This interview was originally published at Haute Macabre on November 30, 2017. Bonus! Caitlin has since written a Ten Things list for us here at Unquiet Things!
When I initially discovered the captivating knitting patterns of Vancouver-based textile artist and knitwear designer Caitlin Ffrench, a glorious thrill vibrated throughout my soul, and my fingers itched madly for needles, yarn, and an immediate opportunity to try my own hand at her stitchy, witchy designs. While I like to think that up until that point I had knit up some lovely things (is it weird to compliment your own work? I mean, they did turn out rather nicely!) I had never before seen knitting patterns reflecting my own beliefs and imaginative fancies–those of myth, magic, and the beauty found in the wind and tides and the light of the moon.
The natural world is a huge inspiration to Caitlin, and “slow fashion” and “wildcrafting” aren’t just buzz words with which to pepper her Instagram and fascinate followers. Her connectedness to the world in which she lives is the unbreakable thread that runs throughout the rich, earthy fabric of her craft, and her dedication to this connection is undeniably apparent in her passions and practices. See for yourself in our interview to follow, in which we discuss the origins of her art, her relationship with the land, and the deep magics found in both wearing handmade adornments and laying one’s self bare.
Unquiet Things: I understand that you initially attempted learning to knit at your Oma’s knee when you were a child (and she told you that you were really bad at it!) You picked it up again in your late teens on the way to a punk show, and then again, when you were thrown into the thick of it with a new job at a yarn store? You’re obviously very persistent! What is it about this craft of sticks and strings that appealed so much to your persistence and will to learn? What advice do you have for those who wish to begin wielding the needles, themselves?
Caitlin Ffrench: My Oma was a very sweet lady, but took knitting very seriously. Looking back i’m glad she didn’t get me hooked as a child- I was too busy ripping around the mountainside and riding my bike to stay still. Trying knitting again on the way to the punk show was alright. I got the hang of it a little more, but almost instantly put my needles down and forgot about it.
It was when a friend opened a yarn store and gave me a job that it really stuck. After the first day of work I figured that I was way over my head and decided to start taking on newer and harder projects every chance I could. When customers would come in with questions about their patterns I was able to help them ‘see’ the pattern by drawing and breaking down the patterns for them- I have a Fine Arts degree in sculpture and my brain likes to work three dimensionally. That’s when I started writing my own patterns. I put them out on Ravelry for free and they were simple–but they worked! When I decided to learn how to write triangle shawls with lace, I knit 4 patterns that other people wrote in 5 days. To the non-knitters please note: that is a hell of a lot of knitting in 5 days. But I learned the inner working of lace!
I think my persistence in sticking with knitting came from the slow meditation it gave me. It isn’t easy at first, but if you’ve got a willingness to keep going (and to rip back your mistakes) you’ll be fine. It was the perfect thing to take up for me because it is portable and I’ve been able to knit without looking at my hands for years now, so I can knit at shows and on transit.
A few nights ago I was at a Propagandhi concert working on a shawl and I got a lot of funny looks from the ‘dude’ guys at the show. But that’s part of the magic of knitting in public–breaking down people’s ideas of who the knitters are. I’m not a little old lady. I’m 6 feet tall with blue hair and a lot of tattoos.
You are very passionate about the “Slow Fashion” movement; designing, creating, and buying garments to encourage slow production schedules, fair wages, lower carbon footprints, and (ideally) zero waste. With regard to slow fashion and making the least possible amount of impact on the land as designer, you have previously spoken to the difference between “landscape” and “landbase”; the former, relegating yourself to the role of a passive viewer, and the latter wherein you are an active human being, where you live. Can you speak to how this viewpoint informs your practices?
The idea of Slow Fashion was first introduced to me as a child. My mother made most of our clothing and the rest were hand-me-downs from my cousins and sister. I grew up on a farm in the middle of nowhere, and ‘Slow Fashion’ wasn’t a hip thing in the 80’s, it was just what you did on the farm. My Oma survived WW2 and from then on always used everything to it’s full potential and didn’t waste anything. She passed that onto my Mother and myself.
I went to textile school for a year in the middle of getting my degree where I learned the art of making cloth, dyeing, spinning, weaving, and clothing construction. My professors were amazing women who took great care in teaching the magic of cloth, and this was the first place I connected my magic with cloth. Standing around cauldrons of plants boiling to extract color and learning the history of how these methods came to us was what I took away with me with the most passion. That is where I started my natural dye journey.
