Commissioned art by Becky Munich

I have been writing for many years, writing whether or not I thought anyone was paying attention (usually not); whether anyone was paying money for it (definitely not) and I never tried to monetize my blog with ads or a paywalll or anything because I was doing it because I wanted to. Not because I was trying to make a buck or make a living off of it. Nothing wrong with that, of course. But it wasn’t something I wanted.

I am still not trying to do either of those things, but I have finally created a Patreon to …support my perfume habit, ha! We just moved and I put every cent I had into this house! Where am I gonna get money for stinks from? So, tell you what, you donate to my habit, and you’ll get exclusive content and whatever else I come up with.

Future donaters, tell me! What would you like to see here? And current Patreon users, anything I should keep in mind with this platform? Tips, tricks, pitfalls, whatever? I appreciate all of your insights and support!

So, what’s this about? For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by fragrance, olfactorily obsessed, spellbound by scent. “Smellbound,” if you will! In the span of an inhalation, an aroma can transport us to fabulous, fantastical realms and deliver us safely back to the familiar comforts of home. Take a deep breath. Sit in the dark. Let’s experience some Midnight Stinks together.

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The first time I smelled le Lion de Chanel, I was a little underwhelmed. While it is really nice, I thought it smelled similar to so many opulent amber fragrances already in my collection. Now I am not so sure about that part, and I think I have totally changed my tune overall. It is not just nice, it is extraordinarily beautiful. Alongside what I tend to think of as that lemony-bergamot-musk gold-plated, almost brassy glamorous vintage costume jewelry classic perfumery DNA, there’s velvety rounded patchouli, drifts of leathery balsamic smoke, a dribble of honeyed sweetness, and an intense vision of warm golden resins, like a glittering dragon’s hoard just beyond fluttering veils of vanilla incense. Or imagine…the dragon in question was Kate Bush on the Lionheart album cover. I saw that on the blacknarcissus blog with reference to Le Lion so I can’t take credit for it myself, but I couldn’t not share the imagery either, because it just so perfectly encapsulates this fragrance.

Tonight on Midnight Stinks is Diptyque L’Ombre dans L’Eau and while I typically don’t enjoy rose scents and I never fuck with berry fragrances, this may be one of the exceptions. Perhaps because the rose only just shyly peeps out of the lush, leafy greenery and aromatic botanicals. The berries are bittersweet and biting, rather than overripe and cloying, and pair marvelously with lemony, herbaceous geranium. It feels practical and beautiful, like an artful object that actually serves a useful function, as opposed to a remaining a dusty shelf-turd. This is the sort of perfume that makes me think of how someone said that self-care is doing the things that maybe you don’t feel like doing now, so that you can set future-you up for success. Like making some sort of wellness appointment. I would wear this to visit the chiropractor and think the whole time, “good job you! You are doing your best!”By the way I don’t see a chiropractor, but if I ever did I would try to get on Dr. Brenda Mondragon’s schedule. One, because she has the coolest name ever, but two, well, if you ever watch her YouTube channel, she just seems like so much fun and I want her to crack all of my joints for an ASMR video.

There exist a handful of black currant and rose scents that are very lovely and unique. Armani Si is the very opposite of that. It feels crass and vulgar and quite common in comparison. It’s a candied floral musk that sours to an offputting fruity cocktail, something with strawberries and cheap sparkling wine and I feel like this is a themed drink served as part of your book club’s annual romance pick, and god why can’t they ever let you pick the smutty selections? There’d be way more explosive body horror and horny devils and raving madwomen in the attic. None of this secret sexy neighbor or coworker enemies-to-friends or surprise baby basic bullshit. So yeah Si is your book club’s most boring member’s spicy pick. It’s probably called Billionaire Daddy or Tempting the Boss or something.

With Oriza Legrand’s Relique d’Amour, I experienced one of my favorite facets of being a writer: encountering unexpected connections and surprise synchronicities with regard to a thing I’m attempting to write. If, say, I am outlining a book review, and I happen to watch a movie exploring similar things. Or if I am piecing together an essay and I hear a new song echoing my inner monologue. As someone for whom translating ideas into words is such a vital aspect of my identity, these snippets of magic from the universe are so special for me. Anyhow, I unearthed a sample of Oriza Legrand’s Relique d’Amour from behind a bookshelf, and while pondering its mysteries I happened upon a March 2022 Vogue Hong Kong editorial with a beautiful Joan of Arc vibe, and these images are the perfect visual representation of this fragrance. Relique d’Amour is lofty, diaphanous incense, ghost particles of lemony woody myrrh, preserved in a reliquary of bitter, brittle quartz. A pale white lily springs impossibly from its crystalline depths, its delicate dewy spice in eerie contrast to the earthy oaken moss which cushions its base. This is a scent evoking visions of the divine, of the ineffable solace of faith, and of knowing to the core of your very soul that you are not afraid. You were born to do this.

I indulged in a lemming, which is to say I picked up a DedCool sampler set. I was seeing other reviewers mention this brand, and I was feeling left out! I was a little bit resistant, though, because I hate the name. Most of the time, anyone who refers to themselves as cool, is probably the opposite of cool. Unless they are being ironic, I suppose. But I also hate irony. So you can’t win with me! I’m fairly certain that these scents are meant to be layered, which I haven’t done yet and I probably shouldn’t make any sort of judgment until I use them the way they are meant to be used. But I will say that my favorite of the bunch so far is Milk. Which is a lot like if you told Glossier’s You, “hey, I don’t want to smell like you, I want to smell like me!” The site lists the notes as amber, bergamot, and white musk, and to my nose this is a creamy sandalwood and delicate milky almond amber musk. I think it shares a lot of these aspects with You, but while You is chillier and a more defined fragrance, Milk is warm and a sort of amorphous scent, I would say it’s perfume for people who don’t wear perfume but who don’t want the sort of non-perfume that smells like soap or clean laundry. That’s a very inelegant way of phrasing it, but then again, there’s not a lot of poetry to work with here. It’s a simple scent that smells cozy and pleasant and it’s the sort of thing I’d probably spritz all over my hair and pajamas before going to bed as part of my goodnight rituals and routines.

Poets of Berlin from Vilhelm Parfumerie is a vile bioluminescent mutant blueberry thing. A blueberry subjected to a sketchy, underfunded experiment in a prototype telepod but there was also a particle of lemon-aloe-bamboo Glade air freshener in the chamber before it was hermetically sealed, as well as, a smashed bedazzle gem that fell off of an intern’s acrylic nail, unnoticed. Torn apart atom by atom, the small jammy fruit merged with the glinting shards of sugary bling and a blisteringly caustic glow-in-the-dark citrus-lily. I don’t think David Bowie ever wrote a song about this monster but there was a movie adaptation with Jeff Goldblum.

Reims L’Eau Gothique is not what I was hoping it would be, but I think I can appreciate it for what it is. The opening notes are a strangely sour iris and bergamot and eerie indolic carnation frankincense musty-dusty-powderiness. A chilly corner full of dank, dripping shadows that hasn’t seen the light of day in centuries. A rotting wood shelf behind which has slipped a secret bit of parchment, once dampened by tears and feverishly scrawled ink, now mouldering for eternity where no one but the scurrying mice and scuttling spiders know of its existence. Do I like this sort of scent? You bet. It reminds me of the dramatic atmosphere and melancholy romanticism of the Bohemian Tarot deck from Baba Studio of Prague. [It’s possible that both the fragrance and the tarot deck are unavailable, so maybe peek at eBay for these things!]

Serge Lutens Datura Noir, as far as noir-anything goes, is not noir at all. This is a milk glass fairy spell, cast in the delicate light of dawn, calling for pale blossoms soaked in milk at midnight. Heady aromas of honeysuckle and heliotrope combine with buttery floral vanilla fantasies, a flittering whimsy of bitter almond dream fuel, and a diaphanous reverie of powdery coconut musk. This datura-inspired fragrance is less deadly devil’s flower-induced euphoric hallucinations and more moonflower pudding for sleepy Thumbelinas.

Scorpio Rising from Eris Perfumes begins as a cool, citrusy pink pepper with rosy nuances, an artful enigma of a spice, more zingy herbal aromatic than the sting and pungent bite than you might expect. This is one of the more restrained Scorpios I’ve known, and while I don’t mean to generalize I can say that in my experience, there are two types of Scorpios: the one that is Very A Lot, they don’t hold back, you always know what they are thinking and they practically flay themselves open for you. They want you to have all of them, even and especially the ugly and scary bits. They wear their shadow side on their sleeve and their shadows aren’t very subtle, either. The other kind of Scorpio is not exactly secretive, silent-type, but their shadows are shrewd and sharp and you might not get to see them right away, but you always recognize they are there and you are inexplicably drawn to them like a moth to flame. While I am absolutely obsessed with pretty much all Scorpios, I think Eris’ Scorpio Rising falls more into the latter category and I wouldn’t automatically mark it as a bombastically passionate although I would say it has a quiet intensity that sort of sneaks up on you. After the cool, dry floral, and discreet fruitiness of the opening, there emerges delicate smoke and soft leather, woody-floral cardamom and immortelle’s elusive burnt sugar musk. This is the Scorpio you follow down shadowy corridors in a dream, following their lingering trail of scent, and when you’ve reached the dead-end abyss, the void at the end of the trail, you find they were behind you all along. This is the Scorpio that takes your hand as you jump into the darkness of the unknown.

I didn’t think it’s possible but I actually now quite over the moon for a chocolate-inspired fragrance. Akro Dark is not decadent, foody chocolate in the least, but rather a dry, dusty, woody interpretation of cocoa. But it’s not some austere, unapproachable thing; it’s somehow both rich and restrained while also being intoxicatingly cozy, like the combination of a bittersweet cocoa nib-speckled cardigan and the earthy musk of a patchouli stitched afghan, while warming your toes in soft, smoky vanilla firelight. This is a composition that exemplifies the elegance to be found in simple pleasures when executed thoughtfully, creatively, and while also holding something back. With chocolate scents, I think perfumers tend toward a hyper-gourmand “more is more” philosophy, throwing every decadent, delectable note at their disposal into the mix, but Dark’s appeal, at least for me, is in its’ pared-down, gorgeous simplicity. You don’t smell like a ridiculous dessert, you just smell like a damn beautiful treat.

The funny thing is, when I first looked at my sample of Ambre Nomade from Elisire, it was upside down and I misread it as Amber Malone– and you know what, it smells like a fictional character named Amber Malone, so I am just going with that. This is not what I think of as a typical amber, that powdery balsamic resin. Amber Malone is amber by way of glorious golden ginger and intense, velvety patchouli vanilla, and an unexpected aromatic freshness from sage and lavender and apple. The first time I smelled Amber M. I caught a bit of a youthful-bordering-on-obnoxious-vanilla-apricot fruitiness with a tinge of darkness that made me think she was in high school in the 2002 and had one of those scene queen hairstyles and probably spent a lot of time in serial killer chatrooms. She had the vibe of a kid who was a bit of a loner and was obsessed with true crime novels and at first, I thought maybe she was corresponding with convicted murderers in prison, but I came to the conclusion that she had a good head on her shoulders and ended up going into forensics science and has a podcast where she talks about women’s complicated relationship with true crime. Later, when I tried Amber M. again, the opulent leathery, musky resinous labdanum note is present and I think she’s gotten a book deal to write some brilliant essays regarding true stories about how vicarious interests in violent crime transformed the lives of four women and that’s when I realized Amber Malone exists to some extent– at least as far as writing this book–and her actual name is Rachel Monroe, and Savage Appetites is a great book and you should read it. Ambre Nomade speaks to me of savage appetites for truth, for curiosity, for passion and fascination, and indulging all of these things at every opportunity.

Typically I really love violet scents even though most of them either conjure elegant little tins of traditional violet candies or a powdery floral violet hand-milled bar of fancy soap at a quaint Airbnb, or even the delicate rosy-violet fragrance of an old-fashioned tube of lipstick. And these are all very nice smells but they’re not really complex or interesting. Violet Firefly from TRNP is a violet that gives you a bit more to work with, but I don’t know if I really care for all of the various components. The sweet, romantic blossom is accentuated and nearly overwhelmed by a sort of herbal sagey-cypress stinginess that for a few moments smells distressingly minty. Mint is one of those notes that ruins all fragrances for me. It’s a sort of false freshness that I paradoxically associate with really gross smells as well as the attitudes of people who pretend they never get crusty or farty and think their shit, as they say, don’t stink. Listen, all shit stinks, it’s okay, it’s supposed to. Luckily the minty shitshow subsides and it becomes a subtle mossy leather-violet situation that lays close to the skin and leaves an ozonic coolness trickling down the back of your throat, like a ghostly scrum of misty morning April shower ectoplasm.

