Valaya from Parfumes de Marly is lively and elegant and immediately brings to mind the heroine of a period romance, someone you might describe as beautiful, free-spirited, and headstrong. And she probably doesn’t want to marry or have children or live by society’s standards or conventions, and she may in fact, get kicked out of finishing school because she punched one young woman in the mouth and kissed another young woman in the same place. She runs away to Europe, holds feminist salons, and becomes both a secret political power and an ungovernable poet of no small renown. She smells of crisp cotton and luxurious linen pantaloons, the dozens of verdant, woody ferns which adorn every square inch of her Parisian apartment, and the delicate, musky nectar of a ripe peach which she is frequently seen biting into, her sharp, small teeth pausing to smile enigmatically between juicy mouthfuls.
Hygge from Hexennacht has notes of stroopwafels, cardamom-infused custard, oatmeal porridge, and fir, and it smells like a witch’s coffee shop brimming with aromatic baked goodies and artisanal lattes in the midst of an enchanted evergreen forest.
With Stars Surrounded is one of the most recent collaborations between Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab and Haute Macabre, and I have tried every single one of their myriad collabs, so I can say without a doubt this one is unbelievably beautiful and is probably my absolute favorite. This is a silvery night queen opalescent moonstone of a scent with notes of coconut, tobacco flower, white tea, and violet.
I really love how I experience the different notes comprising Full Moon (at the Temple) from Poesie Perfume, so separately and distinctly upon the first few minutes of sitting with the scent: the grainy popped corn sweetness of the white rice, yuzu’s tart, sparkling floral citrus complexity, the musty mineralic mossy limestone melancholy of cool lake water. These elements orbit each other independently until they merge, seamlessly and suddenly with the otherworldly holiness of the hinoki wood in a tender, glowing poem of a perfume. The inspiration for Full Moon (at the Temple), Lady Murasaki’s writing rituals, and her pilgrimage east from Kyoto, where at the temple she observed the August moon reflected in the waters of Lake Biwa, these things really speak to me, as a writer who practices my own rituals, who frequently and frustratingly observes the various sums of the disparate words I’m writing forming an eventual, sometimes satisfying, and hopefully beautiful whole.
Black Chamomile from Bath & Body Works (this is discontinued, but you can find it on sites like Mercari, which I did). I have a soft spot for those Bath & Body Works bedtime aromatherapy blends, and I was intrigued by the idea of this one, even though I apparently found out about it a few years too late. With notes of chamomile and bergamot, it’s a soft, pretty scent that perhaps smells vaguely of chamomile’s apply-floral/sweet straw aspects, but I can’t detect the begamot at all. If anything, it leans somewhat aquatic, with notes of white tea and waterlily. It makes a pleasant pillow mist and room spray and I’m glad I was able to find a bottle and give it a try. (Thanks to LC of nearlynoseblind on TikTok for putting this on my radar.)
My experience with Steamed Rainbow from DS& Durga leaves me in a state of mind to offer impressions rather than a proper review of the perfume: childhood summers scooted out of the house from sunup to sundown by a harried single mother tired of children underfoot during times of day when they are typically in school/dewdrops on grass clippings and neon hibiscus petals hastily evaporating in early July morning Florida heat/my mother’s rare appearances on those afternoons, the scent of those synthetic citrusy florals of her Bain de Soleil sun oil/a rare sprinkler day, the small device rotating and twisting and spitting thin streams of ice cold water, shocking on sun-warmed skin, sizzling on scalding asphalt/that dizzying kaleidoscopic shimmer and spray as a sunbeam prisms through a small splash, a magic summer star in my palm, toes cool in already warming puddles.
DS & Durga sent me a few samples of Pistachio. I know there was a bit of a kerfuffle a few months ago with regard to another Pistachio fragrance, and not being among the perfumetok elite, I am not sure I understand or care to understand what that was all about, but now I can’t think of any kind of Pistachio without internally referencing what I came to think of as “Pistachio Gate.” Drama and silliness aside, and full transparency, I don’t know what a freaking pistachio smells like– my only experience with them is as savory salt-barnacle-crusted nibbles. This fragrance is not that. It’s a soft, cardamom-blossomed, marzipan-petaled, floral meringue, velvety heliotrope musk of a scent, sprinkled with a pinch of vanilla cake mix. Imagine all of that in a fluffy pudding. Now convert that pudding to a plush velour onesie. Ok yes, there it is. An adult onesie full of pudding. Subtly sweet, close to the skin, not really all that potent and yet somehow…aggressively cozy?
