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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab Every Day Is Halloween 2021 collection is currently live and available for purchase. As this is a limited edition series, sample sizes imps are not available

Need more ‘Weenies? Have a peep at my ‘Weenie reviews from the autumns of yesteryear, over at Haute Macabre 2020 // 2019 // 2018 // 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Over on the Midnight Stinks TikTok, I shared a gathering of my favorite vanilla scents, as per a commenter’s request. I thought I might share a blogged version as well in order to have a written account for those who are interested!

A forewarning: so as not to be too overwhelmed with possibilities, I gave myself the constraint that any scent I choose must already be found within my perfume cupboard, and it must be something a actually own in a size larger than a sample– which to my thinking at least, means that I have spent enough time with it to think of it as a favorite. Your logic on this might vary, you might have favorites that were love at first sniff, but I’m not here to debate anyone about that. You do your favorite lists your way* and I will do mine my way, so here goes!

*PS this isn’t to say I don’t want to know about your favorite vanillas! Please share in the comments!

Dior Addict is a billowing cloud of honeyed amber and vanilla, jasmine and orange blossom with creamy tonka bean chiffon sandalwood lace. It’s femme fatale by way of baroque gothic lolita.

Vanille Insensee is a warm, wispy citrusy vanilla but it’s hard to pinpoint which citrus it is that’s lending a crisp, very mildly juicy aspect, but without any hint of fruit pulp or sourness or even vaguely tart.  It’s like a sweet, fresh guest soap and warm towels

• Lea from Calypso St. Barth’s is a, pretty, pillowy perfume of vanilla, musk and almond; it’s not overpowering and as a matter of fact, it’s fairly delicate. Think a simple, unfrosted angel food cake. Wearing a your favorite cozy, worn-in cardigan. This stuff is hard to find and until recently, rumor has it that you could apparently get it from Montaigne Market, but they have closed their online shop. However, I hear whispers if you message them on Instagram you could purchase it in that way. 

Fleur Cachée from Anatole Lebreton is celery and shadows and green seeds and spice pods crushed on cool marble, desiccated bouquets more dust than bloom, and the skeletal, crumbling remains of frosted confections covered in cobwebs. It’s the deeply melancholic Miss Havisham of vanillas

Tokyo Milk Arsenic has got vanilla salt listed in the notes, which enhances the more interesting aspect of the scent, something unique and green that reminfds me of fresh marjoram with slightly piney, citrusy, and vaguely musty aspects. All of this in turn reminds me of Avon potpourri Christmas ornaments from when I was young, so it feels very nostalgic. This is another one that’s hard to find, but it looks like you may be able to grab a bottle from Flutter PDX.

Vanille Noire du Mexique is vanilla of dark, moody florals and balsamic resins that smells like the platonic ideal of a hot chocolate but there’s something a bit off-kilter about it like you’re enjoying it in a claustrophobic room with creeping yellow wallpaper, with a friend who has a mysterious green ribbon tied around her throat.

Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s Snake Oil is a luxuriant molasses-y, musky deeply sugared vanilla incense, blended with dark spices more sacred than culinary. This is a scent that lends to a sense of danger and power, and not for the faint of heart–but rather for a heart-pricked thrice under a full moon right before you take a big dripping bite of it to seal the spell in flesh and blood and death. You’re the dangerous, powerful creature in this scenario and you gotta commit if you’re going to wear this gorgeously potent thing. It looks like Snake Oil is out of stick right now, but this is one of their best-selling scents so I have to imagine it will be back sooner or later. In the meantime, peek in on their site for seasonal releases where they sometimes include Snake Oil variants!

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If you signed up for Nuri McBride’s Aromatica de Profundis newsletter, then you got to see a super fun interview that I did with her recently! Nuri is a writer, perfumer, researcher, and community organizer whose professional work focuses on olfactive cultural education, aromatics in lifecycle rituals, and the preservation of traditional forms of aromatic preparations. She is also deeply interested in labor rights and power equity in the fragrance trade. She is also a wonderful friend!  Thank you, Nuri, for the amazing questions, and your incredible insights and thought-provoking articles and content. (And the very lovely things you said about me!)

The above is a screenshot snippet from this month’s newsletter–you must be a subscriber in order to read it, and I highly suggest you do subscribe for more interviews like this, along with updates on Nuri’s various projects, and whatever else she might be sharing in that issue! This delightful missive is fast becoming the highlight of each new month! Be sure to sign up for the newsletter so that you, too, can receive a bit of smelly magic in your inbox every month.

 

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A collection of the fragrances I’ve been thinking about and writing about and TikToking about over the past month….

