Wednesday, March 16, 2011

guest post: scents for the dark.


I view the olfactory sense as others might reflect upon sight or sound. Crucial. A necessity. Like breathing. It is breathing in, of course, through which you experience it, after all. And although I would not care to lose my eyesight or my hearing - in a darkened, silent room, I am neither frightened nor lonely if there is the ghost of a scent on the air to breathe in, and to comfort me.

When I was much younger, my mother’s mirrored vanity tray held a great deal of fascination for me, with its jumble of shimmering glass bottles filled with fragrant fluids. It was a constant and forbidden temptation -as I had been told, more than once, to leave it be. And more than once, caught in a paroxysm of longing and naughtiness from which there was no return, I would spray one scent, then the next, and then perhaps high from the vaporous cloud of aromatics floating round my head, would proceed to spritz myself with the remainder of those illicit essences. When later interrogated, I would have the audacity to assert that I had been playing quietly in some other part of the house the entire time.
As if my mother couldn’t tell. As if she couldn’t smell.

Despite my fragrance fixation, years later and well into adulthood I have neither developed into chemist nor expert perfumer. I continue to carry with me, however, that obsession from my formative years. Though I try to reign it in, fragrance is often the topic of my conversations – whether or not people are listening and often I suspect they are not - and a continuous train of thought for which there are no stop-offs, just endless loops; analyzing the notes of a fragrance, memories or bits of nostalgia it may call to mind, colours with which I associate the scent, characters from literature or cinema who best portray the story of the scent, etc., etc., ad nauseum.

When asked for fragrance recommendations then, though perhaps I am not qualified in the strictest sense of the word to dole them out, I do feel perfectly at ease sense doing so, and certainly up to the task. Especially when, as requested by jess herself, the search is for something “dark, musky, exotic”. As a lover of the ghoulish, the macabre, the eerie and all manner of nightmarish phantasmagoria … such scents, as you can imagine, are quite my my cup of tea. See below for a list of my top ten haunting, evocative “Scents for the Dark”, and accompanying thoughts for each. I would not say that all of these are exactly budget friendly, but most can be purchased in the form of various sample sizes from sites such as Or, you could leave a comment on this post with your own perfume memories or simply a favourite scent if you wish to be entered in a giveaway for a fragrance sampler which contains sample sizes of a good many of the perfumes mentioned! Fragrances will decanted from my own personal collection, and will be clearly labeled. Good luck!

#10 Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab “Aeval”


I used to work for a rare/used occult bookseller; this fragrance takes me back to that time. This is the scent of things old, and rare, and dark and forbidden. Dusty books on rotting wooden shelves - memoires of madmen and magicians, ancient grimoires written in dead languages, spellbooks and tarot cards and nose-tickling sweet, smoky incense. Fairy tales of witches and gnomes and fairies and all sorts of my wonderful characters, some real, and some (supposedly) make believe. But if you could have breathed in that scent, you would have believed. This is that scent. Dark and old and filled with things you aren't supposed to know, aren't supposed to believe. Things that stay in the shades and shadows and in unopened books that no one reads anymore.

#9 Annick Goutal “Myrrh Ardente”


At first it is decidedly medicinal… like an antique herbal expectorant one might procure at the local apothecary run by an unlicensed homeopathic pharmacist. It might cure you, it might kill you. It soon becomes whispery smoke and mysterious veils and soft, powdery incense made from mystical tree resins. The kind of dream-tree one must ask permission to use, from the dryad living in. A very otherworldly scent, almost.

#8. Heely “Sel Marin”


A dim lit sea save, illuminated by phosphorescent crystals clinging to salt crusted walls. Mossy rocks, worn smooth by time and tides and the wind, which echoes eerily through the subterranean stone chambers. Bits of driftwood and seawood and perhaps small animal bones littering the damp chamber floor. A sea priestess lain dormant, waiting for a dark ritual to conjure forth from slumber. A Dion Fortune novel, bottled up.

#7. Etro Messe di Minuit


I was never happy with this scent until I realized I was insistently attempting to smell something that I wouldn’t recognize anyway ….I’ve never been to midnight mass in my life. Once I realized that its subtly sour, musty scent reminded me of a shadowed corner of a used bookstore; towering piles of moldering books stacked on sagging rotted wood shelves….a corner that hasn’t seen sunlight in years, books that are touched by human hands rarely, if at all….once I came to this conclusion, I fell in love.

