I have often spoken of my mother’s love of perfume, but I suppose I never considered where that might have stemmed from. A peek at her mother’s–my grandmother’s–perfume tray reveals a shimmering collection full of both beautiful bottles and a small number of beloved scents, and I think this is an interesting glimpse of the woman herself. A lover of birds and cut glass and loyal in her lifetime to a scant handful of fragrances, her influence has clearly inspired several generations.
My great-grandmother wasn’t the type (that we know of) to go in for the vanities of this world. She was, to quote my youngest sister, into “rhubarb pie and good bread and Baptist churches.” I imagine her only daughter though, one girl among seven brothers and after spending so much time among so many males, probably developed a fondness for whatever frivolities were available to her. A love which would grow, slowly, and steadily and sensibly over time.
It must be said that, that although this love of fine things was passed down through my grandmother to both my mother and I…well, the good sense–not so much.
Towards the back of that mirrored tray is a bottle of Youth Dew by Estée Lauder. I have no idea how old it is, or when my grandmother last wore it, but my guess is that it’s been around for a great, long while, sadly unused.
Youth Dew is a scent from childhood visits to my grandparent’s home in Ohio, when I was very young. I would spend the whole weekend there, watching Dallas and Hee Haw with my grandfather, or helping my grandmother make a pot of chicken and dumplings…there must have been a lot of reading and walks in the woods and no small amount of undignified begging of the grandparents to take me to the toy store for something new.
Usually, at least once per visit, I would convince my grandmother to allow me to rifle through her jewelry box. This was a small but crucial ritual for me at that young age– I’d usually threaten that I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep without it! Permission granted, I would then begin the process of removing the sparkling brooches and dangling earrings and line them up one by one, pretending that I was a fancy grown up lady, and I had my choice among baubles for a ball. The truth was, I probably would have worn all of them at once, to bed, if I could have gotten away with it.
The scent of that box of jewels, a sort of musty, metallic tang, is entangled in my memories of Youth Dew. The fragrance was, as I recall, a strange witches brew of heady, formidable glamour and unexpected comfort. It’s been over 30 years since I’ve smelled it (I couldn’t even bring myself to uncap it and sniff the sprayer this past weekend, when I took the photograph featured above) and so my memory may be playing tricks on me. The comfort might have been from the bosomy grandma-hugs, and not the perfume at all, but I couldn’t tell the difference then, and I suspect I can’t today, either.
Youth Dew is described as a heavily spiced oriental, and apparently everyone’s grandmother wore it–to the extent that I think it’s often described as a “grandma/old lady scent”. I personally hate that phrase, for what it’s worth, but I also do not think there’s really anything “youthful” about the scent. With notes including bergamot, peach, aldehydes, clove, rose, ylang-ylang, frankincense, amber, tolu, benzoin, oakmoss, and vetiver (and many more, I left a lot out), its aura has always seemed to me one of aggressive grandeur and luxury, the kind that takes a certain maturity to pull off.
Recently, in conversations with a fellow fragrance enthusiast, I was bemoaning my lack of knowledge regarding the technical language in describing perfumes. Most of the time I couldn’t tell you if something smells indolic or lactonic or if it is a soliflore or if it’s the original or reformulated. But you know, my brain doesn’t really break things down like that. Sure, I guess it would behoove me to educate myself more fully on notes and their nuances and learn how to recognize those facets of a scent, but I’m pretty sure I’d continue to process them and talk about them as I always have.
So while I can tell you that it’s a sticky, darkly balsamic scent, a warm resinous amber, and a bit of powdery vanilin at the dry down, what I really mean to say is that it smells like a velvet backed, diamond choker. Or, basically, like this:
I can’t say for certain that’s what my grandmother was going for, but 30 years later my own love for baubles and jewels has not lessened one bit, so maybe I do need to spritz myself liberally next time I visit. I sincerely doubt I will ever have any such riches or glittering trinkets in my own jewel box and the imagery summoned by a luxe waft of Youth Dew is as close as I am likely to get.
If cleanliness is next to godliness, then I’ll be honest with you here–I’m closer to Divine than The Divine when it comes to wallowing in my own filth.
Simply put: I hate bathing. Or spelled out even simpler than that: I hate being wet.
