Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Rave: Blackbird Incense

It's really no secret that I have an obsession with all things trendy & hipster. When Blackbird released their incense cones, I was immediately attracted to the branding…but I recoiled in horror thinking of all the gross head shop incense I'd burn in my room as a teen, and as an adult, I get physically ill each time I pass a vendor burning it on the streets of NYC. But alas! Blackbird has created an incense that I am head over heels for. I hoard this stuff. Literally.

The cute little tins were a huge selling point for me, but the product itself is fantastic. They have a huge array of scents and each cone releases a beautiful, eerie stream of smoke that burns for approximately 15 minutes. This isn't your typical hippie-esque incense. Blackbird pyres radiate a clean, gorgeous odor; the notes that they list for each scent are notes that you can legitimately decipher as it burns.

This really is not a review, more like an absolute rave. This is a company that I believe in wholeheartedly (proven by my mass collection of these bad boys). There are great people behind the brand, and they've created a stellar product (there fragrances rule too, but that's for another day!).

Cost: $30 for a tin of 20

Monday, November 23, 2015

Subscription Review; Scent Trunk

Scent Trunk has a good group of people behind it, which makes talking about their service pretty easy. Jolisa did an awesome job curating my box this month, I enjoyed each of the three scents, which doesn't happen often! The subscription arrives with three samples, each with their own information card which details the scent description, notes, sillage, longevity, and best wear time. In addition, there is a card that includes the retail price for each fragrance, the country from which it originates, and information about the brand. AND, something I enjoy quite a bit is the inclusion of fragrance strips! Sometimes you don't want to spray it on yourself for the first test, so this makes it nice.

The 3 fragrances included in my box this month were:
  • Musc by Mona Di Orio
  • Diamond Jubilee Bouquet by Grossmith
  • Cotton Musk by Raymon Monegal
Short scent reviews after the photos...

Mona Di Orio; Musc
neroli, rose, angelica, heliotrope, tonka bean, musk

Musc is best described by a very clear adjective: adorable. Ultra feminine. It begins with a citrusy rose and dries down to sweet heliotrope and clean musk; overall it exudes a very fem, powdery vibe.

Raymon Monegal; Cotton Musk
gardenia, rose, vanilla, vetiver, white musk, incense

Cotton musk smells just as it should be implied. It is a freshly laundered, white cotton t-shirt that has been hung on the line to dry, accidentally left out in the rain, and then left to dry again. The florals and musk are most prominent here, lending an ultra clean vibe.

Grossmith; Diamond Jubilee
narcissus, citrus, carnation, iris, vetiver, tonka bean

Diamond Jubilee is possibly the most interesting olfactive experience of the bunch. At the start, this juice is a little pungent. I wasn't sure I'd like it, but the more it dries down, the more into it I am. There is a blast of spicy-floral, citric earthiness at the start. Carnation is a main player on my skin, it stays throughout and eventually rounds out with a little sweetness that I really enjoy. It puts me in mind of vintage makeup.

*Box provided by Scent Trunk

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Review: Nicolai Parfumeur Createur Juste un Réve


coconut, apricot, jasmine, tuberose absolutes, sandalwood, & vanilla

Image from: pnicolai.com

Just a dream. Never have I smelled a perfume with a name so appropriate. Ironically, I've discovered it at a time in my life which I've found myself frequently wondering if I'm dreaming, because things are just going too well (is that a thing?). The recent string of events I've experienced have been hauntingly surreal — in a beautiful way — which makes me question every outlook on life that I've ever had up until this moment. So, I'm staking my claim on Juste un Réve as the scent which will forever resemble the monumental turn of events in my life, because it only seems fitting…

Parfums de Nicolai has rapidly become a favorite house of mine, Patricia does hypnotic and dreamy  (pun intended) olfactive work, the kind which is easy, but not dumbed down or simplistic. Juste un Réve quite literally seduced me. I received it in a gift of samples from a fellow perfume-lover (Heyyyy Rita), who shares a mutual love of Nicolai Parfums. As I was going through the samples, I smelled a heavenlyyyy aroma oozing from the lot of samples, and I immediately turned into a savage trying to get to the source. Source found. Bottle immediately ordered. And so here we are.

