“Long live the imagination! Because everything that exists once was an idea.
Long live the will! For the act of wanting to change the world and make it freer.”
What else is there to say about the dazzling works of Czech artist Wenzel Hablik (1881 to 1934) other than to point to the above quote, words uttered by the artist himself? But I do have to say a little something, don’t I?
It seems like cheating to slap a bunch of paintings on a blog and call it a day– even if the works are as resplendent as those conjured by this dreamer of utopian fantasy.
I won’t lie to you, though. When I first saw his works, I thought they looked like kaleidoscopic, Expressionist versions of the She-Ra Crystal castle that my sisters and I were obsessed with as children. Listen, no one ever credits me on my impeccable sophistication, ok??
An architect, designer, painter, and printmaker associated with the German Expressionism movement, Wenzel Hablik was trained as a master cabinetmaker in Vienna and Prague but eventually pursued architectural and interior design projects. Polymorphic genius that he was, Hablik revered nature as the greatest creative force and saw the crystal as the most important symbol of natural creativity–for him, crystal architecture would become a societal utopia on the path to a better living.
Hablik also embodied his crystalline fantasies in exquisite drawings for household textiles, wallpaper, jewelry, and silver cutlery, along with designing vibrantly modern, elegant interiors, furniture, and fabrics, oftentimes in collaboration with his wife, master weaver Elisabeth Lindemann. Later works, influenced by the futuristic writings of H.G. Wells and the poet Paul Scheerbart, incorporated speculative technological ideas alongside more celestial and cosmic-oriented fancies
His vivid, experimental worlds, meditations on dazzling colors, translucent forms, luminous geological patterns, and prismatic heavenly bodies remain, even today, scintillating feasts for the eyes. Hablik’s legacy is one of radiant beauty and hope and a reminder that imagination is everything, and that art can be a powerful and inspiring force for change. That we can dream of a better world and have hope that such a world is possible.
Philadelphia fiber artist Caitlin McCormack creates works of somber delicacy and a deliciously subtle flavor of strange humor (the best kind of humor!) At turns whimsical, vulnerable, and unsettling, ghostly avian skeletal remains and vibrant floral forms tenderly chained with fragile lace, memories trapped in knots, via cotton, glue, and a deftly flashing crochet hook.
A personal taxonomy of hybrid anthropomorphic specimens acts as emotive artifact and memento mori, evoking imagery of folklore, medieval botanical imagery, and osteological displays, and explores gender and sexuality, isolation, traumatic recollections, familial legacy, and anxieties regarding ways in which we inhabit and care for the planet.
By using media, skills, and practices inherited from beloved departed relatives, Caitlin generates emblems of a diminishing bloodline, representing both the persistence (and warping) of memory and the significance of cloth and thread in human experience.
Signature by Aedes de VenustasI feel like if you are going to make a signature fragrance for your brand, then you are likely going to choose notes that are universally loved, you’re going to make something everyone can agree upon, you’re going to make something safe, and probably a little basic. That’s…not what this is. It’s weird. It’s offbeat. It’s utterly unexpected. And it’s incredible. To be fair, it says right in the copy that it aimed to break from traditional perfume structures, but come on, how often have you heard something like that only to smell the same thing you’ve smelled a million times?
What an oddball cast of characters: The tangy, fruity, acidic zest of rhubarb, dry woody incense, and bitter chypre accord with sweet vining notes of honeysuckle, sour green apple, and the sharp aromatic grassiness of tomato leaf. Hazelnut and vetiver are also listed in the notes and add a lovely, cozy warmth, an aspect that you’d think wouldn’t belong here, but somehow it does. If you were going to make a perfume from olfactory extractions of the myriad, wildly differing Fraggle Rock personalities, their goodness and goofiness, their kindness and cleverness, and all their wild dreamy, delirious energy, you would end up with this funny, magical scent.
