I require an explanation regarding muesli. I was startled out of sleep last night when I realized that I didn’t know what the difference was between muesli and granola. At first, I thought muesli was basically toasted nuts and grains but without the fat or sweetener, like granola. Both then I see that sometimes muesli is just raw grains and nuts, soaked. Both seem to have the addition of dried fruits and various toppings at some point. So then… what’s the difference between muesli and overnight oats or even oatmeal? Is it all just semantics? Also, is “overnight oats” basically just a term that some dumb fitness blogger coined because they thought they came up with something clever, but in reality, it’s something people have been doing for a million years? Because I sure wish someone had said to them, oh, so you’re making MUESLI, then?
Anyway, if you can’t tell, this confusion is making me cranky and mean. And also I hate fitness bloggers.
The internet is confusing me with conflicting information and I swear I just watched Jamie Oliver dump half a damn can of cocoa in his wacky version so I don’t even know what’s what anymore. If you are a muesli eater and you can explain to me the difference, I’d love to hear it! And armchair muesliosophers, keep outta this–I don’t need conjecture, I need hard facts!
I have included a screen capture that confuses things even further, from the video I just watched.
I’ve mentioned before my propensity to create little challenges for myself; blogging every day for 30 days, trying out a new soup recipe once every month, etc, etc. Well, one of the other things I am doing is a perfume review a day, every day for a year, over on TikTok. Ok, sure, I cheated a little at first. I made recordings of perfumes I’ve already reviewed, maybe with a little revamping or a tweak here or there, but for the most part, I’d already formulated my thoughts. I did that to ease myself into the habit, and I don’t feel like I broke my my loosey-goosey rules too much, because, hey, that tactic worked. I just posted my 77th-in-a-row perfume review TikTok, so I think I’m doing pretty well. I started doing this because I wanted to get back into the regular practice of composing some thoughts about the perfumes I own, and also…I also wanted to actually wear them. This was a great excuse to start doing that!
Anyway, for those of you who hate TikTok, or who don’t want to watch a video compilation on YouTube, I have shared 40 days’ worth of perfume reviews (almost 6K words!) below. Some of these may sound familiar, as I definitely revisited a few fragrances along the way, but I think most of the scents in this gathering are either thoughts I’ve never shared before, or wholly new reviews.
What about you stinkers? Have you tried anything new lately, fragrance-wise, that you’ve fallen in love with?
Heresy Chapel Factory
I am still getting to know Heresy from Chapel Factory but I believe it is fast becoming one of my Holy Grail scents. It is the sharp green metallic floral of violet leaf, mingled with cool aromatic cedar, lofty sandalwood, and the smoked leather notes of vetiver; elements which alchemize into the austere elegance and kindred glooms of a dry, peppery violet incense. If you like the dark ambiance and nocturnal aesthetic of dungeon synth coupled with spectral visionary Simon Marsden’s black and white photographs of haunted ruins and moonlit abbeys, this is a transportive scent that will spirit you away to those eerie, ominous realms.
Prada (Amber) Prada
Prada Amber is a scent that reminds me of Dior Addict, and not because they really smell similar, but they’re both woodsy, sweet, resinous Orientals that take up a lot of space. They are voluminous, they envelop you in a wondrously dreamy cloud of fragrance …but it’s also a rippling billow of scent that can be sniffed several rooms away on the other side of the house, or on the other side of the globe, or maybe even on the moon. And I think you need to be okay with that to love these perfumes And side note…why haven’t we come up with a better way to describe this category of perfume. I am reviewing this scent in 2021, and calling it an “Oriental” fragrance seems deeply problematic, doesn’t it? At any rate, Prada Amber is a beautiful honeyed, balsamic amber and velvety patchouli with a discordant herbal bitterness, perhaps from tarragon or bergamot, that adds interest and intrigue and keeps it just this side of cloying, while maintaining that overblown potent headiness.
Fancy Jessica Simpson
When I was young, my mother didn’t drive, so my grandmother tootled us around with her on errands and took us where ever we needed to go. Her purse was a bottomless supply of Dum Dum lollipops and if we were well-behaved, we got one as a treat. This was a massive thrill when I was 4, but some arbitrary switch flipped when I was 5 and suddenly I found them utterly vile. No thanks, grandma! Imagine shaking sticky shards of fruit punch, cherry, and butterscotch flavored candies out of your best Belk’s church purse, and… that’s basically Fancy. It is Dum Dum dust. Interpret that however you like. You might say, well, oh, Sarah, it’s not made for you. Ok, I get that. But tell me… who is it made for? And do they keep their toy lipsticks on a hot pink plastic vanity and cook with an EZ bake oven?
Nirvana Black Elizabeth and James
I received so many samples of Nirvana Black in my Sephora orders in 2014 but I never took the time to try it. I was convinced it wasn’t going to be very good. I have since procured a mini-bottle, which isn’t too much of an investment in case I hate it. For the record, I do hate the clunky, ugly bottle, whatever size it is. This begins as Vanilla Fields from Coty, which I recall from my 20s as a fairly cheap, but unexpectedly lovely, dusty, musky vanilla sandalwood. If I wait a minute or two, it then becomes a simple combination of warm whiskey and deep woods. I’m not sure what/which woods, though? Maybe a wooden box, where you stored the whiskey? This isn’t a complex scent, but then again, I believe there are only 3 notes listed and sometimes more doesn’t always mean better. It’s nice enough, but don’t love Nirvana Black and it doesn’t feel like me, but I think it would be devastating on my doppelganger.
Sea Island Cotton Bath and Body Works
This spray from Bath and Body Works is an old friend and my ultimate comfort scent. It’s what I used for years before I began scenting myself with what I guess we tend to think of as “proper perfume.” I think this was originally called Clean Cotton Blosson, and when I went to repurchase it was Sea Island Cotton but now I think it’s just plain old Cotton Blossom. And it is a fairly plain and simple scent. It’s essentially dryer sheets composed of white musk, soapy florals, and a hint of linens drying on the line on a crisp, green, spring day somewhere near a seaside cliff. It’s what you might consider a fresh, powdery aquatic scent, and those are typically my least favorite fragrances, but this one is somehow special, it’s a dreamy treat, wrapped up in nostalgia and hope, and it never fails to soothe my soul.
