I cannot possibly sing the praises of Zara’s Bohemian Oud highly enough. I don’t think ten choirs of angels could do it. But let’s just say you took a pillowy bit of the marshmallow fluff those angels were floating around on and stirred it into the lightest, fluffiest chocolate mousse you can imagine, served it in a hand-carved bowl made from some sort of resinous holy wood, and topped it with the incendiary floral of a dusting of gently toasted black pepper, then you might have an inkling what we’re all singing about. Bohemian Oud is a splendid delight made that much more fantastic because at less than $30, it is a freaking steal. Buy a bottle. Buy 12. This stuff is marvelous.
Ok, so, Ariana Grand Cloud… I’ll be honest here, I’m just as surprised as anyone that I really like this scent. There’s not much to say about it. It’s a marshmallow skin scent, a sort of floofy vanilla, a low-key magical-realism, everyday-fabulism, quotidian-fairytale scent…with an elusive hint of sour, canned pears. That’s a weird element that shows up very rarely, but I can’t pretend I didn’t smell it.
Violet Ida from Miller Harris makes me think of something I read recently, that struck me, it’s from The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu: “I am going to tell you a story you already know. But listen carefully, because within it is one you have never heard before.” In Violet Ida we have encountered these elements before: the cool chalky vanilla violet of vintage talcum powder, the smooth floral waxiness, sometimes rosy, sometimes lily, that you associate with the decadent nostalgia of certain decade’s old lipsticks. But then it takes turn– there is carrot seed’s woody-earthy melancholy, the bitter tears from an ancient elemental who has been weeping for a thousand years, and finally twists intriguingly, but dead ends with the barest balsamic sliver of mirrored amber, a resinous veil that’s somehow reflective, too. It broods on all of those other notes and casts them back at the wearer, never allowing further glimpses into what one imagines to be its sweeter, warmer heart. The path just…stops there. I’m thinking maybe it was deceptive to open with that quote; I’m quite certain that there has just got to be more to this story, and maybe I just haven’t unlocked the last leg of the journey yet.
Do I need another smoky vanilla? I don’t know, man. Hypnotizing Fire from The Harmonist is stunning but I hate the way the copy reads and how most reviewers talk about it, all sexy this, seductive that. You people need some cold showers. Or maybe I’m a cranky old hag with a cooter full of cobwebs. I’d liken this perfume more to the silken veils of an ancient seer, gauzy with prophecy and incense fumes, softly draped over their faces and shoulders as they channel the words of the gods from the depths of trance as black pepper pods are tossed into the smoldering embers of sacred, spiced woods. But no matter how fabulous and fantastical the revelations from this ritual might seem to be…at the end of the day, when you lift the veil, it’s just a smoky vanilla scent (even if it does have a really cool name) and I have a handful of scents similar to this sitting on my shelf, already paid for…and this one goes for $250 for a bottle. Le sigh.
Zara’s Unusual Flower is herbal green sharp and peppery acrid, like the med-mist spray of Bactine, the chemical weirdness of insect repellent, and the mineral UV filters of sunblock, along with both chlorinated pool water and salty ocean air. It sounds awful, but you know what, I love it. It reminds me of childhood summer vacations with my family. The sharpness dissipates and it becomes a combination of a sort of cottony crisp linen spray and the classic late- 90’s early aughts omnipresent ubiquity of a certain scent: that sparkling grapefruit, watery cucumber, sweet honeydew melon spa water fragrance that I’m sure some amongst us recall vividly. I do, because it’s the fragrance I associate with my best friend’s townhome, where I housesat for a week, while they were visiting Japan. It’s a fragrance that makes me think of Neon Genesis Evangelion marathons, Soma FM’s Groove Salad downtempo electronica radio station, and oversized cargo pants that unzipped at the knee to better allow for flailing to bootlegged Japanese copies of Dance Dance Revolution. This scent is not “good” (just my opinion, man) but this is an instance where the heart tells the brain “you know nothing,” because friends, I love this perfume.
Trying these samples from Poesie has been a really surprising experience, somewhat because I’d forgotten the notes and the descriptions, and they didn’t seem to square up with my preconceived notions of what they should be…but also because these are just really fun, exciting fragrances and when I did go back and read the inspirations, I was like, oh that’s right, it was some of my dreamy favorites themes and motifs in mythic and gothic literature! Anyway, here are my brief thoughts on a few. Whisper Your Bitter Things is a shifting cipher of a scent, a very pretty but unnervingly inconstant beauty. At first sniff I thought it was honeyed tobacco, and then it became an earthy spiced coffee and shortly thereafter a sort of peppery apricot floral. Library Ghost is following the soft susurrus and whispering trail of a floating cotton bedsheet through the stacks, only to corner it in the supernatural romance section, whip the linens from its levitating form and see that the spirit was three sugary bundles of cotton candy heaped on top of one another and a pocket full of adorable cereal marshmallows. Full Moon (at the Temple) is a fragrant burst of citrus and the dank, mineralic tang of limestone and gypsum, cave rock and and the cool, pungent mist of late night rain, like feeding a soggy baby fruit bat a little piece of tangerine.
