Dream Skin, a collaboration between bloodmilk x Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab is akin to a dream diary, a midnight scrapbook of filmy filaments teased from nocturnal murmurs, pressed between pages of mist and glass. Belled flowers gently floating across the face of the moon, reflected in a dark, fathomless pond. The whispered conversations between spectral, silvery quartz rock and wild, golden lightning, a tender grinding cascade of stardust. A pale moth glows and dims and dies on a cool silk shirt; a marble egg wrapped in lavender ribbon, shattered and swathed. An atlas of personal symbology, a grimoire of private fables, something beautiful but annihilating filtered through the eerieness and unreality of deep sleep brainwaves; an echo, unraveling at dawn.

The scent notes of Magic Circle from Fable and Canon somewhat correspond with the imagery and symbolism of the painting, the oudh, the cauldron smoke, the apotropaic qualities of the wilting wildflowers and clove, and in theory it sounds like a scent heavy with magic and power, evoking the claustrophobic midnight landscape of the painting. In reality, this is less moody and more foody, as if this menacing conspiracy of ravens opened up a coffee house and their special of the evening was a smoky maple latte and a demerara-sugar crusted, autumnal spiced biscotti.

DS & Durga’s new fragrance, Salem Gothic, exudes the crackling cosmic energy, celestial psychosis, and chaotic teenage telekinesis of my favorite X-files episode, Syzygy–or more specifically, the frenetic, maniacal Saber Dance music that plays during this scene. I can’t explain it, and I have no further notes.

Targhee Forest from Rogue Perfumery is the earnest, delighted musings of a daydreaming bryologist who writes wistful poems of the pensive creepings of mosses, lichen, and fern. These literary herbariums are the inspiration for their side hustle, where they saponify the loamy greenery and gently mix in an essence of white musk to create charming soaps that smell of moss-covered stone basking in a beam of sunlight.

Jones Road Shower is an aggressive laundry lily musk. This thing wants you to know its shit don’t stink, at no point has it ever been stinky, and in the future, there will be no stink, and how bold of you to suggest otherwise. It’s not just assertive in the intensity of its immaculate freshness, it is downright defensive –like you have accused it of some degree of funk&stank – how dare you!–and now it is doubling down on the extreme powdery white floral concentrated detergentness of it, it’s fucking drinking the stuff. Ok, ok! We get it! You’re clean! You’re a freshy-girl or whatever! Jesus! Calm down. You’re being quite a lot right now, Jones Road Shower, and you’re making me very uncomfortable. I don’t dislike this fragrance, but it gives the energy of something that’s trying very hard because it’s got something to prove. And some days I feel like that, too! But on other days, this perfume of freshly soaped and scrubbed skin, dryer sheets, and clean linens, cloaked in a sterile spray of something that kills both germs and joy and all dialed up to eleven, is just too powerfully hygienic smelling to me. Just let me have a little stank, please!

Imagine, if you will, that Madame de la Rougierre, the exceedingly creepy and exquisitely cruel governess in Le Fanu’s gothic tale Uncle Silas, was taken to task for her evil ways and, as divine punishment, was transformed into a brooding French bisque portrait poupée having to endure dusty shelves and grubby little hands for eternity. That is what the smolderingly honeyed orange blossom, wickedly animalic. waxily aldehydic, musty-powdery melancholy of Caron Narcisse Noir smells of. In a good way? Or…as good as it gets for Mme de la Rougierre, I guess?

Sometime in the last few months on TikTok, I shared a compilation of perfume suggestions inspired by gothic romance book cover art. I got several comments suggesting that Pulp Fragrances should have been mentioned. Apparently, gothic romance tropes are very much their thing! Though I was tempted to say “well…make your own dang list if you think you can do better!” But people don’t tend to appreciate that response, so instead I just honestly admitted I’d never even heard of the brand and took it as an opportunity to dive into something new. Anyway, I ordered a buttload of samples, and amongst them, I found one of the most perfect things I have ever smelled (even though to my nose it didn’t quite match up with the notes listed, or how I imagine the bleak melancholia of the philosophy it’s trying to evoke might smell like.) But who cares, it’s good! Hauntology smells like a gorgeously crystallized lump of sweet holy amber and a nose-tickling pencil-shaving whiff of crisp, glorious cedar incense. There is absolutely zero complexity. But also…who cares! It is simple and perfect. I need a dozen full bottles of this.

Myrrhe Mystere from Tom Ford is a scent that I really, desperately wanted to love, and in theory, with its notes of myrrh resins, sandalwood, and vanilla I feel like I should love it, I feel like it should sort of be the platonic ideal of a gothic romance novel cover art fragrance…and it is that for a few mysteriously fleeting moments. But then there arises something inexplicably off-putting about it.

