The Low, Low Woods is the brooding and utterly unnerving graphic novel debut by Carmen Maria Machado, an atmospheric and surreal horror story set in the dying coal town of Shudder-To-Think, Pennsylvania. Teenage best friends El and Vee experience strange incidents of missing time and decide to investigate the mystery behind that gap in time and the strange happenings around the community, where time and memories, as well as the women themselves, often go missing. A female-centered queer and diverse cast of characters navigating friendship, grief, rage in the midst of digging for truth in this tale of body horror, hybrid creatures, mysterious portals–in the course of doing so they realize the stories of their town hold more darkness than they could’ve imagined.
Fangsby Sarah Anderson. It’s not fair to an author to give a starred review hinging on something like “well, I would have given this more stars, but I wish it would have been longer.” I mean, you can see how many pages a thing has before you buy it, you can hold its heft in your hand and get a sense of its length or brevity. And I also no longer base my reviews on what I expected vs. what I got. Not having been familiar with Sarah Anderson’s work, I don’t think I realized it was cutesy-fluffy kind of stuff and that there wasn’t much story there or investment of time. I probably wouldn’t have purchased the book if I had known this. But I got suckered in by the stark glamour of the illustration on that blood-red cover when Amazon suggested that I might like it, and so I threw it in my cart as an impulse purchase. Why did I bother saying any of that? It’s not the book’s fault. I’m just annoyed with myself about it, I guess. This is a charming, light-hearted, slice-of-life, 4-panel peek at the budding romance between a vampire and a werewolf. It’s sweet. It’s fine. It would make a darling gift.
Trust Exerciseby Susan Choi. Ooof. Is there a better phrase than “coming of age” to describe a story about some young people figuring stuff out? I wish there were. (I guess I wish the same about “slice of life,” which I just used above.) Well, these are young people in an artsy-farty high school, there’s shaping and shifting of the power balances between friends and lovers, and there’s the abuse of power by adults who should know better. There are narrators who aren’t telling the whole truth, or maybe it’s the truth as they recall it or as they wish it had happened, and there are other narrators who are furious about this; interesting commentary, I suppose, on who it is that owns a story. This was a complicated read, but I don’t mean dense or heavy or anything like that–rather, I felt complicated things while reading it, and I’m still not sure what my takeaway is. But thanks to some of the extremely, uncomfortably visceral scenes in this book, I never want to have sex again. And my libido is already pretty much non-existent. Thanks, Susan Choi
This summer I read a bunch of mysteries. And I am done feeling weird or ashamed or guilty about it, which then turns into a weird snobbery, like “I DON’T USUALLY read this type of thing, BUT.” Come off it, Sarah. You read it, you liked it. There’s nothing wrong with that.
And so I find myself reading a lot of Ruth Ware over the past year. I think I may have written about her in the last edition of Stacked as well. This time around, it was One By One , which I think you can already tell from the title is an Agatha Christie-style whodunit. A group of start-up company employees are on a retreat at a posh ski lodge and they’re being murdered one by one. The company has developed a social media app that allows you to listen in on the music your friends are listening to, and maybe it’s just me, but that seems like a really dumb and pointless idea. It’s a predictable story but it’s mildly entertaining, so that’s ok.
I also read The Likeness by Tana French, which I believe somewhat picks up where In The Woods left off, but this time the main character is Cassie Maddox, who was Rob’s partner in In The Woods. And I am happy to be done with Rob, so that’s fine by me. In this story, Cassie is called to the scene of a murder where the victim looks almost exactly like her, and if that weren’t eerie enough, the victim possesses ID indicating she was going by the name that Cassie used in a previous undercover operation. Cassie must again go undercover (her first go-round, she was attacked and transferred out of that unit) and gain the trust of a local group of college students to try and figure out who this person was and why was she killed. This sort of puts into Dark Academia territory, which is another aspect of it that I liked. This was definitely a weird, insular group of young people.
I really loved this book. But I’ve found that Tana French is one of my favorite authors of mysteries/thrillers, and so I wasn’t surprised that I loved it. Some reviewers complain that she’s an overly wordy writer (“I get board with details!” notes one Goodreads user. Hee!) But it’s her beautiful prose that makes her stories so wonderfully compelling! And also the fact that in her mysteries, there frequently seems to be a mystery A. and a mystery B. and while the case may get solved, there always seems to be a piece that’s left without clear answers– and I really appreciate that.
Finally, on the mystery front, there was Lock Every Door and The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager. First I should note that several times I learn and then forget immediately that Riley Sager is a pen name, and this author is not a woman–this has happened to me with every book by him that I have read. Maybe it shouldn’t matter, but it does: I typically do not enjoy books wherein a male author has written a female protagonist. (See: boobs bouncing boobily) Is this a little problematic to admit? If so, I’m sorry. However, I don’t detect any issues like that with Sager’s stories, and as a matter of fact, I kind of enjoy the characters moving through his books much more than, say, Ruth Ware’s people as she writes them. In Lock Every Door, a woman gets hired as an apartment-sitter for an empty apartment in a mysterious Manhattan apartment building. I don’t think I am the first to make this comparison, but it’s got a Rosemary’s Baby vibe that I found delightful, even though it didn’t quite head in the same direction. In The Last Time I Lied, an artist is invited back to a summer camp she spent a week in as a teenager, and while she was there, her cabin-mates disappeared. She accepts the invitation in present-time, because she’s got some digging around to do regarding those past events, and as strange things start to happen during her stay, her suspicions mount. Though I didn’t really love his first offering, Final Girls, the more Sager writes, the more impressed I am with his stories. They all seem to involve some sort of horror trope, but they are not exactly horror stories. I think it’s an interesting angle, and it pretty much guarantees I’ll continue reading as he publishes more.
Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert MacFarlane. I am not sure what I can say about this book that might convince you to read it. I started it a year ago, last July, and I have only just today finished it. I wept a little, as I did. An exploration of the Earth’s underworlds–perilous caves atop impossible cliffs, labyrinthine catacomb crawls, the darkness under our feet through which mycelium tendril, the drop even further below to starless underground rivers, and the unfathomably deep descent into the backward-reaching time machine of ancient ice.
McFarlane writes in melancholic, claustrophobic, prose of transcendent, breathtaking, heart-stopping beauty, and as fascinating as I found his adventures, the relationship he formed with the land he explored, the connections he made with the strange and wonderful people who followed similar passions to dangerous and extreme ends–it’s how he wrote about these experiences that truly captured my heart and brings tears to my eyes even as I type this out.
There’s an exchange between McFarlane and a scientist, and while maybe I am missing the bigger point of everything here, it really sums up…while not exactly the spirit of the book, but rather why I personally love the book so much. When shown some microscopic sediment from the ice that points to the fact that the land a kilometer below the ice used to be a Sahara, McFarlane muses: “They’re beautiful…desert diamonds from the end of the world.” His companion in conversation replies laconically, “I can tell you’re not a scientist.”
Many people confided in me that they didn’t get very far into this book, I think, for precisely the reason I fell so profoundly in love with it. This is a man of words, writing about the science of things explored in deep, dark places, and the deeply philosophical questions and issues that this knowledge points to when brought to light. And while passionate about these issues, not being a scientist himself he grapples with and presents these ideas in inventive and otherworldly language that might be challenging to wind your way around if you’re looking for a book that is a straight, clear path. And, well, I suppose if this was sold to you as a travel book (as I see it is marketed in some places as such) , in that case, you have every right to be confused and not get very far in. For as much as I enjoyed this book, I sure never want to travel to any of these places. That aside, Underland was truly a descent into the sublime.
The Ballad of Black Tom was on a lot of horror-lists in the past few years, and it’s easy to see why. A gripping novella that revisits HP Lovecraft’s particularly xenophobic The Horror of Red Hook but from the point of view of a Black man, it was a nerve-prickling thrill that I read in the course of one evening while cat-sitting at my sister’s house. Here’s a great interview with Lavalle over at NPR where they talk with him about his conflicted feelings for Lovecraft, and which gets more into the story itself.
Wide Sargasso Sea was a book I’d heard of for years but had just never found a compelling reason to read. This came as a recommendation from Rachel Syme on twitter who, whether she’s advising on fragrance or literature, always has some fabulous suggestions, and so when she mentioned it, I thought, ok, maybe now’s the time. This is not a new book and so even giving a synopsis feels a bit silly, but if you are unaware, Wide Sargasso Sea is a postcolonial and feminist prequel to Jane Eyre, describing the backstory to Mr. Rochester’s marriage from the point of view of his wife, a Creole heiress named Antoinette Cosway–whom we know as “Bertha Mason” the madwoman in the attic, the lunatic that is Rochester’s first wife.
I both loved and hated this book. Probably because I knew the fate of this character before I even read the first page. Lush and hazy and brimming with brutality, beauty, and an ever-present sense of dread, this was a story that I found myself wishing over and over would end differently, but it never could. There is a passage in the book describing a red dress: “The scent that came from the dress was very faint at first, then it grew stronger. The smell of vetivert and frangipani, of cinnamon and dust and lime trees when they are flowering. The smell of the sun and the smell of the rain.”
I don’t know if this perfume exists, but it should. It seems to capture the Antoinette that might have lived with less devastation, tragedy, and madness. An Antoinette who had the opportunity to experience more bright mornings and radiant sunlight. Who might have even been happy.
I have a lot of memories of my tenth and eleventh years on earth. Most of them involve either reading or walking. It was that year that I first remember going on daily evening strolls with my mother. She would loop our neighborhood, taking turns with both my sisters and me, sending one in to fetch the other when their turn was up. I know sometimes we look back at our circumstances and say “man, I sure wish I had appreciated that more in the moment,” but honestly? I did appreciate those moments as they happened, every step. I loved my walks with my mom. Even though later our relationship became strained and difficult, it was at this point in time that I thought she hung the moon. I’d tell her about the stories was reading, about how I couldn’t relate to anyone in my class (they were into boys, I was into books,) we’d talk about everything and nothing. I remember telling her, in all sincerity, “mom, I could never be mad at you!” Oh, little Sarah. You sweet thing. Just you wait. But that wouldn’t come for a few more years, and in the time between, my mother and I had lots and lots of walks together.
In the years since, no matter where I have lived–in a shitty apartment on the river around the corner from a slew of biker bars, in a damp and moldy cottage next to the ocean, in a small town in New Jersey notorious for its asbestos legacy–where ever I’ve found myself, I’ve always walked. I am not keen on exercise. I am not coordinated, I don’t like public gym facilities, group classes stress me out, and quite honestly, I am too repressed to even jazzercise or dance or whatever, alone in my own home. But walking? That I can do. And I have walked, four-five times a week, for the past thirty-five years.
There is something deeply meditative about placing one foot in front of the other and carrying yourself forward. It feels intentional. It feels progressive. It feels like life on a much smaller scale. It makes life’s larger obstacles somehow more bearable.
. A friend of mine shared with me that she’s never in her entire life met an endorphin, but I’m not so sure about that myself. I’m very easily susceptible, impressed, influenced, and when I read about endorphins flooding your brain when you exercise, I thought, “Oh! So THAT’S what’s happening to me!” On my evening walk with the right music and having fallen into the rhythm of my steps, I know that if someone were to look at me I would have a strange beaming gargoyle grin on my face, and I would feel as if I were flying out of my skin.