Despite the inclusion of my old nemesis, mint (of which I thankfully don’t even detect the slightest whiff) Boysmells’ Tantrum is freaking incredible. It opens with an effervescent, almost incendiary blast of nose-tickling carbonation. There is a gardeny-green aromatic herb garden distilled to a concentrated essence, the tiniest drop of bright, piney-floral jade green peppercorn syrup, and the delicately sour note of bergamot bitters stirred into sparkling cold soda water, swirled with a cedar swizzle stick. I need a full bottle of this immediately and I will spritz with mad abandon all summer long. I also need a cocktail inspired by these notes in which I will attempt to indulge only slightly more judiciously.

I have finally met a fruity-floral that doesn’t make me want to barf. This is not to say that I like it, I mean let’s not get crazy. But I think I can definitely say that I appreciate it. Sadanne from Slumberhouse is described on the website thusly, in the style of my very favorite sort of poetically incoherent word salad absurdity: “Stained glass syrup. Serenades in damascone minor. Allegory obscured / pastel wound. A slurry of subtlety.” It’s definitely a slurry, as in a brandy-fortified sangria, mixed with an entire canister of black cherry Koolaid, a hefty dollop of musky strawberry jam, and a jigger of tart pomegranate liqueur, strewn with the petals from the most obnoxious aggressively blooming red roses in your summer garden. Pastel? No, I think this is a shimmering crimson ruby garnet gemstone bloodbath of a scent. Subtle…yeah…I don’t think so, this is about as subtle as one of the celebrity housewives throwing a glass of Zinfandel in her frenemy’s face. I can see how this might veer into Jolly Rancher territory, like LUSH’s Rose Jam, and yet somehow it doesn’t go there. Maybe it’s the type and quality of damascones used; which I just learned from Google are chemical compounds that add complex profiles of rose, apple, blackcurrant and mint with rich plum undertone to perfumes. My .2 seconds of skimming an internet article, however, does not make me an expert, so who knows. At any rate, Sadanne is happy and joyful and a lot of fun, despite a weird undercurrent of something earthy, violety, green, and bitter. You can barely smell it, it’s almost a sense of it, rather than the scent of it. It makes me wonder what the word Sadanne is supposed to me. It makes me think of the entry in The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows for kairosclerosis: “the moment you realize that you’re currently happy—consciously trying to savor the feeling—which prompts your intellect to identify it, pick it apart and put it in context, where it will slowly dissolve until it’s little more than an aftertaste.” I would never wear this fragrance in a million years, but I love knowing that, much like a fleeting moment of happiness, it existed at one point in time.

 

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French Oakmoss from For Strange Women, along with fresh marjoram, is probably one of my favorite smells in the world. Funny, how they’re both very green scents, although I’d certainly put them on opposite ends of the spectrum. Marjoram being a sweetly herbaceous, rather cheery scent, and oakmoss, though it has a complex sweetness of its own, leans more toward the shadowy, sequestered musk and honeyed loamy–leatheriness of ancient lichen blanketed under the aromatic foliage primeval forests. Lavender and violet subtly brighten the gloomy…nearly claustrophobic nature of this fragrance (and perhaps I only feel suffocated because my nose is literally glued to my wrist because the perfume is that compellingly gorgeous) and enhance it with a focused, faceted intensity. It’s too calming a scent to call melancholy, but it’s too moody to call meditative. What is the name for such a feeling? Whatever the fancy word is for a contemplative moment wistfully frozen in time, it smells like French Oakmoss from FSW. is the name for such a feeling? Whatever you call it, it smells like French Oakmoss from FSW.

Occult Bookstore from Black Baccara. With notes that come across to me as warm sweetly spiced cinnamon and cool camphoraceous cedar, it’s a study in contrasts, with the barest, ghostliest whiff of a brittle, woody paperiness evocative of crisp pages brimming with mystery and magic. More than a singular bookshop though, this conjures for me a charged atmosphere electric with possibility and psychic connections; it awakens memories I have of Cassadaga, a tiny, rural central Florida community of mediums, healers, and spiritualists about an hour from where I live. Somehow this also captures the mood of centuries-old historic buildings, the aura of a haunted hotel where you can get a tarot reading or an energy adjustment, and all the little shops where you can buy crystals or candles or a Catsadaga calendar with photos of the areas feral felines where proceeds from the sales help to support & provide responsible stewardship for these four-legged personalities roaming the streets.

More than this though, it invokes a very specific visit when my sister and I spent the day there and then had a few glasses of wine at the hotel bar and chatted late into the night. At just before midnight we noticed the place which had been quite noisy earlier had become strangely quiet and we were the only ones left–it almost felt as if no one else had ever been there at all, and we had only imagined their presence. We roamed the empty streets for hours which you’re probably not supposed to do at that time of night, but we didn’t want the evening to end. The scent of cypress mingled with the inky night air as we made our way back to the hotel. This weekend in January, right before the pandemic is one of my fondest, most precious memories, and somehow I found it again in this bottle.

Gucci’s Mémoire d’une Odeur. Herbal, dusty bittersweet, dreamlike green musk. The sorrows of strange lullabies lilted in gentle whispers, fairytales of snow-blooming trees, borne from bones.   A fragile, longing, shimmering bell. A fleeting dew, a pale mist drifting low in a meadow, vanishing into an empty sky. A melancholy elegy for the whimsy of childhood. A deathbed poem at dawn.

Female Christ from 19-69 is all weird, chilly herbal woods, and rather a chemical, synthetic vibe.…like an artisanal toilet bowl cleaner. But in a good way?

Basilica from Milano Fragranze is a gourmand-adjacent spooky scent, it flirts with foodiness but it never actually goes there. It’s an eerie earthy musk (but think graveyards rather than gardens) creamy cedar and milky vanilla woods, and mysterious amber-myrrh resins, both warm and cool, enveloping and remote. It’s like a curmudgeonly ghost monk from a crumbling, haunted monastery has left the centuries-old ruins and paid a visit to a sweetly-bustling local bake sale. I love this and the only thing that is stopping me from buying a full bottle are the hundreds of full bottles of fragrance that I already own and will never use up before I die.

No. 23 from Fischersund is a scent and perfumery co-created by Jónsi from Icelandic minimalist post-rock and dreampop band Sigur Rós. It’s a densely tarry and leathery scent, charred wood and peppery smoke, that dries in your hair like green, aromatic moss and balsamic fir needles and pine. It also makes me think of salty licorice and hangikjöt —but not candy and actual smoked meat, really. More like a bitter, herbal chewiness, and scorched and smoldering birch and juniper and the ghost of blistered proteins? It’s stygian, enigmatic, and bleak, and maybe this is what my doppelgänger who just climbed out of the Katla ash storms and trekked through the Jordskott forest smells like. (I realize with those references I’m mixing together both Icelandic and Swedish creeping horror —catastrophic supernatural volcanoes and prophecies about evil forests—but whatever!)

Grimoire from Anatole LeBreton features a lemony-balsamic sweetness suggestive of curative sweets and a cryptic dustiness evocative of brittle parchment and rare texts, all encircled with a pungent fog of bitter, caramelized cumin and decomposing mosses and herbs. This scent conjures imagery from a 17th-century oil painting steeped in alchemical knowledge and symbolism and ancient traditions mingling science, philosophy, faith, and artistic spirit:

“A shadowy scenario unfolds as a lone wax candle burns deep into the night. Various lenses and prisms refract the faint glow of the flickering flame to vaguely illuminate a crude, darkened laboratory, whereupon an oaken table, dusty flasks precariously balanced, bubble with a disquieting phosphorescence and engines of distillation chug and clank murkily nearby. Brittle scrolls and yellowed manuscripts, embellished with colorful emblems and arcane symbols scribbled hastily in the margins, are scattered haphazardly on a dirt floor to further illustrate this scene of curious chemical phenomena and scholarly chaos. A wan, stocking-footed man with a funny cap alternately pores pensively over massive tomes or perhaps pumps a small bellow to encourage a sullen, smoking fire, while lost in analytical reverie.”

Yes, this is what Grimoire smells like. Yes, I did just quote a passage from The Art of the Occult, a book that I wrote. Is that tacky to mention? Maybe. Is it relevant? Entirely!

Safanad from Parfums de Marly. Oh my goodness. Never, ever has a fragrance before elicited such an immediate response from me of “holy moly, this is what I imagine so-n-so smells like!” Safanad is a rich, velvety amber, projecting an opulence amplified by orange blossom’s bewitching florals and jasmine’s heady musk, which always seems to me both elegantly amorous but also offers an animalic eroticism. This is a fragrance that seems at first vexingly overbearing and almost outrageously assertive but the better you get to know it the more you appreciate its sumptuous exuberance and enthusiasm. And of course, I am envisioning none other than everyone’s favorite flamboyant and glittering space aunt, Lwaxana Troi: daughter of the Fifth House, holder of the Sacred Chalice of Rixx, and heir to the Holy Rings of Betazed. And much like this character, Safanad at first seems too much, nearly suffocating in its madcap glamour, but underneath its gorgeousness runs a deeply woven thread of melancholy, obscured for a time by orange blossom’s more hypnotizing facade but which, in fact, masks some really somber, sorrowful facets. Both Safanad and our beloved Betazoid galactic life coach Lwaxana are complex, compelling, and thoroughly beautiful.

I don’t dare read any other reviews of Chanel no. 19, because I’m almost certain that everything that can be said or written about it already has been explored at length. It’s an endeavor both frustrating and intimidating. But then I have to remind myself that I don’t have to be an expert or a guru or ensconced in academia or have years of scholarship under my belt in order to share my thoughts on something so profoundly subjective as fragrance. You Don’t Have To Know Everything About Something In Order To Love Something. I’m not delving into the history of a scent or a house or a nose, I’m not deconstructing the notes and the ingredients; I have absolutely no interest in that, and quite frankly, you can find that elsewhere. I’m just trying to tell you what I think something smells like. So. I’ll tell you that I adore this scent. Intensely sharp and dry and green, with the earthy, rootsy powderiness of iris, the acrid verdancy of galbanum, and vetiver’s leathery grassy woodiness, and that sour metallic tang and bitter effervescence that I always attribute to old costume jewelry; note-wise, I’m not sure where that comes from, but it seems to be a hallmark of these classic fragrances. And it subverts that refined elegance with a punky funk that elevates it to something that feels timeless as opposed to a bit stodgy. The marvel of this scent is its gloomy luminosity, how it’s both austere and achingly tender at the same time. It makes me feel a deep nostalgia and melancholic longing for something that never was, for a past I never lived.

If I’m choosing complimentary samples or maybe I am placing an order comprised solely of samples, I will look at the new arrivals and go for whatever sounds the witchiest, or alternately, the weirdest. I ask myself” “would Stevie Nicks wear this? Would Morbidda Destiny wear it? Would Barbara Steele scent herself with it in Black Sunday or Curse of the Crimson Altar or basically any role she’s ever played? If so, let’s grab it. And this is how I ended up with Betwixt and Between by Anka Kus. My version of judging a book by its cover and throwing it the cart without even reading the synopsis or author blurbs on the back. Sometimes it works out. This is one of the times it does not. Sniffed right from the vial it is immediately a syrupy fruity-rose, which is strange because I don’t think there is anything vaguely fruity listed in the notes, but there is amber, and sometimes that’s how amber’s rich sweetness comes across to me. For a few moments it settles down and there is a musky veil of smoke that is absolutely gorgeous. It’s not a sooty, burning smoke, it’s more the aura of smoke, maybe a room where incense is frequently lit, although there is none burning at present.

And then-betrayal! The fruit is back! This is an intensely jammy candied rose, squeezed from fresh fruit juice and pulp, heated and stirred with mounds of sugar and honey, and then cooled in little hand-crafted, flower-shaped molds until what you have are little fruit jellies, vivid nibbles of blackcurrant and pomegranate and lush summer roses. Hours later, those wily fruits were never there at all and it’s just that ghostly cashmere smoke again. I don’t care for this scent, as I am almost irrationally anti-fruit, but I know that some of you will really enjoy it, and I can’t help but to think it would make a lovely Valentine’s Day fragrance.

The first few times I tried Süleyman Le Magnifique from Fort & Manle, I couldn’t figure it out, but for whatever reason, today it feels different. This is a dispassionate cool, woody floral incense. An ornate, centuries-old chest with polished wrought iron embellishments, once brimming with rare woods, precious flowers, and sacred resins, but which has slowly emptied over the years. It is a vessel which now holds but the barest perfumed memory of its past riches, alongside the bitter, vanillic fragrance of the aged container itself, and a thin scrap of parchment, a fragment of poem; not of youthful frenzied hearts and fevered love, but a sober observation from one who has been around the block and seen some things– and has something to say about it. Perhaps in the vein of these lines from Sappho’s tablets:

Death is an evil.
That’s what the gods must think.
Or surely they would die.

Süleyman Le Magnifique is the scent of your collected wisdom and experiences– and having lost some parts of yourself in the process of gathering. Some of those pieces you lost were hope. But many of them were fear. And if you want to give the gods a piece of your mind, this is the perfume to reach for before fearlessly airing your grievances.

