Monday, November 26, 2012

Observe the blood, the rose tattoo, of the finger prints on me from you.

Aftelier Perfumes Wild Roses EdP

Dear reader:

I am currently captivated by a song called "Marlene On the Wall." Suzanne Vega wrote it about a poster of Marlene Dietrich she kept on her bedroom wall, and what Marlene might think of Vega's life if Marlene could talk. It is an intriguing song about the elegant and coldly beautiful Dietrich's observation of Vega being her own worst enemy in love:

Marlene watches from the wall.
Her mocking smile says it all
as she records the rise and fall
of every soldier passing.
The only soldier now is me.
I'm fighting things I cannot see.
I think it's called my destiny
that I am changing.

The song is about a woman with serious trust issues, a woman who's inability to connect is makes it impossible to know when/if she's met someone she can really trust. Though she seems to be breaking out of this pattern, it is unclear how that will effect her current relationship. I've listened to the song more than a dozen times, and I settled on two different and conflicting meanings.

In the one sense, Vega seems to be unable to reach beyond her own boundaries, the walls she constructs for emotional safety, to reach a deeper connection. The song seems to ask if she will be able to muster to the courage to be vulnerable with her current paramour, to allow him to reach into the heart of her, not keep him at arm's length.

My second reading is of a woman who cannot break out of a bad pattern with a man she loves, but whom she remains in a self-destructive loop with. Whether that loop is one she repeats with different men who are all lacking in the same specific way or the same man she can't break free of seems ambiguous. The point is that, whomever the soldier(s) is/are, he is interested in Vega for her body only, and Vega cannot keep herself from falling into bed with a man/men who have no interest in her beyond what he/they can get from her physically.

I love the tension in the song. Will she be able to love? Will she think well enough of herself to demand love in return? If she is changing, is it for good or for ill? The narrative arch, left unresolved, allows the song to contain both hope and hopelessness in tension, both the bitterness of betrayal and the disappointing knowledge that one has allowed oneself to lose something potentially stunning out of fear.

I also enjoy the (admittedly mildly) feminist overtones I find lurking in the text.

"Don't give away the goods too soon," is what she might have told me.

I consider myself a sex positive feminist. I generally think that talking about sex clearly with your partner is good, that reproductive freedoms are fundamental, and that shaming people around sex is counterproductive to health and safety. At the same time, I think it's worth admitting that, emotionally and physically, we have a tendency to give ourselves away sometimes thoughtlessly to people who neither respect or deserve what we have to offer. I think women in general are often inclined to do this for a variety of reasons that revolve around the historical commodification of women's bodies, mass media messages about beauty image that are anathema to self-esteem, and competing messages about the value of virginity and the desirability of sexual prowess. There is something to be said for thinking highly enough of yourself to believe - regardless of whether this is your first, fifteenth, or fiftieth partner - that you are worth of love, attention, admiration and respect on your own terms. Virginity isn't magical, but human intimacy is a valuable experience, and not one worth wasting, as Laini Taylor's surrogate father Wishbone so accurately puts it in the terrific YA novel Daughter of Smoke and Bone, on "inconsequential penises." Or inconsequential partners, for that matter.

I like the idea that Marlene Dietrich, if she could talk to Suzanne Vega, would tell her, "if he's using you, don't give in, or at least have the good sense to be aware of what he's using you for." I always think of it as the Norma Jean approach to navigating the sexual pitfalls of modern pop culture commodification. You only have two options: don't play at all, or decide what you want to get out of it and play on your own terms. While I find it odious that the world constantly decides a woman's value based, at least in part, on sex appeal, I have a hard time telling the girl who would be Marilyn that she's a sell out for attempting to harass her own sexual agency for benefit and profit. Instead, I'd rather tell her to keep in mind that you have to know what your giving and what you're getting in return, and you better be sure it's worth it it in the end. Also, stay away from the Kennedys.

What does all this have to do with Mandy Aftel's new perfume, Wild Roses, well, in my mind, a lot actually.

If I've said it once, I've said it a hundred times: I love rose scents. Roses and vanillas are the two kinds of scents you can almost bank on my running toward. As a result, I've smelled a lot of roses on the market at a lot of different price points, from low dollar minis of Demeter Fragrances Pruning Sheers to L'Artisan Voleur de Roses and Drole de Rose to niche scents like Teo Cabanel Oha, Agent Provocateur EdP, and Juliette Has a Gun Lady Vengeance to true independents like DHS Perfumes Beach Roses and the now sadly defunct American Beauty. And that's just naming the ones I can think of off the top of my head. Name a rosy category -- patchouli roses, dirty roses, leather roses, powdery roses, realistic roses -- and I've probably got a fav or two.

