The first time I smelled le Lion de Chanel, I was a little underwhelmed. While it is really nice, I thought it smelled similar to so many opulent amber fragrances already in my collection. Now I am not so sure about that part, and I think I have totally changed my tune overall. It is not just nice, it is extraordinarily beautiful. Alongside what I tend to think of as that lemony-bergamot-musk gold-plated, almost brassy glamorous vintage costume jewelry classic perfumery DNA, there’s velvety rounded patchouli, drifts of leathery balsamic smoke, a dribble of honeyed sweetness, and an intense vision of warm golden resins, like a glittering dragon’s hoard just beyond fluttering veils of vanilla incense. Or imagine…the dragon in question was Kate Bush on the Lionheart album cover. I saw that on the blacknarcissus blog with reference to Le Lion so I can’t take credit for it myself, but I couldn’t not share the imagery either, because it just so perfectly encapsulates this fragrance.
Tonight on Midnight Stinks is Diptyque L’Ombre dans L’Eau and while I typically don’t enjoy rose scents and I never fuck with berry fragrances, this may be one of the exceptions. Perhaps because the rose only just shyly peeps out of the lush, leafy greenery and aromatic botanicals. The berries are bittersweet and biting, rather than overripe and cloying, and pair marvelously with lemony, herbaceous geranium. It feels practical and beautiful, like an artful object that actually serves a useful function, as opposed to a remaining a dusty shelf-turd. This is the sort of perfume that makes me think of how someone said that self-care is doing the things that maybe you don’t feel like doing now, so that you can set future-you up for success. Like making some sort of wellness appointment. I would wear this to visit the chiropractor and think the whole time, “good job you! You are doing your best!”By the way I don’t see a chiropractor, but if I ever did I would try to get on Dr. Brenda Mondragon’s schedule. One, because she has the coolest name ever, but two, well, if you ever watch her YouTube channel, she just seems like so much fun and I want her to crack all of my joints for an ASMR video.
There exist a handful of black currant and rose scents that are very lovely and unique. Armani Siis the very opposite of that. It feels crass and vulgar and quite common in comparison. It’s a candied floral musk that sours to an offputting fruity cocktail, something with strawberries and cheap sparkling wine and I feel like this is a themed drink served as part of your book club’s annual romance pick, and god why can’t they ever let you pick the smutty selections? There’d be way more explosive body horror and horny devils and raving madwomen in the attic. None of this secret sexy neighbor or coworker enemies-to-friends or surprise baby basic bullshit. So yeah Si is your book club’s most boring member’s spicy pick. It’s probably called Billionaire Daddy or Tempting the Boss or something.
With Oriza Legrand’s Relique d’Amour, I experienced one of my favorite facets of being a writer: encountering unexpected connections and surprise synchronicities with regard to a thing I’m attempting to write. If, say, I am outlining a book review, and I happen to watch a movie exploring similar things. Or if I am piecing together an essay and I hear a new song echoing my inner monologue. As someone for whom translating ideas into words is such a vital aspect of my identity, these snippets of magic from the universe are so special for me. Anyhow, I unearthed a sample of Oriza Legrand’s Relique d’Amour from behind a bookshelf, and while pondering its mysteries I happened upon a March 2022 Vogue Hong Kong editorial with a beautiful Joan of Arc vibe, and these images are the perfect visual representation of this fragrance. Relique d’Amour is lofty, diaphanous incense, ghost particles of lemony woody myrrh, preserved in a reliquary of bitter, brittle quartz. A pale white lily springs impossibly from its crystalline depths, its delicate dewy spice in eerie contrast to the earthy oaken moss which cushions its base. This is a scent evoking visions of the divine, of the ineffable solace of faith, and of knowing to the core of your very soul that you are not afraid. You were born to do this.