I don’t want to get into the actual notes or the perfumer’s inspiration for After Every Ounce of Joy (Leaves My Body); he mentions on the site that he hides the notes in a separate link so as not to overly influence the collectors and enthusiasts who are smelling it. Out of respect for those sentiments, I will keep mum on those points and just share my experience with it …which has become one of profound obsession. Initially what I smell is an overwhelmingly acrid note, like burning rubber, but more tarry than smoky, or maybe new vinyl siding. It’s leathery and vaguely animalic and it also somehow reminds me of cold, dry air. After about 15-20 minutes, a warm, sweet skin musk emerges and it’s at this moment that I cannot stop huffing my wrist because it’s so elusive and secretive. And underneath that, there’s something even more magical, a powdery, balsamic floral-herb that I can’t put a name to, and it seems like something you might only encounter in a dream. It’s so far removed from that initial whiff of melting plastic but at the same time this whole delicious skin scent is still enrobed in a transparent PVC shower curtain, which sounds a little morbid in a Laura Palmer way, but you can’t pretend it’s not there. But like I said, I am obsessed. And Chris Rusak is a genius.

Vanilla Vibes from Juliette Has A Gun, you had one job. For a fragrance with vanilla right there in the name, there is a shocking lack of it in the execution. Instead, it is a humdrum aquatic, with a sour, salty marine aspect and the barest whisper of sandy musk. I hate to use the word “boring” because that’s more of a judgment than a description, but I think in this case it’s perfectly warranted. I mean if this were a person, it wouldn’t even have a face. As a matter of fact, this is that same faceless person in a 50-year-old mermaid suit at Weeki Watchee barely submerged underwater and doing a terrible job entertaining children, and they’re actually so bored themselves they are texting on their phones instead of swimming and if you look closely you can see their toes poking through one of their fins. And you know what else? They smell nothing like vanilla at all.

I am swooning after sampling Sweetly Known from Kerosene. I’m neither a fan of sweet treats or sweet fragrances, but as it happens my current favorite sweet stink is also from the creators at Kerosene, and it’s a coconutty-pina colada- Biscoff masterpiece called Unknown Pleasures. So I’m not surprised that I like this one, too. They seem to be able to handle sweetness with nuance and complexity and make it interesting, rather than cloying or childish. Sweetly Known incorporates notes of Cardamom, Cocoa, and other confectionery notes alongside musk and it smells like a miniature bundt-shaped small French pastry flavored with rum and vanilla, offering a softly milky, tender custardy center and a dark, crackling caramelized crust. There’s also a smoky, dusty note that makes it feel like you’re burning the incense or smudge stick version of this dessert and elevates what might be a sugary experience to something absolutely sublime.

As a long-time anime and manga fan, I was of course never not going to be drawn in by the reference to Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell, a stylish and strange cyberpunk neo-noir in which exists a world wherein people merge with machines, and boasts an iconic storyline that asks consciousness-expanding questions and examines what makes us fundamentally human. Notions of philosophical inquiry aside, The Ghost in the Shell from Etat Libre d’Orange is a confused, chaotic concoction that makes you think someone fed a bunch of molecules to an AI and tasked it with creating a perfume. There’s a head-scratchingly metallic green floral note, a synthetic fruit that winks in and out of existence–a sort of speculative lactonic peach– and a plastic, prosthetic musk alongside a pungent, bittersweet note that veers between cumin’s weird, woody funk and a rotten belly button infection. And sure you can be grossed out by that, but we’ve all got human bodies and they all occasionally do stinky human things, so simmer down. Lazy people who have ever gotten their navel pierced are intimately familiar with this aroma.

The funny thing is, it’s possible that I like Ghost in the Shell and its reality-warping, neon city, mechanical-limbed artificial absurdity. When it works, it’s a really playful and unique skin scent. When it doesn’t, it’s a cyborg with digitized BO. But I’m not sure I’d take my chances with the purchase of a full bottle, let alone a bespoke upload of it directly to my olfactory cortex.

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Outremer’s Vanille is a profoundly vanilla-y vanilla. It’s nearly a straight-up, high-quality, really lovely vanilla extract, with a rich, balsamic, warmth, and some pleasant plastic butteriness. A little lump of vanilla waffle cone incense stored in an empty tub of vanilla frosting. There aren’t any weird twists or turns, it’s a fairly linear scent from to finish. I think this is the first thing I would recommend to a vanilla fiend who doesn’t want any funny business with their vanilla fragrance.

So, Synthetic Jungle: Imagine a rain-soaked stroll, grey streets, grey sidewalks, grey, colorless people. A flash from the corner of your eye, a vibrant raincoat with an unexpected print featuring the lush, layered exuberance and verdant cacophony of the imaginary jungles of artist Henri Rousseau, an artist who had never left France to see real jungles. His inspiration came from Paris’ botanical gardens, zoological galleries, and from geographic illustrations in prints and books. This is dizzying descent of a scent, an aromatic Stendahl Syndrome, conjured by someone who fully knows this jungle sprung forth from the depths of dreams. It is a clashing, chaotic chypre and white floral canvas, aswirl with sharp, woody oakmoss and the crisp springiness of lily of the valley and the intense, acrid greenery of galbanum. Wrapped in a plastic rain slicker and rubber wellies.

Stella from Tocca is a fragrance that I have probably received about a million samples of over the years and which I have been strangely resistant to trying. I was convinced that it was going to be a really boring, conventional sort of scent, though I’m not really sure what I was basing that on. Probably because the majority of these samples came from Sephora, and on the interesting-o-meter, most perfumes from there score pretty low for me. Stella…is not necessarily bland or boring, but I will say it’s not my thing. It’s very pretty, in a starter-scent way. I don’t mean for young people, necessarily, but I don’t not mean them, either. Maybe just for someone who doesn’t yet know what they like. A sparkling fruity-floral with notes of milky peach Calpico and blood orange San Pellegrino and watery freesia that dries down to the scent of what I recall teenage girls spritzing in the bathroom between classes to freshen up, a sort of citrusy-powdery-soapiness. Before it reaches that point though, it’s got this soft, shimmering watercolor quality that reminds me of certain pieces of contemporary fantasy art: flowers and fairies and young maidens and probably a unicorn just outside the canvas, yet to be coaxed forth by an innocent and guileless hand.

Gris Charnel from BDK Parfums is a scent that I find confusing and disappointing. Mostly, I think I am disappointed in myself, for not having read the perfumer’s inspiration for the fragrance. Some dribble about two tourists whose glances cross paths, they dance until dawn and then slip away for an intimate encounter. Yawn. I got bored and checked out several times just now while trying to sum that up. Now if they slid through a portal into an Edward Allan Poe story while they were making out in a dark alley, then I could forgive myself for getting thrillingly suckered in by the copy (and to a lesser extent, the darkly poetic name, which I feel somehow tricked me into thinking it was something that it was not.) It must have been the notes I was excited for then, which mention black tea, fig, and cardamom essence. That sounds really lovely. But I’ve tried this several times and I don’t sense any of that loveliness. Instead, it’s a bit like a low-end tea sampler that includes selections with various unspecified “fruit flavors” but in reality, no matter which one you brew up, all they taste like hot Kool-Aid water. And there’s a weird, acrid smoky element that hovers unpleasantly, like charcoal heated air…so imagine smoking hot Kool-Aid water in your hookah. Even if I pretend an olde-timey goth poet was smoking that hookah, it’s still a bit of a dud.

Chris Rusak’s Beast Mode is a scent that I don’t hear a lot about from the hoi polloi, but I’ve heard enough from niche bloggers that I consider perfumista royalty to pique my interest. Exactly what I heard about it, I couldn’t tell you. I guess the name itself stuck with me. The site describes this fragrance as a “minimalist weirdo. A creature of deception. Perfume nerdery” and while I don’t actually know anything about this perfumer, I will say that this nondescription captured my imagination and which evolved into a little crush. The sort of obsession that you develop on someone you glimpsed on the subway reading a dog-eared copy of a book by your favorite author, in this case, let’s say creepy Japanese manga artist Junji Ito, and then you had a series of unsettling dreams about them, so you wrote an ode to this stranger in the local alternative paper’s missed connections section. And like Japan’s most successful and lauded horror author, Rusak has injected an extraordinarily potent amount of weirdness into this scent. Beginning with a mundane peek into the spice cabinet, you are subjected to a surreal descent into madness featuring fenugreek’s uncanny curried maple syrup-ness, a dry, itchy tingle of salty musk, an enigmatic spike of aniseed, and an oily conflagration of black pepper. I can’t make heads or tails of this scent, and as a matter of fact, I like to imagine it as a many-headed, rattle-tailed beast, much like its very name. It’s truly one of the most eccentric and singular fragrances I have ever sniffed and I stand in admiration of its sublime strangeness.

I have had so many people ask me about Thin Wild Mercury over the past year that I was starting to think I had been living under a rock or something and somehow some long-standing beloved cult favorite had passed me by. I don’t like to be the last to hear about something good! But here I am and here we are. So I understand this is a line of fragrances telling aromatic fables of the iconic spirit of Los Angeles. I know very little of Los Angeles, other than I traveled there once, and during that time I visited an incredibly bizarre and disturbing cat sanctuary in the middle of the desert. I also had a nervous breakdown in an Air BnB. Believe it or not, those two situations were entirely unrelated. So, Chateau, 1970. A bastion of old Hollywood and notorious celebrity hideaway, this olfactory ode to the Chateau Marmont mentions wilting roses, crisp linens, and vintage wood furniture and I do think all of that comes across. It’s an incredibly languid scent, like Lana del Rey in front of her vanity singing in a sleepy, drunken drawl into her mirror about how her moon is in Leo and her Cancer is sun, which if you ask me is a very weird way to phrase that thought. There’s dreamy indolence to this scent, moments frozen in time, captured in a Polaroid picture, dust motes floating forever above a lone rose in a chipped vase just beyond the mirror’s cloudy reflection, never settling on the bloom. A powdery musk of memory of a night that never really ended, a faded photograph that belongs to no one anymore, wrapped in tattered linen and quietly slipped under a shabby fringe of carpet in a shadowed corner of an old bungalow. 

I have some more brief impressions of Thin Wild Mercury’s offerings. And strangely, they’re all food metaphors and comparisons. Classic Taurus vibes, here, always! Whisky, 1969 is a heady combination of woody, musky oakmoss and a smoky sort of umami. Like …spiced loamy lichen wildness and leather and soy sauce that’s also a little nutty and boozy. It’s weird but it works. Laurel Canyon, 1966 with its zesty orange rind and warm, peppery clove and honeyed, almost chewy amber note is on the opposite end of the spectrum, a bit like a spice cake with a thin, sugared citrus glaze. Zuma, 1975 is a salty, grassy, sandy gremolata with bitter citrus and woody herbs served atop some fresh-caught marine delight just outside the sniffing range of this scent. I’m not saying it’s fishy, or seafoody or even …foody, but there’s definitely a sense of an almost palatable salinity

I’ve received so many samples of Andrea Maack’s Coven from Luckyscent over the years and for some reason I can’t recall any of my previous thoughts on it….which I interpret to mean that it never really impressed me as especially good or bad. This time, however, it’s really left an impression. With notes of soil and moss, Coven is meant to embody a shadowy woodland walk, and I think it’s clear the results are pretty divisive. One reviewer notes, and I am paraphrasing here, that it smells like dumpster juice. My own partner thinks it smells like an exploded car battery. I can’t deny that there is a sickly sweet rot at play here, like the dark shadows of Dol Guldur slowly encroaching the Greenwood forest as the feral wizard Radagast the Brown watches in horror while the vegetation blackens and decays before his eyes and many of his beloved animal friends are sick or dying. As it dries, the whiskey becomes apparent, and a strange, sour cumin note emerges to combine with the mossiness and the sense of black mold and mildew and it conjures a sort of hungover Witch-King of Angmar, badly in need of a bath.

Tom Ford’s Ombre Leather is a fragrance I both weirdly like and I don’t like and I can’t make up my mind. The new car leather scent is front and center, like you literally just slid into the seat of some posh, luxury vehicle to take it for a test drive. The smarmy salesperson slithered into the passenger seat next to you and they are wearing that screechy-sweet jasmine scent from Tom Ford that you really despise and at first you want to roll down the windows but you can’t figure out how they work so you just give up. But somehow the syrupy musk of the jasmine alongside the smooth, slightly bright, slightly animalic leather is a striking combination. But the two notes never really meld, they sit separately for the duration of the scent’s journey, and much like that trip twice around the car lot with the stranger that you’re not going to buy the car from anyway, it’s ultimately an awkward ride.

