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.

 

✥ comment

I’ve mentioned before my propensity to create little challenges for myself; blogging every day for 30 days,  trying out a new soup recipe once every month, etc, etc. Well, one of the other things I am doing is a perfume review a day, every day for a year, over on TikTok. Ok, sure, I cheated a little at first. I made recordings of perfumes I’ve already reviewed, maybe with a little revamping or a tweak here or there, but for the most part, I’d already formulated my thoughts. I did that to ease myself into the habit, and I don’t feel like I broke my my loosey-goosey rules too much, because, hey, that tactic worked. I just posted my 77th-in-a-row perfume review TikTok, so I think I’m doing pretty well. I started doing this because I wanted to get back into the regular practice of composing some thoughts about the perfumes I own, and also…I also wanted to actually wear them. This was a great excuse to start doing that!

Anyway, for those of you who hate TikTok, or who don’t want to watch a video compilation on YouTube, I have shared 40 days’ worth of perfume reviews (almost 6K words!) below. Some of these may sound familiar, as I definitely revisited a few fragrances along the way, but I think most of the scents in this gathering are either thoughts I’ve never shared before, or wholly new reviews.

What about you stinkers? Have you tried anything new lately, fragrance-wise, that you’ve fallen in love with?

Heresy Chapel Factory
I am still getting to know Heresy from Chapel Factory but I believe it is fast becoming one of my Holy Grail scents. It is the sharp green metallic floral of violet leaf, mingled with cool aromatic cedar, lofty sandalwood, and the smoked leather notes of vetiver; elements which alchemize into the austere elegance and kindred glooms of a dry, peppery violet incense. If you like the dark ambiance and nocturnal aesthetic of dungeon synth coupled with spectral visionary Simon Marsden’s black and white photographs of haunted ruins and moonlit abbeys, this is a transportive scent that will spirit you away to those eerie, ominous realms.

Prada (Amber) Prada
Prada Amber is a scent that reminds me of Dior Addict, and not because they really smell similar, but they’re both woodsy, sweet, resinous Orientals that take up a lot of space. They are voluminous, they envelop you in a wondrously dreamy cloud of fragrance …but it’s also a rippling billow of scent that can be sniffed several rooms away on the other side of the house, or on the other side of the globe, or maybe even on the moon. And I think you need to be okay with that to love these perfumes And side note…why haven’t we come up with a better way to describe this category of perfume. I am reviewing this scent in 2021, and calling it an “Oriental” fragrance seems deeply problematic, doesn’t it? At any rate, Prada Amber is a beautiful honeyed, balsamic amber and velvety patchouli with a discordant herbal bitterness, perhaps from tarragon or bergamot, that adds interest and intrigue and keeps it just this side of cloying, while maintaining that overblown potent headiness.

Fancy Jessica Simpson
When I was young, my mother didn’t drive, so my grandmother tootled us around with her on errands and took us where ever we needed to go. Her purse was a bottomless supply of Dum Dum lollipops and if we were well-behaved, we got one as a treat. This was a massive thrill when I was 4, but some arbitrary switch flipped when I was 5 and suddenly I found them utterly vile. No thanks, grandma! Imagine shaking sticky shards of fruit punch, cherry, and butterscotch flavored candies out of your best Belk’s church purse, and… that’s basically Fancy. It is Dum Dum dust. Interpret that however you like. You might say, well, oh, Sarah, it’s not made for you. Ok, I get that. But tell me… who is it made for? And do they keep their toy lipsticks on a hot pink plastic vanity and cook with an EZ bake oven?

Nirvana Black Elizabeth and James
I received so many samples of Nirvana Black in my Sephora orders in 2014 but I never took the time to try it. I was convinced it wasn’t going to be very good. I have since procured a mini-bottle, which isn’t too much of an investment in case I hate it. For the record, I do hate the clunky, ugly bottle, whatever size it is. This begins as Vanilla Fields from Coty, which I recall from my 20s as a fairly cheap, but unexpectedly lovely, dusty, musky vanilla sandalwood. If I wait a minute or two, it then becomes a simple combination of warm whiskey and deep woods. I’m not sure what/which woods, though? Maybe a wooden box, where you stored the whiskey? This isn’t a complex scent, but then again, I believe there are only 3 notes listed and sometimes more doesn’t always mean better. It’s nice enough, but don’t love Nirvana Black and it doesn’t feel like me, but I think it would be devastating on my doppelganger.

