By popular request and by that I mean two or three people asked me about it, I thought I might show you the current state of my BPAL collection. If you’re not familiar with BPAL, I am referring to the indie perfume house of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, beloved purveyors of stinks and sundries to all of us dark dreamers and weirdos. My hope is that if you’re not already obsessed with the brilliant creations that the Lab puts into the world, you’ll feel the stirrings of one beginning, by the end of this video.
I was a little hesitant about filming a video like this, it seems sort of all braggy and boastful and “behold my stuff!” but that’s what most of my videos are, so this isn’t really all that different, is it? And anyway, I don’t know about you, but I love getting peeks into people’s collections, seeing all of their beautiful, precious things, and hearing about what all of their favorites are, and why they love them! So I hope that you will take this in the spirit which it is intended, which is basically to say: here’s just another thing I love! Maybe you love this thing, too! Let’s connect and bond over our shared interests!
Another worry I had is that people may expect someone putting together this sort of content to be an expert in the thing they are sharing. Or, I worry that you think that I THINK I am an expert! Both scenarios trouble me a little bit. First, I am no expert in this or anything else, really. I am just a human person who likes to smell nice. And secondly, I think it’s really important to remember that you don’t have to be an expert guru virtuoso wizard with regard to a thing in order to appreciate a thing. I wrote further about this last month.
Now, back to Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. I discovered them back in November of 2004 and I guess it’s sort of odd to remember it down to the month, but I was having a really rough go of things at that time, so the one bright spot in the midst of that quagmire of misery is certainly going to be memorable for me. I had just found the website makeup alley, and I had fallen down the rabbit hole of fragrance reviews on the site.
It was at this time that I stumbled upon a review for a scent called “Snake Oil” sold by a mysterious, thrillingly dangerous sounding company, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. Penned by a user calling herself “shriekingviolet”, she described it as “exotic and unfamiliar, evoking images of bazaars in far-off locales”. So fascinated was I by the description, I read further her reviews for the intriguingly named “Chimera”, “Haunted” and “Hellcat”, growing more and more exhilarated with every fragrant word I devoured.
I raced over to the website, my excitement reaching feverish levels as I read about the company: “Inspired by a vast range of influences, from the passion and decadence of the Fin de Siècle movement to the ghastliest of Lovecraftian monstrosities, we specialize in eliciting emotional responses through perfume and creating unique, masterfully molded scent environments that capture legends and folklore, poetry, and the stuff of dreams and nightmares.”
I didn’t know there were people making these kinds of scents! I grew up in a household filled with, among other things, ouija boards, meditation circles, tarot cards, and astrologers, I was raised on books of mythology and folklore, fairytales and fables. In my early teen years I became obsessed by ghost stories and horror movies, and at the time of my discovery, I was in my mid-20s and the sole employee at an occult bookstore of surrounded by rare tomes of magic, antique grimoires, and volume upon volume of every sort of esoteric, arcane subject matter that you could possibly imagine. From what I was reading in these fragrance reviews, there was a person out there creating perfumes inspired by all of these things–the things I loved best! To be honest, I was smitten before I’d even perused the entirety of the website or placed my first order.
Peruse the BPAL website and you will find collections devoted to myths and folk tales, beloved books and cinema (Dark Crystal and Only Lovers Left Alive? Yes please!), RPG tropes, poison gardens, female positive comics and graphic novels – if there is a weird or obscure interest favored by dark-minded, romantic souls, no doubt you will find a fragrance dedicated to it here.
BPAL fragrances are oil blends, which may take some getting used to if you’ve only ever used alcohol-based perfumes. All of their products are hand-blended in house, and with only a few exceptions all of the scents are vegan – and there is absolutely no animal testing.
In addition to their general catalog scents–the fragrances that are stocked all year long–they have seasonal limited releases fragrances. I’ve been collecting both for many years now, and as you can tell, I’ve got a bit of an accumulation…so it’s probably going to be tough to narrow it down to ten favorites to talk about, but I’m going to try my best!
☨ Owl Moon is a collaboration between BPAL and jeweler of surrealist psychic armor, Bloodmilk. A scent steeped in mythology and magic, Owl Moon opens with the blackest, earthiest patchouli and calls to mind cool, moist soil at the base of a pine tree through which all of the busy little night creatures slither and crawl, the pale, ghostly light of the moon glinting off their scales and wings. A yellow-eyed owl, perched overhead, meditates briefly before silently embarking on his nightly hunt; the sour, screechy scent of his nest, littered with rodent bones and pellets, serves as a warning nearby. This is the fragrance of potent night magics, rich and ripe with darkness and feral mysticism. The sharpness of the patchouli streaked with high-pitched honey combine to form an aura that is both graceful and grotesque, sacred and profane. It dries down to a spellbinding, narcotic musk
☨ The limited edition Schwarzermond, which I believe translates from the German to mean “black moon”–which makes sense as it was one of their monthly Lunacy offerings from several years ago. This is the 2006 version, but they have restocked a few times over the years, with 2011 behind the most recent. Brimming with notes that feel like a warped and wicked tripping of the tongue when you attempt to pronounce them, it’s a heavy, velvety, and vaguely menacing fragrance, woven throughout with brooding resins and dark, lurking patchouli. It smells a bit predatory and poisonous, but in the very best way.
☨ Dana O’Shee is 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 an unlit cone of sugared milk custard incense! It sounds delicious, but don’t eat it! Tempted though ye may be.
