Tubéreuses Castane from Maison Lancôme is such a beautiful, fabulous fever dream of a cocktail… an elderflower-forward sparking sweet Riesling with a musky, caramelized chunk of amber floating in the wine, along with a luxuriant dollop of rich chestnut puree and a generous dash of spicy ginger liqueur. It’s heady and hypnotic and a little weird but it’s not too cerebral or precious about it and lordy be, it is a friggin glamazon. Hot dang y’all. (this scent is discontinued but you can still find it in various places as well as eBay, if you keep your eyes peeled!)
I have been wanted to try Paloma Picasso for a while now and I am happy to say that it’s what I was expecting, but the best version of those expectations, I guess. It’s a sort of balsamic chypre, you know– dirty florals jasmine and ylang-ylang, alongside carnations balmy spice, and bitter herbal coriander and angelica, brightened by sour, sparkling lemon, and velvety mosses creeping over a sort of moody, fermented amber and sharp woody vetiver. It’s got a retro-futurist vibe, as if it were created by some sort of vintage visionary. If I were to embody this perfume, I’d liken it to the uncanny, vulnerable sophistication of Sean Young as Rachael in the original Bladerunner film.
If you love the offertory pencil shavings of CdG Avignon (and I do) Reve d’Ossian from Oriza Legrand is that on steroids and maybe also hallucinogens. You know, the drugs that monks and nuns and holy prophets and saints take to get swole and bench press dusty wooden pews and write trippy ecclesiastical poetry on brittle parchment scrolls? Sure, why not. Hey look, it’s gothic sex nerds Lord Byron, and Percy Shelley! Where’d they come from, smelling of nightmares and bad reputations, all gloomy and grandiose like moody vanilla and smoky leather and rich, sticky resins, and horny graveyard strolls at midnight? If Ken Russell made a fever dream of a film about the famous time-traveling debaucheries of Hildegard von Bingen and her companion, Frankenstein’s monster, I think it would result in this glorious perfume. Let’s party.
Glass Blooms by Regime des Fleurs is absolutely exquisite and I wish I could come up with the words to tell you just how exquisite it is but instead, all I can tell you is that it conjures the essence of the most beautiful woman in the world, or at least I thought she was, in 1982 when I was 6 years old. And also she wasn’t a woman, she wasn’t even human, she was a plastic doll made by the Kenner brand. A Glamour Gal. Her name was Shara. You can smell the pearly musk mallow, milky ambrette and cognac in the memory of her lustrous, opalescent hair and in her sleek shimmery gown, a vision of frosted starlight, cool, aloof lily of the valley and pale peony, delicate and dappled with dew on a spring morning when the chill is still bright and hard in the air. When I wore Glass Blooms this evening, I felt every bit as elegant and enchanting as I felt it must feel to be a Glamour Gal like Shara. Who, though Kenner has been defunct since 2000, I can find still-in-package on eBay for 24.99…which is a better deal than a bottle of Glass Blooms, at $225. If I’m being honest, though, I think I need both of them.
Initio’s Side Effect feels at first very much like their Musk Therapy, that sort of woody citrusy effortlessly-hot, hot girl summer base– but futzed and Frankenhookered with to include deeply honeyed tobacco, a rum so richly resinous and brown sugary opulent that to create any kind of cocktail with it would be a sin, and the questionable addition of a potent plasticky chemical polymer note. So…she’s a 10 but she’s also a literal plastic doll? Oud For Happiness is a dry, brittle bitter oud, coupled with a clean, soft woody musk… and something subtly sweet and pillowy-feathery like fresh baked milk bread. It then becomes a creamier version of of the preternatural Abercrombie &Witch hotnesstheir Musk Therapy, which is what all of Initio’s offerings eventually become on my skin. I am not complaining–Musk Therapy is amazing. But I don’t need a whole shelf of things that smell similar, especially at this price tag.
