Valaya from Parfumes de Marly is lively and elegant and immediately brings to mind the heroine of a period romance, someone you might describe as beautiful, free-spirited, and headstrong. And she probably doesn’t want to marry or have children or live by society’s standards or conventions, and she may in fact, get kicked out of finishing school because she punched one young woman in the mouth and kissed another young woman in the same place. She runs away to Europe, holds feminist salons, and becomes both a secret political power and an ungovernable poet of no small renown. She smells of crisp cotton and luxurious linen pantaloons, the dozens of verdant, woody ferns which adorn every square inch of her Parisian apartment, and the delicate, musky nectar of a ripe peach which she is frequently seen biting into, her sharp, small teeth pausing to smile enigmatically between juicy mouthfuls.
Hygge from Hexennacht has notes of stroopwafels, cardamom-infused custard, oatmeal porridge, and fir, and it smells like a witch’s coffee shop brimming with aromatic baked goodies and artisanal lattes in the midst of an enchanted evergreen forest.
With Stars Surrounded is one of the most recent collaborations between Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab and Haute Macabre, and I have tried every single one of their myriad collabs, so I can say without a doubt this one is unbelievably beautiful and is probably my absolute favorite. This is a silvery night queen opalescent moonstone of a scent with notes of coconut, tobacco flower, white tea, and violet.
I really love how I experience the different notes comprising Full Moon (at the Temple) from Poesie Perfume, so separately and distinctly upon the first few minutes of sitting with the scent: the grainy popped corn sweetness of the white rice, yuzu’s tart, sparkling floral citrus complexity, the musty mineralic mossy limestone melancholy of cool lake water. These elements orbit each other independently until they merge, seamlessly and suddenly with the otherworldly holiness of the hinoki wood in a tender, glowing poem of a perfume. The inspiration for Full Moon (at the Temple), Lady Murasaki’s writing rituals, and her pilgrimage east from Kyoto, where at the temple she observed the August moon reflected in the waters of Lake Biwa, these things really speak to me, as a writer who practices my own rituals, who frequently and frustratingly observes the various sums of the disparate words I’m writing forming an eventual, sometimes satisfying, and hopefully beautiful whole.
Black Chamomile from Bath & Body Works (this is discontinued, but you can find it on sites like Mercari, which I did). I have a soft spot for those Bath & Body Works bedtime aromatherapy blends, and I was intrigued by the idea of this one, even though I apparently found out about it a few years too late. With notes of chamomile and bergamot, it’s a soft, pretty scent that perhaps smells vaguely of chamomile’s apply-floral/sweet straw aspects, but I can’t detect the begamot at all. If anything, it leans somewhat aquatic, with notes of white tea and waterlily. It makes a pleasant pillow mist and room spray and I’m glad I was able to find a bottle and give it a try. (Thanks to LC of nearlynoseblind on TikTok for putting this on my radar.)
My experience with Steamed Rainbow from DS& Durga leaves me in a state of mind to offer impressions rather than a proper review of the perfume: childhood summers scooted out of the house from sunup to sundown by a harried single mother tired of children underfoot during times of day when they are typically in school/dewdrops on grass clippings and neon hibiscus petals hastily evaporating in early July morning Florida heat/my mother’s rare appearances on those afternoons, the scent of those synthetic citrusy florals of her Bain de Soleil sun oil/a rare sprinkler day, the small device rotating and twisting and spitting thin streams of ice cold water, shocking on sun-warmed skin, sizzling on scalding asphalt/that dizzying kaleidoscopic shimmer and spray as a sunbeam prisms through a small splash, a magic summer star in my palm, toes cool in already warming puddles.
DS & Durga sent me a few samples of Pistachio. I know there was a bit of a kerfuffle a few months ago with regard to another Pistachio fragrance, and not being among the perfumetok elite, I am not sure I understand or care to understand what that was all about, but now I can’t think of any kind of Pistachio without internally referencing what I came to think of as “Pistachio Gate.” Drama and silliness aside, and full transparency, I don’t know what a freaking pistachio smells like– my only experience with them is as savory salt-barnacle-crusted nibbles. This fragrance is not that. It’s a soft, cardamom-blossomed, marzipan-petaled, floral meringue, velvety heliotrope musk of a scent, sprinkled with a pinch of vanilla cake mix. Imagine all of that in a fluffy pudding. Now convert that pudding to a plush velour onesie. Ok yes, there it is. An adult onesie full of pudding. Subtly sweet, close to the skin, not really all that potent and yet somehow…aggressively cozy?
Park of the Monsters from In Fieri s a fragrance I found via an Instagram account that I follow. I love reading this person’s thoughts on fragrance because they’re not really reviews structured around opinions and critiques but rather gently disjointed stream-of-consciousness musing. As someone who experiences perfume in terms of dreams, memories, and stories, as opposed to notes, noses, houses, and brands, I connect with their approach. At any rate, I can’t remember what they said about Park of the Monsters, but that’s not the important thing–what matters is that they brought to my attention the reality that there exists a fragrance inspired by a place I have long been obsessed with: the Italian gardens of Bomarzo, where one may take a serene stroll through a Renaissance horror show filled with massive statues sculpted of volcanic rock– giants, dragons, sea monsters, a gaping hell mouth etched with the phrase, OGNI PENSER VOLA, or “All reason departs.” The fragrance created from memories of childhood visits to the garden actually caused all my reason to depart because before the first spray had fully dried on my wrist, I decided I desperately required a bottle. If you were to climb inside the monstrous, mossy maw of a dead stone god and lose all sense of time and perspective, this is the scent that would slowly descend upon you. Animalic musks of the retro vintage glamour variety, the peppery emerald spice and incense of sacred trees, and hypnotizingly intense florals, not just lilies, but maybe all lilies, each lily there ever was, a confounding, never-ending magic eye painting, a perpetual lily illusion. This is a gorgeous, profoundly thoughtful, and thought-provoking scent, and it is everything I want from the art of perfumery.
I did a lot of research before placing my first order with Cocoa Pink, and all signs on Reddit indie perfume threads pointed to a massive crowd favorite: Ivory Eyelet. With notes of buttercream, lemon curd, marshmallow, and vanilla ice cream, it is the perfumed embodiment of the saccharine froth and frills of this dreamy, gauzy pale lemon meringue cream of a Gunne Sax dress...which is not to say I don’t love it BECAUSE I DO.
I will confess that when I first smelled these perfumes from Andrea Maack I was having a particularly bad day. I told you all about it on TikTok. I was going to smell some Strawberry Shortcake candles and hope things got better. But what actually made it better was the sample selection I was trying from this perfumer. The first and only scent I’d ever tried from Andrea Maack was Coven, and that was a dark, dank scent that smelled like the Witch King of Angmar got wrecked and fell asleep in a mossy gutter just outside the Prancing Pony. I loved it. But these two scents I’m mentioning today are NOTHING like that. The first is Smart, it’s a powdery vanilla sandalwood tempered by some leathery jasmine musk and it’s less heady than you might expect; it has a similar vibe to Glossier’s You and Studied from Liis, and I don’t mean they smell at all alike, they just feel like the perfect finishing touch to make you feel put together. And, like if you spritz it when you’re feeling less than stellar, it gives you that “I’m smart enough, I’m good enough, and gosh darn it, people like me” energy. Now the other one that I tried is Lightsource, and it is also on the lighter side, by which I guess I mean it’s light as compared Coven’s black mold and decay. It’s pretty, but it’s got an element of the weird, which I always appreciate. There’s the somber gravitas I always, for some reason, associate with perfumery’s green fig note and pink pepper’s tingly rosy effervescent spice. And this is a note that always seems a bit jaunty, gleeful. It’s that imp of the perverse who whispers something silly and inappropriate in your ear then you’re appallingly the gigglingest dickhead at the funeral. These two fragrances cheered me immensely, both sniffing them and thinking about them, and I think it’s safe to say that perfume saved the day.
P.S. now is probably a good time to remind you that I have a Patreon where I talk about perfume-related things that you might not see here (including the snarkier stuff, heh!) There are also giveaway opportunities and a monthly scented missive in your mailbox from yours truly!
Signature by Aedes de VenustasI feel like if you are going to make a signature fragrance for your brand, then you are likely going to choose notes that are universally loved, you’re going to make something everyone can agree upon, you’re going to make something safe, and probably a little basic. That’s…not what this is. It’s weird. It’s offbeat. It’s utterly unexpected. And it’s incredible. To be fair, it says right in the copy that it aimed to break from traditional perfume structures, but come on, how often have you heard something like that only to smell the same thing you’ve smelled a million times?
What an oddball cast of characters: The tangy, fruity, acidic zest of rhubarb, dry woody incense, and bitter chypre accord with sweet vining notes of honeysuckle, sour green apple, and the sharp aromatic grassiness of tomato leaf. Hazelnut and vetiver are also listed in the notes and add a lovely, cozy warmth, an aspect that you’d think wouldn’t belong here, but somehow it does. If you were going to make a perfume from olfactory extractions of the myriad, wildly differing Fraggle Rock personalities, their goodness and goofiness, their kindness and cleverness, and all their wild dreamy, delirious energy, you would end up with this funny, magical scent.
I am trying another one of Hilde Soliani’s gourmands, and to be fair to the first one that I sampled and didn’t care for, come on. I was never going to like a strawberry scent, anyway. And if you are the person to entice me to fall in love with a strawberry perfume, I will bow to your wizardry. Anyway, Quin is an Italian meringue scent, and while I like it quite a bit, it doesn’t actually have a whole lot to it. It’s not going to tax your brain or challenge you. And sometimes that’s fine! It’s sweet but not sugary, creamy but not in a heavy way– it’s frothy and frilly, not stiff frosting. Vanilla beans steeped in cream whipped to airy peaks. And that’s it.
