Orchid by Sergei Pavlovich Lodygin 1917

Sometime in 2022, I wrote a very long and very personal and very “ma’am, this is a Wendy’s” essay review of this scent, but I am not sure that I shared it here. The gist of Soul of My Soul from Etat Libre d’Orange is that it’s soft and cozy sandalwood-y musks; the cocoon of your feet touching your person’s feet under a fleece blanket when you’re comfort-watching LotR for the bazillionth time. It’s a spot on your person’s chest sculpted perfectly to cradle your head at night. It’s their funny murmuring snore when you shift your body in bed, and your butts touch for a moment. It’s the secret language of two hearts who get it, and who got the chance to get it. It’s the miracle and magic safety and connection and all the green flags saying go-go-go, that it’s okay to be your weirdest, most authentic, very truest self with someone, and no matter how weird or hard things get–and they will get harder and weirder, make no mistake–you will always remain a soft, safe place for each other.

I picked up a bottle of Baruti Oh My Deer from Perfumology in Philadelphia earlier in the month when I was visiting my Best Good Friend. Oh My Deer struck me immediately because one, I’d never smelled anything from these guys, and two, this really does not smell like anything in my collection. This is one of those fragrances that immediately conjures an image in my mind; one of my late father’s Heavy Metal magazines from the 1980s featuring a metallic beauty on the cover, all gleaming chrome and curves, stark lines, and a strange, throbbing sense of mystery. Hajime Sorayama’s art for Heavy Metal magazine perfectly captured his signature style of future-noir and sci-fi eroticism for the machine age, and it certainly captured my attention when I first saw it at the tender age of 11. I don’t typically dissect fragrances through the lens of sexiness and sex appeal because, frankly, it feels inelegant and reductive. Perfumes can be so much more. But in this instance, it feels strangely fitting. Oh My Deer is a scent of bitter, aldehydic metallic musks, perversely both mineralic and animalic, and the olfactive dissonance of peppers that are warming and resinous but also act as a cooling, electric current. It’s a scent that also feels gritty and grungy, somehow, which brings it all back to a very personal place for me. Gritty and grungy is exactly how I felt when I first flipped through that back catalog of Heavy Metal magazines; they terrified and exhilarated me in equal measure, and those dark, techno-apocalyptic narratives may have been the catalyst for the first bit of… stirrings… in my weird little bod. Hey, we’ve all got our origin stories. Oh My Deer triggers a fascinating internal dialogue, pulling me back to those thrillingly strange magazines. It’s not what most would consider sexy, and for me personally, it isn’t either. But it’s undeniably weird, a quality I find endlessly intriguing. More importantly, it’s a scent I genuinely enjoy wearing.

A trio of scents from Heretic that I tried during that same Philadelphia trip…

Dirty Violet: dank dungeon jasmine, a collection of skeletal cypress knees, and a patchouli oil-slicked leather executioner’s mask
Dragon’s Blood: earthy, in a fantasy vegetable detritus compost-y sort of way, and also a bit smoky, like you made incense from that compost? (This was a limited edition and not available now.)
Cactus Abduction: has a sort of retro cucumber melon/cotton blossom vibe, but with an added zhuzh of effervescence, like the dream of the 90s is alive but make it sparkle!

Frederic Malle En Passant I’m a little ashamed to say that as long as I’ve been enthusing about fragrance, this is the first time I have ever smelled this one (I believe it is meant to be some kind of contemporary classic?) With notes of lilac, cucumber, cedar, and white musk, I am still trying to put into words what a beautiful creation this is. All I can say is that it’s like the gauzy childhood memory of a gentle, misty spring day, cool tendrils of fog lifting as the sun shifts through the clouds and warms the skin…but that’s not quite right. As a child, I wouldn’t have had the language for the ghostly sense of nostalgic melancholia En Passant evokes. It’s more like looking at the source of this memory through a hazy window pane as an adult, the present as it unfolds moment to moment, and becomes memory as fast as the moment unfurls. And knowing how fleeting it all is. And the sadness for the passage of time, and the joy for the child who doesn’t feel that yet. It’s that. It’s all of that.

Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab Nyx, Night Goddess Imagine all the forbidden nocturnal mystery evoked by rich, smoky, brooding resins such as opoponax, oud, and frankincense, but soften it with sweetness and snuggles, make it a kinder, gentler darkness. Brown sugar candle glow, amber lantern light, the honeyed hum of a streetlamp– a companionable luminescence for the midnight soul, and a comforting balm for night owls, moonlighters, and after-dark enthusiasts.

Poesie sent me samples from their recent Nerds of a Feather collection, and here are my thoughts…!

Birds of Pair-a-dice(Salty sea air, blooming hibiscus, warm cedarwood, bright orange blossom, and a hint of sweet peach): Have you ever seen the meme that goes, “I’m 37 years old, and just today realized it’s called bird of paradise because it looks like the left picture, not the right…” If not, go look it up, I’ll wait. So, while yes, this scent is an intriguing mix of tropical and earthy notes, where the sea breeze and the audacious sunset hibiscus create a vibrant island atmosphere balanced by the warmth of cedarwood and the delicate sweetness of orange blossom. It’s luscious and vivid and absolutely evokes its botanical namesake, but there’s something delightfully off-kilter about it, a tangy, musky, funky funny thing that I can’t quite put my finger on, like they snuck the olfactory equivalent of a pair of googly eyes on it.  I guess I would think that. The one and only time I ever played DnD, I rolled a character called Pickles McGilliicuddy, a dragonborn sorcerer that I played for all of 15 minutes before becoming massively overwhelmed and anxious and calling it quits.

Gandalf the Grey Owl (Tobacco, mountain spring air, suede, sandalwood, elderberry, oakmoss, blackcurrant, and firework smoke): I had already seen Fellowship of the Ring a dozen times when I did a marathon of the three movies with my sister, who was seeing them for the first time. When Gandalf took a little spill off the Bridge of Khazad-dûm after his battle with the Balrog, I turned to her, and I said, “Well, I guess that’s the end of Gandalf THE GREY.” Being a bit of a smartass who also kinda picked up on what I was saying, she said, “Oooh, does he come back as Technicolor Gandalf??” That’s what this dark, rich scent makes me think of. There’s the deep, loamy oakmoss, the aromatic autumnal tobacco, and the jammy sweetness of woodland berries. It’s like a pile of gorgeous jewels, veiled in shadows, all the colors of the dark. Which is actually the name of another movie, a 1972 Italian Giallo film alternately titled Day of the Maniac, which should give you a clue to my specific brand of nerdery. Who knows, maybe Poesie may do some retro-horror-nerd inspired scents one day!

Romulan Lovebird (Cuddling a cactus (cactus flower, aloe vera, creosote) with your cloaking device engaged (iso E super, black tea): I was very late to the game with regard to all things Star Trek. I only got into it a decade or so ago, so I definitely don’t know all there is to know. That said, this perfume smells like a juicy cocktail created with exotic botanicals from the aphrodisiac gardens on the playful paradise of the pleasure planet, Risa. I asked my husband what he thought, and he said that Romulans aren’t supposed to go to Risa because it’s in Federation space, but clearly, he underestimates Risa’s horny appeal, and those Romulan honeymooners are getting in there somehow.

Night Raven (Jasmine, cool misty musk, and shadows. A hint of Velaris’ blooming floral gardens, warm fireplace of the inner circle’s townhome, and a twist of marshmallow ): I have never read these books, and I doubt I’m ever going to; I’m pretty sure it’s “romantasy” and that’s not really my thing. But from what I understand they are very popular and much beloved, and that’s lovely. This soft, mysterious scent is probably perfect for fans of that world. But for me, Night Raven, with its cool, misty musk and dreamy, wispy floral jasmine, is a scent that immediately brings to mind the enchanted landscape between twilight and dawn, the aura of ethereal beauty and mystery of Michelle Pfeiffer as Lady Isabeau d’Anjou in Ladyhawke. But if Ladyhawke isn’t the epitome of romantasy right now, then what is, right? Am I maybe missing something by not reading ACOTAR? Let me know…

Tarot Sparrow (Old tarot decks, rose mint tea, sea mist, burning sage, bergamot, and the souls of departed sailors: Although I have written about tarot, and I’ve been collecting decks forever, I am not a tarot card reader. I’m coming at it from an art angle, I like to look at pretty things. And Tarot Sparrow is such a pretty thing. I am not a fan of mint at all, it’s actually my least favorite note, but the right kind of mint, when paired with vanilla, creates something quite soft and swoony and magical. A sort of musty, herbal sweetness. But there’s also a delicate luminosity to this scent, like a reflective bit of sea glass or a crystalline prism. It’s a gorgeous duality of tender shimmers that’s never too dusty, medicinal, or too piercingly bright.  To reiterate, it’s damn pretty.

