There was a moment there during which I thought, in our recent move, that I had lost the bottles from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s Lupercalia collection that I’d received back at the beginning of March. I had not! They were in a box with our espresso machine manual and some tv remotes. Sure, that makes perfect sense.

See below for my reviews of these fragrant expressions of lust and aromatic interpretations of the wisdom that come with winters. And chocolate!

The Houses At The Back – Frosty Morning (a haze of misted ambers, orris root, and dappled lilac) I am a sucker for landscape art–especially that of the eerie, melancholic variety– and in this scent I really do smell the dull light of the wintry morning as the sun rises above the trees, the frost-topped roof and the backlit branches and chimneys, where you could almost see the marshes if not for the houses in between. A cool, subtle scent of iris and sweet violet, both sweetly airy and damp at once, velvety and diaphonous.

Cameo Chaperone (tulips scattered over silvery musk, ambrette seed, black orchid, and red benzoin) I don’t think you could possibly trust any chaperone more than this paragon of virtue. She’s all gorgeous madonna lilies, soft white musk, and delicate clouds of chantilly cream, and you almost want to give her a chaperone herself because she’s maybe too pure for this world.

Honeyed Mushroom and Incense is the ripe reek of sweet, earthy fungi, which when reducing in a pan, nearly have a simmering mycelial incense of their own that reminds me of the musty jasmine and the warm balsamic woodsiness of nag champa. The honey accord reveals itself as summery, honeysuckle bright and grassy but becomes richer and stickier and more full-bodied with time, all autumnal burnt sugar musk and pungent dried fruits. This is a fragrance that immediately makes me think of the sweet woodland adventurers rendered in watercolors by contemporary artist Lily Seika Jones.

Sweet Hypsithilla (pulsating red musk, thick golden honey, a slap of leather, filthy patchouli, pious frankincense, frothy ambergris, sweet vanilla, gritty cacao, and fiery red tobacco) A roasty, earthy, unsweetened cocoa shadow enveloping amber honeycomb and dried plum-studded fruitcake.

Under The Silvery Moonbeams (rain-spattered, shimmering soft green mosses, mints, matcha, jasmine, cardamom, chestnut, pine needle, and sweet labdanum). This is a beautiful lemon made deeply, profoundly more lemony by the addition of gentle mints and loamy, leathery labdanum. It seems like I’ve been sampling a lot of minty-scents lately, and if I haven’t mentioned it before, mint is one of those notes that ruins all fragrances for me. I wrote this elsewhere, but I will share it here as well: It’s a sort of false freshness that I paradoxically associate with really gross smells as well as the attitudes of people who pretend they never get crusty or farty and think their shit, as they say, don’t stink. Listen, all shit stinks, it’s okay, it’s supposed to. While I wouldn’t call Under the Silvery Moonbeams “mint-forward,” you can definitely tell it’s in there and for me, at least, it’s one of the rare instances of mint done right. It’s refreshing in a mental or emotional way, as opposed to a surface level, “gotta chomp on my gum if I don’t want to smell like the ham sandwich I just ate for lunch” way. It’s the “escape into the cool, wintry midnight and linger alone under a street lamp and breathe in the frosty starlight after being suffocated by small talk and excruciating awkwardness at the new year’s eve party that you didn’t even want to go to in the first place” kind of refreshing. That’s the stuff. That’s a breath of fresh air for your soul and that’s exactly what this fragrance conjures.

Stainless Steel Dildo (gleaming polished steel and a buzzy floral aldehyde) This is a complex floral composition of dazzling brightness, woodsiness, and animalic waxiness, alongside a luxurious triad of  something like rose, jasmine, and lily of the valley floral. It feels “retro” and “perfumey” in all the best ways, and despite its space-age Hajime Sorayama porny implications (nothing wrong with that!) it’s actually a softly classy scent.

Olisbokollike (a shockingly stiff and lightly oiled symmikto proto-baguette with a dribble of sweet cream) hardened breadsticks generously seeded and salted, made with a base of ancient pounded grains, lubed up with sweet, soft unsalted butter and crowned with lightly sweetened, freshly whipped cream baked by and shaped by the perviest of Athenian artisans.

White Chocolate, Strawberry Pulp, and Calvados Strawberry milkshake vibes! Or maybe strawberry Nesquick? A chilled, foamy frappé of vine-ripened strawberries and zingy rhubarb nectar, blended with fresh milk, sugar, and cream.

White Chocolate, Pink Carnation, Coconut Cream, and Clove A white chocolate scone with sugar-crisped edges and a drizzle of coconut cream glaze. There’s a bit of spice that comes across as gooey cinnamon chips studded throughout the mild vanilla-floral scented crumb. If these aren’t served at the next high tea that I am invited to, I shall be most put out! Also, please host that specific tea party and add me to your high-priority invite list.

The Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab 2022 Lupercalia collection is currently live and available for purchase. As this is a limited edition series, sample sizes imps are not available

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So, about this wonderfully atmospheric image. This is a painting that I desperately wanted for the cover of The Art of Darkness when I first started plotting and planning for the book. The artist is Ludwik de Laveaux and it is a work from 1890 is called “Przestrach” or “Fear”. I have seen some blogs refer to it as Lady Macbeth. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough information on the work to merit it a viable inclusion in any manner, let alone to feature on the cover, and also, not being a book designer, what do I know about what works in terms of cover art? Oh well. I hear that authors should share things that for whatever reason, didn’t end up in their book, and this is one of those things. I’m sharing!

I’m trying not to overwhelm everyone with a massive flood of barely-restrained-bordering-on-maniacal enthusiasm for The Art of Darkness, but you guys. This is the book I have always wanted to write (except for a book about perfume and jewelry and flowers! just putting it out there!) Ever since I learned as a child that we all at some point experience unpleasant feelings or behaviors or conditions, whether that be fright or fury, melancholy or misery, sadness or sickness, I have been fascinated by how we describe and communicate these things, these darker aspects of the human condition–especially as it relates to language and visuals, and in particular the way these things are depicted in art.

We all experience darkness. We can’t avoid it, and I don’t think we should. If we’re eternally trying to live the light where it’s always bright and happy, where we ignore or evade our distressing, uncomfortable feelings, then we are starved of shadows, of nuance, and risk an existence robbed of the richness of contrast. When we only validate our positive feelings, we vastly restrict our tools for looking at the world. We are neither dealing with reality as it is nor adequately readying ourselves for the random pains and struggles that life has in store for us. We deny our inner darkness at our own peril. Because tragedies and calamities are inevitable and darkness will descend at some point in your life, no matter what sort of mindset you have. Despite what you may have heard, good things don’t only happen to good people, and bad things don’t only happen to bad people, and whatever it is, your positive or negative thoughts did not make it happen. Shit happens. Pain is pain, feelings are feelings. And as humans, for our emotional health, it is important that we experience and embody the full spectrum of feelings and emotions.

Uh…so, what was my point? If you’re into any of that, preorder my forthcoming book, The Art of Darkness, I guess!

 

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27 Mar
2022

The Toilet of a Roman Lady, Juan Jiménez Martín

Well, my move has been pushed back a week, so I am peeking into the blog here to share some of the scents I have smelled over the past month. After I am moved in, let’s say maybe the second or third week of April, I will check back in with a house tour and some Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab reviews!

DS & Durga’s Bowmakers is lovely and weird and I want to bathe in it. Bowmakers is all cool, peculiar woods, maybe cypress and cedar, a fleeting leatheriness, and what feels to me like the synthetic woody cozy ambery muskiness of ISO E super. This is how I imagine the scent of a Scandinavian minimalist YouTube lifestyle vlogger’s cozy 400 square foot apartment in wintertime. Specifically chosen sandalwood candles in amber apothecary jars, a very aesthetically pleasing and strategically placed tube sweet almond and musk hand cream, hundred-year-old but well-cared aromatic hard-wood floors. A tiny capsule wardrobe displayed prominently on a coat rack, where a thrifted leather jacket in excellent condition hangs for guests to admire, the fragrance of which mingles with a chilled early morning breeze gusting from the open windows while they’re airing out their bedroom as part of their 5 AM morning routine that they are currently filming for their subscribers.

Vanille Cannelle from E. Coudray is as if the labdanum and bergamot aspects of a classic chypre met up with the balsamic, resinous warmth of a vintage amber-y perfume like Opium. Swoony old-world allure and romance! I believe this is super discontinued.

I would love to see the movie that inspired Dolls from Moth and Rabbit but I am having a hard time getting my hands on it, so I can’t say whether or not this fragrance in any way conjures the essence or spirit of the film, its characters, or its story. Dolls is vaguely sweet, in a stovetop simple syrup made with water and white sugar kind of way, somewhat powdery in a dusty violet candy way, and gently floral, as in the floral notes that come in the form of blossoms from a flowering tree sort of way. Combine the delicacy and fleeting characteristics of these mild, mellow elements with ylang ylang’s rubbery musk and you do get a bit of a plastic doll head scent. Although I don’t know if the avant-garde film inspiration even had any dolls in it, so I could be reaching there.