It was in natural dyes that I connected my political beliefs in defending the land with my fine art practice. This is where I honed my thoughts on landscape vs. landbase. In a landscape we are observing the world around us, but with a sense of disconnect. In recognizing the landbase around us we are acknowledging that we are only one small part of this world, and that we are connected with the water supply, animals and plants in our area, and that the land is something we need to protect.
I wildcraft natural dyes from my landbase and use them to make color on cloth, but also paints and inks. I am mindful in my wildcrafting practice, and know that without respect for my landbase I am doing harm to it. Some rules I hold myself to while wildcrafting are:
– I never take the first of a plant that I find. It may be the last in that area, so I walk past it and look for more. (If you take the first, it may be the last!)
– Before I do more than a very small harvest of an area I spend a season going to visit it and watching how it progresses. If the next year it looks healthier than the last, I know I can harvest a little more. I have some spots i’ve been wildcrafting from for 7 or 8 years and they are flourishing.
– I remember to give thanks to the plant and to the area I take it from. Either bringing water to the plants in the hot summer months, or removing garbage from the area. These are acts of service that give great thanks.
There’s a witching thread that runs through all of your patterns, tying everything together on both an aesthetic and thematic level–altar cloths, shawls, hoods, and cowls, referencing time and tides, cycles of life and death, divinity, and the magic of the natural world–can share how your beliefs have shaped and inspired your work?
I started integrating my pagan beliefs into my knitting practice a few years after I started designing. It seemed strange that I had divorced my beliefs from my handwork, and when I actively connected them my work became much more real to me. I started working with my friend Amanda of Brutally Beautiful Photography around the same time, and her amazing photo work speaks to my beliefs perfectly. Amanda encourages my practice to push farther into the world of magic.
She is also game for adventuring in the forest at all hours to find the perfect light. We have integrated ourselves into each others work in a symbiotic way, where she takes the stunning photographs that accompany my patterns and I model for her in her photographic practice. I’m willing to stand naked in the rain for her to get the perfect shot anytime.
Your newest book of knitting patterns, Wheel, and its pictorial companion, Sabbat, are dedicated to “those who find beauty in change” and takes inspiration from the changing seasons, and the Wheel of the Year. I’d love to hear how how this concept developed and how you incorporated seasonal elements, motifs, and traditions into the individual patterns.
These books were a hard project for me. They incorporate my knitted work, my magic practice, my writing, and my own film photography together and this scared the hell out of me. It was a way of really laying myself bare to the world. The four knitted works are for the four seasons- Ostara, Litha, Mabon, and Yule. Each of these giant lace works reflects it’s own season, and for each work I wrote a companion work about my own traditions to mark the seasons changing. This project started small in the way that I thought it was going to be a single book that was just the patterns- but incorporating my writing and photos was a good move. It feels real.
All of the photographs for Sabat were shot on film in the California Redwoods; the deeply profound beauty of this location is astonishing– can you share how these patterns called out for the singular backdrop of these woods? And why the decision to shoot on film (some of it expired or no longer in production), as opposed to digital?
The California Redwoods are a place of worship. This project had so much to do with my traditions that it made sense to go to a place that holds my heart so deeply. I had visited these stands of trees a number of times before- but they give something new every time. This trip started with me attending the Northwest Magic Conference in Portland. I had driven to Portland with my Partner (Arlin) and he continued on to Redding California on the train with his bicycle. After the conference I headed out to the coast and spent a few nights camping alone while making my way to the Avenue of the Giants in California. During this time Arlin rode his bike though the mountains and met up with me. We’ve been partners for over 12 years and we hadn’t done solo camping trips since then, so we took this chance to adventure alone.
To shoot the work on film seemed second nature. Arlin and I both shoot film in our artistic practices already, and film holds a deep magic.
We shot my second knitting book on film in Iceland in 2016 (The Darkness Fell) so we had an idea of what we were getting ourselves into.
As a fellow knitter, I sometimes lose myself, trance-like, watching the rhythmic slip and slide of stitches from one needle to the other; from the initial cast-on, to the completion of each row to the next, I work my worries and frets, or my passions and adorations into the emerging pattern, and it becomes a spell of sorts, thoughtful magics building upon themselves as the piece grows and changes. Other times though, I sit with my knitting and binge an entire season of Hannibal, hardly paying attention at all to the knits and purls as I create them. I’d love to hear your thoughts as to the virtues of both–knitting with mindfulness and intent, as well as, the mindless stitchery that occurs when we’re say, engrossed in our murder husbands.
