May Perfume Reviews
categories: scents & sensibility
Pictured above: when your perfume cabinet moonlights as a Penny Dreadful burlesque stage, I guess? I don’t think I am using this space optimally or efficiently, so I guess I will settle for using it ridiculously!
Here is a gathering of all of the perfumes I have reviewed this past month…
While I don’t often reach for fragrances that are considered light or fresh, Keiko Mecheri’s Les Nuit d’Izu is a scent that does these things exactly the way I like them. Les Nuit d’Izu is a poem, not a haiku, but perhaps a bittersweet tanka consisting of transparent green woods and sharp soapy florals, tempered by soft mosses and the musky powder of blooming citrus. It awoke in me a deep sense of nostalgia and it was driving me nuts because I couldn’t put my finger on what it reminded me of. I think Les Nuits d’Izu is a more posh version of Cotton Blossom, my favorite Bath and Body Works scent that’s gone through so many iterations that I’m not even sure what it’s called anymore. Cotton Blossom was a dreamy treat of white musk, soapy florals, and a hint of linens drying in the breeze high on a seaside cliff. It marked a time in my life filled with brief moments of tremulous hope tucked inside dark pockets of blinding despair. Les Nuits d’Izu shares many of these aspects, note-wise anyway, but with an intimate sense of midlife perspective from someone looking backward rather than forward. I feel like this perfume I am wearing today is the evolution and maturity of the body spray that I wore back then. I love it, but I don’t know if I can justify a full bottle when I’ve already got something that smells so similar. With maturity comes restraint and an obligation to fiscal responsibility after all. HAHA, that was a joke. You know I am going to buy a bottle.
Saturday and Sunday from Arielle Shoshana. Saturday is reminiscent of those Choward violet candies, but instead of a chalky sweet floral, it’s a chalky sweet green leaf, as well as vaguely soapy, in a botanically-fruity chemical Herbal Essences shampoo kind of way. Saturday smells like your best friend in middle school who you probably shouldn’t look up on Facebook because you’re gonna be horrified to see who she voted for in the presidential elections a few years ago and how invested she was in building a wall. Leave the past in the past and maybe just buy the cheap shampoo from your youth if you’re feeling nostalgic, it’s probably about $150 less than this perfume. From the notes, it sounds as if Sunday is meant to be some sort of matcha horchata frappuccino thing, but the rice milk, rather than being sweet and creamy on my skin, instead comes across as more grain-like and savory, almost like a puffed, unsweetened cereal. As if I was having a bowl of hot, salted, and buttered Rice Krispies. The coconut and vanilla try to peek through but it presents in a sort of jammy, condensed milk & jello retro 1950s dessert manner that’s really offputting, especially next to the Frito-Lay vibes. I think both of these scents are a pass for me.
You know, it’s possible in my old age I am becoming less rigid, and more flexible in expanding my horizons when it comes to my former hard-passes. Over time I had come to believe that I was just not a gourmand kind of gal. So maybe I’m just running into some really well-executed compositions, full of thoughtful nuance and all kinds of interesting facets…or maybe my tastes are changing all together. Does it matter? It’s good to keep yourself open to stuff, at any rate, so either way, it’s not a bad thing. Over The Chocolate Shop by 4160 Tuesdays is, at first, basically a cake straight to the face, bittersweet dark chocolate crumbs on your chin, rich, creamy milk chocolate frosting right up the ol’ schnozerino. But after a moment or two, there’s more to it. Now, this is gonna sound gross, but there’s a certain…scatological element that I am picking up on. I don’t know how else to say it I don’t want to think about it too much but there’s definitely an indolic something or other that makes this cocoa less delicious and more funky and weird. And I’ll be honest, that’s one of the reasons I like the scent. There’s nothing like that listed in the notes, though, so I’m not sure what I am smelling. There’s also a sort of Escentric Molecules velvet woodsy sandalwood/cedar undercurrent to the fragrance, which is really pleasantly elegant and understated, especially next to something so decadent as all that chocolate. So if the idea of a bottomless chocolate buffet + a mysterious and inexplicable poopy element + a squirt of ISO E Super rings your bells (and I mean you know why wouldn’t it) then this is a definite must.
