Snarklings, you do know about Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, yes? Just in case you don’t: they’re an independent perfume company that specializes in gothic, decadent, and romantic scents. I’ve been a fan of theirs for over a decade, and their ever-evolving concoctions are the reason I am never able to decide on a “signature” scent for myself; how could I choose just one? (Though I will admit, Blood Popsicle from the Only Lovers Left Alive collection is almost my perfect perfume.
The clever olfactory magicians at Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab very kindly sent me their collection of scents inspired by 19th century spiritualism and occultism. I’ve always been fascinated by the spiritualist movement and antique occultism, so the notion of exploring those things through the scented genius of BPAL’s vision — Oh! How I swooned!
In the following reviews, the italicized opening text are quotes from the official Lab descriptions:
A Measurement of the Soul — A tactile scent, groaning under the weight of aeons: wild fig, cedarwood, venerable ti leaf, and white sage.
The fig is what strikes first, thick and juicy. Underneath it’s sweetness, the white sage is a layer of dry dust and ash. This is a sticky, luxurious confection, presented in small cedar box to preserve it.
Claircognizance — Absolute and perfect clarity: rockrose, white amber, Corsican immortelle, Siamese benzoin, white sandalwood, and life everlasting.
The rose and amber provide a warm light, with flickering floral sparks from the Corsican immortelle. These make a gilded setting for the flourishes of the sandalwood, while the Siamese benzoin gives just enough of a sharpness to keep everything in focus.
Ectoplasm — A luminous, viscid blend of white amber, lemongrass, white oakmoss, and davana.
Luminous, indeed. This is the scent of white, hazy fog that is bound in satin ribbons that sting and cut. The lemongrass and white oakmoss give the impression of a clarity just out of reach, but the white amber and davana blur the message you’re trying to interpret.
Eusapia — Pale lilacs, white tea, and candle wax.
The last flowers of spring, dipped in wax to preserve them beyond their season, forgotten on a library shelf.
The Fox Sisters — Deception and despair: rose geranium and tea roses with mahogany wood, bourbon vanilla, and apple peel.
The apple peel and tea roses give the impression of innocence and clear-eyed sincerity, but the bourbon vanilla and mahogany wood hint at something hidden, a darkness that gives a sharp outline to the secret of the rose geranium.
Gossips of Ghost Land — Idle poltergeists and truant phantoms loitering in darkened corners and shadowed hallways: black cedar, patchouli, and tea leaf spiked with a tittering cackle of pink peppercorn, mate, and lime rind.
I’ve tried and tried, but I can come up with no better description of this scent than this: slightly bored with the glittering frivolity, you wander away from the well-lit ballroom and discover, at the end of the long hallway, a shadowy library. You run your fingers along the dusty spines of the books on the shelves, and pull out a small volume bound in dove gray leather. When you open it, pressed flowers flutter from the pages to the floor, and the faded ink tells you the story of spurned love and thwarted tempers.
Luminous Phasmatis — A peculiar manifestation of light produced by physical mediums during ectoplasmic sÃ©ances: otherworldly snaps of ozone glowing with unearthly light.
Lavender, the faintest hint of a mild mint, salt, and ozone. I don’t know how Beth at Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab manages to capture the scent of ozone, of lightning-kissed clouds, but she has. I suspect witchcraft. Amazing witchcraft.
Practical Occultism — A Victorian occultist’s incense, invoking the Four Archangels: precious wildcrafted Indian frankincense with myrrh, cassia, sandarac, palmarosa, white sage, red sandalwood, elemi, and drops of star anise bound with grains of kyphi.
I will admit, the name of this scent made me biased. How could I not love something named Practical Occultism? And love it I do. The cassia, star anise, and red sandalwood are bright droplets of light, the white sage and Indian frankincense are eddies of smoke, tracing unreadable calligraphy in the air, while the rest of the notes blend together to create something grounding and steady.
Psychodynamic Discharge — Repressed rage, terror, and subjugated sexuality erupting through fierce bursts of uncontrollable psychic phenomena: black leather and red musk with aged black patchouli, Chinese rose, black pepper, coconut meat, Haitian vetiver, and igneous red ginger.
This is darkness and rage and everything unkind and uncomfortable that we know we shouldn’t acknowledge, yet secretly want to indulge in, if only for brief, controlled moments. Perhaps one should wear this while drinking something virulently intoxicating and reading The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Spirit Board — Redwood and bois de rose with white lilac, dried pink roses, and black tea.
A tarnished silver tea chest, lined with wood, that you find in the depths of a long-abandoned pantry. The tea inside is mixed with the pale petals of dried flowers; it smells enticing, but you’re not sure if drinking a cup of it is a good, or sensible, idea.
Table-Turning — A heavy, tactile scent that thrums with voices from beyond: black polished teakwood, gullies of ectoplasm, and ghostly white musk.
Crackling ozone swirls around heavy, dark wood, in a room that hasn’t seen daylight in a very long time.
Vital Fluid — The breath and tears and pulse of all life; the fluid that flows through all creation, permeating space and time and spirit: olibanum, red benzoin absolute, labdanum, betel leaf, galbanum, mastic, and angelica.
This smells like the torn edges of newly-sprouted leaves and blossoms, sitting in a vase of saltwater. There’s something vibrant to it, but not overpowering. I suspect this is going to be a scent I dab on my temples when I am in the grimy clutches of sleep deprivation; it smells of wakefulness, but not in a jolting, abrupt way. A clear-headed wakefulness, as sparkling as a drop of rain on a blade of grass.
All scents were kindly given to me by the mad geniuses at Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab.