While the gothic aesthetic holds a certain undeniable allure, the label itself has never quite felt like a fit for me. The truth is, my love for all things gothy – the macabre aesthetics, the haunting melodies, the lyrical explorations of mortality – exists on a curious spectrum. While I find myself enthralled by the atmosphere,  I wouldn’t exactly say I identify as full-fledged goth.  I’ve written about this a lot!

Think of me more as a whimsical wayfarer, a will-o-the-wisp who flits along the fringes of your favorite hauntings, a connoisseur of the curious and the unsettling, a gentle weirdo with an affinity for shadows and darkness. Dark art, and darker music, and the darkest humor. And, of course…dark smells! Which I have somewhat already written about before: perfume of the dead // summer scents for those who shun the sun // scents for the dark

But! This is a topic I could write at least  dozen novels about and I do have quite a few goth/gothic-leaning perfumes in my collection. So here I am to share some more!

Ernst Haeckel’s Bats (1904)

Zoologist Bat is undeniably the strangest, most wonderfully unique perfume you will ever smell. Opening with a nearly overwhelming note of damp, primordial earth, both vegetal and mineral in execution, this immediately conjures inky caverns and pitch-black, damp limestone caves. The scent then morphs into something I can only describe as “night air and velvet darkness”; I cannot say how she has done this, I only know that it is the very essence of the vast, temperate midnight sky, the glowing moon high overhead. At this point, it becomes something quite different and–quite possibly–even more beautiful. Soft fruits, delicate musks, and resins lay at the heart of this enigmatic scent and combine to create a fragrance that lightly circles around the wearer to surprise them with a mysterious sweetness at the most surprising times. According to Dr. Covey, who has spent a great deal of time researching and studying bats, with this quality, the scent has succeeded pretty well in doing what she envisioned. This review is for the original 2015 perfume, but it has since been reformulated. You can still purchase the version I’m waxing poetic about, though; it’s sold over at Olympic Orchids as Night Flyer.

Tom Ford Oud Wood 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.

Mad et Len Noir Encens POV: you are a brooding pencil, prone to bouts of melancholia, that only scribbles at midnight and has only ever been used to draft architectural sketches of gargoyle-adorned gothic cathedrals and crumbling medieval monasteries and Baudelairian poetry and you listen to a lot of Bauhaus and Joy Division. This is discontinued, but it looks like you can buy samples here. Or you can buy a full bottle from me for $250 because I have an extra one!

bloodmilk x Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab Owl Moon A symbiosis of the moon and the magnificent night owl. A dark, rooty, sweet patchouli swirled with honey. A scent steeped in mythology and magic, Owl Moon opens with the blackest, earthiest patchouli (before learning of the notes, I actually thought it was vetiver!) 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 combines to form an aura that is both graceful and grotesque, sacred and profane. It dries down to a spellbinding, narcotic musk within an hour or so, and I predict many a darkling will fall rapturously in love with this bewitching nocturnal perfume. This one is sold out for at the moment, but they have been known to restock.

Lvnea x Chelsea Wolfe Pêche Obscène is glorious– but what I mean is glorious in the way that something monstrous and magnificent stalks the dead zone of night, by stealth and in the dark. This is peach, irradiated and ashen and grown over with moss and broken bird’s nests and salted against curses, curls of ferric iron to both ward away and contain within. A peach more lore and legend than it ever had life, a peach whose shadow looms uneasily far beyond its ruined flesh. Juices corrupt with the grave dirt of vetiver and patchouli and oozing with osmanthus’ strange leathery/jammy incense, Peche Obscene is an undead lich of a peach, and it is absolutely, terrifyingly, bewitching in the way that all delicious forbidden things are.

 

photography by the late Simon Marsden

Solstice Scents Estate Carnation is a deeply gothic glamour amber, a musky murky chypre-adjacent fragrance that smells simultaneously like the figure in the white nightdress running from the manor house with the lone candle lit in the window at midnight and the surprise succubus that this figure is secretly possessed by–it’s all the iconic tropes of Avon Satanic Romance novel, and it’s perfect. This one may have been a seasonal or limited edition scent.

Arcana Holy Terror a blend of frankincense, deep myrrh, and beeswax candles, it smells of gentle resins, lofty sandalwood, and less of the fearsome spirits known to haunt certain long-deserted abbeys than it is curling up and reading about them in a horrid novel by the warm glow of candlelight.

Diptyque Tempo conjures an atmosphere of dolorous elegance, patchouli’s murky woods and dusky loam, with a wraithlike metallic chill and an herbal shiver of something green and strange simmering underneath. It carries a disquieting heaviness, the shape of a feeling impossible to give voice to; like having to climb into bed with someone and tell them they’re dead. It also reminds me of this passage from Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within… and whatever walked there, walked alone.” This is a patchouli that has walked the long shadows of Hill House, has become lost in the thick, unspoken secrets of its notorious halls, and suffered its mad face in the growing darkness. This is a twisted, haunted patchouli that has seen some shit, but all the edges of that unnerving terror have been blurred by the creeping of moss, the settling of dust, and the softness of time and memory, of unreality and dream.

Chapel Factory Heresy 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.

Beaufort London Terror & Magnificence This is the very gothest thing: tarry, leathery shadows, wet, stony paths leading into the teeming dark, and moonless midnights presiding over all. Like being enfolded by bat wings, encased in obsidian, enveloped in a stark abyss. A silent secret from the mouth of one just dead. This departed speaker whom no one hears is you.

 

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29 May
2024

Zoologist Rabbit: Imagine a little picnic with your beloved stuffed bunny, the threadbare and shabby old thing with the missing eye and the unraveling stitches and the patch on its little belly where the stuffing has begun to leak through, the one you’ve loved so much and for so long that there is no doubt in your mind that it is the very realest rabbit. And picture the most realistic mud pie you ever made, so true to life in fact that when you took a crumbling bite of it, it actually tasted a bit like a lightly spiced tea loaf, gently sweetened, with a soft, tender crumb– maybe a seasonal apple or zucchini bread, but minus the actual fruit or vegetation. As a matter of fact, there’s little to no greenery in this scent at all, even the clover and the hay is more honeyed sweetness than grassy or botanical, and I do think that verdancy, that sense of green growing things, is what’s missing for me. This fragrance is less Peter Rabbit and more Velveteen Rabbit, right down to the well-worn cozy, cuddly fuzzy, snuggly skin musk of it– and as a matter of here’s a fleeting there-and-gone curious note that seems to be aiming for milky and creamy, but briefly veers a touch sour and unwell almost like a hint of baby spit-up. Like your beloved stuffed bunny that served as a faithful childhood repository for various ailments and was never quite fully sanitized. Despite its peculiarities and what it’s missing, it truly feels like a love letter to something sweet and cherished, and so far back in time you can never reach it again–and I think that’s ultimately what makes it so evocative – it’s the memory, how you felt in that garden and that friendship with your soft, sweet companion, filtered through the lens of childhood wonder and a love so fierce it transcends reality.

Two more collaborations from bloodmilk x Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab

Midnight Snowfall is a winter’s witching hour personified; Night Queen, shock of moon-pale hair glittering, cloaked in the dark unknown of ancient terrors looming beyond firelight, a creature born of the hush that descends upon the world as the last sliver of sun sighs into the dusk. Lunar dreamworlds, surreal shadow realms, secret starlit cities beyond time–limned in a single frozen glance, a soft, bitter stolen kiss, a phosphorescent lamentation of stars fading at dawn. The resinous nectar of champaca’s intoxicating warmth chilled by a shiver of pale, pearlescent moon flowers, swaddled, sticky, and senseless in a velvety oblivion of moonless night.

An olfactory altar to the transformative agonies of sloughing off your broken chrysalis, The Shedding Time is a fragrance that calls for a moment, alone and in the dark. The clove is feral and sharp, a twisty slithering coiling around your awareness, deep in the shadows; each successive sniff draws it closer to the surface. Clinging to the bitter autumn honey of the serpentine spice is the shriveled exuviae of phantom flowers–a scorched and skeletal bouquet of tuberose and honeysuckle, mingles with the dissolving tendrils of earthy incense smoke. A rosy glowing emerges, the faintest sunrise blush on the freshly exposed skin, that much more alive. The body unshrouded, the psyche reborn, a perfume to witness the beauty of becoming through the crucible of transformation. Kick aside your broken carapace and step out into the sun.

I’ve got a sampler set from Marissa Zappas, and I don’t know if it is just me, but are all of these scents really subtle and subdued? Today I am wearing Maggie the Cat is Alive, I’m Alive! and, firstly, I should confess that I’m not coming at this scent from a place of attachment to its inspiration. With the exception of an overwrought snippet or two, I have never seen Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. From what I gather, it’s a whirlwind of melodrama and histrionics and conflicted, tormented souls. And considering that, this fragrance is quite an exercise in restraint.

It is the olfactory equivalent of hushed whispers, fading echoes, and pale shadows further muted by weak sunlight. The champagne is a warmed, still echo in its glass, the effervescence long gone. A delicate tension simmers between the dripping sweetness of peach and ambrette’s intimate, powdery musk, all set against an understated backdrop of cool, elusive floral notes and the gentle, woody humidity of oakmoss. Maggie the Cat isn’t at all the piercing shrieking experience that I expected but offers an introspective, understated moment instead

The Cartographer Wasp from Paintbox Soapworks. While appreciating a fragrance on its own merits is always delightful, there’s a certain thrill, a code cracked, a secret unlocked when you can discern its inspiration. And this perfume absolutely sings its source: an olfactory homage to the award-winning short story “The Cartographer Wasps & the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu.

It initially unfolds with an autumnal chalice of warm, sweetened harvest grains – perhaps barley or oatmeal – generously drizzled with the forbidden warmth of stolen honey, strange tawny nectar, haunted with the dusky whisper of hidden hives in a lightning-scarred elm. This comforting porridge soon melts away, revealing a heart of soft, velvety, caramelized apricot resin and the airy musk of pear blossoms. As it lingers, the fragrance transforms into a rich yet weightless, creamy amber-vanilla essence. It becomes an intimate companion, close to the skin, and evokes the gentle murmur of bees nestled in the dark hush of winter, dreaming of sun-drenched fields.

Norwegian Wood from Folie À Plusieurs This is not actually the scent I ordered …I double-checked my receipt a dozen times in the past few days just because I always assume I am the one who is mistaken or wrong… but you know what? I’m okay with receiving what I got, and regardless of what I ordered, I like this a lot. Norwegian Wood is inspired by the Haruki Murakami novel of the same name, but I read that so long ago that I don’t recall a thing about it, so that’s not going to factor into my thoughts. So. While I do love the scent of a heavily wooded hinterland or an ominous evergreen Mirkwood Forest midnight–basically, a syrupy resinous coniferous balsamic dirge of a scent (think Norne from Slumberhouse or Dasein Winter Nights) this is…not that. Or, well, it’s sort of that, but remove all those associations with darkness and shadows and the macabre. Rather than the Huntsman chasing a terrified Snow White into the gloomy woods, this is instead the contentment of Snow White in a sun-dappled forest glade, surrounded by woodland creatures, a soft trembling faun on her lap, and a little bluebird perched on her finger. It’s the scent of weathered branches and leaves fluttering in the breeze, sticky sap and damp creeping moss, the faint sweetness of wildflowers crushed under your feet, the rosy golden musk of a sunbeam on your skin; it’s all of that, but it’s not overly sentimental or twee. Its the sheer, gauzy summer halo of a winter haunted forest emerging from a deep sleeping curse.

Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab The Storm While I am much usually much more expansive in my reviews, I am confident in saying that all you need to know is this scent is BPAL’s Antique Lace, those faded phantom attic-trunk florals, and the milky-musky-powderiness of cobwebby linens, caught up in the misty salt-air mystery and bitter cliffside botanicals of smugglers and shipwrecks on the windswept Cornish coast of Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn. 

Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab The Acrobats is the flushed exuberance of juicy-peachy apricot, its delicate brightness made unsettling with amber’s dimly glowing resins and the bitter tang of tannins. I don’t know if I am unduly influenced by the heart-rending painting upon which it was based, but it really does smell like a sweet memory tinged with unbearable sorrow.

I have two fragrances kindly sent to me by Noah from Amphora’s debut collection. Amphora’s offerings are “gay-hearted fragrances”, perfumes that are joyous, inclusive, and queer, and the first one I’ve got here, Sublimate, really feels like the utmost epitome of these sentiments. With notes of frozen apple, dried rose petals, candied violets, marshmallow, cashmere, and white musk, this scent is a disco ball piñata of Pixy Stix dissolving in a vat of liquid nitrogen, exploding into a supernova of candied campy Barbarellas. It is a technicolor cacophony of hyper-fruity absurdity, a celebratory sweetness that leaves your soul awash in glitter and makes you question the very fabric of reality, and truly, I think it is the penultimate recipe for euphoria. Primal Yell has elements of hot iron, cherry, and bitter almond in addition to patchouli, vetiver, and some other notes, and this is definitely the moodier and broodier of the duo. I definitely get that red fruit, but it’s swaddled in black velvet and furs, and encased in an ancient iron coffin. As a matter of fact, this is very much a blood popsicle shared between two very old, very chic, and jaded, too-cool-for-school vampire lovers. These fragrances, despite being wildly different from one another, share an underlying thread of a creator who is clearly having lots of fun– and who is joyfully inviting us along for the ride.

This Ember by Anka Kus As intrigued as I was by the idea of a fragrance inspired by the lore of the phoenix, this is less a solitary mythical firebird and more a gaggle of mean girls cackling at a sick burn. It’s the sort of ambery raspberry-smoky rose that I’m already disinclined to like, because I don’t love fruity florals, but there is something about this one that’s particularly smug and acridly unlikeable. It’s got the structure of a scent that aspires to an aura of power and allure, but it falls flat, it’s just a loud, saccharine veneer in the shape of a void where a personality is meant to be. And sure, you can tell me I need therapy for my high school trauma, but I swear I don’t even think about that stuff until a particularly awful perfume comes across my radar. This is one of those perfumes.