HA! Yes- you’ve struck it exactly. My direction of working depends on how open I am to putting myself and my magic into the work. Designing new work is when I do knitting spellwork, making sure to put good intentions into what I’m creating. Every stitch is an act of love.
But again- I do knit just to occupy my hands, and I do this a lot. Large swaths of stockinette mean that I’m binge-watching something or out at a show. These are times to let my mind wander and to have my hands work.
How do you occupy your hands (and heart, and mind) you’re not writing up patterns and creating new knits?
-I make paint and ink from botanical and earth pigments, and I paint. I’ll be spending January in Iceland at a painting residency in Reykjavik working with my paints and photographs to complete a body of work.
-I write poetry and stories, but have only really started putting those into the world in the past short while. My most recent written work is called Collective Grief– an 8 page book with words about being orphaned and about the loss of a child.
-I try to be in the forest as much as possible. Arlin pushes me to hike farther, canoe to new places, and to experience new wilderness. We camp a lot year round.
-I read a lot. Both in real book form and in audiobook when I’m working- Fiction and Nonfiction both. [EDIT: we asked Caitlin for a handful of titles she might currently recommend, and she obliged!] Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer- “I’ve read this one a few times in the last year. It resonates with me so deeply. Her methods of seeing the world make perfect sense.” • Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach- “I listened to this audiobook while working recently. I had no idea about the rich history of cadavers!” • On Writing by Stephen King– “My friend and editor recommended this to me. This is such an important work for any writer.” • The Modern Natural Dyer by Kristine Vejar- “Hands down this is the book to read if you want to know about natural dyes. Kristine is a natural dye wizard, and so giving with her extensive knowledge.” • Teaching My Mother to Give Birth by Warsan Shire- “This poet broke something for me. She is whole and good and everything necessary to read.” • Sometimes a Wild God by Tom Hirons- “This is a short and quiet book. Meditative.” • Cold Moons by Magnus Sigurdsson- A book of poetry that was translated from Icelandic- “This one is a heart filled work.” • We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie- “A very important read. Especially in today’s political climate. ” • Anything by Kate Berwanger– “A poet from Seattle that has ripped my heart from my body so many times with her beautiful words.”
-And music- it holds a deep place in my heart. My taste in music bounces around to many genres- currently listening to Ólafur Arnalds all the time.
It seems you are always releasing new patterns! What are some of your current inspirations? What can we expect next from you?
Currently, I’m inspired by grey and cold landscapes- I’m working on a whole new collection (between 10-13 pieces) I will be shooting these in Iceland this winter. This capsule is a gathering of draped wearables that will mimic the cold and surreal place that Iceland is. It will be my third time in Iceland- and it keeps drawing me back. When I fall in love with a place it feels like I leave a large piece of myself there- that hiraeth; a longing for a place that is more homesickness and grief and longing than anything else you’ve felt.
I also have a large gathering of new patterns that I will be shooting with Amanda of Brutally Beautiful Photography where we will be pushing the boundaries of what knitting ‘should’ look like. We are going to be pushing our collaborative work into larger scale installations in the forest. Amanda and I have a hell of a lot of magic to share with the world soon.
Find Caitlin Ffrench: Website // Instagram
All photography by Brutally Beautiful Photography, except: photos taken from Iceland and photos from Caitlin’s new books.
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Between the years of 2016-2020 I wrote several reviews of the wildly imaginative aromatic enchantments from visionary indie perfumer Solstice Scents. Sadly, the site which hosted all of these reviews shuttered its bloggy doors last year and so the reviews are no longer available for curious scent-seekers to find and read. I thought that was a shame, so I gave them a new home, here, at Unquiet Things! Below you will find a collection of all of these reviews. I have linked back to the product page on the Solstice Scents site where possible, but please keep in mind that some of these scents are seasonal and not available at the moment…
After The Rain: (Lilac, Wisteria, Blue Lotus, Rain, Green Accord, Wild Violets, Earth) Is a misty watercolor painting of a fragrance, conjuring romantic visions of an elegant lady of the manor looking up from her ledgers to wistfully gaze out at her garden on a cool, rainy morning in early spring. Delicate, purple florals, restrained greenery, and the ghostly tracing of rainwater on a chilled glass windowpane. I wouldn’t quite call this an aquatic, but I hesitate to call to call it a floral. Can we pretend that there is a category of fragrance called “haunting breeze?”