Sante Sangre, created by Dmitry Bortnikov and Rajesh Balkrishnana. Raj thoughtfully sent to me a sample of this, along with a few of his other collaborations after seeing a few of my reviews on fragrantica, and I thought that was pretty cool and awfully generous. I believe this is meant to be a scent highlighting both lotus and dragon’s blood, which is a really intriguing concept because regardless of what they might actually smell like, those two notes feel so very different to me and conjure wildly different associations. Lotus being sort of delicate and ethereal and watery and dragon’s blood more spicy-powdery, rich and balsamic. The scent surprisingly enough opens with citrus and soil, a really zippy, tart, grapefruit-orange, and earthy garden smells of freshly turned dirt on a late spring morning when you’re trying to do a bit of planting before the day gets too warm. This is followed by a very pretty vanilla orchid flower and warm, smoky tonka note, along with soft, candied confections of resins and woods, like a sort of amber nougat with a sandalwood custard-cream center. Sante Sangre is a fragrance that hovers just beyond your perception; you can’t smell it on your wrist in the moment, you smell it where you were standing just a few seconds ago, in the room you left an hour ago. It’s a bit of a temporal anomaly of a perfume that’s really just begging me to break a few laws of space in time. In order to finish this review tonight, I feel I’d best served by tootling through a wormhole to future me or slipping through a secret window to past me in order to collate and coalesce all of the mes wearing this scent, so that I can get the full picture of it. I will get to work on that.
As with many things, because I am a spiteful, hateful hater when it comes to the things that everyone else loves and are super jazzed about, I was all set to be unimpressed with Debaser from DS & Durga. a figgy scent apparently based on the opening song from the Pixies 1989’s album, Doolittle. Shame on me.
Because I actually really love creation, and although I live to be right in all things, in terms of perfume I do actually love to be wrong. At first I was kinda leery because the initial sniff was of unripe peaches, rudely knocked off the tree by the ornery flaps of sassy corvids, to lay wetly in a mound of dewy grass clippings. It was fruity but far too green to be sweet, or even edible. The coconut note is green too, a coconut before its reached full maturity, at the stage you might harvest it for the water sloshing inside rather than the flesh. It’s clean and mineralic as opposed to sweet and creamy. And maybe what I mistook for peach is actually the fig, the cool, shady leaf and the bitter sap, but thankfully not the jammy, honeyed fruit. It dries down to moody, rooty, earthy iris, and soft woody musks. Do I get the punky energy of a Pixies song inspired by surreal cinema out of this scent? I don’t know that I do, but I don’t know that I don’t. It’s a subtle fragrance with some unexpected flourishes and off-kilter appeal and if being wrong means that I smell like an oddly understated but characteristically weird A24 film, then I am very ok with it.
Batsheva from Regime des Fleurs smells of a subtly smoky blackberry and violet incense, something you might burn to summon either spectral shades from the underworld or second-ranking seraphim. It’s a strange, amorphous mixture of the undefined: it’s neither sweet nor dry, aquatic nor earthy, fruity-resinous nor herbal fresh, edgy leather metal lord nor cottagecore sweetheart–and yet it somehow sits at the intersection of all of these things. I love Bathsheva’s early collections with their frills and ruffles and ditzy, saccharine prints, and this scent is a through the looking glass version of that twee weirdness, a dark, twisted fantasy that never quite made it from La La Land to the nightmare side. “Liminal” is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days, but this fragrance really does feel betwixt and between, grounded and ethereal– a space of utter unbelonging.