#6. Dawn Spencer Hurwitz “Cathedral”

Musky myrrh and warm woods and cool, damp midnights and it smells like Barbara Steele doused herself in Drakkar Noir prior to being locked in a mouldering tomb for all eternity. Which is to say she smells like a sexy lady wearing a man’s slightly sleazy cologne. Which circles back and makes it classy again? Sure, why not.

#5. Serge Lutens “Chergui”

I really do not have the words for how beautiful this is. It’s rich and luxurious without being …decadent…or heavy, yet it’s definitely not a “light” scent either. Really quite intoxicating. It smells foreign and familiar all at once; maybe if your idea of "exotic" is from the sumptuous illustrations in a well-worn book of fables from a far-away land. It's all lofty sandalwood, honeyed musks, and and liquid amber tea on me, and it makes me feel like a desert queen in a strange, dusty tale.

#4. Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab” “Schwarzermond” (Limited Edition)


Wicked, brooding resins and that dark lurker patchouli. Imagine this blend sinuously winding it's smoldering way from a dab on your wrist, slowly, sweetly up your arms, across your shoulder, to rest - a seductive haze at your neck like an antique suede choker, infused with the scent of it's former owner - the Countess Villainess What's Her Name. She poisoned three of her husbands, but she’s got prospects in queue and the line’s out the door, anyhow.

#3. Laura Tonatto “Amir”


A deeply hypnogogic scent, all dark, narcotic myrrh and nocturnal resins. A midnight philtre, thickened with age and swimming murkily at the bottom of an ancient crystal flacon, tucked away in some moth-eaten velvet robes. This is the scent I imagine Mary Shelley wearing during that infamous summer in 1816 at the Villa Diodati with Byron and Polidori.

#2. Comme de Garcons “Kyoto”


Austere and meditative and calls to mind a dark prayer in a cool, shadowy forest temple.

#1. Creed “Angelique Encens” (discontinued)

This is the classy, yet mysterious woman in the film noir who is instantly pegged as the murderer because she’s beautiful and slightly “off”. You later find out she is hiding a terrible secret that has nothing to do with the murder, maybe her twin sister drowned in Monte Carlo and she has stolen her identity in order to escape a lecherous suitor, or something like that. It smells of some sort of enigmatic flower whose essence has been preserved to deepen and darken before it is crushed with a handful of strange, sweet herbs and left in an antique potpourri dish in a lady’s boudoir. A beautiful scent, for lipsticked and rouged facades masking dark, dramatic pasts.

*many thanks to mlle ghoul for this guest post. don't forget to leave a comment to this post to be entered in a sample of scents give a way courtesy of the author! give a way ends thursday march 24th!*


Sariska said...

What a fantastic post. The sense of smell is the oldest, most primal scent of all. Like an the layers of an onion, it holds layers of the memory of the senses and is often the key to them all.
Thank you - I loved reading this and for the contest!
I love anything dark and spicy - recently the scents of OLO are enchanting my nose - Victory Wolf and Valens, to name a few.
And Pledge reminds me of my childhood, just before company came over and it was time for a bath.

mathyld ▲ under the pyramids ▲ said...

Thank you for having Mlle Ghoul and for such a haunting post !

I haven't read it all yet but I'll be sure to come back again and again and again !

x x x

Unknown said...

I love this post! I am very new to the world of perfumes, but already I have been able to pick out the dark, musky ones as my favorites. Thanks for all the words and tips for new ones to find! Crossing my fingers!

Molly said...

My goodness! That was a gorgeous description of scent! I loved the pictures you paired with your descriptions. Scent really is a huge part of memory, and the magic, mysterious, or fantastic ones always seem to have distinct musk.

At the moment I'm a huge fan of YSL Opium. I've always been tempted by the descriptions on Black Phoenix Alchemy Labs, but I loose my nerve to by things I can't "try on".

Emma said...

Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab scents are the loveliest things I ever smelled.
And Messe De Minuit, what an amazing perfume.

Molly said...

Also, would you mind letting me know what the Gold bottle with the entwining Snakes is? That's gorgeous.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post ! I like perfumes and discovers some brands I didn't know (Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab for example is not avaliable in my country). (sorry for my bad english)

Maria said...