I got myself the Kayali fragrance sampler for my birthday as sort of a joke, which I feel a bit hypocritical for saying, as I am also someone who -most of the time- believes that if you are not doing something in earnest, then why are you even bothering to do it at all? I don’t feel good about the idea of enjoying things ironically, I’d rather approach things with genuine curiosity. So anyway, the whole reason I got the set was for a sample of Yum Pistachio Gelato, and the story for this is that whenever this scent was first released (sometime last year in 2023?) I recall that perfumetok was a bit in a dither about it for some reason…and not being all that plugged into perfume community drama, I wasn’t sure why, but I thought it had something to do with how influencers were talking or not talking about it, or maybe some people were butthurt about not receiving PR boxes? I don’t know, but I was curious as to whether the scent itself was in any way worth getting your nose out of joint about. It is not. This is a commonplace-smelling vanilla skin musk with the addition of what I think of as a sort of rancid shea butter sour baby puke element, something soft and creamy that’s gone all clotted and curdled. It’s not the worst thing I ever smelled, but if you didn’t receive a PR box about it, you no doubt lived through the ordeal of it and went on to smell better things.

Tonight on Midnight Stinks is Fantosmia from Jorum Studio, and I don’t think I know how to talk about this one, so instead, I am just going to run their list of notes through my internal translator and speak them to you in my language. This is the scent of a leather armor repurposed into a stewing pot into which you stir the sticky sap of a wounded tree, the sour scrapings of the inner rind of a pumpkin, the last few crumbles of Transylvanian honey bread blessed by the holy sisters and studded with spirit-soaked dried plums, and a scant handful of musty seeds and peppery herbs. Stir over stones that haven’t seen sunlight in one hundred years and trap the cookfire’s ghostly smoke in a glass vial for after-dinner divinatory purposes. This scent is a cryptic recipe written in a forgotten tongue; I can almost decipher the symbols, but ultimately it remains a mystery, a riddle that I can’t solve. I can admire it, yet I can’t quite call my own.

 

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Frederick Sandys, King Pelles Daughter Bearing the Vessel of the Sangreal, 1861

I recently shared the following on Reddit in (probably unhelpfully) answering someone’s question about a process for writing perfume reviews, and it occurred to me that it’s something I should share here as well. In case you ever wondered about my perfume review process or lack thereof!

Wrapping up with “Be true to yourself” is cheesy as hell, and I KNOW IT, but it’s the only way I can write about anything, and it’s the best advice I can give.

“I’ve been writing perfume reviews for almost twenty years, and when I saw your question, I had to admit to myself that maybe I don’t actually have a process. I’m kind of all over the place with it. It’s chaos.

Also, I realize that my reviews are probably pretty frustrating because I don’t really write them to be helpful to other people. Perfume reviews, for me, are more of a creative writing exercise than an attempt to paint a factual, by-the-numbers picture of my experience with a fragrance.  True, I do share them on review sites and various subreddits like this one, and if they resonate with someone, great!

I don’t write on a schedule, though I do try to write about fragrance every day. I might not always share it immediately or at all, but I am always sniffing things, thinking about them, and making little notes and connections for myself.

But –and I am being totally honest here– my perfume reviews are very much an example of “boy, she sure likes to hear herself talk, doesn’t she?” Ruminating on and rambling about perfumes as I do provides a more complete experience beyond the smelling of the thing, you know? I have to write about things to understand them, and as unaccommodatingly wacky as my resulting thoughts might sometimes be, it’s the process of writing them down that brings me to that understanding.

That said, as abstract or circuitous or as unhelpful as my perfume reviews frequently are, I suppose I do have some things I try to work into my reviews. Perfume notes? Not really. Thoughts on the perfumer or the house? Rarely. I might talk about how the notes translate for me (like tobacco usually manifests as stewed raisins, for example), and I might talk about whether or not I smell the perfumer’s inspiration in their creation, but as both a reader and writer of reviews who doesn’t care about the nuts and bolts of the scent, I write about it the way I would want to read it.

Which is to say…I want to know what the perfume made you feel. Don’t tell me it smells nice. What does that even mean? Is “nice” a yellow daisy on a crisp spring day? Is “nice” a sudden rainstorm on a humid summer night? Is it a lurid orange bucketful of teeth-rottingly sweet candy and a cheap, sweaty vacuum-pressed Frankenstein mask circa October 31, 1980, the only Halloween you can ever recall snow on the ground? Do those things summon a memory, unearth a dream, did they trip a nostalgia or a deja-vu wire in your brain? Do they smell like a story, forgotten lore, or some unwritten fable from the future that trips off the tongue as the notes unfold on your skin? That’s where I write from, and I guess I write for people who think along those lines.

I also keep a running list of book and film quotes, song lyrics, poetry, heck, even things I have heard Nigella Lawson say! She waxes poetic about food; I recall her referencing cauliflower’s “Victorian pallor” and “fat coral curls” of shrimp, “aubergine confetti,” and “flakes of terracotta,” and sometimes these descriptions of flavors and hues translate beautifully to scent!  I think these are all wonderfully evocative things to include in a perfume review. I’d honestly rather read that a fragrance reminds me of Mary Oliver’s words, “Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine,” than learn that a reviewer thinks x perfume smells like y perfume.

Will the way I talk and think and write about perfumes change? Sure! It’s constantly evolving as I collect life experiences and catalog more scents, and I can even track my flickering interests and fluctuating passions in my perfume reviews throughout the years. (One year there was a lot of Star Trek and Lawaxana Troi mentions, ha!) And I bet your perfume writing will change as well. Whatever your process ends up being, just keep it fluid, and have fun with it and above all, be true to yourself.”

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Complicated Shadows from 4160 Tuesdays is a perfume for the insomniac hours, late-night strolls wandering through the deserted streets of your hometown, familiar landmarks strangely distorted by the play of moonlight and shadow. The warm, velvety sandalwood whispers in contrast to the chilling “shade” note, evoking the breathless hush of liminal, in-between spaces. The iris and narcissus here are shrouded in mystery, their earthy floral murmurations laced with a tang of acrid irony, simmering existential angst below the surface of introspective ponderings. Veiled in a bitter vanilla mist, it’s the uncanny reverie, nocturnal glooms, and haunting landscapes of the dreamless, lost in the dark.

I don’t like comparing perfumes to each other, especially comparisons of something a niche or indie creator has made to something from one of the big houses…and I hear artists of all ilks, all the time, bemoaning how they hate being compared to other artists. So apologies in advance to my beloved artists amongst us here, but I know that sometimes comparisons to something you are already familiar with can be helpful in evaluating something new.

That said, my first impression of Complicated Shadows was one of cool, dusky elegance… and there’s a definite kinship with Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue, that melancholic masterpiece shrouded in powdery twilight. However, Complicated Shadows sheds the heavy cloak of powder, revealing a more approachable, contemporary feel. L’Heure Bleue, as much as I want to love it, has never been my cup of tea. But Complicated Shadows? I could drink it by the bucketful. In the dark. In the middle of a deserted road. At the stroke of midnight.

I know better than this, but I purchased a bottle of Fantomas from Nasomatto without having sampled it first, and I’m surprised to say…I actually rather enjoy it? It reminds me of ELdO’s Ghost In The Shell, that bit of speculative lactonic peach, but I then realized what I was smelling in Fantomas was more along the lines of those Japanese milky honeydew melon hard candies. There’s also a bit of sterile, plastic-y musk and digitally-rendered powdery porcelain heliotrope, and the more I sniff my wrist, the more I am convinced that this creamy floral/vinyl musk is what the uncanny valley of a really expensive sex doll smells like. I’ve not smelled any sex dolls, either of the budget or the big-spender variety, but I have got a big imagination, and I’m pretty sure I know what I know. Anyway, I like it!

Parfums de Marly’s Pegasus Exclusif, and maybe I am extrapolating a bit from the brand’s copy, promises a ride on the back of a flying stallion, a journey into a realm of “masculine virility” and “exhilarating power.” But I think we need to temper our expectations; the description would have us believe this is the fragrant equivalent of a noble winged steed, all myth and muscle, soaring through the heavens, presumably being the fantastical equine embodiment of toxic masculinity. I’m not saying that I actually wanted any of that, but instead, what we are presented with is a pastel carousel pony, all heliotrope powdered sugar, and cracked porcelain. Now, there are some things I am not up to speed on here, which is to say that Pegasus Exclusif implies the existence of a Pegasus not-so-Exclusif, and if that is the case, I haven’t smelled that yet, and maybe that one is a dusty plastic marzipan macaron as well… so I am not sure how this one differs. And unlike other reviewers, I don’t get anything complex or dark or rich out of this perfume; the promised depth and complexity and woods and spices never materialize, leaving a one-dimensional sweetness and a sense of artificial whimsy that smells more like a My Little Pony collection than the epic journey of a majestic beast.

Citron Boboli from Le Jardin Retrouvé was a lovely, unexpected surprise. It’s such a light, refreshing, palliative scent; there’s hardly anything to it at all, and then the longer you sit with it, the more mellow marvels it conjures. On the hottest day of the summer, when the sun bakes the earth, and the air hangs humid, heavy, and shimmering, find a mason jar, glass smooth and etchings worn, passed down from your mother’s mother, to cradle a spell for a sweltering day. Beneath the skeletal shade of a midday tree, into this vessel layer lemon balm and blossom, a sprig of geranium, and a frilled citronella leaf–a soothing strata, herbal, citrusy, and green, a counterpoint to the relentless heat. Stream in a shiver of rainwater that has caught the reflection of the moon, and, finally, drop in as many cloves and peppercorns as loves you have lost, and smell their spiced warmth transmute into a strange, fizzing chill. Anoint your pulse, your throat, and your heart with the verdant brew, peer into its swirling emerald shadows, and let echo the words that cool the air and summon the soft, secret summer rain. This is what Citron Boboli is for me. And as a Floridian, I think this fragrance will be my go-to scorching summertime incantation of relief.

I got a sample of Flamingo from Blackcliff because thought this was for sure going to be my manic pixie pink pepper of demented glee that I have long been searching for. It’s a mangrove swamp’s heart of kaleidoscopic funhouse mirrors, twisted cypress knees splashed in the lurid, tart effervescent guava-grapefruit hues of technicolor twilight. Prickly pink pepper like a shard of shattered glass, like a frenzied clutch of little claws skitters and dissolves, and  a melancholic violet peeks through, its bruised purple mascara streaking through the murky water. Damp earthy tendrils of vetiver, musky ambrette, and loamy tobacco loom faintly but unsettlingly close to the surface. Flamingo is a warped sour bittersweetness unseen creatures chirping and croaking in the twilight–and I like it– but it’s more of a pink pepper whisper than the deranged fever dream intensity of pink pepper delirium I was hoping for.

Stéphane Humbert Lucas Soleil de Jeddah is a last-gasp sour and tang of sun-shriveled citrus, fusty desiccated green herbs and mummified mosses, ashy, arid leather, and the most spectral iris wilting in a disappearing patch of shade whose earthy roots are already giving up the ghost, crumbling away in the sandy dirt. The radiant aurora of an eclipse made pale, parched apparition via a dusty, occluded lens.

SYZYGY from bloodmilk x BPAL Syzygy is the undying dream of a dusky poppy in full bloom, not vibrant and fleeting, but perfectly preserved within a gilded tesserae of amber, its vivid essence suspended in slow, honeyed time. Crumble these petrified petals into a steaming glass of milk, the creamy warmth coaxing out their hidden secrets. The first breath of Syzygy is this: a haunting sweetness, both familiar and strange. It’s the memory of summer captured in a single, perfectly candied posy, not swaying in a sun-scattered field but tucked between the shadows amongst sun-baked stones. The rich, resinous beauty of the blossom endures, a timeless lure to the dark hum of ghostly bees forever adrift, doomed to perpetual yearning. This will be available later today (4/30) on the bloodmilk website.

Zoologist Moth is the cool glooms and musty melancholy of antique lace and silks tucked away with camphoraceus mothballs; there’s a smoky rose musk aspect, the spectral embers of a rose that lit itself on fire for love, or vengeance, or maybe both, and a bittersweet powdery element, like dried honey mixed with grave dust from a tomb. But the longer this wears, the more familiar it begins to smell, and I realize I am actually just wearing the musky vanilla and dusty florals of Hypnotic Poison, or alternately, the Bewitching Yasmine from Penhaligon, or Fleur Cachée from Anatol Lebreton, which to my nose, all smell like kindred spirits. And do I really need another perfume in that vein? And then I remember that I actually only own one bottle of those three scents, and that one doesn’t have the thing going for it that Moth does: ultimately, Moth smells like a twilight shadowplay of austere embraces, a haunting chorus of forgotten languages, and basically what you wear to convince the ghosts that you are in fact a ghost.

Koala from Zoologist is an aromatic-green-soapy incense-balsamic black tea-geranium sandalwood cologne with eucalyptus and pine. It’s dapper somehow, but the ironic dapper of a 25-year-old in 2013 with a handlebar mustache and a pork pie hat. It’s the refreshing, relaxing scent of a spa, but these dapper, ironic hipsters run the entire spa. And I don’t even know if I want to call it irony or absurdity or even farcical, but after a while, it doubles back on itself, and it’s almost painfully earnest, it’s got a genuine “love is real, and I was pounded in the butt by my sentient spa experience” Chuck Tingle title vibe. I don’t know what that means. I’m all over the place for what is probably a very approachable and wearable perfume. That’s kind of wild, that I have no problem describing the weirdies, but the normies are the ones that give me pause. Anyway, I think this is both a sincere and sardonic eucalyptus scent. That’s my final word on it.

