Archive of ‘scents & sensibility’ category

A Year In Fragrance: Month 12

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It was my intention to write about fragrances on a monthly basis in 2016, but I’m afraid I rather lost the thread of that back in November. I suspect this can be forgiven. November, for my family at least, has always been The Worst Month–relatives die, addiction and depression run rampant, all sorts of good stuff–but this November was, as I think we can all agree, particularly horrid.

And so, as it happens, I have only posted 10 installments of A Year In Fragrance– which I will link to below, if you missed any and wanted to catch up. I began this project envisioning that it would be mostly fragrance reviews, but I think it ended up being more than (and perhaps a little less than) that.  It was a year of scented memories, scents that I utterly loathed, and even some of my beau’s thoughts on certain fragrances. I suppose I will never get to the point where my thoughts coalesce into precise, well-thought out reviews; I’m doomed to ramble, and meandering rambles these perfumed ponderings shall doubtless remain.

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For November, I will tell you that I purchased a full bottle of of Apoteker Tepe’s The Holy Mountain. Notes include “…over seven precious woods and resins along with a rare extraction of Lapsang Souchong tea smoked slowly over pinewood fires”, and if you are in the market for a smoky fragrance that smells like maybe the smoke cleared after a super-beardy wizard threw a mystical resin into a fire to conjure an ancient dragon lord or something, but the dragon flew away and the wizard has gone to bed and the fire has burned down so that only the embers are smoldering and the deeply scented, resinous smoke has seeped into all the old wooden beams in the top-most tower room where all the magical shit is locked up…well, The Holy Mountain may be the scent for you.

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In December, I tried to resume the practice of “shopping my own stash”, a handy idea and phrase I first heard over at EauMG; I mean, I am of course familiar with the concept of using up your own stuff before buying new things, I just don’t think I’d hear the process called that before. Clever! Anyway, I rediscovered some samples I didn’t even realize I had, and some of them are astonishingly gorgeous, Myrrh Casati by Mona di Orio and Etat Libre d’Orange’s Attaquer le Soleil Marquis de Sade chiefly among them. At the year’s end I realize: yep, still love those churchy incense scents. Perhaps 2017 will bring new loves?

A Year In Fragrance 2016:

January: Tea Rose
February: Willow & Water
March: Witch’s Workbench
April: A Dude Thinks On Stinks
May: Youth Dew
June: “Inexpensive” Stuff
July: Scents For Sleep
August: Hateful ‘fumes
September: A Tale Of Two Roses
October: Sweets For The Sweet

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A Year In Fragrance: Sweets for the sweet

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Otherwise knows as: Sweets for the (person who hates) sweet(s).

It is generally known (mostly because I know I am obnoxiously vocal about such things) that I am not a lover of sweet or foodie or gourmand fragrances. I do not want to smell like a cake or a toffee or a tropical fruit salad, thankyouverymuch. Nor do I wish to smell of chocolates or coffee or a banana split. Most days, even the thought of such things causes me to suppress a shudder and gag quietly.

Most days.

Preferences aside, I am sure it has a lot to do with the fact that most days, temperatures where I live hover at around 90 degrees Farenheit or higher, and really, who wants to smell like a dessert table in that kind of heat? But on the rare, dazzling autumnal afternoon when there is a whisper of chill in the air, or perhaps on a damp, drizzly grey November morning, well, now, that’s a different story,and a sweet scent can be warm, comforting, and most welcome on these occasions.

There are three such fragrances that I reach for when the weather kindly permits.

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Hermèssence Ambre Narguilé by Hermès, created by perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena, is a scent that blends the “honey of amber with a swirl of the Orient”. Says Ellena: “Amber, the Western expression of Eastern fragrances, has a warm, sensual, enveloping, almost carnal smell. I wanted to imbue this idea of amber with the memory of the East I love by recreating the ambiance of those lively places where tobacco – blended with the smells of fruit, honey and spices – is smoked in narguilés, or water pipes, and where swirls of smoke diffuse a sweet sense of intoxication.”