Park of the Monsters from In Fieri s a fragrance I found via an Instagram account that I follow. I love reading this person’s thoughts on fragrance because they’re not really reviews structured around opinions and critiques but rather gently disjointed stream-of-consciousness musing. As someone who experiences perfume in terms of dreams, memories, and stories, as opposed to notes, noses, houses, and brands, I connect with their approach. At any rate, I can’t remember what they said about Park of the Monsters, but that’s not the important thing–what matters is that they brought to my attention the reality that there exists a fragrance inspired by a place I have long been obsessed with: the Italian gardens of Bomarzo, where one may take a serene stroll through a Renaissance horror show filled with massive statues sculpted of volcanic rock– giants, dragons, sea monsters, a gaping hell mouth etched with the phrase, OGNI PENSER VOLA, or “All reason departs.” The fragrance created from memories of childhood visits to the garden actually caused all my reason to depart because before the first spray had fully dried on my wrist, I decided I desperately required a bottle. If you were to climb inside the monstrous, mossy maw of a dead stone god and lose all sense of time and perspective, this is the scent that would slowly descend upon you. Animalic musks of the retro vintage glamour variety, the peppery emerald spice and incense of sacred trees, and hypnotizingly intense florals, not just lilies, but maybe all lilies, each lily there ever was, a confounding, never-ending magic eye painting, a perpetual lily illusion. This is a gorgeous, profoundly thoughtful, and thought-provoking scent, and it is everything I want from the art of perfumery.
I did a lot of research before placing my first order with Cocoa Pink, and all signs on Reddit indie perfume threads pointed to a massive crowd favorite: Ivory Eyelet. With notes of buttercream, lemon curd, marshmallow, and vanilla ice cream, it is the perfumed embodiment of the saccharine froth and frills of this dreamy, gauzy pale lemon meringue cream of a Gunne Sax dress...which is not to say I don’t love it BECAUSE I DO.
I will confess that when I first smelled these perfumes from Andrea Maack I was having a particularly bad day. I told you all about it on TikTok. I was going to smell some Strawberry Shortcake candles and hope things got better. But what actually made it better was the sample selection I was trying from this perfumer. The first and only scent I’d ever tried from Andrea Maack was Coven, and that was a dark, dank scent that smelled like the Witch King of Angmar got wrecked and fell asleep in a mossy gutter just outside the Prancing Pony. I loved it. But these two scents I’m mentioning today are NOTHING like that. The first is Smart, it’s a powdery vanilla sandalwood tempered by some leathery jasmine musk and it’s less heady than you might expect; it has a similar vibe to Glossier’s You and Studied from Liis, and I don’t mean they smell at all alike, they just feel like the perfect finishing touch to make you feel put together. And, like if you spritz it when you’re feeling less than stellar, it gives you that “I’m smart enough, I’m good enough, and gosh darn it, people like me” energy. Now the other one that I tried is Lightsource, and it is also on the lighter side, by which I guess I mean it’s light as compared Coven’s black mold and decay. It’s pretty, but it’s got an element of the weird, which I always appreciate. There’s the somber gravitas I always, for some reason, associate with perfumery’s green fig note and pink pepper’s tingly rosy effervescent spice. And this is a note that always seems a bit jaunty, gleeful. It’s that imp of the perverse who whispers something silly and inappropriate in your ear then you’re appallingly the gigglingest dickhead at the funeral. These two fragrances cheered me immensely, both sniffing them and thinking about them, and I think it’s safe to say that perfume saved the day.
P.S. now is probably a good time to remind you that I have a Patreon where I talk about perfume-related things that you might not see here (including the snarkier stuff, heh!) There are also giveaway opportunities and a monthly scented missive in your mailbox from yours truly!