Ôponé from Diptyque (I think this one is hard to find, but you can find overpriced bottles on resale sites) is a fragrance so revolting you’d think someone was joking that it couldn’t possibly be real. But it is real, and I have a sample of it. It’s a vile cocktail of the following: a freshly-opened bottle of goopy, boozy-but-not-nearly-enough booze bitter berry Robitussin Maximum Strength Cough and Chest Congestion (possibly the one with Dextromethorphan and Guaifenesin), the most repellent, unpalatable artificial fruity-sour energy drink on the shelf with the most outrageously obnoxious packaging, the one so disgusting and foul that even the people you think might be into it would never buy, and the saddest long-stemmed fake rose wrapped in dusty crinkly plastic at the gas station. Nobody wants any part of this. Throw it in the trash immediately.

Bonus material! I can’t believe I have never shared this, but the closest I have ever come to hearing/seeing the perfume reviews I want to see in the world is this SNL sketch with Benedict Cumberbatch. They are not talking about perfume, but I think you will get what I mean…


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“Flacon de Parfum” costume designs attributed to “Madeleine Vilpelle” for a French music hall 

Over on TikTok this month, I shared a not-quite-a-review for a bland freebie from Sephora that actually gave me a lot to think about; I share a “get to know me in 10 perfumes“; and I give a peek into how I store my myriad perfume samples. And below are a handful of the things I smelled this month!

19.1 Neroli Ad Astra by Pierre Guillaume Paris is a galactic striptease performed by a dazzling spectacle of radiant holographic beings. ​​The opening is a burst of effervescent pear, the fruity flamboyant fizz of a champagne fountain in zero gravity. Showstopping neroli swoops in, opulent, heady with a teasing coolness, like a sheen of ice crystals on silvery spacesuit pasties reflecting the glitter and glare of a distant sun. There’s a green velvet gloved graze of herbaceous, rose-tinged geranium, a coy peep at jasmine’s rich floral sweetness, and the low cosmic hum of a soft, deep musk, anchoring the fragrance even as it reaches for the stars, a celestial burlesque performance amongst the glimmering expanse of forever.

RE: Tóor Tóor by Régime des Fleurs, usually, it’s a bit fraught with this brand; it’s an “oh, PLEASE, don’t be good!” ordeal because they are usually too good and TOO expensive. But. I needn’t have worried this time. I’m still in the early stages of trying it out, but my immediate and initial thoughts are that it’s like a vampire with a bizarre sweet tooth stumbled into a Precious Moment gift shop and drained all the sugary charm out of a figurine, leaving behind this twee, creepy, bloodless husk at the bottom of the trash bin, slowly dissolving in a puddle of garbage juice. The predominant notes of this unfortunate incident are of this anemic citrus and a wan, powdery floral, and the strange cloying rot, spoiled nectar, and sour candied sewage of something that might have been cute, once? Like the undead remains of a Sanrio character, maybe? I don’t know but it’s not good! Seems like my wallet is safe from you this time, Régime des Fleurs.

Annacamento from Toskovat is a fragrance that I have a difficult time picking the notes apart, but the overall creation is one that resonates with every fiber of my being. How could it not, with the melancholic poetry of its description referencing a kid seeing the sea for the first time…or maybe an adult seeing it for the last, and the observation that “If you look back at that beauty, you’ve most likely already lost it.” This sentiment reminds me of another similar one that I loved, evoking the fleeting purity of a moment, wherein Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog, the narrator opines, “Beauty consists of its own passing, just as we reach for it.” The ingredients list citrusy elements in the form of fruits and herbs and a handful of bakery case items, alongside various woods and marine botanicals- and its overall impression is of a faint, sad sweetness that’s also somehow… not exactly fresh and not quite clean but some secret third thing that’s somehow adjacent. It’s a bittersweet dream you once had of sitting by the ocean and eating a small, cold dish of ice cream as the skies darkened to grey with the promise of rain on the horizon. As the tide rolls in, you realize that the dampness on your cheeks is not the brine of salty seaspray but streaks of drying tears, though you had no idea you were weeping or why that might have been.

Copal Azur from Aedes de Venustas  is a prophecy rustling on the wind, woven from copal and frankincense fumes that billow from temples guarding secrets older than gods. Meditate on these vapors of incense and antiquity, and you’ll find it’s a salty, bittersweet paradox, a wisp of sacrificial smoke laced with the unexpected sweetness of caramelized ambers. A sacred offering – a glistening, balsamic lacquered glaze burnishing a forgotten feast, a tang of something primal, both savory and sweet. A taste of eternity, a sticky fever dream forgotten ritual, clinging to your ribs long after the final swallow. The jungle itself seems to hold its breath as explorers, trespassers who believe they understand the weight of the past, navigate its sun-dappled heart toward the source of the scent. The air hangs heavy with it, a fat, golden sigh that twists through the foliage–which, wary of the intrusion, whispers not of secrets but of warnings from the dusty pages of history, hinting at unknown chapters these interlopers were never meant to be a part of. A golden condor soars overhead, its wings brushing against this intoxicating residue; it, too, is aloft on a dream of following the path of the setting sun.

Benjoin Boheme from Diptyque unfurls like a clinging veil of memory, a scarred ridge of sepia dreamscape where an ache of memories and ancestral yearning shimmers at the edges of perception. The heady, honeyed sweetness of balsam, benzoin, and amber mingles with the dry herbal whisper of rockrose, but it’s a displaced, disconnected twinge of borrowed nostalgia –it’s not yours, it doesn’t belong to you, this dusty incense of melancholic longing, and yet it’s tethered close, entangled with damp, earthy tendrils of patchouli and a woodsy musk,  Beneath it all, a static unease hums like the feel of cobwebs brushing against the skin, like your reflection as it fades into the darkness behind you, like glimpsing the subject of a gauzy, blurred antique photograph and looking closer only to discover your own eyes gazing back at you from across time.

Dirty Rice from Born to Stand Out conjures a gorgeously lensed photo of aspirational bathtime, a clawfoot tub of opaque opalescent milky bathwater (but not in a Saltburn way; this is more like a meticulously curated, aesthetically pleasing Pinterest board of self-care fantasy photo milky bathwater kind of way) with hundreds of fresh, soft petals floating on the surface. It’s the woody-floral sandalwood bath salts perfuming the water, the sweet, creamy almond musk of soaped skin, and the intimate warmth of steamed air. It smells of subtle indulgence and casual luxury.

From Poesie’s Weekend in Paris discovery set

Au Vieux Paris opens with a gentle wisp of coffee, not the spine-straightening jolt of a morning brew, but the lingering aroma after a long afternoon spent in conversation. It’s the ghost of a perfect cup. As the fragrance settles, a delightful treat emerges – the unmistakable tang and sweetness of a homemade preserve, something like red currant and rosehip jam, filling a barely-there pastry where the real star is the summer-bright, ruby red jelly. In a twist of olfactive alchemy, it is no longer the quaint cafe scent of a sip or a bite to savor but the elegant poetry of a classically beautiful perfume wafting from a sophisticated shop window. It’s a wearable memory that captures the essence of an ambrosial Parisian afternoon in a single, unforgettable drop.

Champs Elysées is a scent for those who see the world through rose-colored, cat-shaped spectacles. In alternate reality Paris, there is a tearoom where you’re urged to give a soft, secret handshake to a sentient cloud of cherry blossoms. Puffs of petals clinging to your fingers, you’re whisked through a tiny rose-trellised door to a pastel Hello Kitty wonderland, where you’re immediately greeted with a towering plate of buttercream sandwiched macarons in every shade of rose quartz and baby pink. A mismatched porcelain tea service is spread before you, mischievously clattering cups of pink lemonade and strawberry milk tea. You realize with a sip that you don’t need a single cube of sugar.

La Vie en Rose — Cicely Mary Barker, as far as I can tell, never illustrated a peony version of her flower fairies, but that’s what I envision with this fragrance, especially since pear and rose notes together in a fragrance always brings to mind the dewy floating floral of peony blossoms in a way that’s both bright and delicate, rosy and soft, with the ephemeral fizz of a spring breeze. If that flower fairy existed, and if she were taking along a signature scent for her weekend in Paris, she would smell of La Vie En Rose.

Marché aux Fleurs is the embodiment of when people say “stop glamorizing the grind and start glamorizing whatever this is” and what it is is Frog and Toad dressed in their dapper corduroy best, perusing a riotous profusion of blooms in a Parisian flower market, little webbed feet slipping through slick cobblestone puddles on a drizzly spring afternoon.

Montmartre, a clandestine gem in this collection, embodies a twilight tryst beneath the city’s soft glow. A whisper of stolen moments, the soft musky warmth of a forbidden embrace, the bitter mystery of absinthe kisses, and the provocative perfume of hidden gardens revealing itself in the illicit magic of secret thrills.

Rue Saint-Honoré – Imagine a Parisian fashion week gone deliciously astray. Step through the portal of an elegant oaken wardrobe onto a runway where the cashmere is woven from brittle threads of vanilla honeycomb, the leather-look boots are actually carved from warm, toasty hazelnuts, and the tiny details on the lavishly embellished clutches are intricate burnt sugar swirls. Would you believe this decadent spectacle fits cozily into an aromatic sandalwood box? “Bite-size haute couture gourmand-adjacent opulence” is a mouthful of a summation for this fashion statement in the whiff of extravagant indulgence.

And finally, I have a little sampler from Dark Tales Perfumery. I ordered a few of the usual suspects I know I will like, woody, incense, or green stuff, and so far I have only tried one: Medieval has notes of lavender, some other florals, black musk, sandalwood, and myrrh. I think the lavender and musk give it a slightly leathery quality, but overall, it paints a shadowbox woodland picture in shades of gray, etched with something desperately melancholic, like this excerpt from Barry Eric Odell Pain’s poem, Ainigmata: 

What could they tell us? We see them ever—
The trees and the sky and the stretch of the land;
But they give us a word of their secret never;
They tell no story we understand.
Yet haply the ghost-like birch out yonder
Knows much in a placid and silent way;
The rain might tell what the grey clouds ponder,
The winds repeat what the violets say.

If you like this kind of somewhat gloomy, dolorous poetry–which I obviously do–this poem goes on and on, you should look it up.  But alternatively, if John Koenig’s Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows had a scent, it would 1000% be this.

 

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Roja Midsummer Dream is the olfactory equivalent of the urge to disappear into a haunted glade and become local folklore or of how your body isn’t a temple, it’s the moss-encrusted altar where primitive rituals once unfolded. But we are a soft, suburban people, and I think this sense of longing is tempered with the fog of nostalgia for something we’ve never possessed –and quite frankly, might not be equipped to handle. So sure, be the cryptids or feral forest witch you wish to see in the world or become one with your inner family of raccoons, but also remember that you don’t actually like the cold very much, and getting your hands dirty isn’t your idea of a good time, and a dark moonless night where the only sound is that of your own frantic breath, and the invisible scurrying of nocturnal creatures would be better spent dreaming indoors under a downy granny quilt. Roja Midsummer Dream is the best of all these worlds– a gentle elven chypre, an ancient amber that hums like skin warmed by forgotten fires, the faint rust of autumnal spice, and the phantom sting of bitter grapefruit in the golden memory of sun-dappled woods. It’s like a gentle ghost story of arboreal elegance told under the soft glow of glittering fairy lights, except, unfortunately, the ambient lighting costs four hundred bucks, and the only ghosts you might encounter are the missing funds in your bank account. All this existential exploration, this whispered communion with the primal self, sounds delightful, but I’m afraid I prefer my delights slightly less expensive. These enchantments are best enjoyed in my dreams, where perhaps money grows on moss-covered trees.

…as opposed to Shangri-La from Hiram Green, and how do I say this without being unkind? This fragrance is less lush and harmonious utopian promised land and more a Hieronymus Bosch-envisioned hellish menagerie/paradise, blighted and bedeviled, doomed and damned, all the horror and grandeur and unbridled madness of the cosmos, distilled into one raspingly chaotic scent. The initial blast of overripe, fermented peaches and citrus fruit frizzles acridly at us, trumpeted straight out of a bizarre monster’s glossy pink backside; jasmine’s balmy decay wraps us in a fuzzy, fevered winding sheet of a golden-throned man-eating bird, to remind us that all is vanity and the pleasures of the flesh are fleeting, and the strangely spiced kisses of a porcine nun linger on your skin like a grotesque memento from a carnival of depravity. In what twisted mind is this a Shangri-La?  think Hiram Green is having one over on us.

Upon smelling Flos Mortiis from Rogue Perfumery, I have a sense that for casual perfume wearers, this is going to lean either one of two ways. “Old lady” or “headshop.” While I don’t consider my enthusiasm for fragrance casual by any sense of the word, I certainly don’t want to imply that I am better or smarter than any casual perfume-wearers–there are definitely aspects of both a sort of vintage costume jewelry cough drop mothball glamour and that ubiquitous champaca incense element of a bohemian bazaar. But it’s all wrapped up in the shadows of an Edgar Allan poem, the honeyed sweetness of romantic sentiment laced with the crumbling bitter mausoleum creaking coffin lid tang of decay, rounded out with the tart crimson kiss of red currant fruiting sickeningly in the dirt of a freshly turned grave. So maybe this is old lady juice, but it’s definitely the grand dame in the ancient portrait above the mantel upon which perches a resin-feathered raven, whose tarnished visage follows you in every corner of the drafty parlor, whose bones creak under the floorboards you are standing on, whose phantom hand rests lightly upon your shoulder even now.

