, “when did I last shower?” Was it 3 days ago? 4? Hmmmm.

Clean clothes, clean underwear, deodorant, and perfume go a long way in upholding my decent citizen status.  Most of the time I even receive positive commentary on how lovely I smell! But I know, I know–there’s the question of hygiene. I mean, I guess there is…right?  That’s what people seem to think, anyway. Personally, I like to think me and my bacteria are great friends, so I am not overly troubled by it.

I would probably never, ever set foot inside the shower if I thought I could get away with it, but sometimes you have to get cleaned up for work, or family, or maybe it’s been a really hot, sweaty Florida day and the soapy angel on my shoulder is giving me a really hard time about it. The dirt devil on my other shoulder is like “eh, whatevs!” but my swampy butt-crack and I know that we have to do the right thing.

So I trick myself!  That’s right. Like a toddler that you are bribing with candy or shiny toys, I too must be lured into doing the thing I just don’t wanna do. Fancy soaps, shower gels and lotions are my incentives of choice to entice me into the cleansing waters and I usually end up making a bit of an evening of it.  I’ll light some incense, play some soothing music and generally turn it into a ritual of sorts, like I’m sacrificing my dirt and funk up to the gods.

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Below I’ve listed for you some of my favorite ritualistic ablutions:

Tom Ford Oud Wood shower gel is, at $68, no doubt the most expensive shower gel you could ever buy, but it smells like woods and incense and secret forest temples and is totally worth it.

Atelier Vanille Insensee soap has a lovely, clean vanilla scent. Very mild and tempered with some citrus and woodsiness. Nice for hot weather, actually. Not a bit foody or too cozy smelling. I don’t like equating a cozy feeling with the process that serves up stinging needles of water on my skin anyway, so this is a fragrance that works fine for this purpose.

Villainess Peal Diver soap is nice and scrubby with Irish moss, dulse and kelp to thoroughly exfoliate, and a scent that’s not quite tropical, not quite spa-like, but conjures visions of standing on your 5-star ocean-side hotel room balcony and gazing out at the vast, black sea at midnight, the moon low on the horizon.

Madame Scodioli’s soaps are a wee luxury I picked up at Carmine Boutique in Orlando; both are on the perfumey-musky side but Oracle has a bit of spice and lush, dark fruit, whereas Widdershins has a sweet, smoky quality.

Haus of Gloi Troika pumpkin butter is made from shea butter and pumpkin seed oil and despite its heavy appearance goes on quite nicely, non-greasy and sinks right in.  Troika smells of “a trinity of soft milks: almond, oat and coconut, lashed with sweet agave nectar and the ethereal scent of clean whiteness” and really that’s exactly what it smells like, I can’t do any better than that. Haus of Gloi is a totally vegan company.

Ether body butter made exclusively by Naked Eye Beauty for Sisters of the Black Moon has a different texture than the previously mentioned pumpkin butter.  It seems…spongier…somehow?  I think it takes a little bit longer to sink in, but I obviously adore it since I am now halfway through my second jar of it–and I’ve got to like something quite a bit for me to buy it a second time.  It’s got a light, powdery musky scent that makes me think of a “stripper with a heart of gold” character from a bawdy comedy.  I also think Stormer from the Misfits probably smells like this. That probably makes no sense to anyone but me.

Cinnamon Projects incense is designed to “create transformative space”, with the various scents offered to portray an infinitely inspired day. On a whim, I chose 2AM, which is scented with cedarwood, cinnamon, honey, and vetiver, and is utterly gorgeous and somehow magnificently restrained.  It’s warm without being overly spicy, it’s sweet but not cloying and it’s strongly scented–but not suffocating.  It’s perhaps the most perfect stick of incense I have ever burned.

Blackbird Violet Hour incense made for Catbird NYC, on the other hand, is smoky and potent and just this side of harsh. These are no demure shrinking violets…they are violets who have set themselves on fire in protest, smoldered in revolt, and their sooty purple petals are going to haunt you for the rest of your life.  I am not certain if this particular scent is still available anymore on the Catbird site but Blackbird makes all sorts of intriguing scents (both incense and perfumes)that are for sale on their own site, and they are worthy peeking in on.

And finally, I did mention candy, didn’t I? Persephenie’s Rose and Frankincense heart opening candies, made with ingredients like cane sugar, rose water, wild Harvested frankincense, and vanilla, seem like old world magic and a terribly special sort of treat. I could certainly do to keep my heart open to the wondrous possibilities that spring from a proper cleansing, so there’s that too, I suppose.

Do you hate to bathe as much as I do? It’s okay, you can admit it here, you are amongst stinky friends! Do you have any special treats or bribes that you must resort to rouse yourself to do the things you don’t like to do?  Tell me all about it in the comments!