Cameo: (Almond, Rose, Yellow Cake, Tonka Bean, Coconut, Ginger and Red Orange) Creamy almond cake batter with rose petals, softly folded in. The oven is still heating and as the kitchen warms, the fragrances of lightly spiced ginger and milky, vanillic coconut waft from the bowl. On my skin, this confection never bakes fully through, and all the notes all remain slightly separate throughout the duration of the scent.
Blossom Jam Tea Cakes: (Southern Tea Cakes, Petit Fours, Floral Infused Jams & Preserves and a Delicate Aroma of Tea) I am not generally a fan of gourmands, but I do know that Solstice Scents always hits the mark with their delectable dessert-influenced fragrances… and though perhaps Blossom Jam Tea Cakes is not–initially– my cup of tea, I can recognize that it’s a lovely portrayal of these dainty tea-time delicacies. Fluffy cakes, jammy preserves, and, later, the rich sweetness of buttercream round out this fragrance. Several hours later I catch whiffs of a plastic-y vanilla from wrist, and that is fine with me; it reminds me of sniffing the heads of my Strawberry Shortcake dolls when I was a little girl, and it’s a comforting reminder that sometime a little sweetness can be a very nice thing.
Chiffon: (Vanilla, White Amber, White Musk & Lemon Myrtle EO) At first spray this is LEMON– a bright, tart, enormous face-punch of tangy yellow juice and sour, citric acid. What’s interesting is that it dissipates almost immediately and an airy sweetness emerges, which becomes a whipped cream/marshmallow note as it lingers upon the skin. Chiffon is a “dual concept fragrance” that brings together the sweet and refreshingly tart taste of Lemon Chiffon pie and the wispy beauty of chiffon fabric.
Cliffside Bonfire (Conifers, dry woods, rain, saltwater, seaweed, ambergris (vegan), charred wood, smoke) is a woody, coniferous aquatic fragrance–and before you immediately tune out at “aquatic”, let me assure you that this is not the sort of milquetoast, watery “aquatic” that you may remember from high school in the 90’s, though anecdotally, this does remind me of certain high school experiences. This is dry woods, sea spray-kissed skin, and the barest hint of pine and spruce; I don’t get very much smoke or fire or char from this at all. It vividly recalls for me sunset streaked summer evenings after spending from noon until nightfall at the beach with my freshman year-boyfriend. Skin too hot to the touch from sun and hormones, sand in our hair and on our tongues, salt-tinged kisses and the impatient, inexperienced fumbling at damp swimsuit strings..twenty five years later this perfume causes a sweet, clenching ache, low in my stomach (and a strange, sexy nostalgia for a dude that kind of turned out to be a turd.)
Corvin’s Smoked Apple (Applewood Smoke, Apple, Caramel, Benzoin, Guaiacwood) I am not a huge fan of apple scents, I guess I’m afraid they’re going to smell like those horrible green apple martinis, which in turn smell like those super gross Jolly Ranchers. And don’t get me wrong–I actually love apples, that is to say, the real thing. I don’t much care for the eating of fruit overall (don’t fear for my health–I love vegetables!) but I have been known to say that the apple is the only fruit worth a damn. So it’s not that I don’t like them! I generally just don’t like apple-scented things; they’re typically a neon, cartoon parody of their true selves. So, knowing this about myself, the sampling, then, of Corvin’s Smoked Apple is such a marvelously wonderful surprise; this is the most sweetly nuanced smoke-scent I have ever encountered: woodsmoke; smoldering apple bits, if you, say, roasted a Honeycrisp over a campfire; the burnt caramelized edges of a brown-sugar-y baked thing, and a touch of earth and detritus from the forest floor that has crept into the flames. Unexpected and utterly delicious.