And I do know that, of course, meringue uses egg whites, not cream, but I have never noticed an egg white that smelled like anything in particular, so I am not trying to be too literal with my meringue perfume review. This is light and sweet and simple, and I like that it doesn’t add any unnecessary notes, like chocolate or fruit or marzipan; it’s not trying to be some impossible confection in the final round of a televised baking competition. It’s nice. And that’s plenty good enough sometimes. Good enough to spend $175 on it? Ah. For me, personally? If I’m spending over $100 on a fragrance, I want a scent that is going to give me something to think about, and I don’t find that to be the case here.
I’m realizing, as I do periodically, that I’ve gotten a little complacent in my efforts to try things from more indie brands. And partially, I think that’s because I know myself pretty well; I decided a long time ago that I’ve already got my favorites. Like, between the years of 2004-2008, I found a handful of stellar brands and a shitload of mediocre disappointments, and I keep defaulting back to that mindset. And I have to remind myself to keep an open mind and just keep trying things. Because as stubborn as I may be and as much as I hate the thought of wasting money, what I hate even more is the thought of missing out on something amazing. I thought a good place to start would be peeking through indie fragrance and indie perfume Reddit threads. I got a lot of good ideas! I put together a list of the top dozen or so brands that were mentioned repeatedly, and if I’ve never ordered from them, I chose a few of the most popular scents. In some cases, there were a few brands mentioned that I’ve heard questionable things about from other perfumers or customers, so they were immediately struck from the list. If it was a place that I’ve ordered from more than once and have been repeatedly disappointed, they did not make the list, either.
In some cases, like the one I’m talking about today, I’ve been ordering amazing soaps and scrubs from Paintbox Soapworks for years now, but weirdly, I’d never tried her perfume oils! I got Blue Besom, which is a beautiful blueberry jam incense fragrance, Capybaras and Yuzus smells like soaking in a steaming mineral bath while eating lush, fuzzy slices of apricot, and remember how I said it would take a wizard to make me like a strawberry perfume? Pynk’s sun-ripened strawberry is tempered with cool floral lilac and sweet, creamy marzipan, and it may well be that magic scent that I insisted does not exist. These fragrances are all subtle, but long-wearing, and each one of them, though they all smell very differently, tugs at a strange, wistful chord of nostalgia in my heart. All three of these are wonderful, so I’m happy to say this is a pretty strong start.
Time is a Phoenix is a scent of the mythical and miraculous, but also of the intensely, personally, mundane. Fed on tears of sacred incense, resinous, volcanic, honeyed, and bittersweet, fanning its own ancient, acrid spice-scented flames, a fiery vision of scarlet and gold and eternal return, the scent left in wake of this being is incendiary, incandescent, immortal. A funeral pyre flipped through a pinhole in the darkened chamber of a camera obscura, the ashes of the afterimage captured in a winding sheet of amber: the wild, joyful zest of loving, the sour sighing sorrow of leaving, the impossible weeping, sweating, earthy-tethered, salty-sweetness of living– and through it all, climbing into our own, us-shaped mortal infernos, again and again, and again.
Oil and Flight and Vision from BPAL and exclusive to bloodmilk for Sphinx and Snakeskin is rooty and resinous, dark and droll, and brings to mind Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem “Hamatreya,” in which the poet reveals the earth song of dark-humored flowers, laughing to see the men who steer the plows unable to steer clear of the grave. How every one of them who lay claim to the land, who wished to control it, are now asleep beneath the very dirt they thought they owned. I like to imagine subversive, psychoactive roots and blossoms–hallucinogenic henbane, tarry opium, bittersweet mugwort–growing from the bones of those dead and being used in enigmatic preparations like fabled witches’ flying ointments. And whether or not those witchly botanical balms induced actual levitation and soaring under a full moon through the midnight air or was key to a ritual for one to travel the astral planes in spirit, I delight in the imagery of witches being borne aloft on the musky-throated gallows humor of grim growing things sprung forth from and thriving in grave dirt. Oil and Flight and Vision perfectly encapsulates the poetry of that sentiment.
Urban Beekeeper from DSH Perfumes, and it’s the most beautiful honey-inspired scent I have ever tried. They can often be so syrupy and cloying, and at their worst, they somehow smell like a urinal (am I the only one to think honey perfumes lean toward old pee sometimes??) This one is lightly floral, with a subtle citrus zing, and is quietly effervescent. The honey is still at the forefront, but it’s more of a wispy veil than a golden glop of it. This is definitely going on the full bottle list! There is actually a list. Every time I say something is “full bottle worthy” this year, I’m adding it to the list, and at the end of 2023 I am treating myself to a bottle or two. (Unlike the last two years, wherein my collection somehow doubled.)
In other perfume news, I am marinating in a scent I loved in high school, Chloé Narcisse. It smells of the things that built me: Heidi and The Secret Garden, Dracula, and Rebecca. A parlor of florals bitterly spiced with the temptations of darkness and shadowed with a strange sadness, but still, always peeking toward a life that is sunny and sweet.
Dollhouse from Astrid Perfumes. I tried this brand in what feels like a past life, back when they were called blooddrop and if I recall correctly, I think the maker also sold bespoke corsetry. But that was a long time ago, and I don’t remember any of their scents. Dollhouse, with notes of raspberry, vanilla, grapefruit, calendula, and bergamot is a hypersaturated hallucinatory Lisa Frank folder funhouse fruit salad of a scent. I think this is a fragrance that would be so much fun for jellyshoe flipflop string-shouldered neon sundress summertimes and though I don’t know if I would associate this with dollhouses, I try not to critique or judge inspiration. Like the Boulet Brothers say on every episode of Dragula, “We’re not here to judge your drag. Drag is art and art is subjective.” The artful inspiration that goes into the creation of a fragrance is intensely personal, and if this is what a perfumer imagines a dollhouse smells like, who am I to argue with that? For myself, I think it smells like technicolor dolphins tie-dye unicorns, and kaleidoscopic rainbow daydreams.
New Valaam from Phronema perfumes is a fragrance inspired by the Alaskan Spruce Island hermitage of New Valaam, named so by holy man and clairvoyant wonderworker Father Herman, a monk who was eventually sainted in 1970. A scent celebrating wildlife and the fertility of nature, it opens with bitter, brittle greenery preserved in a bygone botanist’s notebook: a small curl of fern, fronds fanned into shrunken shadow against the page, crest crumbling into dry dust. But by some manner of perfumer’s alchemy, you can smell where that fern once furled: the dew dewdrops on wildflowers, lily of the valley and forget me nots, yarrow and aster, the faint, wild musk of a snowshoe hare streaking through lichen. In a strange but not entirely unpleasant twist, the scent dries a bit soapy and sour and yeasty, not entirely unlike wet dog ears. This is such an interesting and unique green scent, and though it’s not something I can see myself wearing, I do think it’s nice to just spray the sample and think about it.
Corfu Kumquat from Aedes de Venustas: In a small Greek village built on the slopes of the island’s highest mountain is a quietly atmospheric little ghost town with only two or three permanent inhabitants. One of them is a kumquat that never fully ripened, too sour and pithy for marmalade and liqueurs, too small and strange to be of much practical use. Perhaps it was overlooked. Perhaps it forged its own little path in life. It’s now the local guide for the village, steering tourists hither and yon along cobblestone roads, sharing historical anecdotes and eerie legends, and finally depositing them at the gift shop once the excursion has concluded. As the crowd disperses, it reaches into its pocket for a cigarette and lights up in the cool shade of an ancient stone cottage, exhaling smoke through its citrus peel pores, whirling and curling in satisfying vaporous salt-air swirls, while catching glimpses of the sun glinting on the sea through the undulating mountains.
So…Poivre Sacre, or Holy Pepper, from Parfums Caron. For some brief backstory as to why I’m sampling this right now, whenever a perfume is mentioned in a book I’m reading, if it’s something I’ve never heard of or that I haven’t tried before, I’m always keen to track it down. I recently read Leigh Bardugo’s Hell Bent, which I was wildly looking forward to after having finally read The Ninth House, and one of the characters was wearing Caron Poivre, described as smelling of “clove, tuberose, amber.” Unfortunately, I think even the reformulation of Poivre is discontinued. So, I got the samples of the next closest things on the Caron site: Poivre Imperial and Poivre Sacre. And here we are. This is a gorgeously dry scent: the bitter, bracing bite of black pepper that somehow runs both cool and hot, leathery, smoky woods that feel like a cross between palo santo and cedar, and hints of grassy, earthy, bittersweet saffron and the tiniest dash of sour, pungent cumin, to keep things interesting. This is a very close-to-the-skin scent that makes me think of candle flames and shadows and secrets, chasing the darkness to its depths, following a temptation –without succumbing– straight to its sinful, sulfurous source, and you, glowing, incandescent, a lit match in hell.
On one hand, I am clearly enjoying my sample of Liis Luciennne— it is all but sniffed through–on the other hand, I can’t really see myself wearing this fragrance. This is not a rose perfume, and yet it’s the most beautiful rose scent I’ve ever experienced. A bright, perfect citrusy midsummer afternoon rose when there’s not a cloud in the sky, and the sun is an explosion of lemonade-scented joy, and dipping your feet in the cold water sputtering from the sprinklers sends the most delirious shivers of delight up your spine. And the more you splash around, the more you are compelled to take a deep dive to the bottom of the pool or, better yet, the tranquil currents of the ocean. This rose has a lovely, serene aquatic aspect, a fresh marine musk, and it’s less rose at this point and more mermaid, swimming in peaceful tides while the sun beams a watery light through the warm, turquoise waves. So why can’t I see myself wearing it? Honestly, it’s too perfect. It’s like a rose who is a mermaid who is also a cheerleader and valedictorian and is a natural leader and is never awkward and always knows the right thing to say and would definitely never lock themselves in a bathroom and cry in a party because they were feeling overwhelmed and shy and just wanted to go home. This is a rose that is not even actually a rose and one that is also not me, and I’d feel like a giant fraud every time I wore it. I often think of the transformative power of fragrance and how a spritz of perfume is akin to slipping into another skin and magical and liberating that can be. So why can’t I pretend for a while? I think I’m just so set in my ways as a grimy little hermit-hearted gremlin that as much as I admire that immaculately rosy person I’ve described, I’ve long let go of wanting that for myself.