 

 

 

A Year In Fragrance: A dude thinks on stinks

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I’m not sure there’s much point to doing a thing if you are only going to half ass it, but truth be told: I’m tired. Two days ago I drove halfway down the state for work reasons, spent the last 48 hours doing stressful social work things and today I drove back up the state to get home.  I’m beat, dammit.

But I also committed myself to writing certain things this year, one of them being a monthly series basically forcing me to talk about perfumes.  I’d like to get better at describing the things I like, properly articulating and sharing the reasons that someone else might like them too–and that’s why you’re likely seeing more Reviews of Things on the ol’ blargh right now. While I suppose I don’t have any trouble expressing an opinion about something, describing the qualities of something has always thrown me for a loop.  I don’t consider myself an expert in much of …well, anything really. So who am I to give an account of the characteristics or facets of a particular thing?  Well, I am trying, I suppose.

All this is to say is that I am too flipping exhausted to talk about any particular fragrance this month, so I am going to report on my goofier half’s impressions regarding some of the scents that I wear.  It’s not exactly creative writing, but it’s worth documenting, right?

So without further ado, here are some of my dude’s thinks on my favorite stinks:

Well, then. Make of this what you will.

A Year in Fragrance: Witch’s Workbench

FragranceA friend assured me recently that the chaos in my perfume cabinet was not, in fact, a hot mess and a poor reflection of my character–but instead that it was pretty cool and it reminded her of a witch’s workbench.  Actually… she only voiced the latter half of that thought, and so I’m choosing to extrapolate the rest of the sentiment because she’s a thoughtful person and that’s probably what she meant.

A witch’s workbench! I loved that. And I love thinking of perfume in that context–after all, the transformative powers of fragrance are myriad and a sort of magic of their own. Fragrance has the ability to transport us to another place or time, be it a memory, a wish for the future, or even a dream. It conjures phantom loves and losses, those whom we adored and those we mourn. It intoxicates, bewitches and holds our admirers rapt, enthralled. It allows us to slip into the skin of that which we would wish to be–the femme fatale, the ingénue, (or, if you’re weirdly specific like me, “Morticia Addams tending a poison garden at midnight in late summer, moments before fearsome thunderstorm”).

Some perfumes though, as least as far as I can tell, just feel like magic. Perhaps they don’t exactly remind you of anything from your past and maybe they don’t make you feel like Audrey Hepburn or Seven of Nine or Siouxsie Sioux or whoever it is that you channel to feel special or beautiful. Perhaps their mere presence on your shelf causes a shimmer in the corner of your vision; a certain slant of light at the right time of day cascades through the faceted glass bottle and creates a kaleidoscopic prism against the wall. Maybe the cool heft of a particular flacon cradled against the warmth of your palm feels grounding and reassuring. Perhaps to simply gaze upon your collection and deeply inhale the exotic aroma of all the fragrances combined is a small ritual on its own.

scent

I have a few scents in this vein that hold their own magic; they smell as though they may induce a trance, or open a portal. Some demand a sacrifice of the wearer, and some bear unexpected gifts. Some smell of soothsaying and powerful prophecy, whereas others might sit quietly on the skin, unnoticed, a charm against unkindness or ill-will. I own all of these and they speak to me in a secret language of their own, a scented murmuration that no doubt only I understand…though I am very happy to share with you a handful of my loves. Make of their mysteries what you will!

Mississippi Medicine from DS & Durga opens with an astringent, peppery cypress, and gives way to a pine-crackling, smoky fire, sweet birch, muddy grass and scorched leaves and dries down to a sweetly herbaceous, woody, resinous scent. This tells the story of waking with strange incense in your hair and the vague dream of descending into the dark, dancing and divining with ancestors, and having been part of rituals older than you can imagine. A scent of potent magics, both sacrificial and healing.

Norne from Slumberhouse smells of black night forests frozen in time; tarry, resinous pines and greenest firs and crisp midnight air, tiniest pinpoints of starlight. Woodsmoke and loam, lichen and fern, and musty mosses creeping, creeping over fallen logs and worn stone paths. Spiders webs tangling high in the branches, dust settling on the strands. Time has slowed and finally stood still in this forest while the world outside advances and evolves and moves along as is the world’s habit whether one interferes or not. This is a still, solemn, forgotten wood, without any birth or growth, and yet undying.

10 Corso Como is all dry, lofty sandalwood, smoky desert resins, and earthy, weirdly off-kilter – almost alien or at least otherworldy- florals. It calls to mind a mysterious, aromatic wooden chest, unearthed by a strange sandstorm. At once both sensual and spiritual, and without a doubt a very, very handsome scent, I find myself frequently craving it and nothing else will do.