I indulged in a lemming, which is to say I picked up a DedCool sampler set. I was seeing other reviewers mention this brand, and I was feeling left out! I was a little bit resistant, though, because I hate the name. Most of the time, anyone who refers to themselves as cool, is probably the opposite of cool. Unless they are being ironic, I suppose. But I also hate irony. So you can’t win with me! I’m fairly certain that these scents are meant to be layered, which I haven’t done yet and I probably shouldn’t make any sort of judgment until I use them the way they are meant to be used. But I will say that my favorite of the bunch so far is Milk. Which is a lot like if you told Glossier’s You, “hey, I don’t want to smell like you, I want to smell like me!” The site lists the notes as amber, bergamot, and white musk, and to my nose this is a creamy sandalwood and delicate milky almond amber musk. I think it shares a lot of these aspects with You, but while You is chillier and a more defined fragrance, Milk is warm and a sort of amorphous scent, I would say it’s perfume for people who don’t wear perfume but who don’t want the sort of non-perfume that smells like soap or clean laundry. That’s a very inelegant way of phrasing it, but then again, there’s not a lot of poetry to work with here. It’s a simple scent that smells cozy and pleasant and it’s the sort of thing I’d probably spritz all over my hair and pajamas before going to bed as part of my goodnight rituals and routines.
Poets of Berlin from Vilhelm Parfumerie is a vile bioluminescent mutant blueberry thing. A blueberry subjected to a sketchy, underfunded experiment in a prototype telepod but there was also a particle of lemon-aloe-bamboo Glade air freshener in the chamber before it was hermetically sealed, as well as, a smashed bedazzle gem that fell off of an intern’s acrylic nail, unnoticed. Torn apart atom by atom, the small jammy fruit merged with the glinting shards of sugary bling and a blisteringly caustic glow-in-the-dark citrus-lily. I don’t think David Bowie ever wrote a song about this monster but there was a movie adaptation with Jeff Goldblum.
Reims L’Eau Gothique is not what I was hoping it would be, but I think I can appreciate it for what it is. The opening notes are a strangely sour iris and bergamot and eerie indolic carnation frankincense musty-dusty-powderiness. A chilly corner full of dank, dripping shadows that hasn’t seen the light of day in centuries. A rotting wood shelf behind which has slipped a secret bit of parchment, once dampened by tears and feverishly scrawled ink, now mouldering for eternity where no one but the scurrying mice and scuttling spiders know of its existence. Do I like this sort of scent? You bet. It reminds me of the dramatic atmosphere and melancholy romanticism of the Bohemian Tarot deck from Baba Studio of Prague. [It’s possible that both the fragrance and the tarot deck are unavailable, so maybe peek at eBay for these things!]
Serge Lutens Datura Noir, as far as noir-anything goes, is not noir at all. This is a milk glass fairy spell, cast in the delicate light of dawn, calling for pale blossoms soaked in milk at midnight. Heady aromas of honeysuckle and heliotrope combine with buttery floral vanilla fantasies, a flittering whimsy of bitter almond dream fuel, and a diaphanous reverie of powdery coconut musk. This datura-inspired fragrance is less deadly devil’s flower-induced euphoric hallucinations and more moonflower pudding for sleepy Thumbelinas.
Scorpio Rising from Eris Perfumes begins as a cool, citrusy pink pepper with rosy nuances, an artful enigma of a spice, more zingy herbal aromatic than the sting and pungent bite than you might expect. This is one of the more restrained Scorpios I’ve known, and while I don’t mean to generalize I can say that in my experience, there are two types of Scorpios: the one that is Very A Lot, they don’t hold back, you always know what they are thinking and they practically flay themselves open for you. They want you to have all of them, even and especially the ugly and scary bits. They wear their shadow side on their sleeve and their shadows aren’t very subtle, either. The other kind of Scorpio is not exactly secretive, silent-type, but their shadows are shrewd and sharp and you might not get to see them right away, but you always recognize they are there and you are inexplicably drawn to them like a moth to flame. While I am absolutely obsessed with pretty much all Scorpios, I think Eris’ Scorpio Rising falls more into the latter category and I wouldn’t automatically mark it as a bombastically passionate although I would say it has a quiet intensity that sort of sneaks up on you. After the cool, dry floral, and discreet fruitiness of the opening, there emerges delicate smoke and soft leather, woody-floral cardamom and immortelle’s elusive burnt sugar musk. This is the Scorpio you follow down shadowy corridors in a dream, following their lingering trail of scent, and when you’ve reached the dead-end abyss, the void at the end of the trail, you find they were behind you all along. This is the Scorpio that takes your hand as you jump into the darkness of the unknown.
