Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab released their annual smutty smorgasbord of Lupercalia and Shunga scents back in February, but no worries if you haven’t yet greedily grabbed a handful of this year’s shamelessly salacious scents! According to the folks at BPAL, “due to the current rippling of global infrastructure,” these prurient perfume oils, hedonistic hair glosses, bawdy bath oils, and amatory atmosphere sprays will remain live, indefinitely, on the site for purchase–as stock permits–instead of being taken down on the previously announced dates.
I have been taking my time with them, as you might imagine. I guess we’ve all got more time than we might have originally planned for, right now. I try to keep busy. I stick to a routine and I do all of the things I normally do. I already work from home. I’m a homebody, even in the best of times. But that doesn’t stop the world from feeling off-kilter and scary to me, and to be honest, all of this pretending at normalcy has left me with the worst feeling, like making snow angels in my future chalk outline. Some days it’s paralyzing. I bet you feel the same on some of those days, too.
What has helped me, even for a few minutes out of every day, is a sniff of a smell. I have been doling out these Lupercalia scents one per morning, with five minutes where I just sit quietly and write about whatever I think it is that I am smelling. No matter how maudlin or ridiculous, or trite or outlandish. No feelings or thoughts or sensations are off-limits! Setting aside this sniff time over the past few weeks has provided me with a small, but much-needed aromatic oasis in the midst of days that feel uncertain, uneasy, and unprecedented.
Below are a handful of thoughts about what I’ve been sniffing and I hope to be back with you again with more, in a Part Two!
Green Lovebird (vanilla mint, spun sugar, and pistachio) This smells so familiar. The vanilla-mint combination contributes a sort of… shifty/shady 80s cartoon villainess-type vibe? I feel like if the Baroness, Evil-Lyn, and Pizzaz were at tea together, deviously munching sweetly iced petit-fours, this is the sly, scheming, miasma that would emanate from the cackling chambers of that tea-room.
Belgian Chocolate, Black Pepper, Whiskey, and Bourbon Vanilla is surprisingly wearable; and after the individual notes of creamy chocolate, peppery-floral heat and boozy whiskey-vanilla announce themselves, they blend seamlessly into a scent that somehow smells like none of the above, but rather just a mild, but wonderfully cozy perfumed-skin scent.
Elizabeth of Bohemia (the perfect rose oude) ROSE WITCH QUEEN. A rose that is both dark and bright and smells like a tragic Hans Christian Andersen fairytale that has been illustrated by the unhinged black and white gorgeousness of Harry Clarke.
Cacao and Black Moss A hushed, milky-musky chocolate subtle chypre.
Spectral Lovers Entertaining the King of Hell Home & Linen Spray (lily of the valley, white gardenia, cherry blossoms, and black pepper) I am never certain what I am meant to be smelling when it comes to lily of the valley; to my nose, it is a soft, sorrowful, delicate sort of floral. As if you could milk jasmine of its tears for the purpose of keeping the pale, aromatic droplets at hand for some sort of doleful spellwork. Pairing it with the efflorescent piquancy of black pepper is a fair bit of genius and as a room spray, it’s a fragrance that’s pretty without being cloying and lively without being obnoxious.
Beach Scene (driftwood, white patchouli, sea salt, and kelp) I grew up living close to a beach, and while I truly love the sea, the trashy delights offered up by Daytona Beach (our new motto: WIDE OPEN FUN. Good lord.) do not contribute to my platonic ideal of The Beach. I want jagged cliffs and icy waves and widows walks and the ghost of a lighthouse keeper. I want wild gorse and heather and selkies. I want monstrous scarlet lobsters with googly eyes bobbing at the end of 12-inch stalks! I know I am probably confusing the geographical landscapes of Maine and Cornwall, and I also don’t have a clear grasp on lobster anatomy, but these are the beaches that have long haunted my imagination. Beach Scene smells like this eerie mash-up of chill winds, salt spray, migratory shorebirds, and vegetative cover like witchgrass and beach-pea… which have never seen, let alone smelled…but I could be right?
Michiyuki Koi No Futusao (green tea, oakmoss, and star anise) The sage and coral hues of the couple’s robes on the label’s artwork are mirrored in the dusty, honeyed citrus/earthy-green tropical-watery cucumberyness of the scent.
The Sun Is Rising (Tunisian amber, French beeswax, jasmine grandiflorum, golden peppercorn, myrrh smoke, and neroli) Beautiful and understated and utterly intoxicating all the same; jasmine, soothed and quieted, its piercing sweetness hypnotized by soft hands of beeswax and spectral smoke.