OK, so maybe the title of this post is a little misleading. I am not an ablutophobe, per se– that is, I am not afraid of bathing. And don’t misunderstand me, I like the feeling of being clean and nice smelling and having hair that doesn’t fall in a dank, greasy mess across my face, but I absolutely detest the process it takes to get there. The prospect of undignified, soggy nudity and a sopping wet, 50-pound mop of tangles on top of my head that takes all day to dry is one that I dread and avoid for as long as I possibly can get away with.
No doubt if I polled my friends regarding when they showered I would hear things like “oh, every morning”. Or “oh, at night after I work out”, or sometimes even twice in one day (you weirdos). For me, it prompts a rather different question, “when did I last shower?” Was it 3 days ago? 4? Hmmmm.
Clean clothes, clean underwear, deodorant, and perfume go a long way in upholding my decent citizen status. Most of the time I even receive positive commentary on how lovely I smell! But I know, I know–there’s the question of hygiene. I mean, I guess there is…right? That’s what people seem to think, anyway. Personally, I like to think me and my bacteria are great friends, so I am not overly troubled by it.
I would probably never, ever set foot inside the shower if I thought I could get away with it, but sometimes you have to get cleaned up for work, or family, or maybe it’s been a really hot, sweaty Florida day and the soapy angel on my shoulder is giving me a really hard time about it. The dirt devil on my other shoulder is like “eh, whatevs!” but my swampy butt-crack and I know that we have to do the right thing.
So I trick myself! That’s right. Like a toddler that you are bribing with candy or shiny toys, I too must be lured into doing the thing I just don’t wanna do. Fancy soaps, shower gels and lotions are my incentives of choice to entice me into the cleansing waters and I usually end up making a bit of an evening of it. I’ll light some incense, play some soothing music and generally turn it into a ritual of sorts, like I’m sacrificing my dirt and funk up to the gods.
Below I’ve listed for you some of my favorite ritualistic ablutions:
Tom Ford Oud Wood shower gel is, at $68, no doubt the most expensive shower gel you could ever buy, but it smells like woods and incense and secret forest temples and is totally worth it.
Atelier Vanille Insensee soap has a lovely, clean vanilla scent. Very mild and tempered with some citrus and woodsiness. Nice for hot weather, actually. Not a bit foody or too cozy smelling. I don’t like equating a cozy feeling with the process that serves up stinging needles of water on my skin anyway, so this is a fragrance that works fine for this purpose.
Villainess Peal Diver soap is nice and scrubby with Irish moss, dulse and kelp to thoroughly exfoliate, and a scent that’s not quite tropical, not quite spa-like, but conjures visions of standing on your 5-star ocean-side hotel room balcony and gazing out at the vast, black sea at midnight, the moon low on the horizon.
Haus of Gloi Troika pumpkin butter is made from shea butter and pumpkin seed oil and despite its heavy appearance goes on quite nicely, non-greasy and sinks right in. Troika smells of “a trinity of soft milks: almond, oat and coconut, lashed with sweet agave nectar and the ethereal scent of clean whiteness” and really that’s exactly what it smells like, I can’t do any better than that. Haus of Gloi is a totally vegan company.
Ether body butter made exclusively by Naked Eye Beauty for Sisters of the Black Moon has a different texture than the previously mentioned pumpkin butter. It seems…spongier…somehow? I think it takes a little bit longer to sink in, but I obviously adore it since I am now halfway through my second jar of it–and I’ve got to like something quite a bit for me to buy it a second time. It’s got a light, powdery musky scent that makes me think of a “stripper with a heart of gold” character from a bawdy comedy. I also think Stormer from the Misfits probably smells like this. That probably makes no sense to anyone but me.
Cinnamon Projects incense is designed to “create transformative space”, with the various scents offered to portray an infinitely inspired day. On a whim, I chose 2AM, which is scented with cedarwood, cinnamon, honey, and vetiver, and is utterly gorgeous and somehow magnificently restrained. It’s warm without being overly spicy, it’s sweet but not cloying and it’s strongly scented–but not suffocating. It’s perhaps the most perfect stick of incense I have ever burned.
Blackbird Violet Hour incense made for Catbird NYC, on the other hand, is smoky and potent and just this side of harsh. These are no demure shrinking violets…they are violets who have set themselves on fire in protest, smoldered in revolt, and their sooty purple petals are going to haunt you for the rest of your life. I am not certain if this particular scent is still available anymore on the Catbird site but Blackbird makes all sorts of intriguing scents (both incense and perfumes)that are for sale on their own site, and they are worthy peeking in on.