Jorum Spiritcask opens with notes that waver wildly between blithe, breezy, and aerated, as well as viscous, syrupy, and raisiny. Like stewed prunes gone parasailing through the fluffiest-tufted cumulus clouds. Unfortunately, their ultimate destination appears to be a cloying, claustrophobic rootbeer-filled oak-barrel hot tub orgy, and that’s a scene I’m just not into. If you ever thought, “boy I sure wish Hypnotic Poison were 1000% more potent and suffocatingly gaggy!” this may be for you.
Fraaagola Salaaata from Hilde Soliani is fun for a split second; it smells like strawberry Jello-scented lipgloss or a tiny bottle of effervescent summer berry eau de toilette that was sold alongside Angel Face Barbie in the 80s. Very sweet, no nuance or complexity (though I do think that’s sort of the point of a perfume like this.) BUT then it becomes this monstrous vision of a wild strawberry kiwi ice-breeze-whatever vape pen shoved up a half-melted red gummy bear’s butt, and even more horrifying still, a plume of vape juice smoke billows out of its squished little vape bro mouth, and oh my god I am gagging again you don’t even want to see the face I am making just now.
I don’t want to end on a sour note with those last two bummers, so here are four more silk flower perfume oil blends from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s Lupercalia Collection!
Blue Silk Rose, with notes of sugared violets and dried blackberry and elusive hints of citrusy rose and smoky musk, is a light, impish fruity floral that’s the olfactory equivalent of excellent advice from astrologist Rob Brezny, something fun about liberating our imaginations and encouraging us to visualize life as a mythic quest. It’s the playful poetry of the weightless, mid-air hops and skips between dodging the shadows or jumping over the cracks in the sidewalk, a bright pop of color on a grey day, a tiny reprieve from the everythingness of everything in a waft of fleeting sweetness.
Silk Tiger Lily very nearly gives me savory vibes when sniffed right out of the bottle–something like saffron and cumin mingled spice cupboard tendrils– and from there on, the evolution is just rapid-fire-revelatory. First, a briny ginger fire, a spicy salinity, as if the knobby little rhizome has been treated to an oceanic pickling; then, seamlessly, a warm, peppery floral with a nose-tickling lemon halo, beautiful, bracing, and buoyant.
Black Silk Orchid looms from the vase sweet and shadowy, summoning associations of a trio of BPALs I know and love: the dark brown sugared musks of Smut, the deeply vanilla-patchouli incense of Snake Oil, and Haunted‘s murky, mysterious amber glow. There’s a breezy element that runs through it, though, something that sets it apart, conjuring something wholly new. It’s a thin, weird wind, not brisk and autumnal and not of the gentle spring variety; it’s not outdoorsy at all. More like a draft from deep within your home that you can’t locate, a door that maybe you didn’t even know was there, ajar and inviting things from beyond. It’s full of darkness and a bit dusty, emanating from somewhere utterly, disturbingly unknown. A prickling shiver you feel when somewhere in the old house, in an unused, forgotten room, a vampire quietly steps out from inside a grandfather clock at the stroke of midnight.
Silk Daffodilis profoundly green and sticky sweet, a heady murmur of celadon syrup and crushed emerald honey, veined with dark whispers of woody-floral spice and a last gasp of jasmine-orange blossom-vanilla.
I’m afraid these reviews will be a bit shorter and to the point, much more so than my typical long-winded rambles. I am suffering from some wrist and thumb pain, and I don’t know if it is carpal tunnel badness or something to do with being a million years old, but it is, unfortunately, rendering typing quite excruciating. So I am challenging myself to an economy of words, in saying what needs to be said in as few characters as I can get away with. We’ll see how it goes with the following bakers’ dozen of Lupercalia scents from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab!
Green Silk Carnation (cypress-green carnation petals crushed into grass, hemp flowers, and weed) A sweet vegetal mustiness with a tiny amount of terpenic funk, which as it wears is, at turns, sweeter and greener, never committing to one or the other. It dries to a frosty-soapy pleasantness. It has a chilly, verdant vibe that calls to mind the greenhouses in a snowstorm from the first story in Kelly Link’s forthcoming collection White Cat, Black Dog.
Pink Silk Peony (cotton candy peonies, rose cream, and white cognac) Sweet, cold strawberry ice cream scented with lush, velvety rose petals; alternatively, if the entire cast of Rose Petal Place were whizzed up in your ice cream maker, with fresh cream and tons of sparkling sugar.
How Write The Beat Of Love (red musk, red mango, labdanum, black honey, black gardenia, Indonesian patchouli, and champaca blossom) A swoon and sweep of pulpy fruits, deeply jammy, wine-drunk on umbral honey.
Dalliance With A Comedian On Stage (sawdust and red musk, blueberries, black currant, plum blossom, sake, rose petals, and frankincense) A fruity-herbal tea, left to steep and steam in a porcelain cup, now fermenting in a jar. Berries and blossoms begin as a humble, wholesome tisane but somehow end up a tart, tipsy kombucha.
Chocolate Chypre (no notes listed) Cocoa butter incense smoke, the mysterious aura of scholarly studies late into the evening, accompanied by a chocolatey treat rummaged from deep within velvet peacoat pockets.
White Silk Chrysanthemum (vanilla floral aldehyde laced with spicy chrysanthemum) An enchantingly fizzy vanilla cream soda/ ebullient ginger ale hybrid, but not something you’d want to drink; rather, the scent of a strange, invisible bloom trailing up a trellis, something you walk by every day without really noticing, and then one day the breeze blows just so, bobbing its petals invitingly. Intrigued, entranced, you stop to sniff it, and in that small instance, with the slightest deviation from your path– everything changes forever. This is the scent of that singular, crystalline moment, tremulous and flickering, between the before and the after.
The Morning Star Among The Living (black fig encased in saffron-threaded amber) The scent of a honeyed, floral lozenge that began as a liqueur made from macerating figs –both the delicate, fresh fruit as well as their rich, dried, pruney counterparts–in two parts bourbon to one part vanilla. Mash the pulp and the liquid together, simmer until very thick and allow to set on cool, aromatic eucalyptus leaves. Administer these sweet drops as needed to individuals who pride themselves on their brutal honesty, but you suspect they enjoy the inherent cruelty of that sentiment more than the idea of actual truthfulness and sincerity.
An Oiran on New Year’s Day (polished mahogany, black tea, green cardamom, russet peppercorn, and ginger root) Dark, fruity woods, rich, rosy, and resinous. This is a scent that becomes darker and darker and begins to smell both rare and obscure and somehow a bit crafty and cunning, something you’d find on the black market from a dealer whose expertise lies in acquisition rather than provenance.
Contest of Colors, Pink Peach Blossoms and White Plum Flowers(pink peach blossoms, white plum flowers, carnation petals, labdanum, skin musk, and white amber) Reaching down into a barrel of vibrant fruit blossom flavored hard candies, just to feel all of those thousands of small, sweet treasures with your fingertips, pushing further down through their cool weight, sugared orbs clicking together like porcelain buttons, glass eyes, faceted gems, a plume of fragrance released, boiled syrup and dripping fruit flesh, and frothy clouds of frilled, perfumed petals.
Wandering Eye (blackcurrant, carrot seed, rose otto, immortelle, salt musk, violet leaf absolute, and lemon peel) First off, get a gander at that label art! Long-time readers of this blog will no doubt instantaneously recognize what I have come to think of as The Eyes of Becky Munich, as this artist’s eerie ocular renderings are truly things of eldritch beauty. And though I was not familiar with the particular sonnet that this fragrance was inspired by, there is no denying that the scent overall encapsulates the mournful lyricism that I associate with Edna St. Vincent Millay. For me, this is more a whispery, poetic feeling with an exquisitely elegiac quality–somewhere between gothic melodrama and tragic Victorian fairy poetry– than it is an actual smell that I can pinpoint …but envision this: a handful of sweet, dried chamomile brewed in a teacup of tears and pebbled with precious stones gathered from a reliquary; left as a graveside offering on a day when the sky is sullen, and the light is bruised and the descent of evening fog, milky, opaque, thick as wool, concludes the silent ceremony.
Courtiers and Cats(amber musk, cedarwood, agarwood, spikenard, black pepper, cacao, tobacco absolute, toasted cardamom, and cream) The biscuity warmth of musk and roasted cocoa beans, a sassy spike of black pepper, spikenard’s earthy, dirt-between-paws mustiness; between the woods and the amber and the hint of creaminess, this is a softly rumbling purr of comfort and coziness.
Aristocratic Warriors (gleaming tamahagane, polished leather, and auburn amber) A clan of juicy citrus samurai brandishing swift, shining steel swords and disco dancing; not a “lemon party” in popular parlance, but also, a lemon party is exactly what this is: a party of literal lemons, jubilant and joyful, bright, bouncy, and boogieing down. “Boogieing down”? Oh, Sarah. Are you Stephen King-old now? Also, there are no lemon notes in this scent, so maybe like King’s telepathic chef at that haunted hotel, I’m smelling something that’s not there right before I’m hit with the shinning.
Dark Chocolate, Blackcurrant, Rosewater, and Apricot (no notes listed) The most exquisite chocolate truffle, hand-piped with a velvety wild woodland brambleberry jam filling, enrobed with another layer of chocolate, embellished with freeze-dried bilberry pieces and rose petals. You’ll only find this treat deep in the forest at a pop-up stand run by hedgehogs with little purple jam-stained claws and sugar-crusted quills.
Need more Lupers? Have a peep at my Lupercalia reviews from 2022 // 2021 // 2020 // 2017. unfortunately, things between and before those years were written for other sites, and I wasn’t cross-posting to my own blog at that time. Lesson learned I can assure you!
And you might be wondering, “why don’t you ever post these reviews on the BPAL forums?” I was honestly just asking myself the same question the other day. I’ve been on the forums forever but never posted reviews there because, early on, I was just too self-conscious. And if you look at my profile at bpal.org, it says I’ve been a member since 2011, but that’s not true! I was a member under another name (ok, a few other names) since the forum opened in 2004 or 2005. I’ve been there since the beginning! And now, all these years later, I have a comfort level for writing about fragrance and have more or less found my voice, but I guess it would feel weird and somehow…. interloping? overstepping? who do I think I am-ing? to start posting my reviews there all of a sudden? Am I being dumb and precious about it? I don’t know!
