There’s something strange and lovely wafting in the wind, and it’s not just the rustle of the dying leaves or the murmurs of the restless dead in their unquiet graves. Can you feel it, too? Can you smell it?
Can you smell the boozy swoon of ripe harvest fruits and the smoky crackling bonfires to light the cold nights? The acrid tang of animal musks, those small beasts gathering stores for the upcoming winter, while other, less fuzzy wee creatures forage for sweet smelling chocolate and candies? The aroma of fresh baked pumpkin pie, redolent of warm spices? The mournful reek of the tomb, damp with rot and tears of the bereaved?
Something wicked, weird, and whimsical this way comes, and ’tis the season to anoint oneself in all of these fantastical fall fragrances! Who better to assist in achieving our October olfactory goals than Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, with their much anticipated annual Halloween collection?
Since at least 2004 beloved perfumer Elizabeth Barrial and The Lab have been celebrating the most wonderful time of the year (“goth Christmas”, as it is known in some circles) with their splendid presentation of the strangest and most beautiful scents the season has to offer. Inspired by world mythology and history, autumnal poetry, ghostly art, and playful, sugar-laden treats, previous years have reveled in variations on such hallowed themes as the haunted house, pumpkin patches, and bobbing for apples, along with their “single notes”– cheeky interpretations of iconic seasonal sniffs.
To those for whom Halloween remains an anchor point for the entire calendar year, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab in 2016, has once again presented their fans with collection that will keep even the most die-hard enthusiast in awash Halloweenie sights, smells, and visitations for the foreseeable future.
In the years that I have been obsessing over BPAL, I have tried a great number of the Halloweenie offerings: Samhain is truly the scent of autumn, bottled, with notes of damp fir and needle, warm pumpkin and spices, sweet apple and mullein. Witch-Bride is pale and lovely, cool and floral, with nightshade kisses, wound in hemlock blossoms, draped in wisteria veils. Sugar Skull (not available this year), a blend of five sugars, lightly dusted with candied fruits was vibrant with the joy and sweetness of life in death and redolent of musky brown sugar and rummy jellies.
For review purposes today I am mainly focusing on their Spirit of Halloween scents which are part of the ongoing Black Phoenix Salon Series wherein classical works of art are masterfully rendered in fragrance form.
The Ghost of a Woman Confronts Her Murderer on a Stormy Night (blackened cypress tar, bleached white cedar, asphodel, patchouli, and night-black musk). Caustic, like acid erosion on metal–straight from the bottle this does smell very much like a bloody curse, an enraged accusation. It shortly becomes pungent and tarry with a chilly bite, and then, inexplicably, a sweetly earthy, heartbreakingly delicate scent.
The Drowned Man’s Ghost Tries to Claim a New Victim for the Sea (black kelp and opoponax, silt, and dark things dredged up from the depths of a seabed). Admittedly, I am all a-swoon for anything that lists notes of opoponax, and it lends a honeyed, balsamic quality to this lightly oceanic fragrance. As the scent lingers on the skin it smells less and less of salt spray against gull-flecked skies and more like sun-warmed resins, a chunk of myrrh sunning itself on a splintered piece of driftwood.
The Ghost of Clytemnestra Awakening the Furies (opoponax steeped in black wine, spindle tree sap, nightshade accord, yew needles, and a drop of blood). Opoponax plays a different role in this aromatic summons to the Erinyes; a bitter brew, a toxic temptation, this ghost lures us with a syrupy sweetness under which lurks a poisoned bile. This is a fragrance that attracts and repels in turn.
Four Grave Robbers Awaken a Ghost (dragon’s blood resin, olibanum, galangal, bdellium, and myrrh). To be honest, I don’t know the difference between olibanum and frankincense and I haven’t the slightest as to what galangal or bdellium are, (they’re related to ginger and myrrh, respectively–thanks Google), but this bone dry scent conjures visions of shadowy mounds of dusty dark chocolate shavings with slivers of sandalwood tucked between the sheaves, and the once you’ve fallen under it’s spell, the more arcane details just don’t seem to matter.
The Gambols of Ghosts (Rivulets of beeswax and amber flame illuminating a pale blue midnight, eddying with phantom violets, olive blossom, and moss) is all tangy dairy and cool, green florals, as if a compound butter were made with fresh cream, the lightly bruised petals of spring flowers and slightly sweetened with their verdant nectar. As the scent dries on one’s skin you can smell hints of the wax paper it is wrapped in, and the viscous violet essence that has been drizzled atop in dulcet presentation. If this were an actual food, I would desire to spread it on crumbling oatcakes, served alongside afternoon tea in a fairy ring.
Have you tried any of the 2016 ‘weenies from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab? This year’s Pile of Leaves scents and the series based on Edith Wharton’s poem, “All Souls”, sound particularly enticing! Tell us your thoughts about this years offerings in the comments!