I am trying another one of Hilde Soliani’s gourmands, and to be fair to the first one that I sampled and didn’t care for, come on. I was never going to like a strawberry scent, anyway. And if you are the person to entice me to fall in love with a strawberry perfume, I will bow to your wizardry. Anyway, Quin is an Italian meringue scent, and while I like it quite a bit, it doesn’t actually have a whole lot to it. It’s not going to tax your brain or challenge you. And sometimes that’s fine! It’s sweet but not sugary, creamy but not in a heavy way– it’s frothy and frilly, not stiff frosting. Vanilla beans steeped in cream whipped to airy peaks. And that’s it.
And I do know that, of course, meringue uses egg whites, not cream, but I have never noticed an egg white that smelled like anything in particular, so I am not trying to be too literal with my meringue perfume review. This is light and sweet and simple, and I like that it doesn’t add any unnecessary notes, like chocolate or fruit or marzipan; it’s not trying to be some impossible confection in the final round of a televised baking competition. It’s nice. And that’s plenty good enough sometimes. Good enough to spend $175 on it? Ah. For me, personally? If I’m spending over $100 on a fragrance, I want a scent that is going to give me something to think about, and I don’t find that to be the case here.
I’m realizing, as I do periodically, that I’ve gotten a little complacent in my efforts to try things from more indie brands. And partially, I think that’s because I know myself pretty well; I decided a long time ago that I’ve already got my favorites. Like, between the years of 2004-2008, I found a handful of stellar brands and a shitload of mediocre disappointments, and I keep defaulting back to that mindset. And I have to remind myself to keep an open mind and just keep trying things. Because as stubborn as I may be and as much as I hate the thought of wasting money, what I hate even more is the thought of missing out on something amazing. I thought a good place to start would be peeking through indie fragrance and indie perfume Reddit threads. I got a lot of good ideas! I put together a list of the top dozen or so brands that were mentioned repeatedly, and if I’ve never ordered from them, I chose a few of the most popular scents. In some cases, there were a few brands mentioned that I’ve heard questionable things about from other perfumers or customers, so they were immediately struck from the list. If it was a place that I’ve ordered from more than once and have been repeatedly disappointed, they did not make the list, either.
In some cases, like the one I’m talking about today, I’ve been ordering amazing soaps and scrubs from Paintbox Soapworks for years now, but weirdly, I’d never tried her perfume oils! I got Blue Besom, which is a beautiful blueberry jam incense fragrance, Capybaras and Yuzus smells like soaking in a steaming mineral bath while eating lush, fuzzy slices of apricot, and remember how I said it would take a wizard to make me like a strawberry perfume? Pynk’s sun-ripened strawberry is tempered with cool floral lilac and sweet, creamy marzipan, and it may well be that magic scent that I insisted does not exist. These fragrances are all subtle, but long-wearing, and each one of them, though they all smell very differently, tugs at a strange, wistful chord of nostalgia in my heart. All three of these are wonderful, so I’m happy to say this is a pretty strong start.
Time is a Phoenix is a scent of the mythical and miraculous, but also of the intensely, personally, mundane. Fed on tears of sacred incense, resinous, volcanic, honeyed, and bittersweet, fanning its own ancient, acrid spice-scented flames, a fiery vision of scarlet and gold and eternal return, the scent left in wake of this being is incendiary, incandescent, immortal. A funeral pyre flipped through a pinhole in the darkened chamber of a camera obscura, the ashes of the afterimage captured in a winding sheet of amber: the wild, joyful zest of loving, the sour sighing sorrow of leaving, the impossible weeping, sweating, earthy-tethered, salty-sweetness of living– and through it all, climbing into our own, us-shaped mortal infernos, again and again, and again.
Oil and Flight and Vision from BPAL and exclusive to bloodmilk for Sphinx and Snakeskin is rooty and resinous, dark and droll, and brings to mind Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem “Hamatreya,” in which the poet reveals the earth song of dark-humored flowers, laughing to see the men who steer the plows unable to steer clear of the grave. How every one of them who lay claim to the land, who wished to control it, are now asleep beneath the very dirt they thought they owned. I like to imagine subversive, psychoactive roots and blossoms–hallucinogenic henbane, tarry opium, bittersweet mugwort–growing from the bones of those dead and being used in enigmatic preparations like fabled witches’ flying ointments. And whether or not those witchly botanical balms induced actual levitation and soaring under a full moon through the midnight air or was key to a ritual for one to travel the astral planes in spirit, I delight in the imagery of witches being borne aloft on the musky-throated gallows humor of grim growing things sprung forth from and thriving in grave dirt. Oil and Flight and Vision perfectly encapsulates the poetry of that sentiment.