Anyway…PSSSST! Did you know I have collected all of my BPAL reviews into one spot? I’m about a year behind with adding new stuff to the document, but as it stands, there are over 60 PAGES of my thoughts and rambles on various limited-edition scents from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab over the years: BPAL REVIEWS BY S. ELIZABETH (PDF download)
Lemon Blossom from TRNP is a wholly unexpected and immediate love for me, perhaps bordering on violent obsession. I’ve been fixated on the idea of it ever since sundaysmells mentioned it in her Instagram stories. I sought out a sample, and now there is no going back.I have a lemon tree and a lime tree, and I’ve spent most of my life in FL, surrounded by orange groves. Not literally, of course. I have pretty much always lived in the suburbs, but my point is that I’m keenly familiar with the deeply musky, honeyed, powdered sweetness of citrus blossoms…and this perfume is not even close to that. Which is fine. I’ve sniffed dozens of blossoming citrus fruit tree interpretations, and while so many of them are perfectly lovely, they are more or less all the same. This one, however, is a remarkably unconventional lemon blossom. It’s a heavy-metal music video glamazon duo of the brightest, zestiest lemon and most pungently incendiary, zingiest ginger in matching, metallic-threaded glinting-golden bodysuits, crowns of tresses teased to the heavens with sharp, acrid, patchouli-spiked hairspray and festooned with snowy, fragrant gardenias, and twinning extravagantly climactic guitar solos in a wild tangle of richly floral, fragrant yellow jasmine. This is an intense, sensational, bombastically glamorous lemon, and I have never smelled anything quite like it.
Lady Reading Poetry from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab is a fragrance inspired by Ishibashi Kazunori’s elegant oil painting. One of the things that I love about BPAL is that so many of their perfumes are based upon works of art–they even have a painting of the month scent, every month. And as someone for whom fragrance translates to visuals in my mind’s eye, I love this. Of course, my mind is a wily and uncooperative creature, and the inspiration for a perfume is not always the imagery that’s conjured on the canvas of my brain, but in this instance, it is spot on. With notes of whispery, tea-stained pages, dusty vanilla reminiscent of tatted lace doilies, satiny creamy sandalwood, and lilac’s pale, wistful floral, this is scent is a charmingly melancholic delicacy, strange and sad and full of longing.
Cartier’s Baiser Volé is a fragrance that I don’t have much to say about, but I do quite like it. This is a linen-y lily with some crisp, leafy green elements and a citrusy clean softness that reminds me of perfumery’s approximation of a bamboo note. It smells of a simulated freshness and synthetic florals, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. More like a 1995 hack the planet Acid Burn Angelina Jolie with a punk Vulcan haircut listening to Kruder & Dorfmeister kind of way. Like it began as something experimental and avant-garde, and then it was pared down to a no-frills, next-to-nothing version of itself–a singular lily–which, in turn, feels kind of edgy and pioneering for its complete lack of bells and whistles. It’s sleek and minimalist in that mid-90s techno sort of way, but also feels like someone you thought was too cool for school and super interesting but when you scratch the surface, there is nothing else going on. Just that one Orbital song, over and over and over.
Espirit d’Amour from Blocki is a fragrance that immediately transported me to childhood in a very specific way. The absolute relief and subsequent elation that school was out for the year. It smells like mornings that are dewy and warm, summer flowers that are just opening to the light of the sun. It smells like spending a weekend early in June with my grandmother, helping her fold a rickety wicker basket of freshly washed and dried bedlinens and towels, bubble baths in the evening with the windows open to the breeze and the call of nightbirds, and flannel nightgowns, and sweet dreams. As an adult, these feelings are even more precious because I recognize them and can put a name to them; Esprit d’Amour is a gently uplifting citrus blossom, delicate lily-lavender laundry musk perfume of freedom from fear, a loosening of that constant knot of dread filling your belly; it feels like a summoning of a safe place for a super nervous kid who grew up to be an enormously anxious adult.
Skylar Vanilla Sky smells like some creative team somewhere thought they should make Mugler’s Angel but for babies. Someone on legal raised their hand and said, “babies are too young for this; they’re boring and can’t handle their shit.” But then the sales team was like, “hey, shut up, this is happening.” The end product was ultimately that apricot-caramel-patchouli Angel blueprint but heavily watered down with Bath and Body Works’ discontinued Rice Flower and Shea body spray. The result is something profoundly and offputtingly creamy that smells like you accidentally mixed up your coconut hand cream with your vanilla pudding cup, slathering the wrong one and slurping the wronger one. Save your money, discerning babies. This stuff is pretty gross.
Fantôme Duende is a craggy, forested floral with entangled elements of tree sap, jagged rocky hills, and purple flowers. It calls to mind Backworld’s song, “The Devil’s Plaything“: As in a ruin where violets grow / In moss-covered fields / On cold marble stone… But it also makes me think of Mikey Bustos’ “Filipino Mythical Creatures Rap.” These, you will surely note, are two very different songs.
Accento Overdose from Xerjoff is a green, fruity floral: notes of vibrant, tropical pineapple and something apple-y, but not, maybe more like the delicate floral crispness of Asian pear, with underpinnings of soft, musky jasmine and blowsy late summer rose, elevated by balsamic pine and the aromatic sharpness of eucalyptus. It’s a fragrance with a distinctive personality, something I immediately recognize as a diva, lots of glamour, a real insistent “look at me!” vibe–but this one, she’s a real feisty, fiendish wicked queen. She’s Llanview’s legendary femme-fatale, Dorian Lord, whose list of crimes on soap central dot com is extensive and kind of hilarious. Accento Overdose evokes One Life To Live’s best, bitchiest, most iconic villain, but I’ll stop there because this is a $335 fragrance, and I’m not trying to convince anyone–least of all myself–that they need it. And yes, that is also a baby-faced Nathan Fillion in the photo that I linked to.
On the less expensive end, Death and Floral’s Famous Blue Raincoat offers a scent description of “old typewriter, weathered blue fabric, and static,” but what I smell is crushed violet pastilles, misted and mixed with honeyed, mineralic Gewürztraminer to create a runny pastel paste, which a dreaming artist paints onto a neoprene shower curtain, the image channeled by punk-poet voices from beyond. It is abstract art/spirit art/automatic writing rendered in bygone materials by a contemporary hand. It’s weird as hell but also strangely lovely, and I’m a little obsessed with it.
It’s been awhile since I’ve reflected upon the stinkers and duds that I’ve encountered, and everyone knows it’s much more fun to read about the gross things that people hate rather than the beautiful things they love. So here are five gross, awful perfumes that I’ve have the misfortune of smelling in the past few years. I’ll include links because one person’s trash could possibly be another person’s trashy disgusting treasure–and just because I hated these, it doesn’t mean that you will.
Imagine you won a contest run by your local radio station, you know, the one with the obnoxious sexist pig morning show duo, generically called something like “Big Dude Bro and the Little Vermin.” Yeah, so you–lucky you!–entered this contest where the prize was the privilege of getting to spend the night in a local spot purported to be haunted. Great, right?! Well, turns out it’s just a sketchy vape shop and the “ghost” is like, how someone saw Jesus’s face in a baked potato or something. And that actually happened next door in the crusty diner. The moment you walk in the door you are assaulted by the sickening aroma of maple syrup vape juice, a cloying waft from an empty rum raisin ice cream container crawling with many-legged insects, and the dusty fumes of your meanest ancestor’s cherry pipe tobacco. Was it a haunting, or was it Marc Jacobs Decadence? You conclude that while you did not experience anything in the slightest bit supernatural, this vile combination of notes will certainly haunt you for the rest of your days.
Givenchy L’Interdit is…oof. It makes my hips ache, and my knees creak. It makes me feel like a fucking fossil. This is a candied fruity floral, like crushed shards of every flavor Jolly Rancher forming the vague shape of a flower, but I think anyone who smells it will agree it is no flower found in nature. Do you know who smelled it and loved it, and thought it was “bomb” and “fire” and “literally everything,” though? A quartet of college girls who robbed a fast-food restaurant and stole a car to fund their spring break plans and who then got bailed out of jail by a skeezy clown of a drug dealer/rapper/arms dealer who looks just like James Franco. I’m pretty sure they are all about this bikini bacchanalia neon candy Harmony Korine girls gone wild hedonist hell of a scent, and man, they can have it. I’m too old for this shit.
ELdO You Or Someone Like You is the screechy confrontational performance art of a person having a freaky public meltdown, a full-out adult tantrum, taking place midafternoon in a popular coffee chain or a ubiquitous lingerie store in the mall, and which is probably being recorded by spectators for millions of future views on YouTube even as the melodrama is unfolding. It’s the synthetic aroma of an indoor public space filled with too many people breathing at once and poorly circulated air, the awkward musk of distressed and embarrassed onlookers, the cool mineralic concrete of silent complicity, the acrid, antiseptic arrogance of entitlement, and the tang of weaponized tears and performative victimhood of someone who felt personally attacked by Victoria’s Secret’s return policy regarding thong panties or the fact that Starbucks was out of oat milk for their ridiculous latte order. You or Someone like you is the fragrance of someone making a massively upsetting stink in front of a crowd and feeling absolutely no shame or remorse because they have a right to everything, they deserve everything merely because they exist.
This is a very horny perfume. But a sort of sad, lonely, horniness. It’s the drunk middle-aged lady at a concert or local gig, or festival, stumble-dancing alone. (I am middle-aged now, but in my memory, every incarnation of this woman always seems older than I will ever be.) It smells like what both partners might wear when they pack for their hedonism cruise in a last-ditch effort to save their relationship, and they’re on the prowl for their unicorn. It’s a bit desperate and hopeless, like that last radiant burst of manic energy that you put into a thing that’s doomed to fail, so what the hell, and why not. As to the actual fragrance, it’s a sticky stain on your sheets that, if you dare get close enough to sniff, smells of overripe raspberries, lychee syrup drizzled shaved ice, and a sickly sweet cola drink spiked with patchouli bitters. Instead of spending your money on Angel Nova, I think it wise for you invest in an extra session with your therapist.