Cathedral (Holiday no.3) DSH Perfumes
With notes of nocturnal resins, smoldering incense, and cool, creeping midnight moss, Cathedral from DSH perfumes conjures visions of a lone lantern lit in a solitary tower window away from which runs a stumbling figure in a long, trailing nightdress. What is this poor, doomed creature running from, barefoot across these misty moors on a moonless night? Ghosts, phantoms, and strange sinister spirits? A brooding, turbulent love affair fraught with bitter betrayals? Fearful family curses and dreams, illusions, obsessions, murders. I mean…what isn’t she running from, right? It’s not this perfume. With a resigned sigh, she turns and trudges back. Whatever else is going on in that wicked castle, she can’t leave behind this haunting and quite possibly haunted fragrance. It’s a Choose Your Own Gothic Romance in a bottle.
I purchased Hwyl on a whim solely because someone included in a listicle of fragrances that smell like camping, noting that this one, in particular, smells like how they imagine Totoro’s home might be scented. Did I want to smell like the woodland abode of an acorn-eating supernatural Japanese forest folk creature? Need you ask? Initially, I think due to the cypress and woody notes that they have in common, I thought Hwyl smelled very similar to Comme des Garcons Kyoto, and that perhaps I didn’t need both. But where Kyoto is a meditative prayer in a cool forest temple, Hywl is earthier, greener, and warmer. A mushroom-strewn, leaf-littered path leading to that temple, the sun streaming through the forest canopy, the cypress, live oak, and bamboo swaying with an afternoon breeze and rustling with the invisible movements of racoons and foxes, and maybe little forest spirits, too. Is there a Totoro following you? Or does it wait for you patiently at the Temple? Maybe we do need both scents, just to find out.
Ambre Noir Sonoma Scent Studio
Ambre Noir from Sonoma Scent Studio is dense and intense and the darkest amber you could ever hope to meet. Both somber and smoldering, with notes of labdanum, rose, incense, moss, leather, and woods, it is a blackened forest fireside frolic when the veil between worlds is thinnest. See also: the final moments in the film The VVitch. If you like outrageously dark, spellbindingly smoky amber fragrances, I believe you’ll enjoy this one.
Niki de Saint Phalle
Though I’ve had this bottle of Niki de Saint Phalle for years, I’ve been avoiding pinning down my thoughts on this one. I am not sure how much the woman had to do with the creation of the perfume, but Niki de Saint Phalle was a French-American artist and filmmaker renowned for her distinctive sculptures of voluptuous vividly colored, giant, joyously conquering women. The perfume was launched in 1982 but it smells like my imaginings of the early 70s It’s a delicately spicy, mossy green-leafed potion, with notes of wormwood, carnation, leather, peach, and soft aldehydes. It’s complex, yet eerily balanced and I can’t get a handle on any one note. It makes me think of a meandering, plotless arthaus film that you loved for the visuals and the atmosphere and the score, and even though you didn’t understand a thing that was going on, you’re still daydreaming about it decades later.
Myrrh & Tonka Jo Malone London
I love most incarnations of myrrh and this is a really nice one. Its bittersweet, medicinal edge is tempered by the tonka, and tonka’s earthy sweetness is reigned in by the inclusion of the aromatic herbal crispness of lavender. There’s the barest tinge of something smoky and acrid, which calls to mind imagery of blazing, blackened amber, and yet this is a very cool scent, and I don’t get a feeling of warmth from it at all. It makes me think of the sadly discontinued Sonoma Scent Studio Ambre Noir, a fragrance that goes hard with the smoky amber, so maybe this could be a possible, though less extreme, dupe.
Musc Maori 04 Pierre Guillaume Paris
Musc Maori from Pierre Guillaume Paris is another one that I tried a long while ago and wanted to revisit, and it’s just as quietly weird as I remember. It’s got milky vanilla notes of cumaru wood, which I had to look up just now, and Google tells me that basically, it’s where tonka beans come from. It also features appearances by coffee tree blossom and cacao pod. I typically don’t love chocolate scents, but this is like a musky, musty, ghostly packet of Swiss Miss. I say ghostly because it’s a very transparent scent, and the musk alternates eerily between something etherous in spirit and warm, sweet human skin. This is not the finished cup of hot chocolate but rather the grains of cocoa trembling in the tablespoon before being stirred into the boiling milk. It’s an odd but thoroughly charming fragrance.
Intense Cafe Montale
I first sampled Montale’s Cafe Intense years ago when I was initially getting into fragrance and perfumes. I guess I was feeling a little nostalgic for that sample a kind MUA-er sent me way back when! My recollection was that it was meant to be a coffee-forward scent, but…it is not. My partner observed that it smells like a teenage girl who typically wore a lot of candied, sugary scents and who wanted to level up with fancy florals and didn’t quite hit the mark. She tried, I guess, was his conclusion. My thoughts are more specific. This is a cloying fruity-floral that smells exactly like Rose Jam from LUSH, which I bitterly loathe because that smells just like those gaggy sweet Jolly Ranchers hard candies that all the popular kids were always eating in 6th grade. Which in turn makes me think of the MOST popular girl, we’ll call her Mary Lesa H., who broke off and ATE part of my sugar crystal science project that year. I hate science projects and I have never forgiven Mary Lesa H., and this awful perfume can go straight to hell.
Gris Clair from Serge Lutens& Lea from Calypso St. Barth’s (discontinued?)
Gris Clair makes me think of Moira Rose’s observation in a later episode of Schitt’s Creek, where she’s strolling along the path outside their hotel room and remarks to her husband that she “detects a scintilla of lavender” in the air. Gris Clair is several scintillas of astringent lavender, crisp linen, and sharp, smoky resins in a cut-glass crystal bowl. I actually love to layer this with Lea from Calypso St. Barth’s, a pretty, pillowy perfume of vanilla, musk, and almond; it’s not overpowering and as a matter of fact, it’s fairly delicate. Think a simple, unfrosted angel food cake as opposed to a gargantuan many-layered Milkbar confection. Together these fragrances lend depth where nuance is lacking in one and buff out the bitter edges of the other. Think lavender vanilla bean shortbread cookie bath bomb bedtime treat.