And finally, I did mention candy, didn’t I? Persephenie’s Rose and Frankincense heart opening candies, made with ingredients like cane sugar, rose water, wild Harvested frankincense, and vanilla, seem like old world magic and a terribly special sort of treat. I could certainly do to keep my heart open to the wondrous possibilities that spring from a proper cleansing, so there’s that too, I suppose.
Do you hate to bathe as much as I do? It’s okay, you can admit it here, you are amongst stinky friends! Do you have any special treats or bribes that you must resort to rouse yourself to do the things you don’t like to do? Tell me all about it in the comments!
I’m not sure there’s much point to doing a thing if you are only going to half ass it, but truth be told: I’m tired. Two days ago I drove halfway down the state for work reasons, spent the last 48 hours doing stressful social work things and today I drove back up the state to get home. I’m beat, dammit.
But I also committed myself to writing certain things this year, one of them being a monthly series basically forcing me to talk about perfumes. I’d like to get better at describing the things I like, properly articulating and sharing the reasons that someone else might like them too–and that’s why you’re likely seeing more Reviews of Things on the ol’ blargh right now. While I suppose I don’t have any trouble expressing an opinion about something, describing the qualities of something has always thrown me for a loop. I don’t consider myself an expert in much of …well, anything really. So who am I to give an account of the characteristics or facets of a particular thing? Well, I am trying, I suppose.
All this is to say is that I am too flipping exhausted to talk about any particular fragrance this month, so I am going to report on my goofier half’s impressions regarding some of the scents that I wear. It’s not exactly creative writing, but it’s worth documenting, right?
So without further ado, here are some of my dude’s thinks on my favorite stinks:
A friend assured me recently that the chaos in my perfume cabinet was not, in fact, a hot mess and a poor reflection of my character–but instead that it was pretty cool and it reminded her of a witch’s workbench. Actually… she only voiced the latter half of that thought, and so I’m choosing to extrapolate the rest of the sentiment because she’s a thoughtful person and that’s probably what she meant.
A witch’s workbench! I loved that. And I love thinking of perfume in that context–after all, the transformative powers of fragrance are myriad and a sort of magic of their own. Fragrance has the ability to transport us to another place or time, be it a memory, a wish for the future, or even a dream. It conjures phantom loves and losses, those whom we adored and those we mourn. It intoxicates, bewitches and holds our admirers rapt, enthralled. It allows us to slip into the skin of that which we would wish to be–the femme fatale, the ingénue, (or, if you’re weirdly specific like me, “Morticia Addams tending a poison garden at midnight in late summer, moments before fearsome thunderstorm”).
Some perfumes though, as least as far as I can tell, just feel like magic. Perhaps they don’t exactly remind you of anything from your past and maybe they don’t make you feel like Audrey Hepburn or Seven of Nine or Siouxsie Sioux or whoever it is that you channel to feel special or beautiful. Perhaps their mere presence on your shelf causes a shimmer in the corner of your vision; a certain slant of light at the right time of day cascades through the faceted glass bottle and creates a kaleidoscopic prism against the wall. Maybe the cool heft of a particular flacon cradled against the warmth of your palm feels grounding and reassuring. Perhaps to simply gaze upon your collection and deeply inhale the exotic aroma of all the fragrances combined is a small ritual on its own.
I have a few scents in this vein that hold their own magic; they smell as though they may induce a trance, or open a portal. Some demand a sacrifice of the wearer, and some bear unexpected gifts. Some smell of soothsaying and powerful prophecy, whereas others might sit quietly on the skin, unnoticed, a charm against unkindness or ill-will. I own all of these and they speak to me in a secret language of their own, a scented murmuration that no doubt only I understand…though I am very happy to share with you a handful of my loves. Make of their mysteries what you will!
Mississippi Medicine from DS & Durga opens with an astringent, peppery cypress, and gives way to a pine-crackling, smoky fire, sweet birch, muddy grass and scorched leaves and dries down to a sweetly herbaceous, woody, resinous scent. This tells the story of waking with strange incense in your hair and the vague dream of descending into the dark, dancing and divining with ancestors, and having been part of rituals older than you can imagine. A scent of potent magics, both sacrificial and healing.