Sea Island Cotton Bath and Body Works
This spray from Bath and Body Works is an old friend and my ultimate comfort scent. It’s what I used for years before I began scenting myself with what I guess we tend to think of as “proper perfume.” I think this was originally called Clean Cotton Blosson, and when I went to repurchase it was Sea Island Cotton but now I think it’s just plain old Cotton Blossom. And it is a fairly plain and simple scent. It’s essentially dryer sheets composed of white musk, soapy florals, and a hint of linens drying on the line on a crisp, green, spring day somewhere near a seaside cliff. It’s what you might consider a fresh, powdery aquatic scent, and those are typically my least favorite fragrances, but this one is somehow special, it’s a dreamy treat, wrapped up in nostalgia and hope, and it never fails to soothe my soul.

Cathedral (Holiday no.3) DSH Perfumes
With notes of nocturnal resins, smoldering incense, and cool, creeping midnight moss, Cathedral from DSH perfumes conjures visions of a lone lantern lit in a solitary tower window away from which runs a stumbling figure in a long, trailing nightdress. What is this poor, doomed creature running from, barefoot across these misty moors on a moonless night? Ghosts, phantoms, and strange sinister spirits? A brooding, turbulent love affair fraught with bitter betrayals? Fearful family curses and dreams, illusions, obsessions, murders. I mean…what isn’t she running from, right? It’s not this perfume. With a resigned sigh, she turns and trudges back. Whatever else is going on in that wicked castle, she can’t leave behind this haunting and quite possibly haunted fragrance. It’s a Choose Your Own Gothic Romance in a bottle.

 

Hwyl Aesop
I purchased Hwyl on a whim solely because someone included in a listicle of fragrances that smell like camping, noting that this one, in particular, smells like how they imagine Totoro’s home might be scented. Did I want to smell like the woodland abode of an acorn-eating supernatural Japanese forest folk creature? Need you ask? Initially, I think due to the cypress and woody notes that they have in common, I thought Hwyl smelled very similar to Comme des Garcons Kyoto, and that perhaps I didn’t need both. But where Kyoto is a meditative prayer in a cool forest temple, Hywl is earthier, greener, and warmer. A mushroom-strewn, leaf-littered path leading to that temple, the sun streaming through the forest canopy, the cypress, live oak, and bamboo swaying with an afternoon breeze and rustling with the invisible movements of racoons and foxes, and maybe little forest spirits, too. Is there a Totoro following you? Or does it wait for you patiently at the Temple? Maybe we do need both scents, just to find out.

Ambre Noir Sonoma Scent Studio
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.

Niki de Saint Phalle
Though I’ve had this bottle of Niki de Saint Phalle for years, I’ve been avoiding pinning down my thoughts on this one. I am not sure how much the woman had to do with the creation of the perfume, but Niki de Saint Phalle was a French-American artist and filmmaker renowned for her distinctive sculptures of voluptuous vividly colored, giant, joyously conquering women. The perfume was launched in 1982 but it smells like my imaginings of the early 70s It’s a delicately spicy, mossy green-leafed potion, with notes of wormwood, carnation, leather, peach, and soft aldehydes. It’s complex, yet eerily balanced and I can’t get a handle on any one note. It makes me think of a meandering, plotless arthaus film that you loved for the visuals and the atmosphere and the score, and even though you didn’t understand a thing that was going on, you’re still daydreaming about it decades later.

Myrrh & Tonka Jo Malone London
I love most incarnations of myrrh and this is a really nice one. Its bittersweet, medicinal edge is tempered by the tonka, and tonka’s earthy sweetness is reigned in by the inclusion of the aromatic herbal crispness of lavender. There’s the barest tinge of something smoky and acrid, which calls to mind imagery of blazing, blackened amber, and yet this is a very cool scent, and I don’t get a feeling of warmth from it at all. It makes me think of the sadly discontinued Sonoma Scent Studio Ambre Noir, a fragrance that goes hard with the smoky amber, so maybe this could be a possible, though less extreme, dupe.

Musc Maori 04 Pierre Guillaume Paris
Musc Maori from Pierre Guillaume Paris is another one that I tried a long while ago and wanted to revisit, and it’s just as quietly weird as I remember. It’s got milky vanilla notes of cumaru wood, which I had to look up just now, and Google tells me that basically, it’s where tonka beans come from. It also features appearances by coffee tree blossom and cacao pod. I typically don’t love chocolate scents, but this is like a musky, musty, ghostly packet of Swiss Miss. I say ghostly because it’s a very transparent scent, and the musk alternates eerily between something etherous in spirit and warm, sweet human skin. This is not the finished cup of hot chocolate but rather the grains of cocoa trembling in the tablespoon before being stirred into the boiling milk. It’s an odd but thoroughly charming fragrance.