I will tell you that I was wearing this scent while reading Catriona Ward’s new book Sundial and Dolls makes me think of one of the books main characters, Rob, a suburban housewife who is just trying to make a normal life for her two daughters. Rob senses with growing horror a chilling and evolving darkness and in her eldest daughter, Callie. Desperate for a solution for this child with whom she struggles to connect and doesn’t actually even like very much, Rob journeys with Callie to her childhood home, Sundial, in the middle of the Mojave desert. Shocking secrets are revealed gradually, nothing here is as it seems or as you expect, and once you think you’ve got the story straight, your expectations are subverted and turned upside down and inside out. This is an intensely brilliant, brutal, breathless tale that kept me guessing right up until the end. So this ended up more of a book review than a perfume review but Dolls is a scent of someone going to drastic measures while maintaining a facade of normalcy, and you can almost smell how heartless they are going to need to be in the realization that this scent is all window dressing with no heart or soul inside.

Do you want to smell like a queer feminist dark academia anime fairy tale with dangerous duels, creepy cryptic Greek chorus shadowpuppets, trippy plot details, gorgeous imagery and bombastic symbolism? With notes of lush rambling rose, zesty, herbaceous lemon verbena, and luminous white tea leaves, Alkemia Perfume’s The Lover Tells of the Rose will scratch this highly specific itch for you. Which is to say: the weirdos who get it, get it. And those who don’t, don’t.

Undergrowth from Rook Perfumes. Imagine the acrid smoke and smolder of a peaty whiskey and the antiseptic minty chlorinated burn of an off-brand mouthwash. Now stir it up with a half-melted lime freezy pop. Gosh. This is bafflingly terrible.

Comme des Garçons Monocle Hinoki is mildly terpenic, peppery cypress, stiff black waxy leather, and that creepy sterile electrical spark ozone scent that you smell on the jet bridge gangway when you’re waiting in line to board an airplane. It’s a deeply anxiety-inducing scent, conjuring imaginary but highly plausible scenarios wherein I have a connecting flight in Atlanta and that I have only 13 minutes to make it to the gate and the gate is all the way at the other end of the terminal. I don’t need this stress in my life!

The Toilet of a Roman Lady, Juan Jiménez Martín (detail)

Myth from Ellis Brooklyn is the sort of crisp, dry, cologney-fresh fragrance I typically don’t love because it borders on the standard generic cliche of the guy with the abs and the towel wrapped around his waist in any old perfume ad. Except in this instance…there’s nuance or detail here working in its favor. So imagine instead of the cruelty and foolishness of the Echo and Narcissus myth…let’s say the gods kept their dicks in their pants and didn’t get carried away with petty vendettas, no one was scorned, humiliated, or shamed and these two just got to fall in love and live their lives. Maybe they opened up the blissful sanctuary day spa together. Maybe it features a reflection pool fed by a cool, clear spring, energetically charged by healing crystals, in the middle of a lush garden surrounded by shady woods and teeming with heady, fragrant jasmine and beautiful orchids. Maybe after a session of massage therapy, light healing, and intuitive counseling, they encouraged their clientele to spend a moment gazing at themselves in the still, crystalline waters, muscles loose and relaxed, skin pumiced and oiled, and then boop their own watery image on the nose and say “babe, I love this journey for you.” Myth is an uncomplicated, clean, woody mildly floral musk that just embraces and epitomizes feeling good about yourself.

Bosphorus Pearl from Alghabra Parfums When I envision perfumes inspired by pearls, I expect something opalescent and luminous, maybe something with notes of white musk, rice milk, or coconut. Nope. Not here. Bosphorus Pearl is a pearl envisioned by someone who has never even seen the ocean, let alone a pearl. They saw a child clutching a sticky cherry lollipop in their grubby fingers, and thought, eh, good enough. This is a rosy-fruity abomination and I actually feel insulted by it.

Jovoy Paris’ La Litergie des Heures is meant to evoke burning incense in an old monastery, but with its notes of sour, fermented ketchup and cheesy bitter bile, but it smells less like peaceful prayers at the hermitage and more like a priest being demonically puked on in the frenzied throes of a non-church sanctioned exorcism.

Rue St Honore from Ouai which is giving me some real idyllic springtime wisteria-draped cottagecore Crabtree & Evelyn Gunne Sax tradwife YouTube influencer exploited by their alt-right faschy podcaster husband for their perceived domesticity, femininity and purity vibes. Is this a field of violets and daisies and gingham picnic daydream or an escapist nostalgia-trap weaponized by Neo-Nazis? Maybe I am overthinking it, but there is something about this quaint floral garden fragrance that feels wildly wrong and deeply uncomfortable and makes me desperately itchy to stage an intervention for someone.

Serge Luten’s L’Orpheline is one of those fragrances that it took a really long time to interpret and appreciate. At first sniff, for the longest time, all I really smelled was a ghostly, soapy mist of fleeting, fading florals. I thought this was meant to be frankincense, so confused and underwhelmed, I always sort of checked out and never really paid any further attention to how it unfolded on the several occasions I tried to revisit it. Today, I think I am starting to understand. It is oddly incensey, in a way; if there were an incense of musty, dried bouquets, spectral resins from unearthly realms, and milky, artificial woods, freeze-dried, crumbled, and lit over a cold blue phantom flame. This is a fragrance faintly ominous and disquieting, of silence, and dust, and memories, and melancholia. The scent of a locked room that hasn’t been opened in over a century and witness to secrets best left well alone.

