This week, I had the chance to sniff and skin-test eight of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab‘s scents based on the Jim Jarmusch film Only Lovers Left Alive. I have seen the film– it’s a moody, slow-as-molasses film about two vampires (Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston), and spans about a week or so in their centuries-long love affair. I think I liked the overall feel of the movie more than I liked the movie itself– I found the plot to be absolutely threadbare, with events barely explained. It’s more or less a feature length character study, but even in that, it seemed meandering and directionless. Essentially, it’s about Eve, a vamp who still has a lust for life, and Adam, her musician husband with perma-ennui and suicidal tendencies. While everybody involved gave wonderfully nuanced performances, I tend to be a viewer who gravitates towards plot, so while I’m glad I saw the film, it was not entirely my cuppa. My friends, on the other hand, were utterly enthralled. Different strokes and all that.
I have been a fan of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab (or BPAL, as the Lab is known to fans) since 2004. I was really intrigued by the descriptions of the scents based on the film, and so I purchased decants of 8 to try though a decant circle. The perfumes are limited edition, $30 per full bottle.
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.
In the wet stage, this scent is a slap of wet black leather. There’s some sort of dusty, not-quite-rotted wood in the background, making it fuzzy around the edges. It reminds me a bit of a much-beloved discontinued scent, De Sade, crossed with a long-gone limited edition, Dead Man’s Hand. I am happy to report that I get nothing of plastic, metal, or magnetic tape.
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.
This is a boisterous, happy-go lucky vanilla musk that would not be out of place at Bath and Body Works. I don’t mean that as a slight to the perfumers’ talents– it’s absolutely perfect for Ava. Not-quite-cloying but certainly sweet and effusively feminine. I personally didn’t get much of an almond, but I did get some of the tuberose on the drydown. This is likely to be a crowd-pleaser– it’s certainly the least strange of the group I sampled.
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.
In the vial, the moss is the most noticible to my nose. Probably because I have spent all week working with woodland moss in my studio– it’s the most recognizable thing, so that’s what I smell. On my skin, though, it’s mostly resins– the frankincense is there, as is the roundness of rose (without any strong floral notes), and some dry spice. On the drydown, I smell a little bit of honey. Overall, it’s not a floral scent, but it’s not quite gourmand, either. It’s subtle, and stays close to the skin. It smells like memories, or a well-used travelogue.
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.
The sandalwood that is most predominant in the scent has a soft, round, almost orris-like vibe. I actually did not find this to be a dry scent– I didn’t get any cloth/wool notes, nor the bitterness of ink. I did get something that smells like a smear of dried orange marmalade, faint and subtly sweet.
Blood Popsicle: The scent of frozen Type O negative.
So much spicier than I expected. While it doesn’t have a cinnamon or ginger-type note at the fore, it reminds me a lot of a discontinued favorite of mine– Tintagel, which had a heart note of mulled wine. This has that and maybe some cranberry? There’s something tart in there as well, tempered by the spices. Maybe bayberry, too? I don’t know. But I do know that I really, really like it.
Café Mille et une Nuits: Shisha and thick coffee brewed with cardamom pods, cinnamon, clove, black pepper, and nutmeg.
I WANT TO DRINK IT. Yeah. Spiced coffee. Not overly sweet, as many coffee-notes tend to go on my skin. DELISH.
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.
I will straight-up admit that I only got this one because of the name. It’s got several notes in it I generally can’t stand– violet leaf, rose geranium– so really, it was just the name. Considering the rose geranium is the strongest scent in the vial, I was entirely poised to hate it. But then magic happened. On my skin, it became soft rose on a bed of sandalwood and frankincense. It is a seductive, soft, scent that in no way smells like grandma soap. I was pleasantly surprised.
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.
I was a bit concerned at first because in the vial, it smells exactly like Aussie Sprunch Spray. Ahh, the scent of my youth– sickly sweet fake grape aerosol, the scent of terrible hair that you don’t yet know is terrible. On the skin, however, it’s a subtly fruity, subtly powdery white scent. Still smells a bit like white grapes, but at least not fake ones. The fully dry phase was the most pleasant for me– it smells like Egyptian musk, round and comforting. A definite morpher– I suspect this one will smell very different depending on your body chemistry.
So that’s it! Have you tried any of the scents from the line? Which were your favorites?