Nocturnal House: Still Life, by Michael Montoure

19 July 2014

It’s a warm summer night, the clear light of a full moon shining through an open window. The whisper of a breeze brings the scents of moss and night-blooming flowers, which mingle pleasantly with the perfumes of candles and old books. At the edge of your vision you spy a flutter of movement — a bat? Or the ghostly gesture of something reaching past you to select a book from the shelves? Welcome back to the Nocturnal House.

Still Life by Michael Montoure was one of my favorite new books of 2013. It’s a story of vampiric transformation, where the hazy romantic trappings that cushion many vampire tales are peeled away, exposing the bare viscera and bones of loneliness, need, and the bloodsucking truths (both metaphorical and shockingly physical) of relationships that have turned toxic.

From the back cover:

When the beautiful stranger who’d promised to make her a vampire turned out to be all too human, burned-out rock star Nikki Velvet was left weak, helpless, and addicted to his blood.

Now, trapped in her new life with him — and with Paul, the vampire she’s replaced as Sylvan’s favorite — Nikki struggles to find a way out before time runs out for all of them …

STILL LIFE is a story of loss, isolation, the things we mistake for love, and the way back out of the dark.

Nikki Velvet doesn’t want to become a vampire because of romantic notions of enlightenment, eternal youth, or love beyond death. She’s seen the wreckage of death’s triumph over love in the wake of the suicide of Gabe, her best friend and musical partner, and she wants to walk away from it all. She wants a promise that death won’t come for her, and she believes that Sylvan can fulfill that promise.

He nodded slowly. “I can arrange that.”

I sank back against the seat, letting go of tension I didn’t know I was holding onto, and I just nodded.

“But first,” he said, “show me you’re really willing. Show me a small gesture of faith.”

I turned to look at him. He reached inside his jacket and pulled out a small, elaborately engraved metal case. Too small for cigarettes. Business cards? He opened it, held it out to me.
A single razor blade immaculate on a bed of rose petals.
“Bleed for me,” he said softly.

The dusty old saying about appearances being deceiving once again proves to have a steady beat of truth.

My head was throbbing and I could hear my heart beating.

That wasn’t the only heartbeat I heard. I sat up abruptly, off-balance, shoving him away.

“What?” he said, looking unconcerned. “What’s wrong?”

“You’re warm,” I said, trying to stand up.

The faintest frown creased his forehead. “Yes. You said you were cold.”

“No. No. You’re warm.” I managed to get to my feet. “I can hear your heartbeat.”

He raised an eyebrow at that. “ . . . And?”

I pointed a wavering finger at him. “You’re not a vampire.”

“Oh.” He smiled, finished his wine. “I never said I was.”

But Sylvan isn’t the only one who isn’t what he seems …

“Paul,” Sylvan said behind me, his voice sounding tired and resigned, “stop her, please.”

There was a sound from above me —

As the small man swung himself over the balcony railing —

Dropped to the ground in front of me, as gentle as a cat, as silent as a spider.

Nikki returns from death three days later, struggling to make her weak, awkward body clamber out of the bathtub she was left in, and coming to the empty realization that she doesn’t know anything about her new condition. Paul, the quiet, seemingly shrunken man who transformed her, won’t or can’t give her any answers. Sylvan also isn’t interested in giving her answers, but the first sharing of blood dulls the pressing ache of Nikki’s questions.

His blood flowed into my wounds and was pulled inside.

I could feel his hand moving. Feel it from the inside, the way he felt it. His other hand reached around behind my head and I could feel it moving, he ran his fingers through my hair and I could feel my hair, soft and silky, through his fingers.

Electric, the two of us, a circuit closed.

I shuddered, and he shuddered in time with me.

There’s a line you never get to cross, as long as you live. The edge of your body. You’re trapped inside your skin, and no matter how many times you reach out to touch a friend or a lover, no matter how close you hold someone or how fiercely you make love, when it begins, when it ends, and all the moments in between, you are still yourself, alone. I know you knew this. It was in all the love songs you wrote. I think it was the hidden impulse we both had, down inside, that made us take razors to our skin, that desire to open up and let the world in, to let ourselves out, to take that sharp thin line of flesh and erase it.

Here I was, outside at last.

As the nights roll by, Sylvan still doesn’t give her any answers, but the heady rush of his blood is almost enough to silence her unease; when it isn’t, the nagging whisper of uncertainty keeps her in the house. Life with Sylvan is a slow haze, with Paul hovering near the edges. Sylvan takes Nikki out, shows her off to people “in the know” about this shadowy side of the world, but doesn’t show any real concern for her or Paul. Paul, who once was Sylvan’s favorite; Paul, who gives Nikki her first lessons in what the consequences of Sylvan’s neglect can be.

Still Life is a razor-sharp look at what numbness and entropy can do to someone. Becoming a vampire doesn’t fix any of Nikki’s problems or make the heartache of Gabe’s suicide any easier to bear. It just buries those concerns under a suffocating blanket of other needs: the need for blood, the need to navigate Sylvan’s constantly shifting affection and humor so she can be given blood, and the weight of all her unanswered questions, pulling her down into the inky depths.

While Still Life does look into the abyss of depression and the pendulum swings of an uncertain emotional attachment, it’s not a depressing read. For one thing, Michael Montoure’s ability to turn a phrase is amazing:

I was smiling, actually smiling for the first time in days. I felt like I was coming apart and that was all right, I wanted to stand in the middle of it all and spread my arms cruciform wide and be carried away piece by piece, a communion on everyone’s lips.