Have you preordered your copy of The Art of Fantasy, or do you have plans to do so sometime before August 1, 2023? YAY! That’s great. So listen up:
The first 100 entrants to squiggle their order deets into these little forms on the Quarto site will receive a signed bookplate & some art goodies, including a sticker, a bookmark, and a signed (by me!) book plate! I don’t know that the above image is exactly what these things will look like, but the above is probably a close enough approximation.
Let’s peek a little closer! This is the painting The Faun and the Fairies by Daniel Maclise (c. 1834.) Lit by the shimmering glow of a bright butter-yellow moon, encircled by the faint luminescence of a rainbow, and observed by no one but a dazed and dumbfounded midnight owl, this amorous extravagance by Daniel Maclise (1806–70) depicts nocturnal fairy revelries presided over by the melodious musical stylings of a syrinx-playing satyr and is thought to be one of Maclise’s most magical paintings. Fairy paintings were an avid fascination for the Victorians, offering escape from the changes of industrial society and an indulgence for their preoccupation with the romance of the paranormal and supernatural.
Pre-order your copy of The Art of Fantasy by August 1 from any retailer and be one of the first 100 readers to receive bonus goodies! Details here.
What was your first brush with the fantastical? For me, and undoubtedly for many, it was a naughty little rabbit in a blue jacket stealing Mr. McGregor’s veggies. For others, it may have been a maddening and enigmatic cat teasing a girl lost in Wonderland and who disappeared, leaving only a grin. Or, for an unfortunate few, it may have been lions, tigers, bears, and OMFG, ARE THOSE FLYING MONKEYS? A terrifying squadron of soaring simians swooping down from the sky to snatch up unsuspecting little dogs and haunting nightmares for many years to come!
Though our grown-up appetites for fantasy creatures may have evolved beyond those of adorably floppy-eared childhood friends and expanded to include all manner of beasts with wings and horns, tails, and scales, we can’t deny that friendly or scary, naughty or nice, these creatures sparked our imaginations, populated our dreams and built the foundation for future stories and adventures. These small creatures were the gateway – or the guardians at the gate – to the magical critters and beasties that populate the fantasy media we consume as adults.
Today I am sharing a few of my favorite spreads from the Creatures Great and Small chapter of my forthcoming book. In these pages, you will find some old favorites, some older works that you may not have seen before, and loads of fantastical art from brilliant contemporary artists, too!
Thank you to these wonderful artists for permitting me to include their magical creatures in my little art book, and I do hope that -if you are not already familiar with them–you will peruse their accounts and websites and come to adore their creations as much as I do!
And I cannot wait to share more such fantastical art and artists in the upcoming days! In the meantime, you can pre-order The Art of Fantasy wherever books are sold, and I hope that you do! As you hear all the time from every author friend, preorders are incredibly helpful & so on and so forth.
So kindly do so, or perhaps consider sharing this post or tagging a like-minded friend with a penchant for art, fantasy, and all things marvelous and magical. Thank you!
Philadelphia fiber artist Caitlin McCormack creates works of somber delicacy and a deliciously subtle flavor of strange humor (the best kind of humor!) At turns whimsical, vulnerable, and unsettling, ghostly avian skeletal remains and vibrant floral forms tenderly chained with fragile lace, memories trapped in knots, via cotton, glue, and a deftly flashing crochet hook.
A personal taxonomy of hybrid anthropomorphic specimens acts as emotive artifact and memento mori, evoking imagery of folklore, medieval botanical imagery, and osteological displays, and explores gender and sexuality, isolation, traumatic recollections, familial legacy, and anxieties regarding ways in which we inhabit and care for the planet.
By using media, skills, and practices inherited from beloved departed relatives, Caitlin generates emblems of a diminishing bloodline, representing both the persistence (and warping) of memory and the significance of cloth and thread in human experience.
Why is it that in this current year of 2023, no one seems to know who the cover artist is for this iconic Dell Laurel-Leaf A Wrinkle in Time cover art?? In a time when we have so much information available to us at our literal fingertips, how could it possibly be that the above marvelously and terrifyingly iconic imagery is perpetually credited to “unknown artist”? Even the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, always an excellent and trusted resource, does not have an answer. [UPDATE: HEY LOOK AT THAT, THE ISFD PAGE IS UPDATED WITH THE INFO.] [If I get one more commenter snarking, “a quick visit to ISFDB would have sorted it out,” I am going to scream. It was only updated last week, people!]