Desert Thunderstorm (Desert Sage, Pinyon Pine & Resin, Petrichor, Sweetgrass, Creosote Bush, Sand, Ponderosa Pine, Smoke) Richard Thomas explains that many natural dry clays and soils “…evolve a peculiarly characteristic odor when in contact with moisture,” and notes that this odor is particularly prevalent in arid regions and widely associated with the first rains after a period of drought. Thomas, working with partner Joy Bear, discovered a yellowish oil–trapped in rocks and soil but released by moisture–that appeared to be responsible for this smell, and the oil itself came to be named petrichor (from the Greek petra, meaning stone, and ichor, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology.) This scent of petrichor –the blood of the stone– is the powerful opening blast of Desert Thunderstorm. Steaming gusts of hot stone and earth, upon which beads of moisture dance and sizzle, and release a fizz of aerosols resulting in the scent of wet dirt and minerals. Later, the fragrance of peppery, sun-baked sagebrush and pine’s verdant astringency mingles with the dusty, resinous scent of distant canyon fire and the subtle sweetness of milky, musty sweetgrass. I’ve never spent time meditating in the desert (or any time in any desert at all, actually) but this is precisely how I envision a strange desert journey alone, curling inward with myself and my demons, for a spell of mediation and healing.
Estate Vetiver (Estate Vanilla, Vetiver, Patchouli, Sandalwood, Lime) A perfume for vetiver and patchouli lovers, Estate Vetiver is a dank, dream of a scent that is raw, and narcotic and strange. With this one I smell only what I see in my mind’s eye, which is the damp, rotting splinters of a ship wreck, portentous dark skies and piercing sea breezes, and the lost and vengeful ghosts of two young women haunting a band of rogue pirates. As you can imagine, Estate Vetiver is my favorite among Solstice Scents Spring Collection.
Gibbon’s Mischief Night (Sugar Cookies, Vanilla Frosting, White Chocolate Popcorn, Toasted Marshmallow, Graham Crackers, Gibbon’s Boarding School, Cream Soda, Bourbon, Pear Brand) Having spent a goodly amount of time in the kitchen baking, I can assure you that I know a thing or two about invoking the temptations of a sugary-sweet atmosphere, a beacon to thieving, sweet-toothed bandits everywhere, and their corresponding rotten, sneaky fingers. And also, yes, I know, I began this piece talking about fall feelings and autumnal observations and all that, but, whatever it is that the weather is doing, I cannot overlook that it is, in fact, already the second week of December and these seasonal treats aren’t going to bake themselves! At any rate, the masterminds at Solstice Scents far exceed my admittedly scant expertise when it comes to alerting the tummies to rumble and calling forth the midnight cookie sneaker. The scent’s backstory: “The austere and formidable Gibbon’s Boarding School will be opening its doors for the annual Mischief Night: a night of Halloween costumes, live music, apple bobbing and games of hide-and-seek within its extensive rooms and gardens.” Now, I (sadly) don’t live in Solstice Scents’ fictional town of Foxcraft, nor have I attended anyone’s Mischief Night celebratory revels, but just as with anything else in life–if there’s an abundance of free food, I will accept your invitation. I envision a refreshments table staggering under the weight of a multitude of mouth-watering promises: sugar cookies iced with orange-colored vanilla frosting, popcorn smothered in creamy white chocolate, charming little toasted marshmallow pillows studded with graham cracker crumbles, and vanilla cream soda punch spiked with golden, oaky bourbon and a nip of pear brandy. This enchanting combination of confiture, though it needs no embellishment, is subtly enhanced by the hallowed halls and history of the sprawling brick school, itself. Dry, cracked leather, dusty woodwork, and autumn air round out this complex, gourmand fantasy
Full Dark’s (Amber resin, saffron, black rose, black musk, oud, fossilized amber, leather, smoked amber, spice) opening notes give the impression of a scent both heavy and heady, redolent of resins, rich, earthy leather, and a subtle, animalic note that lends to a musky sweetness as the scent warms on the skin, it’s a scent that somehow leaves me feeling remarkably light-hearted. During my childhood FL summers, we would at least once, usually around the fourth of July, make a visit to our Aunt’s mobile home park. We didn’t see her often, despite the fact that she only lived twenty minutes away (I don’t think she and my mother got along very well), so these trips were a rare treat. We’d spend all day in the lukewarm community pool packed with other kids like us, and their beleaguered parents, and then we’d dine on hot dogs and pretzels for supper, with a bowl of vanilla ice cream for dessert. The kind with the tiny, black vanilla-bean flecks in it–which I had never seen before, and for a 10-year-old kid, seemed pretty exotic. As the sun disappeared for the day, I would sit with my bowl of unadorned dessert–no chocolate syrup for me, thanks– a shabby old towel draped over my head, goose-pimpled and freezing in that remarkably efficient air-conditioning, and flipping through my uncle’s Playboy magazines, which apparently no one thought was weird and for which nobody ever scolded me. Once my swimsuit was no longer sopping wet, I’d step out onto the open carport, where the rest of my family was softly chatting and waiting for fireworks to light up the balmy evening’s shadows. As the chill faded from my small bones, and I drank the sweet, milky remainder of my ice cream from the bowl, I recall idly wondering about future summers and future me and where does it all lead? As the sky came alive, alight with the glittering explosions of infinite possibilities, I took my mother’s slender hand, and I felt her smile down at me in the darkness. Full Dark recalls for me those long ago evenings of warmth and sweetness and inextinguishable wonder.
