Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"They smell to me quite sinister:" What Scent Smells Sinister?

Neko Case - Red Tide (Live)

There's a smell here that stands my hairs on end
dog hair in the heater, gas pumps and cedar,
and jackknifes on the nine and seabirds choked on fishing line...

I am lately obsessed with Neko Case. Her albums have been in heavy rotation in my car and on my mp3 player for several months now, and I don’t see it stopping any time soon.

I saw her live a couple weeks ago, and she was stunning. The thing that impressed me most, and there were quite a few things to be impressed by, was how she stood. Neko Case stands like a singer, a real singer. Her arms hang free at her sides, her feet are shoulder width apart, her knees are loose, and her microphone is level with her mouth. Then she opens her mouth, and she just…sings. She just sings, and it is so beautiful. I almost never get to see people really sing like that. Even from pretty far back in the venue, she just blew the doors off the thing.

That little girl from Tacoma is one helluva talent.

There's a smell here of gravel and cigarettes lit
when the match made them sweet
when the engine turned over and beat up our street
Oh, that was the day to remember...

One of the songs I find myself coming back to over and over is “Red Tide.” The reason I getting stuck on it, in fact, is that the entire song is more or less about scent. Being a perfumista, that means I hear it and I think perfume. Over and over I keep thinking, what perfumes smell like the red tide Neko Case is singing of? A smell that stands my hairs on end. A smell of gas pumps and cedar, of gravel and cigarettes lit when the match made them sweet.

What things smell like that? What things smell “to me quite sinister”? A sinister perfume, one that is like the scent of the fires that leapt from the caves of the things that have not happened yet, bad and mysterious and dangerous things of an ominous future, a bad turn around a dark bend.

L’Artisan Dzing!? No, it’s quirky, but not sinister. Carmel corn and sawdust and animal sweat could be sinster, but only if it felt like a cheap circus tent set ablaze with every person and animal simultaneously stampeding toward the exits in panic. This is more like an elephant balancing a ball on its nose in a cute way, a  Disney-esque take on circus life.

I dug through my boxes a few days ago, still in search of something sinister. The original DKNY Black Cashmere  packaging certainly has the makings of a sinister perfume, all black and smooth like the obelisk from 2001: A Space Odyssey. But the scent is wrong, too cozy and full sparkly top notes.

I tried several slumberhouse scents because they are so weirdly wonderful, and the closest was slumberhouse Vikt, but it didn’t have quite the right ratio of attraction and repulsion to be sinister to me.  It was too polished, to smooth.  It lacked the ragged edge of fierceness that says "I scare you, so come here."

So what smells sinister? What smells like that dark and murky feeling that haunts you when you are just freed from your ugliest dreams? In other words, what smells like this:

"The good Dale is in the Lodge, and he can't leave.
Write it in your diary."
I remember because of the fires that leapt 
from the caves of the things that have not happened yet
when I think of it now they smell to me quite sinister.

For me Olympic Orchids Gujarat fits the bill quite like nothing else I have found so far. And I don’t mean since I started thinking about this song or even since I started in with perfume. I mean since I could smell things, because this is high up there on things I now think of as attractive and yet sinister. The lovely Ellen Covey described the scent as follows:
A spicy, smoky oriental, Gujarat is made with just about every spice you can name and some you probably never even heard of, softened and sweetened with tropical flowers, supported on a base of smoky woods, resins, and balms, and garnished with a dash of chili and a twist of lime.

Gujarat is available as a parfum extrait or EdP and features notes of saffron, tulsi, lime, tagetes, jasmine, rose, cardamom, cumin, fenugreek, ginger, curry leaf, turmeric, mango, spikenard, olibanum, vetiver, patchouli, choya loban, black agar, and sandalwood.
The scent is dark and voluptuous, sweet and earthy, full of pitch and tar and whatever else you attribute to the part of a darkness that attracts you to it. The sweet is sticky like sweat and forbidden things and signs that say "Stop!" and "Turn Back Now!" It is strange because it’s almost so full of the night, with its dangerously attractive qualities, that I might think it was unwearable. Instead, it’s beautiful. It’s lovely and soft and wicked and dangerous.

And pretty freaking fantastic.

What about you, dear reader? Got any thoughts on those scents that when you think of them now smell to you quite sinister?


samberg said...

Knowing by Estee Lauder. Its deceptively airy opening quickly turns to a dark, dry chypre that means business.

Also, the name has a creepy stalker quality.

tarleisio said...

I'd have to say that probably the most sinister thing I've ever stuck my nose in would have to be...Etat Libre's notorious Secretions Magnifiques. When Katie Puckrik described it as 'this smells like a crime scene', she nailed it. The really eerie thing about it is that practically all woman recoil from it in instinctive horror/terror, whereas most men I've known quite like it! To this woman, it smells like the ultimate female nightmare!

Something along more mainstream lines would be the vintage version of Caron's Narcisse Noir. Glorious, yes...but ever so slightly...haunting/ghostly/sinister, too!

And how could I forget...This one is beloved by many, and although I can appreciate it as a stellar perfume, to me it smells more than a tad...evil. Definitely sinister! Ormonde Jayne's Ormonde Woman. So evil in fact, I gave it to the antagonist in my novel, Quantum Demonology, to wear. You might have heard of her...Lilith, Queen of the Succubi?? ;)

Those are the ones I can think of off the top of my head, any way. Incidentally, I gave away my sample of Gujarat to a lovely Sri Lankan lady, who said it smelled like...home!

Perfume associations are so wonderfully subjective and personal, aren't they? ;)

Thank you SO much for this...it got me thinking - always a perilous undertaking! ;)

Diana said...

Sam-- I will definitely have to try it, and yes the name is even kind of creepy.

Diana said...


Thanks for the thoughtful post! I've been eyeing the Etat Libre sampler box for a while, and this has pushed me over the edge!

Ormonde Jayne's Ormonde Woman doesn't come off to me as sinister, but you're right about how subjective it is. I asked my friend Jill what she thought was sinister and immediately she said "Lilies. They always remind me of funerals."

So there you have it. One woman's pretty flower is the faint tinge of death hovering around another.

Doc Elly said...

Diana, this is a wonderful idea for a post. I suppose there are different kinds of sinister, but there's one aroma chemical that I always perceive as being like a dementor trying to suck my breath/soul away with its cold and evil influence. It's isoamyl salicylate. I've experienced what seems to be an overdose of it in Ava Luxe Madeline and Soivohle Daybreak Violin. Both of them give me the creeps. Madeline changes after a while to innocent eggnog, but I can't wear Daybreak Violin because of the dementor in it.

Thank you for the wonderful review of Gujarat. I can see how you could perceive it as sinister in an enticing way. Whenever I smell it, even just filling vials or bottles, it is extremely evocative emotionally, reminding me of being in a village in the desert in India, sleeping on the roof under the stars at night - a strong nostalgic feeling that I also get from listening to certain Indian music. I think that of all my perfume creations, Gujarat may be my favorite.

Diana said...

Doc Elly--

Let me tell you that when I say sinister, I mean that only in the most attractive wonderful way. If vampires were real, I'd be the idiot who died in an alley following one. If I were in a horror movie, I'm the girl you'd be screaming "Don't go in there!" at. I Love You, But I've Chosen Darkness isn't just a band in my world, it's a personal motto.

So when I say it stands my hair on end, what I'm really saying is I love it, and I love you for making it. :)

I've tried some of the Ava Luxe scents and some of the Soivohle scents but neither of those two. Will add to the list! (Cursed long list!)