Urban Beekeeper from DSH Perfumes, and it’s the most beautiful honey-inspired scent I have ever tried. They can often be so syrupy and cloying, and at their worst, they somehow smell like a urinal (am I the only one to think honey perfumes lean toward old pee sometimes??) This one is lightly floral, with a subtle citrus zing, and is quietly effervescent. The honey is still at the forefront, but it’s more of a wispy veil than a golden glop of it. This is definitely going on the full bottle list! There is actually a list. Every time I say something is “full bottle worthy” this year, I’m adding it to the list, and at the end of 2023 I am treating myself to a bottle or two. (Unlike the last two years, wherein my collection somehow doubled.)
In other perfume news, I am marinating in a scent I loved in high school, Chloé Narcisse. It smells of the things that built me: Heidi and The Secret Garden, Dracula, and Rebecca. A parlor of florals bitterly spiced with the temptations of darkness and shadowed with a strange sadness, but still, always peeking toward a life that is sunny and sweet.
Dollhouse from Astrid Perfumes. I tried this brand in what feels like a past life, back when they were called blooddrop and if I recall correctly, I think the maker also sold bespoke corsetry. But that was a long time ago, and I don’t remember any of their scents. Dollhouse, with notes of raspberry, vanilla, grapefruit, calendula, and bergamot is a hypersaturated hallucinatory Lisa Frank folder funhouse fruit salad of a scent. I think this is a fragrance that would be so much fun for jellyshoe flipflop string-shouldered neon sundress summertimes and though I don’t know if I would associate this with dollhouses, I try not to critique or judge inspiration. Like the Boulet Brothers say on every episode of Dragula, “We’re not here to judge your drag. Drag is art and art is subjective.” The artful inspiration that goes into the creation of a fragrance is intensely personal, and if this is what a perfumer imagines a dollhouse smells like, who am I to argue with that? For myself, I think it smells like technicolor dolphins tie-dye unicorns, and kaleidoscopic rainbow daydreams.
Sofía Bassi (1913-1998) was a Mexican surrealist painter and writer known for her dreamlike and introspective paintings, liquid and mysterious, often featuring ethereal anthropomorphic creatures and darkly fantastical landscapes, lost in space and time. Sometimes referred to as “magical impressionism,” Bassi’s work is often described as being both lush and unsettling and was praised for its originality and imagination. The artist herself observed that art was an elixir that she wanted to drink until the end of her career, to keep from dying.
Embarking on a path as exceptional as her artistic visions, Bassi was born into a wealthy family, but she rebelled against her upbringing and pursued a career in the arts. The free-spirited painter was married twice, but apparently, romance was not a priority, or she married a couple of duds, or maybe other people’s marriages are not my business, so I shouldn’t speculate, but whatever the case, both marriages ended in divorce. In a shocking incident that rivaled the plot of popular police procedural programs or true crime podcasts, she was convicted of murdering her son-in-law (some theorize that she took the fall for her daughter Claire, read more here) and sentenced to several years in prison.
While incarcerated, Bassi passionately continued painting, including her first-ever mural–painted on the walls of her own cell, and her works from this period are remembered as some of her most renowned, reflecting the darkness of her troubled state of mind. In 1969, Bassi was released from prison and wrote a book about the experience in 1978, and in January 2011, a documentary was released in Mexico titled “Acapulco 68,” which also recounted the incidents. In the ensuing years, the artist frequently participated in round tables and conferences, appearing on radio and television to discuss artistic and academic topics. Receptive to inspiration and generative energies to the end, she painted and exhibitedt her work until her death in 1998.
A creative force who lived a life that was both unconventional and tragic, Bassi’s story is a fascinating one– her work, a testament to her creativity and her resilience.
This article was originally published at Haute Macabre on June 26, 2019.