Ok, so if you are anything like me, you will immediately be moved to do some reverse image searching through various internet search engines and see what you can find out, and I won’t stop you, but I promise you, I have already done massive amounts of internet amateur sleuthing. You’re not going to find the answer in the myriad “A Wrinkle in Time covers, ranked” listicles – they will list artists like Ellen Raskin, or Leo and Diane Dillion or Rowena Morrill in connection to the various editions of this book–if they share any of the names of the cover artists at all–but they are all ultimately useless because no one credits the artist for this particular cover.
You may find a blog post wherein the writer thoughtfully speculates that it could be this artist or that, deliberating and debating the nuances of various artists’ styles and settling upon the theory that the artist could be Charles Lilly. That blog post ends with the blogger noting they will contact the artist and report their findings. Strangely, that blog post is only found in the internet archive, despite the fact that the blog itself is still available online and is updated as recently as this year. There is no way to leave a comment for the blogger, and there is no contact information, so I @ed them on Twitter to find out if they did indeed reach out and if they received an answer.
So in lieu of that, if it is, in fact, Charles Lilly, you figure you can bypass the middleman in this instance and reach out to the artist yourself with an email address you find on the African American Painters website, but that would be too easy, and the email bounces back. So you find the artist on Facebook, which you are not going to link to, because that feels a little like encroaching on someone’s boundaries of privacy, but it’s easy enough to find if you look for it. And there is no contact info there, so you send a DM politely inquiring. To date, you have not received a response.
You hear from someone that they saw on a Reddit thread that it could possibly be Michael Whelan. You’re so desperate for answers you don’t even check first to see if this Reddit thread exists, you go straight to Micheal Whelan’s website and send a note through the contact form. You receive a response immediately replying that Whelan “hasn’t illustrated anything for Madeleine L’Engle” and agreeing that yes, this is quite the mystery, and have you seen the blog post speculating whether or not it is Charles Lilly? [EDIT: IT MIGHT NOT BE LILLY–SEE BELOW]
You receive a message on Instagram five minutes ago suggesting that it is perhaps The Brothers Hildebrandt. You send a message through their contact form and also message the remaining brother on Facebook. [EDIT: I have since heard back from Spiderweb Gallery, it is not The Brothers Hildebrandt.]
Finally, you send a message through the contact form and the various email addresses listed at madelinelengle.com as a last resort, even though, in retrospect, maybe that should have been your first move.
Lastly, you write all of this up in a blog post for the other people who are feverishly curious about this mystery. If you’ve got ANY ideas or leads for me that have not already been covered above, please leave a comment or email me and let me know. And I will definitely update this blog post as I learn more, even if it’s just to say definitively, no, it’s not Charles Lilly or The Brothers Hildebrandt or something like that.
Ooof! This has been driving me nuts for the past two years, and not only because I wanted to include this beautifully nightmarish work in The Art of Fantasy. Obviously, without knowing the artist, I couldn’t even attempt to ask anyone for permission to use it! I’ve gotten over that aspect of it, though, and now I just want to KNOW.
Update: Per someone’s suggestion, I have also shared this on the unresolved mysteries subreddit, but I don’t have great luck with Reddit. I feel like every time I post something, I am always unintentionally breaking some rule or not doing something right and being told to scram. We shall see. [EDIT AGAIN] Ok this is the only subreddit that has ever been nice to me and I love them. They also suggested several other subreddits! Someone on one of the subreddits suggested tweeting at Madeleine L’Engle’s twitter account, which is curated by her granddaughter, but the response was…not super helpful.
Update: other artists that have been suggested by helpful Redditors:
John Jude Pallencar (probably not)
Boris Vallejo (I really don’t think it’s him, and someone on Facebook seems to be confirming it is not him, but I am not sure what that is based on, so more on that as I learn it. [EDIT] The individual asked Julie Bell, Boris’ spouse, who confirmed that it was not Boris’ work].)