Mizensir’s Celebes Wood is a scent I love, but I think I love it more for someone else. This is a frou-frou boozy woodland party of a fragrance. A dozen rowdy princesses gather in the forest at midnight, all glitter and glamour and flowing hair and dazzling tiaras and ballgown pockets stuffed with cakes and confections and clutching jeweled flasks of sweet, strong liqueurs that cost half a kingdom to procure. There’s gossip and gifts and drinking and dancing and sweet kisses and secrets under the moonlight. And these princesses aren’t sleepwalking or under a spell, they’re alert and more alive than they’ve ever been, women with agency and autonomy and a vision for the future that will shake the very foundations of their world, because it doesn’t involve pleasing parents or marrying princes or making themselves or their dreams small or hiding their hearts’ truest songs. So…yeah. That kind of party. This is a sumptuous ambery scent, opening with a sweet, spiced swirling of almost effervescent sparks, like someone tossed cinnamon and cardamom on a flame, and when the embers die there is a deep, rich heart of tonka bean and resinous labdanum and something a lot like patchouli, but creamier, and less earthy. It’s beautiful and on the right person it could be devastating, but somehow it’s not me.

Dragonfly from Zoologist is a scent that apparently I’ve been sampling for so long I’m left with only fumes. But I’m not sure that I need a full bottle. I don’t own many scents like this…which is not to say it’s incredibly unique, because I’m not sure that’s the case. It’s a sort of gentle, watery floral musk with cherry blossom and peony and sweet, powdery heliotrope. While it’s nice, it’s quite pretty even, I’d definitely put it in the aquatic category… and I don’t love aquatics. Even one as wearable as this. I guess that’s what I mean when I say that I don’t have many like it. I’m sure there are lots of things that smell similar, I just couldn’t tell you what they are because I don’t wear or typically even sample them! I’ve read that dragonflies thrive in fresh, clean water and I think there is something of that purity that comes across in this scent. Purity is such a fraught term and so I hesitate to even use it, but that is the first word that comes to mind, and honestly, now that I have said that, you know who I can imagine wearing this scent? The brave and ridiculously sweet Laura Lee from Yellowjackets. This scent is perfect for this character. [Note in including the link just now, I realize that they have reformulated the fragrance. This review is for the original formulation.]

Maya from Tocca is a scent that I bought on a whim a few months ago when I was grabbing a few travel-sized scents from Sephora. Tocca scents generally don’t work for me and this one is no exception. They are all, or at least the one I’ve tried, these ridiculous fruity-florals that remind me of somehow of Edible Arrangement fruit bouquets. I don’t care for fruity florals but I don’t think this is a bad version of one. With top notes of black currant, violet leaf, and some underlying jasmine and rose, it’s a bombastic burst of jammy, patchouli-cloaked fruit, and musky florals, and it was driving me nuts because it reminds me so much of a scent that I used to wear in my late teens, when I first started taking classes at community college. The reason I remember this is because our cat peed on my bookbag and I tried to cover it up with this particular fragrance and 15 minutes into class I realized with a sinking heart that my solution was not working, so I gathered up my stuff and left and was too embarrassed to ever return. That scent was Tribu by Bennetton. I just checked the scent notes and it also lists black currant and violet leaf, jasmine, and rose. It does not of course list cat pee from one Leroy Parnell, our Siamese cat at the time, but in my memory Tribu and screechy, skanky cat piss are inextricably linked. Maya does not share that aspect with it. It’s just a run-of-the-mill fruity-floral. It’s fine. A touch of cat pee might make it more interesting, though.

Megamare from Orto Parisi is an absolute Atlantean kaiju of a fragrance. A massive, mysterious sea beast, a preternatural creature of divine power, wrapped in radioactive seaweed, rises from the unfathomable depths of an otherworldly ocean trench to surface in the middle of a typhoon. Tsunamis wreak havoc around the globe, saltwater instantaneously soaks every surface, a strange cloud of mossy musk forms, algae blooms, visibility drops to zero within seconds. At the vortex of this calamity is MEGAMARE, a gentle creature cursed with a hulking stature and an immensely briny, brackish odor that can be detected from other planets, other dimensions. It takes in the citizens of the world in a sweeping glance of its kaleidoscopic cyclopean eye and thinks “fucking hell, these humans are garbage” and disappears into the abyss never to be seen again. But its unearthly DNA changed the very essence of the seawater, and from every place a drop fell that day, a strange aromatic blossom appeared. And so history will never forget the vast flowering of judgment, the day of Megamare.

Baccarat Rouge 540 from Maison Francis Kurkdjian is a fragrance that no one ever talks about and that certainly no one’s ever heard of. That’s sarcasm. But I have to pretend that this is a thing that has flown under the radar, or else I’m going to have a hard time reviewing it. I mean how do you talk about a scent like this without saying the same thing a zillion other people have already said? (See that’s a thing about me. You can like my writing. You can love it. You can absolutely despise it. All of those are fine with me. What is *not* fine is when someone says that I sound exactly like someone else. That’s what makes me mad and sad and actually hate myself a little.) What *is* fine, sometimes, is smelling like someone else. Maybe a zillion other someones. This is one of those times. Baccarat Rouge 540 is not a heavy scent, it’s not especially complex or nuanced, and there’s not much in the way of projection. It’s not a masterpiece. It’s not especially unique. Sometimes you don’t want those things, though. You don’t want a weird, challenging, avant-garde artsy scent. Sometimes you want to put on a soft, cozy sweater that has a vague hint of a perfume that you wore last week still clinging to the fuzzed-out neckline. A caramelized spun sugar candy floss half-remembered dream of a scent, with a creamy-clean core of barely detectable cedar and a halo of glimmering jasmine fairy dust. That’s Baccarat Rouge 540. It’s hardly there and there’s not a lot to it. It’s a thoroughly enchanting, and outrageously expensive skin scent, But… it’s good. And sometimes that is good enough.

Zoologist’s Chipmunk is a chipmunk who is a CEO of some mega-corporation that’s actually a front for some shadowy organization that has been around for centuries and whose fanatical leadership is trying to open up a portal to another world and bring forth a demon god whose emergence on earth will usher in the end times. By which I mean it’s a cool, woodsy forest breeze, and something that smells earthy and dry, like the metallic tang of cold rocks, and of the nocturnal furry musk of creatures you wouldn’t want to meet in the dark. There’s nothing warm or sweet or cute or chipmunk-cheeked about it. It smells…ominous, somehow.  These are oddly hollow woods, cursed groves, silent and strange, wherein a twitchy-tailed, beady-eyed, rodent cyborg chipmunk is conducting a mandatory board meeting of imminent doom.

October’s Table from Hexennacht is a collaboration with Alyssa Thorne photography and inspired by a piece of moody floral photography of the same name. From the notes listed, what I immediately pick out is the smoked vanilla and caramelized marshmallow, autumnal spices, kindling branches in the form of a sort of apple-y wood, and soft, honied beeswax, which they note is vegan. This is every bit as lovely and cozy and warm as you would expect, there’s the most interesting and delightful aspect of it that I can’t match to any note, but there’s an underlying something that skews it slightly off. Sitting near a chilled window late in the evening as freezing rain ices the streets outside. The lamp casts a soft glow, you’re wrapped in shawls and blankets, you’ve got a steaming mug of something strong and sweet, and a treasured collection of ghost stories in your lap. You’re ensconced in the comfort and safety of your lovely home…and yet. The wind moans softly through the trees, rattling the branches, skittering their skeletal wooden bones across the roof, like clacking dominoes of the dead. The lights buzz and flicker intermittently, and each time they dim, the shadows in the room lengthen and darken and grow. You realize with a feverish swoon and a start that you’ve been holding your breath and your heart is pounding furiously. In between each throb and thrumming beat is where the haunting riddle of this scent lies.

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A respite from winter’s darkness, with the celebratory twinkles and warm glowing wonders of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s annual Yule collection! See below for my thoughts on some of these lovely, comforting fragrances.

Hildegard’s Cakes of Joy (spelt, nutmeg, clove, and a dollop of honey) I’ve long loved me some Hildie and was super jazzed to see Atlas Obscura post a recipe this past autumn for her “cookies of joy.” I then recalled that I actually own a book of her recipes and remedies and when I peeked inside, sure enough–there’s the recipe! So of course, now that I’ve got the instructions along with an inspirational scent, I think she’s giving me all the signs that I need to make these cookies. The scent itself is that of grainy, honeyed sweetness and it did indeed bring a joyful smile to my face. I’m usually not a fan of nutmeg (I suspect it is harvested from the underside of the devil’s dingleberries) but the spices in this fragrance are so smoothly measured and sifted that I can’t even pick it out. And what began as a rich, baked kitchen scent is eventually suffused with light and radiant warmth, it’s like a stained glass dream of a cookie. As you can see, I did actually make the cookies and quite frankly, they are the best cookies I have ever had in my life.

Pssst…need more Hildegard von Bingen smells in your life? BPAL also offers The Choirs of Angels as part of their Ars Inspiratio collection inspired by works in The Art of the Occult!

The Garden of Shut-Eye Town (lavender twined with passionflower, breeze-touched sways of wisteria, lemon balm, cowslip, poppy, and star-sparkles of chamomile) Every time I sniff this I get something different and then everything I thought I smelled begins to go fractured and unfamiliar. At first, it’s a sort of spiced lavender, but not spices, exactly, more like a well-seasoned salty, peppered lavender. But I also get a soft floral coconutty apricot something-something from it? And also a lemony-ozone musk? There’s a lot going on in Shut Eye Town and it’s all so varied and interesting, I wonder if anyone gets any actual shut-eye. A line from a book I just read has been stuck in my mind recently, “the nest of a hummingbird, high in a hemlock.” For some reason this scent conjures that vision for me.

Gingerbread, Vetiver, and Black Tea at first I thought this was a slice of soft ginger cake and lemony black tea, but the more this wears it becomes a gingery-peppery pfeffernusse cookie with an iced lemon glaze.

Crystal Gazers (white musk and yellow frankincense, black plum, neroli, verbena, and green cognac) A crystalline, sparkling fruity-floral, that dries down to a soft creamy almond musk.

 

Violet Fog (orris root and white sandalwood bruised by violet petals, champaca attar, and smoked lavender) So, weird story! In early December I posted a photo on Facebook of a cocktail I had created one evening, consisting of the following recipe that I had just made up to go with a new gin I was trying: “Measure with your heart: gin, orgeat, lime, crème de violette, sparkling water, butterfly pea flower tea.” It was lovely and tasty and I christened it a “Violet Fog”. I had no idea that there was soon to be a Violet Fog in the Yule update! Synchronous serendipity through the psychosphere!

Violet Fog the fragrance smells of crushed candied violets, starry midnight ozone, musky darkness, and going in an entirely different direction, here’s a thought. One of my favorite books of poetry is The Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan; I feel like Violet Fog is the base from which many of these poems could be aromatically interpreted. There’s something of late-night longing and loneliness wrapped up in this combination of notes that perfectly evokes the sadness and solitude of these poets’ writings.

Sugar Cookies with Extra Sugar there are no notes listed for this one, only that “this perfume is ridiculous, ” and if by that they mean “this perfume is ridiculously incredible” then, ok, I absolutely believe that. In the bottle, it’s a Royal Dansk Danish butter cookie (a combination of the piped vanilla ring and the heavily sugared pretzel-shaped one) but as it wears, it’s less buttery baked good and more a sublime candied vanilla musk. With sprinkles! Sugar Cookie Satyr is a crumbled tin of those cookies combined with feral, virile, earthy musk and ALL of the aphrodisiac after-dark spicy-spices and formed into inappropriate shapes with highly NSFW cake pop molds.

Scientific, Occult, and Inexplicable (The bronze, brass, iron, glass and polished wood of Victorian scientific instruments obfuscated by a swirl of incense and a spatter of ectoplasm) A sense of detached antiquarian speculation that is somehow minty/mentholated-adjacent without any actual mintiness, cool and frosted, with an unsettling metallic tang and an added undertone of unease. This is a scent that causes a weird, unsettling feeling, almost like the olfactory equivalent of infrasound, frequencies so low that they’re inaudible to humans, and which can cause symptoms of uneasiness, fear, and chills down the spine…and which are sometimes linked to perceived paranormal experiences!

Gingerbread Limoncello Is somehow magically dense and chewy AND fluffy. Moist, light, and cakey old-fashioned gingerbread scented with warm spices and a kick of freshly grated ginger for contemporary palates and topped with both a sweet-tart lemon glaze AND velvety clouds of lemon cream cheese frosting.

Alischereshasa (an imp’s worth of Alice stuffed into a 5ml of Rakshasa plopped into Scheherazade’s mother bottle). In the spirit of turduckens and piecakens, the Blaps labbies have metaphorically stuffed imps into 5mls into motherbottles in order to make a series of absurd combinations. I get a lot of rich, fruity-resinous red musk and honied rose from this one, tempered by a milky sandalwood. A rosy-golden-hued fairytale of a fragrance. Separately, you know that invisible imp of the perverse who sits on your shoulder and tells you to do the thing that you know you shouldn’t do? Midwarkust (an imp’s worth of Darkness stuffed into a 5ml of Midway plopped into Lust‘s mother bottle) is an exuberant scent of candied devilry and jammy-juicy ambrosial wickedness and that’s exactly what this diminutive low-level trickster smells like.