I first sampled Montale’s Cafe Intense years ago when I was initially getting into fragrance and perfumes. I guess I was feeling a little nostalgic for that sample a kind MUA-er sent me way back when! My recollection was that it was meant to be a coffee-forward scent, but…it is not. My partner observed that it smells like a teenage girl who typically wore a lot of candied, sugary scents and who wanted to level up with fancy florals and didn’t quite hit the mark. She tried, I guess, was his conclusion. My thoughts are more specific. This is a cloying fruity-floral that smells exactly like Rose Jam from LUSH, which I bitterly loathe because that smells just like those gaggy sweet Jolly Ranchers hard candies that all the popular kids were always eating in 6th grade. This, in turn makes me think of the MOST popular girl; we’ll call her Mary Lesa Howell–because that is, in fact her actual name–who broke off and ATE part of my sugar crystal science project that year. I hate science projects, and I have never forgiven Mary Lesa Howell, and this awful perfume can go straight to hell.
Roja Dove Apex: when you live in a pineapple under the sea, but you’ve converted it to a Harley Davidson showroom.
We’re encountering a rose who is not just a protagonist in a horror film but perhaps the film–a cursed film–itself. And not some schlocky nonsense that’s all jump scares and genre cliches; we’re talking the last spine-tingling, pants-shittingly terrifying film you saw and that you’ve begun to have ghastly nightmares about which are starting to eerily echo and reverberate through your waking hours. Court of Ravens by 4160 Tuesdays is, in short, and on paper, an incensey rose chypre–but rumors are the incense component is the boiling blood of a mad cultist mixed with strange and stinging otherworldly herbs; the rose grew sickly and sinister on the unmarked grave of a hanged murderer, and the chypre, well, it’s the usual materials of oakmoss and balsamic elements, but pounded to an oozing paste on an ancient black altar with a secret number of drops from a cracked, cloudy bottle, and I don’t know what’s in that esoteric essence, but it smells shockingly of acrid fright-sweat, bitter adrenaline, and is underscored by a host of sharp, burning pheromones. So, you have probably reached the conclusion that I must love this, and you’re right, and I’m glad you guys can read between the lines.
I am testing BDK’s Ambre Safrano and thinking of a collection of contemporary poetry that I’ve been reading. I’m making this connection because it’s really bad poetry. And I am now 0/2 with the samples that I have tried from BDK Parfums. Now I realize both poetry and perfume and all forms of art are intensely subjective, and what’s considered “bad” in terms of any of it can have a lot to do with personal preference. Ambre Saffano is meant to take us on a faraway olfactory journey, but I think they’ve vastly overestimated the distance this scent has the capability of encompassing because the places that it shows us seem pretty limited.. It goes as far as your laptop screen or the phone, a few inches from your face, as it’s the olfactory equivalent of fanfiction without a single measure of spice, none of the characters have any chemistry, and the writing is weirdly overwrought for a story with absolutely no plot, and then you take that uninspired mess and run it through some sort of poetry generator, and you end up a word salad that somehow manages to be nonsensical and boring and not only are you not enjoying it, it’s actually giving you a bit of a headache. And if I haven’t told you anything about what it actually smells like, that’s because I truly do not know. But imagine a bowl of plastic fruit. A facsimile of fruit, of something sweet and seasonal and juicy that once existed somewhere, but the person who molded this fruit maybe has never even seen this fruit. Imagine you melted down to a slurry those waxy, musty plastic apples and grapes and bananas and dumped in a Costco-sized bag of Truvia, and attempted to make cotton candy with it. And then, for some ungodly reason, you wrote a poem about it. Ok, this review is all over the place, and you’re probably walking away from it dumber than when you started. If it’s any consolation, I am too.
Filigree and Shadow’s The Purest Blue is all sandalwood; sandalwood can feel so lofty sometimes, like it’s speaking some sort of angelic language that you can’t quite parse; it’s over your head. But this is sandalwood that feels nicely tethered, as if there’s a terrestrial translator working on my behalf to decode those epiphanies. What’s even better is that this earthy element, he and I are real kindred spirits, and through his filter, those celestial sandalwood messages get peppered with the slightest bit of salty impish musk, and in his own words, it turns out the angels are insisting “bitch, you need an exorcist.” Tell Me About The Forest (You Once Called Home)is fir and spruce and juniper and is an immediate love. You know I have a huge fondness for fairy-tale forest fragrances, but so many of them are sticky, a fairy forest syrup that you measure a bar spoon into for some sort of Hansel and Gretel cocktail. This doesn’t have that treacly quality; it’s…dryer? Maybe a bit bitter. I feel like it’s a bit of a hermit-ascetic with an acerbic wit and a love of irony. It reminds me of dense, darkened thickets in the midnight woodland art of Tin Can Forest.
I don’t know with certainty that The people you love become ghosts inside you from Death and Floral and is inspired by Robert Montgomery’s poetic conceptual artworks, but much like this particular installation, this perfume is a translucent, tender, neon poem of light and loss and longing. The Death and Floral site doesn’t really list specifics with regard to the notes, just an evocative combination of adjectives revolving around musks, florals, and a “cold vanilla”. Not being a perfumer and not caring to learn anything about it, I can only guess as to what that means. In this case, it conjures a spectral vanilla shrouded in wintergreen morning veils and draped in shimmering shadowed musky, powdery violet dewdrop memento mori jewels. I don’t know if this is wintergreen, maybe it’s birch or sarsparilla, but I recognize something in the family of mentholated musty medicinal miasma, and typically I don’t care for these notes. You could say that in fact, I actively hate them. But I strangely love the deeply unsettling haunted house cold spots drop in temperature that it lends to this already melancholic scent, and I’ve found myself unexpectedly craving it when I’m not wearing it, and when it is on my wrists, I cannot stop sniffing them.
Destrier from House of Matriarch is perhaps the first leather scent I have ever not just tolerated but actually liked. I’m not sure if I’m even a leather fan, but I appreciate that this one just goes so hard. It is not putting on airs, and it’s not in disguise (unlike leather-clad Spongebob Squarepants, above); there is no mistaking it. AND it’s a rather 360° immersive scent experience as well as absolutely immediate, with no lead-in or preamble. Imagine you are an overachieving LARPer, and you took three years of leatherworking classes so that you could make the perfect leather coin pouch to hang from your belt for this intensely anticipated festival you’ve been dying to attend. Even though it’s a tiny piece of a larger, more intricate costume, you want every detail absolutely perfect, from the tanning to the stitching to the embossing. You’ve spent so much time on this accessory that you’re smelling those tanning agents, those fats and oils and chemicals and musks, even in your dreams now. And in waking life, too, even after the event, you are one with that leather coin purse, and you carry it with you everywhere you go. At this point in time, it is stuffed with cedar chips, sweet grasses, and soft moss…because you spent all your coins on those expensive classes and leatherworking tools.
Is Penhaligon’s Babylonmeant to evoke Babylon, the den of iniquity and pinnacle of sin? Or perhaps that groovy Satanic prostitute, arrayed in purple and scarlet, decked with pearls and precious stones, with her golden cup spilling with abominations and filthiness? I’m not sure this softly-spiced, velvet-wooded fragrance is as outrageous or dramatic as all of that. Imagine that golden cup, surely sensationalized to pique public indignation, was instead some sort of humble, unassuming vessel, a bowl of roughly carved but fragrant sandalwood, filled with a milky liquid, redolent of honeyed saffron, the aromatic, earthy warmth of nutmeg and coriander’s peppery-aniseed camphor, and delicately resinous, subtly smoky vanilla. If you’re a fan of Dior’s Hypnotic Poison, but don’t love that obnoxious root beer note, I think you’d find Babylon a more tasteful option. I do enjoy this scent immensely, but I’d still like to smell a more vivid and exuberant perfumed interpretation of this apocalyptic beauty.
Over on TikTok today, I gave a brief, updated tour of my perfume cabinet for 2023. And now that I’ve said that, I am thinking maybe I need to do a longer one for my much-neglected YouTube channel–what do you think?
This little show and tell was at the request of someone who left a comment on one of my previous TikTok videos, but even so, in recent years, I’ve become a little self-conscious about showing off my collection. I know it’s a lot (and believe it or not, that’s not the part I’m worried about being judged for.) I don’t mind saying ‘BEHOLD MY STUFF,” but I never want it to come off as ‘BEHOLD ALL OF THE THINGS I HAVE THAT YOU DO NOT HAVE.” I never want to make someone feel bad about themselves or less-than.
Please keep in mind this is nearly 20 years’ worth of collecting perfumes. I know that when you are new to a passion or enthusiasm, it’s tempting to want to keep up with everything that reviewers or influences are talking about, and it’s easy to spend a lot —way too much—money in doing so. You don’t have to build a collection overnight. You certainly don’t have to build a collection that looks like this. Lord knows, I sure don’t need this many perfumes. But I love to sniff and ponder beautiful, evocative things, and even if I’ve already got something beautiful, maybe even many beautiful somethings, I’m always on the hunt for that holy grail of beauty. It is a strange and wonderful and horrible craving that I can never seem to satisfy.
