Gooped Familiar (black musk, golden amber, cedarwood, catnip, and hay absolute with a shock of carnation, clove, and cinnamon bark) I love this scent from BPAL’s Witches, Sorceresses, and Sorceries in Art History collection for several reasons. One, because it is inspired by an element within The Love Potion created by Evelyn de Morgan, an artist whose lush mythical and allegorical paintings were associated with the later Pre-Raphaelite movement. This was an artist who defied the expectations of her class and gender to become one of the most impressive artists of a generation, whose canvases conveyed a profound sense of feminism, and spirituality, as well as rejection of war and material wealth, rendering them quite relevant today. She’s pretty fab and I love her. Two, because I love seeing derpy and weird animals in art. Not exactly in the same vein, as this cat, but I think Jamie Wyeth’s A Very Small Dog is my very favorite. And three, because this scent immediately brought to mind a certain cinematic feline. Giallo fans amongst you may conjure the image before I write another word, but Gooped Familiar is a fragrance that smells like opulence through the filter of fur. A perfume of spicy florals and musky amber that adorns the wrists of a beautiful and beguiling stranger with a heavily fluffed cream-colored Persian cat in their lap. When you bury your face in that fancy feline’s neck later in the evening, you catch the phantom of the perfume through the heat of the animal’s skin and its vibrating purrs.
Lightning Struck a Flock of Witches (a crack of ozone slicing through blue benzoin, indigo musk, tobacco, and opoponax) this is unexpectedly fruity! But not a fresh, juicy harvest; this is more the fruity aspect of tobacco, sticky dried cherries, the intensely golden bronzed honeyed sweetness of dates, and even a bit of dried pineapple. As it wears, there’s a lovely incense of vanilla and hay, a mingled smokiness of a scented broom whose bristles singed when lingering too close to the hearth, a domestic ritual of ashes and small, satisfying work. It’s a scent that makes me think of this thing (but much lighter on the cinnamon.)
Torta Settevelli (alternating layers of chocolate sponge cake, hazelnut Bavarian cream, chocolate mousse, and hazelnut praline crunch, enrobed in a dark chocolate mirror glaze) This is an impossibly creamy, rich dessert of a fragrance brimming with buttery goodness, a decadent paste of toasted oatmeal, ground nuts, and brown sugar nestled beneath a coffee crème bavaroise with mocha sauce– and blended into a thick, cold, vanilla McFlurry.
Abelard (coconut husk and pearwood with frankincense and carnation petals) Fresh…cold…produce? I’m not a farmer, but I just imagine pulling up the last of a harvest before the frost hits. Or maybe harvesting your cold-weather vegetables, your cabbages, and leafy greens and carrots and such. And then you immediately juice them and drink them down with a scant teaspoon of honey. There’s something so fresh and vegetal-sweet about this, with the tiniest bit of ozone-y plasticity as well, like veggies stored in a plastic bin. Like you carved a disconcertingly jaunty little face into a crooked carrot with a plastic spork.
Heloise (polished limewood, myrrh smoke, and blackened spices) I blame a friend for the immediate association I made when I sniffed this perfume. On Facebook, the other day, I was asking folks for their favorite persimmon recipes, and Angeliska shared a sort of “salad of the underworld”: persimmons and radicchio and pomegranate seeds and a few other goodies, and they suggested serving it with a lime and ginger dressing. A sweet-tart-bitter and lightly spiced foil for all the unctuous richness at a banquet table for the dead. Erewhon salad bar katabasis.
Abelard and Heloise are intended for layering. When they get together, Heloise is like, “Abe, hush your darn beta carotene,” and Abelard is all, “Weezie, shush your dang chicory,” and combined, they mingle in cozy skin musk, vegetal sweetness.
Bobbing for Daddy (apple, diabolical incense with a splash of bay rum, and a hiss of infernal fougere) Before I reminded myself of the notes, I thought to myself…what is this? Apple and …latex? Apple …and chlorinated water? In this blend, nibbles of autumn apples are blended with BPAL’s Daddy scent, and that’s where the “diabolical incense” and the “infernal fougere” come in, and I don’t know what comprises either of those, and I couldn’t even begin to guess. But whatever latex-esque chlorine mingling vibe I am getting initially, it paves the way for a vibrantly grassy, subtly woody, absolute freshest, most hyper-realistic apple perfume I have ever sniffed. So weird and so very cool.