Civet from Zoologist initially smells exactly a creepy fox stole that belong to my late and equally creepy grandmother on my father’s side and which my sisters and I were horrified of when we came across it playing dress-up in her old clothes. There’s a feral mustiness that evokes the dust and musk of clothing that belongs to other people, things they packed up and haven’t worn for a long time. They’re not dirty, but they definitely of someone else’s skin. A balsamic cherry tobacco aspect with notes also reminiscent of artisanal coffee beans described by their copy as “fruity” becomes gradually apparent and what I’m smelling now is not just someone’s old blazer or cardigan, but rather an entire space dedicated to the afterlife of unwanted old clothing. It’s not just skin musk, and moth husks but whiffs of someone else’s perfume from last season, last decade, maybe much further back in time. Civet is a carefully curated thrift store of a scent and while I think I was expecting more of an immersive natural history museum’s earthy, funkiness, it’s still pretty nice. Is it for me? No. But then again, I’ve never had much luck with thrift shops.

Coqui Coqui Coco Coco is probably the most interesting coconut fragrance I have ever encountered. I don’t get suntan oil or pina coladas, which on one hand is refreshing, but on the other hand…I don’t know if I really care for what I do get from it. There’s an acrid camphorous greenness, florals in the form of an oily tuberose, a tea-like champaca flower, and a strange salty, rubbery aspect, that brings to mind slathering yourself in coconut oil on a sweaty summer day and hopping in an inner tube to float down the lazy river in a particularly unhygienic waterpark. This could be a summer scent for someone, I guess? Maybe people who make a stink about their freedoms being impeded when they are asked to vaccinate or wear a mask, and who bring their bratty brood to Adventure Lagoon in the middle of a pandemic and spend the next 12 hours screaming and spitting and peeing on everything. Ok, now that I have said that I have decided that this is the scent of the weirdly scented air freshener at the funeral home where these people’s corpses end up. Wow, this went to a dark place. Wear your masks. Get vaccinated when you have the opportunity. Don’t be the reason your local funeral home smells creepier and more crowded than it actually does. [Note: this is a review very reflective of the time during which it was written, being in August of 2021. It is my dearest wish that in a few short years, no one even knows what I am talking about.]

Moynette Paris is a gracious, creamy white floral that seems both vaguely tropical gardenia and island vanilla but also vaguely cottage garden lily of the valley, and somehow not really enough of one or the other. Despite this, its at its best in its initial stages. As it wears, while it’s still charming, in a mild “oh, you’re still there” kind of way…it becomes a little…Not dirty exactly. But rumpled? Wilted? Disheveled?It recalls for me the book To Kill A Mocking Bird, wherein Scout is talking about the oppressive summer heat in the town of Maycomb, where “Ladies bathed before noon, after their three o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.” There’s something of clammy skin and powderyness in Moynette that makes me think of that dumb quote about how ladies don’t sweat, they glisten. I get a little peevish if I think about that for too long, and that’s eventually how this perfume makes me feel as well.

BROOD X from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. Having spent most summers of my life in Florida, the buzzing drone of the cicadas provide the ambient murmuring score that haunts the landscape from sunrise to sunset, starting mid-May and sometimes lasting through October. Singing from birth until death, they’re said to once have been humans enchanted by the muses into singing and dancing for so long they stopped eating and sleeping and died without noticing. I think of them as local divinities and the spirits of this place and without their otherworldly thrumming chorus, summer doesn’t sound the same. BPAL’s aromatic ode to the emergence of Brood X is the wordless warble and urgent hymn of dew and roots, creamy floral sugarcane, sweet moss and grassy hay, and an earthy-nutty-musky-smutty hazelnut incense– and if there is any scent you might want to wear for a two week extravaganza of screaming, fucking, and dying, this is the perfume to go out in.

Comme des Garcons Jaisalmer is from the same incense series as Kyoto and Avignon, both of which I reviewed here previously but whereas I really adore those two and connected with them right away, this one is a bit slippery in terms of getting a handle on it. If it were a person, it would be reserved to an uncomfortable degree (and I am fairly reserved, but I think this person is ten times worse than me) and with a sense of humor so dry, no one can ever figure out if they’re joking or not. And then they disappear and you’re not even sure if they were ever in the room with you to begin with or maybe you imagined the whole thing. Jaisalmer is a tremendously peppery affair, with transparent woody notes, and a fleeting dusty cardamom aspects that’s surprisingly whimsical considering the restrained nature of this scent, but it’s also quite fleeting. As a matter of fact, overall, it’s a fragrance fairly it’s ephemeral in nature, so I would encourage one to spritz with abandon and get to know it, if it will ever allow itself to become known.

