I am a big fan of independent perfume etailers, but it can be hard to find reviews of some of the scents I want to try, as not everyone reviews the kind of scents that I like (woody, resiny, masculine) and there are so many places to look (blogs, forums, general google search) that it can be a time-consuming task. With that in mind, I'm going to start reviewing some of my purchases or items I've received as gifts or samples, without making it a major or regular feature of my blog, but just to put something else out there for people to find. I'm not going to cover some of the brands which already have extensive public review forums, but I will try to describe a few favorites of mine.
One of my very favorite perfumers is Violette Market. I've gone through a few binge purchasing periods in the past couple of years, buying directly from the seller and trying to rack up everything I missed in after-market purchases on ebay, the evil_enablers forum on Livejournal, in the sales section of the BPAL forum and VM's own occasional sales on Etsy. My favorite series, historically, has been State Fair, because she does these marvelous, complex scents that combine sweetness and smoke, wood and fruit, and other surprising elements, in powerful and memorable perfumes. Summer is usually a slow time for most of the perfumers I buy from, so it's nice to have these wild, refreshing, colorful themed perfumes to delve into. It's a wonderful feeling to go out on a humid summer Texas night, watching the stars glimmer and hearing the insects hum, with a smoky-sweet cloud of incense around you, suggesting everything from fireworks to funnel cakes, cotton candy and a splash of tropical fruit.
New Violette Market offerings over the past year have included Victorian Magic themes for Autumn and Winter 2014/into 2015 and last year's "Madam Romanowski's the Greatest Undead Show on Earth" around Halloween time. The Romanowski collection is available again through the Halloween season, and for the moment the Victorian Magic perfumes seem to still be available as well. Because the bottles can run as much as $28 each I thought it might be helpful to put a few more reviews out there for people.
I'm also including some impressions of favorite old horror movies that some of these evoke in me...pictures included when I can find a suitable one. I tend to associate perfumes/scents with books I am reading, movies I'm watching and albums I'm listening to, so here's a tiny slice of my string of associations.
First, a couple that were received as freebies. I will include the note lists in italics next to each scent descriptions; each description is copyright of the perfumer and is quoted here only for reference purposes.
Zombie Treats: Tattooed Heart
Autumn oak trees, soft amber, white patchouli and dry sandalwood encapsulated with bergamot, heliotrope, dry leaves, and a heart of blackberry infused cassia bark.
This goes on surprisingly aquatic, light and perfumey. The dry leaves and heliotrope might be giving it that airy, perfumey quality – crisp, dry and just a little heady. I would expect this to have a stronger incense quality based on the notes but that's not what I'm getting, either in the bottle or on the skin. It dries down quickly to bergamot and blackberry in a dusty soft base. There is only the faintest hint of cassia (cinnamon).
Zombie Treats: Nail in the Coffin
Autumnal pies, tartlets, vanilla cream, candied cinnamon sticks, and maple candies assaulted by weathered splintered wood.
Strong cinnamon – the classic "craft store autumn spice" scent on a woody base. I can't really get anything beyond a strong cinnamon scent from this (the "candied" quality is probably what causes this), but I dislike cinnamon so it's hard to see beyond that.
Now, onto some of the scents from the Romanowski collection:
Mikaele, the Human Atlas Moth
Warm hay, orange blossom honey, milkweed pods, sweet cream, red raspberries, rhubarb jam, and silken butterfly wings darkened by an eerie shadow of dry white sandalwood, the dark woods at twilight, and dark aged vetiver spun into a human cocoon.
A surprisingly soft, glowing orange-brown concoction, warm and sweet but simmering with that smoky wood scent of vetiver, the bone-dry powder of white sandalwood and the hint of fruit/citrus that orange blossom honey imparts. While wearing this I didn't know the list of notes, offhand, but it is really a brilliant combination. It brings to mind a stretch of woods I used to frequent in Rancocas, NJ, where there are milkweed pods brimming with butterflies in the late summer. There's a haylike scent of warm, dried grass, and as you approach the woods, there is this drowsy, hazy summer aroma of flowers and wood. This has an added touch of sweetness, but the vetiver/sandalwood gives this a slow burning quality – a glossy core beneath the floral dusting powder.
Opening Night Under the Big Top
Glowing amber, golden patchouli, pink carnation, swirling smoke from beeswax lanterns, mahogany costume trunks, tiny corsages of bergamot blossom, pink jasmine, and orange flower, Indian incense, caramel kettle corn, pink cotton candy and blue absinthe flecked with cinnamon dust.