I didn’t think it’s possible but I actually now quite over the moon for a chocolate-inspired fragrance. Akro Dark is not decadent, foody chocolate in the least, but rather a dry, dusty, woody interpretation of cocoa. But it’s not some austere, unapproachable thing; it’s somehow both rich and restrained while also being intoxicatingly cozy, like the combination of a bittersweet cocoa nib-speckled cardigan and the earthy musk of a patchouli stitched afghan, while warming your toes in soft, smoky vanilla firelight. This is a composition that exemplifies the elegance to be found in simple pleasures when executed thoughtfully, creatively, and while also holding something back. With chocolate scents, I think perfumers tend toward a hyper-gourmand “more is more” philosophy, throwing every decadent, delectable note at their disposal into the mix, but Dark’s appeal, at least for me, is in its’ pared-down, gorgeous simplicity. You don’t smell like a ridiculous dessert, you just smell like a damn beautiful treat.
The funny thing is, when I first looked at my sample of Ambre Nomade from Elisire, it was upside down and I misread it as Amber Malone– and you know what, it smells like a fictional character named Amber Malone, so I am just going with that. This is not what I think of as a typical amber, that powdery balsamic resin. Amber Malone is amber by way of glorious golden ginger and intense, velvety patchouli vanilla, and an unexpected aromatic freshness from sage and lavender and apple. The first time I smelled Amber M. I caught a bit of a youthful-bordering-on-obnoxious-vanilla-apricot fruitiness with a tinge of darkness that made me think she was in high school in the 2002 and had one of those scene queen hairstyles and probably spent a lot of time in serial killer chatrooms. She had the vibe of a kid who was a bit of a loner and was obsessed with true crime novels and at first, I thought maybe she was corresponding with convicted murderers in prison, but I came to the conclusion that she had a good head on her shoulders and ended up going into forensics science and has a podcast where she talks about women’s complicated relationship with true crime. Later, when I tried Amber M. again, the opulent leathery, musky resinous labdanum note is present and I think she’s gotten a book deal to write some brilliant essays regarding true stories about how vicarious interests in violent crime transformed the lives of four women and that’s when I realized Amber Malone exists to some extent– at least as far as writing this book–and her actual name is Rachel Monroe, and Savage Appetites is a great book and you should read it. Ambre Nomade speaks to me of savage appetites for truth, for curiosity, for passion and fascination, and indulging all of these things at every opportunity.
Typically I really love violet scents even though most of them either conjure elegant little tins of traditional violet candies or a powdery floral violet hand-milled bar of fancy soap at a quaint Airbnb, or even the delicate rosy-violet fragrance of an old-fashioned tube of lipstick. And these are all very nice smells but they’re not really complex or interesting. Violet Firefly from TRNP is a violet that gives you a bit more to work with, but I don’t know if I really care for all of the various components. The sweet, romantic blossom is accentuated and nearly overwhelmed by a sort of herbal sagey-cypress stinginess that for a few moments smells distressingly minty. Mint is one of those notes that ruins all fragrances for me. It’s a sort of false freshness that I paradoxically associate with really gross smells as well as the attitudes of people who pretend they never get crusty or farty and think their shit, as they say, don’t stink. Listen, all shit stinks, it’s okay, it’s supposed to. Luckily the minty shitshow subsides and it becomes a subtle mossy leather-violet situation that lays close to the skin and leaves an ozonic coolness trickling down the back of your throat, like a ghostly scrum of misty morning April shower ectoplasm.
Despite the inclusion of my old nemesis, mint (of which I thankfully don’t even detect the slightest whiff) Boysmells’ Tantrum is freaking incredible. It opens with an effervescent, almost incendiary blast of nose-tickling carbonation. There is a gardeny-green aromatic herb garden distilled to a concentrated essence, the tiniest drop of bright, piney-floral jade green peppercorn syrup, and the delicately sour note of bergamot bitters stirred into sparkling cold soda water, swirled with a cedar swizzle stick. I need a full bottle of this immediately and I will spritz with mad abandon all summer long. I also need a cocktail inspired by these notes in which I will attempt to indulge only slightly more judiciously.
I have finally met a fruity-floral that doesn’t make me want to barf. This is not to say that I like it, I mean let’s not get crazy. But I think I can definitely say that I appreciate it. Sadanne from Slumberhouse is described on the website thusly, in the style of my very favorite sort of poetically incoherent word salad absurdity: “Stained glass syrup. Serenades in damascone minor. Allegory obscured / pastel wound. A slurry of subtlety.” It’s definitely a slurry, as in a brandy-fortified sangria, mixed with an entire canister of black cherry Koolaid, a hefty dollop of musky strawberry jam, and a jigger of tart pomegranate liqueur, strewn with the petals from the most obnoxious aggressively blooming red roses in your summer garden. Pastel? No, I think this is a shimmering crimson ruby garnet gemstone bloodbath of a scent. Subtle…yeah…I don’t think so, this is about as subtle as one of the celebrity housewives throwing a glass of Zinfandel in her frenemy’s face. I can see how this might veer into Jolly Rancher territory, like LUSH’s Rose Jam, and yet somehow it doesn’t go there. Maybe it’s the type and quality of damascones used; which I just learned from Google are chemical compounds that add complex profiles of rose, apple, blackcurrant and mint with rich plum undertone to perfumes. My .2 seconds of skimming an internet article, however, does not make me an expert, so who knows. At any rate, Sadanne is happy and joyful and a lot of fun, despite a weird undercurrent of something earthy, violety, green, and bitter. You can barely smell it, it’s almost a sense of it, rather than the scent of it. It makes me wonder what the word Sadanne is supposed to me. It makes me think of the entry in The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows for kairosclerosis: “the moment you realize that you’re currently happy—consciously trying to savor the feeling—which prompts your intellect to identify it, pick it apart and put it in context, where it will slowly dissolve until it’s little more than an aftertaste.” I would never wear this fragrance in a million years, but I love knowing that, much like a fleeting moment of happiness, it existed at one point in time.
A gathering of death-related links that I have encountered in the past few months or so. From heart-rending to humorous (sometimes you gotta laugh, you know?) from informative to insightful, to sometimes just downright weird and creepy, here’s a snippet of recent items that have been reported on or journaled about with regard to death, dying, and matters of mortality.
There was a moment there during which I thought, in our recent move, that I had lost the bottles from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s Lupercalia collection that I’d received back at the beginning of March. I had not! They were in a box with our espresso machine manual and some tv remotes. Sure, that makes perfect sense.
See below for my reviews of these fragrant expressions of lust and aromatic interpretations of the wisdom that come with winters. And chocolate!
The Houses At The Back – Frosty Morning (a haze of misted ambers, orris root, and dappled lilac) I am a sucker for landscape art–especially that of the eerie, melancholic variety– and in this scent I really do smell the dull light of the wintry morning as the sun rises above the trees, the frost-topped roof and the backlit branches and chimneys, where you could almost see the marshes if not for the houses in between. A cool, subtle scent of iris and sweet violet, both sweetly airy and damp at once, velvety and diaphonous.
Cameo Chaperone (tulips scattered over silvery musk, ambrette seed, black orchid, and red benzoin) I don’t think you could possibly trust any chaperone more than this paragon of virtue. She’s all gorgeous madonna lilies, soft white musk, and delicate clouds of chantilly cream, and you almost want to give her a chaperone herself because she’s maybe too pure for this world.
Honeyed Mushroom and Incense is the ripe reek of sweet, earthy fungi, which when reducing in a pan, nearly have a simmering mycelial incense of their own that reminds me of the musty jasmine and the warm balsamic woodsiness of nag champa. The honey accord reveals itself as summery, honeysuckle bright and grassy but becomes richer and stickier and more full-bodied with time, all autumnal burnt sugar musk and pungent dried fruits. This is a fragrance that immediately makes me think of the sweet woodland adventurers rendered in watercolors by contemporary artist Lily Seika Jones.
Sweet Hypsithilla (pulsating red musk, thick golden honey, a slap of leather, filthy patchouli, pious frankincense, frothy ambergris, sweet vanilla, gritty cacao, and fiery red tobacco) A roasty, earthy, unsweetened cocoa shadow enveloping amber honeycomb and dried plum-studded fruitcake.
Under The Silvery Moonbeams (rain-spattered, shimmering soft green mosses, mints, matcha, jasmine, cardamom, chestnut, pine needle, and sweet labdanum). This is a beautiful lemon made deeply, profoundly more lemony by the addition of gentle mints and loamy, leathery labdanum. It seems like I’ve been sampling a lot of minty-scents lately, and if I haven’t mentioned it before, mint is one of those notes that ruins all fragrances for me. I wrote this elsewhere, but I will share it here as well: It’s a sort of false freshness that I paradoxically associate with really gross smells as well as the attitudes of people who pretend they never get crusty or farty and think their shit, as they say, don’t stink. Listen, all shit stinks, it’s okay, it’s supposed to. While I wouldn’t call Under the Silvery Moonbeams “mint-forward,” you can definitely tell it’s in there and for me, at least, it’s one of the rare instances of mint done right. It’s refreshing in a mental or emotional way, as opposed to a surface level, “gotta chomp on my gum if I don’t want to smell like the ham sandwich I just ate for lunch” way. It’s the “escape into the cool, wintry midnight and linger alone under a street lamp and breathe in the frosty starlight after being suffocated by small talk and excruciating awkwardness at the new year’s eve party that you didn’t even want to go to in the first place” kind of refreshing. That’s the stuff. That’s a breath of fresh air for your soul and that’s exactly what this fragrance conjures.