Heely’s Sel Marin conjures a dim lit sea save, illuminated by phosphorescent crystals clinging to salt crusted walls. Mossy rocks, worn smooth by time and tides and the wind, which echoes eerily through the subterranean stone chambers. Bits of driftwood and seaweed and perhaps small animal bones littering the damp chamber floor. A sea priestess lain dormant, waiting for a dark ritual to conjure forth from slumber. This is a Dion Fortune novel in a bottle.

Amir from Laura Tonnato is a deeply hypnogogic scent, all dark, narcotic myrrh and nocturnal resins. A midnight philtre, thickened with age and swimming murkily at the bottom of an ancient crystal flacon, tucked away in some moth-eaten velvet robes. This is the scent I imagine one of the visitors wearing during that infamous summer in 1816 at the Villa Diodati with Byron and Polidori.

Serge Lutens’ De Profundis opens with the scent of big, lively chrysanthemums, in the fall -brisk, slightly spicy and musty. Delicate, dewy violets and damp loamy earth follow shortly thereafter, along with a cool metallic chill that calls to mind a brief wind, rising from nowhere, a shadow that suddenly falls across your path. This is the scent of a pensive cemetery stroll in late autumn, crushed funeral wreaths beneath your feet, the veil of the sun struggling through the clouds, the lingering wisps of incense from morning mass.

A Year in Fragrance: Willow & Water

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Your late teens, very early 20s are such a strange bit of limbo, aren’t they?   Or…at least they were for me. Along with the angst of trying to figure out what you are going to do with the rest of your life, you are sometimes trying to figure out, quite literally, where you are doing these things from, where are they taking you…sometimes even trying to come to terms with where, exactly, your home is, anyway?  At that time I was living with my sister and my ex-step-father in one of his longtime friend’s home, and it was an awfully peculiar arrangement.

This friend had a fairly sizable house, and I believe he was going through a divorce, so it was empty, save for him.  And he needed help paying for it.  In the meantime, my mother was in rehab for her addiction and my grandparents were selling the house that we had grown up in.  Actually, why were they selling that house? My sister and I still needed a place to live! She was maybe 17 years old, I was about 19…we weren’t ready to move out and we didn’t have any place to go! This is really weird, now that I think on it.  Well, maybe they needed to sell the house to pay for my mother’s rehab.  Who knows?

So this guy needed help paying for his house and my sister and I and my ex-step-father needed a place to live, and it seemed to be a decent arrangement.  There were two extra bedrooms, which my ex-step-father insisted that we take, and he turned the living room into his bedroom.

At this time I was in my second year of community college and working pretty much full time at my first job, a local fast food chain. College was tough for me–while I like to learn, classroom settings made me terribly anxious and I resented being tested on what I was taught.  Often times I could not even drag myself out of bed to make it to my one or two morning classes.

I would lay under the covers, paralyzed, wondering if this is all there was to life. I couldn’t see beyond my immediate issues and neuroses to any sort of future that made any sense to me.  And then I would get out of bed and take a shower and wash my hair because that, at least seemed a good first step.

This was probably 1996ish; my hair was growing out after a hair dying catastrophe wherein we had to cut it very, very short.  My stylist convinced me that I needed a “Rachel” cut, and anyone who was of television watching age at that time knows precisely what that looks like. Of course my hair was coarse and puffy and frizzy and the cut looked less like Rachel and more like Rachel’s deranged cousin. I don’t have many physical photographs, but here is one with myself and that haircut, in that particular house, along with my sister who I think was trying to tickle me til I puked.

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Revlon Outrageous was the drugstore brand shampoo and conditioner that I used at that time and it was the most splendid smelling thing I had encountered up until that point–sort of a sweet, musky floral? I’ve never been able to describe it accurately, but in any event, it was a very “perfumey” scent. Quite sophisticated smelling, at least for something in Walgreens that you were picking up for $3.99 a bottle. My sister once sniffed my head and delightedly told me that I smelled amazing and if she wasn’t my sister she’d want to be my girlfriend.  She claims now that she has no memory of saying this, but I know what I heard!

The shampoo eventually became very difficult to find and as I grew older, I’m afraid my tastes became a bit more expensive and so I stopped purchasing it…but I never forgot about that scent.

Many years later–just last autumn, actually!–I stumbled across a tiny store in Portland that had a few offerings from Library of Flowers, whose whimsical storybook packaging I had often admired online, but the scents I had never actually sampled.  And wouldn’t you know, the first one I sniffed, Willow & Water, smelled EXACTLY like my beloved Outrageous shampoo!