It is the scented equivalent of bringing to class a very special item, something incredibly dear to you, to share for the weekly round of show and tell. As you tell the story of your precious thing’s origins you become too aware of how it looks through other people’s eyes, a little weird, a bit unsettling, maybe it exudes an underlying strange and vaguely unpleasant smell of cumin’s unwashed gym clothes’ B.O. pungency that has been masked with an herbaceous bouquet of anisette and mothballs from crinkled cough drop wrappers at the bottom of your handbag. You realize that maybe people aren’t as excited about your collection of teeth and bones and taxidermy as you’d initially hoped.

You go back to your earlier comparison or metaphor or whatever and realize your gothic romance heroine is written with more human flaws and foibles than you prefer and in fact she reminds you an awful lot of yourself, with equal parts hideous conceit and treacherously low self-esteem, that befuddling balance of the you you’re trying to put out into the world, charming, elegant, enigmatic, and the you that you try to keep locked in a secret attic, the one who hates to wash her hair and snorts like a truffle pig when they laugh and inevitably has food stuck in their teeth or a stain on their shirt. I wanted a Myrrhe Mystere representative of the gorgeous, doomed figures in those marvelously illustrated midnight tales of passion and madness–so that I could feel a bit of that beautiful gloom myself– and what I got was a mirror reflecting the glum reality of all of the ways I am none of that at all.

Tartan from Sarah Baker Perfumes/Sarah McCartney If you’ve ever smelled Hermès Ambre Narguille and thought, wow, this stuff is so sweet it’s actually going to kill me…I think you might want to give Tartan a try. In reality, I don’t know that they’re all that alike, other than a rich woody tobacco-y October vibe, but while Ambre Narguille really leans into that syrupy apple compote, Tartan is balanced by acrid leather and an embossed flask of peaty, smoky whiskey. I smell a different aspect of it every time I wear it, but when I close my eyes it conjures wooly earthen moss, the molten gold of autumn, and skeins of snow geese low on the horizon.

You can definitely smell the cantaloupe in Imaginary Authors Whispered Myths. The cantaloupe is the entire reason I passed over this fragrance with a “nah, I’m good” dismissal when I first saw the perfume announced. Its distinctive musty-musky honeyed gourd vibe registers immediately, but what’s interesting is that in combination with the accompanying and somewhat competing woody notes of barnacled shipwreck and oud’s scorched earth pungency, the cantaloupe becomes less fruity and more creamy, like if you asked a neural network to come up with a new flavor for artisanal ice cream shop’s daily special board.

Balefire Apothecary’s House of Cain is an intensely evocative fragrance with notes of fig, black tea and rice milk, labdanum, sawdust, and sandalwood. It immediately brings to mind the gauzy memory of a book I read as a child, or at least I thought I read it, and now I’m not sure if it’s real or if I dreamed it. I can’t even come up with enough of a plot to do a proper search for it. There was a young woman and an old mirror. Perhaps it was in a dusty attic, or maybe it was in a remote estate–or maybe it opened a door that took her between those places. There was a spicy element to the book, I think it was actually somewhat a progenitor to some of the supernatural erotica available today, but I feel like this particular book was from the 70s or early 80s. This fragrance though, is not about that, not her mundane existence on one side of the mirror or her salacious adventures on the other, but rather it captures those fleeting frequencies of liminality in the otherworld of those moments between. And honestly, memory is tricky, and none of that may be true to the book at all, but that’s what I’m feeling with this perfume, so it’s true enough. It’s the sweet, desiccated must of dried figs on a drift of dead branches and a ghostly moonlit snowy powder from a century’s old cosmetic puff. It’s the notion that the present is haunted by lost futures and the wistful omens that shadow your memories may be dreams of things that never occurred at all.

I’m going through the 2023 Pineward winter sampler and I am in raptures over Gingerbread, which despite its confectionary recipe list of notes, is not the least bit foody. If you’re expecting a fragrance evoking a little gingerbread house festooned with cookies and candies, you may be surprised when what you get is an elegant gingerbread mountain hunting lodge. There’s the peppery bite and zingy warmth of those autumnal spices, but the brown sugar has the smoky depth of the hearth’s charred sweetness, and the walnut is more the smooth polished brown wood and soft worn leather of an armchair, and those milky notes are come through as the creamy comfort of a buttery cashmere sweater, warm against your skin as you press your palm to frost-flowered windowpane while a furious winter blizzard whirls and wails just outside those spice-speckled, subtly sweet, smoky gingerbread walls.

 

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