I think of walking as an overall wellness thing rather than an exercise in…well, exercise, I suppose. Walking daily keeps me on an even keel, it centers and balances me. I could walk a million miles and, considering my metabolism and the way that I know my body works, probably never lose a pound–so it is for sure not a part of a diet and weight loss regimen. And anyway, I’m not sharing this as some sort of ableist fitspo rhetoric; I am writing this from the perspective of a mostly healthy human with no current mobility issues.
Walking is an activity that is so normalized and can be so easy to take for granted, but it’s actually not so easy for everyone. People with arthritis, with auto-immune diseases or degenerative issues, with knee and leg injuries–they can’t just “walk it off.” I want the things I share and the conversation surrounding that to be as inclusive as possible, and I realize that ability is not a choice and a disabled body is not something to overcome. So I don’t mean to discount or dismiss anyone’s experience and abilities or lack thereof here, I guess is what I am saying. Walking is a thing that I do for me, but I’m not here to give anyone a hard time about it or to shame them or make them feel lesser-than for an activity that they are just physically not capable of, or that maybe they don’t even want to do. Also, like I said, this has nothing really to do with fitness or diet. I mean, it’s probably good for my heart, I guess? But that’s a secondary benefit for me.
Walking has quite literally changed the course of my life–more than once! I typically take my walks very early in the morning, and when the world is still dark and quiet, and the only sounds you hear are of the crickets and the frogs and your own breathing–it’s a great time to get some thinking done. I plan my day, I compose poems and emails and silly tweets for Twitter. I daydream and let my imagination run away with me. Sometimes, in the mindlessness of steps walked becoming miles traveled, the inner paths my ruminations take will lead me to interesting places with new ideas or present solutions to problems I was subconsciously working out. I come up with my best interview questions, my favorite article titles, and my most intriguing lines of inquiry during these perambulations, and even in the heat of summer when it’s a sweaty miserable slog every step of the way, I wouldn’t trade that precious time for anything.
It’s funny to gauge memorable moments in terms of walks I have walked but I actually came up with a list of ten of them!
-My first walk around the block in October 2011, when I moved back to FL. It was in my middle sister’s neighborhood, as I was staying with her for a few months while looking for a place of my own. We walked together and joked how it was October in FL and 75 degrees and time to pull out the heavy coats.I had just escaped that toxic relationship situation in NJ, and it was the first time in seven years I felt like I could actually take a deep breath and say, “ok. I am gonna be ok.”
– New Year’s Eve, 2012 I was at a friend’s party when I became hot and overwhelmed. I stepped outside, and I kept stepping. I was halfway around the block before I realized I was navigating an unfamiliar neighborhood, partially drunk, and without any idea of where I was. Suddenly there was a person at my side. Someone else at the party, feeling out of their element and who needed air as well. Side-by-side, with a silent understanding, we followed the floating lanterns from a nearby festival and got the space we needed, together.
– Halloween 2009, I was having a rare afternoon walk around my neighborhood before a friend arrived for an evening of junk food and horror movies. I typically walk in before sunup or just as the sun is setting, but this was an overcast day, and also I was living in NJ, so October temps were probably in the 50s-60s and bordering on chilly. It was a still, beautiful afternoon when a little tornado of fallen leaves suddenly swirled up around me and a maple leaf punched me in the face!
– The year before, in 2008, I was also in NJ and found myself often lamenting that I didn’t seem to experience the same sort of thunderstorms that I recalled from living in Florida. That evening during my walk and about a half-mile from home, I got caught in a torrential downpour that soaked me to my bones. There was no shelter to be found unless I huddled on someone’s porch and I’m too shy for that, so trudge home through the deluge and ankle-deep puddles it was. I was so thoroughly drenched that I had to take my clothes off in the hallway before entering my home because I was just that wet and I didn’t want to drip all over everything. And it was a PUBLIC hallway. I didn’t care!
– In 1992 I fled from my home after my mother gave me a dreadful nonconsensual haircut. By the time I noticed the amount she had taken off, I jerked away and hollered at her to stop. But the chop at that point only covered half my head! I entered my freshman year of high school very lopsided. I was so furious I ran out the front door and just kept going. But as our block was a circle, I ended up right back where I started. I must have walked at least twenty times around my neighborhood that evening, sobbing so hard I made myself sick. Remember what I said about telling my mom I could never see myself mad at her? HA!
– I spent New Year’s Eve, 2010, like all of my NYE’s in New Jersey– depressed and alone. I drank too much gin, put my snow boots on, and hiked down to the river. I called my baby sister to wish her a happy new year and while stumbling around in the cold and the dark, I almost fell into the river. Le whoopsie.
– In 2019 I with much trepidation, I walked around a few blocks in Los Angeles by myself. That doesn’t sound like it should be much of a big deal for a human person in their 40s, but I’m terrified of getting lost in strange cities, and I don’t ever venture out like that on my own, so it was actually a pretty big deal. I celebrated with the best breakfast sandwich I had ever eaten.
-In 2018 I visited my Best Good Friend and we spent an afternoon in Philadelphia. We had left a gothy-antiquesy-jewelry type of gathering and were trekking across the city for dinner and along the way, we went through a sort of boardwalk-type atmosphere and we passed some kind of seasonal festival of lights. I don’t actually know if any of that is accurate, they’re all just marvels and blurs and fanciful impressions in my memory right now, but it was like a dream, how one weird and discordant and beautiful scene flowed into the next. It was late afternoon and the sun was streaming directly into our eyes and I what I recall –so vividly– is trotting to keep up with her long-legged stride when we realized we had ended up in a sketchy part of town. I don’t know why I cherish this afternoon so fiercely, and why this piece of it stands out so powerfully in my memory…but maybe because it’s in my dreams I can never keep up and I eventually fall behind and lose sight of whoever it is I am chasing and who eventually leaves me. But in this instance, we reached a busy intersection, and there we were, once more standing side by side, for more adventures together.
-In 2002, my baby sister was living across the state while she worked on her graduate degree. She’s probably going to read this and tell me that I’m wrong about both the year and where she was at in her schooling, but MELISSA, THAT’S NOT THE POINT. I would periodically drive out and spend a weekend visiting with her, and on one of these weekends, we spend an ungodly amount of time on her apartment complex’s treadmill because we planned on going out for all-you-can-eat sushi afterward. She’ll probably tell me the treadmills weren’t in her complex and that it was some other weekend that we went for sushi, but the POINT, IS, MELISSA, that I went on a memorable walk with you! And we ate a lot afterward!
For a while there, I was doing a brief walk in the morning as soon as I rolled out of bed. I slipped on a pair of crappy shoes and crept outside in the early dawn hours for a leisurely “wake-up walk” around the block in my pajamas. This was generally done right around 5 o’clock in the morning and it was still very dark out, so it’s not like anyone could see me! But I’ve moved on to developing that habit into a more serious morning walk, and that requires actually getting dressed.
Lately, I’ve been wearing the bike shorts from Universal Standard, a favorite tank top, and these shoes. The shoes that I had been wearing developed holes in the tops of the shoe from my toes poking through–and this happened with two separate pairs, same brand, same style–so I thought it wise to move on to footwear with a wider toe box. So far so good, but it’s only a month in with the new ones and we’ll have to wait to see how they hold up. One important piece that I do not have a handle on right now is a good sports bra. So if you’ve got a favorite brand or style, I would very much like to hear about it!
During the time my mother and I took those walks, she was also going back to school for her nursing degree. As it had been a while for her, she had to start off with a bunch of 101-type classes, and one of them was English or Writing or something like that. On one of our after-dinner strolls, she shared with me that I had inspired the essay she was currently writing. I marveled at this–what could I have possibly said or done that struck any sort of chord with her? Apparently, I confessed to her that when I was walking, and getting hot, or tired, or felt like I wanted to give up, I would tell myself “you can do this, you only need to make it to the next mailbox!” And that’s how she was trying to look at her schooling, all of the classes she needed to take, and the road ahead of her to get a new career started. I was floored and flattered and I loved my mom so much and was so proud of her in that moment. For both listening to me and thinking that I had something valid and important to say, but also for recognizing something in herself, seeing that she had something to contribute and strive for, as well as persistently and with dedication–stride toward.
I don’t know if I will ever get to where I am going. Most days I don’t know where that is and I don’t know where the mailboxes are along the way or what they’re meant to represent. But the point is…I keep moving forward. One stumbling, senseless, insignificant step at a time. I’ll get there one day. I don’t think it even matters where “there” is. But when I look back on the path I forged I hope I feel like I did that one day when my mother repeated my own secret back to me, and I realized that in just being who I am and sharing what’s important to me, I helped propel someone else forward, too.
To be honest with you, I don’t know why I felt compelled to write all of this. I’ve been thinking about my walking practice (is that a thing? can I call it that?) and what it means to me, over the course of dozens of walks, over the past few years– and it’s been in my drafts here since 2018. I don’t think I’ve done it justice. It’s such a deeply meaningful thing for me and I feel like I am leaving something out that’s really important and which needs to be said. I’ve just now hit on the barest inkling of an idea what that might be.
It occurred to me that I didn’t share the kind of music that I listen to when I’m walking, or the podcasts or audio books that I listen to…but you know what? More often than not, I don’t listen to anything. I think a large part of the magic and the ritual and the significance of this practice is the time I spend in conversation with myself. Where it’s just me and the quiet of the morning and my feet carrying me forward while my mind is working on whatever I need to work on or work out. Even when those things are ugly or uncomfortable– and those things are definitely easy to ignore or avoid during the hustle and bustle of the day, you can drown them out with music or television or Zoom meetings or mindless chatter. But when it’s just you and yourself again, those things are still there, and it’s important to sit with them.
I’ve written about bean soup before. Probably right around this time last year. Well, here it is again, friends. And thanks to the brilliant friend on Instagram who gave me the idea for this blog’s title!
I hated my grandmother’s bean soup when I was a little girl. If I’m being quite honest I always cried when I had to eat it. I sobbed through every spoonful. There was nothing wrong with it. I just wanted something more familiar like a salami sandwich with yellow mustard. That was my favorite! Bean soup was just so…ugly. I hated looking at it. I hated smelling it. No thanks!
Anyway, I must feel awfully guilty about it these many years later, because anytime I am inspired to make a soup, it’s usually of the beany variety. Here’s a recipe, if you are interested and you’ve got some of these ingredients lying around. I’m really bad at keeping track of amounts, just eyeball it and make it soupy, you know? It’s still an ugly soup, but holy beans, is it delicious.
As they say, “beauty is in the eye of the beanholder.”
“I’m Sorry, Mawga” bean soup
-a bunch of beef of vegetable stock (from scratch is best.) Maybe 6-8 cups?
