Roja Midsummer Dream is the olfactory equivalent of the urge to disappear into a haunted glade and become local folklore or of how your body isn’t a temple, it’s the moss-encrusted altar where primitive rituals once unfolded. But we are a soft, suburban people, and I think this sense of longing is tempered with the fog of nostalgia for something we’ve never possessed –and quite frankly, might not be equipped to handle. So sure, be the cryptids or feral forest witch you wish to see in the world or become one with your inner family of raccoons, but also remember that you don’t actually like the cold very much, and getting your hands dirty isn’t your idea of a good time, and a dark moonless night where the only sound is that of your own frantic breath, and the invisible scurrying of nocturnal creatures would be better spent dreaming indoors under a downy granny quilt. Roja Midsummer Dream is the best of all these worlds– a gentle elven chypre, an ancient amber that hums like skin warmed by forgotten fires, the faint rust of autumnal spice, and the phantom sting of bitter grapefruit in the golden memory of sun-dappled woods. It’s like a gentle ghost story of arboreal elegance told under the soft glow of glittering fairy lights, except, unfortunately, the ambient lighting costs four hundred bucks, and the only ghosts you might encounter are the missing funds in your bank account. All this existential exploration, this whispered communion with the primal self, sounds delightful, but I’m afraid I prefer my delights slightly less expensive. These enchantments are best enjoyed in my dreams, where perhaps money grows on moss-covered trees.

…as opposed to Shangri-La from Hiram Green, and how do I say this without being unkind? This fragrance is less lush and harmonious utopian promised land and more a Hieronymus Bosch-envisioned hellish menagerie/paradise, blighted and bedeviled, doomed and damned, all the horror and grandeur and unbridled madness of the cosmos, distilled into one raspingly chaotic scent. The initial blast of overripe, fermented peaches and citrus fruit frizzles acridly at us, trumpeted straight out of a bizarre monster’s glossy pink backside; jasmine’s balmy decay wraps us in a fuzzy, fevered winding sheet of a golden-throned man-eating bird, to remind us that all is vanity and the pleasures of the flesh are fleeting, and the strangely spiced kisses of a porcine nun linger on your skin like a grotesque memento from a carnival of depravity. In what twisted mind is this a Shangri-La?  think Hiram Green is having one over on us.

Upon smelling Flos Mortiis from Rogue Perfumery, I have a sense that for casual perfume wearers, this is going to lean either one of two ways. “Old lady” or “headshop.” While I don’t consider my enthusiasm for fragrance casual by any sense of the word, I certainly don’t want to imply that I am better or smarter than any casual perfume-wearers–there are definitely aspects of both a sort of vintage costume jewelry cough drop mothball glamour and that ubiquitous champaca incense element of a bohemian bazaar. But it’s all wrapped up in the shadows of an Edgar Allan poem, the honeyed sweetness of romantic sentiment laced with the crumbling bitter mausoleum creaking coffin lid tang of decay, rounded out with the tart crimson kiss of red currant fruiting sickeningly in the dirt of a freshly turned grave. So maybe this is old lady juice, but it’s definitely the grand dame in the ancient portrait above the mantel upon which perches a resin-feathered raven, whose tarnished visage follows you in every corner of the drafty parlor, whose bones creak under the floorboards you are standing on, whose phantom hand rests lightly upon your shoulder even now.

Génération Godard from Toskovat is the scent of sticky soda spills on old seat cushions, the mouth-mangling sour and sugar of chewy citrus candies, and a greasy popcorn machine’s dying wheeze. A troupe of wounded, reckless weirdos working shifts in the grimy glamour of a historic cinema, their secrets and strange kinship the illicit musk and leathery glue that holds the decaying dream of this crumbling landmark together; the moody rose perfume steeped into the velvet lining of a moth-eaten fur coat pilfered from the musty lost and found closet a final sigh before the building is condemned.

Sarah Baker Charade I am an absolute fiend for the lush, fevered va-va-voom of tuberose, and it’s always a good time to see how that is interpreted through the lenses of different perfumers. Sarah Baker’s Charade bursts onto the stage with a ditzy dame of a tuberose, not the classic, opulent diva you might have been expecting. This one’s all mischievous effervescence;  imagine the voices of Queenie Goldstein or Betty Boop, breathy, giggling champagne and honey whisper. But plot twist! While our dizzy tuberose distracted you with her artful, ambrosial chicanery, a vegetal ferniness emerges, and a Lothlorien elf steps out of the shadows, a sylvan arrow aimed at your heart. The luxuriance of the tuberose intertwines with the verdant notes, vining our two stars together, creating a captivating tension. Ylang-ylang adds a softly decaying languor, while styrax and benzoin weave a faint trail of smoky, balsamic sweetness. The leather accord seems like it would be out of place, but it’s the earthy, oily leather fanny-packed director holding this unlikely theatrical production together.