Fleur Cachée by Anatol Lebreton
My initial impressions of Fleur Cachée are of celery and shadows and green seeds and spice pods crushed on cool marble, desiccated bouquets more dust than bloom, and the skeletal, crumbling remains of frosted confections covered in cobwebs. This *is* a vanilla scent, you can smell it, but it’s a vanilla that’s not going to be defined by the ice creamy-cakeiness that we typically associate with this note. It’s almost as if it’s dressing itself up to be unpleasant, like it’s trying to convince us that Gillian Anderson is the creepy and clock-stoppingly tragic figure of Miss Havisham– but you can’t fool me, and I am not having it. This is gorgeous. As it wears, a woodsy, oaky note emerges, not quite boozy but the casks were something smooth and delicious was aged. Overall, this is a deeply melancholic and complex vanilla, strange and dry and unlike all of the vanillas you may have known up until this moment.
The Afternoon of a Faun Etat Libre d’Orange
The Afternoon of a Faun feels like the olfactory equivalent of a proper meal after you’ve been subsisting on extremes of cheap, trashy snacks and the avant-garde weirdness of sneaking into a gallery opening to pilfer nibbles from molecular gastronomy art installations. It’s not a rib roast or a tofurkey or any meal in particular, but it’s that thing you dine on, whatever that might be for you, that satisfies your belly and nourishes your body and makes you feel good. I suppose this analogy is my way of admiring how extraordinarily well-balanced this perfume is. Inspired, I believe by both a poem of a faun recounting his horny dreams and the scandalous ballet based on the poem, The Afternoon of a Faun is a mossy-spicy-woody-aromatic-green-floral subscription box of a scent wrapped in a bow of bitter herbs and peppery celery enveloping a heart of immortelle’s smoky tea and burnt sugar note. If you enjoy chypre scents, you can’t go wrong with this one. If you are not sure, or are new to perfume, this is a great one to start with.
Guerlain Mon Guerlain
Everyone seems quite taken with Mon Guerlain, which I’d never tried, so I thought I’d take advantage of a Sephora sale and grab a bottle of the eau de parfum. I gotta be honest. It’s pretty gross. If you need a scent for impressing your peers after pledging yourself to Jesus as a pre-teen holy roller and you were going to hang with all of them at a rager of an overnight church lockin? This would be what you’d reach for. But listen, I’m not knocking smelling good for your lord and savior, but I think even the begotten only son of God has zero tolerance for this cloying fruity-floral bargain bin Koolaid flavor of a scent. Where’s the more interesting aspects of lavender and bergamot that people are wild for? This is just watered down CapriSun that no one even spiked. I’m flummoxed. And now I’m out $80. Dammit.
Eau Triple Sumi Hinoki Buly 1803
I’ve found interpretations of hinoki varies from perfumer to perfumer, ranging from lemony and coniferous, to tarry and peppery. This version is a deeply unpleasant boyscout campfire burning with bandaids and liniment and makes me feel the way I do when I’m dreaming and I walk into a darkened room and flip a light switch for illumination…and then nothing happens. At that point, the dream invariably descends into a nightmare, but I have learned to wake myself up at that moment, my brain boiling, electrified and panic-stricken. As a writer, at times I crave this scent when I need a freaky, feverish jolt of agitation. It’s also great for layering to add a touch of artful anxiety to a scent that’s pretty, but perhaps placid.
Sahara Noir Tom Ford (discontinued?)
Tom Ford’s Sahara Noir is a scent in my cupboard I’ve long been ignoring and I couldn’t tell you why. It’s intensely evocative in an incredibly specific way, so first my nerd review and then a translation for those who don’t have a tolerance for silliness.
Sahara Noir is the blazing binary sunset seen from the still, dry heat of sand dune on the desert planet Tatooine; a midnight canyon campfire crackling with the spicy resin of the Japor tree, the aromatic blossoms of the molo shrub, and acrid ribbons of poonten grass incense while the ground rumbles with the snores and snuffles of a slumbering bantha herd nearby.
Which is to say this is the driest frankincense, lemony woodsy pinon sawdust, a circle of fragrant burning woods, and brittle, smoky papyrus ash.
Whatever your preferred fandom or even if you stick solely to reality, Sahara Noir is utterly divine.
Daim Blond Serge Lutens
I’m revisiting Serge Lutens’ Daim Blond, a scent I thought I didn’t care for. It’s objectively “nice”, but it just doesn’t resonate with me. I smell the things that people love about it: the elusive whiff of soft suede from the inner pocket of an expensive handbag, the cool floral iris, the bowl of apricots basking in a beam of afternoon sunlight. But those things, they’re over there. And I am here. And we don’t connect. It’s the career woman who got married, had kids, holds an executive position somewhere, and does hot yoga and spin class. So very not me. It makes me think of that photo of Maureen Prescott that you see in the first Scream movie. She looks like a put-together lady. But you later find out she had a past, and it was complicated and fraught, and the catalyst for the entire franchise. Today when I smelled a previously undetected bit of pensive cedar, and wistful violet it made me think about Maureen’s pain and trauma and tragedy, and I recognized how layered we all are, and how no one’s life is ever quite how we imagine it from the outside. That’s something to sit with, and so too, I suppose, is Daim Blond.
Unknown Pleasures Kerosene
I need to be in a specific, special mood to reach for this one. Which is to say deep in the throes of a massive sugar craving. For context, the official description of Kerosene’s Unknown Pleasures mentions a picturesque vision of walking down a cold street in Manchester, listening to Joy Division, sipping on a warm cup of London Fog. And then a whole bunch of stuff about cozy vanilla and zingy lemon.” Ok, so this is less some idyllic goth afternoon tea stroll in the UK, and more a trendy bar in Austin’s house special creme brulee pina colada topped with those lightly spiced airplane shortbread cookies that are tastier than they have any right to be. This is like coconut, pineapple, and toasted vanilla custard Mcflurry with an add-in of Biscoff cookies. And by the way, I am not picking on Austin. I traveled there once, and forgot to pack perfume -the horror!- and I bought this bottle of Unknown Pleasures from a lovely little boutique there. It’s an almost horrifyingly bonkers dessert perfume and I gotta say, I love it.