Juste un Réve floats out in an atomized puff of whimsical tuberose and jasmine; the airiest infusion of tuberose I have ever had the pleasure of sniffing. Combined with coconut and vanilla, these overtly feminine florals are sweet and creamy with a — not too — tropical air. Juste un Réve begins to feel velveteen, almost as though the apricot skin were tactile; a soft, wispy fruitiness to keep this potion feeling ever mystical. This juice keeps its head in the clouds, even with the addition of a quiet sandalwood, nothing can ground this quixotic potion…and I'd have it no other way. 

The way the notes in Juste un Réve combine results in an airy, clean, and slightly powdery perfume. This is not like waking up from a nightmare, relieved that it wasn't reality. But it's like waking up from a utopian dream. A dream which is better than your reality. Waking up and whispering to yourself "It was just a dream," hoping that you'll return there in your next slumber. 

Juste un Réve can be purchased at $50 for a 30ml bottle

Longevity: 1/5
Projection: 2/5

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Sixteen Super Fragrances for Fall

Okay, okay, so what if fall is halfway over. I'm a procrastinator in every sense of the word. Cut me some slack. Autumn is my faaaaaavorite time of year, so I felt obligated to do my very own fall fragrance list. Let's do this!

Bonfire Vibes
Smoky, Smoldering, & Dry

Imaginary Authors; A City on Fire  - $85/60ml
cade oil, spikenard, cardamom, clearwood, dark berries, labdanum, & burnt match

A perfect imitation of a smoke-infiltrated sweatshirt after an evening spent laughing and drinking hard cider around a campfire with friends.

Tauer Perfumes; L'air du Desert Marocain - $130/50ml
coriander, cumin with a hint of petitgrain. The heart features rock rose and jasmine. The base includes cedar, vetiver and ambergris

A much less literal representation of a bonfire is Andy Tauer's L'air du Desert Marocain. Dry and smoky, but more reminiscent of an eclectic home scented with rosy incense, and heated by a wood-burning fireplace.

ROADS; Harmattan - $155/50ml
lavender, vetiver, oud, saffron, black pepper, tuberose, rose, ylang-ylang, sandalwood, bourbon, tonka bean, frankincense, patchouli, & myrrh

Oud-lite. An earthy, saffron-infused wood, charred ever-so-slightly.

Pinrose; Campfire Rebel - $50/30ml
whiskey, raspberry, burning oud wood, vetiver, vanilla bourbon

Very campy, with an infusion of sweetness. Like you're roasting marshmellows on a crackling flame.

Corn Mazes, Carnival Rides, & Thanksgiving Pies
Sophisticated & Satiating Sweets 

L'Artisan Parfums; Dzing! - $90/100ml
leather, ginger, tonka bean, musk, white woods, caramel, saffron, toffee, candy apple, & cotton candy

Squeeee! My beloved Dzing! A carnival petting zoo mixed with leather and sweet treats.

Serge Lutens; Chergui - $150/50ml
tobacco leaf, honey, iris, sandalwood, amber, musk, incense, rose, & hay

Like being taken on a hay ride by a man smoking a corncob pipe. Sweet, powdery tobacco with an infusion of honey and hay.

Bois 1920; Sushi Imperiale - $205/100ml
bergamot, mandarin orange, lemon, pepper, nutmeg, jasmine, rose, star anise, cinnamon, sandalwood, vetiver, patchouli, tonka bean, & madagascar vanilla

Hot, cinnamon-y apple cider with a glorious interweaving of fresh men's cologne.

Etat Libre d'Orange; Like This - $85/47ml
yellow tangerine, ginger, pumpkin, immortelle, Moroccan neroli, Grass rose, vetiver, heliotrope, & musk

Golden leaves, pumpkin pie puree, and bright yellow notes combine to create an aroma very reminiscent of home in the autumn.

Cozy Couch Hangs
Comforting & Enveloping

Maria Candida Gentile; Syconium - $45/15ml
honey, milk, fig, sandalwood, & beeswax

Like pouring honeyed milk over a wooden bowl full of ripened figs. Divine. Warm. Sweet.