Eris Perfumes Mx I hate to give an explanation for my reviews because part of me feels like I should never have to explain myself…but there’s a needier, people-pleasier part of me that also never wants to be misunderstood. I also don’t typically bother going into notes or what the perfumer’s vision is, because that’s all great and stuff, but once it gets in our hands, humans who are going to draw from our own dreams and memories and experiences, I feel like we’re going to interpret it our own way anyway. But I do think it’s really important to note that this is a scent that celebrates the notion of freeing oneself from gender binaries, and I think that it’s fabulous in both concept and execution! But after I’d written this review about a very strong, slithery association that the fragrance brought up for me, I realized that what I’d said might be taken the wrong way, and in rereading it, I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking so.  So please know right off the bat that this review was prompted by how the fragrance reminded me of a character in Lois Duncan’s 1981 YA Thriller Stranger With My Face (wherein a teenager realizes that her jealous twin sister has been astral projecting into her body at night and making her do terrible things!) ALL THAT SAID, Mx is a  slithering, unsettling echo of an intrusive thought, a fixation, a compulsion that thrums beneath your skin and stirs unease and intrigue in equal measure. Hypnotizing tendrils of saffron, a musky murmur of something primal, something unnerving. Velvety sandalwood, a plushness of warmth, of comfort, but something’s not quite right. A nip of ginger, a prick of pepper, sharp, sudden, jolting you awake, reminding you that you’re not yourself. The mirror wavers reflect the eyes of a stranger you don’t recognize, a smile playing on lips that aren’t yours. The scent is secretive, intimate, and sheer, a whisper that clings to you, the memory of actions you can’t explain, of choices you didn’t make. Are they yours, these yearnings, or have you become a fascination, a vessel for the uninvited, a maddening allure let loose from the dark? Specifically this edition with this cover art.

RE: Lorenzo Pazzaglia’s Van Py Rhum, my first instinct is just to tell you that it’s giving slutty bloofer lady and show you Lucy Westenra resplendent in her frilled Eiko Ishioka burial gown because that’s it right there; that’s all you need to know. But there’s a part of me that always makes things harder than they have to be and wants me to do a proper review. So. This is a diabolically sweet, cold-blooded, porcelain-moon vanilla with a buttery sour tang from the damp and rot of the crypt, that, when warmed with the venomous kisses of patchouli’s nocturnal loam, agarwood’s smoky growl and rich, oaken-casked rum, takes on the predatory edge and spectral allure of something that appears after the sun dips below the horizon, something once beloved and familiar, whose undead arms are now ravenously hungry for your embrace.

The Key of Solitude from bloodmilk x Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab Soil and shadow, a subterranean ember, smoldering, The Key of Solitude is a scent that plays tricks on you, promises much, and delivers more. It’s the damp earth beneath bare feet, a bat-winged tickle of rain in the air at the edge of midnight; a primordial altar deep underground, shallow breaths sooty with ancient incense smoke and the stony language of deep time, a haunting chorus of fossil imprints and biological hieroglyphs; lights out at the last library on Earth, honeyed wooden shelves gleaming in amber candlelight, its welcoming glow extinguished, one flickering flame at a time. A keyhole cartography mapping everything, everywhere, all at once: a darkness that delights in revealing a kaleidoscope of shifting realities, where time folds in on itself, each blink twisting the vista anew. But you’ve always known how to navigate the paths of your heart’s own darkness, haven’t you? After all, both the lock and the key were shaped by you.

Beauté du Diable from Liquides Imaginaires is a heady cocktail created by a couple of eccentric bons vivants, something to celebrate an evening of decadent parlor games and general hedonism: an herbal froth of verdant absinthe, a heavy-handed crystalline pour of breathtakingly expensive gin, and a peppery crush of carnation petals– drunk copiously in smoky wood paneled secret rooms while a sweet, narcotic resin burns throughout the night, stinging the eyes and inducing a strange, mystical trance. In the morning, these self-indulgent socialites and muses of the devil send dearest Papa a telegram, demanding that he “Please sell $10,000 worth in stock. We intend to live a mad and extravagant life!”