When a friend shared with me a link to the works of Karen LaMonte, I was perfectly fascinated in an instant. Exquisite, uncanny, life-sized silhouettes with “the human body in absentia,” these sculptures depict the lavish drapery and sensual curves of Western evening gowns, as well as recreations of traditional Japanese kimonos which incorporate traditional padding and binding to mask the figure underneath. My initial, offhand observation was “GASP SWOON #invisiblesquadgoals!” (You’ll have to forgive me, I’ve got invisible girls on the brain lately.)
As it happens, the vision and concept behind this artist’s works are much, much more illuminating and relevant than the flights of fancy and frivolity invented by my foolish imagination. Exploring how clothing defines cultural identities and acts as our “social skin”– clothing which we use to obscure and conceal, to protect the individual and project a persona–Karen LaMonte’s work sidesteps traditional portrayals of the nude to reveal the female form through hollow garments created in a variety of materials: bronze, glass, ceramic and rusted iron.
In probing this disparity between our “natural skin” and our “social skin”, she investigates the premise of clothing as a divider between public from private space and ideas of transparency and transience.
Currently, Embodied Beauty, an exhibition bringing together Floating World and Nocturnes, two recent series of Lamonte’s works which examine ideals of beauty in different cultural contexts, can be seen at the Gerald Peters Gallery in Santa Fe, through August 17, 2019. And as my imagination only extends so far, I’m afraid you must attend on my behalf and fill me in on all of the swoony details. In the meantime, however, we can scroll further down the page for additional imagery from these collections.
New Valaam from Phronema perfumes is a fragrance inspired by the Alaskan Spruce Island hermitage of New Valaam, named so by holy man and clairvoyant wonderworker Father Herman, a monk who was eventually sainted in 1970. A scent celebrating wildlife and the fertility of nature, it opens with bitter, brittle greenery preserved in a bygone botanist’s notebook: a small curl of fern, fronds fanned into shrunken shadow against the page, crest crumbling into dry dust. But by some manner of perfumer’s alchemy, you can smell where that fern once furled: the dew dewdrops on wildflowers, lily of the valley and forget me nots, yarrow and aster, the faint, wild musk of a snowshoe hare streaking through lichen. In a strange but not entirely unpleasant twist, the scent dries a bit soapy and sour and yeasty, not entirely unlike wet dog ears. This is such an interesting and unique green scent, and though it’s not something I can see myself wearing, I do think it’s nice to just spray the sample and think about it.
Corfu Kumquat from Aedes de Venustas: In a small Greek village built on the slopes of the island’s highest mountain is a quietly atmospheric little ghost town with only two or three permanent inhabitants. One of them is a kumquat that never fully ripened, too sour and pithy for marmalade and liqueurs, too small and strange to be of much practical use. Perhaps it was overlooked. Perhaps it forged its own little path in life. It’s now the local guide for the village, steering tourists hither and yon along cobblestone roads, sharing historical anecdotes and eerie legends, and finally depositing them at the gift shop once the excursion has concluded. As the crowd disperses, it reaches into its pocket for a cigarette and lights up in the cool shade of an ancient stone cottage, exhaling smoke through its citrus peel pores, whirling and curling in satisfying vaporous salt-air swirls, while catching glimpses of the sun glinting on the sea through the undulating mountains.
So…Poivre Sacre, or Holy Pepper, from Parfums Caron. For some brief backstory as to why I’m sampling this right now, whenever a perfume is mentioned in a book I’m reading, if it’s something I’ve never heard of or that I haven’t tried before, I’m always keen to track it down. I recently read Leigh Bardugo’s Hell Bent, which I was wildly looking forward to after having finally read The Ninth House, and one of the characters was wearing Caron Poivre, described as smelling of “clove, tuberose, amber.” Unfortunately, I think even the reformulation of Poivre is discontinued. So, I got the samples of the next closest things on the Caron site: Poivre Imperial and Poivre Sacre. And here we are. This is a gorgeously dry scent: the bitter, bracing bite of black pepper that somehow runs both cool and hot, leathery, smoky woods that feel like a cross between palo santo and cedar, and hints of grassy, earthy, bittersweet saffron and the tiniest dash of sour, pungent cumin, to keep things interesting. This is a very close-to-the-skin scent that makes me think of candle flames and shadows and secrets, chasing the darkness to its depths, following a temptation –without succumbing– straight to its sinful, sulfurous source, and you, glowing, incandescent, a lit match in hell.