-a few cups of dried beans, whatever you’ve got, soaked overnight
-3-4 strips of bacon
-one onion, diced
-however much garlic you like, minced
-hefty squirt of tomato paste
-a few bay leaves
-sprig of fresh rosemary
-several leaves of fresh sage, chopped
-salt and pepper
Chop bacon and fry in a deep pot for a few minutes until some of the fat is rendered out. You don’t need it to be crispy. Toss in your onion and sauté for a few minutes until fragrant. Add the garlic, stir it up and sauté for a minute or so more. All of this is on medium heat, I suppose. Squirt in your tomato paste and stir around until everything is coated and let it cook for a minute. Add all of your both, beans, and herbs and bring to a boil for a few minutes. Reduce heat, cover and cook until beans are tender or to your liking. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
We served the soup with some focaccia that I’d made using a not-too-peppy sourdough starter and whole wheat flour, with a recipe from Pro Home Cooks. I mean… even mediocre fresh-baked bread is good bread, but I would definitely like to try my hand at this again, with better, fresher, more lively ingredients. Still, to accompany a humble bean soup, I think it worked well, and it was made tastier with a dollop of the compound sage butter I had made this past weekend with loads of fresh sage from the garden. GOOD LORD this stuff is good. Just make it and put it on everything.
Amouage Fate for Woman is another fragrance I’ve been avoiding talking about because I feel like it hasn’t yet revealed its heart to me. And if you think that sounds a little melodramatic, here’s a bit of the copy which refers to its: “rich floral heart intensified by a dark and destructive accord resonating with the tumultuous unknown.” And as much as I love the delicious poetry of an overwrought word salad…that is not helpful. It sounds like a James Bond movie. Here is what I do know: for not being listed in the notes, I smell a goodly spike of sharp, woodsy cedar, and soon after, a dry veil of green mossy rose, wrapped in a honeyed balsamic leathery cloak lined with the smoke of a coniferous incense. It’s so opulent that at times it feels like I’m wearing a costume, and it did kind of trick me into liking another rose scent, so maybe this is a spy novel double-crossing femme fatale of a fragrance.
Jean Paul Gaultier Classique does not list jasmine in the official notes yet it smells like a glittery jasmine vanilla powder bomb drunken dance floor. It recalls an evening I visited a friend and without telling first, she had agreed with other friends that we’d all meet up and go to a club. Being a brutally shy homebody, that’s the last thing I EVER want to do, but as a visiting guest, you’re sometimes trapped into these things, and I am also a people pleaser, so there you go. And there we went. The ladies room was filled with tipsy club-goers fixing their hair and makeup, and our mutual friend pulled a whole-ass bottle of perfume from her purse to refresh her scent. Even me, being the perfume obsessed weirdo I am, thinks that’s strange. A whole bottle, wow. Anyway, it was this Jean Paul Gautier scent, and to this day it makes me think of boozy nightclub cocktails and the jasmine-scented tears of strangers in bathrooms telling me they love me just moments before puking on my feet.
Initially, Coromandel is nose-prickling, aldehydes, bright and sharp and sour, like a bitter citrus slice of moon on a night when winter is sparingly giving way to spring. It’s also brimming with curious camphorous woods and strange subterranean echoes when the first spritz settles on your skin. Soon though, it is inexplicably a dark, floral sprinkle of black pepper atop a mug of palest milky cocoa, smooth and rich and creamy on the tongue, but tinged with that underlying musty bitterness. The strange interplay between those primordial notes and that velvety decadence offers dueling impressions of opulence and austerity; imagine enjoying a delectably elegant beverage…on the damp, cold floor of a mossy limestone cave.
I first read Black Dianthus described on EauMG’s blog as a witches brew of a scent, and being an-all-or-nothing person regarding potential holy grail witchy fragrances, I bypassed a sample and bought an entire bottle. This was in 2017. I sniffed it once, thought, eh, it’s fine, and never wore it again. I saw it glaring at me balefully from the shadowy recesses of my perfume cabinet recently and thought that perhaps it was time to give this one another try…and I am so glad that I did. Black Dianthus officially only lists notes of black dianthus, which is I believe carnation, in addition to licorice, and vetiver, but what I smell is a bitter brew of bracken and moss, tannic, leathery bark, and peppery hemlock leaf littering the damp forest floor, the sour fruit of burst baneberries, and spiced smoke spiraling from the cauldron where this potion hisses and sputters over a strange, green flame.
We’ve got a date with Old Scratch and we’re gonna meet them wearing Idole de Lubin and nothing else. This fragrance is marketed for men which is a bunch of malarkey because this woodsy, darkly spiced scent with notes of saffron, rum, teak wood, and sugarcane would be devastating on anyone who possesses a human body. And speaking of possessing human bodies, our bae Beelz is due to stop by at midnight and this infernal gourmand redolent of unholy smoke, syrupy booze, and leather-clad sin, will make them feel right at home.
I love that Etat Libre d’Orange’s Like This, which was inspired by the unearthly and surreal Tilda Swinton and her idea of a magic potion that smelled like the familiar grace of home. Greenhouses and kitchens and gardens and intriguing notes like yellow mandarin, pumpkin accord, Moroccan neroli, and heliotrope. I don’t know if I was influenced by the copy, but: the connection of magic potions and kitchens, along with the initial hit of citrusy-ginger, fizzing and spiced as if glowing in cauldron, summoned for me the transcendent, transgressive art of Leonora Carrington’s paintings of kitchens as magically charged spaces, as conjured through her singular and visionary filter. Floral, honeyed tobacco, an earthy spring greenness, and gentle musks bubble and brew alongside those first bright and zingy notes and the end result is a joyous creation that feels both celebratory and sacred.
Geranium Bourbon from Miller Harris Perfumes is what I imagine Jo from Little Women smells like; it’s willful and smart, and it’s somehow both no-nonsense and very creative. It’s got a very upfront “take me as I am vibe” which seems appropriate, as even though geranium is listed in the notes and it’s the name of the perfume, it doesn’t exactly smell like geranium…so you’ve got to judge it on its own merits… for what it is, rather than what it is not. And as for what it is, well. It’s a sort of dry, sunny lemon grassy palmarosa, a sour green rose, bitter, musty black pepper, and some sort of aromatic woods. It’s classified as a floral, but it’s certainly not your typical offering from this category of scent; it’s not at all sweet or spring or even summery, and the rose is a strange one. I guess I might say this is an herbal, woody autumn floral, and much like our girl Jo, one of a kind. (Hoo boy. I just went back in to add a link, and this is discountinued and very hard to find. Sorry!)
I am struggling with wrapping my head around L’Instant de Guerlain. My first impression is that it smells like a classic, powdery vanilla Guerlain but with a “how do you do, fellow kids?” vibe, reworked with fresh fizzy citrus and cool, misty iris notes, for a contemporary crowd. I just noticed that these are bees on this bottle, so maybe that’s the powdery, bright, golden halo I get from the initial spritz. It’s a very pretty scent, very spring picnic with frothy petticoats and bonnets, which I guess isn’t very contemporary, but young people get up to all sorts of weirdness, don’t they?
In a fit of nostalgia, I recently found and purchased a doll on Etsy that reminded me of one that I had when I was much younger. If her frothy, tiered, ruffled, and lace cream-colored frock was a perfume, it would most certainly be Heliotrope from Etro, a floral gourmand dessert course confection of a scent, with delicate almonds at the forefront. This is a powdered marzipan, pillowy meringue, candied almond nougat, bonbon on a base of fluffy spun sugar vanilla clouds. It’s displayed in a window somewhere in Paris, nearly too beautiful and too delicate to eat. (Much like this doll, which sat on a shelf and I was not allowed to play with when I was a little girl.) As it wears on the skin, it becomes iced almond milk tea, barely sweetened with amber-hued grains of brown sugar and poured over rich, chewy tapioca pearls. I do go on about how I don’t care for sweet scents, but in that I’m referring more to fruity fragrances. I don’t want to smell like a strawberry shortcake or a fruit salad or a lollipop. But vanilla and amber, I guess you could say that’s my sweet spot.
I first heard reverent whispers of the enigmatic Filigree from Thymes before the 2014 relaunch, and my interest piqued, I tracked down a bottle on eBay. Never have I read such wildly differing reviews about a fragrance! The Thymes website sings praises of its intricate layers and elusive nuances, and alternately people refer to it as rich, spicy, warm, creamy, and luxurious, but despite the dissimilar impressions, it is undeniably universally beloved. To my nose, it is a scent just this side of crisp and not exactly fresh. It reminds me of antique lace doilies and porcelain teapots It is gentle lemon peels and sweetly grassy and a delicate dusty amber that translates more as vanilla. It’s light and lovely and apparently, many things to many people, but we all seem to adore it.
I am going to do the thing I hate and be a total hypocrite, but Fleur de Lune from Strangers Parfumerie is totally a “grandma perfume”. However! I mean that in a very particular and very personal way. This is *my* grandma. But not when I was older and I could recognize and appreciate her heavy-handed love of Estee Lauder’s Youth Dew or Elizabeth Arden’s Red Door; this is my grandmother when I was 4 years old, before I realized perfumes even had names. I only knew that I loved the scent of her hair when she came to visit and I would fling myself into her arms and bury my face in her shoulder. Fleur de Lune is a sort of sneezy retro violet talcum powder, clean laundry dried on the line outdoors in the spring sunlight, and a sort of milky, creamy floral, like a vanilla and honeysuckle pudding. I don’t know if I love this scent, but how could I not be fond of it, with all of these lovely associations?
Scandalwood is a fragrance that makes me a little sad. I first discovered the brand when I used Polyvore, a sort of virtual moodboard for curating imaginary closets and creating fantasy outfits. I used to play around on it every single day for nearly a decade, and then in 2018, without warning, they shut it down. I was pretty upset–I made many friends through Polyvore and it was a fun distraction that got me through some rough patches. Were any of you guys over on Polyvore? There’s a few similar sites now and I’ve been using one called URStyle but it’s just not the same. I’m ghoulnextdoor over there by the way, if you ever want to say hi. Anyway, this is a perfume review, sorry. Scandalwood is inspired by Dita von Teese and much like her own outfits, the scent is very bare and barely there. Light and close to the skin, it’s a lovely blend of sandalwood, cedar, rosewood, leather, and musk. It’s not really all that erotic unless you get off on quiet naps and whispered ASMR. And hey, it takes all kinds.
Comme des Garcons Rouge is an odd and surprising scent, and at all not what I expected to smell from this glossy, cherry red popsicle of a bottle. It instead reminds me of an artwork by the fabulous, and flamboyant Argentinian painter, Leonor Fini In Les Sorcieres, we observe five frenzied witches swarming and swooping on their broomsticks through a swirling blood-red sky. This scent mirrors these feverish sensations of airy, dizzying fizziness and couples them with a terrestrial earthiness, like herbs and leaves and things freshly dug from a garden patch. Rouge smells like an effervescent shrub (the vinegary drink, not the bushy plant. But also minus most of the vinegar) of rhubarb and beet, fiery ginger root, and floral pink pepper. A witch’s cauldron tipple that tapers to a beautiful gingery incense.
I often pause and meditate on how evocative writing can influence our perceptions and sucker us into buying things. But also, how those perceptions can change as we change and grow. I’m looking at you Ormonde Jayne Woman, with your notes of hemlock and violet and all your talk hypnotic, mysterious potions! In Perfumes, the A-Z Guide, Tania Sanchez describes it in terms of haunting witchiness and tall trees in the night and when I read those sentiments over a decade ago, I couldn’t get my hands on a bottle fast enough. At that time, what I got from it was corporate executive realness with a weird green twist, or if Day-to-Night Barbie was changing into Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West costume instead of the pink sparkly disco outfit that came in the box alongside her no-nonsense pink girl-boss suit. I haven’t worn this Ormonde Jayne Woman since I got it, but today I *get* it. Initially, there’s still that whiff of generic woody-green sophistication, but as it lingers I catch glimpses of shadowed forest paths lined with sweet, purple aromatic woodland blooms, leading one to the door of an enchanted sugarplum storybook cottage. The witch may or may not be in.