Eidisis from Aesop is a melancholic, cedary soft sandalwood scent with a sweet, earthy hobbity funk. A hobbit who maybe stayed at home instead and never had an adventure, never became a barrel riding, troll tricking, goblin killing, elven cultural aficionado. A hobbit who never once left The Shire but who smoked his peppery pipeweed by his cozy hearth with his loamy feet propped on a hand-carved stool, who dreamed of giant eagles and great black bears and died comfortably in his bed with an adventure-shaped hole in his heart and a peculiar sadness he could never name.

Spirit Lamp (discontinued) by DS& Durga is a fragrance that evokes a forgotten corner of a botanical garden next to the highway, where a spirit of untamed wilderness thrives unchecked and unexpectedly in a slick puddle of illicitly dumped motor oil. The initial impression is a thick, oily green of some swampy primordial reed, the smell of an extinct past that’s closer than we often care to think, its roots tangled in the earth, its leaves exuding an unctuous herbal musk. This greenness isn’t fresh and invigorating; it’s greasy, thick, almost suffocating. As the scent unfolds, a metallic tang emerges, the scent of rust or singed copper, an aggressively hotwired Dodge Charger counterpoint to the glossy, verdant heart. It’s a scent that evokes anachronistic images of forgotten rituals and arcane practices, real prehistoric Fast & Furious living your life one-quarter mile at a time shit, a potent concoction brewed in the junkyard-slash-abandoned car lot cauldron of nature’s darkest recesses.

Allow me to preface the following with the observation that while I have objectively appreciated many aspects of Sarah McCartney’s 4160 Tuesdays fragrances, they are all perfumes that, for some reason or another, are just not for me. I am desperate to find one from among her creations that really works because I do think she’s super talented, and I love the artistry and ideas that go into her fragrances. Also, I really want one of her bottles on my shelf. Anyhow, I thought this would be it, but good lord. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Oakmossery promises a nostalgic chypre with all the requisite inclusions of oakmoss, peach, bergamot, rose, jasmine, labdanum, patchouli, etc., but rather than an elegant mid-century glamour, you are spoon-fed a vile puree of curdled disappointment. Rather than the gentle juice of a summer peach, it’s a shelf-stable, artificially sweetened, tiny jar of big, mushy baby food feelings. Somehow, it’s also a bit milky, but in the sense of cream that has soured and gone clumpy with a tinge of greenish mold. Swirl them together into a pudding, garnish with a jellied dollop of vaguely floral hand sanitizer, and you have some a grotesque lumpy custard of olfactorily textured nightmares. I could not scrub this off my wrist fast enough, but the joke’s on me! I still smell it on my sweater!

Diptyque Tempo conjures an atmosphere of dolorous elegance,  patchouli’s murky woods and dusky loam, with a wraithlike metallic chill and an herbal shiver of something green and strange simmering underneath. It carries a disquieting heaviness, the shape of a feeling impossible to give voice to; like having to climb into bed with someone and tell them they’re dead. It also reminds me of this passage from Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within… and whatever walked there, walked alone.” This is a patchouli that has walked the long shadows of Hill House, has become lost in the thick, unspoken secrets of its notorious halls, and suffered its mad face in the growing darkness. This is a twisted, haunted patchouli that has seen some shit, but all the edges of that unnerving terror have been blurred by the creeping of moss, the settling of dust, and the softness of time and memory, of unreality and dream.  

34 Bohemian Cafes from Thin Wild Mercury’s New York collection. You know, Orpheus went down to Hades to retrieve Eurydice, but he was a dumbass and couldn’t follow instructions; he looked back at her when he was expressly told not to, and then just like that, she was whisked away again. Poor Orpheus, I guess, but I feel like no one ever thinks about Eurydice. I mean, did she even want to come back? I think we imagine this terrible journey to unspeakable hell dimensions, but maybe … contemplate it…she was happy to be uncoupled from that guy and just be on her own? Maybe she got to hang out in a dim-lit, infernal coffee shop, double-fisting the most bitter espresso and a chipped glass of crisply caustic gin, wearing a deliciously pruney leather jacket, a blackened and dusty rose in her lapel and being the sole audience for a mysterious entity singing jazzy French lounge horror ballads, just the unholy instrument of her smoky voice and the demonic feminine in heavy reverb. I don’t know why how Eurydice and La Femme Pendu got to be in the same Satanic VIP room in this perfume review, but here we are and I love this for them, for me, and for this dark, gorgeous fragrance.

I have been spending a few months with Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s Human Animals collection. I have finally put some thoughts together on these transformative fragrances exploring the blurred line between human and beast and the crossings of form and fate, drawing inspiration from folklore and cautionary tales of dark pacts, the consequences of forbidden desires, and yearning for power beyond our grasp or understanding.

