Mini-review roundup: Alkemia Fragrances, Part 2

Artwork for Tronada.
Artwork for Tronada.

Part 1 of my Alkemia sample review was way back in mid-December at the end of November(!), before I got all ennui-ed up with writing about perfume (thank goodness that’s over, at least for now).  Sorry to make you wait for Part 2, but here it is.  To recap, in case you don’t feel like clicking back for Part 1, Alkemia is a fragrance shop on Etsy, specializing in perfume oils.  I’d gone looking for “frankincense perfume” over there, and Alkemia is where I fetched up, spending some time digging the lovely illustrations and nicely-written descriptions for these interesting fragrances.  Sharra is the owner/perfumer, and I’m impressed by how well she was able to recommend additional samples based on my other choices.

Arcanum is one I dithered over when ordering my 5 samples for $10, eventually deciding on something else. It showed up as a freebie anyway, which tells me that Miz Sharra knows how to recommend! Alkemia’s description: An enigmatic yet compelling blend of seductive eastern spices, aged patchouli and sandalwood. Frankincense, nag champa, and dragons blood deepen the mystery.

I don’t know what dragons blood smells like; I only know that it’s some kind of herbal thingy that seems to show up in a lot of places you can buy essential oils, and that it sounds all spooky and stuff. (Draaaaagons blooood, ooooooh. The part of me that reads fantasy novels is delighted.) I also don’t know that I have smelled nag champa on its own.

All the same, this fragrance is very interesting. A little dark, a little threatening maybe… it is too incense-focused to be witchy, but the word “ritual” keeps coming to my mind, and it’s not a comforting thought. I’m too Baptist to find “ritual” comforting.

Ardorem XXI was another that caught my attention, but I was worried by the combination of notes, which sounded like the fragrance could turn out a kitchen-sinky mishmash, so I put it on my second-tier list. Sharra sent me a sample anyway. (See? She’s good.) Alkemia’s description: In numerology, twenty-one is the number of perfection by excellence. Ardorem 21 is a complex elixir of 21 precious essences including: coriander, mandarin, amber, nutmeg, saffron, bourbon geranium, blue lotus, tobacco, musk, clove, sandalwood, vetiver, Kashmiri tea, cardamom, black pepper, and Japanese incense.

Sniffed from the vial, it mostly smells of lotus, which is a pretty, clean, watery floral smell that doesn’t seem like it would dominate. Having smelled it in other compositions, though (notably, some of DSH Perfumes’s high-concept and lovely Egypt perfumes), I can say that it does tend to take over. It’s not an offensively high-pitched floral note like lily of the valley can be, and you’re probably not going to call it icepick-to-the-eye-socket because it doesn’t have that relentless, industrial-strength cleaner vibe. But it dominates – sort of like when you look at pictures of the Supreme Court in the late 1980s, your gaze goes straight to Sandra Day O’Connor and only slowly do you note the rest of the justices. (I love me some SDO. She always looked sort of queenly, like she was accepting her due, and she always seemed so wise. But I digress again.)

Tronada is not at all my usual thing, but I wondered if it might suit my novel character, who discovers a fragrance that doesn’t smell like department store perfume and falls in love with it. I’m trying to find that one thing. (At this point, I still think it’s Donna Karan Black Cashmere, but I have a few more things to test.) Alkemia’s description: An homage to the Gods of Thunder – the scent of crackling ozone and wildly lashing rain tearing across a summer night.

Awesome, succinct description, I must say. And pretty darn accurate. I mean, people tend to know what a summer storm smells like. Don’t you? You get that lovely ozone smell, the petrichor smell of rain hitting dry dirt, some leaves, some excitement, some wet. And that’s Tronada. Perfect. I could wish it to be a little stronger, but that might make it less accurate. You will not think of Cool Water or Acqua di Gio or New West, those classic ozonic-aquatic fragrances. This one smells like a – well, like a summer storm. Duh.

Wing of Bat is the last sample I have, and I chose it because it was described as a gentle green chypre. I often have trouble with green chypres, which like to rise up suddenly and stiletto me. (Seriously. I hate Bandit and Aromatics Elixir and Givenchy III, which smell like diesel fuel, stale urine, and dirt – dirty dirt, not nice potting soil – to me, respectively. I don’t mind dirt if it’s supposed to be there, as in Soivohle Violets & Rainwater.) Love the gentler floral green chypres, though, like No. 19 and Jolie Madame, so I thought I’d try this. Alkemia’s description: A damp mossy cave redolent with moonlight reflected in a chypre of oakmoss, green patchouli, crushed ferns, dirt, ambergris and a bit of leather.