Nicolai Parfumeur Createur; Ambre Cashmere Intense - $65/30ml
black pepper, mandarin orange, citron, orris root, violet and cloves, vanilla, labdanum, benzoin, tonka bean, patchouli, sandalwood, musk, & amber

Lemon custard pie with a sprinkle of pepper and finished with all the warmth and depth of resinous, earthy, and sweet notes. Throw on a cashmere sweater and curl up on the couch.

Jacomo; #08 -$43/100ml
cardamom, ginger, black tea, freesia, milk, dried fruit, cinnamon, milk, & amber

A chai latte in perfume form; need I say more?

Tokyo Milk; Bulletproof - $36/47ml
smoked tea, coconut milk, cedar, & ebony

All the elements of a comforting black tea scent, combined with coconut milk and woody notes. Incredibly unique and soothing.

Smooth Sandalwood 
Creamy Woods

Nirvana; Black - $80/1oz
violet, sandalwood and vanilla

A totally effortless sandalwood. 

Diptyque; Tam Dao EDP - $145/75ml
lime, coriander, ginger, sandalwood, cedarwood, musc, vanilla, & amber wood

A lumberyard start turns into a sweet, milky sandalwood with a well-tempered vanilla.

Guerlain; Samsara - $45/50ml
green notes, peach, ylang-ylang, bergamot and lemon; middle notes are iris, violet, orris, jasmine, rose and narcissus; base notes are iris, sandalwood, tonka bean, amber, musk and vanilla

My Samsara is a vintage EDT, and I haven't compared it to the current formula, but I had to include it. Gorgeous, smooth sandalwood with an aldehydic edge.

Keiko Mecheri; Bois de Santal - $140/75ml
Mysore sandalwood, white Chinese osmanthus, & ambergris

A beautifully soft woodsy scent with a powdery fresh undercurrent. Wears like velvet.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Review: Nicolai Parfumeur Createur Ambre Cashmere Intense


black pepper, mandarin orange, citron; orris root, violet and cloves; vanilla, labdanum, benzoin, tonka bean, patchouli, sandalwood, musk, & amber

A pungent, nose-tickling pepper lays the foundation for a citrusy mélange, which resembles a dish of lemon custard pie. The floralized mid-notes remain incognito during my wear, but eventually the desserty guise gains a more inedible complexion, knighting this markedly gourmand fragrance with a crown of sophistication, appealing to non-gourmand lovers too. The peppery-lemon — a quiet constant throughout the duration of this juice — begins to drown under an amalgam of notes characterized by their appealing depth and warmth; a smidgen of earthy patchouli, a whisper of smoky resins, not-too-sweet vanilla, and a healthy dose of glowing amber. As it dries down completely, the itchy pepper fights its way back to the top, making my nose feel a little twitchy when I inhale it deeply. The end result is peppery amber on a stabilizing wooden base, with a breath of clean musk (which is more perceptible on clothing than skin). Some find Ambre Cashmere too sweet, however, I find that its sweet notes have a cleverly composed juxtaposition with non-sweet notes to perform a complimentary balancing act. What you're left with is a toasty concoction, metaphoric to a weekend spent away in a wooded cabin during the late autumn.

Morning is spent peacefully meditating on a porch facing a pristinely placid lake. With a mug of hot tea warming your hands, and a cashmere blanket draping your shoulders. Mother Nature exhibits signs of the impending seasonal transition. She steals the last of the wood's hanging leaves, they float poetically down to a hardening soil, ultimately resting atop a blanket of their leafy kin. The hum of winter in the air feels cleansing; you willfully invite it to fill up your lungs in between sips of tea. Smells of burning wood float from atop a dancing flame and out the chimney in a plume of grey smoke, threatening to choke the brisk atmosphere, and beckoning you back inside with promises of its fiery warmth. Time does not exist here; you only know the time of day by the position of the sun. And as midday sets in, you fetch another hot mug of Earl Grey, snag a slice of lemon dessert to accompany its bergamot goodness, and settle in on a well-loved couch in front of the fireplace. Later, you throw on a sweater and — with barefeet — you skirt around jagged rocks and pokey twigs until you reach the dock, where you skip rocks in the moonlight, across the glassy lake. Crickets entrance you with their chirpy lullaby, luring you to doze off on the dock while gazing at a star-speckled sky.