While I know that Blackbird from Olympic Orchids takes its inspiration from the warm, sunbaked days, ripe blackberries, dry grass, and cedar trees of the Pacific Northwest, my imagination took a very different turn upon first wearing it. Of time spent in a haunted glen, with hungry roots and mossy stone. And cross the brook, a of troop wicked goblin men–who find you napping all alone. They hobble, hurry, scrabble, scurry and once your face they spy, you wake befuddled, vision blurry to their helterskelter goblin cry: “Come buy our orchard fruits, Come buy, come buy.” Though I believe Blackbird is meant to evoke a dreamy temperate midsummer day, in its fruit like honey to the throat, I taste poison in the blood. The delicate mulberries, wild free-born cranberries, crab-apples, blackberries, damsons and bilberries, currants and gooseberries are born in snow and mud. Apologies to Christina Rosetti for hacking up your beautiful poem although at its heart I think it’s warning us not to be greedy sluts, but whatever. This is all to say, even though I hate fruit (in the perfume world and also in real life) I really like Blackbird. It’s an ominous blackberry cautionary tale in a grove of dramatic conifers.
Autumn Rhythm from Chris Collins is everything I wanted Autumn Vibes from Maison Martin Margiela to be, but which it miserably failed at delivering. I said what I said about it in my previous review at the time but instead today I am going to compare that scent to a dream I had last night where I crashed Reba McIntyre’s Thanksgiving dinner and she was aggressively pushing an excess of pumpkin pie on her boozy, belligerent guests. Autumn Rhythm, on the other hand, is a far cry from that cornucopia of autumnal resentment and lesson in exquisite restraint. THIS is the Ray Bradbury Autumn People fragrance I was hoping for. It’s the scent of a cool, smoky wind that clings to your hair and scarf after a walk in the waning light of a fall afternoon. Though a tussle of leaves have tumbled to the acorn-specked soil, most remain a soft serenade of green and pale, glowing yellow. Rhythm is a perfume of promise and patience as the trees slowly shed what no longer serves them, the dead and dying detritus of leaves, bark, needles, cones, and twigs, earthy, leathery, and woody and bitter. A strange melancholic verdancy, not crisp, but the tender, mossy dream of it. All of these notes, captured in a warm woolen halo of cashmere stitches and sweet musky skin. This is autumnal perfection.
I had previously tried one from Rook Perfumes–Undergrowth–which I didn’t love, but I held out hope because their offerings just seemed to evoke a sort the quiet drama and weird theatricality that I am very into. And so I think I found my gateway into their world with Thurible. I don’t smell the swinging sacramental censer of aromatic embers and worshipful smoke, but rather an abbess in her holy house working with the incense ingredients in their raw forms. Moss gathered from the lee of a stone, the earthy herbaceous poetry of crushed sage, the gunpowder floral of black pepper that dances frenzied confetti fragments of dark matter under a sturdy stone pestle’s grinding, all bound in the sticky shadows of leathery labdanum and musky amber honey. I don’t know if you light this for ritual descent into the twilight of the underworld or if you smear a fingerful across your tongue at night before navigating the dark corridors of dreams, but whatever its use it feels of disruptive eeriness and unreality where you learn of the things behind the things.
Hiram Green’s Arbolé is not what I expected from the verdant liquid pictured in the bottle. This is a woody anise, a waxy vanilla, a sweet, powdery heliotrope. A lot of reviewers describe this as luxe and cozy and elegant and I think I get that, but there’s something skin-crawling and unsettling that lies beneath. It’s the unreliable narrator in the best-selling domestic-noir thriller; she’s posh, privileged, possibly lives in a Parisian apartment or a luxury flat in London. She’s either in a troubled marriage or she’s grieving her dead husband and/or child, she’s isolated, she’s probably self-medicating and not always terribly lucid, she’s paranoid… or is she being gaslit? She’s spying on the neighbors, she suspects murder or kidnapping or espionage, she’s playing detective, she’s too smart for her own good but too late to figure out she’s been trusting the wrong person. She backs herself into a corner and rarely comes full circle, or even out on the other side of things. The scent of fear and anxiety exuded by these women as they make their way through the twists and turns of these stories? It is the fragrance of Arbolé’s queasy, uneasy prettiness.