Wing of Bat does smell like dirt. But in a good way, dirt with green things growing out of it. Rocks, moss, green stuff… it’s all here, along with a slight wet dankness that you wouldn’t want in your house but which seems perfectly natural in, say, a cave. The county I live is is honeycombed with them, which I only found out about a couple of years ago, when my daughter took a summer PE class that did some fun stuff like white-water rafting and spelunking. They visited two of the many caves in the area. I should have known, really – our farm boasts no fewer than three sinkholes, and I knew that the surrounding area was composed geologically of karst (rock bearing large amounts of calcium carbonate, which is easily eaten away by water). I like caves.

And I like bats. They don’t seem spooky or vampiry to me, though, there’s just a sort of homely magic to them. I mean, they fly in the dark! They eat bugs! Bats are cool! I mean, I don’t want them making nests in my attic and filling it up with guano, which is toxic to the human respiratory system, but I really like bats.

So. Wing of Bat is for all you Katniss-and-Peeta-in-a-cave wannabes. It’s earthy, green, alive (there are none so alive as teenagers on the verge of violent death, right?), and I enjoyed it very much.

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Mini-Review Roundup: Alkemia Fragrances, part 1

Alkemia Fragrances is an Etsy shop which I found recently when doing a search for “incense perfume.” Simple, eh? There were a few other perfumes listed, but Alkemia has several with prominent incense notes, and so I decided that a five-piece sample as well as a small 5ml bottle of the current special, Yuletide Blessing, might be a fun way to explore the business.

I hadn’t heard of Alkemia before, but then there are quite a number of small independent fragrance shops that have hung out their shingle at Etsy. JoAnne Bassett, A Wing and a Prayer Perfumes, Roxana Illuminated Perfumes, and Sweet Anthem are all indie perfumers who do a brisk business over on  Etsy, which is a haven for handcrafted and beautifully-made items, a marketplace for people who make terrific things out of their kitchens or sewing rooms or garages. Check it out – who knows what wonderful, unique items you might find?

Alkemia offers fragrance oils only, similar to Possets or Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab (two indies the serious perfumista might already know). Even DSH Perfumes, which has in the last few years moved into what I’d call “higher-end indie” along with Tauer Perfumes and Aftelier, started out in Boston with scented oils. Dawn still makes tons of items in oil, too. I’ll be honest here and comment that I don’t generally prefer them, since they can be very reticent and close to the skin on me, and sometimes I want to waft just a little. Some people find longevity very good with oils; my skin tends to be drier, so I generally don’t get any more length of wear out of them than, say, a potent EdP, i.e., four to six hours.

I was immediately captivated by the lovely image attending Yuletide Blessing (currently on sale at $5 for 5ml, plus shipping, as a year-end thank-you to customers from Alkemia’s owner, Sharra – but hurry, the price is only good as long as supplies last). The description appealed to me, too:

An incantation of traditional Yuletide offerings to welcome the return of the sun and bring blessings for the coming year – bayberry for wealth, pine for health, cedar for protection, cinnamon for good luck, bay for wisdom, cloves for friendship, frankincense for gratitude, myrrh for material abundance, apple for love, and orange peel for a happy home.

It sounded like a really nice candle, to be honest. And that’s all right, because sometimes you just want a nice home fragrance, something that smells like Christmas. I love the smells of Christmas. Yuletide Blessing delivers on that front, too. It starts out a little heavy on the fruit – apple and orange can be a little overwhelming, and the orange does get a bit into that “Tang dust/baby aspirin” effect that I struggle with, but within about twenty minutes it’s calmed down and the spices and other woody notes come forth. I don’t smell frankincense distinctly; perhaps it’s dovetailing with that pine note, but the effect is nice. Definitely no Pine-Sol or fake pine-tree car air-freshener here. The myrrh, however, is prominent to my nose along with the spices.

When I asked for opinions from my kids, Gaze said, “Smells like gingerbread cake. I’m getting a lot of spices and vanilla. Do I smell cardamom?” And Bookworm said, “Hey, that smells like a candle! A really nice one.” Heh. Guess you know what kind of candles I like, now. As a matter of fact, I never bother with them in warm weather, so the ones I own tend to be things like “Frosted Gingerbread” and “Spiced Pumpkin” from places like Target or Wal-Mart, or the delightful “Winter” from Bath and Body Works. I also have a couple of cherished “Noel” candles from Annick Goutal, so you see that my candle scent choices focus on spices with citrus, pine, woods, and/or incense. And it may be this experience with candle fragrances affecting my perception, but Yuletide Blessing strikes me as being less a personal fragrance than one designed for the home.

But I say that’s perfectly fine. Sometimes you just want the house to smell like Christmas. I’ve been using a drop or two in simmering water, along with a clementine peel or two (yay, it’s clementine season! We’ll be eating them until they run out our ears!), to scent the house.

The longer this is on skin, the more delightful and dark and incensey it gets.  Niiiiice.

