Levitating Phallic God (vetiver, opoponax, licorice root, black tea, lemon peel, and cashmere wood) Earthy and rooty at the opener, like the wheelbarrow crawling with uprooted aloe vera plants that is currently danking up our garage with scents of soil and clay and rock, deeply disturbed from the digging. It perks up, so to speak, as the fragrance blooms on the skin. Pillowy, musky woods and a mysteriously sweet, herbal powderiness that call to mind the golden notes of wild fennel pollen round this out to a velvety dream of a skin-scent.
Since There’s No Help (silver-frosted white musk, juniper, and cade with bitter carrot seed, lemon peel, davana, and white tea) Interesting! This is described as “a cold scent, a severing” and as I am wearing it I can’t help but think it would be perfect for a sweltering summer afternoon. The bracing juniper and tart lemon, combined with a bitter, tannic fruitiness, conjures ice-cold, dripping glasses of sweet southern tea, and it is suddenly a glorious June evening, post-apocalyptic blazing sunset, pre-eerie electric streaks of heat lightning.
Cacao, Lime Rind, and Coconut This smells exactly like the chocolate-covered coconut bonbons that I always used to pick out of the Whitman Sampler box that my grandmother perpetually had lying around when I was a little girl. The lactonic tropical sweetness of creamy, flaked coconut and the luxurious aroma of cocoa butter is such an amazing confection of a combination that I just want to eat it out of a trough with my face. Which I can do because I am an adult now!
Dragon, Rabbit, and Snake (blue cypress, butterfly jasmine, green tea, black orchid, and white champa blossom) This is a soft, lovely floral fragrance given some earthy depth with the vegetal, grassy green tea and enlivened by the mildly licorice-like, balsamic aroma that I am guessing is from the cypress. It conjures the prettiest imagery of watercolor botanical illustrations.
Peach Vulva (sweet apricot, sugared amber, frankincense, golden cardamom, rice milk, and golden peach) I had to try this one a handful of times before it spoke to me, and when it finally did, it was a tale of the most wildly gorgeous fruit salad orgy: lychee and mango and pineapple and condensed milk and palm sugar. Even sweet corn got a last-minute invite, couldn’t leave that weirdo out!
The Elephant Is Slow To Mate (deep burgundy musk, red labdanum, smoked rose petals, opoponax, 17-year aged patchouli, blackened vanilla bean, dried black cherries, blackberries, and tobacco absolute.) What’s the word for bombastic but wearing a bow tie of gravitas? For the cartoon image of someone having their mind blown, their eyes all wide and googly, their hair frizzled and electrified and pointing straight to the sun? This is the reddest fruit of the painter’s palette, juiced and syruped and concentrated so that it’s the most extra version of itself, spices that I can’t pick apart but which are very potent, and *dramatic* resins. This is a big, bold personality that you just feel more interesting and special being in the room with, the kind that everyone gravitates toward, and when they look at you, you feel like the only person who exists. It’s A Lot. Wow. I love it.
We Must Love One Another Or Die (white rose, muguet, white sandalwood, ambrette seed, vetiver, and smoke) This combination of notes, creates the impression of summer berries in a fancy antique silver compote dish. There’s the plushness of soft fruit flesh and a glamorous metal tang and it presents as a deceptively simple and thoroughly elegant fragrance that somehow makes me think of this painting.
Honey, Black Lilies, and Gardenia Petals In the first moments, a plummy-jammy scent, and then, a viscous, vicious dark amber-honeyed slithery undercurrent of something sinuous and sinister. This scent is the creepy-crawly that shows up in the exquisite still life painting; there’s the velvet table cloth, the artful bouquet of somber blossoms, the requisite skull or pile of dusty books, and –HEY WHAT THE! There’s a SNAKE oh my god what the hell! This is a “THAT’S A FUCKING SNAKE Y’ALL!” of a scent.
Snake Smut (Snake Oil and Smut with leather accord, cardamom, and 7-year aged patchouli.) With all the woozy boozy musky sugary spices, you’d like this would be the kind of scent that would make your eyes pop from your head like a sleazy rat in a cartoon when a gorgeous dame crosses his path…and yet. It’s not the sort of thing to make your skirts fly up or your pants tent impressively or insert whatever over-the-top horny synonym you like here. It’s actually more subtle than you might expect. I smell all sorts of deliciousness; sweet, sugared black tea, a warm, gooey spiced and iced dessert, densely chewy vanilla candied things…but imagine if you were to take all concept of foodishness out of those things. What do you have left? A deeply sensual scent, dark and delectably textured and utterly enticing, but rather than wanting to eat it, you’re content to wear it.
Honey Marzipan begins as the chewiest, most decadent brick of sweetened almond paste, then almost immediately acquires that lovely cherry note intrinsic to so many almond fragrances, and then before you can blink it swiftly shifts to a honeyed-heliotrope-apricot fairytale storybook princess of a scent where it lives out the remainder of its days in a spun sugar and spring stone fruit syrup château. From start to finish, it’s an intense and rapid progression, but at every stage in its evolution, it’s absolutely enchanting. P.S. Honey Marzipan + Snake Smut is an amazingly over-the-top evil queen + blushing maiden battle royale of a scent combination.
Unsubtle Euphemism (milk bread, amaretto, star anise, almond cream, and cardamom) It’s interesting that milk bread is listed among the notes; by coincidence, I have just recently become obsessed with making fluffy, sweet, marvelous milk bread and I’m a little peeved at myself that I didn’t start my bread experiments with this one several decades ago. It’s just impossible to go wrong, and with all that sugar and full-fat milk and butter, even if you did somehow manage to screw it up, I bet it would still taste fantastic. Straight from the bottle and on my wrist, this Unsubtle Euphemism is an onslaught of saltiness, with nutty nuances, and something with a flaky, burnished, and crackly crust. There’s an eventual subtle sweetness, like a sweet paste of scant sugar and egg yolks more than of something milky or creamy, and it makes me think of treats like deep-fried sesame balls, or cured egg yolk buns, and as the scent settles in, even egg custard tarts.
Cacao, Black Pepper, and Khus don’t judge this by how it smells in the bottle, it’s unfortunately a tad reminiscent of unwashed stockings– not that anyone remembers what those smell like anymore! On the skin, it’s a bar of earthy, nutty artisanal chocolate with peppery, grassy nubs of woody-herbaceous marjoram leaf. Which is a weird-sounding combination, right? I’ll answer that. Yes. It totally is. And it also totally works. Surprisingly, Cacao, Black Pepper, and Khus is my second favorite from this collection For my no.1, see Levitating Phallic God, above. Pun intended.
Discarded Sandal (beeswax, hinoki wood, Japanese black pine, juniper, tolu balsam, and muguet) The cypress and pine is at the forefront of this scent, but it’s a gentle incarnation of what can sometimes be austere and astringent notes with prickly, camphoraceous, insect-repellent aspect. These woods, however, have reached the highest levels of self-actualization and they are the most spiritually uplifting lemony and resinous evergreen best versions of themselves. An hour later the golden nectar of honey has emerged, and it too is a soft and tranquil embodiment of what can sometimes be a note that is too cloying, too sticky. If you’re looking for a suggestive aphrodisiac from this collection, I’d say Discarded Sandal is the way to go, although it’s more a perfume of desires sated than libidos feverishly spiking. The discarded sandal, a witness to lascivious sights and exquisite sighs, waits patiently. It will whisper these secrets to its mate, later tonight when they are reunited.