Wren Fest (Fresh strawberries, grass from a freshly mown field, hay, ginger, and vanilla): This is an absolutely delightful scent that smells like strawberry incense, a small jar of red currant and rosé preserves, and the Mediaeval Baebes singing Ecce Mundi Gaudium at a RenFaire on a sultry late spring day in south Florida circa 2003.

While I ultimately love LUSH’s Shade, wow… it has the absolute ugliest opening of any fragrance I have ever tried. Mineralic and greasy, like rancid petrichor, like a stick of butter studded with rusty nickels and stubbed-out cigarette butts, melting on wet concrete after a scalding July sunshower in central Florida. But then it does something miraculous. The oppressive atmosphere lifts and turns into a completely different perfume, softly sugared and clean-woody-resinous, like the sacred soapy sap of the mystical marzipan tree. It’s so good, too good. Maybe even too-good-to-be-true good. It almost smells like something about which I would say: “I love this, but it’s not for me.” Because, in some way or another, it doesn’t feel like me. Too unstudied and unbothered and carefree, I guess. I’m too neurotic to pull this off! BUT somewhere in the vast multiverse, there exists the chillest, coolest, most untryhard version of me, and this is what they smell like. And when I wear this perfume, I am channeling that person…and it feels really, really good.

Three from Francesca Bianchi…

Under My Skin: Is the extraction of musk from shadow; it’s an immersive and hypnotic portal where you feel yourself slipping slowly under the depths of a lightless pool scented with leather and sandalwood and iris and–this could just be my brain’s association with the name of the perfume and a similarly titled movie– it’s an olfactory interpretation of the eerie minimalist strings track that lends fear and mystery to the alien temptress’s methods for luring and capturing her quarry in Under the Skin.

The Dark Side: Is actually the scent that drew me to this brand in the first place, and I’d been intending to order a sample for some time now. I was expecting darkness, but I was not expecting a savage lycanthropic metamorphosis under the full moon of a midnight bazaar. A whirlwind of feverish spices, the smoky char of glowing resins, the harsh metallic tang of hot breath, and the acrid sting of writhing, burning skin, a feral cocktail of predatory hunger and pitiless urges.

Luxe Calme Volupte: Is different from the other two, but I had the most interesting experience with it. I was reading about the idea of invoking the muse when I first sprayed some of the perfume on my skin, and I realized, enrapt by the tendriling greenery and the woodsy galbanum, that my mind had started to wander as I began to both daydream and open browser windows just to get a better sense of the fragrance’s inspiration. I was reading the Baudelaire poem referenced in the brand’s copy when I became aware of the bitter bite of the citrus and sour zinger of the tropical fruit notes, and that’s when I glanced down at the book I was meant to be reading and realized that the very next sentence in this book, utterly unrelated to the perfumes I was sampling, mentioned Charles Baudelaire! Maybe I am unduly influenced but I’m convinced this is the scent of deep, creative wellsprings, fertile, magical places, teeming with connections and synchronicities, and invocations to “Whosoever can bring light to a hidden thing.”

Treading Water’s Fig Wasp. This was a brand out of Portland referred to me by a friend of mine, which I’m glad she did, because I’d never heard of them. Also, Portland has my whole heart and it’s where I’d be living if it weren’t for responsibilities and obligations keeping me in FL, so I was already inclined to be jazzed about these guys.  I ordered the complete sample set of all of their fragrances, and the first one I tried is something that I immediately loved. I just wrote a blog post about how I’m not really a believer in adhering to seasonal fragrance rules, but I have come to the conclusion that summer perfumes are a necessity for me. Not beachy, tropical scents that conjure someone’s platonic ideal of summer, but rather subtle, spectral, fleeting things, cooling and soothing scents that act as small mercies, in a season that shows no mercy.  Sort of like olfactory air-conditioning. Fig Wasp falls squarely in this category for me. Beyond Fig Newtons, I don’t know the smell of figs, so for me this is dry grasses, bitter with the secrets of parched earth, damp woodland fog clinging to old growth tree limbs and your own mist-slick skin, the musty powder of mothdust, memory, and the detritus of dreams,  and the shiver of a deepening shadow in your wake not your own. It’s a fragrance that haunts the edges of perception, hovers close to the surface of your awareness and as you can see I’ve almost emptied the sample.