Ambre Narguilé gets a lot of apple pie references from perfume reviewers, but I don’t quite sense that myself. Pie filling, perhaps. Dried fruits–raisins and plums, stewed in honey and rum and spices, and left on the stove very nearly too long. It’s been cooked down to a syrupy essence of its former self, and if you hadn’t pulled it from the flame, the caramelized sugars might have started to smoke and burn. I don’t know if I smell the tobacco, but then again, many people think tobacco smells like raisins, so…

This is as sweet as it gets for me. It calls to mind a cozying up by firelight with a charmingly old timey book, while wearing an oversized sweater with thick cables and toggle buttons. If Ambre Narguilé is overly burdensome on your wallet, Fille En Aiguille from Serge Lutens is in a similar stewed fruit and spices vein, and can be found for much less.

2.

Chanel’s Coromandel is a “spirited oriental fragrance that reveals itself by interrupting its amber vibrato with dry notes and finally settles into a long, restrained, voluptuous accord.” What are you even trying to say here? OK, marketing people. You’re drunk, go home.

Created by Christopher Sheldrake and Jacques Polge, Coromandel is part of the Exclusifs colletion and was inspired by the exotic Chinese lacquered screens, that, when Coco Chanel first observed their their “blend of opulence and austerity, of dark sheen and bright gold embellishments” (via), she proclaimed that she would “faint of happiness” and that she will live surrounded by them. Depending on where you get your information from (the Chanel site isn’t very helpful on this point) Coromandel is comprised of jasmine, patchouli, woody notes, amber, benzoin, frankincense and possibly citruses, bitter orange, neroli, rose, orris, incense, musk, and Tahitian vanilla. Oddly, I never see white chocolate listed, but it is what people seem to love most about it.

There is something nose-tickling and sharp, almost camphorous and earthy when the first spritz settles on your skin. Soon, a dark sprinkle of pepper atop a mug of palest milky cocoa, smooth and rich on the tongue, but tinged with that underlying musty bitterness. The strange interplay between those primordial notes and that velvety decadence does somewhat call to mind dueling impressions of opulence and austerity; imagine thoroughly enjoying a delectably elegant beverage…on the damp, cold floor of a limestone cave.

3.

In Irish folklore the Dana O’Shee are a fae, elven people, eternally beautiful and eternally young. They are said to be vengeful and treacherous and possess a streak of mischievous malice, and offerings of milk, honey and sweet grains were made to placate these creatures. This is the basis of Dana O’Shee, the scent created by Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab.

I won’t sugar-coat it–of my three sweetly scented choices, this one is the least complex/most linear among them. But, I think, there is much to be said for simplicity; what you smell initially is what you get for the duration, and if you’re in need of a comfort scent that is not too heavy or cloying, this is a good one to have in your collection. Reminiscent of rice pudding with a soft pour of cream on top, and/or perhaps a honeyed milk custard, and stir in some sugared marizpan… but imagine dreamy spoonfuls of all of this while a faint incense lingers in the air. Or, perhaps, envision a a stick of sugared milk custard incense! It sounds delicious, but don’t eat it! Tempted though ye may be.

*Bonus Sometimes (shhhh!) I actually wear Aquolina’s Pink Sugar which is admittedly teeth-achingly sweet at the onset, but if you give it some time, it dries down to a vaguely woodsy, lightly musky, and …okay… still very sweet scent…but it makes me think of a make-believe forest, with cotton candy trees and maybe you are having a secret rendez-vouz with a sexy marshmallow satyr. No doubt something I read in a saucy fairy tale a long time ago.

Are you a lover of sweet fragrances, or, like me, do you save your sugary scented treats for more tolerable climes? What are some of your favorites when you wish to live deliciously? Whisper your sweet nothings in the comments below!