Intense Cafe Montale
I first sampled Montale’s Cafe Intense years ago when I was initially getting into fragrance and perfumes. I guess I was feeling a little nostalgic for that sample a kind MUA-er sent me way back when! My recollection was that it was meant to be a coffee-forward scent, but…it is not. My partner observed that it smells like a teenage girl who typically wore a lot of candied, sugary scents and who wanted to level up with fancy florals and didn’t quite hit the mark. She tried, I guess, was his conclusion. My thoughts are more specific. This is a cloying fruity-floral that smells exactly like Rose Jam from LUSH, which I bitterly loathe because that smells just like those gaggy sweet Jolly Ranchers hard candies that all the popular kids were always eating in 6th grade. Which in turn makes me think of the MOST popular girl, we’ll call her Mary Lesa H., who broke off and ATE part of my sugar crystal science project that year. I hate science projects and I have never forgiven Mary Lesa H., and this awful perfume can go straight to hell.

Gris Clair from Serge Lutens Lea from Calypso St. Barth’s (discontinued?)
Gris Clair makes me think of Moira Rose’s observation in a later episode of Schitt’s Creek, where she’s strolling along the path outside their hotel room and remarks to her husband that she “detects a scintilla of lavender” in the air. Gris Clair is several scintillas of astringent lavender, crisp linen, and sharp, smoky resins in a cut-glass crystal bowl. I actually love to layer this with Lea from Calypso St. Barth’s, 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 as opposed to a gargantuan many-layered Milkbar confection.  Together these fragrances lend depth where nuance is lacking in one and buff out the bitter edges of the other. Think lavender vanilla bean shortbread cookie bath bomb bedtime treat.

Fleur Cachée by Anatol Lebreton
My initial impressions of Fleur Cachée are of 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. This *is* a vanilla scent, you can smell it, but it’s a vanilla that’s not going to be defined by the ice creamy-cakeiness that we typically associate with this note. It’s almost as if it’s dressing itself up to be unpleasant, like it’s trying to convince us that Gillian Anderson is the creepy and clock-stoppingly tragic figure of Miss Havisham– but you can’t fool me, and I am not having it. This is gorgeous. As it wears,  a woodsy, oaky note emerges, not quite boozy but the casks were something smooth and delicious was aged. Overall, this is a deeply melancholic and complex vanilla, strange and dry and unlike all of the vanillas you may have known up until this moment.

The Afternoon of a Faun Etat Libre d’Orange
The Afternoon of a Faun feels like the olfactory equivalent of a proper meal after you’ve been subsisting on extremes of cheap, trashy snacks and the avant-garde weirdness of sneaking into a gallery opening to pilfer nibbles from molecular gastronomy art installations. It’s not a rib roast or a tofurkey or any meal in particular, but it’s that thing you dine on, whatever that might be for you, that satisfies your belly and nourishes your body and makes you feel good. I suppose this analogy is my way of admiring how extraordinarily well-balanced this perfume is. Inspired, I believe by both a poem of a faun recounting his horny dreams and the scandalous ballet based on the poem, The Afternoon of a Faun is a mossy-spicy-woody-aromatic-green-floral subscription box of a scent wrapped in a bow of bitter herbs and peppery celery enveloping a heart of immortelle’s smoky tea and burnt sugar note. If you enjoy chypre scents, you can’t go wrong with this one. If you are not sure, or are new to perfume, this is a great one to start with.

Guerlain Mon Guerlain
Everyone seems quite taken with Mon Guerlain, which I’d never tried, so I thought I’d take advantage of a Sephora sale and grab a bottle of the eau de parfum. I gotta be honest. It’s pretty gross. If you need a scent for impressing your peers after pledging yourself to Jesus as a pre-teen holy roller and you were going to hang with all of them at a rager of an overnight church lockin? This would be what you’d reach for. But listen, I’m not knocking smelling good for your lord and savior, but I think even the begotten only son of God has zero tolerance for this cloying fruity-floral bargain bin Koolaid flavor of a scent. Where’s the more interesting aspects of lavender and bergamot that people are wild for? This is just watered down CapriSun that no one even spiked. I’m flummoxed. And now I’m out $80. Dammit.

Eau Triple Sumi Hinoki Buly 1803
I’ve found interpretations of hinoki varies from perfumer to perfumer, ranging from lemony and coniferous, to tarry and peppery. This version is a deeply unpleasant boyscout 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.

