It is the nature of the endeavor when two creative minds create as one, I want to try and figure out who did what. I remember doing this when two of my favorite horror authors, Stephen King and Peter Straub, wrote “The Talisman” in 1984. It is a fool’s errand. It sets one off in a direction of searching for trees instead of seeing the glory of the forest. If two collaborators truly succeed there will be something different than from either one alone. It is how I have finally begun to experience the perfumes made by independent perfumers Alexis Karl and Maria McElroy for their shared brand House of Cherry Bomb.
Maria McElroy (l.) and Alexis Karl
Both women working together has such distinct aesthetics when making their own perfumes it always makes me smile to find a third different one while working together. It is particularly true in the Atelier Perfume collection. The previous six releases are each memorable combinations of titular notes; Tobacco Cognac and Cardamom Rose are my favorites. They have now added a seventh to the group; House of Cherry Bomb Iris Oud.
Iris and oud are two of the most variable perfume ingredients you can use. Iris can have the delicate powdery face or the doughy rooty version. Oud covers the gamut from exotic to barnyard. In many ways a combination of both seems like a perfume Tinder date destined to go bad. Except in the hands of smart perfumers who look for the opportunities for harmony in contrast. Then you get a perfume like Iris Oud.
The perfume opens with iris showing off its powdery nature. Violet is used to keep it from becoming too much a powderpuff. A smart use of jasmine turns the powder towards the rootier quality. Then the oud arrives. This isn’t just pure oud; it is an accord which contains oud. The distinction is the perfumers can tame the more obstreperous qualities to create the effect they want. In this case they use a selection of darker materials to provide guardrails, so the oud comes off as a fascinating visitor. This ends on a honeycomb of beeswax adding subtle animalic sweetness. There is also an array of balsamic notes to create an enveloping warmth for the iris and oud accord.
Iris Oud has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Ms. Karl and Ms. McElroy have once again found a new synergy in their creativity. It allows them to find the same in two ingredients like iris and oud.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by House of Cherry Bomb.
Ever since we moved to the greater Washington DC area I have been surprised at how much politics is woven into the fabric of the region. Even out in Poodlesville which is 18 miles from the front gate of the White House the feel of living in the Nation’s Capital is different from everyplace else I’ve lived. Over the last seven years there have been moments where the voice of protest has been raised up. To see the numbers of people who gather on the Mall to speak up about their issue almost every month is something which makes me happy to be an American where this takes place. It is the essence of being a vital Democracy; the opportunity to step up and speak up. Independent perfume brand House of Cherry Bomb has decided to add scent up to that with the release of Pussy and Resist. Perfumers Alexis Karl and Maria McElroy have composed what they call “Revolution Perfume” as they capture the idea of this current generation of protest.
Maria McElroy (on steps) and Alexis Karl
On January 21, 2017 the world became acquainted with the pink knitted cap known as a “pussy hat” as millions of women worldwide stepped up and made their voices heard. Pussy is a perfume meant to capture that sense of women’s advocacy. The perfumers choose to display that by using a deep floral accord clenched in a leather fist.
Tuberose comes right to the foreground as fig and honey accentuate this forceful floral. The leather accord comes forward and wraps itself around the tuberose. Encasing it in an animalic frame. The animalic part intensifies over the final stages with amber and musk abetting that.
Resist is an homage to the last fifty-plus years of active non-violent protest in the US. Every march has taken place on the streets. The smell of the urban landscape is what the perfumers capture by using sets of accords meant to capture pieces of that.
Resist opens with a duet of metal and cement; a true cityscape in scent. This is marching among tall buildings hearing your voices amplified against the facades. This scent then shifts to a small hopeful jasmine before the march becomes more active as smoke and oud show resistance does not mean unopposed.
Pussy and Resist have 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Of the two perfumes Resist works best for me as both statement and as a perfume. The smell of the streets is nicely captured which is where most resistance takes place.
If you’re interested in adding “scent up” to those moments you want to stand up and speak up these two perfumes might be the right choice.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by House of Cherry Bomb.