So when I tell you Mandy Aftel has created in Wild Roses an inventive take on the rose that might merit the creation of a new subcategory, it's worth taking note. Aftelier Perfumes describes Wild Roses as follows:
I wanted to capture in perfume the experience of walking around my garden and smelling each rose, as their perfumes blended in my nose. Wild Roses perfume evokes the garden in our imagination and memory -- the book of a hundred petals unfolding: balsamic, spicy, apricot, and honeyed roses, mixed with the smell of warm earth and herbs.

The apricot-rose heart is perfectly rooted in a base of tarragon absolute -- its herbal round anise aroma giving a nuance of both earth and leaves. The balsamic vanilla absolute and the whiskey-ness of aged patchouli support tarragon’s warm, powdery aspect. Indole contributes the almost animal aspect of ripeness in a rose. The heart is punctuated by pimento berry, lending its nuances of clove, ginger, and cinnamon. The candied-orange flower aroma of methyl methyl anthranilate, the soft powdery floral of heliotropin, and the slightly floral citrus of bergamot contribute a modern freshness to the opening.

Top: rose CO2, heliotropin, bergamot, geraniol, m-methyl anthranilate, damascenone.
Heart: apricot, Turkish rose absolute, pimento berry, p-ethyl alcohol, rose petals attar.
Base: tarragon absolute, vanilla absolute, indole, aged patchouli.
Upon application, Wild Roses is a sweet, dark cocktail of rose petals swirling in a sweet berry liqueur and strong shot of vodka. Slightly stringent or medicinal, this largely candied opening slides across the olfactory palette like a good drink or a terrible poison, the kind one imagine was concocted by a dark Queen with a serious grudge. It is a kind of biting sweetness, a traditional beauty that cuts, the thorn of the proverbial rose that, pricking a finger, sends one off to a dark sleep. As it ages on the skin, the medicinal aspect fades, leaving a berry-oriented jammy rose.

Wild Roses has a realistic quality, but clearly isn't meant to be exactly like a smelling a rose. It's more wearable than sticking a bloom in your hair. It's a rose plus a sweetness that draws you closer so it can take a bite. It manages to be both pretty, strong, alluring, and vulnerable, but without the direct sexiness of a patchouli rose or the delicate femininity of a powdered rose. 

Lots of terrific samples!
And the reason I told you that whole thing about Suzanne Vega and her Marlene Dietrich poster and my general sex positivity being tempered with a desire that we simultaneously promote sex respect is this: Every time I tried Wild Roses, I heard the song in my head. I imagined this vulnerable woman acting tough and trying to protect herself from being hurt and acting like she doesn't care when she really does, and this is what she smells like.

Beautiful. Vulnerable. Strong.

It's a heartbreakingly lovely audiolfactory experience.

So let's all welcome the new world of the candied rose! It's decidedly worth trying. Wild Roses EDP is available direct from the perfumer in 30ml for $170. Samples can be purchased $6.

And even if I am in love with you,
all this to say:
What's it to you?
Observe the blood, the rose tattoo,
of the finger prints on me from you....

Other evidence has shown
that you and I are still alone.
We skirt around the danger zone
and don't talk about it here.

I tried so hard to resist
when you held me in your handsome fist
and reminded me of the night we kissed
and why I should be leaving.
Marlene on the wall...

In the interests of full disclosure: this perfume sample was provided by the perfumer.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sunday Night Sad Bastard Music

Jessica Lea Mayfield Edition

No new blog today as I am in the midst of NaNoWriMo and trying to catch up, but you can expect some postage later this week.  I'm thinking -- a little perfume writing, a little holiday shopping recommendations, a little music, and of course, a little pop culture feminist critique, because this is Feminine Things, dear reader, and you know I cannot help myself. <g>

I'll probably also write something about writing itself at some point in the next month or two. Until I grace you with my multitude of ramblings, however, enjoy the beautiful darkness of this song, from the AH-MAZING 2011 album from Jessica Lea Mayfield, Tell Me. I'm mildly obsessed with it right now. If you don't have it, and you are feeling impulse shop-y, grab this while you're at it.  You won't be sorry.

Hate has brought me up the stairs into your house.
I will not let hate 
be the one to make me naked for you.
My self-esteem is heating up the room.
You're intimidating as all hell, 
but I ain't scared of you.

I know how you work;
I am just like you.
No matter what you say, 
our hearts are wrong.
Our hearts are wrong.

Love has brought me down 
like love's been known to do.
I try to deny with all my heart 
that I'm in love with you.

"I don't really care."
You knew that's what I'd say.
The only time I miss you is every single day.

I know how you work;
I am just like you.
No matter what you say, 
our hearts are wrong.
Our hearts are wrong.

~ Our Hearts are Wrong," Jessica Lea Mayfield

Friday, November 2, 2012

Let your love cover me; you are my family.

Naked Leaf Perfumes First Breath

As I am writing this, my niece is about to be born.

Okay, yes, she is my second niece, and also, yes, she isn't really my niece.

It's technically my 'adoptive' sister's second daughter. It doesn't make it any less exciting to me, though. Also, I'm technically writing this piece a few days ahead of pasting it because I'm having some weird health issues this week and I like to stay on track. I'm posting this piece today because I am hoping they don't have to wait until next week to induce.  If I am lucky, Ximena will be born today, on All Soul's Day, because it is a special day, a beautiful day. It is a day of remembrance, a day that connects us to our past.

A lot of people feel that our pasts way us down, but I'm a big believer in honoring where you come from, even the less pleasant parts, because they help you know where you're going. Trust me, my past ain't no picnic, but even I can find and pick out the good parts from a distance, and if I can, then I have hope for everyone. The good parts are still back there, and they are good.  And the bad parts?  They are parts I survived, and that makes me strong.

All of it is part of me, and I am comfortable enough in my own skin to be grateful to all those who made me, those who came before.  Every year, on this day, I try to honor that, and to honor the memory of those loved and loathed and lost, but who still live here, in every breath and heartbeat.  For that reason, I'd like to think of little Ximena coming into the world on a day where the wall between the past and the present is thinnest, a time when we honor our ancestors as we look toward the coming year.

But whether she is born today or not, I've been thinking about her and my sister Erica, particularly as I've been sampling our sixth and final Primordial Scent Project: Air Set offering, Naked Leaf Perfumes First Breath by perfumer Suzy Larsen.
In honor of midwifery, First Breath is a liquid prayer to empower when you need an unshakable inner strength and resilience--whether beginning new projects and challenges or birthing new ideas. The mysterious and sensual First Breath is clean, fresh, expansive, innocent and green while being a little sweet and comforting. It's your own midwife in a bottle giving you courage to take that first tentative step in a new direction. Let your inner sage-femme (midwife) guide you.

First Breath is an AIR element-inspired perfumer for Perfume Pharmer's 2012 Perfume Project: 'Primordial Scent'.

Notes: Sage, Lime, Lavender, Amroise, Bergamot, Clementine, Red Mandarin, Green Pepper, Rose Bulgarian, Rose Anatolian, Neroli, Lavender absolute, Black Current Bud absolute, Jasmine grandiflorum, Clary Sage, Fir Balsam absolute, Vanilla, Vetiver, Patchouli, Oakmoss, Benzoin and Hyrax in organic grape alcohol.
Lime, lavender, and bergamot are strong in the opening, which is very green and a little sharp. Ten minutes I start to get some rose and some of the patchouli base. I like rose/patchouli combinations, and the green and citrus notes lighten and compliment the combo, adding a pretty and, yes, innocent quality to a combination that I usually find earthy or sexy or dirty.

This is a pretty scent. A gentle scent. It doesn't have much of a 'skin' quality, or I'd say it was the air of newborn baby skin. This is not the brutal, bloody reality of birth, but the light, fuzzy bliss-fill memory of those first moments, where all you remember of a difficult new beginning is how it was all worth it in the end.

And to Erica and Ximena, and all lucky soon-to-be-moms and their almost-people, may your memories be as pretty as this scent.

You can buy First Breath for $50.00 for a 5ml parfum extrait direct from the perfumer. Samples are also available for $5.00.

You can buy the entire Primordial Scent Project: Air Set for $28.00 here.

For more reviews of the Primordial Scent Project: Air Scents, try: Perfume-Smellin' Things; The Perfume Critic; John Reasinger, writing for Perfume Pharmer; Indieperfumes; Donna Hathaway, writing for Perfumer Pharmer.

Can you fix this? It's a broken heart. 
It was fine, but it just fell apart. 
It was mine, but now I give it to you, 
Cause you can fix it, you know what to do. 

Let your love cover me, 
Like a pair of angel wings, 
You are my family, 
You are my family. 
~ "Family," Dar Williams

Thursday, November 1, 2012

We're one, but we're not the same.

