4 Apr

Heart Beet (raw, wet beets, pulsating blood musk, and raw wild ginger) I was a little scared to try this one because I’ve read that the same component that gives petrichor, that old rain-whisperer, that wet, mineralic tang, is also present in beets. Geosmin. This irregular sesquiterpenoid explains why I do not care for the scent of petrichor and cannot stomach beets. Except for pickled beets, which I love, but I’m a bit of a pickle fiend; you could probably pickle up an old boot, and I’d love that, too. But in Heart Beet there is only the swiftest, most fleeting whiff of dirt and stony dampness and then the immediacy of what I think of as shampoo ginger. We have a profusion of ginger-but-not-quite-ginger growing wild in our backyard, and when you dig it up, it looks just like ginger, and it has that same fiery-floral tang of fresh ginger too, but there’s something that smells a little soapy about it, as well, which gave us pause and made us think maybe we shouldn’t be eating it! We looked it up, and we are pretty sure it’s “shampoo ginger,” which could be eaten (but it’s bitter) but is more often used in toiletries and cosmetics. And then, at the back of that zesty-floral-freshness is a murky musk, slightly sweet, subtly earthy hum that is so weirdly, unexpectable wearable.  This scent is as if you dug up a magenta-blooded, lumpy, heart-shaped taproot and deemed it a quirky imaginary friend and shared all your juicy secrets with it…and then that dang beet tried to give you some sassy advice.

Pistachio Ambrosia (a whipped green dream, pale and pillowy with multicolored mini marshmallows, densely studded with bits of pineapple, mandarin, and shredded coconut) Well, you thought this was a Tupperware party – Jello molds, covered casserole dishes, PTA gossip. But you knew different the moment you saw those seafoam green formica counters had been converted to a burlesque runway. All your friends do shots of ground pistachio paste lightened with pineapple juice’s fizzing neon effervescence, folded into the creamiest, velvety custard…laced with acid. You don’t want to seem like a square, so down it goes! The last thing you remember is your hostess’s outrageous shimmy and the mesmerizing billowing twirl of her whipped cream pasties. You awake on your front lawn, the technicolor escapades of the night before swimming before your eyes, the taste of an astronaut ice cream tiki drinks on your tongue.

Rhubarb Custard Muffins (tender chunks of tart rhubarb stalks spangled with oven-browned sugar crystals, nestled in a crown of golden cake generously marbled with jet-streams of warm custard) Last year, I bought a quartet of Strawberry Shortcake-themed candles. My excuse for this foolishness, not that anyone is asking me to justify myself, is that I’d had a bad day, which turned into a series of bad days, culminating in a whole-ass bad month. I was excited to illuminate these little beacons of nostalgia, but sadly, each was more disappointing than the last. If I’d had Rhubarb Custard Muffins and unscented wax (and, I suppose, any amount of ambition or motivation to speak of), I could have recreated exactly what I, as an adult now, was seeking in those candles with this scent’s vibrant bracing blush of rhubarb enlivened further by the jeweled, juicy tang of strawberry, and tempered–only slightly so– by a creamy vanilla drizzle of custard and scant dusting of oaty streusel. This is a scent brimming with cheeky, exuberant optimism that rips its tart heart right out of its chest and offers it to you immediately upon meeting you, no questions asked. This is what that drab stable of Strawberry Shortcake candles should have been!

Green Maraschino (peppermint-laced preserved cherries soaking in thick lime syrup, dashed with a sliver of yuzu) Have you ever wondered what the juice of a green traffic light smelled like? A vibrant emerald energy, an invigorating jolt of minty-metallic kisses and 1000% saturation sugar syrup highs, punctuated by the fleeting tang of the citrusy unknown; it’s the electrifying hum before the exhilarating rush.

White Chocolate and Taro Cream A dusty, earthy white chocolate that initially smells, texturally, like the nostalgic magics of those light, crispy, waffle-stamped wafer cookies.  A starchy vanilla-almond floral creme sandwiches them together, and suddenly it becomes something too pretty to eat. This smells both familiar and dreamlike in the way that pictures from half-remembered childhood storybooks still feel like familiar friends, so keep that in mind when I tell you that this scent smells like the art of Amy Earles.

White Chocolate, Orange Blossom, Sugar Crystals, & Champagne Talk about the unexpected! I was expecting a soft white chocolate and orange blossom water scent, but this one is unexpectedly nutty- toasty-malty with a bit of oaky-leathery-coffee and plummy-orchid-florals! But if you wait a bit…that’s when things get really good. On the dry-down, this becomes a velvety soft cocoa butter, warm brown sugar musk, and it’s just the perfect balance of intriguing/familiar and comforting/captivating, sweet-but-not-too-sweet, close-to-the-skin scent.