Back in October 2011 fellow blogger, Lucy Raubertas, of Indieperfumes, put together a group project of writers and perfumers called the Clarimonde Project. It was an ambitious undertaking which produced excellent synergies as the artists all worked off the inspiration provided by the short story Clarimonde by Theophile Gautier. Over a month or so everyone involved provided inspired work. This was a group project which worked.
I had never heard of the story prior to the project but through it I would download it and read it. It is the tale of a young priest Romuald who is struck by a coupe de foudre on the day he is to be ordained. The woman responsible for it is Clarimonde. Hewing to his obligation to the church he gives up his chance at love. One night he is taken to a castle to give last rites to Clarimonde only to have her revive for a moment causing him to faint. Days later she appears to Romuald in his cell reawakened as a vampire. They run off to Venice together where she feeds on Romuald while sharing the pleasures of the flesh. One of the other priests eventually forces Romuald to watch as he pours holy water over Clarimonde in her mausoleum causing her to turn to dust. Romuald’s final words are to never lay eyes on a woman or this fate will be yours.
Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl (r.)
As you can see it is a rich source material for a creative to work from. One of the perfumes which came from the original run was House of Cherry Bomb Immortal Mine. Perfumers Alexis Karl and Maria McElroy wanted Immortal Mine to capture those Venetian nights as the physically sated Romuald would drift off to sleep while Clarimonde would feed on one drop of his blood. Immortal Mine was a rich amber and oud matched with sweet tobacco all stuck in a beeswax matrix. The amber and oud that were used were memorable enough that when I visited with Ms. Karl and Ms. McElroy, a year ago, we had a conversation about them.
Ms. Karl and Ms. McElroy return to Clarimonde’s world to capture the moment when she died her human death only to be reborn a vampire in Immortal Mine II. For this version, many of the same ingredients remain but they are sourced from different places to complete the transition from the Clarimonde that was to the Clarimonde that has risen.
Immortal Mine II opens on tobacco flower a lot of it. This is the continuation of Immortal Mine which ended with tobacco. Immortal Mine opens with the tobacco flower which is the same but not the same just as Clarimonde in her new form is. Then we get two fantastic nods to the living dead as a desiccated henna and the funeral flower of choice lily add a sense of the cemetary. This is a fabulous piece of interpretation that I enjoyed very much. The base accord is like the tobacco flower as the recapitulation of the amber and oud ensnared in beeswax from Immortal Mine. Except in Immortal Mine II they are a mix of vintage ouds and fossilized ambers. I smelled a couple of these raw materials on that year ago visit; the fossilized amber is amazing by itself. Here the perfumers have allowed it to provide the power of the ages to Clarimonde.
Immortal Mine II in the Eau de Parfum concentration has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
There are two concentrations to Immortal Mine II Eau de Parfum and Oil. I chose the EDP to review because it was more expansive imparting more of a supernatural feel to it all. The oil wears much closer to the skin for a few hours longer.
I am not sure what Ms. Raubertas’ intentions are with the future of the Clarimonde Project but she should be very proud that it continues to inspire five years later. With Immortal Mine II Ms. Karl and Ms. McElroy finish their examination of Clarimonde with style. Maybe poor besotted Romuald needs to be next?
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by House of Cherry Bomb.
There is another thing I’ve noticed about many of the most successful independent perfumers; they have a primary source of inspiration. That inspiration is as varied as the styles I find in this sector of perfumery. For Alexis Karl it is poetry.
I spent some real time with her on the day before last May’s Sniffapalooza Spring Fling talking about her way of making perfume. As we talked I could tell Ms. Karl loves the power of words. The way they sound as we speak them. The meanings they have both obvious and subliminal. The way they can form an intimate connection. She even has a perfume she will only let you smell if you pay the price of supplying her a piece of poetry. Her perfume brand, Scent by Alexis, represents the ongoing composition of a poem. With The Harmony of Being we have reached the third line. Here is what exists to date:
"A body made luminous,
a body secret, sacred, cyphered,
you are the harmony of being…"
The new perfume is that attempt to achieve harmony by just being. Ms. Karl has composed a fragrance of balance between light and dark. The constant necessity to find a point of balance between those is represented throughout the development of The Harmony of Being.