I don’t think it’s just me who feels this way, but much like how orange blossoms smell nothing like oranges, so too is the disparity between the fragrance of the blossom of the lime tree and actual fruit itself. I should also note that lime blossom smells nothing like orange blossom! Just using it for an example, I guess. Though like I said, I’m pretty sure that’s how most people feel, so I don’t mean to offer that opinion like I’m the first person to ever come to that conclusion. Anyway! We have a small lime tree in our yard and its flowers smell heavenly, but it’s a delicate scent that I find elusive of precise description. Jo Malone’s version captures it somewhat, the bright charm of a spring breeze, pearlescent morning dew, and sweetly herbaceous green sap encapsulated in in a small, white flower…which if I had to compare it to another blooming thing, I might say honeysuckle. But it’s got an extra element of synthetic linen freshness and a note of something that smells like how a mild tingling jolt of static electricity feels, and this gives it a bizarre bionic blossom quality. It is a little odd? Maybe. Do I love it? Also maybe.
I smell this and I’m suddenly time traveling back to the olden days of 2014 when I did a thing on the internet which some of you may remember though you may not have known it was me. I shared daily missives of love and self-acceptance from Eternia’s most nefarious skull-faced villain, as he progressed on his journey of healing. I am speaking of course, about Skeletor is Love. The facebook and tumblr pages still exist, if you have no idea what I am talking about. Anyway, someone on Makeup Alley realized that was me, and tickled that the creator of that weird thing was a also fragrance enthusiast, we became friends. Miyako from Annayake was a rare scent she insisted I find, she pointed to an eBay listing for it, and it was soon in my possession. Inspired by Japanese incense rituals, it was a perfume I’d never heard of, but was intrigued by, and it’s unexpectedly lovely. It’s warm, richly-scented amber, copious dry, dreamy spices and woods, and a shifting but utterly ambrosial note of smoky green floral cardamom. It is lush and hypnotic and when I wear it calls to mind the strange connections we make in life and how if you’re not open to them, you might miss out on something spectacular.
Tibetan Mountain Temple from Pacifica does not smell like my idea of a blend prepared in accordance with centuries-old traditional Tibetan Buddhist methods to accompany prayer offerings or spiritual purification rituals. But what do I know! This is more like the snack aisle in a tourist shop *next* to the monastery but the only thing they sell are orange creamsicles and those ridiculously delicious Newman ginger-Os, which if you’ve never had them, they are basically like Oreos in concept, but instead of a chocolate cookie sandwich, it’s a ginger snap.
La Couche du Diable by Serge Lutens smells of clementines and dates preserved in amber, soaked in rare, imported spirits, and tossed on the smoking remains of the fire you lit to conjure a demon to do your bidding. Your bidding, it must be noted, involves some petty shenanigans regarding your nemesis and chopping off all of their hair as they sleep. Your final ingredient for the spell, as it happens, is a single strand of their richly tinted auburn tresses that you plucked from their burnished mahogany hairbrush in the span of a second when you cried, “look, over there, what is that thing?!” And like a dummy, they looked. The hair sizzles and pops in the flames and an aromatic wind fills your chambers, scorched citrus, bronzed resins, bitter wine, and something eerily metallic, echoing the diabolical snicker-snack of twin blades, wickering eagerly from the depths of the glowing embers.
I’m laughing at what I am not sure is actual copy or editorializing by LuckyScent for Initio’s Musk Therapy. They write of “pleasure receptors activated, the mind being energized, and inner peace and pure delight.” and I love you Luckyscent, but you are A LOT. And before you argue that I’m jealous because I’m not the staff writer tasked with churning out this poetic perfumed piffle…well, ok. You’re right. I’m jealous. It was not for their description that I bought it, though. Victoria of EauMg described it as smelling like “hot people effortlessly being hot” and friends, I am not immune to that sort of hyperbole I’ll even one-up it. This is a fragrance that makes you feel like you’re just better than everyone. And you’ll smell so good, they’ll go with it. It’s got a beautiful bitter sourness like the salvia flowers just outside my house, which smell like velvety aldehydes and sparkling grapefruit peels and a musky magnolia and sandalwood soapiness that’s neither too much of one or the other and wow…this really is a flawless, perfect summer scent.
Madam Moriarty, Misfortune Teller from BPAL’s Carnivale Diabolique series is the dark fruit of thickly sugared plum jam, tart pomegranate & redcurrant wine, and the spiced, earthy incense of red musk and patchouli enhancing and emboldening the berries and stone fruit, rendering them that much more lush and sticky. I am not a fancier of fruity fragrances, but even I can admit that is an objectively beautiful scent and there’s a good reason it’s a cult favorite.
I thought peau was french for pear, and not being keen on fruit-forward fragrances was surprised by how much I like this one… but pear is poire, and peau is actually skin, so this perfume from Diptyque, Fleurs de Peau, translates to Skin Flowers and now I understand why I enjoy it. Created in tribute to classical mythology’s Psyche and Eros, it’s a love story with a heart of musk. At first a light and grassy scent of mildy soapy green florals, it abruptly drops in temperature, and strangely it’s in this chilly stage that the musks emerge, as if you’re kissing the wrist of a wraith. It’s a perfume that’s eerily bloodless and while it’s not burning with passion, it radiates a sense of cloudy befuddlement, the way a deeply consuming love affair may affect you. It conjures ill-fated lovers in a romantic mystery by the likes of Sarah Waters, a timid governess of modest means and the coldly beautiful mistress of the manor and they declare their secret love in a bed of irises and it turns out one of them was a ghost all along.
I originally purchased the sadly discontinued Velvet Tuberose from Bath & Body Works because my Best Good Friend wore it, and it smelled amazing on them. With an opening somehow both airy and earthy, it’s a creamy white floral cloud whirling with delicate powdery grains of amber dust and soft floral vanilla orchid petals. It dries down to soft woods and skin musk and of course, it never smelled quite as good on me as it did on my BGF, but I still associate it with them and some of our times together even though they probably haven’t worn it in years.
This scent is an exercise wherein I again come to the realization that hey, I’ve never spoken this word aloud and I am not certain how to pronounce it. I usually go to YouTube to get a consensus, but in this case it seems a bit divided. Some reviewers say LabDANum, and others say LABdanum. That’s always how I said it in my head, so that’s the one I am going with. Labdanum de Saville by L’Occitane is a honied, burnished amber that borders on fruity tobacco, with a bright, peppery, sparkling citrus aspect that reminds me of an illustration of jeweled autumn fruits in a golden dish that I recall from a lavishly illustrated edition of 1001 Nights from when I was a child. It’s a fairly linear scent that doesn’t evolve much over the course of the day, and while it’s not terribly complex, it’s still lovely. I’d suggest it as a less expensive option to the autumnal spiced apple compote magics of Ambre Narguille from Hermes, but I’m afraid it’s discontinued.
This scent that has haunted me since 2004 when I first tried a sample of this perfume from Elizabeth W. and I’ve been hoarding that tiny vial for over fifteen years! Back then it was called Sweet Tea, but they’ve since changed the name to Té. That looks like an accent aigu, but I’m not certain that this is French. Maybe it’s Spanish? Either way, perhaps they thought a rebranding would lend a classier vibe than sweet tea evokes with its deep south connotations as a sugared libation to accompany your all you can can-eat ribs and meat sweats. And as a Floridian, I love me some Sonny’s BBQ so I mock not. Listing notes of amalfi lemons, black tea, and almond honey, the opening is lively and brisk with a tannic, floral elegance, the aromatic tea and intense perfume of the lemon balanced and beautiful. I don’t get a sense of honey, just a lovely hint of sweetness, more like a light citrus syrup, or a limoncello. This is not the most nuanced or complex scent, but who cares? We like what we like and this is one of my favorite tea concept perfumes.
I was a little kid who never paid attention to anything. I perpetually had my head in the clouds. Of course, when you’re forever checked out of what’s going on, things happen without you noticing. Sometimes these are things like your mother signing you up for summer camp and you don’t know anything about it until she’s packing you up on a bus with a lot of kids you don’t know to a place you’ve never heard of. Still, there’s daydreaming and imagining to be done, so I’d just find a seat by myself, lean my head against the filmy glass of the bus window, and breathe in the clean, cool morning air of an early June morning in Ohio, as the vehicle picked up speed and we drove out of the suburbs into the sunshine. Demeter’s Fresh Hay smells like honeyed red clover blossom, warm, dusty earth, and soft woody grassy vetiver; the fertile ground of summer daydreams and limitless expanse of a young person’s imagination.
Angel Nova is a very horny perfume. But a sort of sad, lonely, horniness. It’s the drunk middle-aged lady at a concert or local gig, or festival, stumble-dancing alone. (I am middle-aged now, but in my memory, every incarnation of this woman always seems older than I will ever be.) It smells like what both partners might wear when they pack for their hedonism cruise in a last-ditch effort to save their relationship and they’re on the prowl for their unicorn. It’s a bit desperate and hopeless, like that last radiant burst of manic energy that you put into a thing that’s doomed to fail, so what the hell and why not. As to the actual fragrance, it’s a sticky stain on your sheets that if you dare get close enough to sniff, it smells of overripe raspberries, lychee syrup drizzled shaved ice, and a sickly sweet cola drink spiked with peppery patchouli bitters. Instead of spending your money on Angel Nova, I think it wise you invest in an extra session with your therapist.
Montale Full Incense is an ancient story of aromatic pine, strange, sugared crystals of frankincense, and fresh, grounding cedar shavings. It feels sacred and weird, like an epic legend with an unexpected instance of surreal comedy. Perfume-wise it’s a bit comparable to CdG Avignon, but where that one conjures a chilly, stern atmosphere, this is woody and warm and somehow beautifully wacky, like hallucinogenic incense smoke rising from a cracked clay vessel balanced on smoldering embers in the desert woodlands, but in a locale far removed from our reality. On the world of Thra plays out a drama between the tyrannical Skeksis and the Gelfling, as a darkening blight threatens the existence of all. Full Incense is what I imagine scents the scene wherein the Gelfling heroes have arrived at the Circle of the Sun and encounter the kind Skeksis known as the Heretic and the Wanderer. What ensues is the weird and brilliant puppet show within a puppet show, and they all must have thought wow, am I high right now? I feel a bit like that myself when I wear this scent.
I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t obsessed with jewelry. Draped in my grandmother’s beads and baubles, I’d swan around the house, feeling fancy and beautiful, the queen of my daydreams and imaginary domain. My fantasies involved ornate treasure chests overflowing with glittering gems and gleaming jewels and I swore that one day, I would have one of my own.
I wish I still had a photo of it, but my favorite piece of “jewelry” was built from these colorful interlocking plastic blocks and spheres …I’m not sure if it was meant to be worn or just played with for hand-eye coordination type stuff, but I luxuriously delighted in imagining them as massive rubies and sapphires and emeralds…
Here’s another photo, instead. You get the idea!