Stainless Steel Dildo (gleaming polished steel and a buzzy floral aldehyde) This is a complex floral composition of dazzling brightness, woodsiness, and animalic waxiness, alongside a luxurious triad of something like rose, jasmine, and lily of the valley floral. It feels “retro” and “perfumey” in all the best ways, and despite its space-age Hajime Sorayama porny implications (nothing wrong with that!) it’s actually a softly classy scent.
Olisbokollike (a shockingly stiff and lightly oiled symmikto proto-baguette with a dribble of sweet cream) hardened breadsticks generously seeded and salted, made with a base of ancient pounded grains, lubed up with sweet, soft unsalted butter and crowned with lightly sweetened, freshly whipped cream baked by and shaped by the perviest of Athenian artisans.
White Chocolate, Pink Carnation, Coconut Cream, and Clove A white chocolate scone with sugar-crisped edges and a drizzle of coconut cream glaze. There’s a bit of spice that comes across as gooey cinnamon chips studded throughout the mild vanilla-floral scented crumb. If these aren’t served at the next high tea that I am invited to, I shall be most put out! Also, please host that specific tea party and add me to your high-priority invite list.
So, about this wonderfully atmospheric image. This is a painting that I desperately wanted for the cover of The Art of Darkness when I first started plotting and planning for the book. The artist is Ludwik de Laveaux and it is a work from 1890 is called “Przestrach” or “Fear”. I have seen some blogs refer to it as Lady Macbeth. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough information on the work to merit it a viable inclusion in any manner, let alone to feature on the cover, and also, not being a book designer, what do I know about what works in terms of cover art? Oh well. I hear that authors should share things that for whatever reason, didn’t end up in their book, and this is one of those things. I’m sharing!
I’m trying not to overwhelm everyone with a massive flood of barely-restrained-bordering-on-maniacal enthusiasm for The Art of Darkness, but you guys. This is the book I have always wanted to write (except for a book about perfume and jewelry and flowers! just putting it out there!) Ever since I learned as a child that we all at some point experience unpleasant feelings or behaviors or conditions, whether that be fright or fury, melancholy or misery, sadness or sickness, I have been fascinated by how we describe and communicate these things, these darker aspects of the human condition–especially as it relates to language and visuals, and in particular the way these things are depicted in art.
We all experience darkness. We can’t avoid it, and I don’t think we should. If we’re eternally trying to live the light where it’s always bright and happy, where we ignore or evade our distressing, uncomfortable feelings, then we are starved of shadows, of nuance, and risk an existence robbed of the richness of contrast. When we only validate our positive feelings, we vastly restrict our tools for looking at the world. We are neither dealing with reality as it is nor adequately readying ourselves for the random pains and struggles that life has in store for us. We deny our inner darkness at our own peril. Because tragedies and calamities are inevitable and darkness will descend at some point in your life, no matter what sort of mindset you have. Despite what you may have heard, good things don’t only happen to good people, and bad things don’t only happen to bad people, and whatever it is, your positive or negative thoughts did not make it happen. Shit happens. Pain is pain, feelings are feelings. And as humans, for our emotional health, it is important that we experience and embody the full spectrum of feelings and emotions.
Uh…so, what was my point? If you’re into any of that, preorder my forthcoming book, The Art of Darkness, I guess!
Well, my move has been pushed back a week, so I am peeking into the blog here to share some of the scents I have smelled over the past month. After I am moved in, let’s say maybe the second or third week of April, I will check back in with a house tour and some Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab reviews!