At any rate, I just suppose this is a little disclaimer and just pre-emptively answering a few frequently (un) asked questions. Because most of you are too polite, but you have perhaps wondered these things. Although I know there are people out there who have twice as many, three times as many, fragrances on their shelves as mine, I am aware that even this is a ridiculous amount of perfumes, and you really don’t need anything even close to this number. I’d love to say that these were all PR or gifted and that I didn’t spend my own money on them…but honestly, except for some of the indie scents from niche-interest creators that I am friendly with, none of them were free, or even discounted. I’m not that kind of writer/reviewer. I’m not on any brand’s radars. I’m just someone who enjoys writing about perfume and does it joyfully and generously even though I am in no way getting paid for it– and as a matter of fact, this enthusiasm has cost me more money than I would ever be comfortable confessing to. But. I do have a full-time job that I have had for almost 20 years now. I am married to someone who has a full-time job. So we are a two-income household…with no children, no car payments, and no student loans. We saved up for this house and between that and the sale of our old home, it is paid for in full– so we don’t even have a mortgage. I don’t go out to restaurants, I don’t travel, and I don’t spend a lot of money anywhere else. So, sure. I am almost stupidly privileged to have the play money to afford an obsession.
Well. Maybe that’s not entirely true. I do have a Patreon where I write about perfume, and the wonderful supporters of that endeavor are giving me money every month. So I am sort of getting paid to write about perfume, I guess? But maybe not in the traditional way of things.
This shadowy photo above was the extent of my collection in 2011 when I wrote about my ten favorite scents for the bloodmilk blog. It’s a little embarrassing to admit that these are still my best-loved fragrances…and yet I have kept acquiring more bottles. What if there’s something still out there that I have not experienced? What if there’s a favorite yet to be found? I don’t dare stop looking! I had to go searching through my Tumblr to find this photo again. Can you believe I still update that thing? I do! I’m stubborn. I’ll be on Tumblr til I die, probably. If you’re curious as to what I was into in March of 2011, have a peek, hee hee!
And is my all-time favorite scent still the cool meditative forest temple dream of CdG Kyoto? (Yes.)
But I also have some new favorites!
The Holy Mountain (this is the old formula from Apoteker Tepe) If you are in the market for a smoky fragrance that smells like maybe the smoke cleared after a super-beardy wizard threw a mystical resin into a fire to conjure an ancient dragon lord or something, but the dragon flew away and the wizard has gone to bed and the fire has burned down so that only the embers are smoldering and the deeply scented, resinous smoke has seeped into all the old wooden beams in the top-most tower room where all the magical shit is locked up…well, The Holy Mountain may be the scent for you.
Stroopwafel from Scent Trunk is a gorgeous gourmand that balances what could potentially be intensely heavy and cloying with something that still feels light and airy, and effortlessly cozy. It feels perfect for what can be a really intense time of year when you’re pulled in every direction, you’re spread too thin, and there’s never enough time. The holidays can be physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually draining, and the last thing you want to do is top all that off with a fragrance that leans too far into any of that mess. Stroopwafel is a scent that feels nostalgic to a point, but in the way that books and dreams are nostalgic, unsullied by what goes on in your real life, and even then, it’s saved by various other elements before it can get its hooks into you and become something maudlin or suffocatingly sentimental. This is not to say I don’t connect with this scent, because I do! But in a way that feels like it’s a treasure just for me. Like being wrapped up in something special that I don’t have to share and in it, creating memories of moments that are solely my own. Nostalgia happening now, rose-tinting the present as I am living it. It opens as the rich, fragrant gooey chewy treat it’s named for, that buttery bourbon caramel syrup center and brown sugar deliciousness of that sort of not-baked-all-the-way-through waffled cookie sandwiching it. But alongside all that cozy, sweet warmth, there’s a breath of something cool and breezy, this side of piney marjoram, that side of woodsy cedar, that makes itself known. It’s the emotional equivalent of waking up too warm in bed at night and slipping your toes from beneath your quilt to give them a little chill. Or perhaps baking up a storm in a humid kitchen on a wintry day and cracking the window open to let in a frigid gust of air. In the end, a lovely vanilla musk rounds out the fragrance. At this point, and until you can no longer detect it on your skin, it smells like the sweater you spent all day wearing in that cookie kitchen, but with a light dusting of snow after you left it on top of the woodpile overnight.
Fort and Manle Confessions of a Garden Gnome I don’t believe this earnest little gnome’s secret to be particularly incendiary, but it does present some specific imagery. Shirking garden tasks to sneak into a woodland affair he’s heard rumors about, and, expecting an opulent ball, he washes behind his loamy soil-caked ears and spritzes on his little limbs a soft herbal cologne with notes of violet leaf and strange citrus. What he finds upon arrival is a fairy ring rave; intoxicated pixies and sprites flirting and frolicking across pepper moss, under disco balls reflecting the birch and cedar trees… and the guilty face of the gnome who doesn’t know how to dance.
Chapel Factory’s Heresy is the sharp green metallic floral of violet leaf, mingled with cool aromatic cedar, lofty sandalwood, and the smoked leather notes of vetiver; elements which alchemize into the austere elegance and kindred glooms of a dry, peppery violet incense. If you like the dark ambiance and nocturnal aesthetic of dungeon synth coupled with spectral visionary Simon Marsden’s black and white photographs of haunted ruins and moonlit abbeys, this is a transportive scent that will spirit you away to those eerie, ominous realms.
Oud Wood from Tom Ford is a ghostly, glacial coniferous rosewood sandalwood melange of chilly, bitter, peppery woods. It is a tiny, sinister statue of a scent in an empty room where the temperature drops suddenly, with no explanation. The perfumed version of a little gremlin that appears in a haunting tale; one that skitters in the corners of your vision when the eye is focused elsewhere and inches eerily to your pillow when you’re at the knife’s edge of wakefulness and dream.
Madar from PoesieMilky, custardy pudding delicately spiced with cardamom’s weirdness and melancholic orange blossom water and kooky sugared pistachios, and damn if this isn’t a low-key melodramatic goth rice pudding on its way to a Cure concert.
November in the Temperate Deciduous Forest from For Strange Women 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.
So I guess I will wrap up this tour by letting you know that if you have any questions about my collection, my habits or preferences or anything related to something me + perfume, let me know, and I will round all of those up and address then in an upcoming YouTube video!
If you are curious about all of the perfume reviews I have ever written, you can find them over at fragrantica (which is not a great site and I am trying not to be there), so you can also find all of my reviews on parfumo. Curious about BPAL reviews? I have a PDF with loads and loads of them! It hasn’t been updated since I created it in 2020, but I’ll get around to it sooner or later…
Dapper Mandrake Goes A Courtin’ (elegant tendrils of mandrake, vetiver, and galangal root splashed with a debonaire cologne) This earthy, spicy, jaunty rhizome is a snazzy gent and has splashed a verdantly aromatic-cedary-citrusy essence on his whiskery roots to make a good first impression, put his best foot forward, so to speak. It is unfortunate that in doing so, he neglected to put either foot through a pants leg. But he smells so dashing and handsome that you can almost forget the fact that he showed up for your date without a stitch of clothing on.
Ginormous Yule-ified Yard Skeleton(Sandalwood bones festooned with a pumpkin garland and twinkling multicolored lights groaning under the weight of crushed peppermint snow) You know how sometimes those glossy, glowing multicolored strands of Christmas lights on a dark, cold wintry night look like sour, sugar-crystal candied neon orbs strung on chewy licorice filaments? No? Well, they do to me! Imagine you could just crunch your way through all of them. That’s what this scent smells like, just pure, irradiated broken-toothed-but-worth-it joy.
Snow White 2022(a chilly, bright perfume: flurries of virgin snow, crisp winter wind, and the faintest breath of night-blooming flowers.) Though I’ve tried several versions of the Lab’s Snow White over the years –even one all the way back in 2005!– I have never once written a review for it. It always smells like a revelation, and you know how wily and ineffable those things can be. It’s almost impossible to paint a picture of; it’s all fleeting impressions, like a dream that you wake up from and you’re like, “…I was dreaming of Edmund Dulac’s Snow Queen, and sugared almonds, and fluffy, and chilly-almost-minty-but-it can’t-be-mint-because-I-hate-mint, right? And vanilla, coconutty filigree fluffy snowflakes, and whispery arctic-floral musks? …And you were there, too!” You know, that kind of dream. It sweetly cocooned you all night, and even though you can’t recall the specifics, you can still smell it on your wrists in the morning.
Kentucky Bourbon Fruitcake (a big hunk of homemade fruitcake soaking in 90 proof) buttery yellow cake batter laden with the hypernatural lurid fruity sweetness of jade green and synthwave sunset red candied cherries, a sour bit of citron, and the tartness of dried pineapple; there’s a measuring cup nearby spilling with the potent tannic, caramel-scented fumes of oak barrel-aged whiskey and yeah, you’re eventually going to drench the cake in it after it’s done baking and leave the whole thing on the counter to mellow overnight, but for now you’re gonna stick a straw in it and slurp a bit of the top as a treat for the cook. Maybe munch on a few of those pecans you decided at the last moment not to stir in. It’s your kitchen, your rules!
Pink and Blue Candy Canes(the pillowy warmth of strawberry cotton candy, cooled with a gentle breath of blueberry vanilla mint) I don’t know how to explain this in a way that makes sense to people who function normally. But do you ever resist something or not allow yourself to experience something because you feel in your heart that x/y/or z thing isn’t meant “for people like you”? I’m not even certain what that means, exactly, but it’s a feeling that’s been tethered to my soul, strangling it, for as long as I can remember. And whatever those off-limit things are, I know them when I see them. They’re usually fun, playful, or exciting things, and there’s just something deep-seated within me that’s forever admonishing me, making me feel foolish even for thinking that I could ever partake in anything merry and mirthful, that my presence would ever be welcome at the table of joy. I think the pink and blue candy cane, that nostalgic, old-fashioned hard candy hook in a fusion of blue and pink twisted stripes, epitomizes all of those feelings in one eye-twitchingly sweet, crunchy confection. BPAL’s interpretation of these sweets is a fluffy, spun sugar strawberry jam-scented hug, with a cool, ozonic blueberry pancake whisper of “treat yo’self.” It is warm, and it is gentle, and in my reviews, I desperately try not to use the same words and descriptors as the Lab has used in their note listing (because what’s even the point of me writing this here and now if I am doing that?) But their description of this scent is exactly what it is, and my ramblings here about it are basically just me barfing my angst on you in the meantime.
