Well, you need to know this to understand that I’m not actually reviewing the quality of the blends; I’m reviewing the way they interact with my nose and my chemistry. Over the course of the last month or so of testing, there were several notes I realized I just couldn’t handle, and I knew in advance that I don’t like “strong” or “dark” scents, musk, or really strong incensy smells. It seems like one in every four people is Extremely Sensitive [I forget the correct term for it] to sensory stimuli—painfully so—and I’m one of them. Seriously, after annejumps posted about that on her journal, there were soooo many things that made sense to me—why I had a mild panic attack-verging-on-tantrum in a tiny LOUD New Orleans club last year, why the smells of certain foods make me violently ill, and… why I can’t wear commercial perfume. Seriously, it makes me sad, but commercial perfumes give me massive headaches. That’s why I got interested in BPAL—I think a conversation about “Woe, I cannot wear perfume either!” sidetracked into favorite BPAL scents, and I saw it as an alternative to body splash, which is just about the only thing I can wear. So when you read these reviews, bear in mind that “I don’t like Belladonna” doesn’t mean it’s bad; it means I don’t like it, but someone who likes strong evergreen/herbal scents will.
So, what to pick for the first order, out of a catalogue of 500+ blends? Well, my favorite “perfume,” carefully hoarded from childhood, is a tiny bottle of Hello Kitty perfume about the size of a quarter. I have no idea what scent it is, but somewhere along the line I got the impression that it was either apple blossom or cherry blossom. That, and I usually get peach or citrus splash to wear. So let’s try that. My initial order of six imps was Neo-Tokyo (for the cherry blossom), Titania, Tamora, Persephone, Queen Mab, and Jezebel, and I got Veil as a freebie on top of that. Everything else I bought secondhand at the alchemylab swaps, or from friends on other boards. In alphabetical order by section (lab descriptions are italicized):
Belladonna (Bewitching Brews): The devil’s herb, which he cultivates with skill and pleasure. According to lore, the spirit of this plant may take the form of a breathtaking, achingly beautiful woman, deadly to behold. This scent is a tribute to such a dark and magnificent plant: a rich green and floral blend, earthy and haunting.
I uncapped the imp and nearly passed out, so… that don’t bode well. It’s… well, a really strong and piney/firry (whee, perfectly cromulent words!) herbal smell. Someone suggested layering Swank over this—I think there may be some juniper in here, which would pick up the gin note in Swank, and yeah, that would be really cool. It also reminds me a bit of Dracul (see below), only without the tobacco and spice. Notice that I keep describing it in terms of things other blends have that it doesn’t. Yeah. This is one of those “strong” scents I keep talking about not really being for me.
Belle Époque (Bewitching Brews): Belle Époque: “The Pretty Era”, France’s Golden Time: an age of beauty, innovation and peace in France that lasted from the 19th Century through the first World War and gave birth to the cabaret, the cancan, and the cinema as well as the Impressionist and Art Nouveau movements. Sweet opium, Lily of the Valley, vanilla, mandarin and red sandalwood.
I’ll be real honest with you, I ordered this with Black Ribbon in mind, as the Belle Époque is roughly the same time period as the Victorian era, and the second “volume” takes place in Paris and blah blah writerly blah. Yeah. Well, Belle Epoque came to me completely smashed (you could smell the envelope before you opened the mailbox) despite being wrapped in bubblewrap, so I can only guess the post office dropped an anvil on it. All I got from this was “lavender.” I stuffed the envelope in a drawer as an ersatz sachet.
Glitter (Bewitching Brews): All flash and glam: white wine, heliotrope, d'Anjou pear, and lotus.
TOP THREE FAVORITE SCENTS OMG. It’s a little like Lolita (see below), only softer and sweeter and without the orange-spicy kick. What I’m saying is, it’s sweet and fruity-bubblegummy in a Childhood of the ‘80s kind of way. (Actually, the depth and mellowness of the fruit here reminds me a bit of Titania—maybe that’s the pear they both have in common? But I think of “pear” as a “shallow,” pleasantly gritty fruit smell, so… it’s a sweeter, deeper pear than I’m used to. Hmmm.)
La Bella Donna Della Mia Mente (Bewitching Brews): Soft, lush myrtle and dry, sweet melilot with wild rose, pomegranate juice and peach blossom against a background of deep aquatic notes and a twirl of melancholy autumn breezes.