Ms. Karl starts off with the light of delicate florals as lilac and neroli combine with petitgrain sur fleur to form a shimmering opening. Shadows begin to arise as rose deepens the floralcy. A high concentration of muguet is a bit greener than I normally find which makes it more shaded into a deeper verdancy. The base is constructed on a matrix of beeswax into which Ms. Karl embeds labdanum, coffee flower, and ambergris. The final note and the true keynote for this perfume is black agarwood. This is another example of an ingredient only an independent perfumer can use because it can’t be sourced in massive quantities. This black agarwood has this fabulous amount of nuance which makes it sing in both light and shadow. There is a hint of a floral quality. There is an aged quality as if this was excavated from a tree as old as time. There is more than a little bit of a cocoa feel to this. The black agarwood does kind of cast the final shadow but it also has points of light so the dark contains the harmonizing qualities Ms. Karl is shooting for.
The Harmony of Being has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Ms. Karl has been steadily developing her perfumes, much as the poem they are based on is doing the same. With The Harmony of Being I feel like she really has composed her most assured perfume to date. There is a cognizant intelligence at play underneath it all. That is what truly makes The Harmony of Being represent the weight of words in all their myriad forms.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Scent by Alexis.
The Brooklyn section known as DUMBO (Down Under The Manhattan Bridge Overpass) has become a vibrant creative nexus in Brooklyn. There have been a couple of perfumers who have gotten their start in this section. Maria McElroy of Aroma M perfumes and Alexis Karl of Scent by Alexis work on their own creations in their ateliers in Brooklyn. What has come to be special is when Ms. McElroy and Ms. Karl decide to collaborate for their shared brand House of Cherry Bomb. While their first two releases Truth or Dare and Rebel Angel were constructed for a different perfumista than I there was a great energy in those compositions. Last year’s Cardamom Rose and Tobacco Cognac were very much constructed for a perfumista like me. That energy I detected in the first two fragrances was even more assured here. It seemed like Ms. McElroy and Ms. Karl had really found a collaborative harmonic from which more perfumes would come. That next perfume has come and it is called House of Cherry Bomb Pink Haze.
Pink Haze is part of The PLP Project. PLP stands for the Facebook perfume group Peace-Love-Perfume started by Carlos J Powell, also known as YouTube reviewer Brooklyn Fragrance Lover, three years ago. For this third anniversary Mr. Powell has reached out to the perfumers who are part of the community to help celebrate by making perfumes in celebration of PLP. Pink Haze is more about Brooklyn than the Facebook group but that seems right as that is where Mr. Powell calls home, too. On the House of Cherry Bomb website Pink Haze is described as “the scent of tree lined Brooklyn streets, of stone buildings, both old and new, and of the hot metal of subway cars.” Pink Haze is the smell of midsummer twilight in DUMBO as the sun hits the horizon. The stone of the bridge and the smell of the sun charged aluminum on the side of the subway train roaring past all the while the summer flowers release their natural fragrance into the cooling air. Pink Haze paints a perfect Brooklyn still life on a summer evening.
Maria McElroy (l.) and Alexis Karl
Pink Haze opens underneath the Manhattan Bridge as the smell of the stone is juxtaposed with the smell of hot aluminum. Ms. McElroy and Ms. Karl have created an authentic city accord as the stone has the feel of seeing the heat shimmer in waves off of it. The same holds true for the hot aluminum which also feels like it is radiating its scent in heated pulses off of its surface. I was drawn in by this opening and I think it takes a city dweller to get this just right and the Brooklynites nail this. As the stone and aluminum cools in the night the florals begin to come out and on this street lilac, muguet, and gardenia are what is growing. The muguet leads the way and the lilac and gardenia come a bit later. The strength of these are kept well-modulated and that help keeps Pink Haze more true to its name. A bit of cedar provides the base note for the end of Pink Haze.
Pink Haze has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
Pink Haze is the best perfume by House of Cherry Bomb to date. I think that is because this was a very personal project. Not only to evoke the place where they create but to also celebrate the online place where they congregate. Taken all together Pink Haze is a celebration of Peace-Love-Perfume and Brooklyn.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Carlos J Powell.
Editor’s Note: For more information on all of the perfumes that are part of The PLP Project check out the Facebook link here.