Norne from Slumberhouse smells of black night forests frozen in time; tarry, resinous pines and greenest firs and crisp midnight air, tiniest pinpoints of starlight. Woodsmoke and loam, lichen and fern, and musty mosses creeping, creeping over fallen logs and worn stone paths. Spiders webs tangling high in the branches, dust settling on the strands. Time has slowed and finally stood still in this forest while the world outside advances and evolves and moves along as is the world’s habit whether one interferes or not. This is a still, solemn, forgotten wood, without any birth or growth, and yet undying.
10 Corso Como is all dry, lofty sandalwood, smoky desert resins, and earthy, weirdly off-kilter – almost alien or at least otherworldy- florals. It calls to mind a mysterious, aromatic wooden chest, unearthed by a strange sandstorm. At once both sensual and spiritual, and without a doubt a very, very handsome scent, I find myself frequently craving it and nothing else will do.
Heely’s Sel Marin conjures a dim lit sea save, illuminated by phosphorescent crystals clinging to salt crusted walls. Mossy rocks, worn smooth by time and tides and the wind, which echoes eerily through the subterranean stone chambers. Bits of driftwood and seaweed and perhaps small animal bones littering the damp chamber floor. A sea priestess lain dormant, waiting for a dark ritual to conjure forth from slumber. This is a Dion Fortune novel in a bottle.
Amir from Laura Tonnato is a deeply hypnogogic scent, all dark, narcotic myrrh and nocturnal resins. A midnight philtre, thickened with age and swimming murkily at the bottom of an ancient crystal flacon, tucked away in some moth-eaten velvet robes. This is the scent I imagine one of the visitors wearing during that infamous summer in 1816 at the Villa Diodati with Byron and Polidori.
Serge Lutens’ De Profundis opens with the scent of big, lively chrysanthemums, in the fall -brisk, slightly spicy and musty. Delicate, dewy violets and damp loamy earth follow shortly thereafter, along with a cool metallic chill that calls to mind a brief wind, rising from nowhere, a shadow that suddenly falls across your path. This is the scent of a pensive cemetery stroll in late autumn, crushed funeral wreaths beneath your feet, the veil of the sun struggling through the clouds, the lingering wisps of incense from morning mass.
Your late teens, very early 20s are such a strange bit of limbo, aren’t they? Or…at least they were for me. Along with the angst of trying to figure out what you are going to do with the rest of your life, you are sometimes trying to figure out, quite literally, where you are doing these things from, where are they taking you…sometimes even trying to come to terms with where, exactly, your home is, anyway? At that time I was living with my sister and my ex-step-father in one of his longtime friend’s home, and it was an awfully peculiar arrangement.
This friend had a fairly sizable house, and I believe he was going through a divorce, so it was empty, save for him. And he needed help paying for it. In the meantime, my mother was in rehab for her addiction and my grandparents were selling the house that we had grown up in. Actually, why were they selling that house? My sister and I still needed a place to live! She was maybe 17 years old, I was about 19…we weren’t ready to move out and we didn’t have any place to go! This is really weird, now that I think on it. Well, maybe they needed to sell the house to pay for my mother’s rehab. Who knows?
So this guy needed help paying for his house and my sister and I and my ex-step-father needed a place to live, and it seemed to be a decent arrangement. There were two extra bedrooms, which my ex-step-father insisted that we take, and he turned the living room into his bedroom.
At this time I was in my second year of community college and working pretty much full time at my first job, a local fast food chain. College was tough for me–while I like to learn, classroom settings made me terribly anxious and I resented being tested on what I was taught. Often times I could not even drag myself out of bed to make it to my one or two morning classes.
I would lay under the covers, paralyzed, wondering if this is all there was to life. I couldn’t see beyond my immediate issues and neuroses to any sort of future that made any sense to me. And then I would get out of bed and take a shower and wash my hair because that, at least seemed a good first step.
This was probably 1996ish; my hair was growing out after a hair dying catastrophe wherein we had to cut it very, very short. My stylist convinced me that I needed a “Rachel” cut, and anyone who was of television watching age at that time knows precisely what that looks like. Of course my hair was coarse and puffy and frizzy and the cut looked less like Rachel and more like Rachel’s deranged cousin. I don’t have many physical photographs, but here is one with myself and that haircut, in that particular house, along with my sister who I think was trying to tickle me til I puked.