Les Mysteres is next up. Alkemia’s description: “Fig, fruit of the female mystery, covert and inward, Mediterranean fruit, with your covert nakedness, Where everything happens invisible.” – D.H. Lawrence Les Mysteres is an opulent, resinous blend of aged frankincense, black figs, labdanum, dark amber, Russian tea, swirled with a trio of sensual musks.

Regular readers are thinking, “Waitaminnit, Mals hates fig perfumes.” And I do. I love eating figs, and I like fig fruit in perfumes, but fig leaf gives me hissy fits. There is something cold and poisonously green about fig leaf that I cannot stand, and cannot explain. I mean, I like galbanum and coconut, for heaven’s sake! Why fig leaf, with its bitter, milky-green aspect, bothers me is anybody’s guess. I scrubbed Philosykos. I walked around with Premier Figuier as far away from my nose as possible, until it wore off, and then I gave that sample away fast, baby. Sonoma Scent Studio’s Fig Tree, which Laurie Erickson was kind enough to send me a sample of along with one of her lovely Nostalgie, did not please me either, and quite a number of people loved that one. I didn’t mind B&BW Brown Sugar Fig, which my sister wore for some time, though I wouldn’t have worn it myself.

Les Mysteres appealed because it seemed from the description to concern itself with fig fruit, along with several deep rich notes that might counteract the effect of any wayward homicidal fig leaf. On skin? Well, yeah, fig leaf tried to pop out of the woodwork and throttle me, and things were a bit iffy for a good half an hour. With all those rich basenotes in there, I was expecting a warm decadent smell, a sensual heavy-lidded labdanum. But instead, it’s Lotsa Fig Leaf. I never got a strong labdanum presence in it, though the tea was there. And very little amber – instead of being sweet and rich, it’s green and (okay, yeah) mysterious. Not my cuppa fig tea, though if you like dry dark fragrances, it might be for you.

I just discovered that apparently Salma Hayek is fond of Les Mysteres, which is actually pretty interesting. Salma Hayek has probably got a bank account that could handle a multiple-bottle purchase of Amouage, or those exclusive boutiquey Guerlains like Vega (ooh, love Vega!), but instead she’s buying and wearing $12 fragrance oils from Etsy. How cool is that?

(Okay, full disclosure: if I could swing a multiple-bottle purchase of Amouage, I’d want… well, I already own Memoir Woman, and I’d love to back up my disappearing 15ml decant of Lyric Woman, but that’s it. And Guerlain? I already have Shalimar Light and Chamade and a mini of Pamplelune. I do want Vega. And maybe the pretty-but-overpriced Elixir Charnel Floral Romantique. And that’s all. Actually, I just disproved my own point, so nyevah mind.)

Falling Stars at Winter Solstice was the next one I tried. Alkemia’s description: Walking into a wooded clearing, you look up in wonder at thousands of stars across the darkened sky. Suddenly, a falling star streaks across the sky, so low you can almost touch it. Catch your breath. Make a wish. Aromatic balsam needles, a dab of dark musk, sweet myrrh, incense resins, melted snow and a touch of cabin woodstove smoke.

The balsam needles are prominent in the opening, as I’d thought they might be, and there is a whiff of something cold in there along with the woodsmoke. This reminds me of a more-outdoorsy CdG Zagorsk, or Sonoma Scent Studio Winter Woods, and it’s really delightful. Cold, smoky, woody, but warm underneath, the sort of thing that makes you want to breathe in the cold air a much as you can. There is a balsamy sweetness underneath, maybe the sweet myrrh (opoponax). Very nice. Very wintery, which you’d expect given the name. I think I’d leave it in the cabinet come March, and be dying to get it out again in October.

La Belle Epoque is sort of an outlier in this group, which I mostly chose in the hope of finding something daringly different. This one isn’t. That is, La Belle Epoque is very much my usual style, i.e., The Big Girly Floral. Alkemia’s description: A complex floriental homage to the opulent elegance of Gilded Age femininity. A glorious blend of precious florals including jasmine sambac, tuberose, iris, rose, and lily of the valley blended with plum, apricot, tahitian vanilla, blonde amber, bitter almond, and oakmoss on a soft bed of delightfully powdery musks. Outrageously romantic.

This could have been a big floofy mess, what with the fruity notes and the vanilla and all those big ol’ flirty florals. Instead, it’s lovely. Very Marie-Antoinette, very Petit Trianon, all rouge-cheeked shepherdesses with powdered wigs and yards of ribbon and gilded crooks, no sheep manure anywhere. If you just threw up in your mouth a little, La Belle Epoque is not for you. This one, though, seems to suffer a little from the influence of whatever’s being used as a carrier oil. There is a stale, waxy feeling to it that doesn’t seem connected to the fragrance notes, and I’m wishing for an EdP instead of oil format. Oh well. It might be pretty great used as bath oil.

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