There's a nice pomegranate going on, with a deep/tart floral—I guess that's myrtle and/or melilot. I can smell the rose underneath, but it doesn't overwhelm me the way a lot of rose scents do. It's one of those very deep, nicely blended scents Beth does where you can't really pick the individual notes out. Actually, you know what? I think that, with the pomegranate and the rose, this is what I wanted Persephone to smell like.
(The forum people say it smells "pastel." It smells like a fluid deep red-pink to me, for some reason.)
Swank (Bewitching Brews): Simply cool, the essence of Lounge: the scent of a crisp pomegranate martini.
Mmm, pomegranate martini. I can’t explain it any better than that; it smells exactly as advertised. Except that I do think it’s a gin martini (the slight juniper smell) rather than vodka. The first thing I thought after I put it on was, “The Lovely Emily is going to LOVE this.” Top ten; I want a bottle.
Veil (Bewitching Brews): A quiet scent, soft, calm and enigmatic. A perfume of mystery, of whispers, and of secrets behind secrets. White sandalwood, lilac, gardenia, violet, orris, lavender and ylang ylang.
This blend is like my frickin’ nemesis. It was my first freebie from Beth, and I wanted to like it—come on, that’s a great description from the lab. So I get it, and I discover that there’s something in this that’s just ow. I know that I have lavender issues, but it might also be the violet. Or the orris. All I know is, it hurts my nose. So the next person kind enough to send me a freebie? It's Veil. Veil is twirling its floral mustache at me. I shake my fist at you, Veil!
Zephyr (Bewitching Brews): A gentle white scent, breezes laced with the scent of springtime blooms and citrus. Lemon, lemon verbena, neroli, white musk, white florals, white sandalwood, China musk, bergamot and a drop of vanilla.
I can’t remember if I just sniffed it on the wand or did a quick swipe, but I don’t really consider this one tested. “Citrus musk” was what I got, though. And it was a very yellow-gold scent, thank you very much. I have a suspicion that it would play better in winter, when you feel like a citrus pick-me-up, with the musk to ground it. In the summer, the musk seems… superfluous? Unshowered? I don’t know. (ETA: The musk calmed down and it was a lot more wearable in the drydown stage for me.)
Dracul (Diabolus): Named in honor of Vlad III, Tepes, of the Order of the Dragon. Black musk, tobacco, fir, balsam of peru, cumin, bitter clove, crushed mint, and orange blossom.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to wear this one. I knew it. But if you know me, you know that I’m a huge Dracula fangirl—I mean, I draw the line at bobbleheads and Pez dispensers, but I’m all over pretty much anything else. I haven’t tested this one very thoroughly, but I’ve tried several times, and what I mostly get is “Ow.” I’m trying it again with a good dose of unscented Lubriderm lotion, and… it’s a sharp, piney smell that’s kind of like Belladonna but somehow… not “spicier,” exactly, but pungent in a different way. I think that’s the tobacco. Supposedly there’s mint and orange blossom in here, but I haven’t been able to wear it long enough to get that.
Kumiho (Diabolus): Nine-tailed fox demon of Korean lore who transforms into the visage of an irresistible beauty in order to seduce men and lead them to their doom. A sharp, biting blend of crisp white tea and ginger.
I want to like Kumiho, and I don’t dislike it, but… it’s just sort of nondescript to me. It’s a very clean, light, white tea and ginger/lemon scent. Yay…? I find myself wanting something sweeter or spicier in there—some kind of fruit or flower, maybe, but that’s my bias. I’m going to keep it because I think it’d be a very good scent for an occasion where you want to make a good, professional and/or mature impression, or you need to clear your head. I have a feeling I’m going to end up finding something sweeter to layer over it.
Persephone (Excolo): Beautiful, radiant daughter of Demeter... her loveliness was so exquisite that even Hell itself could not resist her. Pomegranate and rose.
Here’s what I discovered: I like roses, but I don't want to smell like one. They’re way too soft and bland and yet manage to take over, and I smell like one of my grandmother's soaps. (Your mileage may vary, obviously.) However, if you don't like rose, Persephone is still pretty good because it's got all the pomegranate. It was all roses on me the first time, but after my chemistry had calmed down, it was much more balanced and wearable for me. I'm going to try Blood Rose as well, because I do like rose as one note among many.