Roses, Pearls, and Sapphires (lavender rose petals, coconut husk, cerulean blue musk, agave, and blueberry resin) I smelled this one, and I thought so many things all at once! Firstly, this scent and its kin are inspired by one of my favorite fairy tales, “Toads and Diamonds,” by Charles Perrault. It impressed certain things upon me so vividly that to this day, I am not sure if I am nice to people because that’s in my nature, because it’s the right way to act, OR is it because who knows when you might meet a secret fairy and be gifted with pie-hole baubles because you were kind to them! I mean, you never know! So am I being nice to people so that it will result in material gain? That’s not great, right? Conversely, this made me think about how all of my life, even up until now, because I’ve never learned my lesson and I don’t know any other way to be, I give away everything I have. As a child, I’d give my classmates my pretty markers, my plastic jewelry, and my favorite Barbie dresses–all with the hopes of someone being nice to me. I do it still. I love my material things, but I will shove them in your face and shout, “Take them!” if I think there’s a chance it will make you like me. Just last week, someone I barely know DMed me and asked me for money to help pay their rent. I don’t have money to throw around, but I thought, “But what if not helping them makes them not like me!” Then I Venmoed them $200. I thought getting older meant caring less about stuff like this, but somehow it’s even worse now. You might think, hey, Sarah’s written three books; she must be making some kind of money! WRONG! Do you even know how many books I have just outright given away? I haven’t made money, friends. I have lost money. It all makes me feel very foolish, like a big joke if I am being honest, and also very small. And feeling small gets me thinking about little-Sarah and all the things she loved best but never really shared how or why, because she thought giving her things away was the silver bullet to making connections with people. As opposed to giving of myself, sharing things about me and who I am.  So, I will share with you now. Dolls with blue hair, the Mermistas and Frostas, the Ajas and the Stormers, the Blueberry Muffins and Lily Fairs and Sailor Mercuries. These were my favorites. I thought they were like me. Shy, sweet, maybe a little sad, definitely a little spacy. But your spacy friends are your dreamer friends! When you’re being mean to us, you’re being mean to this perfume, which smells of all of the gentle blue haired dolls that we channelled all of our love into, and then gave it all away.

Roses, Pearls and Emeralds (rose sap, gleaming ivy, orris root, sweet oakmoss, pine needle, lime rind, and juniper) In Tiffany Morris’ novella Green Fuse Burning, the author writes, “Spring was an assault that arrived at the door with flowers in hand…” and Roses, Pearls, and Emeralds is the olfactory equivalent of that neon green revelation. The lime, juniper, and pine comingle to create something surprisingly unarboreal, more oceanic, but also unnervingly electric. Massive bioluminescent algal blooms cause ocean dead zones, and ultraviolet radiation runs amok in wild grottoes and caverns. The rose, oh wily troublesome rose! (Me and rose have history!) is the unexpected, benevolent note-wrangler in this composition, reigning in the maritime radioactivity and lending a soft floral haze that settles and soothes and coaxes it back to land. A little cottage garden that sometimes dreams of kaiju.

The Serpent in the Carnations (Snake Oil-soaked carnation petals, spiked with a dash of clove and allspice.) Often times I get an idea in my head that one scent from these collections is DEFINITELY going to be my favorite, but I am often wrong because I’ll get surprised by something else along the way. I think this time, my prediction was correct. I had a feeling I would love this slithery scent, and I do–it smells exactly like being mesmerized by an art nouveau femme fatale sorceress, just like the gal in Karl Alexander Wilke’s artwork we see here on the label art.  The eerie mortuary spice of carnations alongside Snake Oil’s thick, heavily sugared incense makes for the most wicked avant-garde bohemian ghoulishness; I want to bathe in it, poison admirers with it, all the things.

Our Lady Of Pain (Sumatran patchouli, blood musk, white lavender, opium tar, and black orchid) Aloof and alluring, a cool, bitter metallic shiver, like poison painting the tip of a small curved blade; musk and throbbing darkness, like psychic muscles cramped around the remembrance of a wound. The scent of duels lost, blood on the ground, moonlight elegies–all impressively tragic stuff, outrageous melodramas played out on the stage of one’s own mind…as is the wont of those of us who are really good at hurting our own feelings. Our Lady Of Pain is the most beautiful, most diabolical of Mean Girls…but as they say, the calls are coming from inside the house. 

There Yet Shall Be Sorrows (white sandalwood, black cypress, wormwood, creeping willow, and rue) A damp, earthy green and cold minerality like a shroud of moss scraped from a frost-flowered gravestone. A soft, dusty herbal whisper, like crushed leaves scattered in wild, wet weather.  A path of long silence and deepening shadow.

The Shrine Where Sin Is A Prayer (deep purple Syrah, calamus, myrrh smoke, hyssop, opoponax, bitter clove, burgundy pitch, opium poppy, and violet leaf) Thinking about this perfume is akin to thinking about stars, or color; as in, the light we’re now seeing is from a star already dead, or how the color of an apricot is what we perceive it to be because some wavelengths of the spectrum are being absorbed and some are bouncing off and what we actually see in the end is all of the colors that it is not. Speaking of apricots– this is how I know that no matter how many perfumes I smell or reviews I write, I am still no closer to knowing anything at all. Despite not being listed in the notes, apricot is what I smell here. A thickly jelled apricot marmalade into which the slow poison of sweet herbs are suspended and inky drippings of wine swirl like smoke. Imagine dipping a quill into this sticky jam jar; envision penning your deepest buried needs and secret yearnings. Consider that each word preserved in these conserves comes at a cost; know that when you’ve emptied the pot, the bill comes due. Though much like million-year-old starlight and all the colors we cannot see, these are abstract repercussions, problems for future-us to solve. Let’s gather our marmalade wishes while we may, then. The pot is full for now.