☨ Danube is a beloved scent that is, for me, more about memory than the actual fragrance itself. It is a deep blue aquatic scent – but not salty, ozone-y, beachy aquatic, nor is it murky, swampy aquatic. Like a cold swimming pool on a hot day (maybe if you were adding grapefruit to your pool instead of chlorine) with every blue flower imaginable floating on top of it. Imagine being 6 years old and holding your breath and submerging yourself in a swimming pool, then slo-o-o-wly sinking to the bottom. The water is chilled, you feel like the only person in the world and everything is totally silent. Imagine peering up and seeing the sun streaming down into the water, between all of the blue petals. It’s calm and soothing and serene and is an absolutely a must for hot, sticky weather and for people who haven’t got a swimming pool.
☨ Thanatopsis is a meditation upon death inspired by William Cullen Bryant’s poem, and a deep, solemn earthen scent containing pine, juniper and musk. A green-ness so lush and concentrated that it is nearly a syrup, growing in mysterious realms alongside venerable woods and breathless darkness.
☨ I adore the summer scent of sweet musky floral orange blossom, so Bergamot, orange blossom and vetiver was destined for greatness long before I held the small amber bottle in my hands. The vetiver adds a bitter earthiness that binds the shimmering honeyed blossoms and tells a long forgotten story of how you sobbed your broken heart into an orange grove at midnight; you gathered the dirt and tears and blossoms and clouds that floated across the moon and hid them all in the pages of an old diary because you were young and sad and then you burned the whole thing for incense as a middle-aged woman and thought wow that was a good choice even though it felt scary and sad at the time
☨ Cottonmouth from the Carnavale Diabolique collection is a blend of the sugared incense of the Lb’s signature Snake oil combined with somber, waxy spring lilies brightened by the soft, honeyed green of fresh linden blossoms. I’ve not referenced any comparisons to previous formulations until this point but feel compelled to note that it is with Cottonmouth I sense the most notable difference. The 2006 Cottonmouth had a distinct linen/fresh laundry vibe that, when combined with Snake Oil, smelled like Bath & Body Works’ Fresh Cotton Blossom (sadly discontinued) had an affair with a super potent head shop. The result of this odd union was 2006 Cottonmouth, which summoned an apparition of the babeliest, most badass all-black-everything coven-gang leader, but who is also super approachable and cool and would respond to your comments on Instagram and you would have a total “senpai noticed me!” moment about it. All this to say: while they are two completely different creatures, both Cottonmouths are worth seeking out.
☨ Altarpiece no.1 A brightness as glimpsed through shadow, a keyhole’s view of the sun. Small and still as a single candle’s flame against the immense dark; as vast and total as annihilation’s afterglow. This is a scent that proves to me, more than anything, how much I have to learn about fragrance and perfume, how little I know. I can only speak of this in terms of fractured, fragmented imagery, the slivers and splinters of a dream. “It’s beyond everything,” is a phrase I just read in a (totally unrelated) book, and that’s how I feel about this gorgeously evocative offering: a bright, dry citrus haloed by amber’s translucent sweetness, bound by the spiced warmth of dragon’s blood and fixed in a state of permanent darkness by the heady, heavy imprint of where oud once was.
☨ Circe Individiosa, inspired by the work of John William Waterhouse and also in the Ars Inspiratio collection is a scent that for me, is inseparable from the painting itself. The colors in this mythic scene are so lush and beautiful that they defy description. I have always thought that tipping dish of poison, the shade of crushed emeralds and mantis wings, must be the precise color of our heart’s blood when we are in the venomous throes of enraged, envious desire.Circe Indiviosa captures the scent of exercising one’s powers…one’s divinity…in murky and dangerous and exhilarating ways. It’s such a gorgeous fragrance, mossy and musky with a subtly bitter treacle, and vaguely electric in the way that euphoria resulting from ill-advised behavior makes you feel. Sort of like WHEEEEEEEEE OH SHIT WHOOPS.
☨ In Night When To All Colors Into Black Are Cast
-I feel like I am typecasting myself, especially since I thought I was slowly coming out of my all-black-everything phase (but don’t worry, it wasn’t just a phase in my heart) but honestly, this is the me-est thing I have ever smelled in my life.
-If there was such thing as:
– “sad dried flowers from my mom’s funeral, marking a page in a ghost story” musk
– “when I have to get up to pee at midnight and I divine phantom shapes from in the shadows of the shower curtain” musk
– “reading poetry by candlelight at 5am because I perversely read early in the morning and not late at night” musk
– “ordering a lucid dreaming blend from Etsy and drinking it, not realizing that the seller and I got our wires crossed and she made potpourri—not tea— and I stupidly brewed up and DRANK potpourri” musk
-All of the me-ness of me, all of my weirdness and sadness, and strange inner darkness, but also so much joy for beauty and friends and the lovely things in the world, this too.
-Somehow found a way into this bottle.
-And it smells like me.
Leave a comment on the video to be entered into the giveaway and while you don’t have to subscribe to my channel, it would be a nice gesture! One winner will be contacted in a week’s time to receive ten BPAL scents from my collection, chosen at my discretion.
For those who asked, marbled top is the brand Scotch & Soda brand purchased from Anthropologie, the earrings are from Haus of Sparrow, and the lippie is Strange Creature from Rituel de Fille (though unfortunately, I think it is long sold out.)