Ginger Essence Origins
Origins Ginger Essence is like waking up on the first day of summer vacation and launching yourself out of bed with a whoop and a holler into the magnificence of a beautiful cloudless day, a sky so blue you feel you’re staring eternity in the eye, and eternity is having a pretty great day, too. The first day of knowing you’ve got two and a half months ahead of you where you have obligations and no one is making any demands of your time. As adults, we probably haven’t experienced that complete and utter and glorious freedom in a long time, and this bright, effervescent, zingy scent of spicy fresh-chopped ginger, and aromatic tangy citrus peels (and a nearby saucepan of simple syrup, just outside our peripheral vision) is as close as we might get to those storybook early summer holiday feels. See also all the lyrics from The Decemberists song June Hymn. “A panoply of song” is exactly how I’d describe this fragrance.
Tuberose & Moss Rogue Perfumery
Rogue Perfumerie’s Tuberose & Moss is a recommendation I received from writer and journalist Rachel Syme over on Twitter. I asked for a scent that smelled like Tasha Tudor’s goth great-grandaughter, and she recommended to me Tuberose & Moss. This is a stunning scent and if I’m honest, I’m annoyed at myself that she knew of it before I did. It’s plush white florals and earthy leathery dreamy oakmoss and woody, close to the skin musk; it’s classic perfumery with a wink. While there’s definitely that sense of powdery, vintage glamour, it’s lensed through a cracked-looking glass, there’s something shimmering and strange about it too. It’s the faded photo of Siouxsie Sioux reading Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit that never existed in this world, but I’m certain it does in some other reality.
Geisha Noire from Aroma M
Geisha Noire from Aroma M is a scent I first encountered via Makeup Alley, in 2004 when I was beginning my fragrance journey and spent a lot of time on the site’s forums. It was a thrilling experience swapping scent samples with strangers, but the kind of strangers with whom you were slowly making kindred connections and forming, in some instances, marvelous friendships that last many years. I have hoarded my tiny vial ever since that time and finally bought a full bottle last week. Geisha Noire is an intense, golden amber and smoky somber tonka that’s rich and hypnotic but before it veers too far into gourmand territory, you encounter an unexpected edge of leather and salt that keeps interesting and not so easily categorized.
Magie Noire Lancome
Imagine the various components of Bánh mì snack. Savory roasted pork belly, peppery chiles, pickled daikon, aromatic cilantro, right down to the yeasty tang of a crusty baguette. Sometimes one is just in the mood for a glamour sandwich, and this one is certainly complex and delicious.
Sinner Kat Von D
I’m quite certain that the nose composed this sentence no actual concept of sin either in theory or practice. This is a creamy white floral grounded with a light woody musk and it’s one of those pleasantly inoffensive scent that one might spritz when they don’t want to spend a lot of time thinking about their perfume. If your idea of sin is wearing white after Labor Day or not properly sorting your recyclables, this may hit right for you. If the imp of the perverse lives permanently on your shoulder, you may think this is laughable but you keep it in your cabinet because you love the cheesy gothic melodrama of the bottle
Spice Must Flow Etat Libre d’Orange
ELdO’s Spice Must Flow is less of Frank Herbert’s space spice and more a hybrid of late-90’s English pop group members Posh Spice and Ginger Spice. It’s a lone, lush, rose, cool and fragrant, and mysteriously blooming in the dry, hot sands where only the prickliest, most pungent, and peppery spices survive. I don’t think there’s any citrus listed in the notes but there’s a mild, sour zing when you first spritz that gives the impression of brightness, and a beautiful cardamom incense note at the dry down that lends a shadowy balance. I would actually call this a rose for people who think they don’t like roses rather than a gateway to Arrakis for denizens of Spice World. Wait…what were we talking about?
Me Myself & I Egofacto
Me Myself & I by Egofacto is scent marketed as a bewitching and disturbing floral with voluptuous tuberose, mysterious hemlock flower, and smoky and vetiver. At the time I first learned of it I thought, wow, OK YES PLEASE take my money. A few years later I still consider it an exceedingly sound investment. It smells overwhelmingly to me of an unlit package of cigarettes in an impossibly expensive leather handbag, and I love that smell. I should know better. My mother smoked all her life, and she died of cancer in 2013. Me, I’m a nerd and have never smoked the slightest bit of anything, but I’ve still got this romanticized notion of sitting in a Parisian cafe, drinking espresso, smoking French cigarettes, scribbling poetry, and looking very cool. You can’t convince me otherwise. It’s a fragrance that conjures a somber, moody atmosphere that hearkens back to its very name in that you’ll want to be alone with it, and I promise you’ll both be in exemplary company.
I’ve only tried a few Commodity fragrances and own even less. The issues I have with Moss, the one I actually have, are emblematic of most of the others I’ve sampled as well. They’re crisp in the sense that mostly what you get is the acrid, antiseptic zest of rubbing alcohol, and they’re generically cologne-y, in a plastic-y green, waxy citrus way that reminds me of every mediocre dude who talks over you in a department meeting and takes credit for your ideas, every tedious bore at a party who suggests that you’re misinformed and that you should read the work of a certain subject matter expert –and news flash ya ding dong, I’m the one who wrote the work you’re referencing– and lastly, every creeper who crawls out from his cave to follow you down the street shouting HEY GIRL NICE TATS and then calls you an ugly whore when you politely request that he leave you alone. Pretty sure all of these assholes are Commodity’s focus groups.
Vanille Noire du Mexique La Maison de la Vanille
La Maison de la Vanille is vanilla of dark, moody florals and balsamic resins that that for a few seconds smells like the platonic ideal of a hot chocolate served in your favorite childhood mug, but there’s something a bit off-kilter about it, too. You’re enjoying your steaming portion of nostalgia in a claustrophobic room with creeping yellow wallpaper, with a friend who has a mysterious green ribbon tied around her throat. She evades your questions about her enigmatic neckwear and asks how are you enjoying your bouquet; you glance down and your hot cocoa is pale orchid, an Aeranthes Grandalena, its blossoms exuding notes of jasmine, caramel, butterscotch.
Philoskyos from Diptyque is a scent I don’t wear very often because I am not quite sure what to make of it…and I don’t know how to pronounce it, either. It is meant to be a perfumed ode to the fig tree in its entirety, the wood, the leaves and the fruit, but to be transparent here, I have never eaten a fresh fig, and even worse I sometimes get confused about dried figs and dried dates, so I’m already at a loss. What I do experience from this scent is the milky sap from a broken twig and the fragrance of spring greenery, damp from a morning rain. Despite that, it still comes off as dry, and I would expect it to also be fresh and light, but somehow it’s strangely musty. I wear this on days when I know I’ve got a lot to think about, to remind myself that it’s okay to not know everything, and maybe never reach a conclusion.
Hermessence Ambre Narguile Hermès
Ambre Narguilé from the Hermes Hermessence line gets a lot of apple pie references from reviewers, but I don’t get that myself. A spiced compote, perhaps. Dried fruits–raisins and plums, stewed in honey and rum and cinnamon, 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 love sweet fragrances, but come October I crave this one; it calls to mind a reading firelight a book you’ve experienced a million times (like the Secret History by Donna Tartt which I only just read but I loved it so much I’m ready to go at it again) while wearing a cozy oversized cardigan with thick cables and toggle buttons and that you probably inherited from your grandpa. Not to be confused with that awful cardigan in Taylor Swift’s video. ugh, Don’t get me started on that. That’s another conversation for another midnight.
Sycomore Eau de Parfum Chanel
Sycomore is a fragrant chorus of cool autumn foliage, rich, mossy soil; soft smoke, and damp greenery. All the best smells of a forest ramble in late October with the promise of winter heard in the whispering flutter of a straggling sparrow migration. But! The hiker on this path is garbed in expensive elegance, a leather Prada bag, a silk Hermès scarf, that iconic Burberry checked coat. This is the scent of a woodland elf turned posh socialite; Galadriel who quit the forest, and is now living in a penthouse on the Upper East Side.
Milk Musk Eau de Toilette Molton Brown
Milk Musk is exactly what it says it is, an uncomplicated creamy, milky musk. It’s soft but not so faint it fades into nothing and the vanilla and resins give it a subtle richness, but it’s never cloying or powdery. When I was a little girl, I read stories about frightened children who were given warm milk before bedtime. I was always disappointed with the repulsive reality of the stuff, but this lovely scent recalls the nostalgic hope for the dreamy deliciousness of that sleepy, cozy treat.
What We Do In Paris Is Secret A Lab on Fire
This brand has taken the best of the worst and made a hilariously repulsive escape of a scent. By which I mean it combines elements from three perfumes I either hate with an all-consuming fire or which I simultaneously love and loathe, and has created a tanned, toned, trendy skin that I’d feel compelled to slip into in order to feel like someone wholly not myself. Imagine a KvD Saint plus Thierry Mugler’s Angel plus V+R’s Flowerbomb cocktail worn by someone who has never experienced crippling anxiety, who has never been called fat by her own mother, who never locked herself in the bathroom at a party and cried because they felt so ugly and unlovable. Bright, honied heliotrope, candied litchee, and powdery vanilla marzipan make for a scent that I am pretty sure is what every Influencer with over 100mm followers on social media smells like. But you know, the classy ones, not the Trisha Paytas ones. Or actually maybe this is exactly Trisha Paytas. I don’t know anything anymore, this scent has killed 100% of my brain cells.
10 Corso Como
10 Corso Como is a perfume of dry, lofty sandalwood, smoky desert resins, and delicate, diaphanous off-kilter, otherworldly florals. This is a scent that calls to mind a mysterious, aromatic wooden chest, unearthed by a sudden sandstorm. It houses a little spirit angel that’s been trapped there for a thousand years and rather than granting you wishes once you’ve unlatched the fiddly hinge, it squints against the sun and asks, irritably, “do you mind?” At once sensual and spiritual and strangely, a little stern, it’s somehow heady and sheer, giddy and grounded–it’s both the shining halo and its shimmering shadow–and it’s one of my all-time top ten favorite scents.
Confessions of a Garden Gnome Forte & Manle
I don’t believe this earnest little gnome’s secret to be particularly incendiary but it does present some specific imagery. Shirking garden tasks to sneak into a woodland affair he’s heard rumors about, and, expecting an opulent ball, he washes behind his loamy soil-caked ears and spritzes on his little limbs a soft herbal cologne with notes of violet leaf and strange citrus. What he finds upon arrival is a fairy ring rave; intoxicated pixies and sprites flirting and frolicking across pepper moss, under disco balls reflecting the birch and cedar trees… and the guilty face of the gnome who doesn’t know how to dance.
Death and Decay LUSH (discontinued?)
Death and Decay is a mass of white lilies, an elaborate wreath, a store-bought bouquet, funeral arrangement or perhaps all of these incarnations of this melancholic meditative floral. These blooms are at the height of their beauty; their alabaster form and curve full and flourishing, just on the cusp of decay. This is a narcotic white floral fragrance heavy with every aspect it evokes– from the sweet waxy petals, to the subtle spice of pollen, to the pearlescent plastic wrapped around the stems.
Sortilège Le Galion
I initially saw this fragrance referenced in a strange story, in a weird collection of stories by Amparo Davila and as I hadn’t heard of this scent I was dying to know whether it exists–and it does. Sortilège means “spell.” and it does very much conjure enchantments across time and space. This is a scent originally created in 1937, so what I have, is, of course, a reformulation. I purchased directly from the Le Galion website, which reads “…the iconic fragrance of the house Le Galion and signature perfume of the famous Stork Jazz Club in New York.” It’s ethereal aldehydes, delicate velvety florals, and a subtle woody balsamic chypre base. It is a gentle but profoundly evocative scent that awakens phantom dreams and memories of past life loves and loss.
Kiehls Original Musk
There’s polite musk, there’s funky musk and there’s Kiehl’s Musk, a perfect balance of the warm and the clean and the bittersweet and the skanky. The original formulation may have been heavier on the skankiness, and that’s what I recall from the sample I tried ages ago. This bottle of Kiehl’s Musk is still exactly what I imagine 1974 to smell like–astrology enthusiasts and their extravagantly embroidered captains attending eternal Tupperware parties.
Rose 31 Le Labo
If you’ve seen my review of Perfumers Workshop Tea Rose and sussed out that I am not, in fact, rose’s number one fan– you would be correct. Rose 31 is more earthy-rose adjacent than rose-forward. It has got a peculiar sweaty cumin armpit opening but after that disappears it’s a rose blurred from the edges completely inward by woodsy aromatic mosses and sweetly musky resins. My boyfriend tells me it smells like his childhood Mossman Masters of the Universe toy, and I smile thinking about those fuzzy green muscles, every time I spray this subtle elegant scent.
Oud Wood Tom Ford
Tom Ford is a ghostly, glacial coniferous rosewood sandalwood melange of chilly, bitter, peppery woods. It is a tiny, sinister statue of a scent in an empty room where the temperature drops suddenly, with no explanation. The perfumed version of a little gremlin that appears in a haunting tale; one that skitters in the corners of your vision when the eye is focused elsewhere and inches eerily to your pillow when you’re at the knife’s edge of wakefulness and dream.
Reunited at last! For this month’s Stacked, I am joined by my dear friend and Haute Macabre comrade, Maika, as we chat about the books we’ve been reading this spring. See below for our thoughts on these witchy, monstrous, fantastical books and be sure to leave us a comment and let us know what you’ve been reading as winter slowly melts away into warmer days.
Witch Hunt: A Traveler’s Guide to the Power and Persecution of the Witch by Kristen J. Sollée
If you have read this wondrously knowledgeable scholar, historian, and second-generation witch’s previous offerings, Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive, and Cat Call: Reclaiming the Feral Feminine, then no doubt you were over the moon to learn of her most recent title, Witch Hunt. A hybrid travel guide and memoir which at points dips into the realms of historical fiction, Witch Hunt reflects research gleaned from travels to seven countries, forty-five cities, towns, and villages. Through her intrepid adventures across Italy, France, Germany, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, Sollee explores the fraught and fascinating history of these haunting figures from the past and uncovers how the archetype of the witch has been rehabilitated as a symbol of power.
We learn of the trauma and tragedy baked into the history of these places but also of how they have resurrected and reclaimed this archetype for commerce, community, and activism. Her descriptions of the locations and spaces she spends time in are bubbling with an intensely curious spirit, wicked sharp observations, and expansive, imaginative storytelling, with an eye toward both the sensitivity crucial to the conversation of these archetypes as well as the actual people involved in these histories and an irrepressible sense of humor and the absurd. In Witch Hunt, Sollee is indisputably at the height of both her writerly and witchly powers.
Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers: Monstrosity, Patriarchy, and the Fear of Female Power by Sady Doyle.
This outstanding book by essayist, social critic, and culture buff Sady Doyle is hugely about the darkness and trauma of the narrative around what being a woman is about and sparked so many intense conversations between myself and my partner as I was reading it. This examination of the patriarchal and misogynistic fear of “monstrous” women, covering everything from literature and cinema to mythology, religion, history and current events is a maddening and marvelous (and neither of these words do the discourse any justice) exploration of interplay of the stories that we tell ourselves and the images we look at and the thoughts we have and the way that all shapes our culture; those darker feelings of powerlessness and helplessness and living inside an extremely stigmatized and vulnerable body…and how somehow these aspects make us as woman seen as also destructive and even more terrifying?
It’s a mind-boggling amount of research and anecdote and story and scholarship, and you have to imagine a painful amount of emotional labor, and Sady Doyle writes of it all in a way that’s somehow incredibly readable and even makes you laugh while reading it. FYI Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab has created an incredible collection of scents inspired by this book and the monstrous feminine archetypes which perpetually recur in storytelling and they are still available for purchase.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt.
I can’t recall if I’ve shared this article before but it will help to illustrate two points about me: Dark Academia: Your Guide to the New Wave of Post-Secret History Campus Thrillers. First, I hate it when they give names to things (whoever “they” is.) For example, I recall reading China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station in 2000 or so, and thinking how it was really unique and I’d never read anything quite like it. I was content to leave it at that. A year or so later, I heard people referring to it, and more to the point, its aesthetic, as “steampunk.” As far as I knew steampunk and all its trappings of gears and goggles and so on, emerged right around that time. However, it looks like it’s been around since the 1980’s (or maybe since Jules Verne, ha!) so what do I know, I guess. What I do know is that once you slap a label on something, I tend to lose 100% interest. I suppose I’m some sort of hipster snob, but whatever. I’m aware of my faults. So when people started talking about “Dark Academia” as a genre, I immediately tuned it out before I even knew what it was, but when I somehow found myself tricked into reading about it, I realized it’s describing a type of fiction that I enjoy immensely– and as it happens, I have written at length about my enjoyment of it. Without going too much into it, it’s a sort of mystery or thriller that takes place on a college campus, usually entangled with some weird insular student groups studying obscure subjects. There’s more to it, but that’s my takeaway. Anyway, apparently, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, a book people have been telling me for years to read, is the story that started it all.
This brings me to my second point: if enough people tell me “you’ll love it!” about something, I get weird and squirrelly and contrarian and put on my NOPE NOT DOING IT hat. You don’t know me!
Wow, I’m like three paragraphs in and I’ve not said a thing about the book. Well, everyone but me has apparently read it by now, so do I even need to? Here’s a quick rundown. Richard Papen is our pretentious small-town narrator with an interest in the classics and humanities who is eventually brought into the intimate, intense fold of a very small Greek class at the fictional Hampden College in Vermont. Richard’s mysterious classmates are strange and compelling and he desperately longs to become part of this group of weirdos. Eventually, he does. Murder ensues. In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed this story of sadness and loneliness and romanticizing a group of people who are all, in the end, some form of deeply flawed and insecure as well. They’re stupidly privileged (who else would think they could get away with murder but a bunch of extravagant, melodramatic rich white kids?) and I guess that aspect of the story troubled me quite a bit, but nevertheless the relationships and the drama and the breathtaking prose are so easy to get swept up in, that in the end…all you people were right. I did love this book. Thank you for recommending it.