Oh dear I LOVE Serge Lutens Chergui, "the desert wind", I just got bottle for X_mas frm my boyfriend (wished for it quite a bit!) and it's amazing! Dark, unique, delicious... I'm also a fan of Frank Herbert's Dune so I'm all in for the desert vibes. ;)

Anonymous said...

Molly, the bottle with the snakey gold cap is Niki de St. Phalle. It's an unusual scent - I would reckon is smells vaguely familiar to just about everyone, although each person would give you a totally different description for it. It smells like a half remembered dream or deja-vu.

ashe mischief said...

I love Mlle Ghoul's writing style-- each of the scents is so visceral, that I'm instantly transported (and it's only 8:15 in the morning!).

Anonymous said...

Also wanted to add that I have on good authority that Schwarzermond, one of BPAL's Limited edition Lunacy scents, will be returning briefly in June '11 for the black moon.

CC said...

What a wonderful post! I have tried many of these scents and your descriptions are spot-on! Can't wait to try the rest

Sabrina said...

Great post, MdM is one of my favorite scents and I always wondered what else with that same vibe would I like!

Lady Epsilon said...

Great post. It's evocative and lingering, exactly as I want a fragrance to be.

Sarah B. said...

Well, my to-try list just got longer. Great post! And CB I Hate Perfume's In the Library is another wonderful "dusty old books" scent, if you haven't sniffed it.

I grew up in the 80s and 90s, and so, sadly, my deepest, most ingrained scent memory probably involves Malibu Musk.

Anonymous said...

Thoroughly haunting yet enigmatic. I totally agree with the BPAL selections and I feel the need to try a couple of the others now!

annie stephens said...

i can't resist commenting, this is too gorgeous a post, and opportunity to lurk over and pass over.

mlleghoul, i love your lush descriptives; i want to dive into the belly of every scent and lie still in the vapours.

i've always loved vanilla. always, always. recently my kindred sister in norfolk england gifted me with a vial containing an old voodoo recipe of vanilla, wintergreen and cinnamon. i cannot get enough of it, i dab it on all my scarves and clothing. it is the the most perfect thing i've ever smelled!

Corbaewench said...

What a wonderful post to come across! It's rare that I find others who operate utilizing their sense of smell so often, Rarer still to find one who can describe those scents so (if you are olfactorily based) you /know/ what they smell like.

Thank you for descrinbing scents I know and love (Aeval) and adding new ones for us to look for!

Rebecca said...

This was a pretty cool post! It's interesting to see your connections with all the fragrances...I probably take my olfactory senses for granted. I only have one sad little perfume bottle, but maybe I should get more...

Copa Girl said...

Love the passionate way you describe your perfumes. I'm a Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab (BPAL) fan and am in love with their Snake Oil and Haunted!

Pam said...

What a sumptuous, beauteous post - thank you! My favorite perfumes at the moment are Fire from Heaven and Burning Leaves, both by CB I Hate Perfume. But for me, nothing beats the smell of a lit match.

katya said...

My favorite scent, right now, is The Lights of Men's Lives from BPAL. The perfect light incense, smoky and sweet with beeswax. But anything with resins, patchouli or sandalwood gets me.

Alison said...

wonderful post. gorgeous scents.

Melissa said...

Now I'm curious to know what perfumes your mother had that tempted you so. As for me, I didn't really pick up fascination with perfumes until I got a bit older. Maybe because my mom (and other family members) just had the usual fragrances like Oscar de la Renta and Elizabeth Arden's Red Door. Neither which I liked. I always love reading what Mlle Ghoul has to share. My personal favorite fragrance to breathe in is Calvin Klein's Euphoria, and I think euphoria is exactly what it is. Reminds me of a field of flowers at the midnight hour surrounded by intoxication. It's deep, rich, and dark.

Anonymous said...

I do so wish to try the Alchemy Labs some day. I rarely wear perfume because the only thing I have is Avon. It burns the nose and twists the eyeballs.

My favorite scent? Wet soil right after the rain. When it opens up like a woman to the touch of her lover. A moist, fertile smell that means beauty and plenty. Most of my other favored smells come from wet dirt. Well, maybe not book. Unless I plant a book tree.....

Anonymous said...

