Please welcome guest blogger Mlle Ghoul from These Unquiet Things and Dirge Magazine! S. Elizabeth is a fancier of fine old things, nostalgic whimsies and magics both macabre and melancholy. She is a shadow seamstress, star stitcher, word witch, and weaver of the weird. Find her on her blog, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.
As some people may remember where they were when a momentous, life-changing occasion occurred, perhaps when Kennedy was shot or when the first man walked on the moon, I too remember a rather life altering/defining during my tenure here on earth. And while I suppose I cannot compare it to the assassination of a world leader or journeys to distant worlds, it was a discovery that would change so many things for me, and open so many doors.
In late 2003, early 2004, I was struggling with anxiety, depression and an eating disorder, exacerbated by, or quite possibly directly caused by an abusive, toxic relationship. I often sought refuge online; I loved selling things on eBay, I frequented LiveJournal (didn’t we all?) and I somehow fell into the rabbit hole of reviews on makeupalley.com.
I am not certain how it started. I may have been looking for cheap but popular drugstore finds, and in doing so, I became absolutely enthralled by the fragrance reviews archived on the site. Until that point in time I distinctly recall I had been exclusively wearing Hypnotic Poison, by Christian Dior. I am not certain if I actually liked that sweet, powdery scent, or if I wore it because my lover preferred it, but at that time it was the only perfume on my shelf. In reading these lush, evocative scent descriptions on makeupalley I was reminded of my fascination with fragrance from when I was much younger, and how I would spend hours playing with my mother’s small, but potent, perfume collection.
It was at this time that I stumbled upon a review for a scent called “Snake Oil” sold by a mysterious, thrillingly dangerous sounding company, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. Penned by a user calling herself “shriekingviolet”, she described it as “exotic and unfamiliar, evoking images of bazaars in far-off locales”. So fascinated was I by the description, I read further her reviews for the intriguingly named “Chimera”, “Haunted” and “Hellcat”, growing more and more excited with every fragrant word I devoured.
I sped over to the website, growing more and more excited as I read about the company:
“Inspired by a vast range of influences, from the passion and decadence of the Fin de Siècle movement to the ghastliest of Lovecraftian monstrosities, we specialize in eliciting emotional responses through perfume and creating unique, masterfully molded scent environments that capture legends and folklore, poetry, and the stuff of dreams and nightmares.”
I didn’t know there were people making these kinds of scents! I grew up in a household of ouija boards, meditation circles, tarot cards, and astrologers, I was raised on books of mythology and folklore, fairytales and fables. In my teen years I became obsessed by ghost stories and horror movies, and at the time of my discovery, I was the sole employee at a rare and occult bookstore, surrounded by tomes of magic, significant grimoires, volume upon volume of every sort of esoteric subject you could possibly imagine. From what I was reading in these fragrance reviews, there was a person out there creating perfumes inspired by all of the things I loved best. I was smitten before I even looked through the website.
And the website! Those familiar with Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s expansive catalogue know how vast and daunting it can seem at first, and it honestly, it was no less beastly 13 years ago.
For an acolyte on their initial quest for knowledge regarding these fine esoteric goods, perfumes and potions, it can almost seem insurmountable, this navigating amongst hundreds of scent choices to find that perfect, holy grail fragrance. It’s easy to get lost in the lush, poetic scent descriptions and lose time sussing out which you’d like to choose for an introductory order from The Lab. You’ll no doubt have many questions. What notes do you like? What notes smell good on you? Why do you want to smell like a Shoggoth? What the heck *is* a Shoggoth, anyway?
In this vein, I’ve compiled some information that I think will be useful to those new to the experience, and I encourage those well-versed in BPAL lore and knowledge to chime in with their tips and suggestions in the comments!
Please check back next week for Part II of DARKLY DREAMING: BLACK PHOENIX ALCHEMY LAB. Part enthusiast’s memoir and part course guide, for Mlle Ghoul’s BPAL 101.