DS & Durga’s Bowmakers is lovely and weird and I want to bathe in it. Bowmakers is all cool, peculiar woods, maybe cypress and cedar, a fleeting leatheriness, and what feels to me like the synthetic woody cozy ambery muskiness of ISO E super. This is how I imagine the scent of a Scandinavian minimalist YouTube lifestyle vlogger’s cozy 400 square foot apartment in wintertime. Specifically chosen sandalwood candles in amber apothecary jars, a very aesthetically pleasing and strategically placed tube sweet almond and musk hand cream, hundred-year-old but well-cared aromatic hard-wood floors. A tiny capsule wardrobe displayed prominently on a coat rack, where a thrifted leather jacket in excellent condition hangs for guests to admire, the fragrance of which mingles with a chilled early morning breeze gusting from the open windows while they’re airing out their bedroom as part of their 5 AM morning routine that they are currently filming for their subscribers.
Vanille Cannelle from E. Coudray is as if the labdanum and bergamot aspects of a classic chypre met up with the balsamic, resinous warmth of a vintage amber-y perfume like Opium. Swoony old-world allure and romance! I believe this is super discontinued.
I would love to see the movie that inspired Dolls from Moth and Rabbit but I am having a hard time getting my hands on it, so I can’t say whether or not this fragrance in any way conjures the essence or spirit of the film, its characters, or its story. Dolls is vaguely sweet, in a stovetop simple syrup made with water and white sugar kind of way, somewhat powdery in a dusty violet candy way, and gently floral, as in the floral notes that come in the form of blossoms from a flowering tree sort of way. Combine the delicacy and fleeting characteristics of these mild, mellow elements with ylang ylang’s rubbery musk and you do get a bit of a plastic doll head scent. Although I don’t know if the avant-garde film inspiration even had any dolls in it, so I could be reaching there.
I will tell you that I was wearing this scent while reading Catriona Ward’s new book Sundial and Dolls makes me think of one of the books main characters, Rob, a suburban housewife who is just trying to make a normal life for her two daughters. Rob senses with growing horror a chilling and evolving darkness and in her eldest daughter, Callie. Desperate for a solution for this child with whom she struggles to connect and doesn’t actually even like very much, Rob journeys with Callie to her childhood home, Sundial, in the middle of the Mojave desert. Shocking secrets are revealed gradually, nothing here is as it seems or as you expect, and once you think you’ve got the story straight, your expectations are subverted and turned upside down and inside out. This is an intensely brilliant, brutal, breathless tale that kept me guessing right up until the end. So this ended up more of a book review than a perfume review but Dolls is a scent of someone going to drastic measures while maintaining a facade of normalcy, and you can almost smell how heartless they are going to need to be in the realization that this scent is all window dressing with no heart or soul inside.
Do you want to smell like a queer feminist dark academia anime fairy tale with dangerous duels, creepy cryptic Greek chorus shadowpuppets, trippy plot details, gorgeous imagery and bombastic symbolism? With notes of lush rambling rose, zesty, herbaceous lemon verbena, and luminous white tea leaves, Alkemia Perfume’s The Lover Tells of the Rose will scratch this highly specific itch for you. Which is to say: the weirdos who get it, get it. And those who don’t, don’t.
Undergrowth from Rook Perfumes. Imagine the acrid smoke and smolder of a peaty whiskey and the antiseptic minty chlorinated burn of an off-brand mouthwash. Now stir it up with a half-melted lime freezy pop. Gosh. This is bafflingly terrible.
Comme des Garçons Monocle Hinokiis mildly terpenic, peppery cypress, stiff black waxy leather, and that creepy sterile electrical spark ozone scent that you smell on the jet bridge gangway when you’re waiting in line to board an airplane. It’s a deeply anxiety-inducing scent, conjuring imaginary but highly plausible scenarios wherein I have a connecting flight in Atlanta and that I have only 13 minutes to make it to the gate and the gate is all the way at the other end of the terminal. I don’t need this stress in my life!
Myth from Ellis Brooklyn is the sort of crisp, dry, cologney-fresh fragrance I typically don’t love because it borders on the standard generic cliche of the guy with the abs and the towel wrapped around his waist in any old perfume ad. Except in this instance…there’s nuance or detail here working in its favor. So imagine instead of the cruelty and foolishness of the Echo and Narcissus myth…let’s say the gods kept their dicks in their pants and didn’t get carried away with petty vendettas, no one was scorned, humiliated, or shamed and these two just got to fall in love and live their lives. Maybe they opened up the blissful sanctuary day spa together. Maybe it features a reflection pool fed by a cool, clear spring, energetically charged by healing crystals, in the middle of a lush garden surrounded by shady woods and teeming with heady, fragrant jasmine and beautiful orchids. Maybe after a session of massage therapy, light healing, and intuitive counseling, they encouraged their clientele to spend a moment gazing at themselves in the still, crystalline waters, muscles loose and relaxed, skin pumiced and oiled, and then boop their own watery image on the nose and say “babe, I love this journey for you.” Myth is an uncomplicated, clean, woody mildly floral musk that just embraces and epitomizes feeling good about yourself.