Génération Godard from Toskovat is the scent of sticky soda spills on old seat cushions, the mouth-mangling sour and sugar of chewy citrus candies, and a greasy popcorn machine’s dying wheeze. A troupe of wounded, reckless weirdos working shifts in the grimy glamour of a historic cinema, their secrets and strange kinship the illicit musk and leathery glue that holds the decaying dream of this crumbling landmark together; the moody rose perfume steeped into the velvet lining of a moth-eaten fur coat pilfered from the musty lost and found closet a final sigh before the building is condemned.

Sarah Baker Charade I am an absolute fiend for the lush, fevered va-va-voom of tuberose, and it’s always a good time to see how that is interpreted through the lenses of different perfumers. Sarah Baker’s Charade bursts onto the stage with a ditzy dame of a tuberose, not the classic, opulent diva you might have been expecting. This one’s all mischievous effervescence;  imagine the voices of Queenie Goldstein or Betty Boop, breathy, giggling champagne and honey whisper. But plot twist! While our dizzy tuberose distracted you with her artful, ambrosial chicanery, a vegetal ferniness emerges, and a Lothlorien elf steps out of the shadows, a sylvan arrow aimed at your heart. The luxuriance of the tuberose intertwines with the verdant notes, vining our two stars together, creating a captivating tension. Ylang-ylang adds a softly decaying languor, while styrax and benzoin weave a faint trail of smoky, balsamic sweetness. The leather accord seems like it would be out of place, but it’s the earthy, oily leather fanny-packed director holding this unlikely theatrical production together.

Eris Perfumes Mx I hate to give an explanation for my reviews because part of me feels like I should never have to explain myself…but there’s a needier, people-pleasier part of me that also never wants to be misunderstood. I also don’t typically bother going into notes or what the perfumer’s vision is, because that’s all great and stuff, but once it gets in our hands, humans who are going to draw from our own dreams and memories and experiences, I feel like we’re going to interpret it our own way anyway. But I do think it’s really important to note that this is a scent that celebrates the notion of freeing oneself from gender binaries, and I think that it’s fabulous in both concept and execution! But after I’d written this review about a very strong, slithery association that the fragrance brought up for me, I realized that what I’d said might be taken the wrong way, and in rereading it, I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking so.  So please know right off the bat that this review was prompted by how the fragrance reminded me of a character in Lois Duncan’s 1981 YA Thriller Stranger With My Face (wherein a teenager realizes that her jealous twin sister has been astral projecting into her body at night and making her do terrible things!) ALL THAT SAID, Mx is a  slithering, unsettling echo of an intrusive thought, a fixation, a compulsion that thrums beneath your skin and stirs unease and intrigue in equal measure. Hypnotizing tendrils of saffron, a musky murmur of something primal, something unnerving. Velvety sandalwood, a plushness of warmth, of comfort, but something’s not quite right. A nip of ginger, a prick of pepper, sharp, sudden, jolting you awake, reminding you that you’re not yourself. The mirror wavers reflect the eyes of a stranger you don’t recognize, a smile playing on lips that aren’t yours. The scent is secretive, intimate, and sheer, a whisper that clings to you, the memory of actions you can’t explain, of choices you didn’t make. Are they yours, these yearnings, or have you become a fascination, a vessel for the uninvited, a maddening allure let loose from the dark? Specifically this edition with this cover art.

RE: Lorenzo Pazzaglia’s Van Py Rhum, my first instinct is just to tell you that it’s giving slutty bloofer lady and show you Lucy Westenra resplendent in her frilled Eiko Ishioka burial gown because that’s it right there; that’s all you need to know. But there’s a part of me that always makes things harder than they have to be and wants me to do a proper review. So. This is a diabolically sweet, cold-blooded, porcelain-moon vanilla with a buttery sour tang from the damp and rot of the crypt, that, when warmed with the venomous kisses of patchouli’s nocturnal loam, agarwood’s smoky growl and rich, oaken-casked rum, takes on the predatory edge and spectral allure of something that appears after the sun dips below the horizon, something once beloved and familiar, whose undead arms are now ravenously hungry for your embrace.

The Key of Solitude from bloodmilk x Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab Soil and shadow, a subterranean ember, smoldering, The Key of Solitude is a scent that plays tricks on you, promises much, and delivers more. It’s the damp earth beneath bare feet, a bat-winged tickle of rain in the air at the edge of midnight; a primordial altar deep underground, shallow breaths sooty with ancient incense smoke and the stony language of deep time, a haunting chorus of fossil imprints and biological hieroglyphs; lights out at the last library on Earth, honeyed wooden shelves gleaming in amber candlelight, its welcoming glow extinguished, one flickering flame at a time. A keyhole cartography mapping everything, everywhere, all at once: a darkness that delights in revealing a kaleidoscope of shifting realities, where time folds in on itself, each blink twisting the vista anew. But you’ve always known how to navigate the paths of your heart’s own darkness, haven’t you? After all, both the lock and the key were shaped by you.

Beauté du Diable from Liquides Imaginaires is a heady cocktail created by a couple of eccentric bons vivants, something to celebrate an evening of decadent parlor games and general hedonism: an herbal froth of verdant absinthe, a heavy-handed crystalline pour of breathtakingly expensive gin, and a peppery crush of carnation petals– drunk copiously in smoky wood paneled secret rooms while a sweet, narcotic resin burns throughout the night, stinging the eyes and inducing a strange, mystical trance. In the morning, these self-indulgent socialites and muses of the devil send dearest Papa a telegram, demanding that he “Please sell $10,000 worth in stock. We intend to live a mad and extravagant life!”

Eidisis from Aesop is a melancholic, cedary soft sandalwood scent with a sweet, earthy hobbity funk. A hobbit who maybe stayed at home instead and never had an adventure, never became a barrel riding, troll tricking, goblin killing, elven cultural aficionado. A hobbit who never once left The Shire but who smoked his peppery pipeweed by his cozy hearth with his loamy feet propped on a hand-carved stool, who dreamed of giant eagles and great black bears and died comfortably in his bed with an adventure-shaped hole in his heart and a peculiar sadness he could never name.

Spirit Lamp (discontinued) by DS& Durga is a fragrance that evokes a forgotten corner of a botanical garden next to the highway, where a spirit of untamed wilderness thrives unchecked and unexpectedly in a slick puddle of illicitly dumped motor oil. The initial impression is a thick, oily green of some swampy primordial reed, the smell of an extinct past that’s closer than we often care to think, its roots tangled in the earth, its leaves exuding an unctuous herbal musk. This greenness isn’t fresh and invigorating; it’s greasy, thick, almost suffocating. As the scent unfolds, a metallic tang emerges, the scent of rust or singed copper, an aggressively hotwired Dodge Charger counterpoint to the glossy, verdant heart. It’s a scent that evokes anachronistic images of forgotten rituals and arcane practices, real prehistoric Fast & Furious living your life one-quarter mile at a time shit, a potent concoction brewed in the junkyard-slash-abandoned car lot cauldron of nature’s darkest recesses.

Allow me to preface the following with the observation that while I have objectively appreciated many aspects of Sarah McCartney’s 4160 Tuesdays fragrances, they are all perfumes that, for some reason or another, are just not for me. I am desperate to find one from among her creations that really works because I do think she’s super talented, and I love the artistry and ideas that go into her fragrances. Also, I really want one of her bottles on my shelf. Anyhow, I thought this would be it, but good lord. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Oakmossery promises a nostalgic chypre with all the requisite inclusions of oakmoss, peach, bergamot, rose, jasmine, labdanum, patchouli, etc., but rather than an elegant mid-century glamour, you are spoon-fed a vile puree of curdled disappointment. Rather than the gentle juice of a summer peach, it’s a shelf-stable, artificially sweetened, tiny jar of big, mushy baby food feelings. Somehow, it’s also a bit milky, but in the sense of cream that has soured and gone clumpy with a tinge of greenish mold. Swirl them together into a pudding, garnish with a jellied dollop of vaguely floral hand sanitizer, and you have some a grotesque lumpy custard of olfactorily textured nightmares. I could not scrub this off my wrist fast enough, but the joke’s on me! I still smell it on my sweater!

Diptyque Tempo conjures an atmosphere of dolorous elegance,  patchouli’s murky woods and dusky loam, with a wraithlike metallic chill and an herbal shiver of something green and strange simmering underneath. It carries a disquieting heaviness, the shape of a feeling impossible to give voice to; like having to climb into bed with someone and tell them they’re dead. It also reminds me of this passage from Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within… and whatever walked there, walked alone.” This is a patchouli that has walked the long shadows of Hill House, has become lost in the thick, unspoken secrets of its notorious halls, and suffered its mad face in the growing darkness. This is a twisted, haunted patchouli that has seen some shit, but all the edges of that unnerving terror have been blurred by the creeping of moss, the settling of dust, and the softness of time and memory, of unreality and dream.  

34 Bohemian Cafes from Thin Wild Mercury’s New York collection. You know, Orpheus went down to Hades to retrieve Eurydice, but he was a dumbass and couldn’t follow instructions; he looked back at her when he was expressly told not to, and then just like that, she was whisked away again. Poor Orpheus, I guess, but I feel like no one ever thinks about Eurydice. I mean, did she even want to come back? I think we imagine this terrible journey to unspeakable hell dimensions, but maybe … contemplate it…she was happy to be uncoupled from that guy and just be on her own? Maybe she got to hang out in a dim-lit, infernal coffee shop, double-fisting the most bitter espresso and a chipped glass of crisply caustic gin, wearing a deliciously pruney leather jacket, a blackened and dusty rose in her lapel and being the sole audience for a mysterious entity singing jazzy French lounge horror ballads, just the unholy instrument of her smoky voice and the demonic feminine in heavy reverb. I don’t know why how Eurydice and La Femme Pendu got to be in the same Satanic VIP room in this perfume review, but here we are and I love this for them, for me, and for this dark, gorgeous fragrance.

I have been spending a few months with Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s Human Animals collection. I have finally put some thoughts together on these transformative fragrances exploring the blurred line between human and beast and the crossings of form and fate, drawing inspiration from folklore and cautionary tales of dark pacts, the consequences of forbidden desires, and yearning for power beyond our grasp or understanding.

Bringer of Evil: A heady mix of musky queen of night poppy and honeyed mimosa entwines with the zest and evanescent freshness of grapefruit, a dark wispy tremor of benzoin’s caramelized sweetness flutters against orris’ secret, rooty coolness in a shadow cast by a single, ill-fated butterfly.

Elimanzer: A bowl of oaty, grainy muesli-esque porridge, steaming and wholesome, holds the sweetness of the cream and the deep fragrant incense of jammy prunes, concealing the insidious and incendiary bite of acrid brimstone, a shivery reminder of pacts made and prices paid.

Elizabeth’s Imps: Thick, rich, molasses dreams, a soft smear of butter infused with cinnamon’s spiced fire, and the powdered musty sap and syrup of amber’s subterranean glow; a promise whispered, a bargain struck, and the cold comfort of calling darkness your own.

Lady of Saintonge: A woodsy phantom limb of creamy white sandalwood aches beneath a veil of slithery black silk, its fading perfume an opulent counter to the metallic tang of blood and the ironclad resolve of self-preservation’s small, sharp curved blade. The scent of forever caught between two worlds, a beast in disguise and a ghost not yet dead.

The Corn Spirit: Beneath the golden cloak of rye stalks, sweet, sun-warmed hay, and chamomile’s milky innocence, a feral musk stirs, and the raw, rich peaty soil hints at the darkness of this unspoken truth, the haunting knowledge that the bounty of the fields comes at a cost.

The Hound and the Milk-White Doe: The luxurious warmth of sandalwood and the sweet summer whispers of jasmine paint a specter of ambiguous innocence, while coconut milk and rosewater offer a fleeting glimpse of soft youth and beauty, but a shadow lurks beneath. Labdanum’s leathery balsamic resin and cardamom’s uneasy floral spice weave a tale of forbidden desires and dark bargains, leaving a scent that evokes a seductive, albeit perilous transformation.

Witch-Birds: A beguiling liveliness of ripe plum and velvety violet shrouds a shadowy heart of dark magic and bitter vengeance, resinous opoponax and mysterious opium evoking the midnight feathers of forbidden knowledge

And finally, a peek at the Miss Behave Favorites collection from Poesie in Celebration of Women’s History Month

Anne of Cleves: A shimmer of green tea’s subtle bitter complexity and dewy earthiness, steeped in bright, clear, sunlight and citrus-infused rainwater, and sweetened with a golden kindness of vibrant, minty wildflower honey. A lush green sprig of lemon verbena floats gently atop, its graceful reflection mirrored in emerald.

Cleopatra: A languorous cascade of peachy musk, draped in balmy moonlit jasmine, imbues the air with an indolent opulence. The ephemeral sweetness of the lotus, a sunset’s fugitive heartbeat, surrenders its delicate petals to the warm, velvety embrace of sandalwood. An ancient tale whispered on arids wind of a queen fed on champagne and pearls, bedecked and perfumed for ecstatic rites invoking forgotten pleasures and enduring power.

Emmeline Pankhurst: An icy rain falls on slick black cobblestones, a gust of wind rattles the windowpanes; Inside, a cup of strong black tea is nestled on a soft linen napkin on the sill, plumes of fragrantly astringent steam veiling the chilled, rain-streaked glass. Just outside, a solitary violet blooms boldly in the crevice of a standing puddle, unyielding in the storm, a parable of profound resolve.

Frida Kahlo: Is a profusion of intensity in delicate balance; tangy passion fruit curd, the tangier, unparalleled tart effervescence of a freshly sliced wedge of lime, the cool, melony crispness of prickly pear, the creamy richness of coconut pulp, and a sugarcane straw to sip it through while you ruminate on how Frida Kahlo purportedly said to “Take a lover who looks at you like maybe you are a bourbon biscuit,” and ponder on how to channel that same energy into your own creative practice.