PREVIOUS INSTALLMENTS
A Year In Fragrance: A Tale Of Two Roses
A Year In Fragrance: Hateful ‘fumes
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

Currently {October 2016}

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Alice Sweet Alice (1976) officially licensed poster by Nikita Kaun

This has been a strange month so far. After the excitement and panic of the hurricane, while things have calmed down a bit, they still don’t feel “normal”. I haven’t had the energy or motivation I need to finish (or, ahem, start) many of the things I would have hoped to have done now that the month is almost over, and as melodramatic as it sounds, I feel as if I am languishing under the threat of some unnameable doom.

In the meantime, here are some movies I have seen recently, and my one word assessments of them.

Phantasm, remastered (in the theatre)— yes
Jupiter Ascending — nope
Alice Sweet Alice — yes
The Night of the Hunter — absolutely
The Legend of Hell House* — yes
The Haunted Palace — no
The Conjuring 2 — no
The Uninvited* — no
Housebound — YES
Dead Silence* — no. But maybe yes.
Ava’s Possessions* — yes (it is worth mentioning that the main character was watching the above listed Alice Sweet Alice on her tiny tv set at one point during the film!)

We also watched season one of Ash Vs. Evil Dead which was a lot of fun, although a great deal…saltier than I expected? Maybe I am getting old. Gosh.

*these titles can be found on netflix

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RE: Books/reading…

I was loathe to delve into any book at all after finishing the very excellent Southern Reach Trilogy, but as it happens, everything since I’ve read since then has been wonderful. The Night of the Hunter was unexpectedly, profoundly beautiful, and come to think of it, I might use those same words to describe Michael Schmeltzer’s book of poetry, Blood Songs. Monstress boasted exquisite, intricate art, complex characters, really fantastic world building, and a thrillingly mysterious story; I cannot wait to read more. Giant Days (Volume 3), Wicked + The Divine (Volume 4), and Over the Garden Wall were all just as much fun as I would have expected, and I think I also read every gorgeous, weird thing that Tin Can Forest ever published. Oh, and also–The Girl With All The Gifts, which was an uncomplicated, but still pretty engaging read (I wasn’t even going to pick it up, but the film was receiving such great reviews, and if I am going to see the movie, my general rule is that I must read the book first!)

BPAL Salon Halloweenies

Over at Haute Macabre today I review some of the Salon scents from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab; I did not purchase any of the pumpkin or apple scents or anything candy related because they’re not really my thing, but I guess that probably translates to “I’m a pretentious git who hates fun”. So be it! .

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At the beginning of October, my hair dresser was supposed to give me purple hair. Somehow I came out of the salon looking exactly as I had when I walked in. I guess it’s been that kind of month.

What are you up to this month? Has it been all weirdness and strange times for you, as well?

Needful things

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A Love That Casts No Shadow by EC Steiner

There must be something exceptionally splendid and special in the air right now (or could it simply be that we are now in the month of October– the most wonderful time of the year?) My beloved friends are really outdoing themselves with regard to their current creative ventures and artistic endeavors, and I wanted to take a moment to spotlight, (for all of my twelve readers, haha) some of the remarkable things that are available right now from these dazzlingly brilliant visionaries.  See below for an array of outstanding projects and collaborations resulting in needful things of the most enticing and uncanny sort.

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Whispering Death by Becky Munich

Munich Art Studio and Casketglass Art have teamed up to celebrate a month of haunted days by releasing an extremely limited set of art prints inspired by the mystery and magic of Halloween. An intimate experience, only 20 print sets are available for purchase and will not be re-released, and in honor of the joyously macabre traditions of the Halloween season, each order is shipped with additional ghoulish treats for you to keep or share with others.