Bosphorus Pearl from Alghabra ParfumsWhen I envision perfumes inspired by pearls, I expect something opalescent and luminous, maybe something with notes of white musk, rice milk, or coconut. Nope. Not here. Bosphorus Pearl is a pearl envisioned by someone who has never even seen the ocean, let alone a pearl. They saw a child clutching a sticky cherry lollipop in their grubby fingers, and thought, eh, good enough. This is a rosy-fruity abomination and I actually feel insulted by it.
Jovoy Paris’ La Litergie des Heures is meant to evoke burning incense in an old monastery, but with its notes of sour, fermented ketchup and cheesy bitter bile, but it smells less like peaceful prayers at the hermitage and more like a priest being demonically puked on in the frenzied throes of a non-church sanctioned exorcism.
Rue St Honore from Ouaiwhich is giving me some real idyllic springtime wisteria-draped cottagecore Crabtree & Evelyn Gunne Sax tradwife YouTube influencer exploited by their alt-right faschy podcaster husband for their perceived domesticity, femininity and purity vibes. Is this a field of violets and daisies and gingham picnic daydream or an escapist nostalgia-trap weaponized by Neo-Nazis? Maybe I am overthinking it, but there is something about this quaint floral garden fragrance that feels wildly wrong and deeply uncomfortable and makes me desperately itchy to stage an intervention for someone.
Serge Luten’s L’Orpheline is one of those fragrances that it took a really long time to interpret and appreciate. At first sniff, for the longest time, all I really smelled was a ghostly, soapy mist of fleeting, fading florals. I thought this was meant to be frankincense, so confused and underwhelmed, I always sort of checked out and never really paid any further attention to how it unfolded on the several occasions I tried to revisit it. Today, I think I am starting to understand. It is oddly incensey, in a way; if there were an incense of musty, dried bouquets, spectral resins from unearthly realms, and milky, artificial woods, freeze-dried, crumbled, and lit over a cold blue phantom flame. This is a fragrance faintly ominous and disquieting, of silence, and dust, and memories, and melancholia. The scent of a locked room that hasn’t been opened in over a century and witness to secrets best left well alone.
No matter how cavalier your attitude toward mortality, living through the death of a beloved person is to suffer an utter fracture in the underpinnings of your worldview and beliefs, a brutal violation of things thought unbreakable and everlasting. Grappling with grief is a perpetual choking of the throat, a deep immersion into the light-devouring waters of a hundred-year flood. On both my wrists I am finally wearing Sea of Grief, a collaboration between bloodmilk jewels and Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. I think I had subconsciously tucked this small bottle behind a stack of books because maybe it felt like too much to sit with. I lost my mother, my grandmother, and my grandfather in the years between 2014 and 2017, and just when I think I have a handle on my heartache, something small-a memory, a photo, or even a scent, will bring it all back and my heart is broken anew. I often think of that quote from Wanda Vision, “But what is grief, if not love persevering?” Now, I know lots of writers and philosophers have offered some version of this sentiment, it’s not new, whatever. A lot of people heard it for the first time on this show, though, and it offered a great deal of comfort, so just let them have it, okay all of you high-brow writers and poets on writer-twitter? (Sorry, still annoyed by that particular discourse.) Sea of Grief, though. I think it may be those words, bottled, as a balm. It opens bitter, almost too bitter to bear. Like an open wound treated only with the salt of your tears. I think this could possibly be the vetiver and the carrot seed at the opening. But so quickly, more quickly than you could possibly believe, it becomes one of the most incredibly stunning fragrances I have ever encountered. The rich, floral incense of neroli and the musky green candied nuances of angelica along with the complex resinous citrus of bergamot and chamomile’s light, sweet herbaceousness alchemizes the extremes in experience and shifting realities associated with grief into a potent drop or two of aromatic solace. It is a beautiful thing to continue to love someone, even when they aren’t there. Sea of Grief is a gorgeous comfort with which to scent this love you forever carry in your heart.