Further update: I heard back from Wheaton in record time (36 minutes!!). Sadly, their response was: “Unfortunately, we are unable to locate the artist for that edition of A Wrinkle in Time.” Booo!
Update: It was suggested that I reach out to Adam Rowe of 70’s Sci-Fi Art. I have done so. I eventually had some back and forth with Adam both in the comments of this blog post and he’s been tagging me in various things on twitter as they come up–see below, and thanks Adam!
Update: It was suggested that I contact Jerad from Centipede Press. I have done so. Jerad responded and suggested Charles Lilly.
VERY INTERESTING UPDATE AS OF MAY 16, 2023: A commenter on this blog post shared the following: “Shared this fun article with a fellow illustrator thinking he’d enjoy it and speculating. Turns out he was out of town on a getaway and happened to be visiting concept artist Eliott Lilly, Charlie’s Lily’s son. Eliott didn’t think it was his fathers, but passed it on to his father who confirmed it was not him, but thought it might have been his assistant (at the time) Toni Taylor. Looked into that, timeline did not mesh unfortunately, and Toni confirmed it was not her.”
Another update: I’ve gotten the awesome folks at Endless Thread interested in this mystery (thank you to the Redditor who suggested these guys) and they are doing all kinds of digging!
70’s Sci-Fi art actually commented on this post and has been tagging me on Twitter as things turn up. Richard Bober was suggested as a solid contender, but according to this thread, it seems to have been confirmed by his agent not to be him.
To be honest, I started this blog post about three weeks ago, and about five minutes into it, I got bored and thought, “ok, done now!” and gave up. Today I’m realizing that there’s not really been any more of the personal-in-nature, lifey-bits on this blog (I’m guilty of putting all of it in my newsletter now), and maybe I actually need to buckle down and finish this. To make it look like a real person lives here, I guess.
Anyway, I had totally forgotten what the title of the blog post was about, what was I referencing? But now it’s coming back to me, and actually, no one gave me that culantro. I bought it by accident when I thought I was buying stemmy spinach. We’ve found a very low-key, no-frills local farmer’s market somewhat nearby, and in the last few months, I’ve been stupidly excited about our visits loading up on herbs and veggies for half the cost of what we might spend in the grocery store (I need that extra money for books and perfume!) It’s just a few stalls of produce; there are no artisanal bread or cheese sellers, no coffee stalls, nothing fancy like that. Just a few people selling fruits and veggies.
Instead of going there with all kinds of plans and recipes in mind, I’ve decided that I will just show up and see what looks interesting and grab it! And then figure out what to do with it on the fly during the course of the week. I’ve sort of fallen into a rut over the last few months. Not without good reason, I guess. I was writing a book and working toward many deadlines, and it was easier to make a lot of simple meals, salads for lunch, and easy brothy soups for dinner. I didn’t have to think about it too much, and I didn’t have to expend a whole bunch of energy. Now I’ve got more time on my hands, and I am realizing that I really miss experimenting!
So what did I do with all of that culantro? First, if you’ve never even heard of it (I had not), it’s an herb that is similar in taste and smell to cilantro, but it looks quite different, and the taste is a lot stronger. I made sofrito with it, except I didn’t have peppers, so I used celery (!!) instead. I realize they are not interchangeable, but, eh, it was an experiment. I also made a dipping sauce for dumplings –and then realizing we had no dumplings, I had to make some of those, too–but Yvan and I agreed this would probably make a better salad dressing.
SO. The featured image for this blog post is not culantro. It’s a random flowering plant from our garden, which we’ve finally begun working on. It’s a mess right now and making me very anxious, so let’s change the subject.
It’s a slow, rainy day today; everything is gloomy and dim. All of my favorite corners looked especially haunted, so I thought I might grab a few murky photos, light a candle, play something atmospheric, and cobble together a cozy space for writing.
Our friend Pam just left from a quick overnight visit, and I’m recovering from the gardening she helped us with this morning and the ONE cocktail I had last night. Lordy. As I am becoming An Old, I am coming to the realization that I can barely drink anything without feeling absolutely woozy and wooly afterward. I need to find some tasty mocktail recipes, except we need to call them something else because I hate the word “mocktail,” it’s just too dumb.
So Pam and I watched some great movies while she was here. Yvan is not a horror movie fan, and I don’t subject him to it, but I’ll always take advantage of having company if they swing the way of spooky movies. As a matter of fact, the last horror movie of any kind I watched was last October, yikes! Last night we saw Huesera: The Bone Woman, which came highly recommended by Andrea at Rue Morgue. An artful pregnancy-as-body-horror/dark side of motherhood story, it follows Val, a former punk-rock rebel turned somewhat domesticated wife, who is caught between what she wants for herself and what society wants for her and who is stalked by a sinister entity after she realizes she has become pregnant. I really enjoyed this one (I especially loved the mid-century modern artsy decor of her apartment!) We also watched M3GAN, and I am sure that I do not need to tell you anything about that one because I am the last person in the world to watch it, but it was delightfully silly and a lot of fun.
My Best Good Friend stayed with us a few days last week, and holy moly, I am just realizing that one. we have lived in this house for over a year now, and two. we have had more guests here in a year than we had in a decade in the old house! Despite the fact that as of April 8th, we’ve lived here for a whole 12 months, the place still doesn’t look very put together…however, BGF is quite good at configuring rooms and maximizing spaces, so they gave us lots of good ideas for temporary solutions while we are still figuring things out.
I don’t quite know what my interior style sensibilities are anymore; I never went full-goth, and creepy-cute never resonated with me, dark Victorian just feels way too extra and high maintenance and cluttered…I think I’m leaning toward something sort of Scandi/mid-century modern, but also rustic fairy tale/cottage witch and a touch of dark bohemia/shadowy eclectic…and that’s not even a thing! How do I make all of this work? I don’t know!
Well, to throw everything off entirely, during the course of their visit, we stopped by a vintage shop, and I bought this splendidly pretty, strawberry-festooned teapot/pitcher, cream jug, and sugar bowl. Where do I put it? What does it go with? There are currently no answers.
To wrap up this little update, here are some current favorite things…
an ergonomic keyboard and mouse for my poor fucked up thumb and wrist
Linghun by Ai Jiang is a heart-haunting novella on how the melancholy of loss makes for desperate ghosts among the living
the time and space dissolving synthy dreaminess of Spirit Exitby Caterina Barbieri
Contemporary artist Rachael Bridge brings a singular perspective to traditional portraiture. Saturated in palettes somehow both electric technicolor, sunless-somber (how the heck does she do that?) and shrouded in shadow, her subjects appear to vanish into the murmuring whispers of a dark and deeply personal wonderland.
Vespertine mysteries teem behind their luminous, milky gaze, but far from loveless and hollow, these otherworldly eyes offer a glimpse into the complexities of the human psyche, the very real-world themes of anxiety, isolation, dread, and despair.
See below for a gallery of some of my favorites amongst this artist’s shimmering twilit phantoms, and find Rachael here: website // Instagram
Signature by Aedes de VenustasI feel like if you are going to make a signature fragrance for your brand, then you are likely going to choose notes that are universally loved, you’re going to make something everyone can agree upon, you’re going to make something safe, and probably a little basic. That’s…not what this is. It’s weird. It’s offbeat. It’s utterly unexpected. And it’s incredible. To be fair, it says right in the copy that it aimed to break from traditional perfume structures, but come on, how often have you heard something like that only to smell the same thing you’ve smelled a million times?
What an oddball cast of characters: The tangy, fruity, acidic zest of rhubarb, dry woody incense, and bitter chypre accord with sweet vining notes of honeysuckle, sour green apple, and the sharp aromatic grassiness of tomato leaf. Hazelnut and vetiver are also listed in the notes and add a lovely, cozy warmth, an aspect that you’d think wouldn’t belong here, but somehow it does. If you were going to make a perfume from olfactory extractions of the myriad, wildly differing Fraggle Rock personalities, their goodness and goofiness, their kindness and cleverness, and all their wild dreamy, delirious energy, you would end up with this funny, magical scent.