When I first laid eyes upon the creations of Eternal Craft Designs, I was immediately transported back to a time when I dreamed in the lustrous language and scintillating brilliance of precious stones, a faceted and radiant light that set the landscape of my own strange and lonely little worlds aglow. I purchased for myself a strand of beads from their Poisons collection, and in its green glimmering reality, the flash of its colors and gorgeous tumbling heft, I held all of my childhood dreams in my hands.
It is pictured here in the disarray of my vanity in the lower right, artfully spilling out of a small Anna Sui container. And in the photo below that, entwined around my neck! The little-Sarah that still lives in my heart is utterly screaming with joy.
I recently chatted with Eternal Craft Designs about their unique, one-of-a-kind pieces, the stories and inspirations that go into the creations of these jewels, and the process of finding one’s voice through a maximalist aesthetic and the perpetually haunted aspects of one’s nature.
Tell me about the kind of jewelry that you create and who it is you envision wearing it.
Mostly I craft One of a kind beaded strands of various semi-precious stones and crystal beads. Some of them include vintage glass beads that I have collected over decades to adorn my dragon’s lair. (I’m convinced I was a crow in a previous life) I also make solid sterling silver tombstone keepsake pendants.
The type of person I envision wearing my jewelry loves to shimmer and sparkle in darkness. That person might be a little witchy, they might be a bit earthy, they might be into holistic and healing energies. Each strand is as unique as the individual who wears them. They’re hefty and have a good deal of texture and weight to them and I try to make them as sturdy as possible so that they will last through the centuries.
There’s a certain androgyny to some of the pieces, wearable by people on any level of the gender spectrum, particularly the tombstone pendants, which were originally designed as a commitment between lovers.
I get the sense that you love jewels and baubles as much or if not more than I do…I would love to learn what led you in the direction of making jewelry as opposed to draping yourself in it fabulously? (Which is also my move, by the way, hee!)
Oh, I drape myself in jewels and baubles! TRUST ME! One can ALWAYS count on me to show up at the holiday party with more shine than the Christmas tree!
Instead of removing one piece of jewelry before I leave the house, I add one.
I used to make little elastic bracelets for friends and include them with the wrappings of a prezzie. Then they would break or were promptly lost. I had a dear friend who was so creative and talented at everything, including making jewelry. She was trying to encourage me and help me find my crafty jewelry voice, and unfortunately passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly some years ago. The night before we were supposed to get together to play with jewelry) I inherited some tools and materials from her but couldn’t really do anything with a lot of it for a very long time. In a way, I feel like I finally figured out what I needed to be doing with all of the things she gave me.
I look at your work and how you talk about it and it makes me think of the idea of jewelry as story-telling. What are the stories that haunt you and inspire your creativity when making a new piece of jewelry? What else do you count among your inspirations and influences?
I have a lifetime of things that inspire me; music, literature, art. Let’s get the obvious influence out of the way; our beloved Bloodmilk Jewels. When their Mourning Beads and Ritual Strands launched, my vision became clear, and I was able to focus. Of course, I had no intention to copy them. I’m not a professional jewelry maker first of all, so it wouldn’t be possible. Secondly, BMJ fans are fiercely loyal, and I’d never want to provoke the ire of their followers. Jen and Jess and so lovely and so kind, I could never….
With the first BMJ strand I purchased, Bookstore Cat, I was blown away at how delicate and tiny and perfect it was! I felt more comfortable that what I had in mind was something quite different and that may or may not appeal to the same person.
I decided one thing that could impart into my jewelry was my vast music knowledge. I always have a song in my head & sometimes I can connect that with a strand of beads. I have a great catalog of music to draw from; thousands of CDs, and records that I have collected while working as a radio/club dj, then retail, and finally establishing myself as an inventory manager and buyer for some of the largest record stores in the country. (Remember Record Stores?)
I am perpetually haunted. The biggest flaw in my character is that I find it difficult to move on. I tend to hold on to the darkness in my life for far too long.
I try to use the ritual of cleansing the crystals and stones once I have completed a strand so that whatever darkness I may be enveloped in does not pass on, if that makes sense. I’m also no purist. I pick and choose elements that satisfy my visual aesthetic. I’m a novice when it comes to these fabulous crystal powers and don’t ever claim to be anything more. I’m sure there are experts out there that could quibble and cringe at how I write about or arrange things, but the powers and energies that can be drawn are entirely second to the sparkle and shine for me. These pretty shiny things are only here to make you feel pretty and shiny. My intentions are my own, get out of it what you want.
As far as “storytelling” goes…Thank you, but I dunno….I don’t consider myself much of a writer – it’s a struggle for me, and a lot of times I find myself paraphrasing and re-wording what I have come across in research through various mediums. The research itself becomes inspiring and I find I am learning a lot just by digging around some of my dusty old books and clicking through links. I always have a few completed pieces sitting around that I haven’t posted because I can’t quite find the story to go along with them.
What are your favorite materials to use and can you share what it is about them that speaks to you?
Everything is grounded and anchored in black; onyx, tourmaline, obsidian, etc…these stones are said to attract, envelope, deflect negativity. Almost every piece features flashy rainbow moonstone and/or labradorite, which nearly makes me fall over. Using scarabs from vintage bracelets as connectors sets my pieces apart. Infinity has been a consistent symbol in my life for a very long time, so I use infinity connectors often as well. Going back to Bloodmilk for inspiration, I think it’s how they utilize the connector as focal points, one never has to worry or bother with the clasp getting facing front. I like that a lot and I’m trying to include that feature in my own way.
What are you doing when you are not making these beautiful beaded strands? I’m always interested in the interests of the people who interest me!
Obsessing over my cats, ravens, crows and praying mantids in my garden. After leaving the music business in 2015, I dabbled around trying to figure out what to do with myself. I managed pre-recorded music inventory (CDs) on a national and international scale, handled multi-million-dollar budgets, coordinated high-profile media events, and more.
When I left music, it was the precise moment where ageism and sexism left me fighting to get back into the workforce. I found that my particular skill set could be quite useful to my life partner’s business in make-up fx. I work with him on film projects both on and off-set and handle a lot of the administrative work; scheduling, maintaining supplies, (I love a good excel spreadsheet), acting as a liaison with production, and so on. Covid has completely changed how films are made, there is a lot more admin work to be done by any Head of Department. My goal is to help free his time up to focus more on creative design, direction, and application. It’s a lot of fun and nowhere near as stressful as dealing with Amazon as a client! No one asks where I hope to be in 5 years, what my plans are with the company and they don’t care that I’m female and an adult! Everyone is working on one project to completion and everyone has the same immediate goals. (It’s kind of refreshing, really).
Whenever I hear the windchimes echoing through the blooms and blossoms and growing things in my backyard, I am often reminded of a haiku by Edo-era poet Matsuo Bashō.
The temple bell stops. But the sound keeps coming out of the flowers.
Imaginary bells aside, tomorrow is the summer solstice, or midsummer, the longest day of the year. I remember the first time I ever heard the term midsummer; it was referenced in The Witches and the Grinnygog, a program on Nickelodeon’s eerie Third Eye anthology series in the early 80s. In the six-part series, an ancient English church is moved to a new site, and a strange statue, the Grinnygog – is found to be missing. It is unwittingly recovered by a woman who, not realizing its importance, gives it to her elderly father as a pseudo garden gnome for his rockery. Shortly thereafter, three eccentric old women appear in the town, peculiar things happen, and a quartet of young friends slowly uncover the mystery of their arrival and what it heralds. It dips into pre-Christian traditions, folklore, time slips, and ghosts, and it takes place leading up to, and during Midsummer.
I barely recall watching The Witches and the Grinnygog, only certain scenes and snippets and…impressions, really… remain in my memory. Luckily, some generous souls have uploaded it to YouTube; they’re a perfectly dreadful quality, but I’ve convinced myself that the fuzzy grain only adds to its strange charm. I have been rewatching it this week, and one sequence struck me intensely: after a shared moment of magic, one of the characters declares, “the day will come that you say you dreamed it.” Quite so! That’s exactly how I’ve felt all these years about the experience of having watched it. Even after reading it and reacquainting myself with it after receiving a copy of the book as a gift over a decade ago! (Yes, it’s based on a book!)
In rewatching it, I was instantly bewitched all over again. The location is lovely, the music is perfect (you can hear the theme here, and how I wish I could find the lyrics to that song! Something about “four us was born” and “fly, besoms, fly!”) and I think all of the actors are wonderful. Is it perfect? Well, probably not. To my older, and hopefully wiser and a bit more worldly eye, there are some things that are troublesome or that feel a little problematic to me. It would be interesting to hear a critical analysis from someone who could do such a thing justice, but I don’t think that’s me.
Mr. Alabaster, for example, is a neat character and he stole every scene he was in, but I wonder if he might fit into the “magical black man” trope/archetype, and if so, that does make me feel a little uncomfortable. Was he there solely to help the white people? Well, I’m not sure. On one hand, I’m fairly certain he was there to reclaim an artifact that belonged in his country. His motivations didn’t really seem to be about helping anyone but rather sticking to his own agenda, one which seemed perfectly reasonable. But then there was all the witch doctor stuff, and they really just seemed to play up his “otherness.” I don’t know. Maybe I am overthinking it. But I also think it’s important to examine this stuff, even the stuff we really love. Nothing should be unimpeachable.
Aside from these thoughts, which obviously didn’t come up the first time I saw it, I mean I was only seven years old in 1983. But the thing that I actually remembered most about it? Like, if you had asked me a few years ago (or maybe even mere seconds after I watched it) what it was all about, I would have said “FLOWERS!” without even thinking. As I’m viewing it again I can see how The Witches and the Grinnygog was formative to many of my obsessions and interests: witchcraft, hauntings, eerie mysteries; reading, writing, and collecting; but most of all…flowers. The flowers that grow around and surround the grinnygog when it is placed in the garden, the ridiculously magnificent floral hat that is magically conjured forth from the laundromat washing machine, and of course the spectacular emergence of blooms and blossoms on houses and street corners which sprung forth mysteriously overnight in honor of the Midsummer festival.
I’ve longed for a lawn and garden space filled with flowers for as long as I can remember. Or rather, now I can say with clarity and certainty–ever since I first saw The Witches and the Grinnygog. I gasped aloud so many times watching this story play out over the course of the past week, thinking, “oh, THIS is the reason I am the way that I am!” So much of me today, who I am, what I love and aspire toward, how I dream and what I dream of, started in the details of this odd little gem of a show. I am so happy I finished the final episode a few scant minutes before midnight on Midsummer Eve, and I plan to spend my day tomorrow, however I spend it, exuding, inhaling, and surrounding myself with the tender, powerful sentiments intoned in the chant begun by Mrs. Bendybones in the scene below.
“Goodness is goodness…peace is peace…and blessings is forever.”
Goodness and peace and blessings, and all the wild magics of a beauteous explosion of flowers to you on this extraordinary Midsummer’s Day, friends.
“The arrogance of man is thinking that nature is in our control, and not the other way around.”
Yvan’s birthday was back at the end of April (it’s true, we are both Tauruses, a fancy-cheese-eating, garden-loving, never-admitting-we’re-wrong power couple!) and I wanted to get him something special.
I’ve been looking for a non-dorky Godzilla garden statue for ever so long and I finally found something *really* close to what I was envisioning —this amazing succulent planter from Red Thread DIY. Initially, it was only offered in smaller sizes, but I requested a larger-sized commission, and now I think it’s a regular listing on their shop!