Also, Still Life feels familiar — it’s full of themes and characters that are woven into the shared subconscious of goths (or anyone else who has ever felt unsure or alone, seeking something or someone to provide that electric jolt of connection), but none of it is a cliche. It’s a novel of emotional truths, dark and bright, dressed up in fangs and post-modern ironic velvet. We’ve all met people like Nikki, Sylvan, Paul, and the others — now we’re able to view them in a fractured mirror and decide how much truth and power we want to imbue those reflections with. Ultimately, Still Life is a book about choices: the fear and indecision that are entwined with choices, how you can become stuck at crossroads of your own making, and how, at the core of it all, making a choice is always better than sinking into passive resignation.

Lines of light, delicate traceries in the ground, connecting different graves like circuits. Sometimes strong and pulsing lines between adjacent graves, and I’d look at the gravestones and see that they’d belonged to husband and wife. But lines spread out everywhere, a network all connected, family, friends, and I knew what it was and if I just put out my hand I could feel a tingle as it passed through me. Love was real and it left traces, left its scars carved in the world, even after death.

And I’d laugh and dance among the lines, arms raised up to heaven, and I didn’t care if anyone saw me or not.

I started to see them a little clearer, after that. See faces and shapes.

Don’t misunderstand me. I hadn’t forgotten about trying to reach you. You were the reason I was still here. But I wasn’t coming here just to visit you, any more. I was coming to visit everyone.

Still Life is a darkly-shining example of what I truly believe is at the heart of being a goth: sometimes the world is an unsettling and uncertain place, but there’s beauty and joy to be found, too. You just have to hang on and keep looking, even if it means visiting beloved ghosts in a graveyard.

Beware the Burning Orb! Or, Summer Goth

3 July 2014

Snarklings, it’s July in the Lady of the Manners’ part of the world. In other words, summer, the dreaded season of burning sunlight and high temperatures. Woe! Woe are the goths!

Oh, all right, the Lady of the Manners may be indulging in the tiniest bit of melodramatics about summer. There are many goths who adore this season, and look forward to warmer weather and longer days. The Lady of the Manners doesn’t happen to be one of those types of goths, and judging by questions showing up in the Gothic Charm School mailbox, many of you share her opinions. Which means it’s time for a summer survival guide!

Favoring inky hues and layers of fabric, whether in antique or punk styles, is not entirely practical during warm weather. Yes, layers of lace and fishnet can be substituted for velvet and leather, but you still should be aware of what the fiber content of those layers might be. Synthetic fibers, such as polyester and nylon, are not great choices for summer because no matter how lightweight they may be, they don’t breathe. Sheer or lightweight fabric doesn’t make a bit of difference if it still traps heat and sweat against you! Look for lightweight clothing made with a high percentage of natural fibers, such as cotton, silk, or rayon. If you refuse to give up your fishnets, then remember that you can dampen them with water and take advantage of evaporation to help you stay a little cooler.

Don’t feel you have to stick with goth’s traditional midnight “none more black” palette! White, gray, ivory — all lovely hues that work well with gothic styles, and will absorb less heat from the sun. According to “conventional wisdom”, that is, but there are articles saying otherwise.

One of the Lady of the Manners’ favorite places to find lightweight clothing in black or white is Dharma Trading Co., where not only can you get a variety of garments in different natural fibers, but you can find the dyes and other supplies to customize them.

Hats! While the illustration shows a top hat, the Lady of the Manners is here to warn you: most top hats are made of felted wool, which means they will keep your head toasty warm. Not what you want in summer! As the Lady of the Manners is rather fond of top hats, she scoured the internet until she found a summer-weight straw version (be warned, slow-loading site!), then spent a few evenings painstakingly coloring the hat with black archival art markers and then covering it with black lace. (Do not feel you need to duplicate that sort of effort, as the Lady of the Manners freely admits the project was a bit impractical and obsessive, even for her. And look! Now there’s a black raffia top hat out there. Where was this two years ago, drat it?)

But a lightweight hat is incredibly helpful to shade your eyes and keep your head from scorching, and there are all sorts of options. The nu-goth side of fashion is full of wide-brimmed black hats, which can be found in just about any store that carries sun hats. You can leave such a hat plain, or adorn it with feathers, veils, ribbons and bows, clouds of black tulle, black fabric roses, bird skulls and bones, bits and pieces of jewelry from thrift stores — really, anything that strikes your fancy and can be affixed to the hat by sewing or glue.

Parasols! Take shade with you whenever you’re out! Now to be perfectly honest, any umbrella will also work as a parasol in a pinch. Yes, it’s very fun to have an extra-fancy gothy-goth parasol, but there are times when function is more important than form, and warding off the burning orb is one of those times. Which leads the Lady of the Manners to a pet peeve: yes, lace parasols look very pretty in photo shoots, but are nigh-useless for shielding your delicate moonflower self from the sun. Opt for something with a solid covering, Snarklings!

The Lady of the Manners is very fond of the “Signature Pagoda” umbrella from Bella Umbrella, because it has a lovely shape and interchangable handles! Designs by Victoria offers parasols thoroughly decorated with lace and ruffles, while Clockwork Couture has a selection of paper parasols printed with designs such as skulls or tentacles.