I am trying another one of Hilde Soliani’s gourmands, and to be fair to the first one that I sampled and didn’t care for, come on. I was never going to like a strawberry scent, anyway. And if you are the person to entice me to fall in love with a strawberry perfume, I will bow to your wizardry. Anyway, Quin is an Italian meringue scent, and while I like it quite a bit, it doesn’t actually have a whole lot to it. It’s not going to tax your brain or challenge you. And sometimes that’s fine! It’s sweet but not sugary, creamy but not in a heavy way– it’s frothy and frilly, not stiff frosting. Vanilla beans steeped in cream whipped to airy peaks. And that’s it.
And I do know that, of course, meringue uses egg whites, not cream, but I have never noticed an egg white that smelled like anything in particular, so I am not trying to be too literal with my meringue perfume review. This is light and sweet and simple, and I like that it doesn’t add any unnecessary notes, like chocolate or fruit or marzipan; it’s not trying to be some impossible confection in the final round of a televised baking competition. It’s nice. And that’s plenty good enough sometimes. Good enough to spend $175 on it? Ah. For me, personally? If I’m spending over $100 on a fragrance, I want a scent that is going to give me something to think about, and I don’t find that to be the case here.
I’m realizing, as I do periodically, that I’ve gotten a little complacent in my efforts to try things from more indie brands. And partially, I think that’s because I know myself pretty well; I decided a long time ago that I’ve already got my favorites. Like, between the years of 2004-2008, I found a handful of stellar brands and a shitload of mediocre disappointments, and I keep defaulting back to that mindset. And I have to remind myself to keep an open mind and just keep trying things. Because as stubborn as I may be and as much as I hate the thought of wasting money, what I hate even more is the thought of missing out on something amazing. I thought a good place to start would be peeking through indie fragrance and indie perfume Reddit threads. I got a lot of good ideas! I put together a list of the top dozen or so brands that were mentioned repeatedly, and if I’ve never ordered from them, I chose a few of the most popular scents. In some cases, there were a few brands mentioned that I’ve heard questionable things about from other perfumers or customers, so they were immediately struck from the list. If it was a place that I’ve ordered from more than once and have been repeatedly disappointed, they did not make the list, either.
In some cases, like the one I’m talking about today, I’ve been ordering amazing soaps and scrubs from Paintbox Soapworks for years now, but weirdly, I’d never tried her perfume oils! I got Blue Besom, which is a beautiful blueberry jam incense fragrance, Capybaras and Yuzus smells like soaking in a steaming mineral bath while eating lush, fuzzy slices of apricot, and remember how I said it would take a wizard to make me like a strawberry perfume? Pynk’s sun-ripened strawberry is tempered with cool floral lilac and sweet, creamy marzipan, and it may well be that magic scent that I insisted does not exist. These fragrances are all subtle, but long-wearing, and each one of them, though they all smell very differently, tugs at a strange, wistful chord of nostalgia in my heart. All three of these are wonderful, so I’m happy to say this is a pretty strong start.
Time is a Phoenix is a scent of the mythical and miraculous, but also of the intensely, personally, mundane. Fed on tears of sacred incense, resinous, volcanic, honeyed, and bittersweet, fanning its own ancient, acrid spice-scented flames, a fiery vision of scarlet and gold and eternal return, the scent left in wake of this being is incendiary, incandescent, immortal. A funeral pyre flipped through a pinhole in the darkened chamber of a camera obscura, the ashes of the afterimage captured in a winding sheet of amber: the wild, joyful zest of loving, the sour sighing sorrow of leaving, the impossible weeping, sweating, earthy-tethered, salty-sweetness of living– and through it all, climbing into our own, us-shaped mortal infernos, again and again, and again.
Oil and Flight and Vision from BPAL and exclusive to bloodmilk for Sphinx and Snakeskin is rooty and resinous, dark and droll, and brings to mind Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem “Hamatreya,” in which the poet reveals the earth song of dark-humored flowers, laughing to see the men who steer the plows unable to steer clear of the grave. How every one of them who lay claim to the land, who wished to control it, are now asleep beneath the very dirt they thought they owned. I like to imagine subversive, psychoactive roots and blossoms–hallucinogenic henbane, tarry opium, bittersweet mugwort–growing from the bones of those dead and being used in enigmatic preparations like fabled witches’ flying ointments. And whether or not those witchly botanical balms induced actual levitation and soaring under a full moon through the midnight air or was key to a ritual for one to travel the astral planes in spirit, I delight in the imagery of witches being borne aloft on the musky-throated gallows humor of grim growing things sprung forth from and thriving in grave dirt. Oil and Flight and Vision perfectly encapsulates the poetry of that sentiment.