This begins with a very buttery popcorn scent and a good dose of sweetness. It's very much what you would expect from a batch of kettle corn cooking at a fair, though that wonderful smoky VM scent is winding through it. An undercurrent of incense, spices and hints of sugared fruit emerge as that initial popcorn scent burns off. I wouldn't normally like something "buttery" but the dry, smoky sweet popcorn scent is stronger than the butter, and the complexity of all of those other layers emerges almost immediately. Like all of the scents she makes with this smoky base, it has tremendous wear, though it changes a fair amount with time. Very reminiscent of her summery State Fair scents, but the amber and patchouli give it a much more autumnal feel. Wear it when watching your favorite circus-themed horror movie. I'll go with "Vampire Circus" but you might also enjoy "The Funhouse."
Sweet smell of sun-warmed grasses, bee balm honey, new hay, chamomile flowers, old growth forests, patchouli leaf, white lavender flower, golden moss, and dusty earth.
Oh yes, high, grassy, sunny notes, dry herbs, which become just a bit powdery when they hit the skin. I think of straw, scarecrows, wheat fields in Van Gogh paintings, or families crossing the prairie states in a covered wagon as summer fades into autumn. It doesn't have a lot of sillage and staying power but it is quite lovely, and in the cool fall weather I can imagine it adding a wonderful subtle touch to a family trip to a corn maze or pumpkin patch.
As a childhood fan of "Little House on the Prairie" (the books, that is) I think we can say that I finally found a scent to suit my mood when in that mindframe. Especially in the fall -- which is such a homey, earthy and nostalgic time of year.
Zombie Cigarette Girls
Pink bubble gum, sheer vanilla, golden honey, ruby red cherries, cloven tobacco, dark green moss, black patchouli, and charred autumn leaves.
While the word "cigarette" initially turned me off, this is one of the stars of the collection for me. The scent of incensy, earthy tobacco is nothing like the "cigarette" association you might make. A wonderful combination of sweets and smoke. High mossy notes definitely add an air of graveyard loam, with a dry, crackling underlayer of leaves. I do not smell cherry specifically but there is a fruity tone that blends in well with the tobacco. I could definitely see wearing this while watching "Orgy of the Dead."
Julianna, the Haunted Amigurumi Doll
Blueberry and black raspberry cream, almond milk, hollowed hazelnut shells, wild raspberry preserves, candied white apricots, caramelized pralines, British lemon curd, honey sugar, crumbled tea cookies, buttery shortbread, and rose water splashed on white linen napkins.
Smells very strongly of cherry, though I see that is not one of the notes – the almond milk and hazelnut shells may be adding a heady, boozy note, though as it dries I can smell more of a rich, dark raspberry. The boozy rush of that rich cherry smell burns off quickly and I imagine a daintily set table in a tearoom with little cookies and paper lace doilies. My initial impression that it is simply going to be a strong cherry scent, was unfounded, and this is a much more light and complex blend of crumbly cookies and sugary fruits, without becoming too much of a thick and foody scent. I'm not fond of buttery, heavy sweet scents, but this is delicate and just a touch floral as it dries – the rose water and fresh linen coming out to play as the heavier notes die down. I'm not sure what instinct drew me to want to try this one, but it turned out to be just to my taste for this kind of scent. A good scent for a haunted dollhouse or creepy porcelain babydoll, or for a movie like "Kill, Baby...Kill" by Mario Bava.
With notes of dark black tea, dried tobacco leaves, carved sweet oak, vanilla bean, soft amber, myrrh, bergamot peel, cassia flower, white cedar wood, aged patchouli, and a hint of imported leather softened from both time and handling. presented in a reusable sheer pouch and a 5ml amber glass apothecary bottle.
Tea (the bergamot gives it an earl grey character), blonde tobacco, pale wood notes and leather are my main impressions from this scent -- a gentleman's study, but a bright and lively one, not a dusty and dark place. Going from the description though I try to imagine a caravan of performers in a colorful wagon -- like the actors/jugglers in Ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal," a lively and romantic vision of circus performers in a mythic time. Fresh and herbal along with those animalic leather notes. A touch of wood shavings and garments perfumed with old, faded incense.