October 32 (leaves fluttering against a thick wool sweater, the cool amber glow of an autumn sunset, dollops of thick cream swirling in black tea) begins as vegetal and brisk, but not a brisk pace, like you’re huffing and puffing to keep up with your spouse’s long legs on an autumn stroll (it’s not a marathon to Mordor, Yvan, for Pete’s sake slow down!) but rather the weather has turned brisk and crisp overnight, there’s an unexpected chill in the air, and you’re taking a PROPER stroll at a REASONABLE pace, YVAN! And you’re moved by that familiar olfactory symphony, that annual concert of sniffs, that gorgeous, romantic decay of fallen leaves on a late October afternoon, and you just look at your person and soften and think, damn, what a wonder it is to spend any moment at all with someone you love. And as your mood softens and hazes, so does this fragrance, like the scent of a comforting candle, something with hints of amber and vanilla bean and sandalwood and cashmere musk, but the flame been lit for an hour or so, and you barely smell it anymore, it’s hovering at the edge of your senses, pleasant and cozy and familiar.
Autumn 1990 (decaying leaves, exhaust fumes, maximum-hold hairspray, and clove cigarettes) It’s a challenge not to experience a perfume like this one through one’s own lens, this “scent of a disaffected deathrock kid skulking around Hollywood with her ne’er-do-well friends…but minus the Boones Farm.” In 1990 I was 14, a freshman in high school, and desperate to shed the bookish, nerdy, teacher’s pet image that had been following me around for as long as I could remember. ..so the first week of school, I snagged myself a heavy-metal boyfriend. I am not sure how this happened, but I suspect it was because I was wearing an Iron Maiden tee shirt and an impossibly short, incredibly tight skirt. This was a case of someone probably being way too cool for me, but not in the actual-cool way that I would have been comfortable with, rather the smoking and drinking and badly-behaved-way that teenagers think is cool. Anyway, I ended up skipping a lot of school, receiving a lot of detention, and getting threatened through a third party that I was going to get beat up by some girl I’d never met because she liked my boyfriend and wanted him for herself, I guess? I never got beat up, so I still don’t know what that was about. Autumn 1990 smells like realizing dozens of times over that I was too bright, too clever, and too interesting for this guy, but then worrying that no one would ever ask me out again, and deciding to be okay with having a boyfriend who people thought was cool but with whom I barely had a single thing in common. Spicy incense smoke and caustic hairspray, and pilfered, musky spritzes of my mother’s nice perfume, embedded in a denim jacket that he wouldn’t let me keep, but that he would sometimes let me wear on rainy November days.
Three People Plucking A Mandrake (a tangle of mandrake root and patchouli root bound by champaca resin) According to the 1812 Family Herbal written by John Hill, the fresh root of mandrake is a violent medicine, the object of so many strange superstitions, Satan’s apple, and all that sort of thing. I imagine this book was found in the loamy earth surrounding the vestiges of forest temple ruins, fringed with fern and moss, sticky with whispers. Phantom incense, balsamic, honeyed and heady, clings to the pages, is embedded in the nearly illegible inked letters.
The Unreturning (wisps of spectral white musk and ambergris, blackened leather, yew needles, cypress boughs, gnarled patchouli root, and the memory of frankincense smoke) A cosmic floral inkiness, like the atmospheric glitterings of black salamanders in love, like the glowing lunar movements of shadow people in the mica-flecked dreams of an ancient cave, like a dark song in a holy house at the end of time.
Dead Leaves, Vanilla Bean, Pink Fig, and Brandied Dates This is scent of the Amazoness Quartet, CereCere, PallaPalla, JunJun, and VesVes of the Dead Moon Circus in Sailor Moon Super S, boiled down to their essences and formed in molds into sweet, fruit-jellied, squidgey, flower-shaped candied versions of themselves. I will not be taking any questions at this time.