Sunblock! No, not because you have to be pale to be a goth (the Lady of the Manners has an entire post refuting that narrow and silly notion!), but because sun damage and skin cancer are very real concerns! Look for something that offers broad-spectrum coverage, be it a “chemical” or “mineral” -based block, and take a look at the reviews and comments on the Environmental Working Group Guide to Sunscreens. Personally, the Lady of the Manners has discovered that many of the “chemical” block sunscreens make her skin unhappy, so she tends to powder her exposed skin down with Jane Iredale powder sunscreen, and make sure she has a large sun hat and parasol with her if she needs to be outside during the day.

Other useful tips!

- Stay hydrated. Yes, that’s obvious, but it’s easy to forget to drink water when you’re busy and/or distracted by other things. But also make sure you’re getting enough electrolytes and salt at the same time, please!

- Carry a fan with you, so you can generate your own cool breeze whenever you need. Metal handle fans that unfold into a circle are sturdy and can be easily tucked into a bag or pocket.

- Handkerchiefs. Yes, fabric ones, preferably made from cotton. You can use it to discreetly blot perspiration, or you can dampen it with water to use as a cool compress on your wrists or the back of your neck in truly sweltering situations.

- Ice packs and bodice chillers. If you must wear elaborate goth finery in high temperatures, tucking a pliable ice pack into your corset or waistcoat might make the crucial difference to avoid heatstroke. Don’t laugh, that’s how the Lady of the Manners has survived some summertime goth events outdoors.

- Blotting papers. Yes, for all genders, because sometimes just blotting the perspiration from your face will make you feel less sticky.

With that, Snarklings, the Lady of the Manners is going to stare forlornly at the weather forecast, then go set a carafe of herbal iced tea to steeping. Do you have your own tricks for dealing with the summer heat? Share them in the comments! (Which are, of course, moderated.)

Five Years!

23 June 2014

Five years, Snarklings! Five years!

::a brief pause while the Lady of the Manners dances around the room with pink and black balloons, then lights the candles on the tray of cupcakes::

What on earth is the Lady of the Manners talking about? Just the small fact that this is the FIFTH ANNIVERSARY of the release of the Gothic Charm School book!

::The Lady of the Manners runs outside to release the balloons into the starry night sky, then comes back in to blow out the candles before she accidentally sets the library on fire::

Permit the Lady of the Manners to drop the third-person frivolity for a few minutes: Thank you, from the depths of my heart. Gothic Charm School: An Essential Guide for Goths and Those Who Love Them wouldn’t have been possible without you lovely creatures, the readers. Thank you for reading this site, thank you for sending in questions, and thank you SO MUCH for purchasing the book. The book is still in print, and still being sold! It’s even been translated into Russian!

Behold, the Russian edition! With different cover art, but the interior illustrations are still by Pete Venters, yay!

What’s that, you say? You don’t have your own copy of the Gothic Charm School book? Here:

  • Ask your local bookstore to order it!
  • At Amazon!
  • At Barnes & Noble – online, and in stores!
  • At Kobo!
  • At Powells!
  • Check your local library! If they don’t have it, ask a librarian if they can order it.

(If you were wondering, the English language ebook version also contains the wonderful illustrations from the printed paper version.)

So yes, thank you. Thank you to those of you who’ve written, to those of you I’ve been lucky enough to meet, thank you to all of you. I’m incredibly lucky to have accomplished this, and I know it.

Review: Only Lovers Left Alive, from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab

9 June 2014

Just in case you’ve somehow missed the Lady of the Manners burbling everywhere about it: the Jim Jarmusch movie, Only Lovers Left Alive, is possibly the best vampire movie she’s ever seen. Tilda Swinton! Tom Hiddleston! AS VAMPIRES. It’s a gorgeous, lush opium dream of a movie about immortal love, and you should see it if you’re able to.

The mad geniuses over at Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab have created an official line of perfumes for the movie, and they very kindly sent them to the Lady of the Manners! So for the next little while, it’s review time! Starting out with our pair of immortal lovers, with a “bonus track” review of the Lady of the Manners’ favorite scent from the entire collection.

(Text in italics are the official descriptions from the BPAL site.)

EVE 
 
Eve is eternal: in three-thousand years, she has likely traveled the length and breadth of the world, immersed in innumerable cultures throughout the ages, observing the ebb and flow of humanity and the imperishability of nature itself. Despite her age, she is the character that seems most rooted, always experiencing each moment with open eyes, always fully present. Her scent is one that travels through the eons: the Irish moss, yarrow, and hawthorn of the Iron Age Britons, ancient Rome’s omphacium and honey, myrrh and calamus from Egypt, the frankincense and damask roses of the Florentine Renaissance, white sandalwood from the Far East, Moroccan saffron and rose water, and a swirl of incense from the souks.

It opens with a cloud of roses gilded with honey and saffron, warm and inviting. As time goes on, it deepens into a lingering breath of incense and the barest touch of bitter greenery, but always anchored by the sweet dust that belongs to stacks of old, much-loved books.
 

ADAM 
 
Adam, our suicidally romantic scoundrel. His scent is a palette of somber colors, melancholy memories, and lupine, savage beauty: black leather, pale sandalwood, ambergris accord, and the memory of a long-lost Victorian fougère.
His internal life seems to be reflected in his lair, so his perfume also possesses the scent of the wood of his guitars, the rosin from his violin bow, the musty wool of neglected Oriental carpets, the plastic, metal, and magnetic tape of his reel-to-reel, the dust that permeates everything.
 