On one hand, I am clearly enjoying my sample of Liis Luciennne— it is all but sniffed through–on the other hand, I can’t really see myself wearing this fragrance. This is not a rose perfume, and yet it’s the most beautiful rose scent I’ve ever experienced. A bright, perfect citrusy midsummer afternoon rose when there’s not a cloud in the sky, and the sun is an explosion of lemonade-scented joy, and dipping your feet in the cold water sputtering from the sprinklers sends the most delirious shivers of delight up your spine. And the more you splash around, the more you are compelled to take a deep dive to the bottom of the pool or, better yet, the tranquil currents of the ocean. This rose has a lovely, serene aquatic aspect, a fresh marine musk, and it’s less rose at this point and more mermaid, swimming in peaceful tides while the sun beams a watery light through the warm, turquoise waves. So why can’t I see myself wearing it? Honestly, it’s too perfect. It’s like a rose who is a mermaid who is also a cheerleader and valedictorian and is a natural leader and is never awkward and always knows the right thing to say and would definitely never lock themselves in a bathroom and cry in a party because they were feeling overwhelmed and shy and just wanted to go home. This is a rose that is not even actually a rose and one that is also not me, and I’d feel like a giant fraud every time I wore it. I often think of the transformative power of fragrance and how a spritz of perfume is akin to slipping into another skin and magical and liberating that can be. So why can’t I pretend for a while? I think I’m just so set in my ways as a grimy little hermit-hearted gremlin that as much as I admire that immaculately rosy person I’ve described, I’ve long let go of wanting that for myself.
Jorum Spiritcask opens with notes that waver wildly between blithe, breezy, and aerated, as well as viscous, syrupy, and raisiny. Like stewed prunes gone parasailing through the fluffiest-tufted cumulus clouds. Unfortunately, their ultimate destination appears to be a cloying, claustrophobic rootbeer-filled oak-barrel hot tub orgy, and that’s a scene I’m just not into. If you ever thought, “boy I sure wish Hypnotic Poison were 1000% more potent and suffocatingly gaggy!” this may be for you.
Fraaagola Salaaata from Hilde Soliani is fun for a split second; it smells like strawberry Jello-scented lipgloss or a tiny bottle of effervescent summer berry eau de toilette that was sold alongside Angel Face Barbie in the 80s. Very sweet, no nuance or complexity (though I do think that’s sort of the point of a perfume like this.) BUT then it becomes this monstrous vision of a wild strawberry kiwi ice-breeze-whatever vape pen shoved up a half-melted red gummy bear’s butt, and even more horrifying still, a plume of vape juice smoke billows out of its squished little vape bro mouth, and oh my god I am gagging again you don’t even want to see the face I am making just now.
I don’t want to end on a sour note with those last two bummers, so here are four more silk flower perfume oil blends from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s Lupercalia Collection!
Blue Silk Rose, with notes of sugared violets and dried blackberry and elusive hints of citrusy rose and smoky musk, is a light, impish fruity floral that’s the olfactory equivalent of excellent advice from astrologist Rob Brezny, something fun about liberating our imaginations and encouraging us to visualize life as a mythic quest. It’s the playful poetry of the weightless, mid-air hops and skips between dodging the shadows or jumping over the cracks in the sidewalk, a bright pop of color on a grey day, a tiny reprieve from the everythingness of everything in a waft of fleeting sweetness.
Silk Tiger Lily very nearly gives me savory vibes when sniffed right out of the bottle–something like saffron and cumin mingled spice cupboard tendrils– and from there on, the evolution is just rapid-fire-revelatory. First, a briny ginger fire, a spicy salinity, as if the knobby little rhizome has been treated to an oceanic pickling; then, seamlessly, a warm, peppery floral with a nose-tickling lemon halo, beautiful, bracing, and buoyant.