Alleviate the Frenzy Hair Gloss (heady peach musk aglow with sugared amber) (TW) Peaches, man. I don’t like to eat them and typically I don’t like to smell them and quite frankly I don’t even care to look at them– and we can blame this, I suppose, on the preponderance of slick, syrupy Del Monte canned peaches I was served for “dessert” as a plump youngster by a mother concerned about diets. Alleviate the Frenzy has presented me with a flummox of a peach, and it’s got me in quite a state. It’s a slightly sweet and toasted bit of warm, tilted at odd angles with a wonderful sour musk, and it recalls for me Letter 8 in a collection of bizarre correspondence by the hand of surrealist art-witch Remedios Varo. The author has sent a missive to an unidentified scientist with regard to dissolving the skin of a peach, but through the circumstance of a cat’s meow and the mishap of a stranger’s miscast shadow, she has instead dissolved a hole in the atmosphere. This peach presents a shifting cipher whose charms I would very much like to mail a stranger about.
Body, Remember (raw black coconut, ambergris accord, ambrette seed, champaca flower, and sugar cane) a trembling sigh of coconut on a brown-sugar lollipop breeze.
Ooyogari No Koe Home & Linen Spray (aloe, bamboo reeds, ti leaf, lemon peel, eucalyptus leaf, and sea salt) I really hate to use the word “fresh.” I hate the actual word “fresh” and all of the clean, minty, youthfulness that it implies. Give me stinky and skanky and musty and shabby, and old, any day. But I’ll say it: with its woody-green bamboo, lemony clean cotton vibe, Ooyogari No Koe does smell, well, kinda fresh. Overwhelmingly so. This is a potent scent that I can smell in a room 24 hours later. And I love it. This is perfect and beautiful and my ideal guest bedroom scent. Then again, I’d really love to festoon the walls of my guest room with Louis Wain art and Clive Barker quotes graffitied on the walls…so maybe you can’t trust my sense of home decor or hospitality.
Snake’s Kiss (Snake Oil with sugar, honeycomb, and thick vanilla cream) While I do love Snake Oil sugary vanilla resins with all my heart–it is, after all, the first BPAL scent that I fell in love with!–even I can admit, well, it’s …a lot. Snake Oil is intense; it’s as if you took your most favorite thing, dialed it up to awesome and then broke the knob off. You love it, but it’s a lot to handle all at once, let alone for a sustained length of time. Snake’s Kiss is as if you get to enjoy your favorite thing from …across the room, or even more apt, from across time. The memory of your favorite thing. Your favorite thing as seen (or sniffed) through rose-tinted glasses. Snake’s Kiss is Snake Oil on the collar of your cotton pajamas two days from now.
A Vision of the Courtesan (tobacco leaf, rice milk, and frankincense) This walks the line between a foody/oriental fragrance but it never quite seems to inch even a toe in either direction. Imagine a monastic incense of horchata and cherry tobacco; the hands of the monks who labor over its creation are spiced with its very essence and they sleep in tranquil clouds of the stuff as their skin exudes the scent during slumber.
Tengu Demon Using His Nose As A Phallus (red musk, black pepper, Mysore sandalwood, ambrette seed, and smoke) A sharp-toothed, fiendish breath of dry, peppery musks and creamy woods, shifting and whirling through smoke and ash.
Dark Chocolate & Dried Red Fruits An intensely chocolatey chocolate cookie, something with a bit of a crisp and a crunch and a crumble; that’s dry and not too sweet; it’s less wafery and more biscotti-y, and perfect for dunking in midnight coffee. Did I mention it is studded with chocolate-covered blueberries? Or maybe the coffee has hints of blueberry mocha notes. I don’t think I am actually getting any coffee from this scent, but now I want a big steaming mug of it.
Champagne and Maraschino Cherries This is a vivid scent, that, once applied, you can nearly see it. Lurid day-glow red, almondy/syrupy cherries floating in a bit of soda-type fizz…totally reminiscent of my favorite Shirley Temple drink at Red Lobster when I was a little girl. Except there’s something a bit spring floral about it, too. Instead of finding this drink in my small midwestern town’s only seafood restaurant, I stumbled into a fairy circle…and somehow still wasn’t allowed a grown-up drink… and I was offered a Shirley Temple Flower Maiden instead.
Wild Cherry Chypre and Smoky Patchouli Hair Gloss This is such a fun, earthy, rooty take on cherries! A pulpy, juicy, bitter-sweet cherry jam atop a mud pie, decorated with dried oak bark shavings and autumn leaves.
Featured image: “The Morning of St Valentine”, John Callcott Horsley, 1865