Second Sight (lilac-dappled beeswax, champaca smoke, and agarwood) buttery, tangy ether; spreadable honeyed ectoplasm. Something like coconut oil and sour milk? But also a grassy vanilla. So different than I thought this might smell! I feel like this is some sort of precognitive coconut jam, rich and aromatic, and you want to slather it on warm toast, maybe a thick, sweet slice of Japanese milk bread.

Sugarplum Snow White There is definitely a part one and a part two to this scent. It opens with a deep plummy-fruitiness that’s also somehow a bit aquatic. Sort of a saucer of candied plum compote floating in the clear, blue depths of a fountain. End scene. With no preamble, Snow White’s subtly sweet, creamy iced rice milk is present, just a small, simple glass of it with the tiniest dollop of whipped cream on top. No sign of plums or fruit. This really is like two very separate, scents in one! Sugar Plum Snake Oil is quite the opposite in that there is an immediate melding of the glittering Queen of the Kingdom of Sweets with that heady vanilla musk and it evolves into an enchanting spun-sugar-shard incense.

The Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab Yule collection of midwinter perfumes are currently live and available for purchase. As this is a limited edition series, sample sizes imps are not available for Yule 2022.

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Before the year ends, I thought I’d share one last perfume post! Below are reviews of a few of the things I have been sniffing lately…

In Frederic Malle’s Musc Ravageur there’s a strange, sullen plastic note wrapped around a dark, animalic vanilla that doesn’t care what anyone thinks and laughs at its own jokes and sometimes it laughs so hard it pees itself a little, and yeah, you can actually smell that aspect of Musc Ravageur too, in the form of an almost fermented amber note. It’s both rich and sour in an offbeat way that borders on off-putting…but for all that, it’s not a terribly complicated scent. I think we might consider this a perfume that is hard to get to know, but easy to love. Do I relate to this scent a little too deeply? You could say that, sure.

Tenebrae from L’Artisan’s Natura Fabularis line which I believe is meant to conjure association of ancient forests and sap infused incense and all sorts of evergreen enchantments, but I’m not sure that the promise of those wild, wintry woodlands translate as such for me. Imagine peering at those shadowed and frost-tipped treetops through the glimmer of a crystalline orb;  a misty vision initially vaporous and shrouded, coalesces into startling clarity. Tenebrae is the fragrance anointing those liminal moments as they move from uncanny and indistinct to recognizable and unmistakable. The scent of letting your eyes become unfocused as you attempt to discern the pattern of things. And once you think you’ve got it, that you’ve zeroed in on it, that you’ve figured it out, you’ve lost it entirely–because that was never the point. Let slip the glass ball from your fingers, let it smash to the floor in shards. Gather them, crush them, devour them. The blood on your tongue reminds you what you took from the vision was wholly your own. You don’t need anyone to tell you what the forest smells like.
Ok, but really: cedary woods and thorns and brambles and the not-greenness and possibly not-quite-wholesomeness of small green berries overlooked by winter birds, and all of the versions of fairytales you’ve pieced together in your imagination to construct what a grand forest must look like, and then you grew up and threw those dreams in the river, but retrieved them later in your cronage and burned them as a sort of frizzled and foggy incense.)

Poudre de Musc from Parfums de Nicolai is all shimmering, gossamer aldehydes and soft, musky rose, and a gorgeous arrangement of sandalwood and orange blossom that a particularly artsy florist composed. It lights up a room with scintillating conversation, it’s both lively and restrained, people would invite it to parties and no one would ever give it funny looks or call it “extra,” or say, “,man you were acting weird last night.” Mothers-in-law would love it. It would never ever forget its mother-in-law’s birthday, as a matter of fact, it probably calls its mother-in-law once a week to say hello. Objectively, it is beautiful. It’s perfect on paper. But it makes me feel awful about myself because those attributes are all of the things I am not.

Fleurs d’Oranger from Serge Lutens is everything lush and lovely and radiant about a little bottle of orange blossom water, right up until the time I add it to a cold drink or a confection, thinking how exquisite it will taste and then realizing, uggghh… this literally tastes like a mouthful of perfume. Fleurs d’Oranger is the extreme version of that ill-fated swallow, all syrupy narcotic, summer damp, fleshy-musked florals, balmy honeyed jasmine, and tuberose, intensified by cumin’s bitter, polarizing pungency.I adore the scent of orange blossoms and enjoy this interpretation more than most. It’s heady and heavy-lidded and hypnotic whereas many others have a lighter, somewhat “clean” aura. I’m fairly certain that the deliciously cunning and charismatic Lady Sylvia Marsh, immortal priestess to an ancient snake god in Ken Russell’s trippy 1988 horror film the Lair of the White Worm, wears this exact scent and as she goes about her days, heartily seducing and eating men, looking fabulous, and enjoying herself tremendously.

I’ve been trying my sample of Squid on and off for the past year, hoping to find something different in it. It still does not wow me. But it’s not terrible, either. I’m typically really impressed with Zoologist’s myriad creations and from this scent I expected something that shares a kinship with the moody, murky, and mysterious nature of this creature, or at least the slithery and inky perceptions of it? But I’m finding it overall an oddly crisp aroma, like freshly snipped sweet green herbs, coupled with a vanilla salt aspect very similar to Tokyo Milk Dark’s Arsenic, and the added subtle floral zest of pink pepper. It’s pleasant enough, but it’s not terribly interesting, and it certainly doesn’t evoke the squidly wizard vibes of the label illustration. Now if that artful cephalopod depicted, say …an executive admin who gets you to sign an office birthday card? I could have tempered my expectations appropriately. This is less marine monstrosity from the deep and more Angela from The Office.

Burberry Hero is marketed as a men’s fragrance in a marvelously ridiculous advertisement with Adam Driver but I try not to think of perfume in terms of gender, so you won’t hear me discussing whether something smells masculine as opposed to feminine. Which I am sure that some people find frustrating and my response to that is “so what?” There’s better and more interesting and exciting ways to think about and talk about the art and application and aesthetics of fragrance than filtered through the construct of gender. Despite all that high-minded talk, I’m not sure that there is actually any sort of exciting way to talk about Hero.

I’m tempted to share my thoughts on the characteristics I find appealing in my platonic ideal of what a hero is supposed to be, but that’s just the thing, isn’t it? Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, and I believe (or at least after school specials and Saturday morning cartoons have taught me) that anyone is capable of rising to the occasion and performing a heroic feat. And maybe that’s the problem here; I feel like this composition while pleasant enough in a crisp-cedary-breeze way and a sunny-sweet-mild-citrus-slice-in-a-glass-of-sparkling-water way, is one of those scents that, in trying to appeal to everyone, becomes awfully bland and nondescript, lacking in any amount of charm or charisma.

I wore it for a few hours and what I am left with is a sour tannic powderiness, with a weirdly aquatic translucence. Like an Arnold Palmer powdered drink mix stirred in with too much water and poured over an excess of ice, and piped in through the vents of a day spa, I guess? This is a fragrance I would prefer as a scented dry shampoo or some form of quick refresh, so I can see it working in certain circumstances. Circumstances being you’re on autopilot and you want to put in the minimum amount of hygiene-related work but you also don’t want to be smelly, so admittedly the bar is really low for this situation. My main stumbling block here is that they went with Adam Driver to market this perfume to us …and I am inclined to imagine Adam Driver as more deliciously, overwhelmingly, bombastically stanky than the milquetoast reality of Hero. (The best thing about Hero is that it inspired THIS! My BGF made marvelously silly video!)

I am having an interesting moment with Bee from Ellis Brooklyn. Which is to say I don’t hate it. I almost even like it? This is strange because typically gourmand scents aren’t my thing. I want to smell like a mossy bog witch or bioluminescent flora on an alien planet, or mottled parchment poetry penned by a lovelorn bookbinder. And honey is such a weird note, with its aromas both attractive and repellent, that ambrosial golden syrupy floral note that eventually devolves to the pungence of a filthy feral flower urinal in the height of August. Bee is not a super realistic honey, which is fine with me, I don’t want realism in my perfume anyway. It’s a floofy, poofy vanilla and sandalwood marshmallow dusted liberally with dehydrated buckwheat honey and clover pollen and layered with this dark, balsamic rich woody rumminess that’s not quite rum and at all, and it took me a few days but I worked it out. At its heart, Bee conjured the sweet, full-bodied warmth and vaguely fruity tobacco notes of a hot cup of rooibos tea. I don’t often want to smell like this, and I don’t even like rooibos tea, so isn’t the sort of thing I could wear every day… but I think I can appreciate that it’s a really lovely offering that gives you something a little different than what you might expect from it.

The copy for The Bewitching Yasmine from Penhaligon’s Portrait collection is kind of silly in a Regency romance sort of way “Yasmine’s sights are set on London – and a suitable match. Her fragrance is a voluptuous affair: jasmine, incense, oud. A celebration of all that is gloriously sensual. Who could resist?” But the musky shadows of this deliriously poisonous confectionery fairy tale floral reads less like a novel of manners and more like a New Wave Czechoslovakian gothic drama through a slightly sleazy and heavily decadent 1970’s lens. And if in that word salad of melodrama you sussed that I am obliquely referring to a gloriously wicked character from the 1972 film Morgiana, then we are obviously besties. If you’re not keeping up, that’s okay, we’ll visit another point of reference. Imagine the vanilla-dusted amaretto-spiked jasmine and sassafras latte of Dior’s Hypnotic Poison and lock it in a psychedelic velvet carpet bag with oud’s bitter earthy fables, and the strange otherworldly poetry of cardamom incense. Bury the satchel for one hundred years in an abandoned cliffside cemetery, dig it up, air it out, and the resulting fragrance is The Bewitching Yasmine. Or, back to Morgiana–although the actress who played the jealous and vindictive Viktoria was singularly, splendidly perfect, and no one could ever replace her…imagine the divine tackiness of Peggy Bundy in that role? That is the very essence of Penhaligon’s The Bewitching Yasmine. This is a fragrance somehow both luxurious and trashy. What do we call the intersection of these things? Self-indulgent? Sinful? None of those really feels right. And there’s something not quite right about this scent, too–maybe that’s why it’s so much evocative fun.

Kenzo Flower is a scent that I’ve never quite understood the fascination with. It’s like someone took a chorus of iris and violet and rose and other cool powdery florals that one might think of as refined and restrained, delicate and graceful, and they said to these bashful blooms–”hey guys, can you tone it down a little? We’re trying to concentrate here!” And they kept toning it down and dialing it back until what is left is the faintest, barest echo of a scent. Kenzo Flower is the olfactory equivalent of white noise. Or walking away from a conversation and realizing that you don’t recall a word that was said…because the person talking to you was just that boring.

Tauer Perfumes’ L’Air du Désert Marocain is a fragrance I have been puzzling over for nearly fifteen years. When I first sampled it, I was very taken with vanillas and gourmands–which seems very unlike me now, but I guess my palate and preferences have changed quite a bit! I liked the sweeter end of the scent spectrum at that moment in time, and so this was much, much too dry for my tastes. Today it is still dry, at least, in the initial moments: a sandstorm of dusty woods and salty winds, swirling with cool, bitter spices and the earthiness of baked clay. Then, a crumbling, vaguely medicinal incense, a strangely smoky and herbaceous amber. And underneath, surfacing at odd intervals only to disappear and reappear as if some hallucinatory mirage, there is a strange sweetness reminiscent of honied rum, delicate white chocolate, and soft nougat studded with rich dried fruits. It is in this space, the me of 2006 inhales a deep, confectionary lungful and finally gets it. The me of today, wrapped in the hazy veil of this cult-favorite composition is finally impressed, too

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Still life with TBR stack, baby pompom chicken, and Weenies

As we ALL know, December is the most Weeniederful time of the year, right? Time being what it is, no one is gonna argue with me on this. And anyway, every day is Halloween over at Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab!

I received BPAL’s 2021 autumnal collection several weeks ago, but then I promptly had to embark on a series of travels, and have only recently returned, so here we are. And anyway, smells smell good whenever you smell them, so there is no problem here! Let’s get into it!

Pumpkinville (a sultry, sweet red musk blend with pumpkin spices and pumpkin pulp) Eye-wateringly indolic, sultry red musk, and a strange spirit of irreverent mischief that really does conjure forth the bottle art by the inimitable Becky Munich: the madcap marvels of a swishy-skirted pumpkin-headed, velvet-choker-that-keeps-their-gourd-on-their-neck-wearing friend who zooms up your driveway in a rickety hearse and a cloud of feral autumnal spice and cackles GET IN LOSER WE’RE GOING WEENIE-ING.

