I’ve been writing about perfumes on and off for the past twenty years, but I think this is actually the first year I have successfully shared a perfume review round-up, consistently, for twelve months running! Well done, me!
I have been generously gifted with some samples by Caitlin at Red River Apothecary, and I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the fragrances she selected for me. I loved the first two that I tried so much that I didn’t even want to wait to sniff the other three before sharing my thoughts. (Edited to add…well, there were five, but somehow I lost one along the way!) I’ll begin with Moria. I do love a scent built around dragon’s blood, and this is one of the most stunning examples I have ever encountered. Dragon’s blood in fragrance is heady and rich and sometimes quite overwhelming in a syrupy sense– but here, tempered with the incendiary floral of black pepper and shadowy black musk, it conjures the honeyed warmth of a mystical lantern glowing in the brooding caverns of Khazad-dûm.
Ozark is so lovely that it makes me strangely weepy; its gentle, refreshing dewdrops, velvety green moss, and deep blue, crystalline waters, it calls to mind a tranquil forest meadow teeming with bluebells and snowdrops and forget-me-nots alongside a cold, clear rushing river. It makes me think of Snow White in her glass coffin in a twilight illustration by Gustaf Tengrenn, and funny enough, it specifically summons two different songs for me In a Glade by Milla Jovovich, but I think it’s a traditional Ukrainian folksong, and Rusalka, Rusalka by the Decemberists, lyrics which lament the folly of falling for the dark-eyed Rusalka, pale as a liminal moon.
Shahwa is an opulent, intoxicating fragrance, a deep, rich, spicy incense that a Red Woman burns (every fantasy story has some version of a Red Woman) while invoking dark gods of pain and pleasure, and Sedona is stories told around a campfire, spirits, and elements of desert florals, Pinyon smoke, and the promise of oncoming rain in the potpourri of petrichor and downdraft of fresh ozone.
Stolas from Fantome is the strangest, most marvelous combination of chocolate and lavender, and this is one of the times I did not reacquaint myself with the notes before testing the scent and coming to that conclusion. So when I double-checked and saw I was right and I did actually smell what I smelled–hot dog, that’s validating. Even after all of this time I feel like I am just constantly wildly speculating. Anyway, this is a musty, dusty chocolate and a powdery lavender, cool aromatic cedar, and something strangely, sweetly waxen. It summons for me something so uncannily vivid and eerily evocative, though not the owl-headed 36th Prince of Hell that inspired the scent. No, this is a dim attic room closed to sunlight for the last century, tangled in pale, filmy cobwebs and frail, milky lace, and crowded with countless wooden shelves upon which are perched dozens of creamy-cheeked, unblinking porcelain dolls.
Stroopwafel from Scent Trunk is a gorgeous gourmand that balances what could potentially be intensely heavy and cloying with something that still feels light and airy, and effortlessly cozy. It feels perfect for what can be a really intense time of year when you’re pulled in every direction, you’re spread too thin, and there’s never enough time. The holidays can be physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually draining, and the last thing you want to do is top all that off with a fragrance that leans too far into any of that mess. Stroopwafel is a scent that feels nostalgic to a point, but in the way that books and dreams are nostalgic, unsullied by what goes on in your real life, and even then, it’s saved by various other elements before it can get its hooks into you and become something maudlin or suffocatingly sentimental. This is not to say I don’t connect with this scent, because I do! But in a way that feels like it’s a treasure just for me. Like being wrapped up in something special that I don’t have to share and in it, creating memories of moments that are solely my own. Nostalgia happening now, rose-tinting the present as I am living it.
It opens as the rich, fragrant gooey chewy treat it’s named for, that buttery bourbon caramel syrup center and brown sugar deliciousness of that sort of not-baked-all-the-way-through waffled cookie sandwiching it. But alongside all that cozy, sweet warmth, there’s a breath of something cool and breezy, this side of piney marjoram, that side of woodsy cedar, that makes itself known. It’s the olfactory equivalent of waking too warm in bed at night and slipping your toes from beneath your quilt to give them a little chill. Or perhaps baking up a storm in a humid kitchen on a wintry day, and cracking the window open to let in a frigid gust of air. A lovely vanilla musk rounds out the fragrance. At this point, and until you can no longer detect it on your skin, it smells like the sweater you spent all day wearing in that cookie kitchen, but with a light dusting of snow after you left it on top of the woodpile overnight.
I only started hearing about Pineward sometime last year, but in reading over their website, I just realized Pineward is another project of the person who now runs Apoteker Tepe, which I thought disappeared a few years ago, but I guess it was sold by the original perfumer and has been purchased by this Pineward person. Considering that my favorite Apoteker Tepe perfume is The Holy Mountain, and it smells like a beardy grandmaster max-level wizard summoning the ultimate ancient mystical dragon lord of the 11th realm or whatever, and now I smell the extremely resinous potency of these Pineward fragrances, this is an acquisition which makes perfect sense. I ordered a sampler set, and for the first one, I think we’ll get into Eldritch. Which is what my middle initial stands for. Just kidding, it’s Elizabeth. Eldritch is comprised of my favorite notes, the sweet loamy decay of oakmoss, opoponax’s oaken honeyed leather, myrrh’s aromatic warmth, crushed balsamic fir needles, and peppery, tannic smoke. It’s so, so, freaking good. And now it’s the signature scent of Elizabeth Eldritch, a powerful tiefling warlock with hair that smolders and crackles in the sun, who has a passion for forbidden lore and whose best friend is a giant fire beetle.
