New Valaam from Phronema perfumes is a fragrance inspired by the Alaskan Spruce Island hermitage of New Valaam, named so by holy man and clairvoyant wonderworker Father Herman, a monk who was eventually sainted in 1970. A scent celebrating wildlife and the fertility of nature, it opens with bitter, brittle greenery preserved in a bygone botanist’s notebook: a small curl of fern, fronds fanned into shrunken shadow against the page, crest crumbling into dry dust. But by some manner of perfumer’s alchemy, you can smell where that fern once furled: the dew dewdrops on wildflowers, lily of the valley and forget me nots, yarrow and aster, the faint, wild musk of a snowshoe hare streaking through lichen. In a strange but not entirely unpleasant twist, the scent dries a bit soapy and sour and yeasty, not entirely unlike wet dog ears. This is such an interesting and unique green scent, and though it’s not something I can see myself wearing, I do think it’s nice to just spray the sample and think about it.
Corfu Kumquat from Aedes de Venustas: In a small Greek village built on the slopes of the island’s highest mountain is a quietly atmospheric little ghost town with only two or three permanent inhabitants. One of them is a kumquat that never fully ripened, too sour and pithy for marmalade and liqueurs, too small and strange to be of much practical use. Perhaps it was overlooked. Perhaps it forged its own little path in life. It’s now the local guide for the village, steering tourists hither and yon along cobblestone roads, sharing historical anecdotes and eerie legends, and finally depositing them at the gift shop once the excursion has concluded. As the crowd disperses, it reaches into its pocket for a cigarette and lights up in the cool shade of an ancient stone cottage, exhaling smoke through its citrus peel pores, whirling and curling in satisfying vaporous salt-air swirls, while catching glimpses of the sun glinting on the sea through the undulating mountains.
So…Poivre Sacre, or Holy Pepper, from Parfums Caron. For some brief backstory as to why I’m sampling this right now, whenever a perfume is mentioned in a book I’m reading, if it’s something I’ve never heard of or that I haven’t tried before, I’m always keen to track it down. I recently read Leigh Bardugo’s Hell Bent, which I was wildly looking forward to after having finally read The Ninth House, and one of the characters was wearing Caron Poivre, described as smelling of “clove, tuberose, amber.” Unfortunately, I think even the reformulation of Poivre is discontinued. So, I got the samples of the next closest things on the Caron site: Poivre Imperial and Poivre Sacre. And here we are. This is a gorgeously dry scent: the bitter, bracing bite of black pepper that somehow runs both cool and hot, leathery, smoky woods that feel like a cross between palo santo and cedar, and hints of grassy, earthy, bittersweet saffron and the tiniest dash of sour, pungent cumin, to keep things interesting. This is a very close-to-the-skin scent that makes me think of candle flames and shadows and secrets, chasing the darkness to its depths, following a temptation –without succumbing– straight to its sinful, sulfurous source, and you, glowing, incandescent, a lit match in hell.
On one hand, I am clearly enjoying my sample of Liis Luciennne— it is all but sniffed through–on the other hand, I can’t really see myself wearing this fragrance. This is not a rose perfume, and yet it’s the most beautiful rose scent I’ve ever experienced. A bright, perfect citrusy midsummer afternoon rose when there’s not a cloud in the sky, and the sun is an explosion of lemonade-scented joy, and dipping your feet in the cold water sputtering from the sprinklers sends the most delirious shivers of delight up your spine. And the more you splash around, the more you are compelled to take a deep dive to the bottom of the pool or, better yet, the tranquil currents of the ocean. This rose has a lovely, serene aquatic aspect, a fresh marine musk, and it’s less rose at this point and more mermaid, swimming in peaceful tides while the sun beams a watery light through the warm, turquoise waves. So why can’t I see myself wearing it? Honestly, it’s too perfect. It’s like a rose who is a mermaid who is also a cheerleader and valedictorian and is a natural leader and is never awkward and always knows the right thing to say and would definitely never lock themselves in a bathroom and cry in a party because they were feeling overwhelmed and shy and just wanted to go home. This is a rose that is not even actually a rose and one that is also not me, and I’d feel like a giant fraud every time I wore it. I often think of the transformative power of fragrance and how a spritz of perfume is akin to slipping into another skin and magical and liberating that can be. So why can’t I pretend for a while? I think I’m just so set in my ways as a grimy little hermit-hearted gremlin that as much as I admire that immaculately rosy person I’ve described, I’ve long let go of wanting that for myself.