Sahara Noir Tom Ford (discontinued?)
Tom Ford’s Sahara Noir is a scent in my cupboard I’ve long been ignoring and I couldn’t tell you why. It’s intensely evocative in an incredibly specific way, so first my nerd review and then a translation for those who don’t have a tolerance for silliness.

Sahara Noir is the blazing binary sunset seen from the still, dry heat of sand dune on the desert planet Tatooine; a midnight canyon campfire crackling with the spicy resin of the Japor tree, the aromatic blossoms of the molo shrub, and acrid ribbons of poonten grass incense while the ground rumbles with the snores and snuffles of a slumbering bantha herd nearby.

Which is to say this is the driest frankincense, lemony woodsy pinon sawdust, a circle of fragrant burning woods, and brittle, smoky papyrus ash.

Whatever your preferred fandom or even if you stick solely to reality, Sahara Noir is utterly divine.

Daim Blond Serge Lutens
I’m revisiting Serge Lutens’ Daim Blond, a scent I thought I didn’t care for. It’s objectively “nice”, but it just doesn’t resonate with me. I smell the things that people love about it: the elusive whiff of soft suede from the inner pocket of an expensive handbag, the cool floral iris, the bowl of apricots basking in a beam of afternoon sunlight. But those things, they’re over there. And I am here. And we don’t connect. It’s the career woman who got married, had kids, holds an executive position somewhere, and does hot yoga and spin class. So very not me. It makes me think of that photo of Maureen Prescott that you see in the first Scream movie. She looks like a put-together lady. But you later find out she had a past, and it was complicated and fraught, and the catalyst for the entire franchise. Today when I smelled a previously undetected bit of pensive cedar, and wistful violet it made me think about Maureen’s pain and trauma and tragedy, and I recognized how layered we all are, and how no one’s life is ever quite how we imagine it from the outside. That’s something to sit with, and so too, I suppose, is Daim Blond.

Unknown Pleasures Kerosene
I need to be in a specific, special mood to reach for this one. Which is to say deep in the throes of a massive sugar craving. For context, the official description of Kerosene’s Unknown Pleasures mentions a picturesque vision of walking down a cold street in Manchester, listening to Joy Division, sipping on a warm cup of London Fog. And then a whole bunch of stuff about cozy vanilla and zingy lemon.” Ok, so this is less some idyllic goth afternoon tea stroll in the UK, and more a trendy bar in Austin’s house special creme brulee pina colada topped with those lightly spiced airplane shortbread cookies that are tastier than they have any right to be. This is like coconut, pineapple, and toasted vanilla custard Mcflurry with an add-in of Biscoff cookies. And by the way, I am not picking on Austin. I traveled there once, and forgot to pack perfume -the horror!- and I bought this bottle of Unknown Pleasures from a lovely little boutique there. It’s an almost horrifyingly bonkers dessert perfume and I gotta say, I love it.

Ginger Essence Origins
Origins Ginger Essence is like waking up on the first day of summer vacation and launching yourself out of bed with a whoop and a holler into the magnificence of a beautiful cloudless day, a sky so blue you feel you’re staring eternity in the eye, and eternity is having a pretty great day, too. The first day of knowing you’ve got two and a half months ahead of you where you have obligations and no one is making any demands of your time. As adults, we probably haven’t experienced that complete and utter and glorious freedom in a long time, and this bright, effervescent, zingy scent of spicy fresh-chopped ginger, and aromatic tangy citrus peels (and a nearby saucepan of simple syrup, just outside our peripheral vision) is as close as we might get to those storybook early summer holiday feels. See also all the lyrics from The Decemberists song June Hymn. “A panoply of song” is exactly how I’d describe this fragrance.

 

Tuberose & Moss Rogue Perfumery
Rogue Perfumerie’s Tuberose & Moss is a recommendation I received from writer and journalist Rachel Syme over on Twitter. I asked for a scent that smelled like Tasha Tudor’s goth great-grandaughter, and she recommended to me Tuberose & Moss. This is a stunning scent and if I’m honest, I’m annoyed at myself that she knew of it before I did. It’s plush white florals and earthy leathery dreamy oakmoss and woody, close to the skin musk; it’s classic perfumery with a wink. While there’s definitely that sense of powdery, vintage glamour, it’s lensed through a cracked-looking glass, there’s something shimmering and strange about it too. It’s the faded photo of Siouxsie Sioux reading Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit that never existed in this world, but I’m certain it does in some other reality.