Ofrésia from Diptique is a thoughtful fragrance of honeyed and dewy florals, sheer and sweetly luminous, lively and peppery crushed green stems, and a softly rosy, woody musk. I find it somewhat akin to Bath and Body Works OG Freesia Fields but less watery and with a certain sensibility that comes from being a little older and having more discretionary income. And maybe just more discretion, period. It’s lovely even if it is not terrible exciting. It is very good I think, for visiting your in-laws, who really only have an inkling as to the depths of your freaky weirdness, and you are trying your best to keep it that way. This is a fragrance for inducing a certain sort of serene and sensitive spirit or state of mind that reminds you to be on your best behavior even when you’re feeling salty and snippy and sassy, and it feels like it’s got scruples enough to keep your secrets.
Diptique’s Venise is as if the velvety moss-muscled Masters of the Universe Moss Man toy found himself in a biergarten nestled in the midst of a forest of crooked pines &twining nightshade. Seating himself under the canopy of verdant flora, the green plastic henchman orders a moderately priced sampler of lambics and goses and other sour, seasonal ales (but he’s going to expense it to Skeletor anyway) and as he’s enjoying his tiny, half-filled glass of coniferous resin and lactobacilus-y fermented grains, he notices the plants stealthily creeping closer, surreptitious snaking sneaking vines with intent to strangle. For though Moss Man can camouflage himself in foliage and control all the plants on Eternia, on Earth he’s apparently powerless and our terrestrial vegetation views him as a threat. As the air becomes suffocating with the scent of sap-filled botanical defense mechanisms*, Moss Man slips into unconsciousness wishing he’d actually ordered the full-sized stein.
*thanks dear Minna, for helping me out here!
A long time ago I wrote a review in which I referred to Aquolina’s Pink Sugar as the bark of the cotton candy tree. Well, that was a confectionary botanical specimen in its sapling stage. Imaginary Author’s A Whiff of Waffle Cone is that tree a millennia later, after the rise and fall of civilization, the obsolescence of any number of gods, and you know, after it’s seen some shit. It’s still rich and redolent of carmelized burnt sugar and toasted marshmallow, along with a luscious velvety smoked vanilla custard and something like marzipan syrup incense…but imagine all of that with a jaded attitude and wearing a beautiful old leather jacket and puffing away on a pipe with warm nuances of dried sweet grass and balsamic woods in the chamber. Why is this tree smoking? Man, it’s a million years old, it can do whatever it wants. It’s earned that right.
Vetiver in Bloom from Scents of Wood is more a feeling than a scent for me, but it’s a good one. Woody vetiver, soft white musk, and some delicate yet heady orange blossom-esque floral translates to a very specific nostalgia. A summery coziness sounds a little paradoxical, but this is the scent of cocooning one’s AC-chilled, damp skin and dripping tendrils of hair in a fluffy robe and towel, after having spent all day in the swimming pool and then realizing the moon’s out, and you’ve been submerged since noon.
Copala from Xinu is a beautiful first foray into a brand I’d never even heard of. Opening on a brisk lemony pine sap incense note, it evolves into an amorphous melange of golden resins, dusty vanilla robes, with a spiked ceremonial collar of pink pepper. It’s both sharp and soft and feels simultaneously contemporary and ancient, like mystical wisdom awakened in modern blood …and I am more than a little obsessed.
I had ordered a sampler set from Libertine so that I could try several scents from this indie brand, but if I am being honest, I didn’t really peruse the notes or the copy ahead of time. With these assortments, I like to keep the details secret from myself and allow myself to be surprised and delighted at however things might turn out. So, for example, I wasn’t immediately aware that Soft Woods, with its notes of fir and incense, also included rose–a fraught note that is all kinds of problematic for me. Dead Mom issues and whatnot. As this wore on my skin, I did become aware that I’d been Trojan-horsed a rose scent, but it’s quite unlike any other rose I’ve experienced, a boldly balsamic, bordering on fruity-rose; it’s weird, the amber jamminess is there, like resinous fig preserves or a honeyed compote…but rather, the carmelized essence of it, absent the actual fruit. This is a mystical rose, a fairytale rose, an enchanting ode to a princess–any princess, all princesses. Whatever they look like, whatever form they take, whether they were graceful and benevolent, or the kind in a spicy Anne Rice novel written under a pen name, or even the sort who slaughtered their way to sainthood with a toddler strapped to their back. A princess can look all kinds of ways and do all kinds of things and I am pretty sure in all of the stories about them, they smell of Soft Woods.
