The first time I smelled le Lion de Chanel, I was a little underwhelmed. While it is really nice, I thought it smelled similar to so many opulent amber fragrances already in my collection. Now I am not so sure about that part, and I think I have totally changed my tune overall. It is not just nice, it is extraordinarily beautiful. Alongside what I tend to think of as that lemony-bergamot-musk gold-plated, almost brassy glamorous vintage costume jewelry classic perfumery DNA, there’s velvety rounded patchouli, drifts of leathery balsamic smoke, a dribble of honeyed sweetness, and an intense vision of warm golden resins, like a glittering dragon’s hoard just beyond fluttering veils of vanilla incense. Or imagine…the dragon in question was Kate Bush on the Lionheart album cover. I saw that on the blacknarcissus blog with reference to Le Lion so I can’t take credit for it myself, but I couldn’t not share the imagery either, because it just so perfectly encapsulates this fragrance.
Tonight on Midnight Stinks is Diptyque L’Ombre dans L’Eau and while I typically don’t enjoy rose scents and I never fuck with berry fragrances, this may be one of the exceptions. Perhaps because the rose only just shyly peeps out of the lush, leafy greenery and aromatic botanicals. The berries are bittersweet and biting, rather than overripe and cloying, and pair marvelously with lemony, herbaceous geranium. It feels practical and beautiful, like an artful object that actually serves a useful function, as opposed to a remaining a dusty shelf-turd. This is the sort of perfume that makes me think of how someone said that self-care is doing the things that maybe you don’t feel like doing now, so that you can set future-you up for success. Like making some sort of wellness appointment. I would wear this to visit the chiropractor and think the whole time, “good job you! You are doing your best!”By the way I don’t see a chiropractor, but if I ever did I would try to get on Dr. Brenda Mondragon’s schedule. One, because she has the coolest name ever, but two, well, if you ever watch her YouTube channel, she just seems like so much fun and I want her to crack all of my joints for an ASMR video.
There exist a handful of black currant and rose scents that are very lovely and unique. Armani Si is the very opposite of that. It feels crass and vulgar and quite common in comparison. It’s a candied floral musk that sours to an offputting fruity cocktail, something with strawberries and cheap sparkling wine and I feel like this is a themed drink served as part of your book club’s annual romance pick, and god why can’t they ever let you pick the smutty selections? There’d be way more explosive body horror and horny devils and raving madwomen in the attic. None of this secret sexy neighbor or coworker enemies-to-friends or surprise baby basic bullshit. So yeah Si is your book club’s most boring member’s spicy pick. It’s probably called Billionaire Daddy or Tempting the Boss or something.
With Oriza Legrand’s Relique d’Amour, I experienced one of my favorite facets of being a writer: encountering unexpected connections and surprise synchronicities with regard to a thing I’m attempting to write. If, say, I am outlining a book review, and I happen to watch a movie exploring similar things. Or if I am piecing together an essay and I hear a new song echoing my inner monologue. As someone for whom translating ideas into words is such a vital aspect of my identity, these snippets of magic from the universe are so special for me. Anyhow, I unearthed a sample of Oriza Legrand’s Relique d’Amour from behind a bookshelf, and while pondering its mysteries I happened upon a March 2022 Vogue Hong Kong editorial with a beautiful Joan of Arc vibe, and these images are the perfect visual representation of this fragrance. Relique d’Amour is lofty, diaphanous incense, ghost particles of lemony woody myrrh, preserved in a reliquary of bitter, brittle quartz. A pale white lily springs impossibly from its crystalline depths, its delicate dewy spice in eerie contrast to the earthy oaken moss which cushions its base. This is a scent evoking visions of the divine, of the ineffable solace of faith, and of knowing to the core of your very soul that you are not afraid. You were born to do this.
I indulged in a lemming, which is to say I picked up a DedCool sampler set. I was seeing other reviewers mention this brand, and I was feeling left out! I was a little bit resistant, though, because I hate the name. Most of the time, anyone who refers to themselves as cool, is probably the opposite of cool. Unless they are being ironic, I suppose. But I also hate irony. So you can’t win with me! I’m fairly certain that these scents are meant to be layered, which I haven’t done yet and I probably shouldn’t make any sort of judgment until I use them the way they are meant to be used. But I will say that my favorite of the bunch so far is Milk. Which is a lot like if you told Glossier’s You, “hey, I don’t want to smell like you, I want to smell like me!” The site lists the notes as amber, bergamot, and white musk, and to my nose this is a creamy sandalwood and delicate milky almond amber musk. I think it shares a lot of these aspects with You, but while You is chillier and a more defined fragrance, Milk is warm and a sort of amorphous scent, I would say it’s perfume for people who don’t wear perfume but who don’t want the sort of non-perfume that smells like soap or clean laundry. That’s a very inelegant way of phrasing it, but then again, there’s not a lot of poetry to work with here. It’s a simple scent that smells cozy and pleasant and it’s the sort of thing I’d probably spritz all over my hair and pajamas before going to bed as part of my goodnight rituals and routines.
Poets of Berlin from Vilhelm Parfumerie is a vile bioluminescent mutant blueberry thing. A blueberry subjected to a sketchy, underfunded experiment in a prototype telepod but there was also a particle of lemon-aloe-bamboo Glade air freshener in the chamber before it was hermetically sealed, as well as, a smashed bedazzle gem that fell off of an intern’s acrylic nail, unnoticed. Torn apart atom by atom, the small jammy fruit merged with the glinting shards of sugary bling and a blisteringly caustic glow-in-the-dark citrus-lily. I don’t think David Bowie ever wrote a song about this monster but there was a movie adaptation with Jeff Goldblum.
Reims L’Eau Gothique is not what I was hoping it would be, but I think I can appreciate it for what it is. The opening notes are a strangely sour iris and bergamot and eerie indolic carnation frankincense musty-dusty-powderiness. A chilly corner full of dank, dripping shadows that hasn’t seen the light of day in centuries. A rotting wood shelf behind which has slipped a secret bit of parchment, once dampened by tears and feverishly scrawled ink, now mouldering for eternity where no one but the scurrying mice and scuttling spiders know of its existence. Do I like this sort of scent? You bet. It reminds me of the dramatic atmosphere and melancholy romanticism of the Bohemian Tarot deck from Baba Studio of Prague. [It’s possible that both the fragrance and the tarot deck are unavailable, so maybe peek at eBay for these things!]
Serge Lutens Datura Noir, as far as noir-anything goes, is not noir at all. This is a milk glass fairy spell, cast in the delicate light of dawn, calling for pale blossoms soaked in milk at midnight. Heady aromas of honeysuckle and heliotrope combine with buttery floral vanilla fantasies, a flittering whimsy of bitter almond dream fuel, and a diaphanous reverie of powdery coconut musk. This datura-inspired fragrance is less deadly devil’s flower-induced euphoric hallucinations and more moonflower pudding for sleepy Thumbelinas.
Scorpio Rising from Eris Perfumes begins as a cool, citrusy pink pepper with rosy nuances, an artful enigma of a spice, more zingy herbal aromatic than the sting and pungent bite than you might expect. This is one of the more restrained Scorpios I’ve known, and while I don’t mean to generalize I can say that in my experience, there are two types of Scorpios: the one that is Very A Lot, they don’t hold back, you always know what they are thinking and they practically flay themselves open for you. They want you to have all of them, even and especially the ugly and scary bits. They wear their shadow side on their sleeve and their shadows aren’t very subtle, either. The other kind of Scorpio is not exactly secretive, silent-type, but their shadows are shrewd and sharp and you might not get to see them right away, but you always recognize they are there and you are inexplicably drawn to them like a moth to flame. While I am absolutely obsessed with pretty much all Scorpios, I think Eris’ Scorpio Rising falls more into the latter category and I wouldn’t automatically mark it as a bombastically passionate although I would say it has a quiet intensity that sort of sneaks up on you. After the cool, dry floral, and discreet fruitiness of the opening, there emerges delicate smoke and soft leather, woody-floral cardamom and immortelle’s elusive burnt sugar musk. This is the Scorpio you follow down shadowy corridors in a dream, following their lingering trail of scent, and when you’ve reached the dead-end abyss, the void at the end of the trail, you find they were behind you all along. This is the Scorpio that takes your hand as you jump into the darkness of the unknown.
I didn’t think it’s possible but I actually now quite over the moon for a chocolate-inspired fragrance. Akro Dark is not decadent, foody chocolate in the least, but rather a dry, dusty, woody interpretation of cocoa. But it’s not some austere, unapproachable thing; it’s somehow both rich and restrained while also being intoxicatingly cozy, like the combination of a bittersweet cocoa nib-speckled cardigan and the earthy musk of a patchouli stitched afghan, while warming your toes in soft, smoky vanilla firelight. This is a composition that exemplifies the elegance to be found in simple pleasures when executed thoughtfully, creatively, and while also holding something back. With chocolate scents, I think perfumers tend toward a hyper-gourmand “more is more” philosophy, throwing every decadent, delectable note at their disposal into the mix, but Dark’s appeal, at least for me, is in its’ pared-down, gorgeous simplicity. You don’t smell like a ridiculous dessert, you just smell like a damn beautiful treat.