Geisha Noire from Aroma M
Geisha Noire from Aroma M is a scent I first encountered via Makeup Alley, in 2004 when I was beginning my fragrance journey and spent a lot of time on the site’s forums. It was a thrilling experience swapping scent samples with strangers, but the kind of strangers with whom you were slowly making kindred connections and forming, in some instances, marvelous friendships that last many years. I have hoarded my tiny vial ever since that time and finally bought a full bottle last week. Geisha Noire is an intense, golden amber and smoky somber tonka that’s rich and hypnotic but before it veers too far into gourmand territory, you encounter an unexpected edge of leather and salt that keeps interesting and not so easily categorized.

Magie Noire Lancome
Imagine the various components of Bánh mì snack. Savory roasted pork belly, peppery chiles, pickled daikon, aromatic cilantro, right down to the yeasty tang of a crusty baguette. Sometimes one is just in the mood for a glamour sandwich, and this one is certainly complex and delicious.

Sinner Kat Von D
I’m quite certain that the nose composed this sentence no actual concept of sin either in theory or practice. This is a creamy white floral grounded with a light woody musk and it’s one of those pleasantly inoffensive scent that one might spritz when they don’t want to spend a lot of time thinking about their perfume. If your idea of sin is wearing white after Labor Day or not properly sorting your recyclables, this may hit right for you. If the imp of the perverse lives permanently on your shoulder, you may think this is laughable but you keep it in your cabinet because you love the cheesy gothic melodrama of the bottle

Spice Must Flow Etat Libre d’Orange
ELdO’s Spice Must Flow is less of Frank Herbert’s space spice and more a hybrid of late-90’s English pop group members Posh Spice and Ginger Spice. It’s a lone, lush, rose, cool and fragrant, and mysteriously blooming in the dry, hot sands where only the prickliest, most pungent, and peppery spices survive. I don’t think there’s any citrus listed in the notes but there’s a mild, sour zing when you first spritz that gives the impression of brightness, and a beautiful cardamom incense note at the dry down that lends a shadowy balance. I would actually call this a rose for people who think they don’t like roses rather than a gateway to Arrakis for denizens of Spice World. Wait…what were we talking about?

Me Myself & I Egofacto
Me Myself & I by Egofacto is scent marketed as a bewitching and disturbing floral with voluptuous tuberose, mysterious hemlock flower, and smoky and vetiver. At the time I first learned of it I thought, wow, OK YES PLEASE take my money. A few years later I still consider it an exceedingly sound investment. It smells overwhelmingly to me of an unlit package of cigarettes in an impossibly expensive leather handbag, and I love that smell. I should know better. My mother smoked all her life, and she died of cancer in 2013. Me, I’m a nerd and have never smoked the slightest bit of anything, but I’ve still got this romanticized notion of sitting in a Parisian cafe, drinking espresso, smoking French cigarettes, scribbling poetry, and looking very cool. You can’t convince me otherwise. It’s a fragrance that conjures a somber, moody atmosphere that hearkens back to its very name in that you’ll want to be alone with it, and I promise you’ll both be in exemplary company.

Moss Commodity
I’ve only tried a few Commodity fragrances and own even less. The issues I have with Moss, the one I actually have, are emblematic of most of the others I’ve sampled as well.  They’re crisp in the sense that mostly what you get is the acrid, antiseptic zest of rubbing alcohol, and they’re generically cologne-y, in a plastic-y green, waxy citrus way that reminds me of every mediocre dude who talks over you in a department meeting and takes credit for your ideas, every tedious bore at a party who suggests that you’re misinformed and that you should read the work of a certain subject matter expert –and news flash ya ding dong, I’m the one who wrote the work you’re referencing– and lastly, every creeper who crawls out from his cave to follow you down the street shouting HEY GIRL NICE TATS and then calls you an ugly whore when you politely request that he leave you alone. Pretty sure all of these assholes are Commodity’s focus groups.

Vanille Noire du Mexique La Maison de la Vanille
La Maison de la Vanille is vanilla of dark, moody florals and balsamic resins that that for a few seconds smells like the platonic ideal of a hot chocolate served in your favorite childhood mug, but there’s something a bit off-kilter about it, too. You’re enjoying your steaming portion of nostalgia in a claustrophobic room with creeping yellow wallpaper, with a friend who has a mysterious green ribbon tied around her throat. She evades your questions about her enigmatic neckwear and asks how are you enjoying your bouquet; you glance down and your hot cocoa is pale orchid, an Aeranthes Grandalena, its blossoms exuding notes of jasmine, caramel, butterscotch.