I recall that I really loved the sample of i Profumi di Firenze’s Ambre de Nepal I got 15 years ago and I decided to splurge on a full bottle last month. I tell you what: if nothing else, finally writing reviews on all the fragrances I own is an exercise in both recognizing and reconciling with myself how much my tastes have changed over the years. When I recently smelled this out of the box, I was immediately like, wow man, this is a real ice cream sandwich of a scent. As if you took an ancient chunk of bronzed, powdery amber resin and churned it up with rock salt, whole milk, fresh cream, and about 50 vanilla bean pods– which you’d probably have to take out a small loan for because those things aren’t cheap. And then you baked up some really squidgie brown sugar blondies with a hint of cardamom, cut them into uneven rectangles because precision is not your strong point and your glasses prescription is outdated, and then you piled your creamy frozen amber confection between two of those lopsided cookies. But you immediately wrapped them up in the freezer because let’s face it, you don’t really like sweets anymore, so why did you make this in the first place? Much like those imaginary ice cream sandwiches, now hidden behind a bag of frozen peas for eternity, this perfume probably won’t see the light of day for a long time.

Winter Nights from Dasein (out of stock) has long been a favorite of mine but I’ve struggled with how to talk about it. On the surface, it feels very similar to the treetop spiderwebs and seething silver sparks of the stars blinking in the vast darkness above the midnight blooming forest that I smell in Norne from Slumberhouse. It *is* similar to that, but I have to think about it and talk about it in different terms. It’s both the glitter of crushed emeralds and void of black tourmaline shards. If you’re a Magic the Gathering enthusiast, this fragrance is a green/black deck. The unbridled verdancy of monstrous plants and coniferous land cards that enter the battlefield tapped, alongside the option to bring all of your zombies and undead beast out of the graveyard. If none of that means anything to you, it’s a smoky cardamom cola with a dash of fir and hemlock bitters, that makes you feel like a witchly mixologist in a swanky speakeasy deep in the woods where even if you knock thrice and whisper tree-ish to the pine, the door might not open to you if it doesn’t sense the sylvan vining darkness in your heart.

Myrrh Casati from Mona di Orio opens as a sophisticated boozy cola cocktail. And while the ubiquitous rum and coke may not ring your bell as an especially high-class libation, imagine an offbeat, extravagant artisan’s interpretation of the soft drink, a concoction created with luxury materials and stellar quality essences of cinnamon, lime, lemon, orange, coriander, vanilla and nutmeg, the citrus and spices parceled out in surprising proportions and embellished with a generous flourish of pink pepper. Resinous, peppery, and effervescent, casting a spicy shadow in an art deco champagne coupe, this may have been served at a surreal dinner party hosted by an eccentric Italian heiress greeting her guests in pearls, kohl-rimmed eyes, and a fur coat with nothing underneath. She’ll whisper to you later in the evening that the secret ingredient was a scintilla of belladonna before introducing you to her menagerie of strange pets and conducting an impromptu seance. Drugged by beauty, weirdness and also maybe actual drugs, you spend a night like no other and awake with the taste of cardamom and licorice on your tongue, a veil of incense in your hair, and a necklace of love bites at your throat.

Tom Ford Soleil Blanc is a weird one. But it’s also …not? I’m having a hard time reconciling this. Imagine if you will, Dior’s Poison. Or, at least the melancholic honey-stewed, midnight-harvested orange blossoms and jasmine flowers portion of it. This delicate decoction is imported through a complicated interdimensional shipping conglomerate to a dazzling quasi-tropical paradise resort on an alien world, possibly like that seen in Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets. As you watch a colossal cerulean sunset through your sophistical glass fishbowl breathing apparatus, you enjoy an ambrosial indulgence brought to your table by a slender, iridescent being: built on a base of the lavish honeyed florals of those sumptuous earth-imports and embellished with a citrusy pineapple cognac, drizzled with warm vanilla orchid syrup, and topped with a dollop of whipped cream infused with pistachio and heliotrope. Which feels completely extra but also… essential. So the short answer is this is a Poison and Brazilian Bum Bum cream sundae. I always appreciate a scent that feels both somewhat normal, like the kind of gift you might receive from your conservative, straight-laced Virgo mother-in-law but also a little off-kilter, like you can wear it to a meeting of your furry sci-fi satanist bookclub. Not that Soleil Blanc really conjures either of these scenarios, but I guess I just mean it’s sort of the best of both worlds. Maybe the best of all worlds. It’s a treat in any world.

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I’ve been putting off sitting down to write reviews of The Last Unicorn Collection from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab because I keep thinking to myself, “but I’ve got to find my copy of the book, first!”! I’m not sure why that was such an important prerequisite, it’s not like I was planning on reading it again (I’ve got too many other books I’m promised to!) Maybe I wanted to take a photo of it next to these perfumes for the featured image of this post. That probably would have looked nice.

Well, I took a moment today to search my shelves and as it happens, I don’t own a copy of The Last Unicorn. What I found instead is a paperback copy of Peter S. Beagle’s A Fine and Private Place. Did I ever own The Last Unicorn? Was it paperback or hardback? Where did it come from?  Did I give it away? Was it among the items I lost in a flood in 2011, a month before I moved from New Jersey back to Florida? Does it even matter?