Sister Death (pale gilded lilies and roses in the labdanum shadow of a yew tree, a sprig of forget-me-not, the dwindling memory of a genteel cologne, and the honeyed breathlessness of a kiss) A sharp inhale of florals with something, a sweet pang of memory, a tender, fruiting slip of dream, floating just underneath the surface, just beyond your grasp that you can’t touch no matter how you reach for it; the reflection in the pool that no matter how deep you swim, you can never close the distance.

Poets Hearts Break So (bourbon vanilla fougere, violet leaf, iris root, Italian bergamot, porcelain accord, and a trickle of red musk)Sun-leached bitter citrus, vanilla dust motes trembling in fractured light – lace curtains, cobwebbed and frayed. A single wilted violet bears witness to the fleeting nature of affection; a shattered porcelain angel weeps tears of melancholic orris-tinged grief; the air is thick with a euphoric effluvium of malefic ecstasy, the intense overripe sweetness of red musk and ravaged souls, beauty tinged with madness, a poet’s overwrought breakup sonnet forever immortalized in a single, gleefully melodramatic, flamboyantly maddening scent.

Delightful Gargantuan Vagina (red mango pulp, sugared orange blossom, mimosa, pink musk, and sweet incense)  There was a poem I once read that introduced to me how I now consider the mango. This occurred during the years of what I now like to think of as “another life,” and I don’t think of those years often or the person I shared them with because it was not a good time. At any rate, it was this person who shared the piece of writing with me quite early on in our relationship in that love-bombing kind of way where someone showers you with excessive, special attention as part of their arsenal of manipulative tactics. Starved for feeling special, I ate it up. This was circa 2000 or so when Flash websites were all the rage, and it was not an easy thing to copy and paste or print out or whatever, and so I don’t recall the whole thing, and I’ve never been able to find it again. I only remember the first line: “The flesh of a mango…reminds me of rot…” I never forgot that. I also came to the conclusion that mango’s musky, sweet, slightly sour pulp smells very much like kissing the mouth of the person who has just moments ago been intimately tasting you. I told my sisters about this realization a few years ago, and I was shocked at how upset they were hearing this… and, to this day, neither of them has ever forgiven me for it!  I find this absolutely wild because none of us are prudes, we talk about all kinds of stuff, so I honestly didn’t think I was saying anything beyond the pale! And being an obnoxious older sister, instead of apologizing, I have since doubled down on my opinion. I am rambling at this point because I think I am struggling to say anything coherent, let alone clever or poetic about this scent, so I’ll just leave it here: mango, with its unsubtle dissonance between desire and decay and overt suggestions of eros and thanatos…is actually quite subdued in this scent. What I smell instead is the zesty, juicy piquancy of a perfectly sectioned mandarin orange, and the complex, fragrant secrets of orange blossoms in April, and a fizzy, powdery vinegar shrub of mimosa honey. It’s quite lovely, and definitely more palatable than my mango analogy, I guess!

Encounter With A Female Ghost (cypress, immortelle, and white amber enveloping red spider lily petals, dragon’s blood resin, and black plum) A single, spectral bloom tucked amidst the cypress trees; rainwater which has caught the reflection of the moon; the shimmering peal of a cracked bell at the 13th hour–

The Shimmering Mirror (pine pitch brocade, amber incense smoke, Mysore sandalwood, myrrh, red benzoin, inky patchouli, and an oakmoss fougere) The red benzoin and amber incense smoke combine to make a strangely sultry balsamic floral scent that brings to mind some sort of supplication to a saint of dangerous sensuality, a prayer along the lines of, “Poppy crowned queen of night, patroness of thieves and robbers, friend, and light to all that burns.” I wish I could remember where I read that! Which has nothing to do with this next reference, but you know all those romantasy books that are all the rage right now? Like “A Court of this thing and those things?” This is a perfume that smells like the heady promises of those lavishly fantastical, come-hither book covers.

Chestnut Vulva (sweet chestnut, vanilla cashmere, toasted cardamom, and caramel) is an unexpected autumnal fantasy of comforting warmth and intriguing depth. Velvety chestnut puree, smooth and sweet, with a subtle hint of milky creaminess; a touch of unsweetened cocoa powder adds unexpected depth, grounding the sweetness with a hint of earthiness, like fallen leaves crunching underfoot, while geese fly low on the horizon. Cardamom’s delicate floral spice is whipped into a toasted meringue, a luxurious garnish in a thermos full of this enchantingly warming fall beverage in the dying light of an October afternoon when the spring sun showers seem a long way off.

The Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab 2024 Lupercalia collection is currently live and available for purchase. As this is a limited edition series, sample sizes imps are not available.

Need more Lupercalia scents? Have a peep at my Lupers reviews from 2023 and 2022 and 2021 and 2020. Looks like I skipped a few years but we’ve also got 2017 and 2016 reviews as well!

…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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