Philosykos Diptyque
Philoskyos from Diptyque is a scent I don’t wear very often because I am not quite sure what to make of it…and I don’t know how to pronounce it, either. It is meant to be a perfumed ode to the fig tree in its entirety, the wood, the leaves and the fruit, but to be transparent here, I have never eaten a fresh fig, and even worse I sometimes get confused about dried figs and dried dates, so I’m already at a loss. What I do experience from this scent is the milky sap from a broken twig and the fragrance of spring greenery, damp from a morning rain. Despite that, it still comes off as dry, and I would expect it to also be fresh and light, but somehow it’s strangely musty. I wear this on days when I know I’ve got a lot to think about, to remind myself that it’s okay to not know everything, and maybe never reach a conclusion.

Hermessence Ambre Narguile Hermès
Ambre Narguilé from the Hermes 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.

Sycomore Eau de Parfum Chanel
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.

Milk Musk Eau de Toilette Molton Brown
Milk Musk is exactly what it says it is, an uncomplicated creamy, milky musk. It’s soft but not so faint it fades into nothing and the vanilla and resins give it a subtle richness, but it’s never cloying or powdery. When I was a little girl, I read stories about frightened children who were given warm milk before bedtime. I was always disappointed with the repulsive reality of the stuff, but this lovely scent recalls the nostalgic hope for the dreamy deliciousness of that sleepy, cozy treat.

What We Do In Paris Is Secret A Lab on Fire
This brand has taken the best of the worst and made a hilariously repulsive escape of a scent. By which I mean it combines elements from three perfumes I either hate with an all-consuming fire or which I simultaneously love and loathe, and has created a tanned, toned, trendy skin that I’d feel compelled to slip into in order to feel like someone wholly not myself. Imagine a KvD Saint plus Thierry Mugler’s Angel plus V+R’s Flowerbomb cocktail worn by someone who has never experienced crippling anxiety, who has never been called fat by her own mother, who never locked herself in the bathroom at a party and cried because they felt so ugly and unlovable. Bright, honied heliotrope, candied litchee, and powdery vanilla marzipan make for a scent that I am pretty sure is what every Influencer with over 100mm followers on social media smells like. But you know, the classy ones, not the Trisha Paytas ones. Or actually maybe this is exactly Trisha Paytas. I don’t know anything anymore, this scent has killed 100% of my brain cells.

10 Corso Como 
10 Corso Como is a perfume of dry, lofty sandalwood, smoky desert resins, and delicate, diaphanous off-kilter, otherworldly florals. This is a scent that calls to mind a mysterious, aromatic wooden chest, unearthed by a sudden sandstorm. It houses a little spirit angel that’s been trapped there for a thousand years and rather than granting you wishes once you’ve unlatched the fiddly hinge, it squints against the sun and asks, irritably, “do you mind?”  At once sensual and spiritual and strangely, a little stern, it’s somehow heady and sheer, giddy and grounded–it’s both the shining halo and its shimmering shadow–and it’s one of my all-time top ten favorite scents.

Confessions of a Garden Gnome Forte & Manle
I don’t believe this earnest little gnome’s secret to be particularly incendiary but it does present some specific imagery. Shirking garden tasks to sneak into a woodland affair he’s heard rumors about, and, expecting an opulent ball, he washes behind his loamy soil-caked ears and spritzes on his little limbs a soft herbal cologne with notes of violet leaf and strange citrus. What he finds upon arrival is a fairy ring rave; intoxicated pixies and sprites flirting and frolicking across pepper moss, under disco balls reflecting the birch and cedar trees… and the guilty face of the gnome who doesn’t know how to dance.

 

Death and Decay LUSH (discontinued?)
Death and Decay is a mass of white lilies, an elaborate wreath, a store-bought bouquet, funeral arrangement or perhaps all of these incarnations of this melancholic meditative floral. These blooms are at the height of their beauty; their alabaster form and curve full and flourishing, just on the cusp of decay. This is a narcotic white floral fragrance heavy with every aspect it evokes– from the sweet waxy petals, to the subtle spice of pollen, to the pearlescent plastic wrapped around the stems.

Sortilège Le Galion
I initially saw this fragrance referenced in a strange story, in a weird collection of stories by Amparo Davila and as I hadn’t heard of this scent I was dying to know whether it exists–and it does. Sortilège means “spell.” and it does very much conjure enchantments across time and space. This is a scent originally created in 1937, so what I have, is, of course, a reformulation. I purchased directly from the Le Galion website, which reads “…the iconic fragrance of the house Le Galion and signature perfume of the famous Stork Jazz Club in New York.” It’s ethereal aldehydes, delicate velvety florals, and a subtle woody balsamic chypre base. It is a gentle but profoundly evocative scent that awakens phantom dreams and memories of past life loves and loss.