Gin Flower, pictured above: (Osmanthus, Elderflower, Apricot, Vanilla, Juniper, Lime, Manuka Honey Accord (Vegan), Pear, Citron, Hawaiian Sandalwood) Ok, so if you ever invite me out for a drink, and maybe I step away to powder my nose just as you happen to get the bartender’s attention–you can never go wrong with ordering a stiff gin & tonic for me. Ever since I took a sip of my grandmother’s G&T at the tender age of four and promptly burst into tears (I thought it was a tumbler of ice water!) I’ve been both obsessed and repelled by this crisp, classic cocktail. There’s something about the aromatic, pine-y gin, the bitter quinine of the tonic, and the sour, zesty astringence of that essential twist of lime that has me both “ahhhh-ing” with satisfaction while simultaneously pulling that “blech!” face. Gin Flower is based off a gin and St. Germain elderflower liqueur cocktail and is the first in a series of cocktail perfumes at Solstice Scents. It starts off with a piquant blast of juniper that is immediate and prominent and takes me back to that first quaff of my grandmother’s acrid aperitif, but shortly softens to a citrus-y, honeyed floral and sweet woods that wears very close to the skin.
Gunnerson’s Pumpkin Patch (Leaves, Vines, Autumn Air, Pumpkin Flesh, Lavender, Moss, Balsam, Tonka, Hay, Caramel, Dirt, Patchouli, Mushroom) I’m not sure how to talk about this scent without sounding incredibly morbid, so I have to preface what I am going to say here by telling you that I mean it in the best possible way: Gunnerson’s Pumpkin Patch smells like digging up the corpse of your grandmother in late autumn and sharing a slice of warm pumpkin pie with her. Okay. Well. Maybe not digging up her corpse, that’s a bit extreme. Perhaps picnicking at your granny’s grave? That sounds a little nicer, right? So for starters…although I don’t recall in my lifetime that my grandma often wore Estee Lauder’s Youth Dew– that iconic vintage elixir and rich, balsamic, aldehydic, powerhouse of a perfume– I do have memories of all her jewelry carrying the phantom of its bouquet, and that’s what I smell first in Gunnerson’s Pumpkin Patch: the gauzy, gossamer ghost of its resinous amber/patchouli grandeur. Next, in anticipation of my visit, I have made a pie with the requisite can of Libby’s orange puree, sweetened it with swirls of caramel, and bedecked its glossy surface with fiery-bright maple leaves; I have carried it, still cooling in its aluminum pie pan, through the rusted cemetery gates, late autumn vegetation at my feet, the sun deeply hidden in a sky heavy with clouds. I meet no one along the path to her gravestone, and as the bittersweet spectre of her signature scent mingles with the chilled afternoon air and the buttery steam rising from the crimped pie crust, I kneel, and with quiet reverence, carefully carve two slices.
Headmaster (Apple, bourbon, oak, cedar, pipe tobacco, applewood, amber, spices) opens with ripe, red fruits, the nose-tickling delight of high quality pencil shavings, and a blast of sweetened, unlit pipe tobacco. I imagine the experience of being trapped, as a sullen teenager, at a posh boarding school during the summertime might smell a bit like this; all of your classmates are jetting out to Amalfi or the the French Riviera, but your mother has remarried and is honeymooning in Egypt with her new husband; her final words to you, over a rushed, static-filled overseas phone call were along the lines of, “…garble garble I’m sure you understand, love you darling garble garble see you on Christmas break…!”