Pandemic Vanitas (fresh baked bread, takeout fries, raw cookie dough, and cotton-blend sweatpants) A salty crispness? But also some sort of chocolate-covered wafers thing? Some Little Debbie Treat? Holy childhood snacks that I never had so I stole them from classmates– this is a Nutty Buddy! This triggers some kind of memory, being packed away to day camp during the summer, and snacks in the afternoon between god’s eye yarn endeavors and popsicle stick craft projects and little hikes to make gravestone rubbings… and now that I am talking about it, wow day camp was wasted on little-me. I’m definitely more into the idea of it as an adult.

Skull With Shell, Books, and a Crumple of Blush-Pink and Night-Blue Silk (creamy yellowed paper, pink tuberose, star jasmine, and blue cypress with incense, eucalyptus leaf, and iridescent sap) Artisinal smoky ylang-ylang-esque, lemony, balsamic-minty cough lozenges! The sort that an apothecary ASMR YouTuber who pays great attention to details would keep on set. These little pastilles would be so unusually delicious that you want to scarf them down like candy, but she sternly looks you in the eye and tells the camera, “NON.”

Paisley Sheet Ghost (weedsmoke-infused white sandalwood, wild oakmoss, cannabis flower accord, hash resin accord, tonka bean, lavender bud, champaca flower, and tolu balsam) This is an alluring musky chypre or a chypre-y musk. Sophisticated and mysterious in the way that your mother’s sister with her flashing rings and her purple-tinted glasses and her swishing caftans always seemed. I’m a square, friends, and I can’t speak much to many of these notes because my only real experience with any of it is a weird evening with a very special brownie, but Paisley Sheet Ghost definitely calls to mind people who are way cooler than me doing things that I’m just not ready to experience. And inexplicably they’ve invited me somewhere, or offered me something, and because I’m too scared or weirded out I say no and then sort of fade into the the woodwork and wish I could die because I’m so embarrassed by my timidness and lack of gumption for new things and new experiences. At almost 45 years old, I am still like this. Plus I don’t like to smoke things. Wow. As always, come for the perfume reviews, stay for the TMI.

Mouse’s Long and Sad Pumpkin (vanilla-infused pumpkin, two ambers, sweet pea and white sandalwood) This is such a pretty scent. It’s vaguely floral and vaguely foody, but not enough of either to be overwhelming in the way that those combinations can sometimes be. The more I sniff it, the more I’m convinced that “pretty” is more apt than “beautiful”…because something beautiful can be a bit stupefying, too. This is a vanilla-specked marshmallow, the homemade sort that you cut into enormous, fluffy squares, dusted generously with powdered sugar, drizzled with dark, musky honey, and –okay, so imagine this–what if pumpkin pie seasoning came from the crumbled petals of the autumn blooms of the pumpkin spice flower? Such a blossom garnishes this confection.

Dead Leaves, Spruce Bough, and Ti Leaf a green tea scent with an extra elven oomph; these types of scents can have a sort of spa-like vibe, but in this instance, the soft, earthy decay of autumn leaves and the balsamic wintriness of the spruce whisks it away it to something different and unexpected.

Still Like With Dooting Skull (bourbon vanilla with wildflower honey, licorice root, coconut milk, and nutmeg) This is one of those scents that has a texture in my mind’s eye, a sort of milky jelly, not sticky or tacky, but like a really nice plumping serum that you might use as part of your nighttime skincare regimen. I think it’s that combination of the lactonic coconut milk and the delicate floral nectar sourness of the honey, combined with a slightly medicinal anise aspect of the licorice, its sharpness muted by the creaminess. It smells…”efficacious”…if that makes sense.

The Harvesters I don’t think this scent is part of the weenie release but there was a bottle of this nestled in with the others in this box o’stinks and it seems seasonally appropriate, so I’m going to include a review anyhow. A quick bit of research shows that this scent was a gift with purchase in 2013 (someone please correct me if I am wrong!) and the notes are “pear trees, boiled oats, and wine beside a ripe field of wheat waving under a late-summer sun.Before I even knew that though, when I was still trying to figure it out, my first thought was, “wow, this is the scent of a tasty jam sandwich snack!” Now that I’ve got a bit of context for it, I might further add that it’s toasted, fresh-baked bread with the addition of rolled and ground oats, and a gorgeous pear preserve that you made one solitary autumn weekend in November with just-harvested fruit (okay you harvested it from a gift basket, there are no pear trees around you, whatever!) stewed with red wine and a few broken cinnamon sticks. You were going to share a jar with a friend but you ended up eating it all yourself on slice after slice of steaming bread, warming your belly in the chill light of the afternoon.

Pumpkin-Scented Sticky Bat (sticky, lemony, and very pumpkiny) Lemon bars with olive oil and sea salt, fluffy lemon mousse, warm lemon pudding cake, lemon drop tart with a shortbread crust. All of these things at once! I really don’t like the word “yummy”, unless Terri Hatcher is saying it to Cathy Moriarty in Soapdish, but I will admit that its usage is entirely appropriate here.

Floral Sheet Ghost (strawberry-stained rose and peony with squished carnation and sugared pineapple) As a child who loved “all things floweredy” and who has carried that love into adulthood, I am okay with wearing all the florals in waking life, dreaming under them at night, and being garbed in them in my eternal afterlife, as well. Flowers 4ever, please! It would stand to reason, that this was the scent from the Freak In The Sheets collection for which I was most excited. I don’t get any florals from it, though…it smells just like a very specific Japanese candy the name for which I cannot recall, but a certain perfume swapper always used to include some in the packages they sent me. Pineapple, lychee, sweet-tart, sour-bright, syrupy deliciousness.

Dead Leaves on Houseplants The first sniff of this is quite deceptive, so I do hope you will stick around for what comes after because it’s pretty magical. The initial whiff is that of musty celery, a sort of watery, vegetal greenness. But it immediately becomes something bright and lemony, glossy-glowing-green and exuberant, sort of how you feel when you first bring a houseplant home, hope in your heart, swearing this time will be different! You’re not gonna kill this lil greenie no way, no how! This is a scent that calls to mind lists of why you should have green things growing in your house, how they improve the air quality, they raise the vibe, the aesthetic and acoustic benefits, whatever–this is what those emotional and visual improvements smell like in action.

Traditional Sheet Ghost (cool white cotton, marshmallow fluff, and lemony Oman frankincense) I had to check some reviews on this one, which I typically try not to do. I am easily influenced and if you tell me that you smell a specific thing, I might, too! But because my perception of Traditional Sheet Ghost was so unexpected, I just had to see what everyone else said! General consensus points to vanilla floofery, clean cotton sheets, and lemony breezes, but what I smell is a warm orchid-like note (which to my nose is also sort of an oaky vanilla) and …sandalwood? I have revisited this a handful of times and with every sniff it’s this soft, mellow, musky, malty, slightly-tipsy snuggie of a scent.

Dead Leaves and Molasses Pumpkin Cookies sweet loamy decay, browned butter AND pumpkin butter, and chewy, deliciously-spiced soft cookies. Nibbled on a midday forest ramble when the sun is low, the wind is still, and the path is eerily disappearing behind you. When searchers trek through the woods to locate you days later, there is only a sweet dusting of crumbs and maple leaves crunched underfoot where you had once stood.

Her Eyes Have Feasted on the Dead (bruise-purple violet and Spanish moss) This is a sun-bright, chipper, vivacious Rainbow Bright Pollyanna optimist with a secret burning goth black hole at their core! Blithe, beaming florals–I don’t smell violet exactly, but rather a plummy bouquet of glossy blossoms– with a little jumping spider living at the middle. “I am darkness!” they squeak joyously as they breathlessly enthuse about their serial killer obsession, their favorite horror movie, the time they left silken threads as tribute on Jim Morrison’s grave. “I am the wound and the knife! I am the vampire of my own heart!” they warble and bounce as they recite Baudelaire and let loose an adorable powdery fart!

Black Satin Sheet Ghost (black patchouli drenched in mate, clary sage, narcissus, and opium tar) Heady and opulent, the narcissus note smells to me like a creamy jasmine-like floral and pleasantly skanky; there’s a surprising streak of mint running through the scent that pairs interestingly with the earthy patchouli and the bitter astringency of the mate. It somehow all works in a really odd way, and it reminds me of those old ladies (or maybe it’s just the same old lady all the time?) who always show up on fashion blogs and interviews, the ones who have sharp, angular haircuts and big, round sunglasses and wear those white-striped Adidas track pants with, I don’t know, a silk floral Gucci shirt or something.

Ivy Twining Around Discarded Skull (incense, scorched brown sandalwood, drooping petals, noxious English ivy berries, and a tangle of leaves) Impossibly green incense, a smoldering cyan. The cool, creeping, verdant language of crawling greenery set alight, whispering soft variegated ashes skyward.

Innocent Souls Turned Carrion Birds (grey musk, grey sandalwood, and labdanum) This is a beautiful burnished and balsamic sticky-honied tobacco, with a peppery, sparkling citrus aspect that reminds me of voluptuous illustrations of jeweled autumn fruits. I almost want to say it’s gourmand-adjacent;while it’s rich, bordering on decadent, it’s not at all edible–the sort of gorgeousness that beckons from a window display or behind a glass counter and you think to yourself, “no, I could never eat that, it’s just too exquisite!”

Signum Crucis (rosehips, ambrette seed, leather, and mushroom) Ok, I gotta be honest here. I am reviewing this after the actual occurrence of one of my worst nightmares (I have a lot of those, but still. This one is pretty high on the list.) As an anxious, dysthymic people-pleaser this was the sort of thing that bunged all of my triggers and I am still in a state of high whateverness, my face on fire, my heart beating out of my chest, my body wanting to both barf and diarrhea, maybe also out of my ears. I am very keyed up and don’t know what I am smelling, let alone what I am thinking. BUT! As an experiment, I am reviewing this scent as I am all spiked up on adrenaline and then I will come back a few hours later and see if there is any difference. Right now it’s an ashy floral, sort of like flaming blossoms of petaled confetti, fizzling in a misty drizzle. Not fresh roses…not quite incendiary…but maybe a dusty bouquet, post-immolation, a little damp and singed and sheepish. Later it has a subtle, woody aroma, along with a note something very much like dry fall leaves. I don’t spend a lot of time sniffing mushrooms, but this feels like a scent that if I were a Little, or a Borrower or Arietty, and one of my soft, earthy fungi-friends gave me a hug? It might smell just like this. At this point, it’s actually a very comforting sniff and it’s making me feel better? Okay then!

The Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab Every Day Is Halloween 2021 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, over at Haute Macabre 2020 // 2019 // 2018 // 2017

New to the massive, immersive aromatic world of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab? You may want to check out my three-part guide with tips and pointers for getting started on your weird, wild fragrant journey!

Getting started with BPAL: Part One // Part Two // Part Three

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Ok, so maybe this is less 31 Days of Horror and more 31 Days of Halloween or 31 Days of October People Shit, but I thought it might be fun to share a handful of my favorite autumnal fragrances. For surrealist witches and bog witches, goblincore mushroom queens, and midnight bonfire revelries!

@crustyoldmummyMidnight Stinks: autumnal favorites. ##perfumetiktok ##perfume ##autumnaesthetic ##goblincore ##witchesoftiktok ##fragrance ##perfumereview♬ original sound – S. Elizabeth

For the most part, all of the scents that I reference in the above TikTok video are perfumes that I have already reviewed, and the video is really just a quickie run-through of those thoughts. I’ve copied those past reviews below, if you want to know more!

I love that Etat Libre d’Orange’s Like This, which was inspired by the unearthly and surreal Tilda Swinton and her idea of a magic potion that smelled like the familiar grace of home. Greenhouses and kitchens and gardens and intriguing notes like yellow mandarin, pumpkin accord, Moroccan neroli, and heliotrope. I don’t know if I was influenced by the copy, but: the connection of magic potions and kitchens, along with the initial hit of citrusy-ginger, fizzing and spiced as if glowing in cauldron, summoned for me the transcendent, transgressive art of Leonora Carrington’s paintings of kitchens as magically charged spaces, as conjured through her singular and visionary filter. Floral, honeyed tobacco, an earthy spring greenness, and gentle musks bubble and brew alongside those first bright and zingy notes and the end result is a joyous creation that feels both celebratory and sacred.

November in the Temperate Deciduous Forest from For Strange Women is a scent I have worn for years and years and I am only just now attempting to review it. This is the aroma of a mushroom queen surveying their loamy domain on a cool, rainy morning. A soft green fern tickles your gills as your mycelial threads in turn wave at the worms moving through the rich earth beneath you; the ground mist rises through the dense forest canopy as cool trickles of rainwater drip off the oak and beech and fir trees to dampen the velvet, verdant moss carpeting a cropping of stones nearby. Your reverie is interrupted by the scent of expensive leather hiking boots on the breeze, crunching leaf detritus and tiny woodland creatures beneath its self-important tread. You smell the smoke and steam and artisanal resins and tannins of a gourmet flask of tea, and before you can let out a little spore-filled, mushroomy warning, you hear a shrill, nasally human female voice chirp HEY Y’ALL WELCOME BACK TO MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL. Oh no, you despair, it’s the slow-living mushroom forager YouTube influencers. You sincerely hope they pass you over for your poisonous cousins.