I don’t think it does. If I am being honest, my memories of The Last Unicorn stem from the movie, not the book–which was released in 1982, when I would have been six years old or so. And let me tell you, at that age, it scared the crap out of me. For many years after, if I thought about the film–which I tried not to–my sole recollection was of The Red Bull, a distressingly oppressive, lurid entity which was straight-up nightmare fuel (and to a lesser extent, also that talking skeleton!)

It took me many, many years to rewatch it. I must have been well into my 30s! But now it’s been part of my annual viewing every year since; it’s so beautifully crafted in that pleasurably melancholy way that I was susceptible to even as a child and encompassed fantasy both joyful and sorrowful, with heroes and quests, and there’s redemption and transcendence–all of those storybook things that I love best, have loved forever. My acceptance of and obsession with terrifying and monstrous things like the Red Bull was to come later!

Art by Julie Dillon

Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab initially released their The Last Unicorn collection several years ago back in 2010. I purchased a few of the original bottles, but sadly, these too were things lost in the flood. I was elated to learn that some of these fragrances were released this past June and am so pleased to have the opportunity to revisit and reconnect with them once more. And the more I think of it, the more I do need to hunt down a copy and reread The Last Unicorn, looming TBR stacks be damned!

Mommy Fortuna (Honey, gunpowder, dried herbs and pleonectic, twopenny magics) Cheap carnival tricks and homemade horrors cobbled together with rusty nails and sticky, syrupy dark wildflower honey. The peppery smoke from an ashen pile of herbs at this poppet’s feet provides the wordless spell that animates it; once the vapors dissipate, it sleeps once more.

Schmendrick (sweet, raw tobacco leaves, chamomile, clary sage, meadow sage, Mysore sandalwood, sultana raisins, and caramel). I inhale this scent and my heart instantly hears “I know you. I’d be blind and I’d know what you are.” Schmendrick brings me to tears. An earthy, woodsy, deeply aromatic tobacco leaf, vanilla-y, apple-y chamomile, and a thoughtful, pruney musk.

The Butterfly (fuzzy brown tonka bean, golden amber, bergamot, nutmeg, and petitgrain) The Butterfly is fizzy and effervescent, somehow both airy and earthy, the petitgrain so lemony and peppery, and the amber so honeyed…they’re so sweet and playful together. In the bottle, it’s deeply loamy–that sweet, dark, earthy scent that I love so very much!– but on the skin, the scent lightens in such a strange way that has to do with the absence of shadow more than any direct brightness. It is velvety and opulent but it’s finery worn in jest. P.S. I hate to compare perfumes to other perfumes overmuch, it feels a little lazy, so don’t think of this as a comparison, but rather if you like X, you may dig Y. In the dry-down of The Butterfly, there’s some milky-musky-powderiness of an old, beautiful thing stored behind glass, that reminds me quite a bit of Antique Lace. Do with that information as you will!

The Last Unicorn (frosty lilac petals, iris pallida root, orris, violet leaf, white chocolate, coconut, wild lettuce, white sandalwood, white gardenia and oakmoss). This is a deliriously ethereal, gauzy, gossamer slip of a scent, with that wintry, woody orris and the aqueous verdancy of the lettuce, and the white quartz, snow-melt nip of chilled water with the tiniest bite of bitterness, the last drop in an icy chalice of sorrow. But there’s a carnal quality there, too, of worldly concerns and sensual delights, like…cupcakes. A mild cocoa butter creaminess and a milky nuttiness coalesce to form a tiny mythical gateau, a small frosted treat with a floral crumb, sprinkled with a scattering of star shards– that one might leave out to lure magical creatures… fairies or pixies… or even unicorns.

The Lilac Wood (ageless trees, everblooming flowers, brilliant grass, a flicker of fireflies, and soft shadows) There are so many *perfect* scents in this collection, but every time I sniff the uncanny geography of The Lilac Wood I think, ah, this, THIS is the one! Green sap and misty grass, peaceful, delicate moss, emerald ferns, and the wistful dreams of flowers in a patch of shade underneath the old ash tree with the lightning-riven trunk.  This is so, so beautiful. I want to wear it with this dress, all the time.

The perfume blends from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s Last Unicorn collection is presented in an amber apothecary glass vial and is live on their site now! Have you tried any from this collection? What are some of your favorites? And did I lend my copy of The Last Unicorn to you? If so, can I please have it back???

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Amouage Fate for Woman is another fragrance I’ve been avoiding talking about because I feel like it hasn’t yet revealed its heart to me. And if you think that sounds a little melodramatic, here’s a bit of the copy which refers to its: “rich floral heart intensified by a dark and destructive accord resonating with the tumultuous unknown.” And as much as I love the delicious poetry of an overwrought word salad…that is not helpful. It sounds like a James Bond movie. Here is what I do know: for not being listed in the notes, I smell a goodly spike of sharp, woodsy cedar, and soon after, a dry veil of green mossy rose, wrapped in a honeyed balsamic leathery cloak lined with the smoke of a coniferous incense. It’s so opulent that at times it feels like I’m wearing a costume, and it did kind of trick me into liking another rose scent, so maybe this is a spy novel double-crossing femme fatale of a fragrance.