Ambre Cashmere Intense retails for $65-185

Longevity: 3/5
Projection: 2/5

Friday, October 9, 2015

Review: Papillon Artisan Perfumes Salome

She is an aloof and heartless, maneating mistress, with no regard for the opinion of others. Scorned by her past with cheating lovers, she's a self-proclaimed vigilante for the used and brokenhearted. She'll show up at your hotel room door, wreaking of the smells of her last sexual dalliance. When she's through with you, she'll light up a cigarette and dash out the door. You'll catch only a flick of her hair as she rounds the corner, never to be seen again...

Louise Brooks | Image from: selvedgeyard.com


bitter orange, bergamot; turkish rose, orange blossom, tobacco, carnation, jasmine, hyraceum; styrax, vanilla, hay, patchouli, oakmoss, cumin, birch, castoreum

Every so often I run across a fragrance that makes my stomach feel like it's actually trying to escape the confines of my body. Upon first sniff of Salome, my brain screamed "ABORT!ABORT!ABORT!", signaling to my stomach that it was time for a jail break. Now, many a 'fume lover fancy the oddities of a dirty, skanktastic fragrance. I happen to not be one of them. I can appreciate a little essence of filth, but I require that it dissipates if it wants to receive my love and adoration. I am, however, interested in perfumes that illicit a polarizing response. And Salome will evoke just that. Although, nearly every review I've seen of Salome to date is in favor of it, which leaves me wondering if my nose just isn't privy and practiced to these filthy kinds of juices.

Before I began writing the section of this post which would detail how Salome smells, I gave it time to develop and dry down. By the end, I started to detect a familiarity. Mitsouko! Guerlain's Mitsouko has much love and respect, but I didn't care for that one either. There is a musty dirtiness to both of these fragrances which frightens my nose to the point of nearly recoiling into my face. Perhaps it's the shared oakmoss note in these perfumes that I can't seem to wrap my nose around. In Salome, the cumin is prevalent and certainly the main cause of my stomach-fleeing, nose-recoiling issues. Cumin (the body odor-replicating kind) in perfumery stands as one of my most unfavored notes. Amongst all the notes listed for Salome, my skin drags out primarily cumin and oakmoss, leaving me with an olfactory portrait of post-coital sweatiness.

In writing about this, I began to wonder if many people enjoy these kinds of fragrances because of their unconscious correlation with naked dilly-dallying between the sheets. It would certainly make sense, since (as mentioned in my last article) our brains can associate even unpleasant aromas with something we enjoy, in turn giving us a positive view on said aroma. Ehh, maybe a stretch, but certainly plausible! I just can't consciously walk around radiating an odor which is reminiscent of a humid brothel house room. I wish there were more development on my skin, but it really does pull almost entirely cumin with a weaving of oakmoss. For the same reasons that I don't dig Salome, others will love it. That's the beauty of perfumery. I had fun sniffing and writing about Salome, and look forward to smelling more from Papillon.

Image from: luckyscent.com

Salome retails at $160 for a 50ml bottle, it was created by Liz Moores

Longevity: 2/5
Projection: 3/5

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Power of Scent; Smell Your Way to Happiness

Recently, the fragrance subscription service Scent Trunk has announced a devotion of 1.5% of their sales to the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation as a way to show their support in the fight against mental illness. In response, I felt inspired to finally tackle a topic that I've been quietly conceptualizing for some time now. A perfect time to applaud the Scent Trunk team (a group of truly lovely people) for their generous and thoughtful contribution, and to take the opportunity to discuss the functions and power of scent, psychology, why being fragrance-obsessed is about more than mindlessly collecting scented liquid (or obsessively smelling all which is smellable), and why more people should indulge in their sense of smell.

"Scent has the power to change our mood and to remind us of our best memories. Most of us know someone, in our friends or family, who suffer from depression. To help them, we contribute 1.5% of sales to #fightdepression."

The Amazing Olfactory System

As someone who is fascinated by both anatomy and psychology (and how it all works), I've discovered and delighted in the fact that the functions of the olfactory system are more complex than most give it credit for. When we have senses that function properly, we take them for granted. I can see, YAY. I can hear, YAY. Those are typically the most valued senses. In the case of olfaction, most aren't using the sense to its full potential, or recognizing its ability; so sure, it's working fine, but it could be working better. While it's true that animals have the ability to detect more odors than humans, it is believed that as centuries have passed — and we began walking on two limbs versus four — evolution has dulled our sense of smell.