The funny thing is, when I first looked at my sample of Ambre Nomade from Elisire, it was upside down and I misread it as Amber Malone– and you know what, it smells like a fictional character named Amber Malone, so I am just going with that. This is not what I think of as a typical amber, that powdery balsamic resin. Amber Malone is amber by way of glorious golden ginger and intense, velvety patchouli vanilla, and an unexpected aromatic freshness from sage and lavender and apple. The first time I smelled Amber M. I caught a bit of a youthful-bordering-on-obnoxious-vanilla-apricot fruitiness with a tinge of darkness that made me think she was in high school in the 2002 and had one of those scene queen hairstyles and probably spent a lot of time in serial killer chatrooms. She had the vibe of a kid who was a bit of a loner and was obsessed with true crime novels and at first, I thought maybe she was corresponding with convicted murderers in prison, but I came to the conclusion that she had a good head on her shoulders and ended up going into forensics science and has a podcast where she talks about women’s complicated relationship with true crime. Later, when I tried Amber M. again, the opulent leathery, musky resinous labdanum note is present and I think she’s gotten a book deal to write some brilliant essays regarding true stories about how vicarious interests in violent crime transformed the lives of four women and that’s when I realized Amber Malone exists to some extent– at least as far as writing this book–and her actual name is Rachel Monroe, and Savage Appetites is a great book and you should read it. Ambre Nomade speaks to me of savage appetites for truth, for curiosity, for passion and fascination, and indulging all of these things at every opportunity.
Typically I really love violet scents even though most of them either conjure elegant little tins of traditional violet candies or a powdery floral violet hand-milled bar of fancy soap at a quaint Airbnb, or even the delicate rosy-violet fragrance of an old-fashioned tube of lipstick. And these are all very nice smells but they’re not really complex or interesting. Violet Firefly from TRNP is a violet that gives you a bit more to work with, but I don’t know if I really care for all of the various components. The sweet, romantic blossom is accentuated and nearly overwhelmed by a sort of herbal sagey-cypress stinginess that for a few moments smells distressingly minty. Mint is one of those notes that ruins all fragrances for me. It’s a sort of false freshness that I paradoxically associate with really gross smells as well as the attitudes of people who pretend they never get crusty or farty and think their shit, as they say, don’t stink. Listen, all shit stinks, it’s okay, it’s supposed to. Luckily the minty shitshow subsides and it becomes a subtle mossy leather-violet situation that lays close to the skin and leaves an ozonic coolness trickling down the back of your throat, like a ghostly scrum of misty morning April shower ectoplasm.
Despite the inclusion of my old nemesis, mint (of which I thankfully don’t even detect the slightest whiff) Boysmells’ Tantrum is freaking incredible. It opens with an effervescent, almost incendiary blast of nose-tickling carbonation. There is a gardeny-green aromatic herb garden distilled to a concentrated essence, the tiniest drop of bright, piney-floral jade green peppercorn syrup, and the delicately sour note of bergamot bitters stirred into sparkling cold soda water, swirled with a cedar swizzle stick. I need a full bottle of this immediately and I will spritz with mad abandon all summer long. I also need a cocktail inspired by these notes in which I will attempt to indulge only slightly more judiciously.
I have finally met a fruity-floral that doesn’t make me want to barf. This is not to say that I like it, I mean let’s not get crazy. But I think I can definitely say that I appreciate it. Sadanne from Slumberhouse is described on the website thusly, in the style of my very favorite sort of poetically incoherent word salad absurdity: “Stained glass syrup. Serenades in damascone minor. Allegory obscured / pastel wound. A slurry of subtlety.” It’s definitely a slurry, as in a brandy-fortified sangria, mixed with an entire canister of black cherry Koolaid, a hefty dollop of musky strawberry jam, and a jigger of tart pomegranate liqueur, strewn with the petals from the most obnoxious aggressively blooming red roses in your summer garden. Pastel? No, I think this is a shimmering crimson ruby garnet gemstone bloodbath of a scent. Subtle…yeah…I don’t think so, this is about as subtle as one of the celebrity housewives throwing a glass of Zinfandel in her frenemy’s face. I can see how this might veer into Jolly Rancher territory, like LUSH’s Rose Jam, and yet somehow it doesn’t go there. Maybe it’s the type and quality of damascones used; which I just learned from Google are chemical compounds that add complex profiles of rose, apple, blackcurrant and mint with rich plum undertone to perfumes. My .2 seconds of skimming an internet article, however, does not make me an expert, so who knows. At any rate, Sadanne is happy and joyful and a lot of fun, despite a weird undercurrent of something earthy, violety, green, and bitter. You can barely smell it, it’s almost a sense of it, rather than the scent of it. It makes me wonder what the word Sadanne is supposed to me. It makes me think of the entry in The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows for kairosclerosis: “the moment you realize that you’re currently happy—consciously trying to savor the feeling—which prompts your intellect to identify it, pick it apart and put it in context, where it will slowly dissolve until it’s little more than an aftertaste.” I would never wear this fragrance in a million years, but I love knowing that, much like a fleeting moment of happiness, it existed at one point in time.