Jean Paul Gaultier Classique does not list jasmine in the official notes yet it smells like a glittery jasmine vanilla powder bomb drunken dance floor. It recalls an evening I visited a friend and without telling first, she had agreed with other friends that we’d all meet up and go to a club. Being a brutally shy homebody, that’s the last thing I EVER want to do, but as a visiting guest, you’re sometimes trapped into these things, and I am also a people pleaser, so there you go. And there we went. The ladies room was filled with tipsy club-goers fixing their hair and makeup, and our mutual friend pulled a whole-ass bottle of perfume from her purse to refresh her scent. Even me, being the perfume obsessed weirdo I am, thinks that’s strange. A whole bottle, wow. Anyway, it was this Jean Paul Gautier scent, and to this day it makes me think of boozy nightclub cocktails and the jasmine-scented tears of strangers in bathrooms telling me they love me just moments before puking on my feet.

Initially, Coromandel is nose-prickling, aldehydes, bright and sharp and sour, like a bitter citrus slice of moon on a night when winter is sparingly giving way to spring. It’s also brimming with curious camphorous woods and strange subterranean echoes when the first spritz settles on your skin. Soon though, it is inexplicably a dark, floral sprinkle of black pepper atop a mug of palest milky cocoa, smooth and rich and creamy on the tongue, but tinged with that underlying musty bitterness. The strange interplay between those primordial notes and that velvety decadence offers dueling impressions of opulence and austerity; imagine enjoying a delectably elegant beverage…on the damp, cold floor of a mossy limestone cave.

I first read Black Dianthus described on EauMG’s blog as a witches brew of a scent, and being an-all-or-nothing person regarding potential holy grail witchy fragrances, I bypassed a sample and bought an entire bottle. This was in 2017. I sniffed it once, thought, eh, it’s fine, and never wore it again. I saw it glaring at me balefully from the shadowy recesses of my perfume cabinet recently and thought that perhaps it was time to give this one another try…and I am so glad that I did. Black Dianthus officially only lists notes of black dianthus, which is I believe carnation, in addition to licorice, and vetiver, but what I smell is a bitter brew of bracken and moss, tannic, leathery bark, and peppery hemlock leaf littering the damp forest floor, the sour fruit of burst baneberries, and spiced smoke spiraling from the cauldron where this potion hisses and sputters over a strange, green flame.

We’ve got a date with Old Scratch and we’re gonna meet them wearing Idole de Lubin and nothing else. This fragrance is marketed for men which is a bunch of malarkey because this woodsy, darkly spiced scent with notes of saffron, rum, teak wood, and sugarcane would be devastating on anyone who possesses a human body. And speaking of possessing human bodies, our bae Beelz is due to stop by at midnight and this infernal gourmand redolent of unholy smoke, syrupy booze, and leather-clad sin, will make them feel right at home.

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

Geranium Bourbon from Miller Harris Perfumes is what I imagine Jo from Little Women smells like; it’s willful and smart, and it’s somehow both no-nonsense and very creative. It’s got a very upfront “take me as I am vibe” which seems appropriate, as even though geranium is listed in the notes and it’s the name of the perfume, it doesn’t exactly smell like geranium…so you’ve got to judge it on its own merits… for what it is, rather than what it is not. And as for what it is, well. It’s a sort of dry, sunny lemon grassy palmarosa, a sour green rose, bitter, musty black pepper, and some sort of aromatic woods. It’s classified as a floral, but it’s certainly not your typical offering from this category of scent; it’s not at all sweet or spring or even summery, and the rose is a strange one. I guess I might say this is an herbal, woody autumn floral, and much like our girl Jo, one of a kind. (Hoo boy. I just went back in to add a link, and this is discountinued and very hard to find. Sorry!)

I am struggling with wrapping my head around L’Instant de Guerlain. My first impression is that it smells like a classic, powdery vanilla Guerlain but with a “how do you do, fellow kids?” vibe, reworked with fresh fizzy citrus and cool, misty iris notes, for a contemporary crowd. I just noticed that these are bees on this bottle, so maybe that’s the powdery, bright, golden halo I get from the initial spritz. It’s a very pretty scent, very spring picnic with frothy petticoats and bonnets, which I guess isn’t very contemporary, but young people get up to all sorts of weirdness, don’t they?