Black Silk Orchid looms from the vase sweet and shadowy, summoning associations of a trio of BPALs I know and love: the dark brown sugared musks of Smut, the deeply vanilla-patchouli incense of Snake Oil, and Haunted‘s murky, mysterious amber glow. There’s a breezy element that runs through it, though, something that sets it apart, conjuring something wholly new. It’s a thin, weird wind, not brisk and autumnal and not of the gentle spring variety; it’s not outdoorsy at all. More like a draft from deep within your home that you can’t locate, a door that maybe you didn’t even know was there, ajar and inviting things from beyond. It’s full of darkness and a bit dusty, emanating from somewhere utterly, disturbingly unknown. A prickling shiver you feel when somewhere in the old house, in an unused, forgotten room, a vampire quietly steps out from inside a grandfather clock at the stroke of midnight.
Silk Daffodilis profoundly green and sticky sweet, a heady murmur of celadon syrup and crushed emerald honey, veined with dark whispers of woody-floral spice and a last gasp of jasmine-orange blossom-vanilla.
I’m afraid these reviews will be a bit shorter and to the point, much more so than my typical long-winded rambles. I am suffering from some wrist and thumb pain, and I don’t know if it is carpal tunnel badness or something to do with being a million years old, but it is, unfortunately, rendering typing quite excruciating. So I am challenging myself to an economy of words, in saying what needs to be said in as few characters as I can get away with. We’ll see how it goes with the following bakers’ dozen of Lupercalia scents from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab!
Green Silk Carnation (cypress-green carnation petals crushed into grass, hemp flowers, and weed) A sweet vegetal mustiness with a tiny amount of terpenic funk, which as it wears is, at turns, sweeter and greener, never committing to one or the other. It dries to a frosty-soapy pleasantness. It has a chilly, verdant vibe that calls to mind the greenhouses in a snowstorm from the first story in Kelly Link’s forthcoming collection White Cat, Black Dog.
Pink Silk Peony (cotton candy peonies, rose cream, and white cognac) Sweet, cold strawberry ice cream scented with lush, velvety rose petals; alternatively, if the entire cast of Rose Petal Place were whizzed up in your ice cream maker, with fresh cream and tons of sparkling sugar.
How Write The Beat Of Love (red musk, red mango, labdanum, black honey, black gardenia, Indonesian patchouli, and champaca blossom) A swoon and sweep of pulpy fruits, deeply jammy, wine-drunk on umbral honey.
Dalliance With A Comedian On Stage (sawdust and red musk, blueberries, black currant, plum blossom, sake, rose petals, and frankincense) A fruity-herbal tea, left to steep and steam in a porcelain cup, now fermenting in a jar. Berries and blossoms begin as a humble, wholesome tisane but somehow end up a tart, tipsy kombucha.
Chocolate Chypre (no notes listed) Cocoa butter incense smoke, the mysterious aura of scholarly studies late into the evening, accompanied by a chocolatey treat rummaged from deep within velvet peacoat pockets.
White Silk Chrysanthemum (vanilla floral aldehyde laced with spicy chrysanthemum) An enchantingly fizzy vanilla cream soda/ ebullient ginger ale hybrid, but not something you’d want to drink; rather, the scent of a strange, invisible bloom trailing up a trellis, something you walk by every day without really noticing, and then one day the breeze blows just so, bobbing its petals invitingly. Intrigued, entranced, you stop to sniff it, and in that small instance, with the slightest deviation from your path– everything changes forever. This is the scent of that singular, crystalline moment, tremulous and flickering, between the before and the after.
The Morning Star Among The Living (black fig encased in saffron-threaded amber) The scent of a honeyed, floral lozenge that began as a liqueur made from macerating figs –both the delicate, fresh fruit as well as their rich, dried, pruney counterparts–in two parts bourbon to one part vanilla. Mash the pulp and the liquid together, simmer until very thick and allow to set on cool, aromatic eucalyptus leaves. Administer these sweet drops as needed to individuals who pride themselves on their brutal honesty, but you suspect they enjoy the inherent cruelty of that sentiment more than the idea of actual truthfulness and sincerity.