As I write this I am literally surrounded by books that I’ve begun reading, but haven’t finished. It’s not that I’m not enjoying them, but my attention span is shot. Aside from my ongoing bedtime therapy of rereading Good Omens and the Discworld books, I read in fits and starts throughout the day and have a hard time sticking with any one book. I just keep adding books to the ‘currently reading’ stack. But even at a fitful snail’s pace, I have recently finished a couple books (that weren’t written by Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman):
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern – This is an incredibly beautiful book, inside and out. The design of the physical hardcover book itself is exquisitely beautiful and the writing is intensely vivid, luxuriantly picturesque, and evocative with sumptuous descriptions of one of the most magical places ever dreamt into fictive existence. And yet…I just couldn’t get into it. You know that old breakup cliché, “It’s not you, it’s me”? That can be applied to all sorts of things beyond relationships, books included. I eagerly pre-ordered The Starless Sea as soon as it was available. It was published and arrived at my home when I was completely grief-stricken, so I didn’t touch it until the following year. Fast forward to 2020 and we were smack in the middle of a global pandemic and urgent nationwide protests, and I was deep into intense work on myself. Yet I decided to reach for it anyway. And… it took me nearly a year to read it. What should, by all rights, have been a magical escape from harsh reality felt…too enchanted and too beautiful juxtaposed with a waking world and physical self that both felt anything but enchanted. Instead of soothing and distracting, it vexed and hurt. It made me miss New York City as a whole and Sleep No More specifically even more than I already did. And so the book that took me a year to simply start ended up taking me another year to finish. The Starless Sea, you were achingly beautiful from start to finish, I dearly love the very idea of this book, and yet my heart never opened to you. It’s not you, it’s me.
Bunny by Mona Awad – The Secret History meets Mean Girls meets…well, one other book and one other movie which, if I name either of them, will reveal too much about this story. While it feels like a cop-out because it means that I can’t say much, the less you know about this book, the better. Seriously, don’t even look at the reviews on GoodReads. There are inadvertent spoilers there too. Suffice to say, it was a dark, twisted, adamantium-razor-sharp story and a thoroughly gripping read. Also, there were times when I identified so strongly with the main character and felt so intensely seen that I wondered how Mona Awad knew so much about my past. it tapped into an old well of anxious interpersonal woe that I seldom think about these days, but was surprised to find felt no less vivid for the passing of years. Equal parts distressing and validating in an ‘I thought it was just me’ sort of way. The magic of books.
A gathering of death-related links that I have encountered in the past month or so. From heart-rending to gut-splitting (sometimes you gotta laugh, you know?) from informative to insightful to sometimes just downright weird and creepy, here’s a snippet of recent items that have been reported on or journaled about with regard to death, dying, and matters of mortality.
American artist Gene Szafran created a mindboggling amount of book covers for fantasy and science fiction paperbacks in the 60’s and 70’s, in a signature hallucinatory, kaleidoscopic style, which more often than not incorporated the nude female form. As male gaze-y art goes, I guess this is pretty tolerable? I’d much rather look at naked ladies than naked dudes, and I find these works staggeringly beautiful.
Szafran produced over 125 paperback covers for various publishers including Bantam Books and New American Library. He also did work for many magazines, including Boy’s Life, Cosmopolitan, Fortune, McCall’s, Penthouse and Playboy. It’s interesting to note that amongst all the trippy, futurist sci-fi cover art for books by the likes of Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury, he did a whole slew of book covers for Daphne du Maurier’s works of fiction. Of course, the drama of du Maurier’s works were of a decidedly more terrestrial nature (I mean they could be somewhat otherworldly, but none of the stories take place off the planet or anything like that) so the art is definitely less fantastical, but it’s still got an uncanny, somewhat ominous charm.
Anyway, I just learned of this guy tonight and I haven’t been able to unearth a whole lot of information on him, but I thought I’d share my favorites from amongst his works, below.
Featured image from Hermophrodeity, the Autobiography of a Poet by Alan Friedman.
Levitating Phallic God (vetiver, opoponax, licorice root, black tea, lemon peel, and cashmere wood) Earthy and rooty at the opener, like the wheelbarrow crawling with uprooted aloe vera plants that is currently danking up our garage with scents of soil and clay and rock, deeply disturbed from the digging. It perks up, so to speak, as the fragrance blooms on the skin. Pillowy, musky woods and a mysteriously sweet, herbal powderiness that call to mind the golden notes of wild fennel pollen round this out to a velvety dream of a skin-scent.
Since There’s No Help (silver-frosted white musk, juniper, and cade with bitter carrot seed, lemon peel, davana, and white tea) Interesting! This is described as “a cold scent, a severing” and as I am wearing it I can’t help but think it would be perfect for a sweltering summer afternoon. The bracing juniper and tart lemon, combined with a bitter, tannic fruitiness, conjures ice-cold, dripping glasses of sweet southern tea, and it is suddenly a glorious June evening, post-apocalyptic blazing sunset, pre-eerie electric streaks of heat lightning.
Cacao, Lime Rind, and Coconut This smells exactly like the chocolate-covered coconut bonbons that I always used to pick out of the Whitman Sampler box that my grandmother perpetually had lying around when I was a little girl. The lactonic tropical sweetness of creamy, flaked coconut and the luxurious aroma of cocoa butter is such an amazing confection of a combination that I just want to eat it out of a trough with my face. Which I can do because I am an adult now!
Dragon, Rabbit, and Snake (blue cypress, butterfly jasmine, green tea, black orchid, and white champa blossom) This is a soft, lovely floral fragrance given some earthy depth with the vegetal, grassy green tea and enlivened by the mildly licorice-like, balsamic aroma that I am guessing is from the cypress. It conjures the prettiest imagery of watercolor botanical illustrations.
Peach Vulva(sweet apricot, sugared amber, frankincense, golden cardamom, rice milk, and golden peach) I had to try this one a handful of times before it spoke to me, and when it finally did, it was a tale of the most wildly gorgeous fruit salad orgy: lychee and mango and pineapple and condensed milk and palm sugar. Even sweet corn got a last-minute invite, couldn’t leave that weirdo out!
The Elephant Is Slow To Mate(deep burgundy musk, red labdanum, smoked rose petals, opoponax, 17-year aged patchouli, blackened vanilla bean, dried black cherries, blackberries, and tobacco absolute.) What’s the word for bombastic but wearing a bow tie of gravitas? For the cartoon image of someone having their mind blown, their eyes all wide and googly, their hair frizzled and electrified and pointing straight to the sun? This is the reddest fruit of the painter’s palette, juiced and syruped and concentrated so that it’s the most extra version of itself, spices that I can’t pick apart but which are very potent, and *dramatic* resins. This is a big, bold personality that you just feel more interesting and special being in the room with, the kind that everyone gravitates toward, and when they look at you, you feel like the only person who exists. It’s A Lot. Wow. I love it.