In a fit of nostalgia, I recently found and purchased a doll on Etsy that reminded me of one that I had when I was much younger. If her frothy, tiered, ruffled, and lace cream-colored frock was a perfume, it would most certainly be Heliotrope from Etro, a floral gourmand dessert course confection of a scent, with delicate almonds at the forefront. This is a powdered marzipan, pillowy meringue, candied almond nougat, bonbon on a base of fluffy spun sugar vanilla clouds. It’s displayed in a window somewhere in Paris, nearly too beautiful and too delicate to eat. (Much like this doll, which sat on a shelf and I was not allowed to play with when I was a little girl.) As it wears on the skin, it becomes iced almond milk tea, barely sweetened with amber-hued grains of brown sugar and poured over rich, chewy tapioca pearls. I do go on about how I don’t care for sweet scents, but in that I’m referring more to fruity fragrances. I don’t want to smell like a strawberry shortcake or a fruit salad or a lollipop. But vanilla and amber, I guess you could say that’s my sweet spot.

I first heard reverent whispers of the enigmatic Filigree from Thymes before the 2014 relaunch, and my interest piqued, I tracked down a bottle on eBay. Never have I read such wildly differing reviews about a fragrance! The Thymes website sings praises of its intricate layers and elusive nuances, and alternately people refer to it as rich, spicy, warm, creamy, and luxurious, but despite the dissimilar impressions, it is undeniably universally beloved. To my nose, it is a scent just this side of crisp and not exactly fresh. It reminds me of antique lace doilies and porcelain teapots It is gentle lemon peels and sweetly grassy and a delicate dusty amber that translates more as vanilla. It’s light and lovely and apparently, many things to many people, but we all seem to adore it.

I am going to do the thing I hate and be a total hypocrite, but Fleur de Lune from Strangers Parfumerie is totally a “grandma perfume”. However! I mean that in a very particular and very personal way. This is *my* grandma. But not when I was older and I could recognize and appreciate her heavy-handed love of Estee Lauder’s Youth Dew or Elizabeth Arden’s Red Door; this is my grandmother when I was 4 years old, before I realized perfumes even had names. I only knew that I loved the scent of her hair when she came to visit and I would fling myself into her arms and bury my face in her shoulder. Fleur de Lune is a sort of sneezy retro violet talcum powder, clean laundry dried on the line outdoors in the spring sunlight, and a sort of milky, creamy floral, like a vanilla and honeysuckle pudding. I don’t know if I love this scent, but how could I not be fond of it, with all of these lovely associations?

Scandalwood is a fragrance that makes me a little sad. I first discovered the brand when I used Polyvore, a sort of virtual moodboard for curating imaginary closets and creating fantasy outfits. I used to play around on it every single day for nearly a decade, and then in 2018, without warning, they shut it down. I was pretty upset–I made many friends through Polyvore and it was a fun distraction that got me through some rough patches. Were any of you guys over on Polyvore? There’s a few similar sites now and I’ve been using one called URStyle but it’s just not the same. I’m ghoulnextdoor over there by the way, if you ever want to say hi. Anyway, this is a perfume review, sorry. Scandalwood is inspired by Dita von Teese and much like her own outfits, the scent is very bare and barely there. Light and close to the skin, it’s a lovely blend of sandalwood, cedar, rosewood, leather, and musk. It’s not really all that erotic unless you get off on quiet naps and whispered ASMR. And hey, it takes all kinds.

Comme des Garcons Rouge is an odd and surprising scent, and at all not what I expected to smell from this glossy, cherry red popsicle of a bottle. It instead reminds me of an artwork by the fabulous, and flamboyant Argentinian painter, Leonor Fini In Les Sorcieres, we observe five frenzied witches swarming and swooping on their broomsticks through a swirling blood-red sky. This scent mirrors these feverish sensations of airy, dizzying fizziness and couples them with a terrestrial earthiness, like herbs and leaves and things freshly dug from a garden patch. Rouge smells like an effervescent shrub (the vinegary drink, not the bushy plant. But also minus most of the vinegar) of rhubarb and beet, fiery ginger root, and floral pink pepper. A witch’s cauldron tipple that tapers to a beautiful gingery incense.

I often pause and meditate on how evocative writing can influence our perceptions and sucker us into buying things. But also, how those perceptions can change as we change and grow. I’m looking at you Ormonde Jayne Woman, with your notes of hemlock and violet and all your talk hypnotic, mysterious potions! In Perfumes, the A-Z Guide, Tania Sanchez describes it in terms of haunting witchiness and tall trees in the night and when I read those sentiments over a decade ago, I couldn’t get my hands on a bottle fast enough. At that time, what I got from it was corporate executive realness with a weird green twist, or if Day-to-Night Barbie was changing into Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West costume instead of the pink sparkly disco outfit that came in the box alongside her no-nonsense pink girl-boss suit. I haven’t worn this Ormonde Jayne Woman since I got it, but today I *get* it. Initially, there’s still that whiff of generic woody-green sophistication, but as it lingers I catch glimpses of shadowed forest paths lined with sweet, purple aromatic woodland blooms, leading one to the door of an enchanted sugarplum storybook cottage. The witch may or may not be in.