No matter how cavalier your attitude toward mortality, living through the death of a beloved person is to suffer an utter fracture in the underpinnings of your worldview and beliefs, a brutal violation of things thought unbreakable and everlasting. Grappling with grief is a perpetual choking of the throat, a deep immersion into the light-devouring waters of a hundred-year flood. On both my wrists I am finally wearing Sea of Grief, a collaboration between bloodmilk jewels and Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. I think I had subconsciously tucked this small bottle behind a stack of books because maybe it felt like too much to sit with. I lost my mother, my grandmother, and my grandfather in the years between 2014 and 2017, and just when I think I have a handle on my heartache, something small-a memory, a photo, or even a scent, will bring it all back and my heart is broken anew. I often think of that quote from Wanda Vision, “But what is grief, if not love persevering?” Now, I know lots of writers and philosophers have offered some version of this sentiment, it’s not new, whatever. A lot of people heard it for the first time on this show, though, and it offered a great deal of comfort, so just let them have it, okay all of you high-brow writers and poets on writer-twitter? (Sorry, still annoyed by that particular discourse.) Sea of Grief, though. I think it may be those words, bottled, as a balm. It opens bitter, almost too bitter to bear. Like an open wound treated only with the salt of your tears. I think this could possibly be the vetiver and the carrot seed at the opening. But so quickly, more quickly than you could possibly believe, it becomes one of the most incredibly stunning fragrances I have ever encountered. The rich, floral incense of neroli and the musky green candied nuances of angelica along with the complex resinous citrus of bergamot and chamomile’s light, sweet herbaceousness alchemizes the extremes in experience and shifting realities associated with grief into a potent drop or two of aromatic solace. It is a beautiful thing to continue to love someone, even when they aren’t there. Sea of Grief is a gorgeous comfort with which to scent this love you forever carry in your heart.

Ineke’s Field Notes From Paris opens with a sort of bitter orange incense and powdery orange blossom vintage bubble bath vibe, with a rich, ambery tobacco note lurking underneath, and balanced with both earthy, herbal coriander and creamy, honeyed beeswax. It’s a fragrance that tickles the nose in a way that suggests spiciness, but maybe it just skirts the edge, I am not sure. I also wouldn’t quite lump it in with the gourmands. However you might categorize it, it’s nothing at all like what I expected, but it’s certainly got an incredibly unique appeal.

There’s just no other way to put it, Jasmin from Le Galion is quite possibly the sluttiest fragrance I have ever smelled. And I mean that from the bottom of my slutty heavy metal music video-loving heart. Imagine the late Tawny Kitaen swirling around in her lacy lingerie in a Whitesnake video where she’s cartwheeling across David Coverdale’s cadre of Lamborghinis and then sticking her tongue deep into his eardrum as they’re racing down the highway at 120 mph. Boozy champagne kisses, musky sweat-soaked sheets, heady, narcotic nocturnal blooms, and effervescent hairspray aldehydes–Jasmin is the scent of a joyfully depraved midnight rendezvous accompanied by epic guitar solos and censorship advisories.

Black Opium smells like someone squeezed Strawberry Shortcake’s sweet freckled face until the top of her plastic molded head popped off and you smeared the cloying, syrupy ichor that dribbled out all over their body, and then they rolled around in a heap of rotting jasmine that reached the point in their lifespan where the blooms stop smelling beautiful and immediately start to smell like a cracked bucket of pee-stained underwear. Thus adorned in a doll’s blood-jam and sticky toilet flowers, they boldly assure themselves they are sexy as hell and head out to the club. Oh, to have the confidence of a person wearing one of the world’s shittiest perfumes.

Tonight on Midnight Stinks is Maruyama from Parfum Prissana. Fragrant tree bark, bitter green herbs, a sweet, musky loaminess, a dusty oddball spice of some sort, and a botanical balsamic, almost maple-y nuance. If this were a color, I think it would be a hazel eye, or maybe Panetone 3995 C, a sort of cross between olive and smoky topaz. As a Taurus, my blood type is probably the sweet earthiness of Maruyama As well as some combination of briny green olives and lustrous golden brown topaz. If it were an OG cottagecore power couple, it would be beloved friends, Frog and Toad. Although…I might say this scent leans a little more goblincore. Either way, if you’re a country mouse or an earth mama or I don’t know, a secret gnome or whatever, this scent is lovely and you’ll enjoy it.

…and lastly, over on TikTok I slowly lost my shit in a hotel room during a recent business conference and documented the scents I wore while I was there. Wheeeeee!