Josephine Baker: I was a little bit afraid to try this one; the scent of a ripe banana is enough to drive me from a room. But this is more the sweet verdant sap and grassiness of the banana leaf gently enveloping a subtle custardy creaminess, like a small, perfect spoonful of creme brulee tucked around a sun-kissed wisp of glowing amber. This one is a thoroughly delightful and beguiling subversion of my expectations.

Zitkala-Sa: This is not the apple I thought I was getting, but it’s ever so much dreamier. This is a breezy apple orchard in spring, an ethereal cloud of awakening blossoms perfuming the air, its delicate canopy throwing lacy shadows over fragrant honey-vanilla sea of clovers. Supporting it all, rosewood and cedar root deep into the earth, their secrets grounding and strong.

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Poesie generously sent me samples of each fragrance from their Cardamonth collection. I shared these reviews with them, and I am so honored that the reviews are now included as copy on the site!

Coquette: A sugar spun whirl under cardamon crystal chandeliers, a frothy ballet of cotton candy whispers and rose jam wishes. Pinkberry musk and dreamwood hearts, pastel lullabies swirling through billowing marshmallow meringue petticoats, carnation, and champagne ribbons trailing whipped cream silk.

Invent the Universe: If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you set adrift in a cosmic orchard, you nibble an apple-shaped asterism, stardust crunch on your tongue. Heart a furnace, sugared cream of the Milky Way vast and steaming, a soft cinnamon wind thrums in the trail of a meteor falling before you were born and falling still one thousand years after your grandchildren are gone. A still more glorious dawn awaits, and if we do not destroy ourselves, we may bake dreams from falling stars. So, then. If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

Golden Hour: Honey-skinned dusk, distilled. A thick, heady syrup, a twilight elixir, an extract of gloaming, rich with a musky-soft particulate, prickled with lavender sighs.

Kindness + Mischief: The sun unzips its heart to reveal a lemon that peels its skin back to betray its blossom brulee heart. A citrus trickster god weary of chaos tames its tartsy tanginess in retirement, watching TikToks of cute animals, scrolling with hands sticky from sweet lemon pearls and lemonade creams. The gentlest essence of all these things in a shy, pale yellow bouquet, each blossom an airy lemon souffle.

Pod Person: ethically sourced palo santo essential oil, violet, cedar, sandalwood, cardamom, ginger and sheer amber; I have only listed the notes here because I am just now realizing I did not write a review for this one. Palo santo is a tough sell for me, there’s something too minty/mentholated adjacent for me, and in most cases I cannot.

Where Most She Satisfies: candied almond, cardamom, warm vanilla, creamy white sandalwood and saffron threads a candied confection made from the contents of an oaken barrel of aged sandalwood and vanilla incense fumes, something so decadent it feels almost sacred.

Seattle Perfumers’ Discovery Set:

Under The Mango Tree by Anjali Perfumes is sour, herbaceous, and woody; it’s the unripe, sun-warmed, gold-tinged celadon skin of the mango along, with a damp floral musk hinting at the promise of future sweetness.
Séverine by ge de Querelle feels like a rendezvous with possibility, all rosy glowing, and musky blushes, the effervescent giggling flush of first kisses. Of all that I’ve tried, this seems the most familiar or relatable, which isn’t to say it’s my favorite, but I can see how a lot of people would be drawn to it.

Dead Writers by Immortal Perfumes is something I’m pretty sure I smelled several years ago when I was writing for Haute Macabre, maybe even before that. I don’t think I gave it enough of a chance last time. You have to wait a few minutes, and how it smells directly on the skin isn’t what you smell hovering just before beyond you. It’s a quill of cloves, vetiver’s dusty archives, an echoing swirl of pipe tobacco, and tattered heliotrope lace gloves on ghostly ink-stained hands. WOW.

Samar by The Tea House is a giant Studio Ghibli yokai of a ripe, fuzzy peach sipping alternately from a clattering of teacup sprites offering both osmanthus and jasmine tea.
Notget from Filigree & Shadow is inspired by Bjork, our lady of perpetual weirdness. It’s a briny cove of sea-whispered driftwood secrets, where mermaids hang their salty linens on twisting lines of kelp to dry.

Alpine Flowers by Namesake Fragrance opens as a camphoraceous cacophony of mentholated mayhem, a bitter medicinal mountain elixir like a slap in the face. But as it wears, it becomes a softer, sweeter, gentler thing, bluebell and lupine musk and fragile beauty blooming against the steel sky.

Venetian Mask by Atelier Madrona is an enigma of smoky, plummy leather, and the tannic blackberry tang of cold sugared tea. There’s no fruit listed in the description, but there is definitely phantom fruit tickling my nose.
Lions in the Library by L’Aventura Perfumes is the scent of a fierce hunger for forgotten lore, the heady hum of intellect aflame. Earthy, dusty, and resinous with labdanum, leather, and the musky murmurs of civet, this is the thrill of unraveling the mysteries hidden between the lines, the firelit triumph of a curious mind.

Omega Fool from The Phoenix and the Fool Omega Fool is prominently a riddle of Palo Santo’s smoky swirls, piney mirages that dance between licorice and camphor, maybe mirroring the Fool’s playful paradoxes. I feel like palo santo is a note that I expect to be one thing, and it never is, so I think this is a scent that encourages seeking wisdom in the unexpected and relishing the joy in tripping over your own truth.

Flame & Fortune from Sarah Baker Perfumes smells like the shivery thrill of the chase and obsession for something elusive and rare, a chimera whispered on the wind, a mirage glimpsed in moonlight– and the inevitable reckoning at the end of this road of reckless desires. A charred diary page retrieved from the incendiary blast of a midnight explosion under the desert stars. Illegible script, a puzzle of ashy smudge in a swooping desperate hand, the labyrinthine cipher of a faded map whose details are lost to dust and sand, an exquisitely-detailed botanical revelation of a night-blooming flower both intoxicating and terrifying, the softly spiced mysteries of which might be a deadly curse, might be a cure for all the world’s ills. The dawn bleeds like an accusation, like a bullet wound, like a dying breath, and in that final inhalation, orange blossom, tuberose, jasmine, the fragrant honey of buds unfurling in the rising heat of the morning. The wind rustles with the fading memory of that sweetness as the sun rises where betrayal saw you fall.

Viole Nere from Meo Fuschiuni is a wistful Rilke poem of a violet. I will say I really love violet, though most I’ve encountered smell very similar, dainty, and delicate in either a powdery or an earthy spring rain-way. Viole Nere, while similarly subtle, presents differently than those nostalgic candied pastilles or small, damp purple blooms. It’s the gossamer violet bruised and thrumming ache of never-quite-becomings, the bittersweet vetiver musk of breathless possibilities half-glimpsed, the gentle, patchouli decay of late autumn’s dying reminder that things unlived also have their season, their own quiet beauty. A melancholic wisp of frankincense dissipates like phantom ink on pages no one will ever read, an ode to a beloved who never arrived, who was lost from the start.

I have four new scents from Haute Macabre in collaboration with Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. Back when they were also goth lifestyle blog, I wrote for them for several years, articles and interviews about art and music and books and fashion, and so smelling their new offerings always makes me feel quite nostalgic. I’ll be honest with you: right now I am wearing them all at once because I couldn’t decide which one I liked most. And yes, I know, only earlier this week I said that I wasn’t going to review entire collections in a single video, but here we are again.

Dragon’s Blood Incense is all dreamy red musk and heady champaca flower and a swoony curl of dragon’s blood smoke and is the olfactory equivalent of an oxblood velvet babydoll dress, big stompy boots, and lying on the floor in your first apartment at one am and listening to Concrete Blonde

Swampkin: When a soggy, alligator-chomped, flaming gourded-headed god emerges from your mossy backyard swamp in late autumn, you obviously leave offerings of PSLs with extra amber pumps of pumpkin sauce for it. Each morning the cups are emptied, and the silent god oozes a strange resinous sap, redolent of riches and good will. You think you’re onto something.

London Smoke is a perfectly brewed cup of black tea, malty and brisk, sweetened with a bright dollop of lemon curd, and garnished with the sylvan charm of young fern, unfurling in the steam. A gorgeous striation of golden light through a smoky quartz prism.

Got the Morbs actually freaked me out in that it smells like something familiar, but in a way that I, as I am here and now, could never possibly recognize. I can’t even tell you what that means. This is the scent of the velvet tremor of dusk, where shadows stretch and shiver take shapes. An invisible but slightly alarming aura that clings to the hems of twilight. Equal parts warning and pronouncement, the slither of something just around the corner that you don’t want to meet, but you’re not going to be able to stop yourself. I know this tells you nothing because it’s such a personal experience, so just imagine dusty clove incense and opium musk.

Natural History from Seance Perfumes, where the sepia-stained tableau of an attic library reveals dusty sunlight piercing the cobwebs and painting golden the peeling leather spines of centuries-old volumes of poetry and myth. A single rose, once blushing and bold, now pale and brittle with the patina of time, is pressed between fading stanzas. The ink and singe of antiquated words once quill-scratched by candlelight, loosed stories now fluttering in the air, thick with the hushed hum and papery potpourri of slowly turning pages.

Hexensalbe from Stora Skuggan is the scent of a sleazy promoter palming you a velvet VIP pass to a pulsing neon witch’s rave in a forgotten warehouse district. Moonlight refracted through sharp herbal wormwood and licorice shots, hemlock and lichen, earthy and ancient, scratch and hiss beneath twisting, writhing bodies, the dead language of angelica’s forked tongue whispers in time with the throbbing patchouli bassline in your blood, a strobing verdant blur of movement and magic, the electrifying hum of a thousand viridian dreams threaded through the smoke machine’s misty veil. Painting the town emerald, bleeding the jade of the moon, one prickly rosemary sequinned heartbeat at a time. TLDR; it is the witches’ orgy sequence from Sleep No More, distilled, bottled, and sold as an unsettling green tonic that shimmers when you hold it to the light and shudders down your throat like an ultraviolet bloom of algae.

Y06-S from Blackbird While generally I don’t review fragrances that I don’t like (unless I somehow felt personally attacked by them and I had to be spiteful and petty about it) this one is so bizarre I can’t stop thinking about it, and if I’m thinking about it so much, I am probably going to write about it, and if that’s the case, it seems like a waste not to share those thoughts here, too. I received this sample along with an order I placed for some other things, and the person who included it knew I wasn’t going to like it, but I think they thought perhaps I should experience it. And honestly, I think that’s really thoughtful, and I appreciate it. So, to get yourself in the mindset for this one, imagine the Lynchian dissonance and incongruity of the fish in the coffee percolator. This is neither fishy nor coffee beany, but I think you know what I mean. Initially, this is a fleeting whiff of Korean banana milk, and overheated electronics, maybe the chubby plastic container spontaneously combusted, splattering frothy banana juice and frying circuit boards, and the whole arcade catches fire and burns down. The metallic ozone and static of sparking wires eventually and somehow inevitably– in the way dream logic feels perfectly reasonable and rational – gives way to a monstrously animalic indolic jasmine, and somehow inexplicably becomes a barely perceptible smoky floral skin scent. I don’t think Y06-S is a scent you wear; it’s an experience you endure. It’s bizarre and bewildering and a little bit nauseating, but I think it’s a good reminder that perfume is an art form, and art shouldn’t always be easy to digest. It should make us think a little bit.

Atomic Bee Women from the Abyss from Zoologist. Oh, wait, it’s not called that. Because they didn’t consult me on the name. It’s just Bee. But this definitely a deliciously campy, over-the-top, apian B-movie femme fatale honey trap of a scent. A real Atomic Bee Women From Beyond type of experience. Imagine, if you will, Jessica Rabbit, but instead of a slinky red dress, she’s draped in a slick, sultry cascade of golden honey, held aloft by the teensiest of gleaming wings, which is quite a feat considering she’s a monstrous 50-foot tall intergalactic bee queen. Lusciously hovering with a dizzying buzz, she oozes a sweet, sticky, powdery vanilla and sandalwood secretion atop skyscrapers and military personnel as the city erupts in chaos. “I’m not bad; I’m just drawn from the honeycomb that way,” she coos, delicately drilling her enormous stinger into the aromatic dessert wine richness flowering summer gardens of mimosa and heliotrope scattered in a park at the city’s center. You realize too late as the air becomes suffused with the heady nectar of musky orange blossom and ginger syrup’s candied fire that her squadron of sisters has breached the atmosphere, thick waxy clouds of intoxicating yellow florals announcing their arrival. The city, drowned in pollen and pheromones, falls into a delirious stupor. Mankind, forgotten, dissolved into the honeyed haze, their last sighs swallowed by the incessant thrumming of a million tiny wings.

❈ When I first saw this label art for Zoologist’s Penguin, I’ll confess there was a part of me that thought, dang, I really hope this smells how the grizzled and extremely unhinged William Dafoe looks in Roger Eggers’ The Lighthouse. Of course, anyone who saw that must know that I am mostly kidding (although perversely, I am not totally kidding), and instead of an olfactory tour de force of maritime menace, unfettered madness, and the salty tang of brooding, brine-soaked despair,  we get the mythical chill of Frosta, She-Ra’s Empress of the Snows on the fantastical planet of Etheria. An invigorating blast of frozen air, crisp and clean, a tonic bracing and bittersweet, a glacial window to the indifferent beauty of the bone-chillingly wintry landscape. An ember of pink pepper trills tremulously through juniper’s whispers of icy ancient pine; saffron reveals the warm honeyed spice of its mysteries only to become lost in the cool, unknowable depths of sea moss. And yet… there’s a stormy heart to this scent, of musk and rain and the desolation of sirens and the destruction of sea gods. Perhaps that gnarly lighthouse keeper has a place in this story after all. I’m not sure what happened to the penguins, though.