There’s a skeleton staff, all of the professors are on break except the creepy one whom no one but you has ever seen (that’s weird, right?) but the cook is very much a real, solid creature–she thinks you’re a dear and makes your favorite treat every night: baked apples en flambé, the secret ingredient being a generous nip of the headmaster’s special bourbon. You savor it at the bottom of the massive staircase every night, spoon in one hand, your other hand languidly sliding along the oaken bannisters, polished smooth by the hands of all of the young ladies over the years who have attended this strange institution. The golden glow of the setting sun glimmers through the ornate stained glass set into building’s solid front doors, and between the dust motes dancing in the amber light, vague shapes begin to take form, swirling and eddying, coalescing into an almost-human shaped cloud. You rub your eyes, sleepily, and the vision is gone.
Loggia (Mahogany, Amber, Musk, Vanilla Bean, Allspice, Cardamom, Black Pepper, Cognac & Sandalwood) Imagine the poshest, most polished home you’ve ever been invited to, recall the awe you felt traversing its passageways and the illicit delight you felt at peeking in every doorway and chest of drawers, and that may give you a minute inkling of Loggia’s appeal. Conjure the memory of those opulent wooden doors with their exacting filigree details; creamy white European linen draped on tables whose construction may be older than the country in which you’re currently living; an enormous, roaring fireplace where exotic woods crackle and blaze merrily; a silvery, bright kitchen from which the most ambrosial aromas drift, sparking visions of delicacies and confections the likes of which you, you poor sod, have never before experienced. An elegant glass snifter with a generous pour of deep amber liquid shimmers in the firelight. (You’re too young to drink that, but you’re quite certain it tastes of clover honey and sweet tea and vanilla wafers, and it will make you feel giddy and giggly and important and maybe a little sad.) Have you ever been to such a place? Have I? Or have I only read of it in books, or dreamed it?
Master Bedroom (Soft Skin Musk, Sandalwood EO, Amber, Clove EO, Somalian Myrrh EO, Vanilla, Aged Patchouli EO and Champaca Absolute.) Delicate musks and airy vanilla, powders and lotions; this is, at first, the scent of warmed skin after a perfumed bath. The dampness from the tub, toweled tenderly, then softly massaged with fragrant oils, and finally wrapped in a silken robe redolent of the resins and incenses that had been stored nearby. A soft, spicy clove component, along with a strangely unidentifiable grassy/woody dried floral note, round out this cozy scent that is the very definition of an evening of self-care.
Midnight Marquee (Black Musk, Gasoline, Supple Leather, Earth, Tobacco, Moss, Leaves, Foxcroft Air, Vanilla Musk) makes me think of a noir-esque episode of your favorite contemporary television series (remember when they did that with Pretty Little Liars? P.S. are you a PLL fan? Let’s chat!) It’s as if a black and white filter has been draped over what might otherwise be a creamy, sarsaparilla-y vanilla musk, lending it an air of melodrama and intrigue. The gasoline and leather ride in, circling, bold, intimidating, at first, but then settle down and combine with the sweet, earthy tobacco and moss to create a gorgeously atmospheric, full-bodied femme fatale of a scent.
Mountain Vanilla: (Sweet Clover, Coumarin, Vanilla Musk, Fresh Green Accord, Poplar Buds, Morning Dew) Described as “…a coumarin-heavy scent with vanilla and light green elements,” Mountain Vanilla is…not the vanilla that I thought it was going to be! I guess that’s what I get for not reading the full description until just now. Coumarin, if you are wondering, is described as smelling of new-mown hay–and there is definitely a warm, sweetly herbaceous aspect to this fragrance. Don’t be put off by the opening notes, which smelled aggressively chemical to my nose for a few moments; it’s a stinging tang that burns off quickly before those grassy vanilla notes and subtle green nuances materialize. I don’t think I’ve ever smelled anything quite like it; it really does evoke imagery of an Appalachian meadow brimming with sweet clover and dew-dappled ferns and the soft musk of a Bambi or two.
Postprandial (Vanilla, Irish Cream, Coffee, Chocolate, Bourbon, Pipe Tobacco) is a dark gourmand fragrance, an evening’s libation incorporating a medley of liqueurs, among them sweet, creamy vanilla, and woody, oak-heavy bourbon, and which contains a true cacao absolute and an organic dark roast coffee tincture. An ice-cold thimbleful of this boozy draught is a nightcap more potent than you might initially realize–so guide your midnight spritzes accordingly, and prepare for the sweetest of midsummer dreams.