Queen Mab (Excolo): Warrior, Trickster and Goddess of Magic and Poets, she is one of the Tuatha De Danaan and the Queen of the Faeries. A very complex scent, both shadowy and fierce: black orchid, sandalwood, night-blooming jasmine, osmanthus, Somalian rose, and Chinese musk.
All jasmine on me, except for a note that bothers my nose if I sniff my wrists too much. I think it’s orchid. I really like it with Siren layered over it, though. I’d heard so much about it that I was almost sure it’d be a bottle purchase, and then I found myself not liking it so much. Damn orchid.
Thalia (Excolo): Plumeria, pear and white champagne.
OW! I opened the imp and nearly passed out. Within three minutes of putting it on, I wanted it off: plumeria (a very sweet tropical flower, if you’re not familiar with it) really, really doesn't like me. It comes off extremely shrill and overpowering on me and almost created this feeling of hysteria, which, as I was already frustrated at the time, was not good. I’m wondering if I could layer this with something mellower, like O or Tamora, or at the very least, a hit of lotion.
Oberon (Illyria): Orchid, white musk, and bergamot wafting over juniper berries, with a gentle touch of soft, earthy patchouli.
Oberon's got musk (sigh) and in the bottle, smells like a lovely soapy man. Which is great, but... I'm neither 1) soapy nor 2) a man. After a full test, it smells a lot like soap and/or strong aftershave. It’s nice, just… not on me. Also, it’s official: Orchid doesn’t like me. Son of a bitch.
Tamora (Illyria): Amber, heliotrope, golden sandalwood, peach blossom and vanilla bean.
This was the second or third that I tried, and the first one that made me go, “BOTTLE OMG!” You can barely separate the notes, but it’s mostly a rich creamy peach with the other notes supporting and diffusing it; very warm and positive and happy. I like to wear it while I'm writing. It also blends really well with Siren.
Titania (Illyria): From the Illyria collection: A nocturnal bounty of fae dew-kissed petals and pale fruits: white grape, white peach, iced pear, musk rose, sweet pea, moonflower and snapdragon.
White fruits and flowers on a pale blue night. I loved Titania until I SPILLED ALL OF THE SAMPLE, WOE. (*weeps*) Oddly, my first impression was, “Ew, cantaloupe.” (Watermelon is just about the only melon I like.) There’s no cantaloupe in the blend (that I know of), is the weird thing. A week or so later, it smelled much better, and the fruits had settled down on me. Very nice.
Snow White (Limited Edition; secondhand decant): A chilly, bright perfume: flurries of virgin snow, crisp winter wind and the faintest breath of night-blooming flowers.
My first impression on the wand was that it smelled like cake. Angel food cake, to be precise. Mmmcake. I put it on while I was writing up my Dear Beth, Please Bring This Blend Back petition, and then… I realized that the scent was just sitting there. Just… stale angel food cake. I'm not getting any of the florals people were talking about—“ A chilly, bright perfume: flurries of virgin snow, crisp winter wind and the faintest breath of night-blooming flowers”? Uh-uh. I don’t know if I just got a weird/old/stale blend—it was a secondhand decant, after all—or if my chemistry is completely hinky, but… unless it just drastically changes the next time I wear it, I ain’t gonna cry about its discontinuation. ETA: I’ve retested this imp twice. Stale cake, I’m telling you.
Jezebel (Love Potions): Biblical witch, priestess of Astarte, and general troublemaker. A true role model for today's upwardly mobile Modern Woman. A gloriously decadent blend of honey, roses, orange blossom and sandalwood.
Weird chemistry week: SANDALWOOD!! Yikes. I like sandalwood incense, but I don’t know that I want to go around smelling like just sandalwood. A week or two later, the roses and orange blossom did finally come out to play a little bit—the roses more than the orange. It’s nice, but it’s not an everyday kind of scent for me. Makes me very sleepy, actually—that, and ain’t nobody want to be “upwardly mobile” when they’re wearing this, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.
Lolita (Love Potions): Bright, sweet and youthful, but swelling with a poisonous sexuality. Glittering heliotrope, honeysuckle, orange blossom and lemon verbena.
Wet: sharp, cheap, spicy orange candy, then a faint whiff of bubblegum. Kind of unpleasant. Give it a few moments—it mellows out into this fruity-candy-bubblegummy scent that’s really yum, and the longer you wear it (or at least, when I wear it), the mellower it gets. Lotus isn’t listed as one of the primary ingredients, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s in there; I think that’s the note I like so much in Glitter. (Hmm. Well, they do both have heliotrope, maybe that’s it.) It’s like a spicier, orangier version of Glitter, really, and I love them both.