The Lantern Bearers from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab Much like Maxfield Parrish’s luminous artwork itself, this scent is both a lively nocturne and a study in incandescent joy. You can’t smell this and be sad. Or rather, you could also be sad because we’re capable of holding space for all of these things in ourselves, but within these haloed spheres of citrus and smoky resin, like the molten gold bellies of constellations of fireflies, there’s a glowing lemony defiance to sadness. This ember of citrine warmth doesn’t banish the night or deny its mystery– that plummy promise of the dark that still hangs heavy like velvet curtains. It simply illuminates it, freckling the musky orchid of the twilit sky with zest and glee. This is a scent that knows the ache of longing, but it also knows the unyielding spark of wonder –and is a reminder that joy and sorrow are not so much opposites but partners in the grand existential clown show of being human.

I tried Coreterno’s sample set, and here are my three favorites (though, if I am being really honest, I think people are buying this brand more for the aesthetic appeal than the fragrances. I found some nice things to say about them because they are objectively nice, but they are not mind-blowing)

Mystic Sugar, spun-sugar cobwebs woven by enchanted almond blossom arachnid fairy godmothers, shivery threads glimmering with vanilla frost and powdered cocoa snow.

Psychelicious is a kaleidoscopic glitter cannon of a K-pop music video with at least 50 costume changes, ballgowns in rosy blushing peony with dazzling strawberry and raspberry gemstones embroidered into the silk, champagne-drizzled litchi truffles nibbled between every take.

❈ And finally, Freakincense. Imagine an old Nordic church nestled in the snow, bathed in the alien light of the aurora borealis, incense smoke steeped into every stone. Lime, tart and electric, bursts like a renegade star tumbling through the heavens, pink pepper, sharp and crackling, echoes the descent, otherworldly exile, announced by heavenly fanfare. Cashmeran, elemi, and labdanum, soft, smoky, and twining with resinous secrets, whisper a lullaby of fallen grace. From the dark stained glass window, a weathered abbess sighs and lights a lone beeswax candle, its sweet ritual glow a beacon for this wanderer in the night, whose wings, once ablaze with celestial fire, now cast no shadow at all.

Я by Toskovat is a perfume inscrutable and obscure, a sigh of brakes, a hiss of steam, and a silhouette emerging from the dark as you exit the bus on a foggy evening. The shadowed figure leans close and whispers four words against your ear. “Find the secret heart,” they breathe, ghost of a smile flickering, a gloved hand, a glint of silver, a packet of forgotten sweets. The apparition is gone, vanished into the labyrinthine alleys, a wisp of a figment of a dream. The echo of their words lingers, a riddle etched in the citron zing of powdered sugar gems, the delicate swoon of sugared violets, and a blush of candied strawberry musk. You clutch the crumpled cellophane packet, the scent itself a ghostly sugared map leading ever inwards, towards the secret heart within your heart.

❈ I’ve purchased, unsniffed, a full bottle of Guerlain Shalimar Millésime Iris on the recommendation of a friend. I don’t know that our tastes align perfectly, but she was really enamored with this one, and I feel like sometimes the only way you can really commune with a far-flung friend whom you may never spend any time with in person (although I did actually meet her once) is to steep yourself in the things that they enjoy. Which is also why I bought something else she had mentioned, but we’ll do a separate review for that later. So Shalimar. I don’t care for the original. Or at least what I know to be the original, and which I’m sure is not the original-original, and you just know some smug well-actually person is going to point out in the comments because what kind of world would it be if these snobby self-congratulatory fuckers weren’t always slithering in through the cracks to shit all over everything nice. ANYWAY. At first sniff, this is a real bombastic towering vanilla powdered wig spectacle of a Sofia Coppola Marie Antoinette confection, but there’s something kind of tacky and trashy about it too, like it’s all that “ Let them eat cake” audacious opulence filmed through mob-wife cigarette ash on a leopard print suede purse Instagram filter of a reality tv show, thick with manufactured drama and desperate thirst. It’s a sort of sticky, gilded Versailles meets Bada Bing dumpster fire of a fragrance. And believe it or not, initially, when I was testing it…I didn’t hate it. Later in the evening, I smelled a woody smoky vanilla floral phantom masterclass of luxury and beauty wafting from my sweater cuff, and I nearly swooned. Surprise! It was that tabloid headline trending hashtag of a vanilla from earlier in the day! Millésime Iris, you contain multitudes, and I am here for all of them

Montblanc Signature is a weird one in that it’s not really weird at all (it’s pretty basic in composition and execution, right?), but it makes me feel some weird, twisty things. If that makes sense. It’s a sort of echo-y, empty, fresh, woody,- dewy-floral melange that smells like you’re using someone else’s shampoo, a pearlescent lather of white musk more expensive than you care to consider. You’re sleeping under a stranger’s crisp white sheets, cool against your skin, the lingering dryer sheet scent of magnolia petals and fat peony blooms, their honeyed sweetness clinging to the fabric.

Maybe a friend of a friend has an apartment for rent while they’re off being an influencer in France, so you’re availing yourself of their expensively furnished, minimalist-chic accommodations for a few months in a particularly hip part of town. You spend a lot of time lonely in the apartment, trying on her silk blouses and cashmere sweaters, picking through her curated book selection of vintage Vogue and art photography books, and trying to get a sense of who she is. You’re also stalking her social media a fair bit, and like a magpie hoarding glittering scraps, you gather up her turns of phrase and mannerisms, embellishing your own reflection with borrowed plumage. You begin ordering Door Dash deliveries under her name, all the culinary delicacies she’d artfully Instagrammed in her travels, noodles slick with sauce, and hundreds of tiny, bitter cups of coffee. You imagine her beside you, laughter echoing in the sterile silence, a phantom limb you ache to touch.

The line between mimicry and metamorphosis blurs. The creamy magnolia unfurls, a faded photograph of intimacies never shared. The luminous musk, clean and faintly powdery, becomes a shroud, a borrowed identity that both suffocates and intoxicates. This fragrance doesn’t just smell like wearing someone else’s perfume; it smells like the unsettling alchemy of becoming someone else. And in that borrowed skin, in that stolen life, the question lingers: just how far will you go to become more than just her shadow?

❈ When I first saw the label art for Zoologist’s Penguin, I’ll confess there was a part of me that thought, dang, I really hope this smells how the grizzled and extremely unhinged William Dafoe looks in Roger Eggers’ The Lighthouse. Of course, anyone who saw that must know that I am mostly kidding (although perversely, I am not totally kidding), and instead of an olfactory tour de force of maritime menace, unfettered madness, and the salty tang of brooding, brine-soaked despair,  we get the mythical chill of Frosta, She-Ra’s Empress of the Snows on the fantastical planet of Etheria. An invigorating blast of frozen air, crisp and clean, a tonic bracing and bittersweet, a glacial window to the indifferent beauty of the bone-chillingly wintry landscape. An ember of pink pepper trills tremulously through juniper’s whispers of icy ancient pine; saffron reveals the warm honeyed spice of its mysteries only to become lost in the cool, unknowable depths of sea moss. And yet… there’s a stormy heart to this scent, of musk and rain and the desolation of sirens and the destruction of sea gods. Perhaps that gnarly lighthouse keeper has a place in this story after all. I’m not sure what happened to the penguins, though.

 

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Vintage Snow Man Blow Mold (a milky plastic shell of frosted blue spruce, illuminated from within by 40 watts of glowing amber) If this scent could be a book cover, it would 100% be an R.L. Stine Goosebumps book.  Inside its plastic sarcophagus, a spectral sentinel stands guard, shimmering with the trapped souls of forty dead watts. Enchanted with its kitschy charm, you inhale deeply…and are immediately hit with a damp slap of mildew, the smell of dusty basements and rain-soaked attics. Not pleasant, exactly, but…intriguing, summoning whispers of forgotten winters, of attic dolls weeping silent tears, of cobwebs spun with memories. The scent of time clawing and gnawing at plastic and wood, turning memories into dust. Softly, a chill creeps in. Not the icy bite of winter, but something deeper, more unsettling. Flowers, pale things like ghosts blooming in the snowman’s hollow chest; the sweet decay mingled with the mildew beneath the fake plastic sun of the snowman’s smile. But there is warmth, too, hidden in the depths. Amber, like sunbeams trapped in honey, a counterpoint to the decay, a whisper of life clinging to the skeleton of memory. The snowman’s heart, beating faintly in the plastic ribs.

To A Wreath In The Snow (tobacco flower, white oud, lavender bud, and ambergris accord) Shadows of grief, the ghosts of winter, a sky bled grey by sorrow. A phantom flower blanketed in frost while spiced embers and woods spark and sizzle in a hearth nearby, an anchor of warmth and hope glowing through a glass pane inches away from the frozen bloom. A transparent divide, the bittersweet ache of proximity, a thing so frail can’t help but yearn–

Snow-covered cathedral (ecclesiastical incense wafting behind candlelit stained glass and icicles thrusting from stone archways)  A Sanctum Glacialis, a sacred space, where the aroma of lemony resins, frosty breath in the fir-scented air, and the hallowed whispers of a forest prayer beneath a sky of frozen stars converge.

Hearth (sweet pipe tobacco, cherry wood, the warm, worn leather of an easy chair, and a pleasant, subtle waft of fireplace smoke) A velvet-swathed alcove, flickering tongues of gaslight, a crystal decanter, amber liquid catching the light, a molten jewel held captive in glass, swirling with the scent of cherries bruised and black as midnight and the secret incantations of honeybees.

The Poinsettia Gown (rose cream, jasmine cream, mallow, vanilla foam, and sweet amber) Corsets creaked, silk rustled, and whispers slithered like vipers amongst the polished marble. The world of debutantes held secrets far more intoxicating than forbidden schnapps and stolen waltzes. But the elusive beauty in the poinsettia gown floated through the crowd of cutthroat Victorian debutantes untouched by their vicious mutterings, aloft on a coquettish cloud of pillowy, powdery whipped cream floral divinity. “She smells like a beautiful vintage Barbie doll Christmas card,” a blonde in pink taffeta giggled tipsily. Her dark-haired twin in canary crinoline elbowed her and whispered nastily, “Well, that’s an anachronism, dumbass.” The girl in the poinsettia gown shyly glanced their way before gracefully pirouetting from the room, and the sisters blushed all the way up to their hair ribbons.

21 Snowballs (gin-soaked slush) Overheard in the writer’s room:

Writer 1: “..with all due respect, who wants to smell like a melted snow cone dipped in bathtub gin?”

Writer 2: “Oh ho ho…this isn’t your bodega slush, this is high-society slush. Slush for the one-percenters. Slush that glides on the ice rink of life, tiara perched askew, a perfectly chilled martini in paw…”

Writer 1: “Paw? What is this? An ice-skating raccoon? Are you suggesting raccoons wearing tiaras now?”

Writer 2: “Not just any raccoons! We’re talking raccoon royalty! Imagine, Duchess Trashpanda McGillicutty the Third, gliding across the frozen pond of Central Park, diamonds sparkling, fur glistening with the essence of juniper berries and chilled tonic. This fragrance is an ode to her, a symphony of sophistication with a playful wink! Like a posh raccoon’s boudoir after a night of ice skating and high-stakes poker. You get the zesty citrus of her freshly squeezed victory cocktail, the crisp snap of her caraway and rosemary-lined nest, and the faintest whisper of that perfectly aged gin, lingering like a mischievous grin on her furry little face!”

Writer 1: “Ok, ok you had me at Trashpanda McGillicutty!”

 

Sugar Cookies and Bourbon Why does the experience of wearing this feel like being in a gritty/glittering sepia-tinted Lana del Rey Christmas song?

Like…

neon lights, sugared air,
bourbon kisses billionaire–

-or-

sippin’ on that amber gold,
vanilla’s got me in a stranglehold–

Ok, I have embarrassed us all enough, and this incredibly gorgeous scent–and my favorite of the bunch–and deserves better than my silliness. BUT. I’m also not wrong.

Snake Oil Hot Toddy (Snake Oil, soaked in whiskey, honey, and a twist of lemon) Spice and honeyed warmth and old friend Snake Oil slithering in, its mossy patchouli cloak warmed by brown-sugared vanilla, the musk a rumble in the chest, with a twisty citrusy sting like a bright yellow lemon dropped in mulled wine. And then! Apples, wonderfully squashy and blushing, stewed long with cinnamon’s fire, cloves sharp spiced pungency, and nutmeg’s gentle hum, chased by a nutty browned butter Manhattan, its rye bite tempered by sweet vermouth. There is a lot going on here, and all of it is lovely.

Gingerbread Snek (gingerbread thickened with molasses and patchouli, spiced with Snake oil, and frosted with sugared vanilla bean) Gingerbread Cabin enters the battlefield tapped unless you control three or more other Forests. And as it happens, you do have in your possession many forests, woodlands, and thickets across the wilds of Eldraine. All redolent with resinous pine snap and earthy blankets of fallen leaves beneath verdant canopies of fir. So untapped it is then, in which case, when Gingerbread Cabin enters the battlefield untapped,  a Food Token is created. I have no idea what the Food Token does, I only remember seeing the Grimms fairy tale-inspired commercials for this particular MtG set, but I imagine it smells like this: a warm, cozy gingerbread house drizzled in vanilla bean glaze, its spicy walls mingling with the patchouli’s woody whisper, lying in wait under a sky of cinnamon stars and clove-studded moons.