Ohhh, wish so badly that thee internets allowed me to smell.

Marilie said...

Thank you for this fantastic post. I love the way Mlle Ghoul described those scents.

Buccaneers and Ball Gowns said...

Oh wow. This really was a great post. I love perfumes especially ones that are a little dark, and those all sound amazing. One of my favorite scents is lilac and I have a lilac perfume, but what would be perfect would be a lilac perfume blended with a few more sinister notes.

Sigrid said...

Wow. This was lovely. And really, really fascinating! What amazing stories one can find in scent (something which is, sadly, often overlooked). I just want to try them all!

Renée A.D. said...

Ah...Funeral Home by Demeter. White flowers!
Count me in! XX.

Flotsam Tide said...

What a wonderful post, I loved how each scent described was completely evocative with stories, moods, and tones. Richly layered like fragrance notes themselves. Bravo! I will be seeking some of these out.

Uncommon Objects Blog said...

I am obsessed with scent as well. Mess de Minuit is heaven for me. It brings an entangled flood of memories to me everytime, and also reminds me of one of my dearest. I've also recently experienced Diptyque's "Tam Dao"...swoon.

The Future Architect said...

This was an amazing post! Makes me want to run around finding all these scents so I can surround myself with them before going out at night. And I love, love, love that cathedral picture. The whole thing is a feast for the eyes, as well as my nasal imagination!

rachel said...

This was beautiful and inspiring.

Anonymous said...

wow! what a fantastic post. I really love the imagery - i feel like i can smell each scent perfectly from their descriptions and now i want to where them each individually! so intoxicating.

rsmryx at gmail dot com

Anonymous said...

I just received BPAL's "Nocnitsa" in the mail, and it smells like a haunted forest- the scent is named after a slavic hag of the woods, it's murderous and mysterious!

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
nor what soft incense hangs upon the bows,
but, in embalmed darkness guess each sweet,
wherewith the seasonable month endows
the grass, the thicket, and the fruit tree wild,
white hawthorn, the pastoral eglantine,
and mid-May's eldest child, the coming musk rose, full of dewy wine,
the murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

kate s. said...

this is a lovely post. very poetic.

Bess Lovejoy said...

Reading this post was sheer delight for me -- thank you so much!

cruellah said...

I have read your post twenty times at least. I thought of Emeraude, my mother's special date night scent and how it made my brother and I both happy and sad when ever she woe it. Sad to lose her for an entire evening, but happy at the prospect of staying up late by convincing the teenaged babysitter that our mom would let us do that, and let us drink Pepsis on the couch while watching Mannix on tv. Funny how fragrance works on our memories that way. I am a mother now and when my daughters smell Annick Goutal Songes they say that smells like mom! By the way, they also love fragrance, my work is done!

→lisa said...

Mlle Ghoul, you are a font of wisdom. I love your evocative descriptions; they make me want to sample everything you've listed.

As you probably know, I have a small bottle of nag champa oil that I bought at an Indian supermarket in Queens, and that's it.

I need help!

Anonymous said...

I'm always on the hunt for the perfect earthy, woodsy scent. But for now, my current favorite is L'Occitane's Green Tea with Mint, usually worn on summer days. However it was discontinued last year, and I failed to stockpile :-(

Dominique said...

What a mysteriously perfectly timed post. Just as I stole the last few drops of my latest loved perfume this morning, I have been day dreaming all day about who my next muse will be. Thank you for the inspiration and the beautiful imagery to go with it! x

Mer Almagro said...

Good news about Schwarzer Mond! I have a couple of bottles but should probably get more, I love it. Other favourites are Sin and Black Forest, those are general catalog :)

Unknown said...

the rain, it ceases to amaze me.
the calm between, how it invigorates me.
water being our most powerful force yet so underrated...unprotected.
yet how could we contain such a beast.
the scent of my next intention right around the corner, as she walked away...
i do dream.
and these dreams are heavy.

profollica reviews said...

What a fantastic post. The sense of smell is the oldest, most primal scent of all. Like an the layers of an onion, it holds layers of the memory of the senses and is often the key to them all.
Thank you - I loved reading this..
I loved the pictures you paired with your descriptions. Scent really is a huge part of memory, and the magic, mysterious, or fantastic ones always seem to have distinct musk.