Niki de Saint Phalle

Niki de Saint PhalleI was sixteen when I saw the Stravinsky Fountain in Paris, and fell in love with Niki de Saint Phalle’s wonderful sculptures.
She released her perfume in 1982–as a way to fund her life-long Tarot Garden sculpture project–with a variety of illustrated bottles, including a zodiac series called Eau Defendue.

The eau de toilette opens with peaches and wormwood, and mint–that has just enough of a toothpaste-and-orange-juice dissonance to make one wake up and pay attention, not unlike the vibrant color-blocking of her sculptures–weird and bright, yet pretty.
Carnation and patchouli and some green-dyed-leather twists it around for several hours, and woodsy moss covers the skin for the rest of the day.

Jean Tanguely, Niki’s partner, insisted that moss be allowed to grow on the Centre Pompidou sculptures, as Nature’s contribution to the art–so it can’t be a coincidence that the perfume carries the same green notes.

For more about the artist and her Tarot Garden, check out this New Yorker article.

Igor Stravinsky (watch a video of him conducting here) was a huge influence on John Williams, as well as The Beastie Boys, who sampled The Firebird Suite in two of their songs from Hello Nasty.
I like to think Niki de Saint Phalle, whose artistic style included found materials and juxtaposed media in her feminist compositions, might have approved of this cover by Robyn Adele Anderson. (And the guy on the Theremin is awesome!)

Minuit Noir

LL licoriceSweet and evil.
Lolita Lempicka Minuit Noir will always be my witching hour perfume–my house reeks of it on Halloween.

Sugar spells and dark iris magic, wicked candy licorice and violet patchouli brew.
It’s nicely powdery, keeping the juice intriguing–fey dust rather than cloying syrup.

Lasts all Samhain and charms sleeves for days after.

Notes on Sea Buckthorn

Hippóphae wiki commonsSea buckthorn, — or argousier (French), sanddorn or havtorn (Swedish), olepiha (Russian) — is a thorny bush growing in the sandy soils on European coasts and across northwestern China and Mongolia. The leaves are sage green, and the berries bright orange.

sanddorn pieThe oil of the hippophae rhamnoides is gaining popularity as a cosmetic ingredient and the berries as a dietary “superfood,” packed with vitamins and nutrients. I first discovered sea buckthorn on the island of Öland, Sweden, when my father’s wife made a custard pie with berries harvested from her yard.

The fruit is pungent smelling, with an herbal spiciness of clementines and cardamom, and has the firmness of a cranberry, with a single seed in the center. The pulp is sour, with a waxy mouth-feel, and tastes like lemons, but without the citrus bite–more luscious, almost like passion fruit. Sugar brings out the flavor beautifully.

zarko cloudZarkoperfume’s wonderful Cloud Collection–with seaberry at its center, sweetened with jasmine and bolstered with wood and leather notes–shows off the creamy richness of the fruit.sea buckthorn and gooseberry

In contrast, Brocard’s Oblepiha i Kryzhovnik pairs the sandthorn with gooseberry, highlighting the astringent spice.

Sea-buckthorn can also be found flavoring herbal and black tea (compare Ahmad’s Sea Buckthorn Candies to Twinings’ Lady Grey) and in jams and jelly candy and–my favorite–licorice truffles.

A unique fruit I hope to taste and sniff more of in the future!

seaberry sanddorn oblepiha


squid zooIt’s blue! And weird and wet and marvelous.

Marine water and smoke out of the vial that darkens down to black fountain pen ink, dirtying up sea foam.
Algae blooms, delicate green, strangely organic and chemical at the same time, with big juicy sillage.
The ambergris rises to the surface an hour later, making it even wetter with ocean spray; benzoin sweetens it, turning it fresh again.

Six hours later and it’s still there, chaotic, never seeming to settle down to one depth; yet it’s oddly comforting and beautiful.

Gov’t Mule does a terrific jam cover of Jimi Hendrix’s 1983 (A Merman I Shall Be)–from Electric Ladyland–that goes deep under water around the 4:15 mark.

What Fragrance would that Fictional Character Wear?

(Scentbird asked me to write an article for them! The original post is over here.)

What Fragrance would that Fictional Character Wear?

Authors are always looking for inspiration—from real life, from TV shows, from other books. Many of us make chapter playlists or cast their book as a movie while writing. As a romance author, I often look to perfume or cologne for a deeper sense of my characters’ personality.

Scentbird’s samples are the perfect amount to write a few chapters in a new point-of-view. Here are some of my favorite romance archetypes—matched up to a scent that tells us more about them—from the Scentbird subscription catalogue:


Our Heroine, intelligent and curious, armed with lowered lashes and snappy comebacks. She keeps a Swiss Army knife in her fox-shaped purse, and laughs at the weather. She’s a Veronica Mars or Lucy from The Hating Game kind of girl.
TRULYjoyful by Kate Spade suits her perfectly, with orange zest and sweet peppercorns and candied ginger, warm and breezy and bright.


The Brooding Hero with a pedigree and money he tries to hide behind hard work, tough callouses yet soft underneath, hard spine and melting heart. He’s the Mr. Darcy type, or T’Challa from Black Panther.
He’d wear John Varvatos, leather polished with amber, sweetened with vanilla and balsam fir needles in the spring.


No good story is complete without a gorgeous World-wise Woman With Impeccable Style—à la Jada Pinkett Smith’s Rome from Magic Mike XXL—who offers our hero stinging advice and smirks when he blushes.

Bright Crystal by Versace has that kind of elegance, peonies and pearls and a high slit skirt, tea served in a lotus garden.


The Quirky Underestimated Sidekick who cleans up nice out of the lab coat and saves the day with science—Sherlock’s Molly Hooper, or James Bond’s Q.

I am Trash by Etat Libre d’Orange is that clever, taking the peels left behind and turning them into an elixir of apples—pink blossoms, ripe fruit and woody stems.


The Sympathetic Bartender, the one who listens too close—breath brushing your skin—but you don’t move away. They could be the villain, but we won’t know until the end. Starring David Bowie, or Ruby Rose.
Juliette has a gun’s Moscow Mule is their signature cocktail: a double twist of lime over ginger ale and crushed ice, slid across a hardwood bar with a wink.


The Little Sister who causes trouble everywhere she goes—sometimes even on purpose—wears vintage silk skirts and glitter dust on her cheeks. She’s a grown up Luna Lovegood, a bohemian Alice Cullen from Twilight.

Get A Room by Confessions of a Rebel, with its lemon cream candy pillow-talk vibe, matches her flirtatious nature.


Our hero has a brief rival, the Unassuming Nice Guy, who steps in with a joke and a sweet crooked smile. (In our screenplay, we write the part with John Cho in mind.) His eyes whisper promises, but he doesn’t voice them.
He wears Versace’s Eros, cool spearmint and bright ambroxan, sweetened with tonka and spiked with vetiver, but he leaves lonely, until the third story in the series.

What perfume or cologne would your favorite characters wear?
And if only we could scent the pages!


Minotaure edgesDavid Bowie wore Minotaure.
So of course I had to know what the Goblin King smelled like.

Paloma Picasso’s only masculine opens with a sharp and spicy fizzy lime pop, then eases into fruit candy–the fancy jelly slices with sugared edges. The sweetness turns floral, then herbal, bubblegum slowly drying down to brooding cedar.
Sandalwood talc and vanilla tonka powder settle above the skin, shimmering all night long, both comforting and seductive, sexy Stardust indeed.
Fades into the collar and cuffs with androgynous amber, and leaves songs stuck in your head–You remind me of the babe–for days.

My favorite Bowie song is still China Girl.


Sadanne edgyTipsy strawberries and seawater, roses and a tangled forest.
Projects like spilled wine and soaks clothes for weeks.

Several years ago I wrote a novella set on Öland, an island off the coast of Sweden. My two young lovers celebrate midsummer eating strawberries and getting drunk, and if the pages could be scented, they’d smell like Sådanne.

Salty sand and boozy sweet fruit, so sun-ripe it’s alcoholic, eaten in the shadows of the sea-wind twisted trees on the shore.
I adore it.


MistigriThe fashion illustrator René Gruau’s 1953 advertisement for Jacques Griffe’s Mistigri is much more famous than the perfume ever was, but I’ve always been curious about the scent.

I finally managed to score a 70-year-old vintage mini, the little box (made to look like a deck of cards–the mistigri is the Jack of Clubs,  as well as the trickster cat–still intact. The bottle even had the string on the cap, though it fell apart as soon as I opened the stopper.
A dried up drop was left, a flake of amber brown in the corner of the bottle that smelled like every fusty antique store and estate sale.
–until I rinsed it out, and the warm water brought a green chypre to life, resinous and floral. Some sharp pepper and flirty cloves were mixed in there too.
An hour later the room smells faintly of cedar and the soapy-sweetness of Chanel No. 5, in a trousseau chest with a secret kind-of-way.

So Mistigri was a nice scent, though nothing amazing. But the cat drawing on the box? I want a poster of that on my wall.

My favorite Catwoman, Eartha Kitt released C’est Si Bon in 1953.


ByredoI was determined to visit Byredo while seeing my family in Sweden this year.

Niche perfumery from Stockholm with an Indian influence and a simple streamlined aesthetic? Ja, tack–yes, please!

We looked the address up online, and I was excited to discover the store was on Mäster Samuelsgatan street, across from Happy Socks–though my dad made faces when I mentioned the funky footwear shop. My brother and I had trouble getting there–he led me all over streets at odd angles with amazing names–but just when we were about to give up, we found the flagship perfume shop.

Pulp - ByredoThe store was a little crystal cave. I’m not sure what I was expecting–something bigger, perhaps, or that the founder Ben Gorham, actually would be there, and I could ask him the odd questions that people side-eye until you tell them you’re a writer–but the saleswomen were supermodel gorgeous, and my dress was faded and my shoes scuffed, and I was too intimidated to ask anything of them.

I sniffed Flowerhead, a fresh floral; the new sweet autumn Eleventh Hour; and bought the fig grenade Pulp–my birthday treat to myself–and they gave me a sample of Bal d’Afrique, too.
Each of the Byredo frags have only a few simple notes–a designer trademark–but they come together to create oddly complicated and evocative scents. A lot of fun for an amateur frag-head like me.

We left in a hurry to meet Dad for dinner, no time to shop anywhere else. They gave me Happy Socks for my birthday.

happy socks