Jorum Spiritcask opens with notes that waver wildly between blithe, breezy, and aerated, as well as viscous, syrupy, and raisiny. Like stewed prunes gone parasailing through the fluffiest-tufted cumulus clouds. Unfortunately, their ultimate destination appears to be a cloying, claustrophobic rootbeer-filled oak-barrel hot tub orgy, and that’s a scene I’m just not into. If you ever thought, “boy I sure wish Hypnotic Poison were 1000% more potent and suffocatingly gaggy!” this may be for you.
Fraaagola Salaaata from Hilde Soliani is fun for a split second; it smells like strawberry Jello-scented lipgloss or a tiny bottle of effervescent summer berry eau de toilette that was sold alongside Angel Face Barbie in the 80s. Very sweet, no nuance or complexity (though I do think that’s sort of the point of a perfume like this.) BUT then it becomes this monstrous vision of a wild strawberry kiwi ice-breeze-whatever vape pen shoved up a half-melted red gummy bear’s butt, and even more horrifying still, a plume of vape juice smoke billows out of its squished little vape bro mouth, and oh my god I am gagging again you don’t even want to see the face I am making just now.
I don’t want to end on a sour note with those last two bummers, so here are four more silk flower perfume oil blends from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s Lupercalia Collection!
Blue Silk Rose, with notes of sugared violets and dried blackberry and elusive hints of citrusy rose and smoky musk, is a light, impish fruity floral that’s the olfactory equivalent of excellent advice from astrologist Rob Brezny, something fun about liberating our imaginations and encouraging us to visualize life as a mythic quest. It’s the playful poetry of the weightless, mid-air hops and skips between dodging the shadows or jumping over the cracks in the sidewalk, a bright pop of color on a grey day, a tiny reprieve from the everythingness of everything in a waft of fleeting sweetness.
Silk Tiger Lily very nearly gives me savory vibes when sniffed right out of the bottle–something like saffron and cumin mingled spice cupboard tendrils– and from there on, the evolution is just rapid-fire-revelatory. First, a briny ginger fire, a spicy salinity, as if the knobby little rhizome has been treated to an oceanic pickling; then, seamlessly, a warm, peppery floral with a nose-tickling lemon halo, beautiful, bracing, and buoyant.
Black Silk Orchid looms from the vase sweet and shadowy, summoning associations of a trio of BPALs I know and love: the dark brown sugared musks of Smut, the deeply vanilla-patchouli incense of Snake Oil, and Haunted‘s murky, mysterious amber glow. There’s a breezy element that runs through it, though, something that sets it apart, conjuring something wholly new. It’s a thin, weird wind, not brisk and autumnal and not of the gentle spring variety; it’s not outdoorsy at all. More like a draft from deep within your home that you can’t locate, a door that maybe you didn’t even know was there, ajar and inviting things from beyond. It’s full of darkness and a bit dusty, emanating from somewhere utterly, disturbingly unknown. A prickling shiver you feel when somewhere in the old house, in an unused, forgotten room, a vampire quietly steps out from inside a grandfather clock at the stroke of midnight.
Silk Daffodil is profoundly green and sticky sweet, a heady murmur of celadon syrup and crushed emerald honey, veined with dark whispers of woody-floral spice and a last gasp of jasmine-orange blossom-vanilla.
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