Akro Haze is a cool, slithery scent of aromatic and bittersweet-camphoraceous herbs, the hissing sweetness of that unexpected and uncanny resinous maple syrup note that I associate with immortelle, and a quiet, stealthy base of leathery woods and patchouli. I can’t speak to the fragrance’s supposed inspiration because I do not partake, but it certainly does have a nocturnal, narcotic energy, all languid limbs, drowsing breaths, and being hypnotized by a gorgeous creature who is actually a snake spirit or a snake goddess, or a Medusa, or a half-woman, half-cobra monster created by a mad scientist, or whatever– what I am getting here is that Haze is a monstrously beautiful snake lady of a scent.
I can’t tell you anything about No. 32 Blue Oud by Cognoscenti that makes any amount of sense. Remember Smarties, those small, sweet pale, chalky disks of nostalgia, stacked in rolls, wrapped in crinkly cellophane, and which probably made up the bulk of your Halloween haul when you were a kid? Ok, well, imagine a confection along those lines, crafted by enterprising small business owner witch Pepper Dupree of the Whispering Hills (patent pending) and flavored with proprietary woodland essences of violet and bluebells and meadow rue, brambleberries, cypress and fern and a fuzzy snippet of flowering lichen that only blooms in the shimmering light of a blue moon. The candies are painted the intense velvety shade of midwinter nights, deep resolve, and slow truths, and emblazoned with silvery scenes of celestial significance. She was inspired by Zeus, the blind, starry-eyed screech owl that she saw on the internet and wanted to create a tiny treat that evoked for the user what Zeus awoke in her: a brief moment of universality, of wholeness within oneself and one’s connection with everything. As you can imagine, such visions, however exquisite or fleeting, come at a steep price–but Pepper Dupree now accepts Afterpay and Klarna.
Pear Inc. from Juliette has a Gun is rotting clumps of sour milk, canned fruit that’s been forgotten in a bunker for 35 years, and the slutty Egyptian musk that a zombie stripper demon might wear while giving you a wildly uncomfortable lap dance. My god. I just want to hurl this sample straight into the sun.
I have written about Clinique’s Aromatics Elixir before, but I thought I might revisit it because while I really do love it, the hows and whys of my love for it are certainly subject to change over time! Clinique markets the perfume as an “intriguing non-conformist fragrance.” Chandler Burr writes of its depth and shadows, and it’s described by many reviewers as “a chypre on steroids.” I find all of these things to be true, and more. It is a bitter, balsamic, menacingly astringent blend of cool, otherworldly woods and sour alien herbs, abstract florals and austere resins. Verbena and geranium, jasmine and oakmoss, bergamot and patchouli–all of the familiar notes for a classic and yet it feels out of time, wholly strange and new, as if it contains a strain of alien DNA. Like it’s been floating through the void of space in a cavernous non-Euclidean construct, the monstrous pressure and eerie whistle of the air ducts it’s been hiding in slowly driving it mad as it drifts a silent path through the cold stars, utterly alone. If this being had a message for us from across that cosmic ocean of emptiness, it would surely reach us after its death. Such a transmission from that dread abyss is the scent of Aromatics Elixir.
Imaginary Authors Fox in the Flowerbed is all fluttering spring petals, light feathery wings on a playful breeze, and unsettlingly intimate musks. Even the honeyed jasmine, usually so heavy, heralding summer’s muggy fug, feels like a gossamer dream on a cool, April evening. This conjures the beautifully tender, kinky lepidopteran weirdness of The Duke of Burgundy‘s bizarre love story. I know a fragrance inspired by the film already exists, but somehow Fox in the Flowerbed does a more proper and true job of it.
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I love your perfume reviews. They're so evocative. I actually started reading your blog because I stumbled across one of your reviews on Fragrantica and I wondered if you were a writer.
S. Elizabeth says
Oh, that's awesome! Thanks for the kind words and for stopping by my weird little space here :)