Sign up for my newsletter to receive news and updates!

Posts Tagged ‘adventures in smelling good’

An Advent Calendar of Scents

I posted the other day about testing the BPAL samples I picked up at DragonCon, as an early stab in the direction of training my nose to pick out the different notes of perfume. In response, Yoon Ha Lee offered to send me some of the samples he was getting rid of . . .

. . . and today, fifty-seven perfumes showed up at my door.

So, uh, 1) thanks, Yoon!!!! and 2) I have (more than) enough perfume to do an advent calendar. Which I will probably drop the ball on because I’ll miss days here and there, but hey, I might as well give my experiments some structure. I won’t post every single day, though; more likely I’ll collect them into weekly reports.

But first, let me report on what I had before the bonanza arrived! I’d grabbed seven random bottles from their booth, and attempted to do the organized thing of sniffing each one in the bottle, then immediately after application, then about ten minutes later, then about twenty minutes after that, to see how the scents changed. Huh, people are not kidding about that latter part! There’s a definite modulation over time. As for the scents themselves:

Incubus — musk, musk, and more musk. In theory this has lots of other notes; in practice, I don’t think I could smell a single one, and neither could my sister. The best we could do was theorize that they were taking the edge off the musk, as it smelled fairly “gentle.” Also, holy crap, I could still smell this on my wrist twenty-four hours later; in fact, a lot of these last on me a very long time. Not bad, but also not interesting.

Seraphim — started out as PUNCH YOU IN THE FACE FLORAL (I’m not yet anywhere near the point of being able to tease the different flowers apart), then later mellowed to sandalwood with floral. Only much, much later could I maaaaaaybe tell there was some frankincense in there. I’m not very keen on florals, so this is also probably a no.

Wolf’s Heart — in the bottle? A little spicy and maybe citrusy. On me? LAUNDRY DETERGENT. Mellowing to baby powder hours later. Firm NO. But I’m curious to put it on my sister and see if skin chemistry does something different there.

R’lyeh — my sister dubbed this “the potpourri aisle;” I’d say it mostly comes across as evergreen, with some citrus coming through in the middle stages, and possibly some musk very later on (this is one where BPAL doesn’t list the ingredients, so I’m wildly guessing). It also had an interesting element that I can only describe as salt — it produced a dry sort of feeling in the back of my nasal passages, like I was breathing sea air. Interesting, and I might try it again.

Vasilissa — very floral to start; after a while I get a little bit of the warmth of the sandalwood and I think the resin of the myrrh. Still way too floral-heavy for me, though.

Thieves’ Rosin — I smell like Christmas! Starts off incredibly sweet and reminiscent of baking spices; then something like pine starts to come through, and maybe a bit of musk. It doesn’t last as long as most of the others, but I can see myself using this during the holidays.

Bastet — HELLO WINNER. It’s golden and sweet in the bottle; immediately after application, it’s almond and something a little brighter (might be the saffron or lotus?). Then it mellows into musk, cardamom, some almond sweetness, and just a touch of floral. I seriously kept sniffing my own wrist because it made me happy. 😀

So that’s my first sally into the world of perfume! In a week or so I’ll report back with my initial dive into the enormous stash I’ve received. I’ve put them all in a sack and am going to draw at random, without looking up what they are first. 🙂

Adventures in Smelling Good

When I was at DragonCon last year, I picked up a bunch of ampoules of perfume from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab (because Alyc and I were trying to work out scents for different characters in Rook and Rose — a project that would have gone more smoothly if either of us were a perfume aficionado). Recently, inspired by a friend’s explorations of their own stash, I decided I should actually experiment with these: not just smelling them in the vial, but putting them on, seeing what they were like initially vs. later on. (I have learned the term “drydown,” and the fact that I didn’t know it before is a measure of my ignorance in this realm.)

This is an interesting experiment because I have a very sensitive nose. I can smell alcohol on my husband’s breath hours after he drank it — not in a “hah, I caught his secret alcoholism” way, just in a “hmmm, I smell something; did you have a gin and tonic?” way. I take chicken packaging out to the trash bin immediately after prepping the raw chicken for dinner, because I will pick up the stench from it long before anybody else here thinks the kitchen smells funky. I refuse to smell the milk to see if it’s gone bad because if it has, I’m going to be having flashbacks to that for the rest of the day.

What I don’t have is the ability to parse what I’m smelling.

I think the musical equivalent here would be if I could pick up tiny whispers of sound, but couldn’t tell you what instruments are playing if you paid me. I recognize individual scents, but blend them together and it frequently becomes indistinguishable. I can listen “into” a piece of orchestral music to find what the French horns or the oboes are doing and follow along with them; the first BPAL ampoule I tried theoretically had sage in it, and even after going to my spice cabinet and huffing a container of sage for orientation, I still couldn’t find any trace of that in the perfume. The reviews commented on the pleasant mintiness or the warmth of the caramel: all I got was musk. (A gentle musk, probably because it was being mitigated by all those things I couldn’t pick out. But still.)

Of course, there’s an extra twist in this game, which is that (again, I am told; I know so little about this) individual skin chemistry can play all kinds of idiosyncratic games with the source material. Going back to music, it would be as if some audience members are sitting there going “holy crap, composer, enough with the trombones already” while others are grumbling that their ears never seem to be able to hear clarinets. So maybe the mint and the caramel and the sage just . . . weren’t actually there for me? I really don’t know.

Which means that this particular experiment is less about “let me explore random bits of the BPAL catalogue!” and more about “let me try to train my nose!” I have less than perfect hearing but a well-trained ear; the reverse is true when it comes to scent. But if one can learn to pick out the French horns and the oboes, I imagine one can also be taught to find mint in a cloud of musk.