Revlon Outrageous was the drugstore brand shampoo and conditioner that I used at that time and it was the most splendid smelling thing I had encountered up until that point–sort of a sweet, musky floral? I’ve never been able to describe it accurately, but in any event, it was a very “perfumey” scent. Quite sophisticated smelling, at least for something in Walgreens that you were picking up for $3.99 a bottle. My sister once sniffed my head and delightedly told me that I smelled amazing and if she wasn’t my sister she’d want to be my girlfriend. She claims now that she has no memory of saying this, but I know what I heard!
The shampoo eventually became very difficult to find and as I grew older, I’m afraid my tastes became a bit more expensive and so I stopped purchasing it…but I never forgot about that scent.
Many years later–just last autumn, actually!–I stumbled across a tiny store in Portland that had a few offerings from Library of Flowers, whose whimsical storybook packaging I had often admired online, but the scents I had never actually sampled. And wouldn’t you know, the first one I sniffed, Willow & Water, smelled EXACTLY like my beloved Outrageous shampoo!
The notes are as follows, but don’t let them turn you off:
Top: Cut Greens Middle: Flowering Lotus Bottom: Watercress
…which doesn’t sound like it smells anything like what I’ve described, and yet it is. It captures the worldly complexity of that cheap shampoo, the existential crisis of figuring out my early twenties and tinge of sadness that goes along with remembering the last time I would ever live at “home” with one of my beautiful sisters.
Despite the uncertainty and instability of that time, Library of Flowers Willow & Water conjures such a lovely, nostalgia for me…although I suppose it is of the bittersweet sort.
Sometimes I wonder if there is really any other kind.
As a human person who exists on this planet today, you no doubt have a love/hate relationship with that book of Faces and are logged in at all hours clicking through your friend’s feeds: avoiding spoilers, hurrying past your racist relatives and small town, small-minded high school acquaintances ignorant blather, and finally slowing your scroll to squee over the delightful antics of pandas frolicking in the season’s first snow and baby otters floating blissfully on their mother’s bellies. Give us all the animals! We’re even obsessed with that bizarro “water bear” micro-animal that resembles a friendly eight-legged butthole.
Man, humans are weird.
The vagaries of humanity’s strange predilections aside, if you’ve spent any time in a zoo or a farm or caring for animals, you are perhaps–for better or worse–acquainted with the pungent variety of scents associated with our beastly friends. But have you ever found yourself wishing to smell like one of your favorite critters? (Okay, okay, maybe we are back in weirdo territory again.)
Well, Victor Wong of Zoologist perfumes has, and is exactly the kind of weirdo and visionary that we love. A wild dreamer who has a boundless fascination with the animal kingdom and its idiosyncrasies, Victor works with award-winning perfumers to capture the manifold delights of the natural world in fragrance form, and has created a line of eau de parfums that are “unusual, beautiful, fun, and even shocking.” And, and I am thrilled to report, these scents do not even contain animal products! “We don’t want to harm animals so that we can smell good”, notes Victor. Awww!
I’ll get this one out of the way first, because I can already hear you tittering like a bunch of 13-year-olds. Beaver, heh heh heh, right? Grow up, dorks. With a base of castoreum (synthetic beaver musk) and notes of linden blossom, iris, earth, and smoke, this opens on an outdoorsy, woodland aquatic vibe that quickly becomes an acrid, animalic musk. Despite the subtly sweet powderiness that keeps it from venturing into “unpleasant” territory, it isactually a kind of funky, moist scent. It’s pretty skanky, but in a really interesting and strangely comforting way. Beaver was designed by Chris Bartlett who describes his creations as, “fragrances that some people will love, rather than perfumes everyone will like.” Fair enough!
Like its namesake, Rhinoceros is a massive fragrance which opens with an enormous blast of dry, boozy rum and tobacco. There’s leather here, as well as sage, and lavender–and it all makes for very interesting contrasts. The dark, raw, leatheriness and the lighter herbal aromatics both play off each other and then again come together to conjure the “heat shimmering on the still Savannah” as the product description suggests. The nose behind this fragrance is Paul Kiler and with Rhinoceros he has created something hugely remarkable.
Another fragrance created by Paul Kiler, Panda begins with an intense, dewy green accord and hints of peppery warmth that is soon followed by orange blossoms and lilies, and finally comes to rest at earthy roots and damp mosses. This is less the roly-poly panda himself and more a chronicle of his slow stroll as he journeys from mountain springs to bamboo groves, munching on stalks and leaves, and basically just living a very low-key, low-stress, serene Panda lifestyle. Much later there is the barest whiff of sandalwood; perhaps the last stop in his travels is a shadowy temple at sunset, to light a stick of incense and thank the gods for his good fortune.