Anyway, here’s Godzilla, a power to restore balance.
The Walpurgisnacht Collection from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab x Spiritus Arcanum consists of four deliciously deviant scents inspired by the Witches’ Sabbath and Beltane. Each perfume oil in this limited edition collection comes in a 5ml bottle, and was available from 04/30 to 05/15
HEXENTANZ – Hazy clouds of bonfire smoke and dark, resinous incense envelops the silhouettes of shape-shifting witches dancing ‘round a blazing fire: black incense, woodsmoke, sumac, turmeric, dried ginger, cassia husk, red cedar berries, 7-year aged patchouli, wood moss, and blood-red vegetal musk.
A scent fumaceous and piquant, fiery groves of birch, cypress, and pine, sizzling wafts of charring campfire, wisps of aromatic herbs and spices spindling in a smoky column toward heaven, and a tin mug of lapsang souchong tea under the pinprick glow and atmospheric glittering of one hundred thousand stars.
THE MAN IN BLACK – The Devil at the Crossroads: well-worn black leather, tobacco absolute, Haitian vetiver, ambrette seed, crushed tonka bean, and a flick of crossroads soil.
Leather and strange, bitter powder, mineralic like a finely ground rock and rain. Sediment from ghostly carvings on exposed bedrock in hollow, liminal spaces where cave meets coastline, land meets water. The descent into a dream, the dust in the footprints you followed in the hopes to meet yourself and give yourself what you needed most. The sweetness at the end of a cosmic journey, musky and sweet, cognac and mallow, deep, satisfied swallows of this honeyed brew.
OSCULUM INFAME – A scent of seduction, transgression, and danger: crystalized sap, candied red fruits, raw wildflower honey, black amber, and sweet red labdanum.
Ah, yes. The legendary salacious kiss bestowed upon the devil’s bunghole. A supposed diabolic perversion of the church’s Kiss of Peace. Classic Witchsploitation. All jokes about the devil’s butthole aside, Osculum Infame is a very intimate scent. Delicate, though. I wouldn’t go as far as to say primal. The notes of raw honey and black amber are soft and languid, but most assuredly at the forefront, heightening and preserving the sweetness of everything in their wake. The sap more crystalline, the candied fruits more sugared, the resinous musk of the labdanum somehow fruitier. The scent of paying tribute to Satan’s fundament smells pretty amazing, actually.
THE QUEEN OF MAY – An electric howl of dazzling spring blossoms; a rabid cacophony of bright, alluring, dew-splattered wildflowers streaked with lightning-white vegetal musk. An oil of youth, beauty, treachery, and liberation.
I wore The Queen of May on my birthday, and it is without question a scent of the riotous pageantry of blooms flourishing madly, an exuberant brightness of petals every shade of the spectrum, primrose and poppy, cornflower and calendula, lilac and lily are a few that I envision but it could be all or none of them! Florals delicate, milky, and sweet as well as earthy, green, and bitter, they could have hallucinogenic or aphrodisiac qualities, or they could have a soporific effect, and induce the most beautiful dreams of flower-crowned celebrations and dizzying May pole dances. Beneath these flower’s roots, as the fragrance unfolds on the skin, is a heart note echoing with the whispers of dried bouquets and a phantom whiff of marshmallow musk.
I’ve mentioned before my propensity to create little challenges for myself; blogging every day for 30 days, trying out a new soup recipe once every month, etc, etc. Well, one of the other things I am doing is a perfume review a day, every day for a year, over on TikTok. Ok, sure, I cheated a little at first. I made recordings of perfumes I’ve already reviewed, maybe with a little revamping or a tweak here or there, but for the most part, I’d already formulated my thoughts. I did that to ease myself into the habit, and I don’t feel like I broke my my loosey-goosey rules too much, because, hey, that tactic worked. I just posted my 77th-in-a-row perfume review TikTok, so I think I’m doing pretty well. I started doing this because I wanted to get back into the regular practice of composing some thoughts about the perfumes I own, and also…I also wanted to actually wear them. This was a great excuse to start doing that!
Anyway, for those of you who hate TikTok, or who don’t want to watch a video compilation on YouTube, I have shared 40 days’ worth of perfume reviews (almost 6K words!) below. Some of these may sound familiar, as I definitely revisited a few fragrances along the way, but I think most of the scents in this gathering are either thoughts I’ve never shared before, or wholly new reviews.
What about you stinkers? Have you tried anything new lately, fragrance-wise, that you’ve fallen in love with?
Heresy Chapel Factory
I am still getting to know Heresy from Chapel Factory but I believe it is fast becoming one of my Holy Grail scents. It is the sharp green metallic floral of violet leaf, mingled with cool aromatic cedar, lofty sandalwood, and the smoked leather notes of vetiver; elements which alchemize into the austere elegance and kindred glooms of a dry, peppery violet incense. If you like the dark ambiance and nocturnal aesthetic of dungeon synth coupled with spectral visionary Simon Marsden’s black and white photographs of haunted ruins and moonlit abbeys, this is a transportive scent that will spirit you away to those eerie, ominous realms.
Prada (Amber) Prada
Prada Amber is a scent that reminds me of Dior Addict, and not because they really smell similar, but they’re both woodsy, sweet, resinous Orientals that take up a lot of space. They are voluminous, they envelop you in a wondrously dreamy cloud of fragrance …but it’s also a rippling billow of scent that can be sniffed several rooms away on the other side of the house, or on the other side of the globe, or maybe even on the moon. And I think you need to be okay with that to love these perfumes And side note…why haven’t we come up with a better way to describe this category of perfume. I am reviewing this scent in 2021, and calling it an “Oriental” fragrance seems deeply problematic, doesn’t it? At any rate, Prada Amber is a beautiful honeyed, balsamic amber and velvety patchouli with a discordant herbal bitterness, perhaps from tarragon or bergamot, that adds interest and intrigue and keeps it just this side of cloying, while maintaining that overblown potent headiness.
Fancy Jessica Simpson
When I was young, my mother didn’t drive, so my grandmother tootled us around with her on errands and took us where ever we needed to go. Her purse was a bottomless supply of Dum Dum lollipops and if we were well-behaved, we got one as a treat. This was a massive thrill when I was 4, but some arbitrary switch flipped when I was 5 and suddenly I found them utterly vile. No thanks, grandma! Imagine shaking sticky shards of fruit punch, cherry, and butterscotch flavored candies out of your best Belk’s church purse, and… that’s basically Fancy. It is Dum Dum dust. Interpret that however you like. You might say, well, oh, Sarah, it’s not made for you. Ok, I get that. But tell me… who is it made for? And do they keep their toy lipsticks on a hot pink plastic vanity and cook with an EZ bake oven?
Nirvana Black Elizabeth and James
I received so many samples of Nirvana Black in my Sephora orders in 2014 but I never took the time to try it. I was convinced it wasn’t going to be very good. I have since procured a mini-bottle, which isn’t too much of an investment in case I hate it. For the record, I do hate the clunky, ugly bottle, whatever size it is. This begins as Vanilla Fields from Coty, which I recall from my 20s as a fairly cheap, but unexpectedly lovely, dusty, musky vanilla sandalwood. If I wait a minute or two, it then becomes a simple combination of warm whiskey and deep woods. I’m not sure what/which woods, though? Maybe a wooden box, where you stored the whiskey? This isn’t a complex scent, but then again, I believe there are only 3 notes listed and sometimes more doesn’t always mean better. It’s nice enough, but don’t love Nirvana Black and it doesn’t feel like me, but I think it would be devastating on my doppelganger.
Sea Island Cotton Bath and Body Works
This spray from Bath and Body Works is an old friend and my ultimate comfort scent. It’s what I used for years before I began scenting myself with what I guess we tend to think of as “proper perfume.” I think this was originally called Clean Cotton Blosson, and when I went to repurchase it was Sea Island Cotton but now I think it’s just plain old Cotton Blossom. And it is a fairly plain and simple scent. It’s essentially dryer sheets composed of white musk, soapy florals, and a hint of linens drying on the line on a crisp, green, spring day somewhere near a seaside cliff. It’s what you might consider a fresh, powdery aquatic scent, and those are typically my least favorite fragrances, but this one is somehow special, it’s a dreamy treat, wrapped up in nostalgia and hope, and it never fails to soothe my soul.
Cathedral (Holiday no.3) DSH Perfumes
With notes of nocturnal resins, smoldering incense, and cool, creeping midnight moss, Cathedral from DSH perfumes conjures visions of a lone lantern lit in a solitary tower window away from which runs a stumbling figure in a long, trailing nightdress. What is this poor, doomed creature running from, barefoot across these misty moors on a moonless night? Ghosts, phantoms, and strange sinister spirits? A brooding, turbulent love affair fraught with bitter betrayals? Fearful family curses and dreams, illusions, obsessions, murders. I mean…what isn’t she running from, right? It’s not this perfume. With a resigned sigh, she turns and trudges back. Whatever else is going on in that wicked castle, she can’t leave behind this haunting and quite possibly haunted fragrance. It’s a Choose Your Own Gothic Romance in a bottle.
I purchased Hwyl on a whim solely because someone included in a listicle of fragrances that smell like camping, noting that this one, in particular, smells like how they imagine Totoro’s home might be scented. Did I want to smell like the woodland abode of an acorn-eating supernatural Japanese forest folk creature? Need you ask? Initially, I think due to the cypress and woody notes that they have in common, I thought Hwyl smelled very similar to Comme des Garcons Kyoto, and that perhaps I didn’t need both. But where Kyoto is a meditative prayer in a cool forest temple, Hywl is earthier, greener, and warmer. A mushroom-strewn, leaf-littered path leading to that temple, the sun streaming through the forest canopy, the cypress, live oak, and bamboo swaying with an afternoon breeze and rustling with the invisible movements of racoons and foxes, and maybe little forest spirits, too. Is there a Totoro following you? Or does it wait for you patiently at the Temple? Maybe we do need both scents, just to find out.
Ambre Noir Sonoma Scent Studio
Ambre Noir from Sonoma Scent Studio is dense and intense and the darkest amber you could ever hope to meet. Both somber and smoldering, with notes of labdanum, rose, incense, moss, leather, and woods, it is a blackened forest fireside frolic when the veil between worlds is thinnest. See also: the final moments in the film The VVitch. If you like outrageously dark, spellbindingly smoky amber fragrances, I believe you’ll enjoy this one.
Niki de Saint Phalle
Though I’ve had this bottle of Niki de Saint Phalle for years, I’ve been avoiding pinning down my thoughts on this one. I am not sure how much the woman had to do with the creation of the perfume, but Niki de Saint Phalle was a French-American artist and filmmaker renowned for her distinctive sculptures of voluptuous vividly colored, giant, joyously conquering women. The perfume was launched in 1982 but it smells like my imaginings of the early 70s It’s a delicately spicy, mossy green-leafed potion, with notes of wormwood, carnation, leather, peach, and soft aldehydes. It’s complex, yet eerily balanced and I can’t get a handle on any one note. It makes me think of a meandering, plotless arthaus film that you loved for the visuals and the atmosphere and the score, and even though you didn’t understand a thing that was going on, you’re still daydreaming about it decades later.