Bringer of Evil: A heady mix of musky queen of night poppy and honeyed mimosa entwines with the zest and evanescent freshness of grapefruit, a dark wispy tremor of benzoin’s caramelized sweetness flutters against orris’ secret, rooty coolness in a shadow cast by a single, ill-fated butterfly.

Elimanzer: A bowl of oaty, grainy muesli-esque porridge, steaming and wholesome, holds the sweetness of the cream and the deep fragrant incense of jammy prunes, concealing the insidious and incendiary bite of acrid brimstone, a shivery reminder of pacts made and prices paid.

Elizabeth’s Imps: Thick, rich, molasses dreams, a soft smear of butter infused with cinnamon’s spiced fire, and the powdered musty sap and syrup of amber’s subterranean glow; a promise whispered, a bargain struck, and the cold comfort of calling darkness your own.

Lady of Saintonge: A woodsy phantom limb of creamy white sandalwood aches beneath a veil of slithery black silk, its fading perfume an opulent counter to the metallic tang of blood and the ironclad resolve of self-preservation’s small, sharp curved blade. The scent of forever caught between two worlds, a beast in disguise and a ghost not yet dead.

The Corn Spirit: Beneath the golden cloak of rye stalks, sweet, sun-warmed hay, and chamomile’s milky innocence, a feral musk stirs, and the raw, rich peaty soil hints at the darkness of this unspoken truth, the haunting knowledge that the bounty of the fields comes at a cost.

The Hound and the Milk-White Doe: The luxurious warmth of sandalwood and the sweet summer whispers of jasmine paint a specter of ambiguous innocence, while coconut milk and rosewater offer a fleeting glimpse of soft youth and beauty, but a shadow lurks beneath. Labdanum’s leathery balsamic resin and cardamom’s uneasy floral spice weave a tale of forbidden desires and dark bargains, leaving a scent that evokes a seductive, albeit perilous transformation.

Witch-Birds: A beguiling liveliness of ripe plum and velvety violet shrouds a shadowy heart of dark magic and bitter vengeance, resinous opoponax and mysterious opium evoking the midnight feathers of forbidden knowledge

And finally, a peek at the Miss Behave Favorites collection from Poesie in Celebration of Women’s History Month

Anne of Cleves: A shimmer of green tea’s subtle bitter complexity and dewy earthiness, steeped in bright, clear, sunlight and citrus-infused rainwater, and sweetened with a golden kindness of vibrant, minty wildflower honey. A lush green sprig of lemon verbena floats gently atop, its graceful reflection mirrored in emerald.

Cleopatra: A languorous cascade of peachy musk, draped in balmy moonlit jasmine, imbues the air with an indolent opulence. The ephemeral sweetness of the lotus, a sunset’s fugitive heartbeat, surrenders its delicate petals to the warm, velvety embrace of sandalwood. An ancient tale whispered on arids wind of a queen fed on champagne and pearls, bedecked and perfumed for ecstatic rites invoking forgotten pleasures and enduring power.

Emmeline Pankhurst: An icy rain falls on slick black cobblestones, a gust of wind rattles the windowpanes; Inside, a cup of strong black tea is nestled on a soft linen napkin on the sill, plumes of fragrantly astringent steam veiling the chilled, rain-streaked glass. Just outside, a solitary violet blooms boldly in the crevice of a standing puddle, unyielding in the storm, a parable of profound resolve.

Frida Kahlo: Is a profusion of intensity in delicate balance; tangy passion fruit curd, the tangier, unparalleled tart effervescence of a freshly sliced wedge of lime, the cool, melony crispness of prickly pear, the creamy richness of coconut pulp, and a sugarcane straw to sip it through while you ruminate on how Frida Kahlo purportedly said to “Take a lover who looks at you like maybe you are a bourbon biscuit,” and ponder on how to channel that same energy into your own creative practice.

Josephine Baker: I was a little bit afraid to try this one; the scent of a ripe banana is enough to drive me from a room. But this is more the sweet verdant sap and grassiness of the banana leaf gently enveloping a subtle custardy creaminess, like a small, perfect spoonful of creme brulee tucked around a sun-kissed wisp of glowing amber. This one is a thoroughly delightful and beguiling subversion of my expectations.

Zitkala-Sa: This is not the apple I thought I was getting, but it’s ever so much dreamier. This is a breezy apple orchard in spring, an ethereal cloud of awakening blossoms perfuming the air, its delicate canopy throwing lacy shadows over fragrant honey-vanilla sea of clovers. Supporting it all, rosewood and cedar root deep into the earth, their secrets grounding and strong.

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