Urban Beekeeper from DSH Perfumes, and it’s the most beautiful honey-inspired scent I have ever tried. They can often be so syrupy and cloying, and at their worst, they somehow smell like a urinal (am I the only one to think honey perfumes lean toward old pee sometimes??) This one is lightly floral, with a subtle citrus zing, and is quietly effervescent. The honey is still at the forefront, but it’s more of a wispy veil than a golden glop of it. This is definitely going on the full bottle list! There is actually a list. Every time I say something is “full bottle worthy” this year, I’m adding it to the list, and at the end of 2023 I am treating myself to a bottle or two. (Unlike the last two years, wherein my collection somehow doubled.)
In other perfume news, I am marinating in a scent I loved in high school, Chloé Narcisse. It smells of the things that built me: Heidi and The Secret Garden, Dracula, and Rebecca. A parlor of florals bitterly spiced with the temptations of darkness and shadowed with a strange sadness, but still, always peeking toward a life that is sunny and sweet.
Dollhouse from Astrid Perfumes. I tried this brand in what feels like a past life, back when they were called blooddrop and if I recall correctly, I think the maker also sold bespoke corsetry. But that was a long time ago, and I don’t remember any of their scents. Dollhouse, with notes of raspberry, vanilla, grapefruit, calendula, and bergamot is a hypersaturated hallucinatory Lisa Frank folder funhouse fruit salad of a scent. I think this is a fragrance that would be so much fun for jellyshoe flipflop string-shouldered neon sundress summertimes and though I don’t know if I would associate this with dollhouses, I try not to critique or judge inspiration. Like the Boulet Brothers say on every episode of Dragula, “We’re not here to judge your drag. Drag is art and art is subjective.” The artful inspiration that goes into the creation of a fragrance is intensely personal, and if this is what a perfumer imagines a dollhouse smells like, who am I to argue with that? For myself, I think it smells like technicolor dolphins tie-dye unicorns, and kaleidoscopic rainbow daydreams.
Sofía Bassi (1913-1998) was a Mexican surrealist painter and writer known for her dreamlike and introspective paintings, liquid and mysterious, often featuring ethereal anthropomorphic creatures and darkly fantastical landscapes, lost in space and time. Sometimes referred to as “magical impressionism,” Bassi’s work is often described as being both lush and unsettling and was praised for its originality and imagination. The artist herself observed that art was an elixir that she wanted to drink until the end of her career, to keep from dying.
Embarking on a path as exceptional as her artistic visions, Bassi was born into a wealthy family, but she rebelled against her upbringing and pursued a career in the arts. The free-spirited painter was married twice, but apparently, romance was not a priority, or she married a couple of duds, or maybe other people’s marriages are not my business, so I shouldn’t speculate, but whatever the case, both marriages ended in divorce. In a shocking incident that rivaled the plot of popular police procedural programs or true crime podcasts, she was convicted of murdering her son-in-law (some theorize that she took the fall for her daughter Claire, read more here) and sentenced to several years in prison.
While incarcerated, Bassi passionately continued painting, including her first-ever mural–painted on the walls of her own cell, and her works from this period are remembered as some of her most renowned, reflecting the darkness of her troubled state of mind. In 1969, Bassi was released from prison and wrote a book about the experience in 1978, and in January 2011, a documentary was released in Mexico titled “Acapulco 68,” which also recounted the incidents. In the ensuing years, the artist frequently participated in round tables and conferences, appearing on radio and television to discuss artistic and academic topics. Receptive to inspiration and generative energies to the end, she painted and exhibitedt her work until her death in 1998.
A creative force who lived a life that was both unconventional and tragic, Bassi’s story is a fascinating one– her work, a testament to her creativity and her resilience.