Myrrh & Tonka Jo Malone London
I love most incarnations of myrrh and this is a really nice one. Its bittersweet, medicinal edge is tempered by the tonka, and tonka’s earthy sweetness is reigned in by the inclusion of the aromatic herbal crispness of lavender. There’s the barest tinge of something smoky and acrid, which calls to mind imagery of blazing, blackened amber, and yet this is a very cool scent, and I don’t get a feeling of warmth from it at all. It makes me think of the sadly discontinued Sonoma Scent Studio Ambre Noir, a fragrance that goes hard with the smoky amber, so maybe this could be a possible, though less extreme, dupe.
Musc Maori 04 Pierre Guillaume Paris
Musc Maori from Pierre Guillaume Paris is another one that I tried a long while ago and wanted to revisit, and it’s just as quietly weird as I remember. It’s got milky vanilla notes of cumaru wood, which I had to look up just now, and Google tells me that basically, it’s where tonka beans come from. It also features appearances by coffee tree blossom and cacao pod. I typically don’t love chocolate scents, but this is like a musky, musty, ghostly packet of Swiss Miss. I say ghostly because it’s a very transparent scent, and the musk alternates eerily between something etherous in spirit and warm, sweet human skin. This is not the finished cup of hot chocolate but rather the grains of cocoa trembling in the tablespoon before being stirred into the boiling milk. It’s an odd but thoroughly charming fragrance.
Intense Cafe Montale
I first sampled Montale’s Cafe Intense years ago when I was initially getting into fragrance and perfumes. I guess I was feeling a little nostalgic for that sample a kind MUA-er sent me way back when! My recollection was that it was meant to be a coffee-forward scent, but…it is not. My partner observed that it smells like a teenage girl who typically wore a lot of candied, sugary scents and who wanted to level up with fancy florals and didn’t quite hit the mark. She tried, I guess, was his conclusion. My thoughts are more specific. This is a cloying fruity-floral that smells exactly like Rose Jam from LUSH, which I bitterly loathe because that smells just like those gaggy sweet Jolly Ranchers hard candies that all the popular kids were always eating in 6th grade. Which in turn makes me think of the MOST popular girl, we’ll call her Mary Lesa H., who broke off and ATE part of my sugar crystal science project that year. I hate science projects and I have never forgiven Mary Lesa H., and this awful perfume can go straight to hell.
Gris Clair from Serge Lutens& Lea from Calypso St. Barth’s (discontinued?)
Gris Clair makes me think of Moira Rose’s observation in a later episode of Schitt’s Creek, where she’s strolling along the path outside their hotel room and remarks to her husband that she “detects a scintilla of lavender” in the air. Gris Clair is several scintillas of astringent lavender, crisp linen, and sharp, smoky resins in a cut-glass crystal bowl. I actually love to layer this with Lea from Calypso St. Barth’s, a pretty, pillowy perfume of vanilla, musk, and almond; it’s not overpowering and as a matter of fact, it’s fairly delicate. Think a simple, unfrosted angel food cake as opposed to a gargantuan many-layered Milkbar confection. Together these fragrances lend depth where nuance is lacking in one and buff out the bitter edges of the other. Think lavender vanilla bean shortbread cookie bath bomb bedtime treat.
Fleur Cachée by Anatol Lebreton
My initial impressions of Fleur Cachée are of celery and shadows and green seeds and spice pods crushed on cool marble, desiccated bouquets more dust than bloom, and the skeletal, crumbling remains of frosted confections covered in cobwebs. This *is* a vanilla scent, you can smell it, but it’s a vanilla that’s not going to be defined by the ice creamy-cakeiness that we typically associate with this note. It’s almost as if it’s dressing itself up to be unpleasant, like it’s trying to convince us that Gillian Anderson is the creepy and clock-stoppingly tragic figure of Miss Havisham– but you can’t fool me, and I am not having it. This is gorgeous. As it wears, a woodsy, oaky note emerges, not quite boozy but the casks were something smooth and delicious was aged. Overall, this is a deeply melancholic and complex vanilla, strange and dry and unlike all of the vanillas you may have known up until this moment.
The Afternoon of a Faun Etat Libre d’Orange
The Afternoon of a Faun feels like the olfactory equivalent of a proper meal after you’ve been subsisting on extremes of cheap, trashy snacks and the avant-garde weirdness of sneaking into a gallery opening to pilfer nibbles from molecular gastronomy art installations. It’s not a rib roast or a tofurkey or any meal in particular, but it’s that thing you dine on, whatever that might be for you, that satisfies your belly and nourishes your body and makes you feel good. I suppose this analogy is my way of admiring how extraordinarily well-balanced this perfume is. Inspired, I believe by both a poem of a faun recounting his horny dreams and the scandalous ballet based on the poem, The Afternoon of a Faun is a mossy-spicy-woody-aromatic-green-floral subscription box of a scent wrapped in a bow of bitter herbs and peppery celery enveloping a heart of immortelle’s smoky tea and burnt sugar note. If you enjoy chypre scents, you can’t go wrong with this one. If you are not sure, or are new to perfume, this is a great one to start with.
Guerlain Mon Guerlain
Everyone seems quite taken with Mon Guerlain, which I’d never tried, so I thought I’d take advantage of a Sephora sale and grab a bottle of the eau de parfum. I gotta be honest. It’s pretty gross. If you need a scent for impressing your peers after pledging yourself to Jesus as a pre-teen holy roller and you were going to hang with all of them at a rager of an overnight church lockin? This would be what you’d reach for. But listen, I’m not knocking smelling good for your lord and savior, but I think even the begotten only son of God has zero tolerance for this cloying fruity-floral bargain bin Koolaid flavor of a scent. Where’s the more interesting aspects of lavender and bergamot that people are wild for? This is just watered down CapriSun that no one even spiked. I’m flummoxed. And now I’m out $80. Dammit.
Eau Triple Sumi Hinoki Buly 1803
I’ve found interpretations of hinoki varies from perfumer to perfumer, ranging from lemony and coniferous, to tarry and peppery. This version is a deeply unpleasant boyscout campfire burning with bandaids and liniment and makes me feel the way I do when I’m dreaming and I walk into a darkened room and flip a light switch for illumination…and then nothing happens. At that point, the dream invariably descends into a nightmare, but I have learned to wake myself up at that moment, my brain boiling, electrified and panic-stricken. As a writer, at times I crave this scent when I need a freaky, feverish jolt of agitation. It’s also great for layering to add a touch of artful anxiety to a scent that’s pretty, but perhaps placid.
Sahara Noir Tom Ford (discontinued?)
Tom Ford’s Sahara Noir is a scent in my cupboard I’ve long been ignoring and I couldn’t tell you why. It’s intensely evocative in an incredibly specific way, so first my nerd review and then a translation for those who don’t have a tolerance for silliness.
Sahara Noir is the blazing binary sunset seen from the still, dry heat of sand dune on the desert planet Tatooine; a midnight canyon campfire crackling with the spicy resin of the Japor tree, the aromatic blossoms of the molo shrub, and acrid ribbons of poonten grass incense while the ground rumbles with the snores and snuffles of a slumbering bantha herd nearby.
Which is to say this is the driest frankincense, lemony woodsy pinon sawdust, a circle of fragrant burning woods, and brittle, smoky papyrus ash.
Whatever your preferred fandom or even if you stick solely to reality, Sahara Noir is utterly divine.
Daim Blond Serge Lutens
I’m revisiting Serge Lutens’ Daim Blond, a scent I thought I didn’t care for. It’s objectively “nice”, but it just doesn’t resonate with me. I smell the things that people love about it: the elusive whiff of soft suede from the inner pocket of an expensive handbag, the cool floral iris, the bowl of apricots basking in a beam of afternoon sunlight. But those things, they’re over there. And I am here. And we don’t connect. It’s the career woman who got married, had kids, holds an executive position somewhere, and does hot yoga and spin class. So very not me. It makes me think of that photo of Maureen Prescott that you see in the first Scream movie. She looks like a put-together lady. But you later find out she had a past, and it was complicated and fraught, and the catalyst for the entire franchise. Today when I smelled a previously undetected bit of pensive cedar, and wistful violet it made me think about Maureen’s pain and trauma and tragedy, and I recognized how layered we all are, and how no one’s life is ever quite how we imagine it from the outside. That’s something to sit with, and so too, I suppose, is Daim Blond.
Unknown Pleasures Kerosene
I need to be in a specific, special mood to reach for this one. Which is to say deep in the throes of a massive sugar craving. For context, the official description of Kerosene’s Unknown Pleasures mentions a picturesque vision of walking down a cold street in Manchester, listening to Joy Division, sipping on a warm cup of London Fog. And then a whole bunch of stuff about cozy vanilla and zingy lemon.” Ok, so this is less some idyllic goth afternoon tea stroll in the UK, and more a trendy bar in Austin’s house special creme brulee pina colada topped with those lightly spiced airplane shortbread cookies that are tastier than they have any right to be. This is like coconut, pineapple, and toasted vanilla custard Mcflurry with an add-in of Biscoff cookies. And by the way, I am not picking on Austin. I traveled there once, and forgot to pack perfume -the horror!- and I bought this bottle of Unknown Pleasures from a lovely little boutique there. It’s an almost horrifyingly bonkers dessert perfume and I gotta say, I love it.
Ginger Essence Origins
Origins Ginger Essence is like waking up on the first day of summer vacation and launching yourself out of bed with a whoop and a holler into the magnificence of a beautiful cloudless day, a sky so blue you feel you’re staring eternity in the eye, and eternity is having a pretty great day, too. The first day of knowing you’ve got two and a half months ahead of you where you have obligations and no one is making any demands of your time. As adults, we probably haven’t experienced that complete and utter and glorious freedom in a long time, and this bright, effervescent, zingy scent of spicy fresh-chopped ginger, and aromatic tangy citrus peels (and a nearby saucepan of simple syrup, just outside our peripheral vision) is as close as we might get to those storybook early summer holiday feels. See also all the lyrics from The Decemberists song June Hymn. “A panoply of song” is exactly how I’d describe this fragrance.
Tuberose & Moss Rogue Perfumery
Rogue Perfumerie’s Tuberose & Moss is a recommendation I received from writer and journalist Rachel Syme over on Twitter. I asked for a scent that smelled like Tasha Tudor’s goth great-grandaughter, and she recommended to me Tuberose & Moss. This is a stunning scent and if I’m honest, I’m annoyed at myself that she knew of it before I did. It’s plush white florals and earthy leathery dreamy oakmoss and woody, close to the skin musk; it’s classic perfumery with a wink. While there’s definitely that sense of powdery, vintage glamour, it’s lensed through a cracked-looking glass, there’s something shimmering and strange about it too. It’s the faded photo of Siouxsie Sioux reading Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit that never existed in this world, but I’m certain it does in some other reality.
Geisha Noire from Aroma M
Geisha Noire from Aroma M is a scent I first encountered via Makeup Alley, in 2004 when I was beginning my fragrance journey and spent a lot of time on the site’s forums. It was a thrilling experience swapping scent samples with strangers, but the kind of strangers with whom you were slowly making kindred connections and forming, in some instances, marvelous friendships that last many years. I have hoarded my tiny vial ever since that time and finally bought a full bottle last week. Geisha Noire is an intense, golden amber and smoky somber tonka that’s rich and hypnotic but before it veers too far into gourmand territory, you encounter an unexpected edge of leather and salt that keeps interesting and not so easily categorized.