Lightening Strikes Literature (a lightning storm stirred with beeswax candle smoke, yellowing notebooks, and pools of India ink) oh, I do like this! But I don’t know that I am getting most of the notes. To my nose, it’s the electric peach and ozone-y vanilla that I envision this dream of a dress smells like, with maybe the tiniest, almost indetectable dribble of camphorous ink smeared on the skirts. A note that begins with “Dearest Mother,” and a foggy sense that one has slept too long in the moonlight.
Despondency (pumpkin puree, lavender bud, night-blooming violets, purple sandalwood, and tears) This really does smell like a sad, 20 ft. tall skellington on the day after Halloween. A sort of morose green note bringing down that lofty sandalwood, the chill breath of lavender extinguishing the warmth of a candle illuminating a week-old jack-o-lantern’s rotting grin.Evocative of that bummer feeling of gloomy liminality, that space between where we started and where we’re going, the bitter business of the banished excitement of the thing that just passed and not knowing what to next look forward to. The feeling of emptiness after sustained contact with the ineffable.
The Necromancer (dusty tomes, russet cashmere, green velvet, and leather, frankincense and cinnamon bark, galangal root and fig, rosewater and lilac cologne) This necromancer is an incredibly learned worker of the dark arts who is very secure in their knowledge and would never be up in someone’s DMs being a “well actually” know-it-all and they’ve got better things to do than troll the comments section with their obnoxious devils advocate scenarios. They’ve got quite a subtle presence, you hardly even know they’re in the room, they’re just minding their own beeswax and working their magic in the background. How do they fragrance their person? It’s a faint perfume of mild, milky fig, and heady lilac–but just the barest dab, on skin softened with sweet almond oil and warmed in cashmere cloaks.
Pomegranate Turkish Delight I was a little afraid of this one at first–pomegranate can be so syrupy! And C.S. Lewis tricked us dreadfully re: our formative notions of Turkish delight!– I needn’t have worried. This is a fresh, exuberant pomegranate seed, unencumbered by the burden of expectation and dread associations. This is a juicy, crisp, bright pomegranate seed with complex floral nuances and the tiniest bit of tart sass, a pomegranate that has actually never experienced anything than pure utter, joy. This is a pomegranate seed living its best life. It’s going to become a wholesome, universally beloved TikTok influencer and get signed for a dozen bankable sponsorships and give an inspiring interview on Oprah. (Is an interview on Oprah the gauge of having made it, nowadays? Maybe it will get invited onto Hot Ones, instead.)
Dead Leaves, Pralines and Sheer Vanilla Initially, this is a fragrance focusing intently on the dead leaf aspect of this combination of notes, that element of sweet autumnal decay and sour, earthy fungi farts that the Lab does so astonishingly well. Then, without warning, that aspect of the fragrance disappears completely and is replaced by a rich, rich, buttery vanilla custard.
X-Rayed Candy Bag (the sugary contents of last night’s Trick-or-Treat bucket blasted with atomic particles at your local hospital, producing a stark image of ghostly treats cast in a greeny-white radioactive glow) This is wild, even though I have applied the same amount of this same scent on each wrist, it smells like in one hand I’m clutching a fruity fistful of tropical Jolly Ranchers and Smarties, and on the other side I’ve got a pocketful of creamy butterscotch Werthers, but I’m smelling them collectively through a luminous white musk, green tea, and honeydew haze.
Witches Kitchen (bourbon tobacco absolute, nagarmotha, vetiver, tomato leaf, gunpowder, yarrow stalks, brimstone, vervain, seared leather, and castoreum accord) I am so curious to know how this sits on other people’s skin, and what sort of smells jump out at them from this kitchen sink jumble of kitchen witchery. It’s not listed in the description, but what I experience immediately and intensely is a minty aspect, cool and camphorous and mentholated. I’m not a huge fan of mint, but this isn’t the unpleasantly spearminty toothpaste variety that makes me gaggy, this is more like a cup of fresh, strong emerald-hued mint tea. I keep looking at the notes, though, and thinking, “where is this even coming from?” Maybe a combination of tomato leaf’s distinctive velvety astringency, vervain’s lemony-grassy aspects, and yarrow’s pineiness? Huh! As it wears, the mint loses its manic fervor and almost becomes a bit sleepy, there’s a warm woody aspect that surfaces, like a worn wooden tabletop where upon aromatic and sweet herbs have been processed and dried, tinctures and elixirs have been portioned out, and all of those oils and essences have worked their way into the grain. At this point, what began as a really energetic “wakey wakey!” perfume now urges you to curl up and take a lovely little nap.