 

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18 Mar
2022

This here blog may be a little blank and empty over the next few weeks as we pack up and move house. Until then, me and my lil sweeties are wishing you all the goodness and loveliness and weirdness that your hearts can handle. See you soon, friends!

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Hello friends. Here’s some news and updates and current favorite things over on YouTube!

Things mentioned in this video: The Art of Darkness: A Treasury of the Morbid, Melancholic and Macabre

🍄 Wilde Shadows shop
🍄 Sense Forest desk pad
🍄 Oil dispenser bottle
🍄 Tiny ice cube tray 
🍄 Yogurt jar lids
🍄 A24 candles

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Okay, so here’s a dumb thing to admit. While I am OF COURSE aware of the lush, magical gorgeousness of Kinuko Y. Craft’s paintings and illustrations, I thought that her work was the realm of picture books and posters and her own personal projects. Somehow I had no idea that her illustrative enchantments enrobed the covers of some of my favorite books! This is probably not news to many of you, I mean her style is so distinctive–how could I have missed it, right? And yet, somehow I did.

Craft’s paintings have adorned the covers of work by countless authors, including Isabel Allende, Isaac Asimov, Orson Scott Card, Stephen King, C.S. Lewis, Patricia A. McKillip, Tanith Lee, Andre Norton, Isabel Glass, Juliet Marillier, and many more. As a matter of fact, it was this eerie cover art that initially caught my eye, and, in seeking out the artist–and in discovering it was Kinuko Y. Craft–I fell down quite the rabbit hole!

I haven’t yet read Tanith Lee’s omnibus Biting the Sun, but after spending several hours gazing at the exquisite details of this cover, it’s certainly now at the top of my list! And I think I might be moved to get my hands on the different versions of this book that exist…I mean look at this incredible Japanese edition! And this cover of the original book in the series (I think?) Don’t Bite the Sun was created by Brian Froud!

Here’s an excerpt from an interview in Locus Magazine (April 2017) that I really enjoyed reading:

‘‘One of the benefits I get from doing covers is, I get to read. The main thing I like about what I do is that I’m away from reality and the real world where I live, in a make-believe one – a land of someone else’s imagina­tion – as long as the project lasts. I need that to survive.”

Below are a few more of my favorites, and if you are keen to see more, here is a pretty comprehensive database of them!

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Friday, Leonora Carrington. 1978
Celebrate a magical Friday like Leonora Carrington, with the jaunty insouciance of mismatched socks, clandestine piscine arcana, glimmering gold dust divination, and fabulous smoke-ring dreams.

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Outremer’s Vanille is a profoundly vanilla-y vanilla. It’s nearly a straight-up, high-quality, really lovely vanilla extract, with a rich, balsamic, warmth, and some pleasant plastic butteriness. A little lump of vanilla waffle cone incense stored in an empty tub of vanilla frosting. There aren’t any weird twists or turns, it’s a fairly linear scent from to finish. I think this is the first thing I would recommend to a vanilla fiend who doesn’t want any funny business with their vanilla fragrance.

So, Synthetic Jungle: Imagine a rain-soaked stroll, grey streets, grey sidewalks, grey, colorless people. A flash from the corner of your eye, a vibrant raincoat with an unexpected print featuring the lush, layered exuberance and verdant cacophony of the imaginary jungles of artist Henri Rousseau, an artist who had never left France to see real jungles. His inspiration came from Paris’ botanical gardens, zoological galleries, and from geographic illustrations in prints and books. This is dizzying descent of a scent, an aromatic Stendahl Syndrome, conjured by someone who fully knows this jungle sprung forth from the depths of dreams. It is a clashing, chaotic chypre and white floral canvas, aswirl with sharp, woody oakmoss and the crisp springiness of lily of the valley and the intense, acrid greenery of galbanum. Wrapped in a plastic rain slicker and rubber wellies.

Stella from Tocca is a fragrance that I have probably received about a million samples of over the years and which I have been strangely resistant to trying. I was convinced that it was going to be a really boring, conventional sort of scent, though I’m not really sure what I was basing that on. Probably because the majority of these samples came from Sephora, and on the interesting-o-meter, most perfumes from there score pretty low for me. Stella…is not necessarily bland or boring, but I will say it’s not my thing. It’s very pretty, in a starter-scent way. I don’t mean for young people, necessarily, but I don’t not mean them, either. Maybe just for someone who doesn’t yet know what they like. A sparkling fruity-floral with notes of milky peach Calpico and blood orange San Pellegrino and watery freesia that dries down to the scent of what I recall teenage girls spritzing in the bathroom between classes to freshen up, a sort of citrusy-powdery-soapiness. Before it reaches that point though, it’s got this soft, shimmering watercolor quality that reminds me of certain pieces of contemporary fantasy art: flowers and fairies and young maidens and probably a unicorn just outside the canvas, yet to be coaxed forth by an innocent and guileless hand.