Magie Noire Lancome
Imagine the various components of Bánh mì snack. Savory roasted pork belly, peppery chiles, pickled daikon, aromatic cilantro, right down to the yeasty tang of a crusty baguette. Sometimes one is just in the mood for a glamour sandwich, and this one is certainly complex and delicious.
Sinner Kat Von D
I’m quite certain that the nose composed this sentence no actual concept of sin either in theory or practice. This is a creamy white floral grounded with a light woody musk and it’s one of those pleasantly inoffensive scent that one might spritz when they don’t want to spend a lot of time thinking about their perfume. If your idea of sin is wearing white after Labor Day or not properly sorting your recyclables, this may hit right for you. If the imp of the perverse lives permanently on your shoulder, you may think this is laughable but you keep it in your cabinet because you love the cheesy gothic melodrama of the bottle
Spice Must Flow Etat Libre d’Orange
ELdO’s Spice Must Flow is less of Frank Herbert’s space spice and more a hybrid of late-90’s English pop group members Posh Spice and Ginger Spice. It’s a lone, lush, rose, cool and fragrant, and mysteriously blooming in the dry, hot sands where only the prickliest, most pungent, and peppery spices survive. I don’t think there’s any citrus listed in the notes but there’s a mild, sour zing when you first spritz that gives the impression of brightness, and a beautiful cardamom incense note at the dry down that lends a shadowy balance. I would actually call this a rose for people who think they don’t like roses rather than a gateway to Arrakis for denizens of Spice World. Wait…what were we talking about?
Me Myself & I Egofacto
Me Myself & I by Egofacto is scent marketed as a bewitching and disturbing floral with voluptuous tuberose, mysterious hemlock flower, and smoky and vetiver. At the time I first learned of it I thought, wow, OK YES PLEASE take my money. A few years later I still consider it an exceedingly sound investment. It smells overwhelmingly to me of an unlit package of cigarettes in an impossibly expensive leather handbag, and I love that smell. I should know better. My mother smoked all her life, and she died of cancer in 2013. Me, I’m a nerd and have never smoked the slightest bit of anything, but I’ve still got this romanticized notion of sitting in a Parisian cafe, drinking espresso, smoking French cigarettes, scribbling poetry, and looking very cool. You can’t convince me otherwise. It’s a fragrance that conjures a somber, moody atmosphere that hearkens back to its very name in that you’ll want to be alone with it, and I promise you’ll both be in exemplary company.
I’ve only tried a few Commodity fragrances and own even less. The issues I have with Moss, the one I actually have, are emblematic of most of the others I’ve sampled as well. They’re crisp in the sense that mostly what you get is the acrid, antiseptic zest of rubbing alcohol, and they’re generically cologne-y, in a plastic-y green, waxy citrus way that reminds me of every mediocre dude who talks over you in a department meeting and takes credit for your ideas, every tedious bore at a party who suggests that you’re misinformed and that you should read the work of a certain subject matter expert –and news flash ya ding dong, I’m the one who wrote the work you’re referencing– and lastly, every creeper who crawls out from his cave to follow you down the street shouting HEY GIRL NICE TATS and then calls you an ugly whore when you politely request that he leave you alone. Pretty sure all of these assholes are Commodity’s focus groups.
Vanille Noire du Mexique La Maison de la Vanille
La Maison de la Vanille is vanilla of dark, moody florals and balsamic resins that that for a few seconds smells like the platonic ideal of a hot chocolate served in your favorite childhood mug, but there’s something a bit off-kilter about it, too. You’re enjoying your steaming portion of nostalgia in a claustrophobic room with creeping yellow wallpaper, with a friend who has a mysterious green ribbon tied around her throat. She evades your questions about her enigmatic neckwear and asks how are you enjoying your bouquet; you glance down and your hot cocoa is pale orchid, an Aeranthes Grandalena, its blossoms exuding notes of jasmine, caramel, butterscotch.
Philoskyos from Diptyque is a scent I don’t wear very often because I am not quite sure what to make of it…and I don’t know how to pronounce it, either. It is meant to be a perfumed ode to the fig tree in its entirety, the wood, the leaves and the fruit, but to be transparent here, I have never eaten a fresh fig, and even worse I sometimes get confused about dried figs and dried dates, so I’m already at a loss. What I do experience from this scent is the milky sap from a broken twig and the fragrance of spring greenery, damp from a morning rain. Despite that, it still comes off as dry, and I would expect it to also be fresh and light, but somehow it’s strangely musty. I wear this on days when I know I’ve got a lot to think about, to remind myself that it’s okay to not know everything, and maybe never reach a conclusion.
Hermessence Ambre Narguile Hermès
Ambre Narguilé from the Hermes Hermessence line gets a lot of apple pie references from reviewers, but I don’t get that myself. A spiced compote, perhaps. Dried fruits–raisins and plums, stewed in honey and rum and cinnamon, and left on the stove very nearly too long. It’s been cooked down to a syrupy essence of its former self, and if you hadn’t pulled it from the flame, the caramelized sugars might have started to smoke and burn. I don’t love sweet fragrances, but come October I crave this one; it calls to mind a reading firelight a book you’ve experienced a million times (like the Secret History by Donna Tartt which I only just read but I loved it so much I’m ready to go at it again) while wearing a cozy oversized cardigan with thick cables and toggle buttons and that you probably inherited from your grandpa. Not to be confused with that awful cardigan in Taylor Swift’s video. ugh, Don’t get me started on that. That’s another conversation for another midnight.
Sycomore Eau de Parfum Chanel
Sycomore is a fragrant chorus of cool autumn foliage, rich, mossy soil; soft smoke, and damp greenery. All the best smells of a forest ramble in late October with the promise of winter heard in the whispering flutter of a straggling sparrow migration. But! The hiker on this path is garbed in expensive elegance, a leather Prada bag, a silk Hermès scarf, that iconic Burberry checked coat. This is the scent of a woodland elf turned posh socialite; Galadriel who quit the forest, and is now living in a penthouse on the Upper East Side.
Milk Musk Eau de Toilette Molton Brown
Milk Musk is exactly what it says it is, an uncomplicated creamy, milky musk. It’s soft but not so faint it fades into nothing and the vanilla and resins give it a subtle richness, but it’s never cloying or powdery. When I was a little girl, I read stories about frightened children who were given warm milk before bedtime. I was always disappointed with the repulsive reality of the stuff, but this lovely scent recalls the nostalgic hope for the dreamy deliciousness of that sleepy, cozy treat.
What We Do In Paris Is Secret A Lab on Fire
This brand has taken the best of the worst and made a hilariously repulsive escape of a scent. By which I mean it combines elements from three perfumes I either hate with an all-consuming fire or which I simultaneously love and loathe, and has created a tanned, toned, trendy skin that I’d feel compelled to slip into in order to feel like someone wholly not myself. Imagine a KvD Saint plus Thierry Mugler’s Angel plus V+R’s Flowerbomb cocktail worn by someone who has never experienced crippling anxiety, who has never been called fat by her own mother, who never locked herself in the bathroom at a party and cried because they felt so ugly and unlovable. Bright, honied heliotrope, candied litchee, and powdery vanilla marzipan make for a scent that I am pretty sure is what every Influencer with over 100mm followers on social media smells like. But you know, the classy ones, not the Trisha Paytas ones. Or actually maybe this is exactly Trisha Paytas. I don’t know anything anymore, this scent has killed 100% of my brain cells.
10 Corso Como
10 Corso Como is a perfume of dry, lofty sandalwood, smoky desert resins, and delicate, diaphanous off-kilter, otherworldly florals. This is a scent that calls to mind a mysterious, aromatic wooden chest, unearthed by a sudden sandstorm. It houses a little spirit angel that’s been trapped there for a thousand years and rather than granting you wishes once you’ve unlatched the fiddly hinge, it squints against the sun and asks, irritably, “do you mind?” At once sensual and spiritual and strangely, a little stern, it’s somehow heady and sheer, giddy and grounded–it’s both the shining halo and its shimmering shadow–and it’s one of my all-time top ten favorite scents.
Confessions of a Garden Gnome Forte & Manle
I don’t believe this earnest little gnome’s secret to be particularly incendiary but it does present some specific imagery. Shirking garden tasks to sneak into a woodland affair he’s heard rumors about, and, expecting an opulent ball, he washes behind his loamy soil-caked ears and spritzes on his little limbs a soft herbal cologne with notes of violet leaf and strange citrus. What he finds upon arrival is a fairy ring rave; intoxicated pixies and sprites flirting and frolicking across pepper moss, under disco balls reflecting the birch and cedar trees… and the guilty face of the gnome who doesn’t know how to dance.
Death and Decay LUSH (discontinued?)
Death and Decay is a mass of white lilies, an elaborate wreath, a store-bought bouquet, funeral arrangement or perhaps all of these incarnations of this melancholic meditative floral. These blooms are at the height of their beauty; their alabaster form and curve full and flourishing, just on the cusp of decay. This is a narcotic white floral fragrance heavy with every aspect it evokes– from the sweet waxy petals, to the subtle spice of pollen, to the pearlescent plastic wrapped around the stems.
Sortilège Le Galion
I initially saw this fragrance referenced in a strange story, in a weird collection of stories by Amparo Davila and as I hadn’t heard of this scent I was dying to know whether it exists–and it does. Sortilège means “spell.” and it does very much conjure enchantments across time and space. This is a scent originally created in 1937, so what I have, is, of course, a reformulation. I purchased directly from the Le Galion website, which reads “…the iconic fragrance of the house Le Galion and signature perfume of the famous Stork Jazz Club in New York.” It’s ethereal aldehydes, delicate velvety florals, and a subtle woody balsamic chypre base. It is a gentle but profoundly evocative scent that awakens phantom dreams and memories of past life loves and loss.
Kiehls Original Musk
There’s polite musk, there’s funky musk and there’s Kiehl’s Musk, a perfect balance of the warm and the clean and the bittersweet and the skanky. The original formulation may have been heavier on the skankiness, and that’s what I recall from the sample I tried ages ago. This bottle of Kiehl’s Musk is still exactly what I imagine 1974 to smell like–astrology enthusiasts and their extravagantly embroidered captains attending eternal Tupperware parties.
Rose 31 Le Labo
If you’ve seen my review of Perfumers Workshop Tea Rose and sussed out that I am not, in fact, rose’s number one fan– you would be correct. Rose 31 is more earthy-rose adjacent than rose-forward. It has got a peculiar sweaty cumin armpit opening but after that disappears it’s a rose blurred from the edges completely inward by woodsy aromatic mosses and sweetly musky resins. My boyfriend tells me it smells like his childhood Mossman Masters of the Universe toy, and I smile thinking about those fuzzy green muscles, every time I spray this subtle elegant scent.
Oud Wood Tom Ford
Tom Ford is a ghostly, glacial coniferous rosewood sandalwood melange of chilly, bitter, peppery woods. It is a tiny, sinister statue of a scent in an empty room where the temperature drops suddenly, with no explanation. The perfumed version of a little gremlin that appears in a haunting tale; one that skitters in the corners of your vision when the eye is focused elsewhere and inches eerily to your pillow when you’re at the knife’s edge of wakefulness and dream.