Wild In the Woods from Lvnea is a devastatingly simple scent of sweet swampy, loamy earth and spicy cypress. For all the bog witches out there. I picked this up from Altar PDX on a trip to Portland a few years ago and I don’t think it is sold anymore.

Ambre Narguile from the Hermès Hermessence line gets a lot of apple pie references from reviewers, but I don’t get that myself. A spiced compote, perhaps. Dried fruits–raisins and plums, stewed in honey and rum and cinnamon, and left on the stove very nearly too long. It’s been cooked down to a syrupy essence of its former self, and if you hadn’t pulled it from the flame, the caramelized sugars might have started to smoke and burn. I don’t love sweet fragrances, but come October I crave this one; it calls to mind a reading firelight a book you’ve experienced a million times (like the Secret History by Donna Tartt which I only just read but I loved it so much I’m ready to go at it again) while wearing a cozy oversized cardigan with thick cables and toggle buttons and that you probably inherited from your grandpa. Not to be confused with that awful cardigan in Taylor Swift’s video. ugh, Don’t get me started on that. That’s another conversation for another midnight.

Chanel Les Exclusifs Sycomore is a fragrant chorus of cool autumn foliage, rich, mossy soil; soft smoke, and damp greenery. All the best smells of a forest ramble in late October with the promise of winter heard in the whispering flutter of a straggling sparrow migration. But! The hiker on this path is garbed in expensive elegance, a leather Prada bag, a silk Hermès scarf, that iconic Burberry checked coat. This is the scent of a woodland elf turned posh socialite; Galadriel who quit the forest, and is now living in a penthouse on the Upper East Side.

Ambre Noir from Sonoma Scent Studio is dense and intense and the darkest amber you could ever hope to meet. Both somber and smoldering, with notes of labdanum, rose, incense, moss, leather, and woods, it is a blackened forest fireside frolic when the veil between worlds is thinnest. See also: the final moments in the film The VVitch. If you like outrageously dark, spellbindingly smoky amber fragrances, I believe you’ll enjoy this one.

Thanatopsis from Black Phoneix Alchemy Lab is a meditation upon death inspired by William Cullen Bryant’s poem, and a deep, solemn earthen scent containing pine, juniper and musk. A green-ness so lush and concentrated that it is nearly a syrup, growing in mysterious realms alongside venerable woods and breathless darkness.Thanatopsis is a meditation upon death inspired by William Cullen Bryant’s poem, and a deep, solemn earthen scent containing pine, juniper and musk. A green-ness so lush and concentrated that it is nearly a syrup, growing in mysterious realms alongside venerable woods and breathless darkness.

I’ve found interpretations of hinoki varies from perfumer to perfumer, ranging from lemony and coniferous, to tarry and peppery. In this version, Sumi Hinoki from Buly1803 is a deeply unpleasant boy scout campfire burning with bandaids and liniment and makes me feel the way I do when I’m dreaming and I walk into a darkened room and flip a light switch for illumination…and then nothing happens. At that point, the dream invariably descends into a nightmare, but I have learned to wake myself up at that moment, my brain boiling, electrified and panic-stricken. As a writer, at times I crave this scent when I need a freaky, feverish jolt of agitation. It’s also great for layering to add a touch of artful anxiety to a scent that’s pretty, but perhaps placid.

 

For something truly gruesome? Today I am wearing ALL OF THESE AT ONCE. I think I must smell like Yasushi Nirasawa’s unhinged-looking witch, NIGHT OF NOCTILA. Just an…unholy mashup of everything autumnal and October and Halloween and you just don’t know whether to be horrified or horny or BOTH.

I remember seeing this line of collectibles maybe fifteen years or so ago and I was practically salivating over them–they are so freaking cool. Finding them again today, I am still drooling and pining for them and just someone just buy me all of these slutty monstergirls already,  please!

Here’s a bit of Noctila’s bonkers backstory, if you are interested:

“In the North Soup Village there is a rumor lately: “There is something going on in the woods…… strange sightings Noctilcaof the psychedelic light covering the forest haunts enery night!” Another rumor people said it’s a UFO! Ah ha! Maybe not! That’s me, Noctilca!”

Anyhow, getting back to fragrance…I am thinking that today I should FINALLY commit to either reading or watching (or both) Patrick Suskind’s Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. This is one of those things that people are always asking my thoughts on, because they assume that I have already read/watched it. And …I have not. It is getting to be a little embarrassing!

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Before I begin this review of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s recently released RPG-inspired perfumes, I need to confess to you that I do not in fact actually play D&D. I tried! On several occasions! Ok, maybe just two, but it was enough for me to know that this sort of RPG is not for me. I was a tiefling bard named Pickles McGillicuddy, and, as you can tell, I took things very seriously. But it all made me very anxious and fretful, having to remember all of my stats and spells and whatnot, and I never knew what I was supposed to be doing or what was expected of me and it was not fun. Nothing against my companions, they were grand! Just… D&D is not the realm in which I find a good time.

Oddly, enough, I like watching movies about it and reading about it? Especially the sorts of stories where things go tits up and bonkers!
I watched a series of incredibly low-budget, ridiculous films from Dead Gentlemen productions a while back, The Gamers & The Gamers: Dorkness Rising and they were a hoot. I recall that the D&D episode from Community was a lot of fun, and I of course totally lived for the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon in the 80s every Saturday morning. I won’t lie. I just watched that YouTube video for the intro to the show that I linked to in the last sentence, and my heart skipped a beat and I felt that very same exhilaration that I did 40 years ago, in anticipation for the adventures of Hank, Eric, Diana, Presto, Bobby, and Sheila! Also, not exactly D&D but if you ever get a chance to read John Coyne’s Hobgoblin, a story of a teenager deeply obsessed with a fantasy role-playing game inspired by Celtic mythology, you’ll become acquainted with one of my favorite books when I was a teenager. It’s one of those lurid, cautionary tale-type books, but I thought it was the coolest, and I wanted a whole bunch of friends to role play with. Even though I suspect I would have found it just as nerve-racking and anxiety-inducing as I do now.

ANYWAY. In 2020, Dungeons & Dragons publisher Wizards of the Coast took steps toward building a more inclusive series of fantasy gaming worlds–one that represents a wider array of belief systems, gender identities, sexual orientations, ethnicities, and cultures. One of the major changes they implemented is that there are no longer any inherently evil races. Wizards of the Coast recognized that the monstrous characterization of specific in-game races hit too close to the real-world experiences of many of us who belong to minority racial and ethnic groups. Because I am dating a life-long nerd who D&Ds weekly, I was aware of the shift, but I’m not informed or experienced enough regarding D&D to offer a really nuanced opinion except that it’s a good thing.

In the collection I am reviewing today, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab has celebrated this fresh and complex exploration of the range of ethics, virtues, and cultures in fantasy role-playing games and literature. What stories could now be told? Where might an orc turn to find inner peace? How might a bugbear give back to their community? What challenges can this diverse group of adventurers now overcome?

Kobold Barista (freshly brewed coffee with ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, black pepper, cloves, cinnamon, and cream) A seasonal latte from your favorite local cafe; sweet cream, a dusting of autumnal spice melange, and the scent of roasted coffee beans, lightly caramelized and almost nutty, ground with aromatic pods and seeds and bark and roots.

Tiefling Therapist (white and red sandalwood, champaca attar, frankincense, and brimstone) Rich, velvety, vanilla-sweet floral with warm, apricot woodsy tea-like notes, it smells like sacred wine drunk by the moon and sun; a holy gloaming.

Bugbear Doula (motherwort, angelica root, and warm russet fur splashed with chamomile tea) Sniffing this straight out of the bottle, it’s a gorgeously delectable blackberry danish, but that’s so fleeting an impression I almost feel like I imagined it, especially considering that what it soon becomes is a warm, sweetly herbaceous musk, earthy, with a faint but lingering bitterness. The blackberries have all been plucked and it’s almost like they were never there at all. A nap on sun-warmed rock softened by moss. Nightfall, dreams, the cool dusty flights of bats and swallows.

Lizardfolk Park Ranger (pine needle, oak bark, sweet birch, stream-polished stones, lichen, dark mosses, nootka, hazelnut, rivulets of amber, and blackcurrant bud) This is an extraordinarily beautiful scent and tremendously evocative–there’s a whiff of something wild but also so safe and tender about it, when the scent first blossoms on my skin. The rushing creek below and the warmth of an old man’s strong, calloused hand, leaves crunching under small feet, he pauses to show his granddaughter a buckeye tree, tucking a sprig of Queen Anne’s lace in her pocket, telling her a snapping turtle might bite her toes off if she’s not careful! Then: the soft, soapy scent of a grandmother’s bubble bath, the soft pilled fuzz of a flannel nightgown, buttery, pearl-sugared bedtime cookies from the rusted blue tin. All of these memories, that seem so very long ago but also close at hand, like I could reach into yesterday and just as easily tug its sleeve. On my grandfather’s deathbed, he called me by the name of his sister and asked what we were wearing to church on Sunday. His childhood memories, just as near, just as vivid. Will memory always be this strange tug of rope? I’m 45 now and recall that autumn day, 40 years ago, without even having to close my eyes and step back into the byways of my brain. It’s always, always waiting just right there. And now, right here, with this fragrance.

Drow Yoga Instructor (wild plum, indigo lavender, and a tranquil tendril of sandalwood incense) An elegant plummy lavender incense, more breezy than smoky, the sort of scent you could close your eyes and totally space out and lose time while wearing, and yet it’s strangely grounded, too. Something earthy, rooty that tethers you, calls your essence back into your body before Lala Land claims you completely.

Drider Crossing Guard Perfume Oil (fig, black pepper, nutmeg, and black plum tea) This is such a confusing thing…from the notes I wouldn’t think it would smell like this, but: if you are a lover of such things, this is a fresh, fancy fantasy plate of all of the ripest, juiciest fruits you can imagine. I can’t pick anything out in particular, but wet on this skin this is definitely a pulpy, opalescent bounty of sweet, dripping fruit flesh. A few hours later it is a faint fruity-peony-vanilla. I realize neither of those two notes are listed, but I can’t argue with what’s on my wrist. Just reporting what I smell! Actually…in looking at this next scent, I have to wonder if maybe these two were accidentally mislabeled? Hm! A mystery!

Beholder Optician (eucalyptus leaf, white amber, pink bergamot, strawberry, and sheer, crystalline vanilla musk) In rereading this list of notes, all of these bright, electric fruity aromas are definitely what I smell in Drider Crossing Guard. The bottle labeled Beholder Optician carries a scent dry and figgy, woody and plummy and accented with a gentle grassy spice. Over time this just gets plummier, but not in a really fruity way, more like a plum wearing a handknit shawl and a bonnet and a monocle? I don’t know what that means. A Mother Goosey plum? An Ida Outhwaite fairytale illustration of a plum. Whatever it is that I am poorly trying to articulate, it is a freaking gorgeous interpretation of plum.

 

 

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Lately, I’ve been meditating on An Offering from dark artist Dylan Garrett Smith’s small batch perfumery, BirthBloomDecay. If you’re not familiar with his art, as it happens, the name Birthbloomdecay perfectly encapsulates its influences of occult lore, memento mori and the nocturnal beauty of the natural world. An Offering is redolent of dry, smoky embers and stiff black leather, the soft eerie rot of autumn leaves, and a shrieking electro-sulfur tang of ozone; it calls to mind a lightning-struck flock of witches tumbling and cackling through the air their burnished brooms now a fizzling and scorched incense amongst the midnight treetops.

Heretic India Ink (maybe discontinued?) So this is my pitch for the next season of American Horror Story. So, here goes. It’s about the spooky goings-on that occur during an Adult Film shoot that takes place in an abandoned dentist’s office, and it features India Ink from Heretic Parfum. This fragrance smells overwhelmingly of a mentholated, latex clad hand slowly descending toward your face as a disembodied voice intones OPEN WIDE. But I’m not sure if it’s some sort of mint or or a disinfectant clove oil, or something more camphorous and herbaceous and sour like tea tree oil or cypress. This empty office is located in a run down strip mall, there’s a discount auto store next door and a deserted gas station nearby and a ghostly miasma of carbon, sulfur, and petrol hangs low in the air in this blighted scene of desolation and both urban decay and tooth decay, ruin porn and actual porn. The BDSM Rubber Man has found the laughing gas, and the faint, sweet scent of nitrous oxide fills the studio. As the investors show up to see what their money’s getting them, they are greeted by a chaotic scene too disturbing and gruesome to script and production is shut down within 48 hours. The lead actor is never seen again, but they say you can still see his reflection in a mouth mirror from the set that is currently being sold on eBay.