Bobbing for Oblivion (Arkansas black apples with inky musk, wood spice, labdanum, patchouli, dark African woods, and saffron) You arrive at the inn early and await your companions–five strangers who are meeting for the first time, anonymously accepting the intriguingly vague but highly lucrative-sounding adventure guild request. You are served a measure of fresh-pressed apple cider in a rustic wooden goblet. There is a bit of dried patchouli leaf and a thread of saffron floating on the golden surface of the drink. Is this evidence of a hexing or perhaps a culinary oversight? You inquire of the barmaid, who only repeats the same question, “what’ll it be, love?” Huh, that’s weird. Almost as weird as when you noted that you only have one arrow in your quiver, and one health potion in your bag. Almost as if…you have to play at some game to earn more of them. And hey, that’s no barmaid, that’s just a random NPC! Wait a second! Did you get sucked into an RPG again? How does this keep happening to you???
Fleece Skeleton Onesie (freshly-washed fleece skeleton onesie and a little bit of smeared eyeliner) when you realize you’re never going to smell as good as whatever fragrance it was that you wore five months ago and which still faintly clings to the stitches of your coziest cardigan, mingled with whatever uniquely intimate magics your skin oils and musks were making on that particular day, this is that smell.
Shadowed Veil(black pumpkin, leather, pomegranate incense, agarwood, and bourbon patchouli) If one were to pack a picnic for venturing into the shadowy otherworld of the Fae (and one definitely should, because it’s best not to eat any of their tricksy offerings) one might pack a loaf of the humble but gorgeously tasty Icelandic rúgbrauð, a dense, dark rye bread made with golden syrup and soured milk and baked or steamed low and slow. It’s delicious with briny salmon or smoky lamb or even just a dollop of cold, creamy butter, but even–especially!– if you don’t dress it up with a single thing, it still smells absolutely amazing. Rich and hearty and sweet, and really, it kinda smells like Christmas, and you don’t even need to visit fairyland, because this is already some really good magic. Cancel your plans (yay for canceled plans!) and make some bread instead. Or don’t do any of that, maybe you agreed to all that stuff, but now the vibe is off, and you just want to be a potato for the evening. You can conjure both the fairy ring and the bread by liberally smearing yourself with Shadowed Veil. Protip: slather and suit up in your coziest fleece onesie, skellington or otherwise. Future you five months from now will thank you.
Pomegranate, Patchouli, Moss, & Fir Needle. More an ambient murmur than a sonic scream of a pomegranate, it’s such a subtle red fruit, I can barely tell it’s red, or that it’s a fruit. I smell it faintly on my wrist, in the warmth of my skin, the throb of my pulse. It’s a heart healing itself, stitching itself back together in the small devotions of gentle fairy tales, favorite flowers, and pictures of baby Snoopy. Being kind to yourself when you get sad, and homesick for a home that doesn’t exist anymore. Allowing yourself to weep for someone else’s grief when you read for the 100th time the howling sorrow of Andrea Cohen’s poem “Refusal to Mourn.”
In lieu of
Letting your heart feel all of it, so much of everything. Breaking it every day. Mending it forever. Hoping and dreaming and loving and doing it again and again and again and waking up in the morning with the sunrise and feeling and smelling that tiny throb at your wrist and knowing that it’s the only way any of this works. What else can we do?
The Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab 2022 Halloween collection is currently live and available for purchase. As this is a limited edition series, sample sizes imps are not available.
And PSSSST! Did you know I have collected all of my BPAL reviews into one spot? I’m about a year behind with adding new stuff to the document, but as it stands, there are over 60 PAGES of my thoughts and rambles on various limited-edition scents from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab over the years: BPAL REVIEWS BY S. ELIZABETH (PDF download)
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