Gris Charnel from BDK Parfums is a scent that I find confusing and disappointing. Mostly, I think I am disappointed in myself, for not having read the perfumer’s inspiration for the fragrance. Some dribble about two tourists whose glances cross paths, they dance until dawn and then slip away for an intimate encounter. Yawn. I got bored and checked out several times just now while trying to sum that up. Now if they slid through a portal into an Edward Allan Poe story while they were making out in a dark alley, then I could forgive myself for getting thrillingly suckered in by the copy (and to a lesser extent, the darkly poetic name, which I feel somehow tricked me into thinking it was something that it was not.) It must have been the notes I was excited for then, which mention black tea, fig, and cardamom essence. That sounds really lovely. But I’ve tried this several times and I don’t sense any of that loveliness. Instead, it’s a bit like a low-end tea sampler that includes selections with various unspecified “fruit flavors” but in reality, no matter which one you brew up, all they taste like hot Kool-Aid water. And there’s a weird, acrid smoky element that hovers unpleasantly, like charcoal heated air…so imagine smoking hot Kool-Aid water in your hookah. Even if I pretend an olde-timey goth poet was smoking that hookah, it’s still a bit of a dud.

Chris Rusak’s Beast Mode is a scent that I don’t hear a lot about from the hoi polloi, but I’ve heard enough from niche bloggers that I consider perfumista royalty to pique my interest. Exactly what I heard about it, I couldn’t tell you. I guess the name itself stuck with me. The site describes this fragrance as a “minimalist weirdo. A creature of deception. Perfume nerdery” and while I don’t actually know anything about this perfumer, I will say that this nondescription captured my imagination and which evolved into a little crush. The sort of obsession that you develop on someone you glimpsed on the subway reading a dog-eared copy of a book by your favorite author, in this case, let’s say creepy Japanese manga artist Junji Ito, and then you had a series of unsettling dreams about them, so you wrote an ode to this stranger in the local alternative paper’s missed connections section. And like Japan’s most successful and lauded horror author, Rusak has injected an extraordinarily potent amount of weirdness into this scent. Beginning with a mundane peek into the spice cabinet, you are subjected to a surreal descent into madness featuring fenugreek’s uncanny curried maple syrup-ness, a dry, itchy tingle of salty musk, an enigmatic spike of aniseed, and an oily conflagration of black pepper. I can’t make heads or tails of this scent, and as a matter of fact, I like to imagine it as a many-headed, rattle-tailed beast, much like its very name. It’s truly one of the most eccentric and singular fragrances I have ever sniffed and I stand in admiration of its sublime strangeness.

I have had so many people ask me about Thin Wild Mercury over the past year that I was starting to think I had been living under a rock or something and somehow some long-standing beloved cult favorite had passed me by. I don’t like to be the last to hear about something good! But here I am and here we are. So I understand this is a line of fragrances telling aromatic fables of the iconic spirit of Los Angeles. I know very little of Los Angeles, other than I traveled there once, and during that time I visited an incredibly bizarre and disturbing cat sanctuary in the middle of the desert. I also had a nervous breakdown in an Air BnB. Believe it or not, those two situations were entirely unrelated. So, Chateau, 1970. A bastion of old Hollywood and notorious celebrity hideaway, this olfactory ode to the Chateau Marmont mentions wilting roses, crisp linens, and vintage wood furniture and I do think all of that comes across. It’s an incredibly languid scent, like Lana del Rey in front of her vanity singing in a sleepy, drunken drawl into her mirror about how her moon is in Leo and her Cancer is sun, which if you ask me is a very weird way to phrase that thought. There’s dreamy indolence to this scent, moments frozen in time, captured in a Polaroid picture, dust motes floating forever above a lone rose in a chipped vase just beyond the mirror’s cloudy reflection, never settling on the bloom. A powdery musk of memory of a night that never really ended, a faded photograph that belongs to no one anymore, wrapped in tattered linen and quietly slipped under a shabby fringe of carpet in a shadowed corner of an old bungalow. 

I have some more brief impressions of Thin Wild Mercury’s offerings. And strangely, they’re all food metaphors and comparisons. Classic Taurus vibes, here, always! Whisky, 1969 is a heady combination of woody, musky oakmoss and a smoky sort of umami. Like …spiced loamy lichen wildness and leather and soy sauce that’s also a little nutty and boozy. It’s weird but it works. Laurel Canyon, 1966 with its zesty orange rind and warm, peppery clove and honeyed, almost chewy amber note is on the opposite end of the spectrum, a bit like a spice cake with a thin, sugared citrus glaze. Zuma, 1975 is a salty, grassy, sandy gremolata with bitter citrus and woody herbs served atop some fresh-caught marine delight just outside the sniffing range of this scent. I’m not saying it’s fishy, or seafoody or even …foody, but there’s definitely a sense of an almost palatable salinity