Coeur d'Esprit Natural Perfumes Ele-Metal Alchemy/One

Here we are again, dear reader, exploring the wonderful world of Air. I'd like to pause briefly and say, now that we are on day 5 of 6 days of Air, that one of the most interesting challenges in reviewing the Primordial Scent Project: Air Set is that there are a lot of different ways to interpret Air.

I loved each and every one of the Water scents, but there was a a thread I could discern running between them. Each take on water was, in some deeply fundamental way, always water. Air, however, has been all over the map, scent wise. And that is good, I think. It's forced me to broaden my impression of what Air might mean.

Each scent has taken the concept of the word and stretched it, tweaked it, made it more than I'd imagined before I'd opened the tiny tin with the yellow label. For that I'm grateful. It's always nice to be challenged. It's nice to take the moment to reconsider. And nothing has challenged me more in this set than Coeur d'Esprit Natural Perfumes Ele-Metal Alchemy .

Ele-Metal Alchemy is described by perfumer Lyn E. Ayre as follows:
This five-layer fragrance was born in the Earth, forged in the Fire, cooled in the Water, and dried in the Air. Then it was blessed by Spirit with the number Three, the Infinity symbol, colour & crystals, toning, and a prayer that it be worn for the highest good of the wearer. It now lives in the Ether around the wearer, balancing and harmonizing the inner and outer elements.

The perfume plays out backwards to how it was created. We detect the first whiffs of scent through the ether. It brings up images of airy clouds in the light blue sky and the ethereal whiffs of pine and spruce bent over from the ocean winds; the honeybee winging from flower to flower; and the green leaves, hanging by a thread and flittering in the wind.From Crown Chakra to Third Eye, to Throat, then Heart down to Sacral up to Solar Plexus down to Root up, it spirals in Fibonacci fashion.

Crown – the dream is given through Clair-gnosis, as I sleep.
Third Eye –the vision is inwardly viewed and constructed before pen goes to paper or a bottle is even opened. Accords are what is needed for this project.
Heart –The Air accord of pine and mints refreshes the senses and opens them up to the water experience.
Sacral –The Water accord of Ocean tincture (sand, shells, seaweed, sea grass in alcohol), Ambergris, and aqueous White Flowers such as Frangipani, Blue, Pink, & White Lotus, Jasmine sambac, and Neroli remind us of our birth place in the deep primordial oceans of time.
Solar Plexus –The Fire accord of hot spices and balsams burn in the heat of our passion to be more of who we are meant to be.
Root –The Earth layer of Vetiver, Cedar, Hyraceum, Frankincense grounds the wearer into Gaia.
Throat –Ether: This perfume breathes the concept of ‘ONE’ – organized network of energy; It lives the notion of ‘I AM’ – it all matters; it tones the theory of the ‘OM’ – only me. In essence, it says, ‘I am only one but I am one, and only I can take responsibility for my life’s path, and the ultimate ensuing, journey until my last exhale.
This scent is complex. The opening has a kind of zing to it that reminds me of the taste of fresh horseradish mixed with mint, which slides into a lot of warm spice and wood within about a minute of application. This is the place Ele-Metal Alchemy lives on my skin the longest - in a woody, minty, warm spice area. It also has a strong rubber note at times, that at other times reminds me of Cheerwine?

Ele-Metal Alchemy is an unusual scent. It doesn't remind my of anything else I've tried, which is impressive, and it seems a little different every time I wear it. Maybe that means it is really reactive to whateveer is going on with my skin chemistry right now, but it could also be that, at different points when I wear it, I'm in need of various parts of the spiral Lynn describes.

I've tried Ele-Metal Alchemy a couple of times and it is an interesting Air indeed. It bubbles, it fizzles, it pops. It's pretty, but that's not all it is. It's also warm and sizzling and layered. And yes, pretty. But pretty seems like a bonus in the midst of all this interesting substance. On the whole, a curious scent worth further exploration. If you're into perfume and feeling like you never try anything new, I encourage you to try Ele-Metal Alchemy. It's an awakening all its own.

Ele-Metal Alchemy is available direct from the perfumer in a 10ml atomizer for $37.20. Please note that when the Primordial Scent Project is complete, this scent will simply be called "One."

You can buy the entire Primordial Scent Project: Air Set for $28.00 here.

For more reviews of the Primordial Scent Project: Air Scents, try: Perfume-Smellin' Things; The Perfume Critic; John Reasinger, writing for Perfume Pharmer; Indieperfumes; Donna Hathaway, writing for Perfumer Pharmer.

One life,
but we're not the same.
We get to carry each other...
"One," U2

Perfume photos taken by me. Photo of Cheerwine taken from NYTimes. All Rights Reserved.