Naomi Goodsir Nuit de Bakelite OMG. OH MY GOD. This is going to sound weird, considering how I’ll be discussing it, but I don’t think I have ever been so excited about a perfume in my life.  This is the scent of rain lashing the pavement, turning the early evening streets into a labyrinth of slick, stagnant green. Dead leaves, twigs, and other nameless debris bob in the current and clog the gutters, their decomposition adding a cloying sweetness to the already oppressive air, the smell of things both growing and rotting. A late summer downpour that crawled under your skin, leaving you chilled even in the muggy heat.  A storm drain gapes open, its maw lined with slime and moss. Down there, in the choking green depths, something shifts. A sound, not quite a giggle, not quite a rustle, echoes up from the blackness, and, a voice, smooth as rain on stone, slithers softly. The sweet gurgle of a child, warped and twisted into something monstrous, a sound that promised secrets and shadowed places. “We all float down here,” it echoed, a promise both terrifying and strangely alluring. “Wouldn’t you like to float too?” Nuit de Bakelite is the fetid promise whispered by a monster in the dark, the smell of fear forever lodged in the back of your throat. Perfume enthusiasts x horror fans: if you know, you know. There are no words for how much I love this scent.

A Drop d’Issey Eau de Parfum isn’t a mythical unicorn, but it evokes a similar feeling. It’s a minimalist masterpiece that transcends its brief and somewhat simple list of notes- a trio of lilac, orange blossom, and almond milk – to create something unexpectedly revelatory. It’s a crystalline floral that’s somehow also a little musty-musky, but it’s so well-balanced I’m not actually sure if any of those descriptors work.  It’s effortless perfection that leaves you breathless, a glimpse of something impossible made real. The problem is…ugh. The bottle is hideous. As gorgeous and as perfect as this is, I can’t have that thing sitting on my vanity.

I really hesitated to before committing to writing a review for Guerlain Mitsuoko because at this point in time…why bother? Hundreds and thousands of words have been dedicated to this timeless fragrance and what have I got to offer that’s new or different? What am I really adding to the conversation here, and how do I think about it that makes the scent feel mine when I wear it? The whole exercise felt a little pointless…but. But. There was something there.  There was something in this musty classic that weirdly got me thinking of liches, those power-hungry necromancers that did some kind of dark ritual and jammed their soul into a phylactery (autocorrect wants me to use pterodactyl and I am so tempted) and who embraced the bittersweet pang of undeath eternity to become a husk of immortality.  Mitsuoko evokes that damp mausoleum herbal mustiness, and when you’ve slid back the impossibly heavy stone door of an ancient crypt to peek inside its atmosphere thick with dust and humming with the quiet thrum of the beyond… there’s this peach there waiting for you, glowing eerily with a sickly light, just having performed its unholy Ceremony of Endless Night. Cobwebby oakmoss, aromatic and tannic, soft and sour, hangs heavy, like a mournful shroud. And maybe now you’re just trapped with it, forever. Wearing Mitsouko is to become a bit of an unearthly phantom yourself, flickering in and out of existence; to cheat oblivion, to linger at the edge of the world–and walk the veil between. Is that what people mean when they refer to this fragrance as “timeless”? It works for me.

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Susan says

So curious about Nuit de Bakelite! An “old school” vendor at the antique mall where I worked taught me to identify genuine Bakelite jewelry other items by the smell when it’s rubbed enough to warm up or, if it can be done without leaving a visible mark, poked slightly with a hot pin. It’s the weirdest, most elusive chemical/industrial smell - kind of like gasoline but sickly sweet. I also learned that ivory and real tortoise shell smell like burning hair with the pin trick.

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