Chypre Mousse from Oriza Legrand is an unexpected …honeyed absinthe chypre? It manifests as a yeast-raised donut speckled with pungent, green herbs and burnished with a ladle of lustrous warm sugar glaze made from the honey of hallucinogenic blooms and bitter wormwood extract. Like if you went to the super artisanal donut shop/altered state dispensary and ordered “the green fairy special”. It’s intensely sweet in disturbing ways that I can’t quite put my finger on, and it’s absolutely not for me–but I can definitely appreciate it.
Saffron from Scent Trunk (part of the Uncommon Palette) is deep kisses of sunshine and honey and the rich brulee of amber custard while the gauzy embrace of the moon sighs cool and close on your neck. If a god requested a dessert combining the ineffably golden, glorious, melt-in-your-mouth characteristics of a midsummer’s day celebration and the silent starry shivers of a moonless winter solstice midnight and then judged it as terrific and exactly what they were looking for and proceeded to furiously make out with it? This perfume is the aromatic interpretation of that divine, delerious delicious as-yet-to-be-told myth.
Cloak Musk is from the same palette and is a scent of crystalline musks, fossilized herbs, and chilly snowcapped blooms which combines for a perfume that feels strangely inorganic…mechanized in some way, or maybe cybernetically enhanced. When I think of cloaking, I think less of a furry cape to keep you warm and more of the stealthy gravitational bending devices used by Klingons so that their birds of prey could travel undetected by Starfleet sensors. Do I like this hushed and cooly detached scent? Heck yeah I do. Would Klingons? Hard to tell. It’s basically the exact opposite of warrior bloodlust…but with a spritz of this on meaty wrist and a double-bladed bat’leth gripped tightly in hand, they’d be certain to enter into battle with a cool head. Perhaps today is a good day to die.
Grief Moth is a fragrance of half-light glooms, that liminal borderland of light and dark accessed between wakefulness and dream. When the mind, half-shrouded in night, barely begins to discern the glow of the sun beyond closed eyes, and the temporal curtain of the eyelid has not yet revealed its truth. In this place all things are possible, nothing is beyond your grasp, and in these shadows, you are safe and held. These are the soils where, in nocturnal sublimity, your subconscious has struggled with the raw and murky things you’ve been carrying–and in these lightless labors, you are slowly becoming whole. As Jarod K. Anderson writes in a poetic excerpt from Love Notes From The Hollow Tree, “The work to bring a violet up into the light happens down in the dark.” Grief moth is the flinty grey umbral amber, fog-faded forest of ghostly trees in your interior landscape where this work takes place.
Grief Moth Part II A fitting companion for bloodmilk’s Grief Moth, this is a scent that gently arms the wearer with a little lightness and a small measure of hope when you wake of a morning, limbs weighted with the crushing gravity of grief and soul wracked with the shivers of sorrow. When in those seconds your eyes adjust to the light through the curtains and you think, “I have no heart for it all today.” But our stubborn human hearts keep on beating, don’t they? “Approaching sorrow,” reveals Francis Weller in The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief, “requires enormous psychic strength.” And though in the frozen time/cracked-watch face/inexorable slowness of loss it feels as though those moments of darkness and despair will last forever, the throb and thrum of your heart reminds you that (as many have said from poets to pop culture) that grief is your love living on, persevering–and this is a thing to cherish, a sacred strength that asserts itself despite ourselves. It’s a fearful thing to love what death can touch–but we keep doing it, beautiful, amazing fools that we are. And that in that timeworn compulsion lies the soft, quiet joys of this fragrance: subtle, diffusive woods and bittersweet balsamic sap and resin, rich, resilient soil and stone, and a delicate floral-fruity tannic tang. The only way out is through, but sometimes we need a little help reaching the other side. Grief Moth Part II is a beautiful scent of belief and elusive hopefulness that may light a lantern to lead the way.
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