Siren (Love Potions): Bewitching, tantalizing and dangerously seductive. A thrilling, exotic blend -- deceptively sweet, but spiked with malice. White ginger, jasmine, and a touch of vanilla and apricot.
Weird chemistry week: GINGER!! I thought, this is nice, but… yikes. I layered it over Tamora and it was great. But still… GINGER!! A week or so later? I’m not getting that nice hit of ginger that I’d started to look forward to at all—it’s a very mellow blend of jasmine and vanilla and apricot, YUM. Siren and Tamora are totally battling it out for #1 Crush right now, and I don’t know who’s going to win.
Alice (Mad Tea Party): Curiouser and curiouser. Milk and honey with rose, carnation and bergamot.
On the wand, it smelled like icing sugar. Uh oh. Once I put it on, it was a while before I was able to wrap my nose around it—my first impression was, “Wedding mints?” Then, after going back and reading some of the reviews, I realized I was smelling something almost cinnamony—the carnation, I think, and the bergamot on top of that may have been giving it a "minty" tone. I can't smell the roses (which is good) and I can't pick out the milk or honey at all, but I think together they're providing a nice, soft base for the blend that's almost powdery. Really yummy, but not very strong on me—I'm going to have to buy a bottle just to have enough to put on. It’s in my top ten, if not top five, at the moment.
Dorian (Sin & Salvation): Dorian: The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself. Inspired by and created for my beloved Tedwin: my eternal, beautiful, wicked Dorian Gray. [This is Beth the Lab Goddess speaking, obviously.] Refined, elegant, and lovely, with a noble bearing and seemingly gentle air. This blend is an artful deception: a sweet gilded blossom lying over a twisted and corrupted core. A Victorian fougere with three pale musks and dark, sugared vanilla tea.
If this didn’t have musk in it, I would want to smell like Dorian all the time. As it is, I’m trying to use Dorian to train my nose to like lighter musks. Basically? Lemony tea, then vanilla sugar, then the musks come out.
My initial comments on a board when it arrived:
“Hey! I just got two imps in the mail that I don't even remember ordering! (God, I feel like an alcoholic who doesn't remember what she did last night.) And guess what! It's Dorian!” [Dorian, I should add, is infamous because of a particular review on the forums.]Later:
”Okay, you guys? Two things:
1. Dorian is yummy, and smells like vanilla tea with maybe a drop of lemon underneath if you sniff real hard. (You have to look really hard for the lemon, and I don't know that I would have found it if I didn't know to look for it. It disappeared after the first couple minutes.) I want to smell like Dorian all the time. Since I forgot I ordered this one, I'm now going to have two imps of it, and I don't even mind.
2. It doesn't smell like Victorian sex. Or sex at all, really--not on me, anyway. I don't know where that reviewer got that from, but I'm inclined to think she crazy, unless it just takes a while for the musks to come out to play or something.
ETA: Okay. Now it smells like sex.”
“Honestly, it's not even that it smells like "sex"; it was more that I figured out what other people meant by that. The site description mentions "three pale musks"--after the vanilla cools off a little, it basically smells like you have your head on the shoulder of a guy who smells very, very good. Like, very close to his neck. If people are then extrapolating that into "and he was Victorian, and then there was sex," you know, hey, more power to them. And it's very possible that--well, my body chemistry is such at the moment that things that screamed sandalwood or ginger on me two weeks ago are very floral now. Maybe at a different point, the sex would come out (even) more.”
Actually, since then, the musk has calmed down a lot, and I really smell the lemon when I first put it on now (and even a bit of lavender underneath). Now that my nose is acclimated to it, it's very wearable for me now, and one of my favorites.
Water of Notre Dame (Voodoo Blends): Brings peace to the spirit, a sense of calm and fulfillment, and attracts the aid of beneficial spirits.
I wanted to like this, man. “Brings peace to the spirit, a sense of calm and fulfillment, and attracts the aid of beneficial spirits.” I wanted that. I put it on and… it was kind of a sallow, watery yellow-green smell. Someone compared it to freshly-mowed grass, except that I like that smell, so I don’t know what the hell this is. I have got to find something to layer with this, because I was too busy going “Ew!” to get any aromatherapeutic benefit from it.