Horned Balloon Handlers
With notes of black vanilla, benzoin resin, golden vanilla, a trail of molten lava, black resins, flame-filled glass balloons that often burst unexpectedly, charred circus tickets, and a trail of sweet smoke leading to the pyrotechnics demonstrated on the bows of young girls, unattended bow ties, and straw hand bags that were at least three seasons too old.
Another of these great smoky-sweet perfumes that reminds me of the State Fair scents. This one is pretty heavy on what seems to be a dry coconut scent though I don't see that listed in the notes. A powdery-dry undertone that makes me think of gunpowder, though the overwhelming impression is a resiny cherry-sweet scent with plenty of dry powdery smoke. I think After Dark might be the scent from VM this is reminding me of, but it is chaotic and colorful, with lurid red-gold notes amidst a puff of smoke and charred bone.
Next are perfumes from the two Victorian Magic collections (mostly from the Winter one, though). Note that on the dark-colored oils it is very hard to read the name of the perfume, but don't let that stop you from trying them! These are magnificent.
Summoning Canis Major and Canis Minor
Through a veil of black amber, red amber, incense smoke, offerings of red patchouli, and dry white wood carved into the heads’ of canines. They ride in a pack, autumn leaves and patches of dark earth lifted under their phantom paws.
This immediately became an all-time favorite scent when I first tried it, and if you like patchouli/incense scents, this is a holy grail. It is strong, dark, sweet and smooth. Dark brown, earthy incense, which pours out of the bottle when you open it, as if you walked into a dark temple full of incense smoke and unspeakable rites. Smooth wood, gritty incense, and glossy resins. I do tend to reapply it when I wear it, though it is strong and has some staying power -- I just like that initial splash so much I can't get enough of it.
This puts me in the mind of one of the many Paul Naschy werewolf films -- impossible to choose a favorite, but I guess "The Werewolf Vs. The Vampire Women" is in my top three. Most any werewolf movie will do, but bonus points for rustic European villages.
Illusion Produced By a Ride in the Swing
With notes of: almond milk, East Indian apothecary vanilla, amber incense, rose absolute, benzoin resin with notes of balsamic plums and polished wood, Ceylon cinnamon bark, and aged-curry-vanilla-bean paste in a base of organic jojoba oil.
Smelling this without looking at the notes, I immediately think of my Indian spice collection. I can practically detect the individual spices, it is so strong and precise. Cinnamon is there obviously, but not too strong -- cumin, very much in the foreground. Maybe even some turmeric and cardamom, but it is most definitely a curry paste. The almond is a little overwhelming and boozy. It dries down to a more pale and powdery blend but it still smells overwhelmingly of Indian spices. The amber incense and rose do not come out so much, but perhaps I catch a hint of rose among those boozy undertones, offering up a pink powdery finish. The scent puts me in the mind of an Indian horror movie like this one - Bandh Darwaza -- though the name of the scent conjures to mind something more Victorian.
Man in a Bottle
With notes of: smoked sandalwood, Russian sage buds, Australian sandalwood, Virginia cedar wood, Clary sage absolute, and aged white pepper in a base of organic jojoba oil.
Incredibly woody scent, but it is not a sawdust or pencil shavings wood. This is a vital, fresh, invigorating fresh-hewn wood, strewn with bundles of soft sage, with its sharp, herbal bite. It is not so much "smoked" smelling as fresh and natural. Think of new wood growing in a glade where fire once ripped through and now everything is reborn. Magnificent, one of the great outdoorsy wood scents I've ever tried. Very masculine but not cologney. Perfect for walking in the autumn woods.
Although it not smoky outright, I'm still going to pair it with the Wicker Man, since this extremely natural-smelling, fresh-cut wood makes me think of the lively pagan community of Summerisle, and the dry, masculine sensibility is one I associate with Christopher Lee.
With notes of: black amber, copal incense, dark beeswax candles, smoke, red amber, and a dusting of ash in a base of organic jojoba oil.
One of the best perfumes in my collection, by any perfumer. Very rich, sweet and resiny. It has that distinct scent of a dish of resins set smouldering atop a coal, but it is not overly smoky, and it quite pleasantly sweet with a rather honeyed aspect to it. This clings in my hair when I apply it behind the ears and I can smell it for hours. Perfect for a crisp autumn nice or a chill winter day. Another "holy grail" scent for incense lovers. If those candle and smoke notes appeal to you, pay close attention. It smells like a room in which incense has been burning, without overly smelling of smoke itself.
Wear for your favorite haunted house or ghost movie. Mine is "The Haunting" (1963) based on one of my favorite novels, which I read around October of every year for a while.