Leather and dust, and the smell of empty rooms full of memory. As time passes, there’s a hint of salt, as if from unshed tears. The growing warmth of the wood of musical instruments almost mask it, but it circles back to the scent memory of a leather jacket worn on a cold night.

BLOOD POPSICLE
 
The scent of frozen Type O negative.

“The good stuff”. Honey and amber and salt, wrapped in blood-red velvet. The perfume version of a shiver of delight. Send bottles of this to the Lady of the Manners in tribute, for it is possibly the best thing she’s ever smelled.

IAN: Y’know, for a zombie, you’re alright.

A flicker of hero worship, tempered by naivety and an innately kind nature: shaggy leather, sweet rum absolute, and patchouli.

Warm leather and rum wrap you in an enthusiastic embrace, while the bassline of the patchouli  reverberates with your heartbeat. There’s no tobacco listed in the notes, but there’s something about this scent that evokes it. This is the Platonic ideal of every boy I ever dated in college, and of late-night clubs –not the reality. Wear this if you want to indulge in the dream of finding a clear-eyed romantic who will speak to you in a whisper you can hear despite the loud guitars surrounding you.


AVA:It’s always a bit weird with family.

A scant two-hundred years old, there doesn’t seem to be anything that roots Ava to her past. Her scent is utterly contemporary, and, like her personality, it is impulsive, capricious, and dangerous. Voluptuous and brittle, lovely and toxic:  sheer vanilla musk with tuberose, red mandarin, and the sweet poison of white almond.

Feral baby powder. This is the scent of sweet hedonism partying to ignore the inevitable come-down and consequences. The sharp red mandarin catches your attention, then vanilla musk and tuberose beckon to you with a sly, sweet smile. The white almond lingers the longest, but flickers in and out of your perception.


KIT:

Immersed in his (eternal) life’s work, holding on to his memories, suffused with a love of life and literature, Kit’s scent is soft and dry as bone: Mysore sandalwood, a tattered and patched 16th century waistcoat, inkstained, still scented with the marjoram and benzoin dry perfumes of his youth.

Take your oldest, most beloved garment and breath it in; now take that scent and age it for centuries. It opens with the dust-dry air of the sandalwood, but the smell of ink grounds it, while the marjoram keeps the dust of ages from becoming overwhelming. Time passes and will always do so; enjoy your memories but mingle the dust of experience with fresh leaves.

JUNE 23, 1868: True love renewed by night in an English garden: moonflower, Nottingham catchfly, Casablanca lily, evening primrose, night-blooming cereus, Queen of the Night, muted by the sepia tones of tonka, tobacco absolute, bourbon vanilla, and costs. 

Heady, swooningly romanic, with a touch of youthful love. The floral notes smell as if they are silvered by moonlight reflecting on dew, while the tonic, tobacco absolute, and bourbon vanilla creep out over time, preserving the floral bouquet through the years.

FUNNEL OF LOVE: 17-year aged black patchouli, champaca flower, cardamom bud, green coriander, Haitian vetiver, red vegetal musk, black pepper, night-blooming jasmine, and leather.
 
This smells like a wall of fuzztone guitars sound. Sharp, dizzying, and almost dissonant at first, but the notes of pepper and jasmine bloom out to echo over the baseline of leather and patchouli. The cardamom bud and green coriander give sharp bursts of static, and the red vegetal musk oscillates through it all.

WOODEN BULLET:  
A .38 caliber bullet fashioned from cocobolo wood and brass. 

Bitter dark wood, with a metallic overlay. You would think that a scent with wood notes would eventually turn warm, but this doesn’t. The wood becomes deeper and darker, but never warm. The brass adds a glimmer of light to the scent, but stays cold and metallic. It’s lovely, but in some way remote.
 

STREETS OF DETROIT: Black musk accord, Ethiopian myrrh, and motor oil.

Urban blight made romantic. The myrrh and motor oil blend to create a screen of things that feel necessary, while the black musk binds them together. The combination of the three make me think of weeds sprouting as rain puddles on oil-soaked concrete.

SPOOKY ACTION AT A DISTANCE: “When you separate an entwined particle and you move both parts away from the other, even at opposite ends of the universe, if you alter or affect one, the other will be identically altered or affected. Spooky.”
 
Instantaneous correlated action between entangled partners: rose-infused sandalwood with violet leaf, frankincense, geranium rose, and a spark of elemi. 

There’s no separate recognition of any of these notes, they’re so entwined. Open a small treasure chest of sandalwood and be enveloped in a twining delicate floral cloud. As time passes, the scents are still entangled, but are more diffuse and stretched.

http://blackphoenixalchemylab.com/shop/only-lovers-left-alive/spooky-action-distance/

SHELLEY, BYRON, AND KEATS: SHELLEY, BYRON, AND KEATS
 
Uncompromising idealism, haunted romanticism, fatal ennui, and a heady amount of scandal and vice: red roses and pale carnation with a draught of laudanum, smears of opium tar, a hint of absinthe, and mercury ointment.

 
My thoughts upon smelling this: “Well now I want to go have a midnight picnic in the garden. How difficult would it be to set up all the velvet throws and pillows, candelabras for enough light to read a book of antique ghost stories, and a tray with the absinthe, glasses, and the absinthe fountain? Far too ambitious a plan; I should just stay draped on the couch. Why oh why don’t I have a butler?”

Shelly, Byron, and Keats is one of my favorites from the Only Lovers Left Alive collection. I embrace my cliches so hard they squeak in mock-protest.