November in the Temperate Deciduous Forest from For Strange Women is a scent I have worn for years and years and I am only just now attempting to review it. This is the aroma of a mushroom queen surveying their loamy domain on a cool, rainy morning. A soft green fern tickles your gills as your mycelial threads in turn wave at the worms moving through the rich earth beneath you; the ground mist rises through the dense forest canopy as cool trickles of rainwater drip off the oak and beech and fir trees to dampen the velvet, verdant moss carpeting a cropping of stones nearby. Your reverie is interrupted by the scent of expensive leather hiking boots on the breeze, crunching leaf detritus and tiny woodland creatures beneath its self-important tread. You smell the smoke and steam and artisanal resins and tannins of a gourmet flask of tea, and before you can let out a little spore-filled, mushroomy warning, you hear a shrill, nasally human female voice chirp HEY Y’ALL WELCOME BACK TO MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL. Oh no, you despair, it’s the slow-living mushroom forager YouTube influencers. You sincerely hope they pass you over for your poisonous cousins.

Glossier’s You is a scent I really had no intention of ever buying, but then my curiosity got the best of me. A minor point: I hate this bottle, it’s dreadful. It looks like a small pink lump of quivering flesh. I can, however, get over that, because as it turns out and much to my surprise…I actually really love what’s inside it. It’s possible that I had very low expectations because I don’t like any of Glossier’s other products and also because I am maybe a snob. But I really don’t mind being wrong! Okay, I am a Taurus and I hate being wrong! But I make an exception for perfume. You is wonderful melding of this chilly, ghostly delicate iris musk and a warm, woody, sturdy peachy amber quietly enveloped in a crystalline psychic glow of pink pepper and you kind of wonder how these notes got together but then you think of Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus and it all just makes perfect sense. Yes, this is a queer classic anime power couple of a scent and I absolutely adore it.

Regarding Comptoir Sud Pacifique’s Vanille Abricot,  I feel like a clever child- villain has dosed me with some sort of pixie-stick poison and they’re skipping away merrily as I sink to the floor, my lungs disintegrating under the assault of Marshallow Meltdown, a bioweapon based on the classic confectionary formula wherein a foam made up of air suspended in a super-saturated liquid sugar mixture is stabilized by gelatin,but in this version some evil scientists whipped in plastic doll parts and expired cans of Del Monte fruit cocktail instead. The resulting vat of goop undergoes a proprietary crystallization process and the lurid glowing shards are then crushed to a dust, which when viewed under a microscope, resembles tiny Barbie-Pink ninja throwing stars. This is the preferred method of dispatchment used by tiny assassins who whisper BYE BOOMER as they toodle away, engrossed in Animal Crossing or whatever. But I’m GEN X you gasp weakly as you lose consciousness.

Fuegia 1833’s Biblioteca de Babel is a fragrance inspired by Jorge Luis Borge’s story describing the universe in terms of an infinite library in which books contain every possible combination of letters, spaces, and punctuation marks. Everything that has been and will be thought can be found in a forsaken corner of the endless library. Some believe this story is an allegorical meditation on the endeavor to live one’s best possible life in a universe that can seem hopelessly confusing and disordered. I think I had hoped for a bit more mystery with this scent, something reminiscent of clandestine quests for esoteric knowledge, sort of like the film The Ninth Gate bottled as a scent.

But with Biblioteca de Babel, what you get is a lot more straightforward and mundane. A cracked and worn leather chair with a threadbare woven blanket tossed over the back, a handmade cedar chest passed down through several generations, the sort of soap you can buy anywhere for less than a dollar, parchment scrawled not in magical inks but rather in the practical strokes of a no. 2 pencil with directions on how to install a washroom faucet. It’s not even parchment, it’s just a crumpled post-it note, thick with dust, the writing so blurry and faded with time you can barely read it anymore, but you know each word as though time has etched them on your heart. Your grandfather has been gone for twelve years now, and he never saw the faucet you eventually installed and you don’t know if he ever read Borge’s story, but you console yourself by thinking that if you had ever conversed with him about it, it might be recorded in an obscure tome tucked away in one of those imaginary rooms.

It’s true, Biblioteca de Babel is not a really exciting scent, but it’s warm and familiar, sweet and safe in the way a hug is when you need it most, even when the arms are frail, even when you suspect the weight of your body is the only thing keeping the person hugging you on their feet. I would do anything to feel that hug again. And even though this cedary, sweetly vanillic, woodsy musked scent smells absolutely nothing like my grandfather, it somehow conjures the most beautiful ghost of those hugs. I’ll take it.

 I’m really conflicted about Delina Exclusif from Parfum de Marly for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with the actual fragrance.  But right off the bat, for those people who don’t want to read a whole ass essay, this is a pillowy parfait of jammy roses and dense vanilla cream doused with raspberry liqueur. I am not a fan. 

A big part of me believes that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. You’ll never see me popping up in the comments on someone else’s account to say something like “ugh, I hated that.” when they’re talking about a thing they love.  That’s the equivalent of showing up uninvited at a stranger’s house uninvited and taking a shit on their floor. It’s rude and also really uncalled for. However, writing my own review of something I hate? That’s where I give myself leeway to say the not nice things that I might be dying to say. However, in this vein, I struggle with ideas of cleverness at the expense of being kind. To soften the snark I often frame my less-than-glowing reviews in whimsical or imaginative scenarios and language so that no one gets too butthurt that I’m hating on their favorite stink. But sometimes there’s an aspect of a scent that’s so connected with something I dislike in real life, that …I kinda have to go there.

I watch a lot of really basic YouTube lifestyle influencers. I don’t know why. Maybe in some weird way, it makes me feel superior. So many of them use a turn of phrase I have been hearing everywhere over the past year or so and I HATE IT. With regard to a rug or a throw blanket or a coffee table book they just acquired they’ll say something like “don’t you just love it? It’s SO AESTHETIC.” And I get that language is always evolving and I don’t want to be a jerk, but people that is not how you use this word. You admire something for it’s aesthetic qualities. For example, you like the coffee table book’s minimalist aesthetic, you appreciate the rug’s rustic, cottagecore aesthetic, you really dig that blanket’s witchy goth aesthetic, you see where I am going with this? Anyway, so many of these YouTubers seem to love this perfume because, and I quote, ‘it’s so aesthetic.” And they don’t even do a proper review for it, they just say it smells nice and it’s like I get that describing fragrance isn’t easy, but why even mention it at all if that’s all you’re going to say? UGH.

My point is that this $350 bottle of a very generic vanilla-rose scent smells like people who buy coffee table books about bland, boring, beige minimalist home decor and sound really dumb when they are talking about them and furthermore, they probably don’t even read them. So if you’ve made it this far you’ve read me at my most unlikeable and I apologize for that. I say this frequently but mine is just one opinion among millions and it ultimately means nothing, but man I really had to vent about this.

Spell 125 from Papillon Artisan Perfumes is a scent entwined and imbued with deep magic, history, and ancient mystery. If I understand correctly, it is a fragrance inspired by the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and the ritual and ceremony pertaining to the weighing the deceased’s heart against a feather, wherein if one passes this trial, they reach the eternal paradise of the Field of Reeds. If not, well then too bad, I guess. I believe this is meant to be a very atmospheric scent, and while it is, I don’t know that I’m getting what the perfumer intended from it. But who’s to say whether that’s a good or bad thing if one enjoys the result? From Spell 125 I get a strange vanilla salt that’s somehow sweet and savory, bright and dusky, earthy and airy at once, evoking both terrestrial concerns and something lighter and loftier. A sweetly green herbaceous melange conjures imagery of cool aromatic, woodsy marjoram incense, an offering to household gods( such as this scene in a painting by John William Waterhouse) Lit for the afternoon, the smoke cleaning and clearing the domestic spaces, and left to smolder and disperse with the doors open wide, on a cloudless day in early autumn. This is a fragrance which conjures the loveliest peace of mind and sense of well-being, and although I don’t yet know otherwise, I’ll hazard a guess and say it’s splendid to experience such a thing while you’re still above ground

Zdravetz from Bruno Fazzolari. I am not typically someone who likes “crisp” or “fresh” scents. Those concepts and related notes conjure for me ideas of country clubs and corporate culture and sterile, blandly uninteresting environments as well as notions of conformity and impossible standards and expectations. Nope, no thanks. So when I first smell Zdravetz, it does seem like that’s what it’s going for. I believe this is supposed to be a rose scent, but I do not smell any kind of rose here. And Zdravetz is in the geranium family I believe. A sort of aromatic woody herbaceous scent, a little tannic like strong black tea. In the opening, I do smell something vaguely herbal and medicinal and a soft woody floral. But then it gets weird. Imagine fresh but you’ve never smelled what a 21st-century idea of fresh is. You’re just a garden gnome, dirt under your nails, moss behind your ears, sleeping in your earthen burrow, washing your tangled beard every morning in primrose dew. But you want to make your way in the world so you and your brothers spend every cent you have on a nice outfit and you all clean up as best you can with a grain of old-timey laundry powder you’ve been hoarding for 100 years and you interview with some start-up firms but you don’t know what it means to “fungibly innovate leveraged sources” or “synergize team building potentialities.”! And you don’t get any callbacks and you reckon the world of humans isn’t for you anyway and that’s a little depressing but you’d rather be who you’ve always been than three little gnomes standing on each other’s shoulders under a Burberry trenchcoat working on TPS reports.

Stora Skugan’s Moon Milk. The sea, but not the sea. Lemonade and tidepools, bright and brackish, toes digging into the wet sand, palms briefly cupping portions of the sun-warmed infinite and allowing it to sluice through your fingers to wash away because you can’t clutch at moments like that, you have to let the gravity of the tides and tears and the moon take their course. But it’s not the sea. It’s the reflection of the moon in a puddle, a changeling portal to someone else, somewhere else. Another you, another time. The enduring strangeness of where rock meets ocean, viewed through mirrorwater on a stone cavern floor , a finger fluting in soft white calcite and crystalline minerals, a cave painting of the aurora borealis on exposed bedrock, the ghostly carving of footprints that stop suddenly and disappear. There’s a duality in this scent, the soft fall of sunlight tempered by saltwater, earthy cardamom incense, and citrusy floral lime, the bitter chill of petrified moonlight, milky sandalwood, and waxen lily. It’s a strange fragrance that makes me think of encountering countless versions of me across time, and we somehow cross the same path, inevitably make the same choices, wish for the same things under ancient and future stars.

Tom Ford’s Black Orchid, which before you even spray it, like, you just take the cap off, and you get generic ambery miasma wrapped in cloying cotton candy, and not even the thrilling stuff that has the exhilarating tang of the local carnival’s precarious Gravitron. No, this is the stale, sad bottom-shelf cotton candy from Costco. At this stage, it smells exactly like Black Opium, which many folks recommended to me as a “dark, mysterious scent,” and here’s my take on that. Which I hope you will take with a grain of salt. But you know how like…some people think 50 Shades of Gray is sexy erotica? And for them, maybe it is. I’m not here to tell you you’re getting horned up for the wrong things. But it doesn’t do it for me. There’s not enough werewolves or chainsaws or Lament Configurations in that story. 50 Shades of Gray does not even scratch the surface of hot and horny feelings for me. And in this analogy, I suppose, Black Opium feels like putting wet-n-wild eyeliner and a faux leather jacket on a Barbie tutu and calling it dark and mysterious. Good try, I guess? But you gotta work a lot harder to get me on board. But back to Black Orchid, which is what I was actually talking about. Once the pastel goth spun sugar vibe dissipates, it becomes this really understated but perfectly lovely creature of soft velvety musk and dusty woods. I kinda wish this is was the piece of the puzzle they’d focused on, added some other top notes, and connected it via an unexpected heart but I guess that would have been an entirely different scent. If you can sit through the obnoxious opening, you’ll be rewarded with a soft delightful woodland fairytale of a scent, but I don’t know if the journey to get there is worth it

Forest Lungs from The Nue Company is somewhat similar to Dasein’s Winter Nights or Norne from Slumber house in its conjuring of coniferous evergreen midnight splendor. The birch tar and pine sap are present but softer, less sharp and astringent than you might expect, and as a matter of fact, I don’t get any of the camphoraceous herbal medicine chest opening that you find in the other two. It’s the whiff of the woodlands in your hair or clothing after you’re already back inside. It’s expediently atmospheric; you don’t have to brave the forest path to get to the witch’s hut to warm your hands at the softly crackling fire and have a cozy cup of gently spiced cardamom tea. You’re just plopped right at her table, like a witch’s hut holosuite. And then you find out that this person is actually not a witch at all, you’ve made a lot of assumptions based on their haunted cottagecore aesthetic. It’s actually just a local misanthrope fed up with the dumbass yokels in the village so they gathered up their amazing candle collection and moved to a hermitage in the middle of a forest and all of a sudden they’re like,” who even are you and why are you in my house?? GTFO!” And that’s when you realize this wonderful fragrance does not last long at all and the program has ended and you’re back in Quark’s bar and he wants his 2 strips of gold-pressed latinum. I will note that I purchased this from Sephora, and I believe that it is the most interesting fragrance that they are ever likely to carry.

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