Order the 2016 limited edition Halloween art print set here

 

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For the scented tapophile: in what will be an on-going collection, the new Haute Macabre + Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab collaboration is launching with two new fragrances, Burying Point and St. Louis #1. Made exclusively for Haute Macabre by master perfumer Elizabeth Barrial, the collection is based on favorite cemeteries around the world; the first installment features St. Louis #1 (drooping Spanish moss and crumbling marble, sweet olive blossom, 13-year aged black patchouli, and offerings of Bay Rum, Florida water, and tobacco), located in New Orleans, and Burying Point (damp clusters of brown patchouli, dried maple leaves, black sage, spikenard, and curled, misshapen mandrake roots), the oldest cemetery in Salem.

Purchase Burying Point and St. Louis #1 here.

 

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Two beautiful new pins are available for pre-order from our friends at Wormwood & Rue!

DAWN: Our hard enamel pin featuring a white hare wreathed in morning glories is 49mm (1.9″) tall and finished in gold plating.

DUSK: Our hard enamel pin featuring a black hare wreathed in glow-in-the-dark moonflowers is 49mm (1.9″) tall and finished in nickel plating.

If you choose to pre-order them individually they are $10 a piece, or you can get the set for $20.

 

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Friends who have visited our house and wondered at the ghostly chamber music and dark, dreamy sounds we sometimes haunt you with? It’s Meredith Yayanos‘ eerily beautiful music from The Parlour Trick’s Blessed Unrest album …and right now you can get the digital version on bandcamp for a mere $6.66–OR!–you can pre-order the vinyl repress (which you should do, because it will sell out in the blink of an eye!)

Purchase both digital and physical copies of A Blessed Unrest here.

 

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Visit Haute Macabre to read the introduction to the bloodmilk Book Club for this season, with Sonya Vatomsky’s “Salt Is For Curing” as the current selection. Also included in the post are two special giveaways: one, a chance to win a copy of Sonya’s book, and a second, a chance to win a jewel from the bloodmilk shop. The giveaway runs until November 1st, so there is still plenty of time.

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As you know, we sold out of the Occult Activity Book Volume Two even faster than anticipated! Neither this volume or the previous will ever be re-printed or re-created, so if you missed out on the opportunity to purchase this rare tome full of fantastical arts and word witchery, you will never again have another chance. HOWEVER! Don’t summon the demons to do your freaky time travel bidding just yet! Our friends at Haute Macabre are giving away one deluxe edition of The Occult Activity Book Volume Two, which includes the book and all the goodies. If you missed out on this exceedingly special project and are hovering at cusp of committing dire and dangerous magical crimes to acquire one for yourself, why not enter the giveaway instead?

 

AND, a few upcoming things that you need to keep an eye out for!

 

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Artist: Dana Glover

Morbid Fantasies is a richly illustrated reader’s guide to Gothic literature, guiding fans both old and new over the ever-changing face of this most ghoulish of genres. In its pages, scholar Jack Shear covers the history, key themes, and major books in the Gothic movement from its inception through the current day. It’s a love letter to this often misunderstood and under-appreciated form of entertainment, hand-bound and designed by Tenebrous Kate with featured illustrations by Dana Glover, Becky Munich, and Carisa Swenson.  I hear this may be available as soon as next weekend, so be sure to check over at hereticalsexts.com to grab a copy for yourself!

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California sprawls across a multitude of landscapes and has amassed a history full of the strange and unusual. There are secrets in the desert. Secrets in the cities. Strange and unusual happenings in the odd, dark places of the coastal state.

Strange California is 26 tales of strangeness, lavishly illustrated, that will pull you into another world, a world where migrant girls stand up to witches who live in orange groves, where trickster magpies try to steal souls from Russian sisters in the early days of Fort Bragg, where water is both currency and predator, and Gold Rush-era ghosts wander the streets of San Francisco alongside panther ladies.

I am particularly excited about this book because writer friend and fellow blogger Patricia Lundy of Something Eldritch will have a story in it! Back the book over on kickstarter here.

 

A Year In Fragrance: A Tale Of Two Roses

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I have a complicated relationship with rose-centered fragrances. They are heavy and suffocating, and smell to me of obligation and resentment and impossible women. This line of thinking depresses me of course, and so on top of that, I associate rose with sadness and depressive episodes. Needless to say, my fragrance wardrobe does not consist of many rosy perfumes.

