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During the course of a recent flight to the West Coast, I had the pleasure of re-reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and was again treated to one of my very favorite passages in all literature, of all time, ever.
“The house smelled musty and damp, and a little sweet, as if it were haunted by the ghosts of long-dead cookies.”
This is the scent that Shadow inhales as Mr. Nancy unlocks the hurricane shutters and pulls open the windows of his small, one-story wooden house on the outskirts of muggy Floridian city of Fort Pierce, where the night air is alive with the whirring of palmetto bugs and the ground crawls with creatures that scuttle and click.
Again, in Anansi Boys, which I only read for the first time last week, and on another, completely unrelated flight, Gaiman narrates as Fat Charlie walks into his late father’s house: “The smell was familiar: faintly sweet, as if chocolate chip cookies had been baked there the last time the kitchen was used, but that had been a long time ago.” I was as tickled at the subsequent mention of these sweet, spectral confections as I was with the initial thought of those phantom cookie crumbs and their fragrant passage through the the flamboyant Mr. Nancy’s darkened, mildewed home, and I longed to smell such things for myself. Of course, American Gods is about more than just cookie crumbs…it is a wonderfully big, sweeping story–many stories, really–full of clever ideas, about gods and humans and and magic and belief, and well, yeah, belief. I suppose, after you sweep away the crumbs, belief is at the very heart of this tale. It is Gaiman’s words about the importance of belief that cause a clutch in the rhythm of my heart and my eyes to well up with tears, every time I read them anew.
“People believe, thought Shadow. It’s what people do. They believe, and then they do not take responsibility for their beliefs; they conjure things, and do not trust the conjuration. People populate the darkness; with ghosts, with gods, with electrons, with tales. People imagine, and people believe; and it is that rock solid belief, that makes things happen.”
Ah, belief. As that ancient adage insists, “seeing is believing”– but, of course, the purveyors of fine fragrance at Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab tackle belief from a different perspective, don’t they? And so, smelling was believing, in 2007, when Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab collaborated with Neil Gaiman to create their first installment of scents inspired by the beautiful, harrowing, all-consuming world of American Gods. A decade later, and just in time for the launch of the Starz television series, our beloved scented story-tellers have refreshed their American Gods-themed fragrance offerings with new scents and products based on additional characters and story points from the book, along with updated designs by Hugo-winner Julie Dillon. Proceeds from every single bottle go to the CBLDF, which works to preserve and protect the First Amendment rights of the comics community.
Sixteen new scents have become available with this update: Believe, Black Hats, Coin Trick, Eostre of the Dawn, For the Joy of It, Glass Eye, Laura, Low-Key Lyesmith, Media, Mister Wednesday, Mr. Czernobog, Shadow, Technical Boy, and the Zoryas. Their sister shop, Black Phoenix Trading Post, has launched an American Gods atmosphere spray line, so that you may invoke the spilled beer and fries of the Crocodile Bar, the horrors of the Bone Orchard, the Hall of Forgotten Gods’ long-dead incenses, or , I am beyond excited to share, even Mr. Nancy’s House, the description of which that had captured my imagination so many years ago. Nail lacquers will arrive at The Post at a future date for which to paint up your claws in a magical array of hues (be sure to follow BPAL’s instagram account for sneak peeks at these lovely polishes before they go live!)
The generous folks at Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab have shared some of their American Gods offerings–both new and old–with Haute Macabre for review, and believe it or not (and we insist that you do!) we are excited to share announce a giveaway of assorted American Gods as well.
Media (a news anchor’s cologne, a soap star’s perfume: perfect, pixelated, and glamorous; aglow with cathodes and anodes, coated with phosphor) A bright, feminine scent, almost like a Sephora deluxe sample–one of the glowing, white musk-y, celebrity endorsed samples that they send as a gift with purchase (J-Lo Glow mixed with a bit of Lovely by Sarah Jessica Parker, maybe? Not quite Narciso Rodriguez); a scent that always makes you feel a little itchy when your normie friends or your mother in law tells you that they love it.
Mister Wednesday (sleek cologne, the memory of a Nine Herbs Charm, gallows wood, and a splash of whiskey) a sweet deceit; the scent of a man who would offer you a lollypop and leave you holding a snake. You might even thank him for it. Also, perhaps a sort of trickery by my brain, but in smelling this, I am reminded of Mister Wednesday’s ice cream-colored suit, and so I cannot help but to think it smells like a creamy, cloying liqueur upon which a really sleazy cocktail is built .
Belief (a scent of compression and release, of heat and faith, of plunging through the jet-shadowed darkness of uncertainty. The heart of the land: roots plunging ever deeper into thrumming black soil through the graves of faith, disillusion, and skepticism); wet cow and acrid, peaty earth. Scorched, smoky grasses and deep, thunderous vetiver. I’m not kidding about the weird, sour bovine tang. Like a herd of buffalo aggressively sending smoke signals! As it dries though, the scent becomes a gentle thing; the herd is slumbering, snuggled together for warmth under a blanket of stars.
Mama-Ji (spices, cardamom, nutmeg, and flowers) Is a feisty floral; a sweetly spiced bouquet. What are these soft, warm, beautiful florals? Roses? Certainly carnation. A gorgeous, golden, heady scent–very reminiscent of one of my very favorite BPALs, Morocco, but there’s an almost fruity resin at the heart of Mama Ji that renders it quite different, and very much it’s own scent.
Black Hats (gunpowder residue, patent leather, pomade, and aftershave) Full disclosure here; throughout every aspect of this American Gods sniff-a-thon, my shnozz has been severely compromised. Bronchitis, head cold, allergies–throughout the past month I have fallen prey to all of these. So when I tell you that Black Hats smells like an expensive pair of leather shoes has been finely ground and mixed with a high quality nag champa and repackaged as a ceremonial incense to burn in, I don’t know, haute, esoteric ceremonies to the runway gods or whatever, well, I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it. Also–Neil Gaiman, where are the gods of the runway, huh?
Mr. Czernobog (unfiltered cigarettes, the leather and metal of sledgehammers, aortal blood slowly drying, and black incense) Wet, just out of the bottle, there is something about Mr. Czernobog that tugs at the edges of memory. A sweet, spicy heat, but tempered by a child-like treat. Milk and grains. Soupy cinnamon oatmeal, or a forbidden breakfast cereal like Cinnamon Toast Crunch? Or…no! I have it. Little Debbie Pecan Pinwheels. Once applied to skin, however, that strange, wonderful association fades as a mentholated, metallic aspect momentarily asserts itself. From there it becomes an iron tooth lost amidst coniferous detritus underfoot.
The Norn’s Farmhouse (dusty, ancient wood, horehound, and sage, with viper’s bugloss, mugwort, chamomile, nettle, apple blossom, chervil, and ashes). Another one wherein straight from the bottle, the impression is so immeasurably striking– The Norne’s Farmhouse is an immediate herbaceous cacophony. As if one ran their hands through every bush, shrub, and vine in the garden, crushed all the fuzzy leaves and flowering bits between one’s fingers and bottled the resulting lively green-bitter-savory-sharp residue. Wait a while and it becomes the subtle sweetness of dried apples decorating an aged, brittle grapevine wreath.
For The Joy Of It (whiskey, mead, honey, gold, sweat, and blood) The coppery tang of gore on a blade…used to stir a big, tupperware bowl of the most ridiculously sweet party punch that’s ever existed. But that’s only a momentary impression, and that sticky sweetness lightens to reveal a gorgeously juicy scent, a refreshing glass of something that’ll get you deliciously fucked up.
Laura (violets, upturned earth, mothballs, formaldehyde (mixed with glycerin and lanolin), and the memory of the taste of strawberry daiquiris suspended in twilight). I guess I wouldn’t even volunteer to review something like this, with this huge mythos and these wonderfully nuanced characters as part of it, without having read the source material right? But at the same time, if you know these people’s stories, it’s so hard not to let your perceptions intrude when you’re sniffing a scent based on that particular person. I am wearing Laura right now, and my first thought is “…Hm, smells like a corpse drinking a fruity frou-frou drink. Embalming fluid + strawberry slush.” How do you get around that? I can’t. And that’s exactly what this smells like.
Zorya Utrennyaya (sweet black coffee and a touch of ambrette seed) I wish I were one of those people who drank their coffee, “Black as night, sweet as sin” –which I believe is a quote from Anansi Boys, not American Gods, but …details, details. I take mine with almond milk and stevia and I can assure you that my coffee does not smell nearly as amazing as Zorya Utrennyaya. Freshly sniffed, it is the darkest, oiliest most intense coffee beans, freshly ground, but it very quickly becomes a soft–almost powdery–coffee-flavored marshmallow of a scent.
Mr. Ibis (papyrus, vanilla flower, egyptian musk, african musk, aloe ferox, white sandalwood) I previously had a bottle of Mr. Ibis from the 2007 release, which I recall as being a soft, delicate scent, evoking a dewy-skinned sort of bath-time nostalgia. I don’t think the scent has been reformulated, but somehow it does not smell quite the same. It is still conjures rituals of cleanliness; hands, gently lathered and rinsed, a soapy whirlpool of warm water slowly draining…but whereas an old cotton towel might have dried those hands in the past, now they automatically reach for a squirt of antibacterial hand-sanitizer.
The American Gods line is currently live at Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab; each scent is $26 and presented in a 5ml glass amber apothecary bottle. Because of the nature of this project, imps are not available for any American Gods scents.
Haute Macabre has a set of assorted American Gods scents to offer to one reader!
To enter to win, just leave a comment below and follow Haute Macabre and Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab on Instagram! We’ll pick a winner at random from the comments one week from today, on Friday, May 26!