An Oiran on New Year’s Day (polished mahogany, black tea, green cardamom, russet peppercorn, and ginger root) Dark, fruity woods, rich, rosy, and resinous. This is a scent that becomes darker and darker and begins to smell both rare and obscure and somehow a bit crafty and cunning, something you’d find on the black market from a dealer whose expertise lies in acquisition rather than provenance.
Contest of Colors, Pink Peach Blossoms and White Plum Flowers(pink peach blossoms, white plum flowers, carnation petals, labdanum, skin musk, and white amber) Reaching down into a barrel of vibrant fruit blossom flavored hard candies, just to feel all of those thousands of small, sweet treasures with your fingertips, pushing further down through their cool weight, sugared orbs clicking together like porcelain buttons, glass eyes, faceted gems, a plume of fragrance released, boiled syrup and dripping fruit flesh, and frothy clouds of frilled, perfumed petals.
Wandering Eye (blackcurrant, carrot seed, rose otto, immortelle, salt musk, violet leaf absolute, and lemon peel) First off, get a gander at that label art! Long-time readers of this blog will no doubt instantaneously recognize what I have come to think of as The Eyes of Becky Munich, as this artist’s eerie ocular renderings are truly things of eldritch beauty. And though I was not familiar with the particular sonnet that this fragrance was inspired by, there is no denying that the scent overall encapsulates the mournful lyricism that I associate with Edna St. Vincent Millay. For me, this is more a whispery, poetic feeling with an exquisitely elegiac quality–somewhere between gothic melodrama and tragic Victorian fairy poetry– than it is an actual smell that I can pinpoint …but envision this: a handful of sweet, dried chamomile brewed in a teacup of tears and pebbled with precious stones gathered from a reliquary; left as a graveside offering on a day when the sky is sullen, and the light is bruised and the descent of evening fog, milky, opaque, thick as wool, concludes the silent ceremony.
Courtiers and Cats(amber musk, cedarwood, agarwood, spikenard, black pepper, cacao, tobacco absolute, toasted cardamom, and cream) The biscuity warmth of musk and roasted cocoa beans, a sassy spike of black pepper, spikenard’s earthy, dirt-between-paws mustiness; between the woods and the amber and the hint of creaminess, this is a softly rumbling purr of comfort and coziness.
Aristocratic Warriors (gleaming tamahagane, polished leather, and auburn amber) A clan of juicy citrus samurai brandishing swift, shining steel swords and disco dancing; not a “lemon party” in popular parlance, but also, a lemon party is exactly what this is: a party of literal lemons, jubilant and joyful, bright, bouncy, and boogieing down. “Boogieing down”? Oh, Sarah. Are you Stephen King-old now? Also, there are no lemon notes in this scent, so maybe like King’s telepathic chef at that haunted hotel, I’m smelling something that’s not there right before I’m hit with the shinning.
Dark Chocolate, Blackcurrant, Rosewater, and Apricot (no notes listed) The most exquisite chocolate truffle, hand-piped with a velvety wild woodland brambleberry jam filling, enrobed with another layer of chocolate, embellished with freeze-dried bilberry pieces and rose petals. You’ll only find this treat deep in the forest at a pop-up stand run by hedgehogs with little purple jam-stained claws and sugar-crusted quills.
Need more Lupers? Have a peep at my Lupercalia reviews from 2022 // 2021 // 2020 // 2017. unfortunately, things between and before those years were written for other sites, and I wasn’t cross-posting to my own blog at that time. Lesson learned I can assure you!
And you might be wondering, “why don’t you ever post these reviews on the BPAL forums?” I was honestly just asking myself the same question the other day. I’ve been on the forums forever but never posted reviews there because, early on, I was just too self-conscious. And if you look at my profile at bpal.org, it says I’ve been a member since 2011, but that’s not true! I was a member under another name (ok, a few other names) since the forum opened in 2004 or 2005. I’ve been there since the beginning! And now, all these years later, I have a comfort level for writing about fragrance and have more or less found my voice, but I guess it would feel weird and somehow…. interloping? overstepping? who do I think I am-ing? to start posting my reviews there all of a sudden? Am I being dumb and precious about it? I don’t know!