I’ve received so many samples of Andrea Maack’s Coven from Luckyscent over the years and for some reason I can’t recall any of my previous thoughts on it….which I interpret to mean that it never really impressed me as especially good or bad. This time, however, it’s really left an impression. With notes of soil and moss, Coven is meant to embody a shadowy woodland walk, and I think it’s clear the results are pretty divisive. One reviewer notes, and I am paraphrasing here, that it smells like dumpster juice. My own partner thinks it smells like an exploded car battery. I can’t deny that there is a sickly sweet rot at play here, like the dark shadows of Dol Guldur slowly encroaching the Greenwood forest as the feral wizard Radagast the Brown watches in horror while the vegetation blackens and decays before his eyes and many of his beloved animal friends are sick or dying. As it dries, the whiskey becomes apparent, and a strange, sour cumin note emerges to combine with the mossiness and the sense of black mold and mildew and it conjures a sort of hungover Witch-King of Angmar, badly in need of a bath.

Tom Ford’s Ombre Leather is a fragrance I both weirdly like and I don’t like and I can’t make up my mind. The new car leather scent is front and center, like you literally just slid into the seat of some posh, luxury vehicle to take it for a test drive. The smarmy salesperson slithered into the passenger seat next to you and they are wearing that screechy-sweet jasmine scent from Tom Ford that you really despise and at first you want to roll down the windows but you can’t figure out how they work so you just give up. But somehow the syrupy musk of the jasmine alongside the smooth, slightly bright, slightly animalic leather is a striking combination. But the two notes never really meld, they sit separately for the duration of the scent’s journey, and much like that trip twice around the car lot with the stranger that you’re not going to buy the car from anyway, it’s ultimately an awkward ride.

Mizensir’s Celebes Wood is a scent I love, but I think I love it more for someone else. This is a frou-frou boozy woodland party of a fragrance. A dozen rowdy princesses gather in the forest at midnight, all glitter and glamour and flowing hair and dazzling tiaras and ballgown pockets stuffed with cakes and confections and clutching jeweled flasks of sweet, strong liqueurs that cost half a kingdom to procure. There’s gossip and gifts and drinking and dancing and sweet kisses and secrets under the moonlight. And these princesses aren’t sleepwalking or under a spell, they’re alert and more alive than they’ve ever been, women with agency and autonomy and a vision for the future that will shake the very foundations of their world, because it doesn’t involve pleasing parents or marrying princes or making themselves or their dreams small or hiding their hearts’ truest songs. So…yeah. That kind of party. This is a sumptuous ambery scent, opening with a sweet, spiced swirling of almost effervescent sparks, like someone tossed cinnamon and cardamom on a flame, and when the embers die there is a deep, rich heart of tonka bean and resinous labdanum and something a lot like patchouli, but creamier, and less earthy. It’s beautiful and on the right person it could be devastating, but somehow it’s not me.

Dragonfly from Zoologist is a scent that apparently I’ve been sampling for so long I’m left with only fumes. But I’m not sure that I need a full bottle. I don’t own many scents like this…which is not to say it’s incredibly unique, because I’m not sure that’s the case. It’s a sort of gentle, watery floral musk with cherry blossom and peony and sweet, powdery heliotrope. While it’s nice, it’s quite pretty even, I’d definitely put it in the aquatic category… and I don’t love aquatics. Even one as wearable as this. I guess that’s what I mean when I say that I don’t have many like it. I’m sure there are lots of things that smell similar, I just couldn’t tell you what they are because I don’t wear or typically even sample them! I’ve read that dragonflies thrive in fresh, clean water and I think there is something of that purity that comes across in this scent. Purity is such a fraught term and so I hesitate to even use it, but that is the first word that comes to mind, and honestly, now that I have said that, you know who I can imagine wearing this scent? The brave and ridiculously sweet Laura Lee from Yellowjackets. This scent is perfect for this character. [Note in including the link just now, I realize that they have reformulated the fragrance. This review is for the original formulation.]

Maya from Tocca is a scent that I bought on a whim a few months ago when I was grabbing a few travel-sized scents from Sephora. Tocca scents generally don’t work for me and this one is no exception. They are all, or at least the one I’ve tried, these ridiculous fruity-florals that remind me of somehow of Edible Arrangement fruit bouquets. I don’t care for fruity florals but I don’t think this is a bad version of one. With top notes of black currant, violet leaf, and some underlying jasmine and rose, it’s a bombastic burst of jammy, patchouli-cloaked fruit, and musky florals, and it was driving me nuts because it reminds me so much of a scent that I used to wear in my late teens, when I first started taking classes at community college. The reason I remember this is because our cat peed on my bookbag and I tried to cover it up with this particular fragrance and 15 minutes into class I realized with a sinking heart that my solution was not working, so I gathered up my stuff and left and was too embarrassed to ever return. That scent was Tribu by Bennetton. I just checked the scent notes and it also lists black currant and violet leaf, jasmine, and rose. It does not of course list cat pee from one Leroy Parnell, our Siamese cat at the time, but in my memory Tribu and screechy, skanky cat piss are inextricably linked. Maya does not share that aspect with it. It’s just a run-of-the-mill fruity-floral. It’s fine. A touch of cat pee might make it more interesting, though.