Russian Caravan (Amber, smoked black tea, leather, pine resin, Earth, smoke, black currant, black pepper) is an impressively leather-forward scent. I don’t own any leather jackets, but I’ve smelled a great many of them (I’ve lived next door to the annual Bike Week revelries in Daytona Beach for most of my life, after all) but rather than stinking of sleazy bars and unwashed summer bodies, this is a lovely, worn-in leather that smells of an early June trek through forest greenery, a soft, piney astringency mixed with the tart sweetness of woodland berry bushes. And no hike is complete without a flask of lapsang souchong tucked into your pocket, right? (Wait, is that not a thing?) The fragrance of this dark, smoky tea takes a backseat to the other notes, but is a dry, peppery constant woven throughout
Sacred Vow (Vanilla, Amber, Bay Rum, Sandalwood, Oak, Patchouli, Vetiver, Saffron, and Lime)<–I don’t know if these notes are accurate, so I will update if I find anything different! There is something delightfully old-fashioned feeling about Sacred Vow, and I mean that in the most beautiful way possible, not in the “ew this smells like old lady” sense that you sometimes see mentioned on perfume reviewing forums. Ahem. Warm, spicy, and resinous, Sacred Vow is an amber-focused Oriental blend with the faintest trace of floral notes. With its heart of bay rum and amber, touches of oak, vetiver, and jasmine, it reminds me very much of my late grandmother’s bottle of Youth Dew by Estée Lauder; her small, mirrored tray of compacts and lipsticks, and a velvet-lined, mother of pearl jewelry box that held all of her sparkling costume jewelry–all of these luxuries specific to her rituals of beautification smelled softly of Youth Dew’s heady glamour. A strange, witches brew of balsamic resins, amber’s golden glow, and soft, powdery vanilla.
Sea Of Gray (Vanilla rain, saltwater, seaweed, ambergris (vegan), white amber, roasted seashells, white sandalwood, frangipani) The concept behind this scent is that you’re strolling along the beach and as tide rolls in, the sky darkens and the first drops of rain begin to fall, you take refuge in a nearby ice cream parlor. I would take this one step further; this is a seaside ice cream shoppe in Innsmouth, and you’re on a date with of its fish-people denizens. This is not to say that Sea of Gray is a fishy scent, but there is more than a hint of murky dankness upon initial application, and, if only for a moment, you’re swept away in scents of sand, sedge-grass, and stunted shrubbery that gives way to crumbling houses and their repellent inhabitants, and a feeling of overall disquiet and decay. This feeling passes as soon as you cross the threshold into the cool, bright interior of the frozen dessert establishment; the cheery clanking of small metal spoons gently scraping faceted sundae glasses and the soft, vanillic aroma of cold, creamy confections lulls you into a feeling of well being as you glimpse the sun peeking out from behind the clouds again, and all that’s left of your brush with the murky seaside secrets of that shadowed port town is the salt-spray on your skin. Your fishy paramour is nowhere to be seen.
Travelers (Amber, Clove, Frankincense Smoky), spicy, and sweet–the camphorous clove is nicely tempered by the warm amber and the cool, resinous frankincense and I can’t help but to think this a perfect fragrance for summer time ren faires with your beardiest, dorkiest, D&D-est friends. Or maybe *you* are that friend, which makes the fragrance even more perfect! It immediately conjures imagery of drum circles and mead and mesmerizing bosoms popping out of their corsets and a man with a cloak and a feather in his cap who repeatedly calls you “mi’lady”. I just went to a ren faire two months ago, so this is all very fresh in my mind. By the end of the day I smelled like goats and pickle barrels; I could have really used some Travelers right then.
Wilcox’s (Dry Woods, Fresh Herbs, Dried Herbs, Warm Woody Spices, Sweet Annie, Sage, Rosewood) The first time I wore Wilcox’s I was surprised; it smelled, initially, of the cool gloom of a crypt–that damp, earthen, mineral smell that conjures quiet meditations on mortality in the solitude of cold, stone chambers. I don’t know that it ever warms up on my skin, but it evolves into a wonderfully soft, compassionate scent: gentle chamomile and sweet, woody nutmeg, the sort of aromas that may waft from an uncorked phial, tipped gently past your lips while a leathery, bright-eyed acorn of a woodwitch murmurs, “just a drop, dearie!”
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