30 Jul
“Incense” by Bela de Takach von Gyongos-Halasz, 1910; illustration from Penrose’s Pictorial Annual 1910-11 (Percy Lund Humphries & Co Ltd, London, 1911).Given by the artist to Annie Besant, British theosophist, writer, and women’s rights activist.

Hermès Un Jardin à Cythère is a fragrance I’d originally seen mentioned by LC of nearlynoseblind on TikTok, and all I really recalled was that it had notes of pistachio but that it smelled of olive oil cake. I have baked dozens of olive oil cakes by this point in my life, and so upon smelling the perfume was immediately able to make that connection…which was both exciting and a little irksome because did it actually smell like that, or did I just have it in my head that it smelled like that, because I’d already internalized that tidbit? And also, I couldn’t very well review it as such, because someone else had already used the same words [EDIT: I published this post without realizing I never finished this review. I am suffering from a bit of grief brain, and I don’t remember my thoughts, but if you want to watch my TikTok review, I did actually have a few ideas earlier in the month. TLDR; it smells like Icelandic Jólakaka.]

 Mistpouffer from Stora Skuggan smells of cool, sweet, powdery porcelain, dainty and delicate like a small ivory sculpted ballerina on a shelf, but there’s a weirdly mineralic, off-kilter herbal note as well, wrapped up in a bit of foggy fluff, almost like a little gossamer candy-floss salted black licorice bouquet. Ultimately it reminds me of the ceramic Broken Ladies of artist Jessica Harrison–charmingly feminine figurines, bloodied with intricate anatomical horrors–perhaps a bit too much for sensitive types, but those of you who dig macabre delights will love these twisted ceramic beauties. And I think that’s what Mistpouffer is, too: a soft, subtly twisted beauty.

Even though I have always wished it were otherwise, I have never sniffed a precious jewel, glimmering gem, or polished stone that smelled of anything in particular–even though the dazzling drama in those crystalline depths seem to promise, at least to me, that these geological treasures should somehow be radiating the most marvelous perfumes. Alas! Nope! It is sadly a wish I’ve long let go. Sphinx Skin, however, rekindles this daydream in the most fantastical and feverish ways, because I’m absolutely certain that if a moody, golden topaz had a scent? It would be the smoky umbral honey, spectral shed snakeskin musk of Sphinx Skin, a collaboration between bloodmilk and Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab: heady, tobacco-infused amber with subtly shifting floral vanilla facets, a rich, sticky, resinous vein of dragon’s blood, and the faint, slithering earthiness of patchouli, dark, damp, rooty, and grounding. Formed from crystals in cooling magma (or so I understand), if we are being real here, topaz probably smells of the fumes and vapors wafting amongst the igneous cavities in which it grows, but here, in the surreal secrecy of our intimate cocoon, where the writer and reader connect via a shared dream and can believe as we please – let’s choose to believe in exquisite lapidary aroma magic, and that a glowing sphere of topaz smells like a small bottle of Sphinx Skin.

Green Spell from Eris Parfums is as if a celestial being of 100% chlorophyll descended from the heavens, its wings a crushing flutter of many leaves, broad and flat, delicate and curled, waxen, rubbery, pliant, radiating every variation of veridian. In a voice like seeping moss, like eroding rock, like insect wings disintegrating into the earth, it whispers to you, “Like, be not afraid, or whatever.” It’s the endless trailing succulent stem of a bittersweet pennywort patch through the soil until you reach a darkly massive gnashing malachite rootball nightmare. You awake with emerald scratchings on your palm and jade lashings of fern in your teeth.

Nightingale from Zoologist is, on paper, something I initially wouldn’t have thought my cup of tea–but that just goes to show what I know. This is an opulent mossy plum blossom with bitter, earthy oud, and hints of a sour, lemony geranium–like rose. It’s being referred to as a pink floral chypre which, probably because of my associations with all things pink, rings frilly and frivolous for what turns out to be a breathtakingly stunning fragrance with an unexpected complexity that translates into something profoundly emotional. In reading an interview with the perfumer, I learned that the inspiration for this perfume was an ancient poem written by Fujiwara no Kenshi, sister to the empress at that time. The empress was apparently trading her imperial duties for Buddhist vows, and upon her departure, her sister gifted her an agarwood rosary wrapped in a box with ribbons and a branch of plum blossom and read to her a poem she had written: “Soon you will be wearing a black robe and enter nunhood. You will not know each rosary bead has my tears on it.” In this scent, I truly experience a sense of love, loss, sisterhood, and yearning, and somehow, through that perspective, I even feel an existential sadness regarding the transient nature of time and existence. What an extraordinary, evocative fragrance.

Sometime in the last few weeks, I wrote about Nightingale, which I was very impressed with, and today I am wearing Sacred Scarab, which, while equally impressive, is the one I can actually see myself wearing. Nightingale is like the elegant gown you save for special occasions (although I don’t really believe in saving things for special occasions, but just go with it), and Sacred Scarab is, for me, the frock that gets covered in dirt and gravy because I never want to take it off. One of the scents wears me more than I’m wearing it, but the other just sort of…IS me. And what does that mean, anyway? Sacred Scarab is a scent of bitter, lemony aldehydes and earthy, murky, dusky musks, and when I say earthy, I don’t mean damp, loamy garden soil, but rather dusty clay, and subterranean strata of sedimentary rock, digging so far down into the earth you encounter tenebrous geological formations and stygian crystalline structures, ostensibly connected to the earth’s deep history–and yet to your unbelieving eyes and mine, wholly alien and otherworldly. It’s a fragrance that evokes at least a minor feeling of, if not the reality of a crumbling collapse of space and time, the prelude to the ecstatic rites of an ancient mystery cult of earth and stone. That initial mineralogical melodrama is breathtaking, and I probably enjoy those 15-20 minutes of the fragrance best, but the next stage and the dry down, a sort of “burnished date/sticky raisin resin incense scattered in the dry wood of a smooth cedar dish” vibe, is lovely as well and worth the wait, if you find the early sniffs are too overwhelming. I can’t decide if this scent is a prayer, protest, comfort, or curse, and I deeply love the unknowable mystery of that.


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