Megamare from Orto Parisi is an absolute Atlantean kaiju of a fragrance. A massive, mysterious sea beast, a preternatural creature of divine power, wrapped in radioactive seaweed, rises from the unfathomable depths of an otherworldly ocean trench to surface in the middle of a typhoon. Tsunamis wreak havoc around the globe, saltwater instantaneously soaks every surface, a strange cloud of mossy musk forms, algae blooms, visibility drops to zero within seconds. At the vortex of this calamity is MEGAMARE, a gentle creature cursed with a hulking stature and an immensely briny, brackish odor that can be detected from other planets, other dimensions. It takes in the citizens of the world in a sweeping glance of its kaleidoscopic cyclopean eye and thinks “fucking hell, these humans are garbage” and disappears into the abyss never to be seen again. But its unearthly DNA changed the very essence of the seawater, and from every place a drop fell that day, a strange aromatic blossom appeared. And so history will never forget the vast flowering of judgment, the day of Megamare.

Baccarat Rouge 540 from Maison Francis Kurkdjian is a fragrance that no one ever talks about and that certainly no one’s ever heard of. That’s sarcasm. But I have to pretend that this is a thing that has flown under the radar, or else I’m going to have a hard time reviewing it. I mean how do you talk about a scent like this without saying the same thing a zillion other people have already said? (See that’s a thing about me. You can like my writing. You can love it. You can absolutely despise it. All of those are fine with me. What is *not* fine is when someone says that I sound exactly like someone else. That’s what makes me mad and sad and actually hate myself a little.) What *is* fine, sometimes, is smelling like someone else. Maybe a zillion other someones. This is one of those times. Baccarat Rouge 540 is not a heavy scent, it’s not especially complex or nuanced, and there’s not much in the way of projection. It’s not a masterpiece. It’s not especially unique. Sometimes you don’t want those things, though. You don’t want a weird, challenging, avant-garde artsy scent. Sometimes you want to put on a soft, cozy sweater that has a vague hint of a perfume that you wore last week still clinging to the fuzzed-out neckline. A caramelized spun sugar candy floss half-remembered dream of a scent, with a creamy-clean core of barely detectable cedar and a halo of glimmering jasmine fairy dust. That’s Baccarat Rouge 540. It’s hardly there and there’s not a lot to it. It’s a thoroughly enchanting, and outrageously expensive skin scent, But… it’s good. And sometimes that is good enough.

Zoologist’s Chipmunk is a chipmunk who is a CEO of some mega-corporation that’s actually a front for some shadowy organization that has been around for centuries and whose fanatical leadership is trying to open up a portal to another world and bring forth a demon god whose emergence on earth will usher in the end times. By which I mean it’s a cool, woodsy forest breeze, and something that smells earthy and dry, like the metallic tang of cold rocks, and of the nocturnal furry musk of creatures you wouldn’t want to meet in the dark. There’s nothing warm or sweet or cute or chipmunk-cheeked about it. It smells…ominous, somehow.  These are oddly hollow woods, cursed groves, silent and strange, wherein a twitchy-tailed, beady-eyed, rodent cyborg chipmunk is conducting a mandatory board meeting of imminent doom.

October’s Table from Hexennacht is a collaboration with Alyssa Thorne photography and inspired by a piece of moody floral photography of the same name. From the notes listed, what I immediately pick out is the smoked vanilla and caramelized marshmallow, autumnal spices, kindling branches in the form of a sort of apple-y wood, and soft, honied beeswax, which they note is vegan. This is every bit as lovely and cozy and warm as you would expect, there’s the most interesting and delightful aspect of it that I can’t match to any note, but there’s an underlying something that skews it slightly off. Sitting near a chilled window late in the evening as freezing rain ices the streets outside. The lamp casts a soft glow, you’re wrapped in shawls and blankets, you’ve got a steaming mug of something strong and sweet, and a treasured collection of ghost stories in your lap. You’re ensconced in the comfort and safety of your lovely home…and yet. The wind moans softly through the trees, rattling the branches, skittering their skeletal wooden bones across the roof, like clacking dominoes of the dead. The lights buzz and flicker intermittently, and each time they dim, the shadows in the room lengthen and darken and grow. You realize with a feverish swoon and a start that you’ve been holding your breath and your heart is pounding furiously. In between each throb and thrumming beat is where the haunting riddle of this scent lies.

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