This is a lush, vivacious offering from nose Shelley Waddington. Brimming with a kaleidoscope of opulent fruits and honeyed florals, it calls to mind a tea party in a bright spring garden; effervescent personalities flit and flirt, while poetic dalliances occur amongst the softly blooming lilac and sweetly musky honeysuckle. Delicate nectars and sweet ambrosia is served, and later that night you dream of the sunlight glimmering through the season’s fleeting apple and plum blossoms.
Designed by award-winning perfumer Dr. Ellen Covey, Bat is undeniably, the strangest, most wonderfully unique perfume you will ever smell. Opening with a nearly overwhelming note of damp, primordial earth both vegetal and mineral in execution, this immediately conjures inky caverns and pitch-black, damp limestone caves. The scent then morphs into something I can only describe as “night air and velvet darkness”; I cannot say how she has done this, I only know that it is the very essence of the vast, temperate midnight sky, the glowing moon high overhead. At this point it becomes something quite different, and–quite possibly–even more beautiful. Soft fruits, delicate musks, and resins lay at the heart of this enigmatic scent and combine to create a fragrance that lightly circles around the wearer to surprise them with a mysterious sweetness at the most surprising times. According to Dr. Covey who has spent a great deal of time researching and studying bats, with this quality the scent has succeeded pretty well in doing what she envisioned.
Full size 60ml bottles with charming illustrations by Daisy Chan can be purchased at Zoologist.com for $125, while generously sized 2.5ml spray samples can be had for $6 a piece. A sampler set, containing all five scents, is available for $25.
(This article was originally posted at Dirge; the site is no longer active.)
My mother was a complicated piece of business. That reads more harsh than what I meant to write, and I am feeling kindly disposed this morning, so perhaps I will amend that to say that my feelings about my mother are the real complications here.
When I was eleven years old, I couldn’t fathom saying such a thing. My mother was this amazing, radiant being; she was like unto God. I don’t know what, precisely, I based this upon – perhaps nothing at all save a daughter’s faith and devotion that was as yet untested. 20 cats? That’s ok, I loved cats! My mom didn’t drive? No problem, my grandma took us everywhere that we needed to go! No money? Ah, we were happy and well-cared for, who needs money? I recall gazing at her, one evening, rapt, and exclaiming “I can’t imagine ever having a fight with you, mom!” She smiled enigmatically, knowing better.
(When I grew much older and had to divest her dilapidated beach cottage of 20 sick felines and several heartbreakingly unwell dogs; when I got my driver’s license and became my mother’s chauffeur at all hours of the night; when I loaned her money time and again which would never be repaid–that is when my feelings became irreversibly complicated).
However, by the time I was fourteen years old, they were certainly going through some complex changes. My beautiful, brilliant mother was, without a doubt, a raging alcoholic.
I think I have blocked out much of my home-life during my teenage years at this time; I recall going to school, I remember spending time with my boyfriend, I can re-live just about every single moment I ever spent at my first job…but there’s not much I remember about my mother, save surreal flashes of trauma here and there. A Thanksgiving morning when our refrigerator broke down; the kitchen flooded, she had a meltdown and subsequently entered rehab for the first time. 3am early mornings when she cornered my sister and I in a bedroom while she ranted and raged for hours about god knows what, while terrified and confused, we wondered how we would function at school the next day. My senior year of high school when she disappeared for two weeks entirely. These things.
The one thing I can unfailingly conjure up now, twenty years from now, perhaps even on my deathbed, is her scent: Perfumer’s Workshop Tea Rose.
A scent upon which my grandmother would often remark in disgust “You smell like a funeral parlour!” Tea Rose permeated the fabric of my mother’s clothes and floated around her from room to room in a fragrant cloud. My mother wore exotic, jingling belled anklets which would tinkle and announce her presence as she made her way throughout her home–but Tearose often loudly preceded those tiny chimes.
I purchased a bottle for myself recently, and a week later I am just now able to bring myself to slide the cellophane from the plain, somewhat retro looking brown box and remove the bottle. I’ve been afraid to spray it, not knowing what images and memories the perfume will invoke. Not ready for the the feelings it will inevitably stir up.