Earlier this past year, a few months apart, I sampled and fell in love with two small tester vials of absolutely stunning (and terribly expensive) scents. After careful consideration I decided they were both full bottle worthy and once they arrived I ascertained that what I now had in my possession smelled nothing like the fragrances I remembered testing and briefly swooning over. Furthermore, one smelled distinctly like roses, of a sort, and the other has rose listed at the very heart of it–which somehow I had not noticed when I checked out the notes beforehand. Or maybe I was so besotted, I never even checked!

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Guerlain’s Encens Mythique D’Orient is marketed thusly: “An ethereal frankincense leaves only a fleeting mark on this fragrance, while rose imprints its fiery accents”. It’s composition includes top notes of rose, aldehyde, saffron; heart notes of pink pepper, vetiver, patchouli; base notes of forest floor, ambergris, frankincense.

It’s a very sheer scent, and indeed, quite rosy. Why didn’t I sense that with my initial sample? I haven’t a clue, because it’s there, immediately, sour and bright and sparkling right out of the bottle. I think it’s the pink pepper that gives it that weird effervescence.Or maybe the aldehydes, which sometimes smell metallic and fizzy to my nose. If there’s incense here, it is demure and unburnt. There is an undercurrent of something bitter and green, anchoring it to the earth, otherwise I might imagine this as a rose blossom in midsummer that’s somehow broken from the stem in a sudden breeze and floated skyward, amongst the sunshine and clouds.

Encens Mythique D’Orient conjures sensations of diffused light and hazy warmth, and it’s the sort of scent that almost smells better in the space where I was standing a few seconds ago, rather than on my person in the immediate moment. The scent a silken scarf might trail in its wake, not heady or heavy, but rather a luxurious, delicate, understated glamour. It is so translucent and so full of light that I cannot associate it with the somber roses my mother wore. And yet–this is going to sound really weird–it makes me think of the rose motifs in Revolutionary Girl Utena…which was definitely a weird, dark story. In particular, it recalls brings to mind Sunlit Garden.

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Fate for Woman by Amouage…well, OK, this one is a stretch. I don’t think it smells very much of roses at all, which is why I was so surprised to see it listed prominently in the notes. Here’s the description, which I had somehow also never read before today, but trust me, if I had, I would have purchased it without even sampling it first.

Fate for Woman is a chypre oriental with a rich floral heart intensified by a dark and destructive accord resonating with the tumultuous unknown.
Top notes: bergamot, cinnamon, chilli, pepper.
Heart notes: rose, narcissus, jasmine, frankincense, labdanum.
Base notes: vanilla bean, frankincense, benzoin, castoreum, patchouli, oakmoss, leather.

“The tumultuous unknown!” Goodness.

Fate opens up with cool, nose-tickling pencil shavings and spicy, peppery florals follow soon thereafter, just the barest wisps of jasmine and rose. A bronzed and leathery labdanum slinks in and gives way to billowing quantities of powdery vanilla. What remains is the intensely scented blend of talcum powder cut with that opening note of pencil shavings, which seemed to play into every phase and facet of Fate, despite the fact that cedar isn’t even listed in the notes.

The tumultuous unknown, it would seem, is a powdery abyss, teeming with the souls of #2 pencils.

Somehow, of course, this still comes back to my mom (it always does). I wish she were still here to try these scents with me, and discuss our thoughts. Of course, this is quite a bit of revisionist history on my part: we never had many perfume discussions and we certainly didn’t sit around with a pile of samples, anointing ourselves with this scent or that, and making notes and comparisons.

But man, how I wish we had. These are some weird roses, mom. I wish you could smell them, too.

PREVIOUS INSTALLMENTS
A Year In Fragrance: Hateful ‘fumes
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: Hateful ‘fumes

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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.

 

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