Murkwood from Pineward smells like perfumes I already own several similar bottles of, namely Norne from Slumberhouse, Winter from Dasein, The Nue Company’s Forest Lungs, and Hwyl from Aesop. But I love these notes, and I love how they make me feel and the magical places they take me to. I can never have enough of them and I am always on the hunt for the holy grail of these wintry midnight fairytale forest fragrances. With Murkwood, imagine that grail is less a golden chalice radiating a holy halo of light and more a small wooden cup, roughly carved of fir, a vessel for steaming smoky resinous tea drunk under a full January moon on a night with the snow-covered mosses and the frozen earth under your leather boots make a chilly incense of their own. If one were to stop by the woods in a snowy evening where two roads diverged in a wood, one familiar and one less traveled–Murkwood is stepping off the path entirely into that lovely, deep darkness. As a matter of fact, and this is a very niche reference, but I’m putting it out there anyway and I hope you’ll chime in down in the comments if you know what I am talking about–Murkwood is the olfactory accompaniment to avant-garde video game studio Tale of Tale’s The Path, an atmospheric, immersive horror game based on older, darker versions of Little Red Riding Hood.I see that the Pineward shop is closed right now, but this might just be my holy grail, and I am splurging on a full bottle first thing in 2023.
Yukion’na by Ikiryo Perfumes contains an element that I’m weirdly smitten with, and it’s possible you love it, too, or else you really hate it. There’s probably not any in-between. I am not a smoker, nor have I ever been, but I have an inexplicable fondness for whatever that combination of notes is that smells like a pack of cigarettes in an expensive handbag. It doesn’t smell like smoke, not exactly, and it certainly doesn’t smell like an ashtray. I can detect it in my bottles of Sycomore from Chanel, Chris Collin’s Autumn Rhythm, and My, Myself, and I from Ego Facto. I’d guess some combination of vetiver and leather and tobacco, but not all of these scents have these notes, so I guess I really don’t know. Yukion’na is another one that contains this facet that I’m so fond of, and it conjures for me a wintry yōkai, taking a break from an evening of striking terror into the hearts of lost travelers. She secrets herself behind an icy-glittered pine, the bitter decay of last autumn’s chrysanthemum petals crunch under the snow, and with a sharp, pale fingernail, she peels a small, tangerine, its pitted rind falling in a perfect spiral, shockingly vivid against the bone white landscape. As the moon rises over the frosted forest, a thin pillar of smoke plumes from a cigarette held between her citrus-scent fingertips.
I sampled another fragrance from Ikiryo, but I was really uncomfortable writing about it, so that review is for Midnight Stink Patrons only. I know it’s not fair to mention something that I’m not sharing with you, but for record-keeping sake, I did want to note it in the total of perfume reviews I have written this month.
I’ve wanted a fragrance from Gucci’s Alchemist’s Garden collection for the longest time, but I did not want to pay $350 for a bottle. I lucked out and found a bottle of Love at Your Darkest on Mercari for less than half that, and even luckier still, I actually love it. First, the downside, and the answer to a question that lots of folks asked when I first showed a peek at this a few weeks ago: it’s got basically zero longevity. I spritzed with manic abandon before beginning to write this review, and five sentences in, I basically have to jam my nostrils into my wrist to get the slightest whiff of it. So I would urge you to seek out second-hand bottles of this and buy at a discount. As to the scent, it’s lovely. If you like Tom Ford’s Oud Wood, well, that’s the obvious comparison, but it’s not quite the same; it’s still got that dry, peppery, cedary, woodsy oud backbone, but it’s much less chilly, with a bit of rosy-cheeked delicacy, a sort of fresh, uplifting floral note Replace that dusty tome of MR James ghost stories it’s clutching with a big, soft, pink bouquet of peonies. I’m almost tempted to call it “pretty,” but there’s a discordant jangle of something akin to celery seed, a bitter-earthy-salty facet that makes me hesitate…which is fine with me because I think that strangeness, this off-kilter element makes me like it all the more. I think this would be an interesting fragrance for layering with something more intense, like an oud-forward fragrance oil. Or maybe a rose-oud combination.
I had so much fun discussing DS& Durga’s Sexy Viking with the Viking who lives with me. Ývan is Icelandic and lived in Iceland until he was a teenager. His immediate family, his mom, dad, and brothers all now live in the US, as a matter of fact, some of them live a few neighborhoods away, but the rest of his relatives are scattered all over Iceland. He goes back every few years to visit, and I’ve been once, but I certainly don’t have enough familiarity with the country to have a well-formed opinion of a fragrance inspired by aspects of it. Well, I mean, I have an opinion on the fragrance, I can have an opinion on anything, but I guess I mean I can’t really comment overmuch on the sense of place that it’s meant to evoke. Ývan tells me that he gets an overall sense of fresh, crisp, evergreen coniferous pineyness. It recalls for him the summers he spent in the youth work program hauling wood from the forest …which I assumed was some sort of unpaid lumberjack gig, but he laughed and said, what kid is gonna do that kind of work for free?
Anyway, his specific memory involves the moments when he would take a rest and just lie down in a bed of fragrant pine needles and close his eyes while the sun filtered through the canopy of trees. He also said that it brings to mind icy evergreens in the wintertime, during traditional graveside visits on Christmas. He and his mother would visit the cemetery with wreaths and candles for relatives that had passed on, and there was a forested path along which they would slush through freshly fallen snow to reach the graves. Overall he likened it to smelling like an ancient woodland Yule wreath, full of wintry bounty. I would add that what I smell, overwhelmingly, is tart, bracing, cold-weather berries. Something bright red and jeweled and so bitter that even the snowbirds won’t eat it. But also a bit like sour, candied grapefruit peels. As the scent wears, this becomes more like a fruity, malty, softly honeyed amber–but either way, it’s a beautiful note. And overall, I think we both agree, it’s an incredible fragrance, and as it happens–it’s stunningly perfect for the winter solstice today (the day this review was written.)
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