I don’t think it’s just me who feels this way, but much like how orange blossoms smell nothing like oranges, so too is the disparity between the fragrance of the blossom of the lime tree and actual fruit itself. I should also note that lime blossom smells nothing like orange blossom! Just using it for an example, I guess. Though like I said, I’m pretty sure that’s how most people feel, so I don’t mean to offer that opinion like I’m the first person to ever come to that conclusion. Anyway! We have a small lime tree in our yard and its flowers smell heavenly, but it’s a delicate scent that I find elusive of precise description. Jo Malone’s version captures it somewhat, the bright charm of a spring breeze, pearlescent morning dew, and sweetly herbaceous green sap encapsulated in in a small, white flower…which if I had to compare it to another blooming thing, I might say honeysuckle. But it’s got an extra element of synthetic linen freshness and a note of something that smells like how a mild tingling jolt of static electricity feels, and this gives it a bizarre bionic blossom quality. It is a little odd? Maybe. Do I love it? Also maybe.

I smell this and I’m suddenly time traveling back to the olden days of 2014 when I did a thing on the internet which some of you may remember though you may not have known it was me. I shared daily missives of love and self-acceptance from Eternia’s most nefarious skull-faced villain, as he progressed on his journey of healing. I am speaking of course, about Skeletor is Love. The facebook and tumblr pages still exist, if you have no idea what I am talking about. Anyway, someone on Makeup Alley realized that was me, and tickled that the creator of that weird thing was a also fragrance enthusiast, we became friends. Miyako from Annayake was a rare scent she insisted I find, she pointed to an eBay listing for it, and it was soon in my possession. Inspired by Japanese incense rituals, it was a perfume I’d never heard of, but was intrigued by, and it’s unexpectedly lovely. It’s warm, richly-scented amber, copious dry, dreamy spices and woods, and a shifting but utterly ambrosial note of smoky green floral cardamom. It is lush and hypnotic and when I wear it calls to mind the strange connections we make in life and how if you’re not open to them, you might miss out on something spectacular.

Tibetan Mountain Temple from Pacifica does not smell like my idea of a blend prepared in accordance with centuries-old traditional Tibetan Buddhist methods to accompany prayer offerings or spiritual purification rituals. But what do I know! This is more like the snack aisle in a tourist shop *next* to the monastery but the only thing they sell are orange creamsicles and those ridiculously delicious Newman ginger-Os, which if you’ve never had them, they are basically like Oreos in concept, but instead of a chocolate cookie sandwich, it’s a ginger snap.

La Couche du Diable by Serge Lutens smells of clementines and dates preserved in amber, soaked in rare, imported spirits, and tossed on the smoking remains of the fire you lit to conjure a demon to do your bidding. Your bidding, it must be noted, involves some petty shenanigans regarding your nemesis and chopping off all of their hair as they sleep. Your final ingredient for the spell, as it happens, is a single strand of their richly tinted auburn tresses that you plucked from their burnished mahogany hairbrush in the span of a second when you cried, “look, over there, what is that thing?!” And like a dummy, they looked. The hair sizzles and pops in the flames and an aromatic wind fills your chambers, scorched citrus, bronzed resins, bitter wine,  and something eerily metallic, echoing the diabolical snicker-snack of twin blades, wickering eagerly from the depths of the glowing embers.

I’m laughing at what I am not sure is actual copy or editorializing by LuckyScent for Initio’s Musk Therapy. They write of “pleasure receptors activated, the mind being energized, and inner peace and pure delight.” and I love you Luckyscent, but you are A LOT. And before you argue that I’m jealous because I’m not the staff writer tasked with churning out this poetic perfumed piffle…well, ok. You’re right. I’m jealous. It was not for their description that I bought it, though. Victoria of EauMg described it as smelling like “hot people effortlessly being hot” and friends, I am not immune to that sort of hyperbole I’ll even one-up it. This is a fragrance that makes you feel like you’re just better than everyone. And you’ll smell so good, they’ll go with it. It’s got a beautiful bitter sourness like the salvia flowers just outside my house, which smell like velvety aldehydes and sparkling grapefruit peels and a musky magnolia and sandalwood soapiness that’s neither too much of one or the other and wow…this really is a flawless, perfect summer scent.

Madam Moriarty, Misfortune Teller from BPAL’s Carnivale Diabolique series is the dark fruit of thickly sugared plum jam, tart pomegranate & redcurrant wine, and the spiced, earthy incense of red musk and patchouli enhancing and emboldening the berries and stone fruit, rendering them that much more lush and sticky. I am not a fancier of fruity fragrances, but even I can admit that is an objectively beautiful scent and there’s a good reason it’s a cult favorite.