Most animals rely almost entirely on their sense of smell to analyze their surroundings, evaluate their safety, and sniff out prey and mates; their anatomy reflects this. Aside from having a larger olfactory bulb, olfactory nerve cells, and a bigger olfactory epithelium, most have an additional olfactory organ — believed to be vestigial in humans — called the vomeronasal organ, which feeds information into the accessory olfactory bulb (a part of the brain that is nonexistent in humans), in turn allowing for greater odor processing. BUT, we humans are capable of training our sense of smell to detect a greater number of odors (the average adult human can detect approximately 10,000 different odors) by frequently practicing the retrieval of aromas from our brain's odor library, in turn improving our sense of smell AND (because olfaction is directly related to gustation) improving our sense of taste. MMMM FOOD.

The process of olfaction explained may sound just as monotonous as any other bodily function explained by your average college physiology professor. Here's a very basic explanation of the process: an odor enters your nose, it dissolves into your mucous membrane, reaches just past that to your olfactory epithelium, travels to the olfactory receptor neurons, which transmits the information to your olfactory bulb. The olfactory bulb contains sensory receptors that are actually connected to the part of your brain which send messages directly to the limbic system and neocortex (particularly important here for its involvement of the cerebral cortex), therefore odor information is received and processed immediately. That's a big deal, you guys. Most senses, when engaged, have to send information in little neuron automobiles on a journey via your spinal cord, to get the information to your brain for processing. The inner portion of our nostrils are the only part of our bodies where the central nervous system is exposed directly to the environment.

So, before I continue, recall the bit where I said that olfaction directly correlates with important brain functions via the limbic system and cerebral cortex. Now it's important that I remind you what the functions of these structures involve. The limbic system houses an array of structures whose primary jobs involve a responsibility for the emotional aspect of our lives, as well as higher mental functions; such as learning and the formation of memories. The cerebral cortex is the most important part of the brain (especially from a psychological standpoint), and it affects our thoughts and actions. In case you're not yet seeing how this is relevant, remember that our olfactory bulb has a direct relationship with these brain structures. Smell affects some of the most important functions of our brain! With such strong connectivity to some of the most influential parts of our psyche, at what point can we begin to consider the level of intensity for which scent can affect our whole being?

Olfaction & Emotion; A Serious Relationship

None of what I've told you is particularly groundbreaking; it's simply overlooked and under appreciated. I'm not a scientist, and there's plenty of studies about how scent affects x, y, & z. However, the average person doesn't delve into the sense of smell any deeper than, "that smells good" or "this smells bad." The truly amazing aspects of the sense of smell are all things that typically go unacknowledged or are taken for granted, and in fact, like most things involving the human body, the full capabilities of the olfactory system are not fully understood. Many of these functions are believed to be so innate and automatic that we don't even consciously recognize that we're using them. For the purpose of keeping this article relevant, I'm focusing specifically on some of the functions of smell which have the greatest impact on us from a psychological aspect.

In 2000, Rachel Herz conducted a study which tested the accuracy and emotionality of memory recall when an object was presented to a specific sense. Accuracy was measured by the level of detail and precision with which the event was remembered, and emotionality was measured by depth of emotion recalled from the event which it accompanied. The study proved that smell was not any more useful than the other senses in aiding memory recall. Scent was found to be just as effective in the evocation of memory as seeing, hearing, or touching an object presented with the intention of aiding in memory recollection. However, while each sense was equally successful in helping pull old memories from our internal databases, the memories which were recalled via olfaction surpassed the ability of the other senses from an emotionality standpoint. Smelling a specific scent which is related to an old (and possibly forgotten) memory can open a flood gate of emotions which can potentially feel as organic as they did when they occurred for the first time. That's powerful.