The Picture of Dorian Sufganiyot (a deep-fried fougere with three pale musks and dark, sugared vanilla tea) A dribble of jelly clung to his lips as he lifted the velvet curtain from the portrait. This angelic young man who looked to be sculpted from ivory and roses stuffed the remainder of the oil-kissed fritter into his mouth, a shower of glittering sugar dusting his cuffs, rendering him that much more celestial in appearance. He gestures vaguely at the monstrosity in the portrait, a study in corruption and decrepitude. “Yeah, yeah, that’s meant to be me then; what of it, mate?” he scoffs, spraying my face with fragrant crumbs and small clots of rich berried jam. “It’s a good thing his guy smells so good,” I mutter disgustedly to myself, taking in his scent of softly sweetened tea and creamy, silken musks as I pick up my brush to paint over this junky canvas of horrors.

Pomegranate Ink To you, A— my sweet-skinned muse,  I send poems of love on fragrant winds. For on my island, alone as I am with the sea and the shore, I have unearthed a perfume that echoes the pomegranate’s song, a tale Pausanias dared not speak. It bursts forth in song, a chorus of rubies– the fruit’s jeweled heart exposed to the sky, laughter spills from its crimson chalice, sweet and bright as nectar. But within this mirth, A—  a shadow stirs. Inky tendrils, like dark riddles murmured in moonlit caves, coil around the light. It is the scent of ancient papyrus, of leather-bound tales, a smoky inkwell, where myths swim in obsidian depths, their truths veiled in darkness.  This is the pomegranate’s paradox, a goddess with twin faces. One wreathed in sunlight, her cheeks blushing with scarlet wine, the other draped in midnight, her eyes holding the shadows of the world. And oh, deepest blood of my heart, oh how my fingers yearn to trace the mysteries etched in this ink! To brush away the shadows and glimpse the stories secreted within. For here, in bright sun and cool midnight, I see our love reflected. Come, A— let us follow the hidden path, hand in hand, and unravel this strange fruit’s music. Let us become the ink and the parchment, the sun and the shadows, and write our own tale—

Midnight Mass Because I don’t have a lot of experience with Midnight Mass as a spiritual practice, what comes to mind is a stirring sermon in Mike Flanagan’s Midnight Mass Netflix series, where Father Paul describes that faith means “in the darkness, in the absence of light and hope, we sing.”  Father Paul, piggybacking on your excellent point, would you allow me a few words?

Close your eyes, and let the thurible swing, a pendulum between heaven and earth. Each arc releases a chorus of secrets – frankincense, that ancient whisper of devotion, the very tears of the sun hardened to gold. Myrrh, heavy with wisdom, echoes the gifts of Magi, a fragrant ode to sacrifice and the mysteries locked within. Benzoin, a bridge of warmth, a holy caress. Wisps of styrax and opoponax, ghosts of forgotten rituals, prayers in tongues long dead. Let them mingle in your lungs, these veiled blessings, and know that the greatest mysteries are not those writ in books, but those breathed on the wind of belief. And oh, brothers and sisters, how they linger, these sacred echoes! Long after the last ember fades, the incense clings to your soul, a benediction etched in smoke. It is a reminder that even in the deepest darkness, in the quiet hours when doubt gnaws at our bones, the song of faith remains. We sing in the absence of light, in the hollow between breaths, for that is where the mystery burns brightest, a fragrant hymn to the unseen.

Midnight Mass becomes a fragrant hymn of spiritual devotion and ceremonial grandeur to something larger than ourselves—a fragrant homage to midnight prayer, sacred intention and a sensory invocation of the profound mysteries, calling us to sing even in the darkest of moments.

 

 

Santa Doesn’t Need Your Help (sugar plum lavender marshmallows) is a sweetly herbal fragrance with a soft, fruity tang, the olfactory version of the gentle illustration on the box of a seasonal sleepytime offering from Celestial Seasonings, along with a little poem:

Sugar plum dreams with a lavender sigh,
A marshmallow moonbeam, a twinkling eye. 
Santa takes over, a welcoming sight,
and parents, unburdened, can sleep through the night.

Lavender Plum Galette (a mouth-watering mixture of glistening plum wedges and ground almonds, enfolded in flaky crust and drizzled with lavender sea-salted caramel) This is an astonishingly gorgeous scent that, if you looked up the recipe for it on a blog, you would have to read a 20k word cautionary tale and descent into the realm of culinary darkness that begins in the heart of the enchanted forest and hints at a narrative that defies the expected dichotomies of good and evil. I really do feel like there is quite a story with this one! But no one’s got that kind of time, so I will sum it up for you. Picture a cursed orchard, a spectral bakehouse, and a dessert table tainted by the obscure whims of an otherworldly confectioner of unknown intent, a gourmand elegy of the unsettling and delicious.

Lavender Rosemary Baguette (perfectly crusty and yeasty with a pillowy-soft interior, sprinkled with lavender sea salt and brushed with herbed olive oil) From the yeasty tang to the briny sea salt to the herb-infused nuances of the olive oil, this is a perfect bready balance and the baguette-iest fragrance I have ever smelled. I recently read Sara Gran’s The Book of the Most Precious Substance (it is very good, and I highly recommend that you read it if you have not already), and aside from the murders and the mysteries and the rare books and the sex, there is A LOT of food in this book. I’m pretty sure the author detailed every single meal, and weirdly enough, this Lavender Rosemary Baguette perfume is a composition that somehow (?) captures the spirit of the story. It’s a fragrant tableau that mirrors the sensory delights of Sara Gran’s sumptuous literary landscape.

Lavender Earl Grey Cookies (a bitter, tea-stained ache soothed by softly herbaceous sugar cookies) I guess I was expecting a lullaby with this one, but it’s more a playground of sugar gremlins, citrus confetti sunshine and mischief brewed in lavender fields. A vibrant floral astringency, bergamot’s subtle fruitiness, and an effervescent extravagance of sugar crystal carnival energy launches the entire blend into a hyperactive crescendo of joyfully demented, sticky-fingered Muppet Baby chaos.

Vintage Candy Garland Blow Mold (an enticing swirl of multi-hued fruit and mint flavors, illuminated from behind by twinkling amber tree lights) I close my eyes, and I can smell a bobbled milk glass dish of vintage seasonal candies just like this, a kaleidoscope of cellophane dreams: chocolate raspberry spun-sugar swirls, pearlescent limes like sugared gumdrops, the sharp green kiss of peppermint spirals, a gateway to a childhood Candyland where plastic reigned supreme and sugar was the currency of dreams– fantastically melting Technicolor hues forever preserved in the honeyed amber glow of nostalgia. As a matter of fact, as hyperreal as this perfume is, it also has an element of the surreal, like art-witch besties Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo challenged each other to bring their own singular vision of this candy dreamscape to the canvas, hallucinatory worlds of spun sugar and starlight, the delicious chaos that erupts when two magic-wielding artists collaborate

Gingerbread London Fog Captain’s log, stardate 46254.1 Holodeck recreation “Gingerbread London Fog,” simulation running. A bistro bathed in perpetual twilight, the air thick with the scent of rain and pipe smoke. Ah, but what’s this? A  fiery sweetness pierces the fog, a whisper of cinnamon and cloves, like an exotic spice trader’s cloak brushing past. Intriguing. Adjust the olfactory interface. Notes of Earl Grey tea, vanilla, sugar, and… whiskey? A peculiar concoction, Captain. Indeed, Number One. Yet, it draws me like unexpected intrigue on Riza. The tea, smooth and familiar, mingles with the sharp nip of whiskey, a touch of mystery in a mug. The vanilla, it’s not the cloying syrup of replicated desserts, but a whisper of warmth reminiscent of a home and a kitchen many years ago. And the ginger… ah, the ginger. It’s the heart of the mystery, a fierce, fevered spice that lingers on the tongue like… a detective’s hunch. Curious, Captain. Would you say this fragrance has… narrative potential? Potentially, Number One. Perhaps a femme fatale named “Sugar” in a silk dress the color of midnight, her lips stained with the same spiced sweetness. Or a gruff inspector with a penchant for Earl Grey and secrets, the aroma of tobacco clinging to his trench coat like a second skin. The bistro fades. Brick walls crawl with shadows, gaslights sputter, casting long, incriminating fingers. The scent of gingerbread transforms, no longer a treat but a clue, a trail of crumbs leading to a darkened alleyway and a whispered confession. Intriguing, Captain. Shall we embark on this olfactory investigation? Indeed, Number One. We’ll follow the whispers of ginger, the ghost of whiskey, and see where this trail leads us. Engage.

It may be a short respite, but between exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations, and boldly going where no one has gone before, even a Captain deserves a touch of fantasy and intrigue. And so, we step into the perfumed fog, ready to unravel the mystery that clings to the gingerbread and hangs heavy in the air. The night promises secrets; the scent whispers clues, and the Captain… well, the Captain’s ready for some silly escapades, even if it’s only for a brief, spiced escape from the vast loneliness of space. End log.

The Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab 2023 Yule collection is currently live and available for purchase. As this is a limited edition series, sample sizes imps are not available.

Need more Yule scents? Have a peep at my Yule reviews from 2023 and 2021 and a single review for 2019 though I could swear I have several years’ worth of BPAL Yule reviews floating around that out there. And I know this because…

…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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Dream Skin, a collaboration between bloodmilk x Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab is akin to a dream diary, a midnight scrapbook of filmy filaments teased from nocturnal murmurs, pressed between pages of mist and glass. Belled flowers gently floating across the face of the moon, reflected in a dark, fathomless pond. The whispered conversations between spectral, silvery quartz rock and wild, golden lightning, a tender grinding cascade of stardust. A pale moth glows and dims and dies on a cool silk shirt; a marble egg wrapped in lavender ribbon, shattered and swathed. An atlas of personal symbology, a grimoire of private fables, something beautiful but annihilating filtered through the eerieness and unreality of deep sleep brainwaves; an echo, unraveling at dawn.

The scent notes of Magic Circle from Fable and Canon somewhat correspond with the imagery and symbolism of the painting, the oudh, the cauldron smoke, the apotropaic qualities of the wilting wildflowers and clove, and in theory it sounds like a scent heavy with magic and power, evoking the claustrophobic midnight landscape of the painting. In reality, this is less moody and more foody, as if this menacing conspiracy of ravens opened up a coffee house and their special of the evening was a smoky maple latte and a demerara-sugar crusted, autumnal spiced biscotti.

DS & Durga’s new fragrance, Salem Gothic, exudes the crackling cosmic energy, celestial psychosis, and chaotic teenage telekinesis of my favorite X-files episode, Syzygy–or more specifically, the frenetic, maniacal Saber Dance music that plays during this scene. I can’t explain it, and I have no further notes.

Targhee Forest from Rogue Perfumery is the earnest, delighted musings of a daydreaming bryologist who writes wistful poems of the pensive creepings of mosses, lichen, and fern. These literary herbariums are the inspiration for their side hustle, where they saponify the loamy greenery and gently mix in an essence of white musk to create charming soaps that smell of moss-covered stone basking in a beam of sunlight.

Jones Road Shower is an aggressive laundry lily musk. This thing wants you to know its shit don’t stink, at no point has it ever been stinky, and in the future, there will be no stink, and how bold of you to suggest otherwise. It’s not just assertive in the intensity of its immaculate freshness, it is downright defensive –like you have accused it of some degree of funk&stank – how dare you!–and now it is doubling down on the extreme powdery white floral concentrated detergentness of it, it’s fucking drinking the stuff. Ok, ok! We get it! You’re clean! You’re a freshy-girl or whatever! Jesus! Calm down. You’re being quite a lot right now, Jones Road Shower, and you’re making me very uncomfortable. I don’t dislike this fragrance, but it gives the energy of something that’s trying very hard because it’s got something to prove. And some days I feel like that, too! But on other days, this perfume of freshly soaped and scrubbed skin, dryer sheets, and clean linens, cloaked in a sterile spray of something that kills both germs and joy and all dialed up to eleven, is just too powerfully hygienic smelling to me. Just let me have a little stank, please!

Imagine, if you will, that Madame de la Rougierre, the exceedingly creepy and exquisitely cruel governess in Le Fanu’s gothic tale Uncle Silas, was taken to task for her evil ways and, as divine punishment, was transformed into a brooding French bisque portrait poupée having to endure dusty shelves and grubby little hands for eternity. That is what the smolderingly honeyed orange blossom, wickedly animalic. waxily aldehydic, musty-powdery melancholy of Caron Narcisse Noir smells of. In a good way? Or…as good as it gets for Mme de la Rougierre, I guess?

Sometime in the last few months on TikTok, I shared a compilation of perfume suggestions inspired by gothic romance book cover art. I got several comments suggesting that Pulp Fragrances should have been mentioned. Apparently, gothic romance tropes are very much their thing! Though I was tempted to say “well…make your own dang list if you think you can do better!” But people don’t tend to appreciate that response, so instead I just honestly admitted I’d never even heard of the brand and took it as an opportunity to dive into something new. Anyway, I ordered a buttload of samples, and amongst them, I found one of the most perfect things I have ever smelled (even though to my nose it didn’t quite match up with the notes listed, or how I imagine the bleak melancholia of the philosophy it’s trying to evoke might smell like.) But who cares, it’s good! Hauntology smells like a gorgeously crystallized lump of sweet holy amber and a nose-tickling pencil-shaving whiff of crisp, glorious cedar incense. There is absolutely zero complexity. But also…who cares! It is simple and perfect. I need a dozen full bottles of this.

Myrrhe Mystere from Tom Ford is a scent that I really, desperately wanted to love, and in theory, with its notes of myrrh resins, sandalwood, and vanilla I feel like I should love it, I feel like it should sort of be the platonic ideal of a gothic romance novel cover art fragrance…and it is that for a few mysteriously fleeting moments. But then there arises something inexplicably off-putting about it.