CAFÉ MILLE ET UNE NUITS: Shisha and thick coffee brewed with cardamom pods, cinnamon, clove, black pepper, and nutmeg. 
 
This smells like the best, most decadent tiramisu ever dreamed of. Dark, honey-thick coffee, with bright bursts of pepper and the almost floral taste of cardamom. Scrumptious, and fills me with an overwhelming craving for a cup of good coffee. (More than usual, I mean.) This scent makes me vexed that there has been no coffee scent ever made that works with my body chemistry.

THIS IS YOUR WILDERNESS: Honeyed patchouli with cypress, black pine, and tobacco absolute.

The sharp, prickly bite of pine needles and green leaves rustling in the darkness, rooted in soil so dark it’s sweet and sticky. The tobacco absolute drifts through it all. This is a scent for all the dryads who flaunted centuries of tradition and struck out for the big city. Defiant trees inexorably dismantling the strip malls around them.

THERE’S WATER HERE
 
This place will rise again. The wisdom of eternity imparting a glimmer of hope through the grace of eternal renewal: the wild glory of nature bursting through cement, metal, and urban despair, purified by the waters of Lake St. Clair.

Lots of different types of water: still ponds, lakes, rain dripping down from abandoned buildings and collecting in puddles that reflect streetlights in an oily sheen. As time rushes on, it becomes impossible to pick out which type of water it smells like; just water-drenched greenery and concrete.
 
 

OUR HEARTS CONDEMN US: Keralan teakwood, Bulgarian rose otto, Himalayan cedar, and oudh.

This is a small wooden treasure chest, covered in dark-stained carvings of twining leaves. When you lift the lid, inside are the powdery fragments of dried petals from every rose you ever have and ever will receive.


THE HOURGLASS:
 
“I feel like all the sands are at the bottom of the hourglass.”
“Turn it over, then.”

 
The white roses and orange blossoms of hope penetrating despair’s black fog of opoponax, black myrrh, bruised violet, clove, funereal lily, and grief-struck carrot seed. 

“Despair’s black fog” is right – the opening of this scent is dark, and evokes the almost giddy-yet-poisonous feeling of giving in to despair and hopelessness. The the roses and orange blossom break through, sweetening the lows. This scent, in a way, smells like hope. It doesn’t ignore or cover up the sadness at its heart, but it doesn’t stay there.

(I wish I could send a bottle of this back to myself in 2011, because it might have made that horrible year a little more bearable.)


IN TEMPLUM DEI:
Oman frankincense, cistus labdanum, white sandalwood, and liquidambar.

This is sugared incense. Anoint the hollow of your throat with this, and breathe deep of the sandalwood and frankincense, while the sweetness of the mixture swirls around you like a drop of gold ink in water.

HAL:
 
Saffron-infused bourbon vanilla, blackened honey, Kashmir wood, Atlas cedar, ambrette seed, hay, and Egyptian jasmine absolute.

This opens with sweet fruits, sticky with dark honey. The Kashmir wood and Atlas cedar help tame the sweetness, while the saffron-infused bourbon vanilla adds a sharp, glimmering edge to the scent. It evokes my childhood imaginings of what the Turkish Delight the White Witch tempted Edmund smelled like.

THE EDGE OF DOOM:
 
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me proved,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

 
The night flight from Tangier: drops of spilled blood color the antiseptic, bland, plastic paleness of the fuselage, with violet leaf for longing, rosemary for reminiscences, and black opoponax for apprehension.

This is a strangely compelling scent. It does have notes of blood and plastic, somehow. But those notes become a background for the creeping green notes of the violet leaf and rosemary. Something man-made, abandoned for years in an overgrown field. To me, this is the scent of being unable to concentrate because of sleep-deprivation. It’s not unpleasant, but it certainly feels like going round and round in lonely circles inside my own head.

DIAMOND STAR:
 
Ambergris accord, guiac wood, white benzoin, immortelle, and Somalian myrrh.

This is a scent is something that glitters. It’s not sharp or cold, but it is remote and twinkling. Distant warmth and light, as sweet and delicate as holiday lights seen through a frosty window.

THE DIAMOND’S GONG:
 A celestial hymn, singing to Earth from fifty light years away: ten billion-trillion-trillion-carats of glittering white musk, with cognac, tagetes, white champaca, Gum Arabic, and davana. 

This smells like how I’ve always hoped champagne would taste. Sweet and glittering, with effervescent bubbles tickling your nose. This and Diamond Star are mirror images of each other, which is appropriate. Both are filled with light, but while Diamond Star is warm and hazy, The Diamond’s Gong has a shivery and metallic resonance to it.
 

The Only Lovers Left Alive collection from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. Only 350 bottles of each scent are available.

Bats Day 2014!

30 May 2014

Thanks to the incredible kindness and generosity of some friends, the Lady of the Manners was able to attend one of her all-time favorite annual events, Bats Day at the Fun Park. An event that combines two of the things that are incredibly dear to the Lady of the Manners: goths and Disneyland!

Yes, really. The Lady of the Manners is a huge, HUGE fan of Disney theme parks, and visiting one of her favorite places in the company of crowds of other spooky-minded folks is one of the best things ever.

Bats Day started back in 1999, when the promoters for the goth/industrial/deathrock clubs Absynthe and Release the Bats combined forces to organize a meet-up for local goths who wanted to go to Disneyland, with a turn-out of around 80 people; the meet-up the following year had over 200 people, and the numbers have just keep growing. The event now includes a separate fancy dinner and a dance night of spooky music, and the “Black Market” vendor fair is full of gorgeous items to tempt you into opening your pocketbook before you find yourself in the merchandising mazes of the park itself.

To be very clear: Bats Day is in NO WAY an official event associated with the Walt Disney Company. But park management is aware of the annual gathering of the black-clad masses: all the Nightmare Before Christmas and Haunted Mansion merchandise are fully stocked, purple and black cupcakes and bat-shaped cookies featuring Mickey Mouse’s familiar face appear in the bakeries, and cast members at the park wish people a Happy Bats Day.



Bats Day is, well, magical. If you’re someone who doesn’t like Disney and/or is not thrilled at the notion of facing the swarms of humanity at a theme park, then going to Bats Day is not for you. But for many goths, a group outing to Disneyland is a dream come true — and not just for the perkygoths! Bats Day is one of those rare multi-generational goth events, where entire families of spooky folks can spend time together. There’s the traditional Bats Day group photo in front of the Castle:

A photo meet for the babybats:

And the joy of meeting up with other goths whom you hardly ever get to see!


JameyB from Spooky Inc., with the Lady of the Manners.


Batty from Azrael’s Accomplice Couture, Queenie from Pocket Full of Posiez, and the Lady of the Manners.

In the Lady of the Manners’ opinion, one of the ideas at the heart of goth is to have a sense of wonder, of longing to be transported (if just for a little while) to a fantastical world where experiences are heightened. And while some people are strongly dedicated to the nihilistic, I wear black to match my tortured soul, the world is ashes side of the goth subculture, there are a lot of goths who appreciate the more whimsical side of dark wonder, too. Plus, Disney villains! Maleficent! The Evil Queen from Snow White! Many, many goths started their lifelong appreciation of a darker aesthetic after their first viewing of a cartoon with a charismatic villain. Not to mention that the contrast between one of the world’s most popular sunny vacation spots and hordes of black-clad goths roaming around is a visual treat.

Speaking of the sunny SoCal weather and the layers of black clothing many goths prefer: the Lady of the Manners suspects that one of the top questions Bats Day attendees are asked is “Aren’t you too warm, dressed like that?” But most of the gothy types that the Lady of the Manners saw were all wearing lightweight fabrics and carrying parasols to bring a shady spot wherever they went. The Lady of the Manners herself spent the weekend living in lightweight lace dresses over black sundresses in natural fibers, an enormous sun hat, and copious amounts of powder sunblock. (With the occasional stop to soak a handkerchief in cold water and tuck it into her bodice.)

The Lady of the Manners loves, LOVES Bats Day, and is grateful beyond words to her friends who made the trip possible for her. It was a magical time, and she very much hopes she can manage the time and finances to return for future gatherings. After all, she made the trip to her spiritual home only fifteen times (during this visit, anyway), and that obviously isn’t enough, because the management still hasn’t offered her the rental agreement paperwork!

Hurry back …

Polyvore Thing! “A little tea party”

22 May 2014

The Lady of the Manners has returned from Bats Day, and is in the middle of writing an enormous post about it. In the meantime: oooh, look! The wonderful Thea Maia has created a gothy tea party Polyvore set!

a little tea party

a little tea party by theamaia featuring alice in wonderland figurines

Clicky-links! Diversions and Shiny Things!

2 May 2014

Gracious, Snarklings, it’s been a busy time for the Lady of the Manners! There’s been a steady flurry of posts over on the Gothic Charm School Tumblr with snippets and quick photos from the events the Lady of the Manners has been visiting (so many events! So many wonderful people to meet!), and you should know what that means. Clicky-link roundup! Yes, the Lady of the Manners has been assiduously collecting cards from the fascinating artists and vendors she’s met over the past month or so, and now she’s going to share them with you.

Portland Black Lipstick Company. THE best black lipstick the Lady of the Manners has ever used. Ever.

Espionage Cosmetics, who have a large range of fandom-themed eye shadows and lip serums, but as far as the Lady of the Manners is concerned, their Nailed It! line of nail art stickers is THE enticing product. Burtonesque is everything the Lady of the Manners has ever wanted from nail art, but is too clumsy to do herself.

Aromaleigh Cosmetics is doing Hannibal-inspired eye shadows. The Lady of the Manners is so full of glee about this she may explode in a cloud of blood and glitter. (You Snarklings ARE watching Hannibal, yes? Those of you who are old enough to watch disturbing and unsettling TV, that is?)

Carnivorous Terrariums! Exactly what it sounds like, a wonderful group of people who will help you design and create a terrarium of carnivorous plants. Once the Lady of the Manners is sure she’s finally gotten over her long-standing case of black thumbs, she’s going to contact these folks.

Omnia Oddities. Oh, such wonderful things! Aspidonia and Chiroptera leggings! Seance pendants and hourglass Moira rings!

Gritty Jewelry. Handmade metal jewelry that manages to be delicate and rough-edged at the same time.

Scarlet Rabbit. Wonderful crocheted cuffs, fingerless gloves, chokers, and collars.

Tormented Artifacts. Leatherwork! All sorts of leatherwork. Masks, useful pouches on nifty belts, leather wings to lace onto your boots, armor … you need things from here, trust the Lady of the Manners on this.

Tentacular Distractions. Adorable plushies of tentacles! And jellysquishes! Plus hooded scarves and fingerless gloves.