Initially somewhat sour and strange, this is an incredibly potent fragrance, that opens chilly and green and bitter. It smells less of rose petals and more, I imagine, of chilled thorns, after a frost. Prickly, biting. Slightly metallic, like the mineral tang of blood, but without the hemic crimson associations.
If it smells like roses, these are not any roses I would wish to be familiar with. These are not lush, inviting midsummer roses in full bloom, nor are they delicate, blushing buds.
This is more like …roses, plucked too young, brainwashed and warped and corrupted and distilled into something astringent and spiky and cruel. If it were a color, it would be an otherwordly emerald, facets glowing strangely, lit from within by distant, verdant starlight.
If you’re patient, though…if you wait long enough…. Let it dry. Give it time. Walk away. It then becomes just a rose. Any rose. All roses. And in it I can smell my mother’s summer cotton night gowns. I can smell the evenings she spent reading us James and the Giant Peach when we were very young. I can smell the soft, warm fur of her favorite Siamese cat.
I can smell the very best memories I have of her, and there is nothing left of the complications.
This is not to say that Tea Rose is a fragrance that I can, or want, to wear. Although I enjoy the scent of roses, I’ve never wanted to smell like one. Tea Rose is a bottle I will take off the shelf when I am having angry thoughts, hateful thoughts, or a bad day when I am blaming my mother’s failures for my own shortcomings.
Just a small spritz, with a light hand.
A reminder that my mother was only human, as am I. We can only be who we are.
Laugh all you like, but when I get cold, I get cold. My fingernails turn blue and my butt cheeks become ice cubes (even under layers!) right around this time of year, and …wait for it…it’s only about 60 degrees.
It’s true. I am a total cold weather weenie. I have no idea how I lasted as long as I did in New Jersey when there were actual winters with snow and ice and never-ending Februaries. Ugh! I don’t even like thinking about it. It’s bad enough I still dream about it– about once a month or so, even though I have been back in Florida for four years now.
So when the temperatures dip into the arctic mid-50s, I cannot wear my go-to tee shirts and flip-flips, no way, no how. I’d freeze to death! I’ve developed a winter uniform that I pretty much wear every day starting this time of year…and the bonus is that it doesn’t even have a chance to get old, since our “winter” only lasts about a week!
The leggings are the high-waisted kind with some sort of shaping, so they’ve got a tiny bit of structure to them and it doesn’t feel like your flabby belly is flumping hither and yon under your pants. Which wouldn’t matter anyway because the tunic/tee dress is so gloriously voluminous. In any event, they are very, very comfortable and I would highly recommend this brand to people who do not find leggings abhorrent. There are no shoes pictured because well, let’s be honest. Where am I wearing shoes? I work from home and wear socks and never go anywhere. Shoes would be a lie.
Not pictured is something that should have made my 2015 best of list, but I think I was a little bit too embarrassed to mention it. I’ve been growing increasingly self-conscious about that bra-strap fat that oozes out and around my ladies’ support garments, so I’ve taken to wearing this wonderful thing. I’m not even going to type the name out. It’s too dumb. Click on the link and you will see what I mean. Despite the name though, I love it. I purchased four of them last year and they are by far–seriously– the best thing anyone has ever made, and I wear them under just about everything.
It is also winter perfume season! Time to slather myself with all of the woodsy, mysterious resins and incenses! Which most of these are, save for the Bergamoss, which is loamy and sweetly grassy and strangely enough there’s a weird bit of celery in there, too. It’s a nice break between the heavy scents I tend to wear this time of year.
Listen, I’ll level with you here. There’s no one who can shop for you like you can.
Unless you are providing your friends and loved ones with highly detailed lists which note exactly what something is and where it can be found (which I’ve come to think of as kind of tacky, but your mileage may vary!) it is unlikely you are going to receive that weird/macabre/grotesque/OH DEAR GOD WHAT IS THAT item on your list for which you have been longing intensely.
So here’s what you do. Your holiday shopping is, I assume, done and over with, correct? You can breathe a sigh of relief. Pour a glass of wine…or a shot of whiskey…or whatever your poison is – except – please, for the love of all things holy, not one of those vulgar energy drinks.
It is now time to focus on you and what you want – and no, I am fairly certain it is not that Bath and Body Works gift basket in some gross, fruity scent you’ll never wear or that gaudy hummingbird wind-chime from someone who learned 20 years ago that you liked hummingbirds and never listened when you told them gently that your tastes had changed since you graduated from high school.
