It’s been another busy month, and I’m afraid as much as I would have it differently, sniffing things was not at the top of my list of priorities. Still, I did manage to weasel my nose into a thing or two …much like these curious kittens in the fantastic imagery above by my new favorite artist of adorable animals, Horatio Henry Couldery!
Hortus from Possets is, I believe, a seasonal scent–a spring or summer limited edition. It’s a strange, slithery floral with a rich honeyed neroli and what I can only describe as an oily green musk. It’s lush and weird, like an overheated midnight hallucination, a pinch of shimmering nightmare shadow pulsing at the bottom of a glass stoppered botanical elixir.
Patchouli of the Underworld from Electimuss, to my nose, is a fragrance less evocative of the brutish god of the underworld and his nonconsensual bride than it is a summoning of the bitter heartbreak that’s tangled throughout the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. When I was younger, I was terribly salty on Eurydice’s behalf; all you had to do was not look back, Orpheus! You were so close to having your beloved wife back from the dead! But …no. You did the one thing they specifically tasked you with not doing. You looked. Margaret Atwood wrote in a poem from Eurydice’s point of view, “you could not believe I was more than your echo–” and I think that’s what Patchouli of the Underworld captures so uncannily, the pale grey echo of that very human doubt and disbelief on his part, and the bitter disappointment that she must have felt, and the sorrow experienced by both of them. Now that I’m older, I better understand and certainly have more experience with the crushing gravity of grief, I know that everyone experiences it differently. And grieving people deserve the gift of grace. Orpheus mourns his wife lost twice over, and Eurydice’s sorrow at being drawn back into the darkness of death because of her husband’s momentary lapse of faith must have been immeasurable. That is what this scent captures so well. Forget the brand’s copy about musky sexiness or whatever. That’s not what this is. It’s the lamentations of one whose fleeting hope was stolen away by the person they loved best, and the devastating sense of regret held by the thief. If one were to distill those echoes of melancholy, that antiquity of sadness, and bottle the resulting essence, the results would be an olfactory dirge of smoky mists of pepper and powder and strange inky-leathery nuances, that, over time, becomes a despairing funeral soapy floral.
By Serpentine by Exaltatum opens in a way that feels like a chimeric chypre, full of tentative promise but also a bit weird; it’s a delightfully sour/loamy/ambery chameleon of a fragrance, and I smell something different with every passing moment. The subtle sparkle and sass of pink pepper, a sophisticated bitter citrusy zhuzh of bergamot, the sharp, prickly verdancy of fir, a feathery tickle of violet’s delicate powderiness, and a velvety dreamy balsamic heart of woods and tobacco. It is a little too earthy to call luminous, but it gleams and glows despite its dustier aspects. By Serpentine is an incredibly light and elusive scent, I can’t quite smell it directly on my wrist where I have sprayed it, and yet I smell its halo hovering around me. It’s a thing of beauty, but it is not much for longevity; after half an hour or so, it’s as if waking from an exquisitely poignant dream that I have instantly forgotten the details of.
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve got some problems with the legendary Thracian bard, but I will set them aside for a scent such as Curionoir’s Orpheus Incarnate that is trying to capture a hyper-specific moment in his mythology. An olfactory interpretation of an underwater experience, a feeling of weightlessness and calm, visions of turquoise and mauve, and the irresistible lure of the siren’s song. I can’t fathom how they’ve done this–there is really nothing in this fragrance that reads to me as aquatic or oceanic or even anything watery, and yet, if you’ve ever floated on the tide, in the currents, even in the cool waters of your swimming pool, eyes closed to the glare of the sun or the glow of the moon, the echoing murmurs and gurgles of the world drowned out by the waves enclosing the soft pink shell of your ears–this is a perfume that conjures the slowing breaths and hushed heartbeats of that tranquility. I do pick up on the spiced clove of carnation, the cool, earthy oris, the decadence of the tonka and heliotrope, and the almost cloyingly sweet herbaceousness of licorice, and it’s all beautiful and brilliant chorus together…but I have no idea how that translates into the hypnotic sensory lullaby of a solitary midnight swim.
Over on tiktok I reported the results with regard to a commenter’s rando Amazon order dare. Now first, I want to say I didn’t go into the exercise thoughtlessly, so these picks aren’t totally random because I didn’t want to be wasteful with my money or possibly encourage anyone else to do that. I started with a somewhat random search and then branched out from there with some “customers who liked this, bought X, Y, or Z” type things. I ended up with a few brands I had a passing familiarity with, or else fragrance profiles that I was comfortable with from brands I’d never heard of (and probably never would, outside of a weird amazon search.) The results are actually surprising. Out of five perfumes, there is only one that I dislike, and it’s not even that it’s terrible. It’s just boring. (Which is actually worse than terrible, if you ask me!) Here are my findings!
Le Monde Gourmand Pistachio Brûlée with notes of Milky Mousse, Pistachio crumbs, and vanilla beans smells like Brazilian Bum Bum cream’s sandalwood and salted caramel cut with the peachy iris musk of Glossier’s You.
Oud Swisseri Vanilla Attar I actually did not know this was vanilla when I purchased it, but it doesn’t really matter because there’s no vanilla here. This is mostly Tom Ford Oud Wood, a chilly, peppery, coniferous melange of woods but with an extra side order of smoky bandaids. I don’t hate it.
Marem from Caswell Massey is a fragrance originally created for flamboyant silent film star Alla Nazimova, which I’m sure has been reformulated at some point. It’s a really lovely light rose and currant and citrus scent that darkens to a sort of mossy, ambery rose. The rose remains present as it evolves, but the rose you’re initially given isn’t the rose you end up with.
I was expecting Prince from Luxodor to be pretty awful, but honestly, it kinda blew me away. I think this is marketed as a men’s fragrance, but whatever. I’m fairly certain if you are here listening to me talk about perfumes, you don’t believe scents should be gendered, and neither do I. Anyway, this opens with a warm rush of woods and moss and musk, but somehow there’s a cloud of something that either borders on fruity or gourmand, but it’s enigmatically neither. I love this one. And I also love the bottle, which has got a weird amount of heft for being relatively small, and has a gorgeously intricate design.
The Curious Apothecary The Eccentric $25 says it’s a floral gourmand with vanilla brittle and Norwegian woods, but sadly, this is on par with very bland off-brand plug-in air-freshener, something scented with sugar cookie extract, ozone, and industrial plastic. It’s even texturally unpleasant, as it leaves a weird, greasy film on the skin. Ok, I changed my mind, it’s not just boring, it’s objectively terrible. Weirdly, this one is no longer on Amazon. You can find it here if you really want it, but I can assure you that you do not.
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