Kiehls Original Musk
There’s polite musk, there’s funky musk and there’s Kiehl’s Musk, a perfect balance of the warm and the clean and the bittersweet and the skanky. The original formulation may have been heavier on the skankiness, and that’s what I recall from the sample I tried ages ago.  This bottle of Kiehl’s Musk is still exactly what I imagine 1974 to smell like–astrology enthusiasts and their extravagantly embroidered captains attending eternal Tupperware parties.

Rose 31 Le Labo
If you’ve seen my review of Perfumers Workshop Tea Rose and sussed out that I am not, in fact, rose’s number one fan– you would be correct. Rose 31 is more earthy-rose adjacent than rose-forward. It has got a peculiar sweaty cumin armpit opening but after that disappears it’s a rose blurred from the edges completely inward by woodsy aromatic mosses and sweetly musky resins. My boyfriend tells me it smells like his childhood Mossman Masters of the Universe toy, and I smile thinking about those fuzzy green muscles, every time I spray this subtle elegant scent.

Oud Wood Tom Ford
Tom Ford is a ghostly, glacial coniferous rosewood sandalwood melange of chilly, bitter, peppery woods. It is a tiny, sinister statue of a scent in an empty room where the temperature drops suddenly, with no explanation. The perfumed version of a little gremlin that appears in a haunting tale; one that skitters in the corners of your vision when the eye is focused elsewhere and inches eerily to your pillow when you’re at the knife’s edge of wakefulness and dream.

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Levitating Phallic God (vetiver, opoponax, licorice root, black tea, lemon peel, and cashmere wood) Earthy and rooty at the opener, like the wheelbarrow crawling with uprooted aloe vera plants that is currently danking up our garage with scents of soil and clay and rock, deeply disturbed from the digging. It perks up, so to speak, as the fragrance blooms on the skin. Pillowy, musky woods and a mysteriously sweet, herbal powderiness that call to mind the golden notes of wild fennel pollen round this out to a velvety dream of a skin-scent.

Since There’s No Help (silver-frosted white musk, juniper, and cade with bitter carrot seed, lemon peel, davana, and white tea) Interesting! This is described as “a cold scent, a severing” and as I am wearing it I can’t help but think it would be perfect for a sweltering summer afternoon. The bracing juniper and tart lemon, combined with a bitter, tannic fruitiness, conjures ice-cold, dripping glasses of sweet southern tea, and it is suddenly a glorious June evening, post-apocalyptic blazing sunset, pre-eerie electric streaks of heat lightning.

Cacao, Lime Rind, and Coconut This smells exactly like the chocolate-covered coconut bonbons that I always used to pick out of the Whitman Sampler box that my grandmother perpetually had lying around when I was a little girl. The lactonic tropical sweetness of creamy, flaked coconut and the luxurious aroma of cocoa butter is such an amazing confection of a combination that I just want to eat it out of a trough with my face. Which I can do because I am an adult now!

Dragon, Rabbit, and Snake (blue cypress, butterfly jasmine, green tea, black orchid, and white champa blossom) This is a soft, lovely floral fragrance given some earthy depth with the vegetal, grassy green tea and enlivened by the mildly licorice-like, balsamic aroma that I am guessing is from the cypress. It conjures the prettiest imagery of watercolor botanical illustrations.

Peach Vulva (sweet apricot, sugared amber, frankincense, golden cardamom, rice milk, and golden peach) I had to try this one a handful of times before it spoke to me, and when it finally did, it was a tale of the most wildly gorgeous fruit salad orgy: lychee and mango and pineapple and condensed milk and palm sugar. Even sweet corn got a last-minute invite, couldn’t leave that weirdo out!

The Elephant Is Slow To Mate (deep burgundy musk, red labdanum, smoked rose petals, opoponax, 17-year aged patchouli, blackened vanilla bean, dried black cherries, blackberries, and tobacco absolute.)  What’s the word for bombastic but wearing a bow tie of gravitas? For the cartoon image of someone having their mind blown, their eyes all wide and googly, their hair frizzled and electrified and pointing straight to the sun? This is the reddest fruit of the painter’s palette, juiced and syruped and concentrated so that it’s the most extra version of itself, spices that I can’t pick apart but which are very potent, and *dramatic* resins. This is a big, bold personality that you just feel more interesting and special being in the room with, the kind that everyone gravitates toward, and when they look at you, you feel like the only person who exists. It’s A Lot. Wow. I love it.