We Must Love One Another Or Die (white rose, muguet, white sandalwood, ambrette seed, vetiver, and smoke) This combination of notes, creates the impression of summer berries in a fancy antique silver compote dish. There’s the plushness of soft fruit flesh and a glamorous metal tang and it presents as a deceptively simple and thoroughly elegant fragrance that somehow makes me think of this painting.
Honey, Black Lilies, and Gardenia Petals In the first moments, a plummy-jammy scent, and then, a viscous, vicious dark amber-honeyed slithery undercurrent of something sinuous and sinister. This scent is the creepy-crawly that shows up in the exquisite still life painting; there’s the velvet table cloth, the artful bouquet of somber blossoms, the requisite skull or pile of dusty books, and –HEY WHAT THE! There’s a SNAKE oh my god what the hell! This is a “THAT’S A FUCKING SNAKE Y’ALL!” of a scent.
Snake Smut (Snake Oil and Smut with leather accord, cardamom, and 7-year aged patchouli.) With all the woozy boozy musky sugary spices, you’d like this would be the kind of scent that would make your eyes pop from your head like a sleazy rat in a cartoon when a gorgeous dame crosses his path…and yet. It’s not the sort of thing to make your skirts fly up or your pants tent impressively or insert whatever over-the-top horny synonym you like here. It’s actually more subtle than you might expect. I smell all sorts of deliciousness; sweet, sugared black tea, a warm, gooey spiced and iced dessert, densely chewy vanilla candied things…but imagine if you were to take all concept of foodishness out of those things. What do you have left? A deeply sensual scent, dark and delectably textured and utterly enticing, but rather than wanting to eat it, you’re content to wear it.
Honey Marzipan begins as the chewiest, most decadent brick of sweetened almond paste, then almost immediately acquires that lovely cherry note intrinsic to so many almond fragrances, and then before you can blink it swiftly shifts to a honeyed-heliotrope-apricot fairytale storybook princess of a scent where it lives out the remainder of its days in a spun sugar and spring stone fruit syrup château. From start to finish, it’s an intense and rapid progression, but at every stage in its evolution, it’s absolutely enchanting. P.S. Honey Marzipan + Snake Smut is an amazingly over-the-top evil queen + blushing maiden battle royale of a scent combination.
Unsubtle Euphemism (milk bread, amaretto, star anise, almond cream, and cardamom) It’s interesting that milk bread is listed among the notes; by coincidence, I have just recently become obsessed with making fluffy, sweet, marvelous milk bread and I’m a little peeved at myself that I didn’t start my bread experiments with this one several decades ago. It’s just impossible to go wrong, and with all that sugar and full-fat milk and butter, even if you did somehow manage to screw it up, I bet it would still taste fantastic. Straight from the bottle and on my wrist, this Unsubtle Euphemism is an onslaught of saltiness, with nutty nuances, and something with a flaky, burnished, and crackly crust. There’s an eventual subtle sweetness, like a sweet paste of scant sugar and egg yolks more than of something milky or creamy, and it makes me think of treats like deep-fried sesame balls, or cured egg yolk buns, and as the scent settles in, even egg custard tarts.
Cacao, Black Pepper, and Khus don’t judge this by how it smells in the bottle, it’s unfortunately a tad reminiscent of unwashed stockings– not that anyone remembers what those smell like anymore! On the skin, it’s a bar of earthy, nutty artisanal chocolate with peppery, grassy nubs of woody-herbaceous marjoram leaf. Which is a weird-sounding combination, right? I’ll answer that. Yes. It totally is. And it also totally works. Surprisingly, Cacao, Black Pepper, and Khus is my second favorite from this collection For my no.1, see Levitating Phallic God, above. Pun intended.
Discarded Sandal (beeswax, hinoki wood, Japanese black pine, juniper, tolu balsam, and muguet) The cypress and pine is at the forefront of this scent, but it’s a gentle incarnation of what can sometimes be austere and astringent notes with prickly, camphoraceous, insect-repellent aspect. These woods, however, have reached the highest levels of self-actualization and they are the most spiritually uplifting lemony and resinous evergreen best versions of themselves. An hour later the golden nectar of honey has emerged, and it too is a soft and tranquil embodiment of what can sometimes be a note that is too cloying, too sticky. If you’re looking for a suggestive aphrodisiac from this collection, I’d say Discarded Sandal is the way to go, although it’s more a perfume of desires sated than libidos feverishly spiking. The discarded sandal, a witness to lascivious sights and exquisite sighs, waits patiently. It will whisper these secrets to its mate, later tonight when they are reunited.
While I love all flowers equally for purposes of viewing and daydreaming about and thinking upon with a goofy, gauzy sigh, “gosh, isn’t it grand that flowers are a thing that exist?” I will admit to a fondness for a certain kind of floral in terms of my wardrobe and personal adornment. Which…I think is no secret to anyone at this stage in the game but I always feel like I have to give these things an intro, so consider yourselves introducted at this point. Gloomy, moody florals, I like ’em!
April’s installment of eyeball fodder is brimming with beauteous botanicals, a gallery of fabulous, fantastical florals to thrill and delight! Both art and flowers are forever a balm for my soul, and to this end, I have gathered a splendid bouquet of blooms and blossoms to admire and inspire, below.
From the languorous Grecian statues to the pensive waters & harp strings & the poetry, to the strange depths and unexpected magic in these surface-level-mundane & mediocre ensembles, I really love everything about the Celine Women Winter 21 collection.
I know some of you more entrenched & knowledgeable fashionistas are probably going to give me all the reasons this collection sucks and that’s okay. I don’t know anything about anything but I do know what I like, and all the technical fashion jargon and talk of vision and expertise and execution can’t change how my heart felt when I saw that cozy turtleneck with that sequined skirt, or that cardigan and spangly dress! I love that so much. Mundane + magical. Basic + bewitching. Conventional and commonplace + charming and captivating. Why not? That’s what I see here, anyway.