April 1, 2010

Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab: Short Introduction

I wish I could claim that I always loved perfume. It seems like the to have street cred as a perfumista, you need some kind of backstory as a precocious nose, a prepubescent connoisseur of olfactory art. The truth of the matter is that while I always enjoyed beautiful smells and had more than a passing interest in aromatherapy, my perfume experience was sadly plebeian. In high school, I was content with The Body Shop Vanilla. In college, I graduated to l'Occitane Vanilla. Eventually I moved on the Origins Ginger Essence. I felt quite sophisticated walking up to a department store counter to buy it, let me tell you. (There was also a brief and publicly under-appreciated interlude with Poison, courtesy of my BFF's neglected bottle.)
My limited fragrance wardrobe was due to a number of factors, but chief among them was the fact that I have an intolerance for many synthetic fragrance molecules, as well as the fixatives and alcohol usually present in commercial perfumes. Part of that intolerance is physiological, in the sense that certain smells nauseate me or else make my sinuses rampage, and part of it is, undoubtedly, a lack of proper experimentation (and thus appreciation) due to the fear that most perfumes would cause this reaction. I wonder if early exposure to artisanal and niche perfumes would have altered the course of my perfume evolution. It was a visit to the Fragonard factory in Grasse, the summer after I graduated from university, that opened my eyes. Of course I was too cowed to purchase any of their perfumes while I was there, and completely clueless as to where to find something beyond department store offerings when I returned to Montreal. But I was newly intrigued by the possibilities, wide open to the potential of perfume to be complex and extraordinary and transformative.
And then I found Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. Contrary to the aspiring-to-luxe aspect of most perfumes I was familiar with, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab presented a wildly different aesthetic. Veering from gothic to kitschy, from romantic to mystical, BPAL - as it is know to fans - appealed to me on a fundamental level. It was so NOT my mother's perfume. The influences on the scent names and the bottle art resonated with me. Drawing from myth and folklore, art and literature, this was perfume that was exciting on both a visceral and intellectual level. I was sold on the concept, and had to order some samples. I was pleased to discover that I also absolutely adored the perfumes - and by Jove, they liked me right back. Part of it is no doubt due to the fact that they are perfumes created from natural essences. That's not to say that such blends are inherently superior than ones based in synthetics, but it's obviously a huge factor in determining what my skin and nose likes best. If I were to estimate, I would say that I can easily wear about 85% of what I have tested so far, and a quarter of them would easily fall into my 'favorites' category. That's a pretty darn high success rate for someone like me. Though the look and style of the company has spawned many imitators, BPAL is the original animal. All the perfumes come in 5 ml amber apothecary bottles, and the regular catalogue blends (as opposed to the limited edition blends) are available for sampling in 'imp' form. The general catalogue has literally several hundred perfumes to choose from, and you could easily spend years of your life sampling and collecting them. Most of the regular catalogue bottles come with a standard label, printed with their names, though some categories do have distinct labeling.
In the above photo: Alice (Mad Tea Party category, new standard label), Asphodel (Rappaccini's Garden, special label, now discontinued blend), Crowley (Good Omens, special label, based on Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's novel), Brown Jenkins (Picnic in Arkham, special label, based on Lovecraft's works), and an 'imp' of Jack (Bewitching Brews).
There are also Limited Edition blends. There are several different kinds, which I'll elaborate on at another time, and they can be available for order for only a few days or for a few months, depending upon the series. All the limited edition perfumes have unique labels.Some of these series have become traditional, seasonal events. They come back every year at around the same time, sometimes featuring returning blends, and always a few new ones. They can be found on the Limited Edition page.
In the above photo, top row: Al-Araaf (Demon in my View series, based on Edgar Allan Poe's poetry,
sold 9/05 to 1/06) and Ivanushka (Therianthropic companion blend to Lunacy of 10/07). Bottom row: White Moon (Lunacy blend of 10/06), Temple Viper (Carnival Diabolique series,
still currently live) and Hony Mone (exclusive blend celebrating Beth's wedding, 11/07).

I'll be expanding upon this short introduction, explaining different aspects of the company and the community that has developed around it.

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