Birb Mob(starry musk and smoldering pink peppercorn ashes cascading into a snowdrift) Frosty, flickering starlit vistas; a graceful matrix of fragmented crystalline horizon; a dazzling and dreamlike view observed by a curious, many-eyed creature, its hollow bones aloft in a strange sky illuminated by waves of flowing aurora, while three pale moons simultaneously rise in the evening. A soft woody-rosy floral piquancy scents the air as silvery stars fall like snowflakes, sizzling and shimmering in the breathless cold.
Black Julbocken Alchemy Lab (shaggy black wool and a slushy tangle of juniper, mistletoe, winter sage, spikenard, white moss, and terebinth) A blood-memory of pagan festivals, and mystical ecstasy, evanescent shadows coalescing into giant woodland spirits cavorting in the dark, the scent of the animalic and fungal, leathery root and balsamic wood, a reed-wrapped parcel tossed in the flames at midnight, gingery, peppery spiced sparks drifting lazily skyward.
Welcome Unto Thee (champagne and marshmallows) A fairy-tale fruit danish, some lush combination of passionfruit and apricot (but somehow not fruity at all? Like a ghostly indentation where the fruit once briefly was nestled, and then a gremlin crept in and ate it, so it never made it into the finished pastry?) swirled with cream cheese and wrapped in twinkly, effervescent vanilla cream soda cellophane.
Snow Snake (a chilly interpretation of Snake Oil; sweet, spiced musk with a crunch of snow and frost-hardened patchouli) I’ve countless times alluded to the sugared vanilla incense patchoulified potency of Snake Oil, how I adore it, how it’s a massively swoony scent –but the key word there is “massive.” There is no such thing as applying a “little bit” of Snake Oil; even a scant droplet is probably too much. I’ve not yet encountered a combination that can tame its monstrous throw…until they paired it with the wintry shivers of their snow, frost, and ice notes. Imagine Snake Oil’s narcotic slithers relentlessly winding their way up your nose, but then envision those heady slitherations crystalizing into the magic of spiraling frozen undulations, blanketed in the cold and hibernating, snake-charmed, chilled out.
Shortbread Diamonds (crumbly dough made with brown sugar and butter) You think this is going to be a simple, straightforward scent. You would be wrong. It begins as rich, buttery, generously salted–nearly briny– shortbread crust, but just as you’re imagining it quivering with, say, an eggy black olive and manchego cheese mixture just before entering a 350° oven to quiche-ify, it surprises you. It becomes a lightly caramelized oaky vanilla-orchid floral, the type of thing that wants to catch more flies with honey than it does with vinegar, the thing that softens and sweetens with age and experience and has learned to pick its battles, and sometimes that still just actually means all of the battles because your life and what you’ve made of it–and of yourself, in all of your sweet and salty and quichey and caramel incarnations, in all the tragedy and beauty of being a human–is delicious and gorgeous and worth fighting for. I don’t know why this fucking perfume is making me cry, but here we are. The above image is my attempt at making the recipe that inspired this fragrance (I’m afraid I let them get a little brown, le whoopsie.)
Cranberry Honeyed Sandalwood Patchouli Root A gnome and a hare picnic in the forest and share a small pot of sour, tart, aromatic cranberry tea lively with woodland nuances, along with a napkin-knotted plate of rich, brown, sugared-sprinkled honey cake. A bear on a scavenger hunt interrupts. A tense moment. A frog belches on a nearby log. The hare’s whiskers quiver with of mixture of fear and giggles and a sweet dusting of crumbs, and soon, the trio is laughing companionably together as new friends.
Carved Wooden Bookstore (polished oak bark, tiny books with tea-stained pages and faux-leather binding, a scattering of dust, and the gleaming painted fur of a porcelain calico book shop cat) The rich, oaken warmth of a firelit library in a grand country estate that you’ve been entreated to make yourself at home in; your host had to take a phone call, so please, browse the leather-bound titles, flip through those well-worn pages to your heart’s content. Beeswax candles flicker in the reflections of the gilt-edged mirrors hung from every spare inch of unshelved wall space, and as you marvel at the glowing refractions on the shimmering glass, a curious draft tickles your skin and shivers up your spine. Where could this peculiar chill be coming from? The room is nearly as warm as being swaddled in a down comforter in your bed at home! You trace its path to the bookshelf, where you notice a fine layer of dust along the surfaces of the floor-to-ceiling shelving and their contents, with the exception of one pristine title that appears absolutely untouched by time or human hand. You reach out to examine the book, and as your fingers graze the pebbled binding, you hear a series of clicks and the grating of hinges as that solid wooden shelf swings heavily inward…revealing a hidden staircase. Do you a.) hastily fumble the scene back into order, take a seat, and wait for your host? or b.) grab a candle stick and descend into the dark? In either scenario, you’ll smell of a mysteriously cozy Choose Your Own Adventure room full of books and firelight and waxy, dripping candles sitting atop delicate powdery doilies.
Boozy Lemon Shortbread (a sharp, limoncello-spiked curd baked into a shortbread crust, dusted with powdered sugar) The scent of the best, the ultimate, the most winningest cookie to bring to cookie swap night! Just the perfect amount of sugar, fresh lemon zest, and real butter, the good stuff, Kerrygold or your local dairy equivalent–and your secret ingredient: each cookie is served with a full-sized lemon drop martini. I’m not saying you’ll win because you got the judges drunk (and I’m not saying you won’t be disqualified* for bribing the judges!), but I think either way, it’ll be a good time.
*you guys, when I was writing this, for the life of me, I could not think of the word “disqualified.” I kept wanting to write “excommunicated.”
Carved Wooden Cultist Lair (sweet, dark incense swirling around flame-scorched ebony wood) I am currently reading a book called The Honeys by Ryan Lasala. I am actually listening to the audio version at 1.40 speed because I am attempting to read 200 books this year, and in scheming about all the ways that I can make this happen, I’m trying all the little hacks. So this story–which is marketed as a YA queer novel, described as “Heathers” meets “Midsommer,” but it doesn’t really feel YA to me, but then again, my idea of YA is from 20 years ago– takes place at a prestigious summer camp where there is a secretive, elusive clique of teenage girls. The Honeys. I think they are aspiring beekeepers or somesuch. I’m not very far into the book, and they are not the main character (the MC is a gorgeously witty gender-fluid individual, Mars, who is at the camp investigating his twin sister’s death), but when I smelled the incense component of Carved Wooden Cultist Lair, I immediately thought of The Honeys, and of honey in general. If you heat honey on the stovetop, and the lusty, dusky scent of wildflowers, orange blossoms, and jasmine, warming and cooling and hardening in some sort of arcane incense-making process, results in a series of small vaguely bee-shaped cones, smelling of burnt sugars, resins, musks, and florals. They dry and age on sharp, peppery, balsamic-smelling wooden shelves and are sold on roadside stands and farmer’s markets, and whoever lights a little bee in their home is visited by strange, sweet, stinging dreams. (This doesn’t happen in the book, FYI. Just me letting my imagination run away with me.)
Knave of Snowflakes(blackcurrant tarts and chilled rose jam) This is so pretty, it’s almost unreal. Sweet, juicy-jammy, ripe blackcurrants cooked to deep purple stickiness, filling an almond pastry, topped with pillowy mounds of coconut vanilla custard, and served with a tiny scoop of wild rose petal ice cream. And somehow, none of this is in the least bit foody– there’s this ghostly bitter-green veil that delivers the whole thing as a luminous, ferny fougère.
Teapot Full of Angst (black tea with vetiver, almond, black patchouli, tobacco absolute, bitter lemon peel, and oud) What an incredibly weird and wonderful fragrance! This is a thick, rich, gooey tea-flavored fudge spiked with citrus and which reveals some evocative earthy elements that emerge as it dries. It’s as if a pot of strong tea was boiled down with a teacup full of brown sugar, a goodly glug of molasses, and slivers of bright yellow lemon peel, and then the mixture was stirred together with an entire box of sweet, nutty, whole wheat graham crackers crumbs and left on a counter to cool and set overnight. Fast forward about twenty years, and rather than the treat itself, this fragrance smells of its dusty, stained magazine clipping recipe card and which was secretly buried in the back garden by your eccentric relative because they didn’t want anyone to have their recipe after they died. This is why we dig it up and make the hell out of it and shout the recipe from the rooftops– because we don’t believe in gatekeeping the good stuff.
Need more Yule scents? Have a peep at my Yule reviews from 2021 and a single review for 2019 though I could swear I have several years’ worth of BPAL Yule reviews floating around that out there. And I know this because…
…PSSSST! Did you know I have collected all of my BPAL reviews into one spot? I’m about a year behind with adding new stuff to the document, but as it stands, there are over 60 PAGES of my thoughts and rambles on various limited-edition scents from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab over the years: BPAL REVIEWS BY S. ELIZABETH (PDF download)
I’ve been writing about perfumes on and off for the past twenty years, but I think this is actually the first year I have successfully shared a perfume review round-up, consistently, for twelve months running! Well done, me!
I have been generously gifted with some samples by Caitlin at Red River Apothecary, and I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the fragrances she selected for me. I loved the first two that I tried so much that I didn’t even want to wait to sniff the other three before sharing my thoughts. (Edited to add…well, there were five, but somehow I lost one along the way!) I’ll begin with Moria. I do love a scent built around dragon’s blood, and this is one of the most stunning examples I have ever encountered. Dragon’s blood in fragrance is heady and rich and sometimes quite overwhelming in a syrupy sense– but here, tempered with the incendiary floral of black pepper and shadowy black musk, it conjures the honeyed warmth of a mystical lantern glowing in the brooding caverns of Khazad-dûm.
Ozark is so lovely that it makes me strangely weepy; its gentle, refreshing dewdrops, velvety green moss, and deep blue, crystalline waters, it calls to mind a tranquil forest meadow teeming with bluebells and snowdrops and forget-me-nots alongside a cold, clear rushing river. It makes me think of Snow White in her glass coffin in a twilight illustration by Gustaf Tengrenn, and funny enough, it specifically summons two different songs for me In a Glade by Milla Jovovich, but I think it’s a traditional Ukrainian folksong, and Rusalka, Rusalka by the Decemberists, lyrics which lament the folly of falling for the dark-eyed Rusalka, pale as a liminal moon.