A.S. Koi and Catalyst Studios. Fine art and classy dead things.

The Art of Jason Soles. Replica bird skulls, sculpted book covers, and a host of unsettling things.

Libertine Tacoma. Gourmet salts, sugars, and herbs. The Lady of the Manners’ new favorite snack is popcorn topped with their vanilla salt and rose sugar.

My Blacks Don’t Match. A delightfully spooky webcomic, by the ever-charming Drew Rausch.

Writhe and Shine, and Overcast With a Chance of Doom, two darling webcomics taking a humorous look at goth life, by Robert Tritthardt.

Evil Supply Co. “Better Living Through Questionable Morality. Stationery, prints, t-shirts, buttons, and other enticing treasures for those of us who have sinister ambitions. Plus, Atticus Q. Redghost, the evil genius behind it all, is devilishly charming.

Owlkeyme Arts. Creations by Laura Tempest Zakroff, including jewelry, clothing patterns, and prints.

Diana Levin Art. Adorably spooky art and jewelry!

John Sproul. Adorably macabre art and tattoos.

Balefire Candles. Handmade candles, for both witchy and non-witchy illumination and atmosphere.

Nightshade Botanicals. Small-batch artisan aromatherapy, with body butters, room sprays (great for those of us who aren’t able to burn incense!), and witchy perfumes.

Valentina’s Home-Brewed Spells + Potions. Tea, perfume oils, bath salts, body scrubs, all concocted from family recipes.

Whew! So many clicky-links! So many shiny things! Of course, for more clicky-links of entertainment and treasure, be sure to visit the Gothic Charm School Resources page. But for now, the Lady of the Manners is going to go indulge in some fizzy water with rose syrup and chocolate bitters, and keep a close eye on the weather report for Anaheim CA, because Bats Day at the Fun Park is coming up! Hmmm, which to pack: parasol, or giant sun hat?

Crushed. Velvet, That Is!

28 March 2014

Velvet is a wardrobe basic for Goths and other creatures of the night. But velvet can be a high-maintenence fabric: if it’s not some sort of cotton velveteen or Lycra-enhanced stretch velvet, the lush pile of the fabric can end up damaged.

“Pile of the fabric?” That’s the thing that makes velvet, well, velvet: a raised nap of thousands of threads, which is why velvet has a different texture depending on which direction you run your hand across it. The fabric is woven on a special loom that weaves two thicknesses of velvet at the same time. After weaving, those two pieces are cut apart to become separate lengths of fabric, each with a pile.

Which is why velvet is so luxurious to the touch, but is also why it can be difficult to deal with. The pile of the velvet can be changed by water, such as rain spots on velvet coats, a perennial Goth problem, or even just by everyday life, such as how the friction of sitting can flatten out the texture of a velvet skirt in very specific locations. There are special tools and techniques for refreshing and refluffing flattened or crushed areas of velvet, but in the Lady of the Manners’ opinion, once velvet has been crushed, it can never be restored to it’s former lustrous perfection.

But wait! Don’t despair over your rain-spattered, smushed velvet garments! Because there is a way to give them new life and a new texture. That’s right, Snarklings, it’s tutorial time!

Supplies you need:

  • The velvet garment in question (this project works best on velvet that is polyester, rayon, silk, or a mixture of those fibers).
  • A spray bottle full of clean water.
  • A flat surface you can lay the garment out on. Ironing board, table, kitchen counter, whatever heat-resistant surface is handy. Make sure it’s at a height you can comfortably sit or stand at!
  • A large towel.
  • An iron.

Additional, but not necessary, supplies include a playlist of music you like, or a favorite movie or TV show to have on in the background, and a tasty beverage of your choice.

 

Step 1. (After you’ve started your background entertainment.) Plug in the iron, and set it to a medium-high dry heat setting.

Step 2. Lay the towel out over the flat surface you’re using, then lay your velvet (pile side up!) out on top of the towel.

Step 3. Grasp a section of the velvet and scrunch it up. The Lady of the Manners usually goes for haphazardly gathering a section into pleats.

Step 4. Mist the scrunched, pleated section of velvet with water from the spray bottle. You’re not trying to drench the fabric, just make it damp.

Step 5. Iron! Be very careful to not singe your fingers, but run the hot iron over the damp, scrunched velvet for a minute. There will be a hissing noise of steam as the iron cooks the scrunches and pleats into the damp velvet. (If you have cats, and they are anything like the Lady of the Manners’ Kitties of Chaos, they will be less than pleased with the noise.)

Step 6. Lift the iron and let go of the velvet. The pile of the velvet has now been crushed in various directions, giving it a multi-textured effect!

Step 7. Repeat, repeat, repeat, until you have crushed ALL the velvet! Sometimes you will need to go over scrunched and pleated sections multiple times, but eventually you will have permanently altered the pile of the velvet, and you will have a garment that looks dramatically different than what you started out with!

Be warned: once you get the hang of this, turning velvet into crushed velvet can be strangely soothing and addictive. By the time you read this tutorial, the Lady of the Manners will have done this to two skirts and two blazers that have been lurking around in the Storage Heap Room o’ Doom, and is eyeing some other velvety things she has lying about. Because it’s so much fun!

Polyvore – Escape the Ordinary

20 March 2014
escape the ordinary

escape the ordinary by theamaia featuring DENY Designs

Polyvore fashion-y thing, as always, by the fabulous theamaia!