The olfactory processes are situated so anatomically close to the brain structures which control the characteristics of our psyche that we most value; memories, thoughts, & emotions. So when an odor accompanies a notable event or person, our brain has the ability to attach that odor to that specific event or person and remain silently stored in our brains memory database, ready to be recalled at the very moment you catch a whiff of the same aroma that you smelt when the experience occurred. When I smell laundry wafting from strangers dryer vents while walking down the street, I'm instantly reminded of riding my bike on a summer day in the small town I grew up in, catching the scent of fabric softener wafting from dryer vents of neighborhood houses. For a long time, the scent of chicken noodle soup repulsed me because my dad made a bowl while I was sick and nauseous on the couch. Scent recall is different for each person, which makes it that much more special. Something that simply smells "nice" to me, may trigger an entire reenactment of a childhood memory for you.

Furthermore, studies have proven that scent can affect us positively or negatively on a subconscious level. If presented with an odor — which did not previously conjure up any negative or positive response — during a negative, anxiety-inducing, or disturbing situation, that same odor presented in a stress-free situation can replicate the negative feelings that you felt in the anxiety-inducing situation for which the odor was initially presented. So, if there is a scent that you identify as calming, uplifting, or cheerful, you have the ability to carry that with you via some form of aromatic elixir to induce positive and happy feelings in a stressful situation (ie. wearing lavender oil while taking a difficult exam). Conversely, an unpleasant odor does not necessarily induce negative reactions. Studies have shown that when presented with a pleasant image, and then presented with an odor (whether pleasant or unpleasant), test subjects were more likely to identify the odor as positive. For instance, many people find the smell of cow manure to be disgusting, but I am reminded of quiet country roads, blue skies, and the simplicity of childhood. What I'm getting at is that scent can be a compelling tool which we can learn to use in our favor.

But still, why such an infatuation with perfume?

Often times, fragrance collecting is seen as a shallow hobby without any substantial value. However, part of the excitement and thrill of this infatuation with scent is in having the opportunity to express why olfaction is something to be emphatic about. Of course it smells good and makes you feel a little luxurious, but it's more that that. In studying and practicing scent (in a very unscientific way, by simply smelling), specifically through the use and enjoyment of perfume, I am able to create my own imagery and positive connotations for each fragrance. Each day I am able to choose a fragrance which evokes a specific feeling or emotion that I've created for it. How do I want to feel today? Which fragrance creates a story to achieve that feeling? We're talking about more than wanting to feel sexy for the purpose of attracting a mate. We're talking about the ability to feel powerful, confident, happy, calm, charming, mysterious, romantic, unique, and yes, attractive; an olfactive affirmation. And when we feel these kinds of things about ourselves, we take a tiny stab at hopelessness, self-criticism, insecurity, shame, depression, and anxiety.

Psychologically speaking, scent can play an important role in positively changing tasks that we find to be mentally distressing. As touched on a few paragraphs up, our brains are extremely sensitive to cues which trigger specific behaviors/emotions; whether that behavior is a response to cues learned consciously or unconsciously is irrelevant. The point is that — with scent — the possibility of creating positive cues for our brains in situations of distress is something that could be realistically attainable. For those who have personally suffered from depression or anxiety, you know that regaining the feeling of some emotional or mental normalcy during a particularly distressing time can be crucial. Aside from the possibility of training ourselves to correlate scents with positive feelings, many odors which we link to specific memories are able to be recreated and bottled. As a result, we can have these aromas at our disposal for sniffing when we want to remember the way we felt during a joyful moment, ultimately providing a source of comfort. In this way, scent can serve as a time capsule to happier times, resulting in the possibility of more hopeful feelings.

My fragrance journey didn't consciously start with all of this in mind, the more time I've spent collecting and practicing scent, the more I've learned and recognized how fascinating and mood-altering it is. As someone who has personally dealt with mental illness for nearly three decades, fragrance has become a daily, ritualistic experience that I am able to rely upon for glimmers of joy when everything else about the day ahead seems bleak and daunting. Scent certainly isn't the cure for all of our problems, but it is an accessible tool which we can use to our advantage. We can let the big ol' brain scientists work on a brain things, and we can fight mental illness on a smaller scale by happily dousing ourselves with confidence-building elixirs, spritzed from gorgeous little bottles. Kudos to you again, Scent Trunk, for loving our brains. You rock.

Image from: whatayear.org

Sources: herehereherehere, & here

*I stand to gain nothing from this article other than the joy of spreading the wonders of scent. This article does not include affiliate links, and I was not asked to write it. I hope this inspires you to spray your way to happiness.