It is the scented equivalent of bringing to class a very special item, something incredibly dear to you, to share for the weekly round of show and tell. As you tell the story of your precious thing’s origins you become too aware of how it looks through other people’s eyes, a little weird, a bit unsettling, maybe it exudes an underlying strange and vaguely unpleasant smell of cumin’s unwashed gym clothes’ B.O. pungency that has been masked with an herbaceous bouquet of anisette and mothballs from crinkled cough drop wrappers at the bottom of your handbag. You realize that maybe people aren’t as excited about your collection of teeth and bones and taxidermy as you’d initially hoped.

You go back to your earlier comparison or metaphor or whatever and realize your gothic romance heroine is written with more human flaws and foibles than you prefer and in fact she reminds you an awful lot of yourself, with equal parts hideous conceit and treacherously low self-esteem, that befuddling balance of the you you’re trying to put out into the world, charming, elegant, enigmatic, and the you that you try to keep locked in a secret attic, the one who hates to wash her hair and snorts like a truffle pig when they laugh and inevitably has food stuck in their teeth or a stain on their shirt. I wanted a Myrrhe Mystere representative of the gorgeous, doomed figures in those marvelously illustrated midnight tales of passion and madness–so that I could feel a bit of that beautiful gloom myself– and what I got was a mirror reflecting the glum reality of all of the ways I am none of that at all.

Tartan from Sarah Baker Perfumes/Sarah McCartney If you’ve ever smelled Hermès Ambre Narguille and thought, wow, this stuff is so sweet it’s actually going to kill me…I think you might want to give Tartan a try. In reality, I don’t know that they’re all that alike, other than a rich woody tobacco-y October vibe, but while Ambre Narguille really leans into that syrupy apple compote, Tartan is balanced by acrid leather and an embossed flask of peaty, smoky whiskey. I smell a different aspect of it every time I wear it, but when I close my eyes it conjures wooly earthen moss, the molten gold of autumn, and skeins of snow geese low on the horizon.

You can definitely smell the cantaloupe in Imaginary Authors Whispered Myths. The cantaloupe is the entire reason I passed over this fragrance with a “nah, I’m good” dismissal when I first saw the perfume announced. Its distinctive musty-musky honeyed gourd vibe registers immediately, but what’s interesting is that in combination with the accompanying and somewhat competing woody notes of barnacled shipwreck and oud’s scorched earth pungency, the cantaloupe becomes less fruity and more creamy, like if you asked a neural network to come up with a new flavor for artisanal ice cream shop’s daily special board.

Balefire Apothecary’s House of Cain is an intensely evocative fragrance with notes of fig, black tea and rice milk, labdanum, sawdust, and sandalwood. It immediately brings to mind the gauzy memory of a book I read as a child, or at least I thought I read it, and now I’m not sure if it’s real or if I dreamed it. I can’t even come up with enough of a plot to do a proper search for it. There was a young woman and an old mirror. Perhaps it was in a dusty attic, or maybe it was in a remote estate–or maybe it opened a door that took her between those places. There was a spicy element to the book, I think it was actually somewhat a progenitor to some of the supernatural erotica available today, but I feel like this particular book was from the 70s or early 80s. This fragrance though, is not about that, not her mundane existence on one side of the mirror or her salacious adventures on the other, but rather it captures those fleeting frequencies of liminality in the otherworld of those moments between. And honestly, memory is tricky, and none of that may be true to the book at all, but that’s what I’m feeling with this perfume, so it’s true enough. It’s the sweet, desiccated must of dried figs on a drift of dead branches and a ghostly moonlit snowy powder from a century’s old cosmetic puff. It’s the notion that the present is haunted by lost futures and the wistful omens that shadow your memories may be dreams of things that never occurred at all.

I’m going through the 2023 Pineward winter sampler and I am in raptures over Gingerbread, which despite its confectionary recipe list of notes, is not the least bit foody. If you’re expecting a fragrance evoking a little gingerbread house festooned with cookies and candies, you may be surprised when what you get is an elegant gingerbread mountain hunting lodge. There’s the peppery bite and zingy warmth of those autumnal spices, but the brown sugar has the smoky depth of the hearth’s charred sweetness, and the walnut is more the smooth polished brown wood and soft worn leather of an armchair, and those milky notes are come through as the creamy comfort of a buttery cashmere sweater, warm against your skin as you press your palm to frost-flowered windowpane while a furious winter blizzard whirls and wails just outside those spice-speckled, subtly sweet, smoky gingerbread walls.

 

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For this final day of October and in wrapping up our 31 Days of Horror here at Unquiet Things, we are going out in style! With reviews of twenty fragrances from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s Autumn/Halloween collection!

…and also a giveaway! For one bottle of their Junji Ito-inspired Tomie perfume! If you want to read my full review of the fragrance, you can find that here.

If you would like the opportunity to win this perfume AND you live in the US, leave a comment on this blog post to be entered into the giveaway! Tell me about your favorite Halloween tradition, favorite scary movie, favorite autumnal scent–whatever you like! One winner —please note, you must be in the US to win— will be selected on Tuesday November 7th! [GIVEAWAY IS CLOSED! CONGRATS JILLIAN!]

I am sorry, but shipping outside the US is too onerous, so please, please note this giveaway is for folks who live in the US only! (I’m sorry I have to sound so desperate about it, but why does no one ever read that part? Please read it!)

Anyway, let’s get to the reviews!

A Timid Twinkling Golden Star (tuberose and sweet amber) A dusty, honeyed wistful, sepia-tinted floral; the olfactory representation of the concept of “dés-vu”, or the awareness that this moment will become a memory.

A Little Silver Scimitar (foamy orris and ambergris accord pierced by a sliver of white fir needle, moonflower, and cypress) This smells …”incisive” is the word that comes to mind. It knows something, visions of silver, fruit, blood. I picture less a scimitar and more a little letter opener, sharp-edged glinting, used to liberate clever missives, mince sour slivers of plum, impale inconstant hearts.

Witch’s Currant Cake (red currant and rosewater gooseberry cake with a sugar-dusted gingerbread crumble topping) Whenever I see the word “gooseberry” I think of the time I spent listening to Eddie Izzard’s memoir and how his British pronunciation (“guuzbury”) always makes me smile. As a matter of fact, this sweet/sour, tart/tangy scent blanketed with a molassey-gingery cozy streusel, could even be the cake he’s talking about in his “Cake or death?” clip from his Dressed To Kill special. Let’s just make it canon. Our beloved, wicked Eddie Izzard circa 1999 smells like a guuzbury gâteau, a witch’s currant cake.

Ghost Milk (goat’s milk, marshmallow, vanilla cashmere, honey dust, and white chocolate) There’s nothing fruity listed in here but this perfume is fruity, cereal-miky, and fuzzy, like slurping a bowl of Frankenberries from the pocket of your softest, pinkest, plushest hoodie. A hoodie that definitely hoodies. I watch too much TikTok.

Mummy Milk (condensed milk wrapped in coconut shavings and tea-stained linen with a hint of bitumen, myrrh, and embalming resins) Wild grains and rustic incense, something roasting over a fire until it pops and frills, and carried over the fields on the dry wind of a warm September daydream.

Snooty Bat (sugared patchouli, nag champa, black leather, and clove) and Snootier Bat (all the sugared incense you can shake a wing at with double the leather and a dollop of thick, inky black musk) These two fragrances initially reminds me of how my sisters and I might gaze at each other in abject befuddlement and say something like “That is such a bizarre thing to do–how are we even related??” Snooty with a leather that’s almost midnight-stormy sky-ozonic at the onset, and Snootier opens all gloomy musk and plummy treacle. After a moment though, it becomes apparent that they are siblings, an iron-rich vein of incense connecting them. As they wear, they grow apart and drift away from each other, Snooty becoming darker and more unrepentantly patchoulified by the hour, and Snootier, half sick of shadows, transforms into a soft, cozy creamy thing.

Batty Lace (dry flowers, aged linens, and the faint breath of long-faded perfumes with well-worn leather and caramel musk) “A leathered up, musky interpretation of BPAL’s Antique Lace.” The caramel aspect of this blend is what I notice most, a buttery-milky brown sugar caramel that wants to ooze over vanilla ice cream rather than firm up into fudgy squares. Shifting beneath the caramel are those faint, faded attic-trunk florals and creamy cobwebby linens I recall from Antique Lace and a cracked leather buckle so ghostly and elusive I’m not sure if it was actually ever there at all.

Batty Cathedral (leathery wings flapping through billows of incense smoke) I was writing this review and Ývan walked into the room, saw the label art up on the screen, and exclaimed, “Say, that bat’s wearing a fez!” So it is!  Anyway. The leather in this blend is an airy, floral leather, conjuring visions of a little bat snoot dootling deep in trellis vining, moon-luminous night-blooming flowers. The incense is cool and crystalline, frost on stone, smoky winter mists high on a mountain while a witch sits in silence, tracing runes in the snow.  Like a Wardruna video. With more bats and flowers and witches.

Dead Leaves, Paper, and Smoke This one has a spectral and musty quality, like shed snake skins and brittle, broken bird’s nests, but also oddly evokes spring leaves, damp and dewy and almost jittery green, teeming with chlorophyll. It culminates in a fragrance that you might attribute to an altar deep kept in the wood, obeisance to a thing so old it doesn’t even have a name, with offerings of shoots and stems, bones and claws, trinkets both living and dead. 

Dead Leaves, Balsam, and Green Musk The greenest stickiest resins, tree gum, and sap, tingly with a frisson of spearminty-pennyroyal cool-electric-crispness.

Dead Leaves, Shortbread, and Crystallized Ginger The softly decaying dead leaves component of this perfume is so fleeting, almost as if leaf litter and loam were used as padding for a parcel of treats, but the parcel was delivered and the packaging was tossed willy nilly, and what we are left with is the sugar-crusted delight of candied ginger-flecked buttery shortbread with crisp, caramelized edges.

Skelemingo (pink grapefruit and black licorice) it’s the most bonederful time of the year! Wherein even things that do not have bony skeletons inside their skins get treated to cheap plastic skeletons and sold for $5.99 at Michaels and Party City. Worm, you get a skeleton! Octopus, you get a skeleton! And so on! The flamingo does in fact have a skeleton and as scientists know, its aroma is that of the most delicious bitter grapefruit Haribo candy cross-bred with salty Icelandic lakkrís, spliced with white chocolate.When I talk about my profound love for things that inspire a sense of demented glee, a fragrance like this is exactly what I am thinking of.

Hand-Knitted Witch Gloves (raw wool, sweet oakmoss, and cranberry brandy) I don’t talk about fragrances in terms of whether they are masculine or feminine–that’s dumb and limiting!–but I will say that this scent is initially, and surprisingly, quite “handsome.” An aroma that at first evokes some sort of rare, centuries-old cognac and things being aged in French oak barrels, but then because you have no use for stodgy tradition, you eschew drinking it neat and instead concoct a cranberry Manhattan with bitters and vermouth, garnished with a wooly frizzle of earthen moss because you are actually just three gnomes in a trench coat.

Things Are Fine (white sandalwood smoke, hinoki, white tea, and falling leaves) Washing your hair with a fragrant aromatherapeutic “spa-like” shampoo and then immediately running outdoors on a crisp October afternoon and rolling around in a pile of loamy leaves and moss, like a great shaggy golden retriever after a bath. This is stunning. STUNNING.

A Melancholy of Goths (clove smoke, champaca incense, plum velvet, and hairspray) Can you think of anything more goth than a marble gargoyle in a mourning veil perched atop a crumbling gravestone wearing perfume of honeyed funereal florals & infernal incense ash? That is exactly what this smells like. It also smells like what I imagine Anna Falchi in Cemetery Man smells like.

Pumpkin Spice Dark-n-Stormy (extra spicy rum fizzed up with ginger beer and garnished with a lime) Utterly incandescent. Crystalline radium glass lime, the sticky bite of ginger syrup + a dry dram of allspice’s mince pie charm.

Make A Face (yellow bergamot, white pomegranate rind, lemon peel, and white musk) This smells like a thick, nourishing lemon salve that you aren’t supposed to eat but holy jeez you are definitely tempted to eat it. Ývan says he thinks it smells like luxurious lemon peel soap, to which I countered “But do you want to eat it?” And he was like like “Well, I mean yes.” This is one of those simple scents that somehow doesn’t seem like there’s much to it, and yet is more than the sum of its parts and is weirdly definitely habit-forming.

Halloween Cat (cacao and coconut husk dusted on shining black fur, illuminated by electric green mandarin and raw amber) I wouldn’t typically use the words “chocolatey” and “fresh” together in the same sentence and I don’t know that’s what I am doing here either–but I don’t know that I am not? Halloween cat smells a bit like huffing dry brownie mix; absent the sweetness and gooeyness, there’s a bracing, savory aspect to the cocoa. A pale nimbus of citrus hovers, a timorous, shimmering aurora haloing the arid chocolate.

Witch in the Woods (blackthorn, mandrake root, and myrrh scratching through cypress boughs, blackberry resin, and incense smoke) A tangled orchard, a forest-jam tart, a sharpened blade kissed-thrice, batwings circling an autumn moonrise–all of these trapped in a waxen candy wrapper curse.

The Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab 2023 Halloween collection is currently live and available for purchase. As this is a limited edition series, sample sizes imps are not available.

Need more ‘Weenies? Have a peep at my ‘Weenie reviews from the autumns of yesteryear 2022 // 2021 // 2020 // 2019 // 2018 // 2017 // 2016 

And PSSSST! Did you know I have collected all of my BPAL reviews into one spot? Here you will find 88 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)

Are you new to one of our very favorite indie perfumers, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab? See my three-part primer herehere, and here

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