cultural and non-fiction and Weird01 Jul 2013 08:00 am

Cthulhu, Higgs-Boson, Morgan le Fay, Triangulation, Orc, Baba Yaga, Schmendrick the Magician, Kraken: These are all things you can smell like.

See the following description from one of my favorite indie perfume oil sites,

Modesty Cod: The awkward thing about Renaissance Faires is– no, it’s not the people walking around in Starfleet uniforms with tricorders, and how dare you judge my parents. It’s groins. Groins in tights. You know what I’m talking about. Is that guy even wearing underwear under those? Oh god, stop staring, he’ll see you staring.

Most of us are not, ah, exposed to a plethora of foreign groins on a daily basis, and it can be a little intimidating. Luckily, the codpiece exists as an even more obvious crotch thing that it’s totally okay to look at, because that’s what they’re for. You’re supposed to admire a nice cod. They’re stuffed and exaggerated to make fashion statements, and statements about wealth, and nice fabrics, and David Bowie in Labyrinth.

Mmm. David Bowie. …What was I saying? Oh, right. Groins. Stuffing. Modesty! So anyway, we made a scent devoted to the mighty, nay, the noble codpiece.
A delicious, sensual fragrance with some green and wood and sexy in it. Look at my cod, this says. My cod is amazing.

OK, so think about that wonderful piece of writing for a moment. What are they selling? There is a brief mention of fragrance on the last paragraph, but almost no description. What does it smell like? Do you care? Hell, I didn’t. I bought it. What they are saying here is “We are your tribe. We are one of you. You want to buy our stuff because you would really like us if we were hanging out with you.” Mmmm. David Bowie…

 (This description was an April Fools joke which they made better by actually making and selling the perfume as a limited edition.)

Turns out, this marketing technique works really well on me. You should know from my website that I love the greek goddess Athena. Logically, I am aware that a perfume named Athena has nothing to do with the goddess and the name has nothing to do with whether or not I will like the smell, and the smell is the real product. Did I buy all of the perfumes named Athena? Yep. (It has nothing to do with this article, but I also have bought sweaters, shoes, yarn, and an oil filter for my car because they had Athena in the name.) I have bought an embarrassing amount of geeky perfumes with mythology or fairy tale names, simply because the name resonated with me.

I will give a run down of some of the companies I’m familiar with:

  • Black Phoenix Alchemy labs is known for their huge variety, fascinating web site, and devoted fan base. This is the most famous, and most popular of the indie companies. They have a selection of thousands, with themes ranging from Shakespeare to Lovecraft, mostly on the Gothic and Victorian ends of the spectrum. I have added books to my must-read pile after reading their perfume descriptions. I have to admit I do not understand the Lovecraft line. Cthulhu and the Elder Gods are supposed to smell gross, in addition to being mysterious terrors who drive you mad with their very existence. Their Shub-Nigguroth smells kind of like Thai food (lots of ginger and something I would swear was lemongrass). It’s a fine smell, but not at all evocative of Lovecraft and I wouldn’t want it to be.
  • ZOMG Smells, quoted above, is also popular. The descriptions go for nerdy, funny and scientific. Their scents are unisex with a lot of herbal scents, and untraditional perfume components. One of my favorites combines the smell of gardening soil and chocolate, “Earth and Heaven.” It’s an odd combination, but a beautiful one that makes me feel happy all day. Many names are scientific (Large Hadron Collider, Coronal Mass Ejection, Oort Cloud) or just plain silly (That Dream Where You Wake up Naked in School.) A lot of the fun is waiting for someone to ask you what perfume you are wearing so you can say “Siamese Squid Nebula.”
  • Possets is a particular favorite of mine. The names and themes are less geeky than the other companies highlighted here, although there are a few I’d consider (Mary Shelley, Triangulation, Super Ego.) Most of her oils are rich and complicated with a strong foodie component. She does the best stuff with vanilla outside of a bakery. They are both cheap and high quality, and so if you see something interesting, it’s worth taking a risk to pick up a bottle. She also ships promptly, communicates well, and gives the impression of being a bit more together than some of the other companies.
  • Conjure Oils is another personal favorite. Many of these sites refer to hoodoo and magic, but I felt Vajra at Conjure had more authenticity. She says who she has studied with and what her credentials are, and her descriptions show an expertise in the folklore the other companies lack. I suspect the other companies use traditional names like “High John the Conqueror” just as a name, where hers actually contains High John the Conqueror root. Her shipping can take a while and I’ve had mistakes on orders, but she’s always fixed them.
  • Nocturne Alchemy: This selection didn’t grab me as much as the others, although their Egyptian Caramel Coffee is one of my all-time favorites. It smells like I spilled a latte in my lap, and personally I consider that a very good review. I can wear this scent instead of drinking six lattes.

If you are sensitive to fragrances, you might be able to still wear these. They are based on essential oils so if you have a chemical sensitivity that keeps you from wearing colognes, you might be OK with these. Possets has a line of all natural oils that could be worth looking in to. Obviously, if you have life-threatening allergies don’t risk it. The carrier oils might include nut oils, and none of these companies list all ingredients.

All of these companies sell samples. I recommend buying samples before buying full bottles because it’s difficult to guess from an description (even a literal description that actually names ingredients!) whether a blend will work on you or not. Personally, I avoid the limited editions. BPAL fans in particular can get into a frenzy over limited editions. They are more expensive than the general catalog, and you can’t buy samples before you buy the full bottle. And I’ve discovered it’s really hard to guess if something will work on your personal chemistry or not. One perfume with all my favorite ingredients smelled like a dorm room at the end of finals on my skin – it was not supposed to smell like corn chips and stale pizza. On the plus side, some limited editions can appreciate in value after they are gone.

I have a number of samples from all of these companies to give away. Please leave a substantive comment (more than ‘me, please’) on this or any other post in the blog, and I will pick my favorite comments to get a bundle of ten samples. I will pick comments at the end of July.



Trackback this Post | Feed on comments to this Post

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.