Anyway…PSSSST! Did you know I have collected all of my BPAL reviews into one spot? I’m about a year behind with adding new stuff to the document, but as it stands, there are over 60 PAGES of my thoughts and rambles on various limited-edition scents from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab over the years: BPAL REVIEWS BY S. ELIZABETH (PDF download)
I know, I know, Amazon is the devil. But I haven’t figured out how to quit them. I do love a place where you can buy all your shit in one go, and that’s really what holds me in its thrall.
From the “here’s a wee nosy peek into my life” files, here are the top ten things I have purchased most frequently from that site. There’s no real theme or anything, it’s a rather random assortment! And I know the featured photo of the vintage Barbie Dream Store isn’t really representative of the Amazon shopping experience, but I like looking at it.
What do you call it when you are being critical of the way that someone talks to you? I don’t mean tone-policing, I am pretty sure that this is not that. I don’t ever want to tell someone they are having conversations or sharing information “the wrong way,” but at the same time, let me tell you about one of my biggest pet peeves.
Let’s say you’re on social media, and you’ve just shared a post about a book you’ve read, a movie you’ve watched, or x/y/z thing you’ve tried or experienced. And then you get someone chiming in the comments to say, “YOU SHOULD TRY BLAH BLAH BLAH.” First of all, who asked you? Ugh, don’t be so annoying! But if you are gonna be that guy, I promise you that there is a better way to do it.
Or…maybe you have actually asked for recommendations, and are expecting comments wherein people will be sharing these kinds of opinions.
But either way (although especially if you have not asked), there is a more palatable way to deliver that information. And then there is, as I mentioned above, “YOU SHOULD/NEED TO/MUST TRY BLAH BLAH BLAH.”
To me, initiating your suggestion like that reads as awfully presumptuous. As if you think I haven’t heard of or already tried whatever blah blah blah thing that you’re suggesting. And that irritates me. It insults me. Maybe I am overreacting? Maybe I think too highly of myself? I don’t know.
Here’s what I do know. When I am offering a suggestion or recommendation, this is what I will do. (And I do this because I’m working with the idea that everyone is, to some degree, as peevish as I am. And I don’t want to irritate or insult anyone!)
If a friend over on Facebook says, for example, “I just read MOTHERTHING by Ainslie Hogarth, and I love it–can you guys recommend some similar stuff that I might love?”
My response will be something along the lines of: “I don’t know if you’ve read Mothered by Zoje Stage or The Push by Ashley Audrain yet, but if you love the domestic horror/monstrous mom/motherhood trauma of MOTHERTHING, I think you will dig these two books. I’d love to know what you think of them!”
In this example I address right off the bat that maybe they are, in fact, familiar with what I am suggesting to them. I’m not throwing something in their face as if I think there’s no possibility that they have ever heard of these things! I mean–you can understand why that approach might annoy someone, right? As if they could never?? So thank god for me, offering up my pearls of wisdom?
I never want to come off like that.
Or let’s just say that your Facebook friend didn’t ask a question at all. They wrote a post about how they were excited to try a new food. They say “I last week I tried cottage cheese for the first time and I loved it.” And they were not asking for anyone’s opinion on that revelation but you think if you don’t share your experience with that food, you will literally die.
So you say “COTTAGE CHEESE IS SO GROSS THE ONLY WAY I CAN EAT IT IS WITH PINEAPPLE YOU SHOULD TRY IT.” First off, and again, no one asked you. But if you have to say something, why not try something like, “You mentioned that you are new to the world of cottage cheese; if you’re looking for different options and don’t mind a little sweetness, you might want to try it with pineapple–that’s my favorite way to eat it!”
I’m not saying that you have to handle things the way I do. I’m not saying that if your conversations don’t sound like mine, then you’re doing it wrong.
I’m just suggesting that –if you have concerns about looking like an asshole online– you might want to take a look at how you are offering up suggestions.