ETA: I came home from a night of more drinking than usual (read: "any drinking") with a headache and immediately slathered myself in this just to see. Within fifteen minutes, without benefit of Advil or Tylenol or anything, the headache had eased up. I woke up feeling perfectly all right in the morning.
Wolf’s Heart (Voodoo Blends): Grants courage under extreme conditions, helps overcome fear of death, and strengthens the fortitude of artists and businessmen, enabling them to further their goals.
I liked this one a lot better. I think this has dragon’s blood resin in it, which would be the slightly fruity note, but it seems to have a lot of clove in it as well—I think. Again, very untrained nose. But the blend itself has a very warm, rough, tactile sense to it—you can feel it in the back of your throat when you smell it.
Neo-Tokyo (Wanderlust): A scent that captures a meeting of the serenity and elegance of ancient Japan, the vibrant, shining, neon-lit and ultra-modern splendor of today's Tokyo and the fantastic electric fantasyland of post-modern manga fantasy. Urban metallics and an ozone-tinged breath of electric light mingled with reedy bamboo, crisp mountain air, cherry blossoms, delicate orchid and a splash of playful, wet fruits.
This was one of the first scents recommended to me, and is one of the main reasons I ordered from BPAL at all, so… I was shocked when I didn’t like it. It just smelled sort of blurry to me—I can’t really pick out any notes, and I don’t really like what I can smell. This is one of those blends that I just refuse to give up on, though, so I try it again every other week or so. (Hey, wait a minute… the descriptions says there’s ORCHID IN THIS, DOESN’T IT? DAMN YOU, ORCHID!)
Vinland (Wanderlust): The legendary site of the Viking colony in Newfoundland founded circa 985 BC. Crisp northern wind blowing over loganberry, wild roses, prairie crocus, iris versicolor Linné, mountain avens, yellow birch bark, mayflower and maple leaf.
Y’all, the Wanderlust group is breaking my heart. I wanted to love this one so much based on the description, and… again, it’s just sort of blurry and unpleasant on me. But there’s no orchid, no violet, no lavender… I have no idea what the problem is. I diluted it out with some unscented lotion (scientific process: dab oil on skin and… rub a bunch of lotion over it), and that made it bearable. And… vague. Sigh. Maybe it’s the loganberry.
So, for my chemistry:
Bottleworthy: Alice, Glitter, Lolita, Siren, Swank, Tamora, Titania, Dorian.
Good on a guy: Dorian, Dracul, Oberon, Vinland, Wolf’s Heart, possibly Zephyr and Kumiho.
Surprises: Discovered that I like lotus, pear, ginger, pomegranate, carnation, amber, and, I think, heliotrope. And if that’s dragon’s blood in Wolf’s Heart, well, I liked that too. Seriously, I didn’t expect to like any of those notes as much as I did. Like, I am now actively searching out other blends with those notes, in addition to old standbys like vanilla, strawberry, gardenia, jasmine, cinnamon, peach/apricot, and just about any citrus fruit. Oh, and I’m still on my Proustian quest for an apple blossom (I think…?) blend that recaptures the scent of Hello Kitty. Too bad Beth’s discontinued the single notes section…
Biases: Don’t like roses as a top note; French lavender, plumeria, and orchid are on my shit list. Violet is on probation until I get a clearer whiff of it.
Also... yeah, I've come to find that I really, really don't like musk, and even when it isn't overwhelming on me, it still smells "wrong" to my nose--I think I associate it with "dirty" or "unshowered" or something. Which is weird, because it's not like I think that of other people wearing perfume with musk in it; I just don't like it on me. But Zephyr and Dorian are so nice that I'm trying to retrain my nose to get over that. This is why I can't bring myself to sell or swap things I don't like, because I'll end up putting one blend on while there's still a trace of something else, and I find out that two blends smell great together. Actually, I think it may just be Siren, because it smells awesome layered over both Tamora and Queen Mab, but then, they also have at least one ingredient in common (Siren and Mab have jasmine; Siren and Tamora have sandalwood and peach/apricot). I may not like Veil, but I refuse to believe there isn't something I can layer over it that will make me love it.
In the testing phases right now: Zombi, Bayou, Sacred Whore of Babylon, Mata Hari, Rosalind, Phantasm, Ouija, and Van Van. Keep an eye out for reviewlets of those later.