Shahwa is an opulent, intoxicating fragrance, a deep, rich, spicy incense that a Red Woman burns (every fantasy story has some version of a Red Woman) while invoking dark gods of pain and pleasure, and Sedona is stories told around a campfire, spirits, and elements of desert florals, Pinyon smoke, and the promise of oncoming rain in the potpourri of petrichor and downdraft of fresh ozone.
Stolas from Fantome is the strangest, most marvelous combination of chocolate and lavender, and this is one of the times I did not reacquaint myself with the notes before testing the scent and coming to that conclusion. So when I double-checked and saw I was right and I did actually smell what I smelled–hot dog, that’s validating. Even after all of this time I feel like I am just constantly wildly speculating. Anyway, this is a musty, dusty chocolate and a powdery lavender, cool aromatic cedar, and something strangely, sweetly waxen. It summons for me something so uncannily vivid and eerily evocative, though not the owl-headed 36th Prince of Hell that inspired the scent. No, this is a dim attic room closed to sunlight for the last century, tangled in pale, filmy cobwebs and frail, milky lace, and crowded with countless wooden shelves upon which are perched dozens of creamy-cheeked, unblinking porcelain dolls.
Stroopwafel from Scent Trunk is a gorgeous gourmand that balances what could potentially be intensely heavy and cloying with something that still feels light and airy, and effortlessly cozy. It feels perfect for what can be a really intense time of year when you’re pulled in every direction, you’re spread too thin, and there’s never enough time. The holidays can be physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually draining, and the last thing you want to do is top all that off with a fragrance that leans too far into any of that mess. Stroopwafel is a scent that feels nostalgic to a point, but in the way that books and dreams are nostalgic, unsullied by what goes on in your real life, and even then, it’s saved by various other elements before it can get its hooks into you and become something maudlin or suffocatingly sentimental. This is not to say I don’t connect with this scent, because I do! But in a way that feels like it’s a treasure just for me. Like being wrapped up in something special that I don’t have to share and in it, creating memories of moments that are solely my own. Nostalgia happening now, rose-tinting the present as I am living it.
It opens as the rich, fragrant gooey chewy treat it’s named for, that buttery bourbon caramel syrup center and brown sugar deliciousness of that sort of not-baked-all-the-way-through waffled cookie sandwiching it. But alongside all that cozy, sweet warmth, there’s a breath of something cool and breezy, this side of piney marjoram, that side of woodsy cedar, that makes itself known. It’s the olfactory equivalent of waking too warm in bed at night and slipping your toes from beneath your quilt to give them a little chill. Or perhaps baking up a storm in a humid kitchen on a wintry day, and cracking the window open to let in a frigid gust of air. A lovely vanilla musk rounds out the fragrance. At this point, and until you can no longer detect it on your skin, it smells like the sweater you spent all day wearing in that cookie kitchen, but with a light dusting of snow after you left it on top of the woodpile overnight.
I only started hearing about Pineward sometime last year, but in reading over their website, I just realized Pineward is another project of the person who now runs Apoteker Tepe, which I thought disappeared a few years ago, but I guess it was sold by the original perfumer and has been purchased by this Pineward person. Considering that my favorite Apoteker Tepe perfume is The Holy Mountain, and it smells like a beardy grandmaster max-level wizard summoning the ultimate ancient mystical dragon lord of the 11th realm or whatever, and now I smell the extremely resinous potency of these Pineward fragrances, this is an acquisition which makes perfect sense. I ordered a sampler set, and for the first one, I think we’ll get into Eldritch. Which is what my middle initial stands for. Just kidding, it’s Elizabeth. Eldritch is comprised of my favorite notes, the sweet loamy decay of oakmoss, opoponax’s oaken honeyed leather, myrrh’s aromatic warmth, crushed balsamic fir needles, and peppery, tannic smoke. It’s so, so, freaking good. And now it’s the signature scent of Elizabeth Eldritch, a powerful tiefling warlock with hair that smolders and crackles in the sun, who has a passion for forbidden lore and whose best friend is a giant fire beetle.
Murkwood from Pineward smells like perfumes I already own several similar bottles of, namely Norne from Slumberhouse, Winter from Dasein, The Nue Company’s Forest Lungs, and Hwyl from Aesop. But I love these notes, and I love how they make me feel and the magical places they take me to. I can never have enough of them and I am always on the hunt for the holy grail of these wintry midnight fairytale forest fragrances. With Murkwood, imagine that grail is less a golden chalice radiating a holy halo of light and more a small wooden cup, roughly carved of fir, a vessel for steaming smoky resinous tea drunk under a full January moon on a night with the snow-covered mosses and the frozen earth under your leather boots make a chilly incense of their own. If one were to stop by the woods in a snowy evening where two roads diverged in a wood, one familiar and one less traveled–Murkwood is stepping off the path entirely into that lovely, deep darkness. As a matter of fact, and this is a very niche reference, but I’m putting it out there anyway and I hope you’ll chime in down in the comments if you know what I am talking about–Murkwood is the olfactory accompaniment to avant-garde video game studio Tale of Tale’s The Path, an atmospheric, immersive horror game based on older, darker versions of Little Red Riding Hood.I see that the Pineward shop is closed right now, but this might just be my holy grail, and I am splurging on a full bottle first thing in 2023.
Yukion’na by Ikiryo Perfumes contains an element that I’m weirdly smitten with, and it’s possible you love it, too, or else you really hate it. There’s probably not any in-between. I am not a smoker, nor have I ever been, but I have an inexplicable fondness for whatever that combination of notes is that smells like a pack of cigarettes in an expensive handbag. It doesn’t smell like smoke, not exactly, and it certainly doesn’t smell like an ashtray. I can detect it in my bottles of Sycomore from Chanel, Chris Collin’s Autumn Rhythm, and My, Myself, and I from Ego Facto. I’d guess some combination of vetiver and leather and tobacco, but not all of these scents have these notes, so I guess I really don’t know. Yukion’na is another one that contains this facet that I’m so fond of, and it conjures for me a wintry yōkai, taking a break from an evening of striking terror into the hearts of lost travelers. She secrets herself behind an icy-glittered pine, the bitter decay of last autumn’s chrysanthemum petals crunch under the snow, and with a sharp, pale fingernail, she peels a small, tangerine, its pitted rind falling in a perfect spiral, shockingly vivid against the bone white landscape. As the moon rises over the frosted forest, a thin pillar of smoke plumes from a cigarette held between her citrus-scent fingertips.
I sampled another fragrance from Ikiryo, but I was really uncomfortable writing about it, so that review is for Midnight Stink Patrons only. I know it’s not fair to mention something that I’m not sharing with you, but for record-keeping sake, I did want to note it in the total of perfume reviews I have written this month.
I’ve wanted a fragrance from Gucci’s Alchemist’s Garden collection for the longest time, but I did not want to pay $350 for a bottle. I lucked out and found a bottle of Love at Your Darkest on Mercari for less than half that, and even luckier still, I actually love it. First, the downside, and the answer to a question that lots of folks asked when I first showed a peek at this a few weeks ago: it’s got basically zero longevity. I spritzed with manic abandon before beginning to write this review, and five sentences in, I basically have to jam my nostrils into my wrist to get the slightest whiff of it. So I would urge you to seek out second-hand bottles of this and buy at a discount. As to the scent, it’s lovely. If you like Tom Ford’s Oud Wood, well, that’s the obvious comparison, but it’s not quite the same; it’s still got that dry, peppery, cedary, woodsy oud backbone, but it’s much less chilly, with a bit of rosy-cheeked delicacy, a sort of fresh, uplifting floral note Replace that dusty tome of MR James ghost stories it’s clutching with a big, soft, pink bouquet of peonies. I’m almost tempted to call it “pretty,” but there’s a discordant jangle of something akin to celery seed, a bitter-earthy-salty facet that makes me hesitate…which is fine with me because I think that strangeness, this off-kilter element makes me like it all the more. I think this would be an interesting fragrance for layering with something more intense, like an oud-forward fragrance oil. Or maybe a rose-oud combination.
I had so much fun discussing DS& Durga’s Sexy Vikingwith the Viking who lives with me. Ývan is Icelandic and lived in Iceland until he was a teenager. His immediate family, his mom, dad, and brothers all now live in the US, as a matter of fact, some of them live a few neighborhoods away, but the rest of his relatives are scattered all over Iceland. He goes back every few years to visit, and I’ve been once, but I certainly don’t have enough familiarity with the country to have a well-formed opinion of a fragrance inspired by aspects of it. Well, I mean, I have an opinion on the fragrance, I can have an opinion on anything, but I guess I mean I can’t really comment overmuch on the sense of place that it’s meant to evoke. Ývan tells me that he gets an overall sense of fresh, crisp, evergreen coniferous pineyness. It recalls for him the summers he spent in the youth work program hauling wood from the forest …which I assumed was some sort of unpaid lumberjack gig, but he laughed and said, what kid is gonna do that kind of work for free?
Anyway, his specific memory involves the moments when he would take a rest and just lie down in a bed of fragrant pine needles and close his eyes while the sun filtered through the canopy of trees. He also said that it brings to mind icy evergreens in the wintertime, during traditional graveside visits on Christmas. He and his mother would visit the cemetery with wreaths and candles for relatives that had passed on, and there was a forested path along which they would slush through freshly fallen snow to reach the graves. Overall he likened it to smelling like an ancient woodland Yule wreath, full of wintry bounty. I would add that what I smell, overwhelmingly, is tart, bracing, cold-weather berries. Something bright red and jeweled and so bitter that even the snowbirds won’t eat it. But also a bit like sour, candied grapefruit peels. As the scent wears, this becomes more like a fruity, malty, softly honeyed amber–but either way, it’s a beautiful note. And overall, I think we both agree, it’s an incredible fragrance, and as it happens–it’s stunningly perfect for the winter solstice today (the day this review was written.)