We Must Love One Another Or Die (white rose, muguet, white sandalwood, ambrette seed, vetiver, and smoke) This combination of notes, creates the impression of summer berries in a fancy antique silver compote dish. There’s the plushness of soft fruit flesh and a glamorous metal tang and it presents as a deceptively simple and thoroughly elegant fragrance that somehow makes me think of this painting.

Honey, Black Lilies, and Gardenia Petals In the first moments, a plummy-jammy scent, and then, a viscous, vicious dark amber-honeyed slithery undercurrent of something sinuous and sinister. This scent is the creepy-crawly that shows up in the exquisite still life painting; there’s the velvet table cloth, the artful bouquet of somber blossoms, the requisite skull or pile of dusty books, and –HEY WHAT THE! There’s a SNAKE oh my god what the hell! This is a “THAT’S A FUCKING SNAKE Y’ALL!” of a scent.

Snake Smut (Snake Oil and Smut with leather accord, cardamom, and 7-year aged patchouli.) With all the woozy boozy musky sugary spices, you’d like this would be the kind of scent that would make your eyes pop from your head like a sleazy rat in a cartoon when a gorgeous dame crosses his path…and yet. It’s not the sort of thing to make your skirts fly up or your pants tent impressively or insert whatever over-the-top horny synonym you like here. It’s actually more subtle than you might expect. I smell all sorts of deliciousness; sweet, sugared black tea, a warm, gooey spiced and iced dessert, densely chewy vanilla candied things…but imagine if you were to take all concept of foodishness out of those things. What do you have left? A deeply sensual scent, dark and delectably textured and utterly enticing, but rather than wanting to eat it, you’re content to wear it.

Honey Marzipan begins as the chewiest, most decadent brick of sweetened almond paste, then almost immediately acquires that lovely cherry note intrinsic to so many almond fragrances, and then before you can blink it swiftly shifts to a honeyed-heliotrope-apricot fairytale storybook princess of a scent where it lives out the remainder of its days in a spun sugar and spring stone fruit syrup château. From start to finish, it’s an intense and rapid progression, but at every stage in its evolution, it’s absolutely enchanting.  P.S. Honey Marzipan + Snake Smut is an amazingly over-the-top evil queen + blushing maiden battle royale of a scent combination.

Unsubtle Euphemism (milk bread, amaretto, star anise, almond cream, and cardamom) It’s interesting that milk bread is listed among the notes; by coincidence, I have just recently become obsessed with making fluffy, sweet, marvelous milk bread and I’m a little peeved at myself that I didn’t start my bread experiments with this one several decades ago. It’s just impossible to go wrong, and with all that sugar and full-fat milk and butter, even if you did somehow manage to screw it up, I bet it would still taste fantastic. Straight from the bottle and on my wrist, this Unsubtle Euphemism is an onslaught of saltiness, with nutty nuances, and something with a flaky, burnished, and crackly crust.  There’s an eventual subtle sweetness, like a sweet paste of scant sugar and egg yolks more than of something milky or creamy, and it makes me think of treats like deep-fried sesame balls, or cured egg yolk buns, and as the scent settles in, even egg custard tarts.

Cacao, Black Pepper, and Khus don’t judge this by how it smells in the bottle, it’s unfortunately a tad reminiscent of unwashed stockings– not that anyone remembers what those smell like anymore! On the skin, it’s a bar of earthy, nutty artisanal chocolate with peppery, grassy nubs of woody-herbaceous marjoram leaf. Which is a weird-sounding combination, right? I’ll answer that. Yes. It totally is. And it also totally works. Surprisingly, Cacao, Black Pepper, and Khus is my second favorite from this collection For my no.1, see Levitating Phallic God, above. Pun intended.

Discarded Sandal (beeswax, hinoki wood, Japanese black pine, juniper, tolu balsam, and muguet) The cypress and pine is at the forefront of this scent, but it’s a gentle incarnation of what can sometimes be austere and astringent notes with prickly, camphoraceous, insect-repellent aspect. These woods, however, have reached the highest levels of self-actualization and they are the most spiritually uplifting lemony and resinous evergreen best versions of themselves. An hour later the golden nectar of honey has emerged, and it too is a soft and tranquil embodiment of what can sometimes be a note that is too cloying, too sticky. If you’re looking for a suggestive aphrodisiac from this collection, I’d say Discarded Sandal is the way to go, although it’s more a perfume of desires sated than libidos feverishly spiking. The discarded sandal, a witness to lascivious sights and exquisite sighs, waits patiently. It will whisper these secrets to its mate, later tonight when they are reunited.

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