The notes are as follows, but don’t let them turn you off:
Top: Cut Greens    Middle: Flowering Lotus    Bottom: Watercress

…which doesn’t sound like it smells anything like what I’ve described, and yet it is.  It captures the worldly complexity of that cheap shampoo,  the existential crisis of figuring out my early twenties and tinge of sadness that goes along with remembering the last time I would ever live at “home” with one of my beautiful sisters.

Despite the uncertainty and instability of that time, Library of Flowers Willow & Water conjures such a lovely, nostalgia for me…although I suppose it is of the bittersweet sort.

Sometimes I wonder if there is really any other kind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Year In Fragrance: Tea Rose

mama

My mother was a complicated piece of business.  That reads more harsh than what I meant to write, and I am feeling kindly disposed this morning, so perhaps I will amend that to say that my feelings about my mother are the real complications here.

When I was eleven years old, I couldn’t fathom saying such a thing.  My mother was this amazing, radiant being; she was like unto God.  I don’t know what, precisely, I based this upon – perhaps nothing at all save a daughter’s faith and devotion that was as yet untested. 20 cats?  That’s ok, I loved cats!  My mom didn’t drive? No problem, my grandma took us everywhere that we needed to go! No money? Ah, we were happy and well-cared for, who needs money? I recall gazing at her, one evening, rapt, and exclaiming “I can’t imagine ever having a fight with you, mom!” She smiled enigmatically, knowing better.

(When I grew much older and had to divest her dilapidated beach cottage of 20 sick felines and several heartbreakingly unwell dogs; when I got my driver’s license and became my mother’s chauffeur at all hours of the night; when I loaned her money time and again which would never be repaid–that is when my feelings became irreversibly complicated).

However, by the time I was fourteen years old, they were certainly going through some complex changes.  My beautiful, brilliant mother was, without a doubt, a raging alcoholic.

I think I have blocked out much of my home-life during my teenage years at this time; I recall going to school, I remember spending time with my boyfriend, I can re-live just about every single moment I ever spent at my first job…but there’s not much I remember about my mother, save surreal flashes of trauma here and there. A Thanksgiving morning when our refrigerator broke down; the kitchen flooded, she had a meltdown and subsequently entered rehab for the first time.  3am early mornings when she cornered my sister and I in a bedroom while she ranted and raged for hours about god knows what, while terrified and confused, we wondered how we would function at school the next day.  My senior year of high school when she disappeared for two weeks entirely. These things.

The one thing I can unfailingly conjure up now, twenty years from now, perhaps even on my deathbed, is her scent: Perfumer’s Workshop Tea Rose.

A scent upon which my grandmother would often remark in disgust “You smell like a funeral parlour!” Tea Rose permeated the fabric of my mother’s clothes and floated around her from room to room in a fragrant cloud. My mother wore exotic, jingling belled anklets which would tinkle and announce her presence as she made her way throughout her home–but Tearose often loudly preceded those tiny chimes.

I purchased a bottle for myself recently, and a week later I am just now able to bring myself to slide the cellophane from the plain, somewhat retro looking brown box and remove the bottle.  I’ve been afraid to spray it, not knowing what images and memories the perfume will invoke. Not ready for the the feelings it will inevitably stir up.

Initially somewhat sour and strange, this is an incredibly potent fragrance, that opens chilly and green and bitter.  It smells less of rose petals and more, I imagine, of chilled thorns, after a frost. Prickly, biting.  Slightly metallic, like the mineral tang of blood, but without the hemic crimson associations.

If it smells like roses, these are not any roses I would wish to be familiar with.  These are not lush, inviting midsummer roses in full bloom, nor are they delicate, blushing buds.
This is more like …roses, plucked too young, brainwashed and warped and corrupted and distilled into  something astringent and spiky and cruel.  If it were a color, it would be an otherwordly emerald, facets glowing strangely, lit from within by distant, verdant starlight.

If you’re patient, though…if you wait long enough…. Let it dry. Give it time. Walk away. It then becomes just a rose. Any rose. All roses. And in it I can smell my mother’s summer cotton night gowns. I can smell the evenings she spent reading us James and the Giant Peach when we were very young. I can smell the soft, warm fur of her favorite Siamese cat.

I can smell the very best memories I have of her, and there is nothing left of the complications.

This is not to say that Tea Rose is a fragrance that I can, or want, to wear.  Although I enjoy the scent of roses, I’ve never wanted to smell like one.  Tea Rose is a bottle I will take off the shelf when I am having angry thoughts, hateful thoughts, or a bad day when I am blaming my mother’s failures for my own shortcomings.
Just a small spritz, with a light hand.
A reminder that my mother was only human, as am I.  We can only be who we are.

And a rose is, after all,  just a rose.

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