Ineke’s Field Notes From Paris opens with a sort of bitter orange incense and powdery orange blossom vintage bubble bath vibe, with a rich, ambery tobacco note lurking underneath, and balanced with both earthy, herbal coriander and creamy, honeyed beeswax. It’s a fragrance that tickles the nose in a way that suggests spiciness, but maybe it just skirts the edge, I am not sure. I also wouldn’t quite lump it in with the gourmands. However you might categorize it, it’s nothing at all like what I expected, but it’s certainly got an incredibly unique appeal.
There’s just no other way to put it, Jasmin from Le Galionis quite possibly the sluttiest fragrance I have ever smelled. And I mean that from the bottom of my slutty heavy metal music video-loving heart. Imagine the late Tawny Kitaen swirling around in her lacy lingerie in a Whitesnake video where she’s cartwheeling across David Coverdale’s cadre of Lamborghinis and then sticking her tongue deep into his eardrum as they’re racing down the highway at 120 mph. Boozy champagne kisses, musky sweat-soaked sheets, heady, narcotic nocturnal blooms, and effervescent hairspray aldehydes–Jasmin is the scent of a joyfully depraved midnight rendezvous accompanied by epic guitar solos and censorship advisories.
Black Opium smells like someone squeezed Strawberry Shortcake’s sweet freckled face until the top of her plastic molded head popped off and you smeared the cloying, syrupy ichor that dribbled out all over their body, and then they rolled around in a heap of rotting jasmine that reached the point in their lifespan where the blooms stop smelling beautiful and immediately start to smell like a cracked bucket of pee-stained underwear. Thus adorned in a doll’s blood-jam and sticky toilet flowers, they boldly assure themselves they are sexy as hell and head out to the club. Oh, to have the confidence of a person wearing one of the world’s shittiest perfumes.
Tonight on Midnight Stinks is Maruyama from Parfum Prissana. Fragrant tree bark, bitter green herbs, a sweet, musky loaminess, a dusty oddball spice of some sort, and a botanical balsamic, almost maple-y nuance. If this were a color, I think it would be a hazel eye, or maybe Panetone 3995 C, a sort of cross between olive and smoky topaz. As a Taurus, my blood type is probably the sweet earthiness of Maruyama As well as some combination of briny green olives and lustrous golden brown topaz. If it were an OG cottagecore power couple, it would be beloved friends, Frog and Toad. Although…I might say this scent leans a little more goblincore. Either way, if you’re a country mouse or an earth mama or I don’t know, a secret gnome or whatever, this scent is lovely and you’ll enjoy it.
…and lastly, over on TikTok I slowly lost my shit in a hotel room during a recent business conference and documented the scents I wore while I was there. Wheeeeee!
This here blog may be a little blank and empty over the next few weeks as we pack up and move house. Until then, me and my lil sweeties are wishing you all the goodness and loveliness and weirdness that your hearts can handle. See you soon, friends!
Okay, so here’s a dumb thing to admit. While I am OF COURSE aware of the lush, magical gorgeousness of Kinuko Y. Craft’s paintings and illustrations, I thought that her work was the realm of picture books and posters and her own personal projects. Somehow I had no idea that her illustrative enchantments enrobed the covers of some of my favorite books! This is probably not news to many of you, I mean her style is so distinctive–how could I have missed it, right? And yet, somehow I did.
Craft’s paintings have adorned the covers of work by countless authors, including Isabel Allende, Isaac Asimov, Orson Scott Card, Stephen King, C.S. Lewis, Patricia A. McKillip, Tanith Lee, Andre Norton, Isabel Glass, Juliet Marillier, and many more. As a matter of fact, it was this eerie cover art that initially caught my eye, and, in seeking out the artist–and in discovering it was Kinuko Y. Craft–I fell down quite the rabbit hole!
I haven’t yet read Tanith Lee’s omnibus Biting the Sun, but after spending several hours gazing at the exquisite details of this cover, it’s certainly now at the top of my list! And I think I might be moved to get my hands on the different versions of this book that exist…I mean look at this incredible Japanese edition! And this cover of the original book in the series (I think?) Don’t Bite the Sunwas created by Brian Froud!
Here’s an excerpt from an interview in Locus Magazine (April 2017) that I really enjoyed reading:
‘‘One of the benefits I get from doing covers is, I get to read. The main thing I like about what I do is that I’m away from reality and the real world where I live, in a make-believe one – a land of someone else’s imagination – as long as the project lasts. I need that to survive.”