I thought peau was french for pear, and not being keen on fruit-forward fragrances was surprised by how much I like this one… but pear is poire, and peau is actually skin, so this perfume from Diptyque, Fleurs de Peau, translates to Skin Flowers and now I understand why I enjoy it. Created in tribute to classical mythology’s Psyche and Eros, it’s a love story with a heart of musk. At first a light and grassy scent of mildy soapy green florals, it abruptly drops in temperature, and strangely it’s in this chilly stage that the musks emerge, as if you’re kissing the wrist of a wraith. It’s a perfume that’s eerily bloodless and while it’s not burning with passion, it radiates a sense of cloudy befuddlement, the way a deeply consuming love affair may affect you. It conjures ill-fated lovers in a romantic mystery by the likes of Sarah Waters, a timid governess of modest means and the coldly beautiful mistress of the manor and they declare their secret love in a bed of irises and it turns out one of them was a ghost all along.

I originally purchased the sadly discontinued Velvet Tuberose from Bath & Body Works because my Best Good Friend wore it, and it smelled amazing on them. With an opening somehow both airy and earthy, it’s a creamy white floral cloud whirling with delicate powdery grains of amber dust and soft floral vanilla orchid petals. It dries down to soft woods and skin musk and of course, it never smelled quite as good on me as it did on my BGF, but I still associate it with them and some of our times together even though they probably haven’t worn it in years.

This scent is an exercise wherein I again come to the realization that hey, I’ve never spoken this word aloud and I am not certain how to pronounce it. I usually go to YouTube to get a consensus, but in this case it seems a bit divided. Some reviewers say LabDANum, and others say LABdanum. That’s always how I said it in my head, so that’s the one I am going with. Labdanum de Saville by L’Occitane is a honied, burnished amber that borders on fruity tobacco, with a bright, peppery, sparkling citrus aspect that reminds me of an illustration of jeweled autumn fruits in a golden dish that I recall from a lavishly illustrated edition of 1001 Nights from when I was a child. It’s a fairly linear scent that doesn’t evolve much over the course of the day, and while it’s not terribly complex, it’s still lovely. I’d suggest it as a less expensive option to the autumnal spiced apple compote magics of Ambre Narguille from Hermes, but I’m afraid it’s discontinued.

This scent that has haunted me since 2004 when I first tried a sample of this perfume from Elizabeth W. and I’ve been hoarding that tiny vial for over fifteen years! Back then it was called Sweet Tea, but they’ve since changed the name to . That looks like an accent aigu, but I’m not certain that this is French. Maybe it’s Spanish? Either way, perhaps they thought a rebranding would lend a classier vibe than sweet tea evokes with its deep south connotations as a sugared libation to accompany your all you can can-eat ribs and meat sweats. And as a Floridian, I love me some Sonny’s BBQ so I mock not. Listing notes of amalfi lemons, black tea, and almond honey, the opening is lively and brisk with a tannic, floral elegance, the aromatic tea and intense perfume of the lemon balanced and beautiful. I don’t get a sense of honey, just a lovely hint of sweetness, more like a light citrus syrup, or a limoncello. This is not the most nuanced or complex scent, but who cares? We like what we like and this is one of my favorite tea concept perfumes.

I was a little kid who never paid attention to anything. I perpetually had my head in the clouds. Of course, when you’re forever checked out of what’s going on, things happen without you noticing. Sometimes these are things like your mother signing you up for summer camp and you don’t know anything about it until she’s packing you up on a bus with a lot of kids you don’t know to a place you’ve never heard of. Still, there’s daydreaming and imagining to be done, so I’d just find a seat by myself, lean my head against the filmy glass of the bus window, and breathe in the clean, cool morning air of an early June morning in Ohio, as the vehicle picked up speed and we drove out of the suburbs into the sunshine. Demeter’s Fresh Hay smells like honeyed red clover blossom, warm, dusty earth, and soft woody grassy vetiver; the fertile ground of summer daydreams and limitless expanse of a young person’s imagination.

Angel Nova 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, it smells of overripe raspberries, lychee syrup drizzled shaved ice, and a sickly sweet cola drink spiked with peppery patchouli bitters. Instead of spending your money on Angel Nova, I think it wise you invest in an extra session with your therapist.

Montale Full Incense is an ancient story of aromatic pine, strange, sugared crystals of frankincense, and fresh, grounding cedar shavings. It feels sacred and weird, like an epic legend with an unexpected instance of surreal comedy. Perfume-wise it’s a bit comparable to CdG Avignon, but where that one conjures a chilly, stern atmosphere, this is woody and warm and somehow beautifully wacky, like hallucinogenic incense smoke rising from a cracked clay vessel balanced on smoldering embers in the desert woodlands, but in a locale far removed from our reality. On the world of Thra plays out a drama between the tyrannical Skeksis and the Gelfling, as a darkening blight threatens the existence of all. Full Incense is what I imagine scents the scene wherein the Gelfling heroes have arrived at the Circle of the Sun and encounter the kind Skeksis known as the Heretic and the Wanderer. What ensues is the weird and brilliant puppet show within a puppet show, and they all must have thought wow, am I high right now? I feel a bit like that myself when I wear this scent.

 

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