There's no place like home for the holidays.

NPG Home for the Holidays: Mermade Magickal Arts EverGreen Incense 2013

November First, dear reader! We have reached November! First! I can now unabashedly run toward the winter holidays with open arms. FN1.

I love winter holidays. I love Thanksgiving and Solstice and Saturnalia and Christmas, and I'm sure I'd love Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, too, given the opportunity. November 1 to January 1 is always my most wonderful time of the year. Also, when I'm super lucky, there is SNOW!

My winter good mood got an early kick off this year when I received the following scentvitation from the Natural Perfumers Guild:

The holiday season means it’s cold outside and everyone is spending more time indoors, with the windows and doors closed.  It’s time to feature beautiful natural scents to highlight the festive spirit.  The Guild members are dedicated to using 100% natural aromatics, and for this season, members of the Natural Perfumers Guild created ambient fragrance for the home and office, using incense, candles, room sprays and wax melts. 

Eight Guild perfumers and associates have independently created lovely ambient scent products to celebrate “Home for the Holidays” 2012.  The natural scents work hand-in-hand with the idea of fragrant Christmas trees, boughs and wreaths fragrancing the homes and offices.

Now I ask you: who could say no to such an offer?

I received a beautiful an exceptionally generous package from Katlyn Breene of Mermade Magickal Arts, which included EverGreen Incense 2013, along with a beautiful electric incense burner, foiled paper, and a carved wooden incense server stick to use with it.  EverGreen is described as follows:
A rich Resin Incense Blend created to celebrate the Ancient Forest. The best of the woody, balsamic and green scents, it is a wonderful blend for the Winter months and seasonal celebrations. It has a base of resins and woods with notes of green fir, pine and cedar. Fresh and invigorating and filled with the scents of the wilderness, of tree resins and growing things. Burn this incense to let the forest in, and enliven your space with the spirit of the holidays.  
Contains: Hougary White Green and Black Frankincense, Copal Blanco, Pinion Pine Resin blended with Cedar tips (wild crafted), Himalyan Juniper, Grand Fir,  Fir Balsam and Western Cedar oil.
EverGreen smells like...evergreens? Ha! How succinct of me. Truly, though, it smells like the beautiful green trees I love among. The primary scent is the smell of dried pine needles and tree resin.  If someone made the floor of the forest into an incense, this would be that scent.  It has that peaty smell of layered greenery moldering and mulching and becoming the death that helps make new life. It has a gently medicinal quality with hints of good dry straw, like the smell of a pile of fresh hay piled onto a cart for a harvest hayride.

This scent is perfect for the winter holiday season because there is nothing commercially 'Christmas-y' about this scent.  It smells like the evergreen woods: dark, lovely, and deep.  I haven't had a chance to try the body incense yet, but I suspect it will be terrific.

In the electric burner provided, set at only a heat setting of 10, less than a teaspoon of EverGreen filled our entire two story house with beautiful scent in under fifteen minutes.  It's been a couple of hours now, and though the incense has been spent for about an hour and the burner has been off for almost two, the house still smells wonderful.

EverGreen is available for only $10.75, and is one of a number of fine quality incense blends available for equally reasonable prices, any of which would make an outstanding stocking stuffer.  While we 'fumies are constantly bombarded with pitches for matching perfumed candles and fragrant oils and reed diffusers, there is something to be said for a well made incense, a scent that is strong and beautiful and requires a little heat to bring it to life.

Also, I'd like to make a pitch for the electric burner. I have never had an electric burner. I have been using incense for probably about twenty years, and both the quality of scent and the method of burning is far superior to anything I've ever experienced.  If you like or use incense or resin, I really recommend getting an electric burner from Mermade Magickal Arts.  It is a beautiful, handcrafted item available for only $59.95, and would make an excellent gift for the scent lover in your life.

I am really grateful to Katlyn for introducing me to this option.

To read about the other NPG Home for the Holidays offerings, check out these other fine bloggers:
~ Ca Fleure Bon
~ Perfume Critic
~ Perfume Shrine
~ The Passionate Perfumista
~ That Smell

Other Natural Perfumers Guild members participating are:
Andrea Shanti of Holistic Body Therapy : Anita Casamento of Happy Herbs Soaps : Anya McCoy of Anya's Garden Perfumes : Elise Pearlstine of Belly Flowers Perfumes : JoAnne Bassett of JoAnne Bassett Perfumes

FN1. Shut it, holiday haters. I don't want to hear a single word about how it is 'too early.' It is never too early for winter wonderland magic for me.