Of Goths, P.E., and “Is It Dark Enough?”

13 March 2014

Hello, Snarklings! The Gothic Charm School mailbox has been receiving a steady stream of letters from babybats with fashion questions. Which is no surprise, because as fledgling spooksters, of course they’re looking for guidance on how to express their affection for all things dark and shadowy. The Lady of the Manners feels that she should take a moment to point out some previous Gothic Charm School posts about gothy fashion, as it is a topic the Lady of the Manners really likes talking about. (And oh goodness, the Lady of the Manners probably should do another post about prom, shouldn’t she?) But! The current crop of correspondence did have a few fashion-focused questions that have not turned up before.

Dear Lady of the Manners,

I hate to bother you, but I have a growing problem that I believe effects some of the baby bat community. I am in middle school and of course we have to take phys. Ed, and I was wondering how you can show your love for the dark when there is no jewelry, your hair is pulled back in a messy ponytail, and the all black look just makes you three times hotter than the rest of the group. The makeup might as well be thrown out the window too, considering it will get messy after the workout anyway. I was wondering if you could help me any or should I just continue on feeling named without my eyeliner? Any response or suggestion would be great.

Your snarkling,

-Ierrose

You would think, wouldn’t you Snarklings, that the Lady of the Manners’ revulsion for P.E. class would have long since withered away, what with her middle and high school years being far, far behind her. But no, just the mention of the class brings back memories of being smacked in the head with soccer balls and other such unhappy notions, and the Lady of the Manners very fervently hopes that you school-age Snarklings are having a much better time of things.

But to address lerrose’s question: There are times when being concerned about displaying one’s subcultural leanings just isn’t that important, and P.E. class is one of them. Because you’re right, any efforts toward elaborate makeup are going to be thwarted by the inevitable perspiration that follows exertion, and you’ll only have to redo all of your eyeliner anyway.
The Lady of the Manners isn’t entirely sure about wearing all black making you overheat faster than other colors of exercise clothing, for surely it has more to do with the fiber content of the clothing, not the colors? But even so, you don’t want to risk your gothy finery for P.E. class. When the Lady of the Manners exercises (or Gothercizes, if you’d rather), she tends to wear black leggings and an oversized concert t-shirt, or black bloomers and a “girly”-cut concert shirt.

However, the Lady of the Manners is very serious about there being times when displaying your gothness isn’t what you should be focusing on. When one is exercising, doing housework, or other strenuous, potentially messy things, don’t fret about if you’ve achieved perfect eyeliner or if you’re adorned in the spookiest outfit possible. For that matter, don’t fret about those sorts of things ever. Do you have a day where you don’t feel like painting your face or pulling on layers of fishnet and velvet? Then don’t, and don’t spend any time worrying about it. Which leads straight to the next question for this post …

I am aged 13 and I have recently discovered your amazing school. I have a question, I am a male and want to change my wardrobe, an idea that I have formulated is the following: for clothing nothing too fancy. Just something like a black shirt and jeans, some boots and a leather jacket. Is this dark enough? Please reply,

–Jay–

Oh gracious, darling babybat, of course your black shirt and jeans, boots, and a leather jacket will be “dark enough”. This may seem surprising from the Lady of the Manners, whose devotion to wildly elaborate clothing is rather well known, but your gothness is not determined by your wardrobe. Stop swooning in shock, it really isn’t.

Yes, part of the Goth archetype (or cliche, if you would rather) is that we’re all fabulously-dressed creatures of darkness, draped in velvet, lace, leather, and layers of shredded fishnet, our eyes thickly painted with intricate eyeliner designs, and our black-nailed hands barely able to move for the weight of the giant rings on our fingers. And yes, the Lady of the Manners is very fond of those cliches. But those cliches are not requirements, not by a long shot.

As the Lady of the Manners has said before, Goth is about finding beauty in the darker corners of life, of having an appreciation for the macabre, the unsettling, the decadent, and the monstrous. Goth enfolds much, much more than fashion: there’s music, literature, movies –every type of artistic endeavor has been done with a Gothic twist at one point or another! Plus there’s the historical and philosophical roots of the Gothic movement to explore!

Over the years, there has been this weird double-standard in the Goth world; if you show “too much” enthusiasm for the dark glamour of Goth fashion, some people will dismiss you as a poseur or as someone who is only playing dress-up and isn’t a REAL Goth. On the flip side of the coffin lid, if you don’t concern yourself with that dark glamour and focus more on the non-fashion aspects of Goth, other people will dismiss you for not showing the subculture colors, as it were, and say that you aren’t a REAL Goth. All of which the Lady of the Manners dismisses with a wave of a ring-bedecked hand and says, piffle. Are you interested in parts of the Goth world? Do you want to call yourself a Goth? Then you are a REAL Goth, and ignore the petty people who try and tell you that you aren’t.

For that matter, the notion of REAL Goths is ridiculous, because no one, and the Lady of the Manners really does mean NO ONE, is super-spooky ultra-Goth 24/7. It’s not possible, and the people who try to say that “this thing is Goth, this thing isn’t, and here is the list of rules you have to adhere to in order to be Goth” are doing nothing but betraying their own insecurities.

So don’t worry about your style being “dark enough”. Don’t worry if there are activities that keep you from wrapping yourself in dark finery, and don’t worry if there are times when you just don’t feel like putting on the full creepshow display. You are still Goths in your black hearts and inky souls, and that, Snarklings, is the most important part.