The Stage Setting for Black Art
With notes of: wispy vanilla whispering long-lost secrets beyond the parted veil, red musk, petigrain leaves sharp and biting, once innocent jasmine, and sinister pink rose in a base of organic jojoba oil.
Surprisingly to my taste, as I didn't expect to be crazy about it, but that splash of jasmine and rose is a perfect counterpoint to the darker red musk undertones. To compare to another perfumer company, it reminds me of Desire from BPAL. I keep coming back for that surprisingly appealing sweet floral blast of heady jasmine and romantic rose, propelled forward by a long-lasting breath of vanilla and a smouldering red musk. This brings up a million associations but for some reason I need to pair this with some 1970s ladies in shroud-like dresses involved in some kind of secret cult activity and "Sisters of Death" springs to mind, mixing the mysterious and the overly feminine.
The Disarticulated Skeleton
With notes of: antique cedar wood, Blood cedar wood, raw coconut meat, amaretto brandy, and saffron threads burning slow over a charcoal disk dispensing threads of serpentine smoke in a base of organic jojoba oil.
I don't have a sample of this on-hand any more but I remember that when I tried it, it was very satisfying -- coconut was strong, with a boozy undercurrent, anchored by dry wood. A good solid glossy wood base, nothing too powdery or dusty, but the strong coconut notes tend to dry a bit in the powdery direction, and overall I think it's very similar to a lot of other scents in this series -- just a bit boozier.
The movie for this would have to be "House on Haunted Hill" (1959) with Vincent Price -- a film I was delighted to see at the Alamo Drafthouse not too long ago on the big screen.
Explanation of the Decapitation Trick
With notes of: unfiltered honey, beeswax melted into unrefined coconut oil, black amber, frankincense resin, neroli, orange blossom, and cardamom seeds in a base of organic jojoba oil.
This scent is a lot lighter than I expected, as the orange blossom, neroli and cardamom are front row center for the blend. Cardamom is very bright and suspended in golden honey in a way that brings Indian desserts to mind, but perhaps it is the beeswax-in-coconut oil that gives me the strongest impression, which is one of the kind of oily suntan lotion I remember people wearing in the 1970s. In other words it has a very sunny, outdoor, beach feeling to it.
I don't have a movie for this one exactly, but there are a lot of decapitation scenes out there you can take your pick from! Or see my next entry below for another decapitation themed scent.
The Sawed-off Head
I got a free sample of this and liked it enough to get a bottle.
With notes of: wood vanilla, smoked blond woods, vanilla cream, Cognac vanilla bean, smoke and ash in a base of organic jojoba oil.
While initially it seems very similar to a lot of other scents in this series, it distinguishes itself with a very strong cedarwood that is softened by vanilla (whatever "wood vanilla" is, I like it). The notes didn't lead me to expect it to be this cedary. A wood-panelled room in which seances are held. While vanilla notes are all over this, it really doesn't strike me as "Vanilla!" when I am wearing it, but that soft sweet simmering note keeps it glowing and warm without ever becoming too sharp. Really gorgeous and I had to wear it for a while to fully appreciate the subtlety.
Even without smelling it, I was ready to associate this scent with the 1970 Herschell Gordon Lewis movie "The Wizard of Gore" (though the 2007 remake with Crispin Glover is also highly enjoyable!). A perfect match.
I took this to mean "A ball attended by zombies" but it actually means "a stand-up/stage effect where a metallic globe seemingly floats on its own under the cover of a foulard."
With notes of: wispy vanilla smoke, dark vetiver, bitter amber, black myrrh, West Indian golden vanilla, coconut husk, nag champa, and an antique brass ball suspended in the humid air of a Southern evening in a base of organic jojoba oil.
I don't have this one on hand any more but I remember my impressions were positive -- the coconut was not very strong, but neither was the nag champa. Just enough to be a dry, resiny, incensy scent with a hint of vanilla. For those who do not care for vetiver, I don't remember smelling it in this blend but it often acts as an earthy "anchor" for a scent without asserting itself too much. I would have sworn there was something either fruity or floral in it, in my recollection, as there was a distinct faded "pink" note but perhaps that was just the play of coconut and nag champa.
Perhaps it goes without saying that the "floating metallic globe" brings to mind one particular film from 1979 that I can probably leave a picture for without comment.
And that is everything I have for now from the collections currently available from Violette Market!