Honey and the Moon from Tokyo Milk is if Aquolina’s Pink Sugar had a twin, not quite identical, but there are moments where they could swap places and you might not be able to tell the difference. Honey and the Moon has that same spun sugar DNA but it’s the gilded, bronzed slightly burnt brown sugar dusty golden hour version of it. Another difference is that when Pink Sugar dries, it becomes the bark of the cotton candy tree, but with Honey and the Moon, as it wears, there’s something a bit metallic about it, like those candied strands of cottony sugar floss are threaded with copper, like maybe there’s nanobots in it, or little fairies wearing steampunk goggles. And I don’t mention that as a detractor, I love every aspect of this scent and it’s definitely going on the shelf of things that my inner child is going to reach for quite often.
I have a fragrance sampler set from Fat & the Moon. I did have some preconceived notions of what these organic and plant-based scents might be like, and what fits into what I know of this brand’s vibe and aesthetic: hand-crafted, herbal body care for natural, inclusive sustainable healing that aligns with the earth and so on. I have tried a few of their bath soaks and I love their lip paints which I like to wear in an aggressive gash at the center of my mouth like I have been nomming on a blood popsicle, but I’m not so sure about the fragrances.I tried all four of them: Artemis at Dawn, Green Man, Persephone Emerges, and Wolf Shepherd. As you might suspect from how they are made and the ingredients they include, they are all very…earthy. Some in a musty, mossy sort of way, and some more in a fresh mud pie sort of way. I really wanted to love Artemis with its notes of Patchouli, Black Pepper & Rose Geranium, but its Persephone’s Cedar, Coriander & Jasmine that is ultimately the easiest to wear and whose clay and dirt eventually lightens to a dusty floral. I did pay my own money for them, and I’m glad I tried them but they’re really not for me…however if you’re a fan of very natural-smelling botanical fragrances you can grab a set of all four generously on their site for something like $46.
Ellis Brooklyn Salt. What is even the point of you? You’re the live laugh love of perfumes.
L’Artisan Abyssae is exciting for me in that I do believe I have found another rose that I can tolerate. The camphoraceous aspect of the eucalyptus reigns in that effusive, extravagant jamminess of the rose and lends a quality that while not antiseptic, feels in some way discreet and brooks no frivolity, while the cashmeran enshrouds it in shadowy, softly balsamic woods. It’s a scent that is still and quiet but a tick shy of calming…there is something vaguely unsettling about it. I keep coming back to the name, “Abyssae,” which to me, sounds like it could be another mystically terrifying witch-mother from Dario Argento’s giallo thrillers. There was Suspiriorum, Terenbrarum, and Lacrymarum. Abyssae adds to the ancient triumvirate but instead of joining in on their esoteric and attempt to rule the world, Abyssae’s thing is just sitting around in arcane solitude while her sisters wreak havoc. She’s reserved, she’s dignified, she’s not interested in an invite to your stupid gender reveal party. She’s a rose thinking serious things in silence.
Imaginary Authors Sundrunk I don’t want to call this a novelty scent because that’s a little dismissive, but it is definitely the sort of thing that one might wear to evoke a very particular nostalgia. In my case, it’s being locked outside in the afternoon heat of childhood summer vacations; my mother would hand us each a sticky, effervescent orange push-up pop, and send us outside to, ostensibly, get us out of our hair. The door wasn’t actually locked behind us, but it felt like to seek entry back indoors would be risking the sort of fury and frustration on the part of our mother, that as children, we feared immeasurably. So there’s that syrupy, citrusy, fizziness, the scent of fresh-cut grass and chopped-up jasmine from the lawnmower, a sort of soapy green honeysuckle note, and a bit of a chemical-plasticky element, that you will recognize if you have ever had your damp, brassy, freshly Sun-Ined hair, drying in the sunshine on a sweltering Florida day. I don’t know that this scent is very wearable, but I am glad that I got a chance to sniff it.
Unum’s Ennui Noir is a fragrance that I have been calling Ennui LOL for the past few years and I couldn’t remember why, until I reacquainted myself with a bit of the PR copy I had found at the time, which must be some sort of weird translation. Lots of talk of the void and mediocrity and boredom and emptiness, interwoven with word salad ingredient highlights, hyperactive patchouli, psychotic vanilla, and so on. Here is my favorite snippet: “boredom as well opening you, throws yourself in another dimension, distant from every trivial and certain contamination. There is no certainty in the dark boredom, as it is experienced on You, becoming part, crust, bark of your deep hidden woods. A lonely flute in the fog of yourself.” I shared that with a friend when I first read it, and they got an Etsy seller to embroider a charming little piece of art with that phrase, and it remains one of my most cherished possessions. As to the scent, it literally makes my lip curl in disgust, it’s a bit of a gourmand, and I don’t see where the “noir” aspect comes in. It’s a perfume that affects me on a visceral, gaggy level and it’s hard to pinpoint why, so here’s a word salad of my own to sum it up: woody mildew, softly decaying fig, unsettlingly, cloyingly sweet floral musk, musty-powdery to the point of chalky, putrefying heliotrope pudding.
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