(And don’t get me wrong – I love it when people think of me enough to buy me a gift, and I am grateful…I just don’t ever expect someone is going to get me that thing that I really, really, want!)
It is now time to throw a few gifts for yourself under the tree! Consider the following items and please note that they all have the mlleghoul stamp of approval, for they have been purchased solely by and for myself.
If you are not already entranced by Segovia Amil’s dark, captivating beauty on instagram, you’ll be bewitched by her words in Ophelia Wears Black, her first published book of poetry. “Ophelia Wears Black is a collection of poetry and prose focusing on the shadow aspects and dark side of the human experience through the eyes of a young girl. Divided into four parts, each mirroring the cycling seasons, we follow Ophelia into her own re-imagined Underworld where she learns to make sense of and find the perfection and necessity of her own inner darkness.”
I have not been able to put down Folk Horror Revival: Field Studiessince receiving it a few weeks ago, it is some of the most compelling, fascinating writing I have ever read on one of my very favorite subject. Featuring essays and interviews by many great cinematic, musical, artistic and literary talents, Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies is the most comprehensive and engaging exploration to date of the sub genre of Folk Horror and associated fields in cinema, television, music, art, culture and folklore. AND 100% of all profits from sales of the book will be charitably donated to environmental, wildlife and community projects undertaken by The Wildlife Trusts.
Music & Art & Baubles
Lost Voices: Volume 1 – Keening and The Death Wail: Lost Voices explores vocal improvisation in folk culture. Volume 1: Keening and the Death Wail considers Keening (a traditional improvised vocal lament) practised by women in ancient Ireland and worldwide. Includes a 31 page booklet exploring the history of the art of keening with a cd of audio examples.
Easeful Death labradorite coffin ring from bloodmilk (sorry for my hands, I know those pointy witch claws are en vogue right now, but I can’t knit with those nails and I’d probably put my eye out.) “Cast immortal in sterling silver, bat wing and leg bones molded from the real thing, are composed into a beautiful setting cradling a labradorite coffin cut jewel.”
Death and the Maiden art print, by artist Tenebrous Kate of Heretical Sexts: “The virginal blush of youth and the icy hand of death, Eros and Thanatos, vanity and decay. Emerging from the imagery found in Medieval depictions of the Dance of Death, the motif of Death and the Maiden is at once macabre and erotic.”
Littlest friend bat cloisonné pin from Cat Coven. Perfect for lapels – whether they’re gracing leather jackets or spooky granny cardigans!
A ghostly white resin hand pendant on recycled black leather from artist Alice Rogers of Trances and Portents.
Eau de Mort parody ad art print by the incomparably lovely Becky Munich. This one is a bit of a cheat since it was a gift, but I have several prints from Becky hanging on my walls and there is space for several more -so no doubt many purchases from this talented artist will occur in the future!
I also treated myself to a sampler set from The House of Orpheus, which is something I have been meaning to do for a while. Enodia is lovely beyond compare – “… ancient goddess of the streets. She is the Nachtfalter, the moth, the night butterfly. Guided by the moon and associated with Artemis, Hekate and Persephone. Black Storax would have been in the incense burned in offering to this goddess of the street and so we base this perfume in Black Storax, with notes of Black Agars Wood, Moroccan Myrrh, and Vanilla. It is exalted by the alchemical oil of silver”.
Also! I’ve loved the candles from Burke and Hare for awhile now, so much so that I tend to burn through their offerings much too quickly. On a whim, during a recent sale, I picked up Dragon’s Blood: “…fragranced with the precious red resins that create the alluring scent known as Dragon’s Blood. It is a potent and earthy fragrance, infused with cedar wood and patchouli essential oils. The scent combines sweet and spicy notes to form a sophisticated complex blend. “
I recently had the distinct pleasure of writing a course guide for the uninitiated and those new to the splendors of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab and their myriad, wonderful fragrances. You can find it over at Haute Macabre.
And because I don’t know how to be brief and possess the uncanny (and not at all annoying!) ability to make a long story even longer, you will find it broken down into three installments, for easier reading:
It gets a little personal, I’m afraid. I find it difficult to separate a beloved thing from the experiences I’ve had while adoring that thing -so there are more than a few anecdotes and opinions. It cannot be helped!
I have loved Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, their people, and their fragrances for a very long time now and I do hope I’ve done them justice with my words. Let me know what you think! Have I missed anything? What are your favorites scents and collections? Favorite BPAL memories over the years?