Writing about perfume is an art in itself, and I am a complete novice in this growing trend in the blogosphere. But I’ve long wanted to devote a post to one of my favorite perfumers, Kedra Hart of Opus Oils in Hollywood, CA. It certainly helped that Opus Oils opened their “Jitterbug Perfume Parlor” a few scant blocks from my Los Feliz apartment when I was living in Los Angeles. I had the leisure to just drop in any old time and party with Kedra and international superstar, Tiger Powers, in their lovely salon decked out like a New Orleans bordello.
My first Opus Oils love was Absinthia, an enchanting ode to the green fairy in a bottle, making prominent use of bitter Wormwood. Absinthia’s feminine, ethereal bouquet sets off the astringency of herbal Wormwood, and the version I bought for my husband, Absinthio, is just as packed with Artemisia absinthium but it’s strong enough for a man – literally. There’s something more of woods and smoke in the His version, while the light and powdery Hers version whisks you away with whispering Wisteria.
I also have to heap praise on lovely Isis, a fragrance in Kedra’s “Divine Collection” at Opus Oils, which I think any Egyptian priestess would do well to discover. With notes like Frankincense, Myrrh, Blue Lotus, White Water Lily, and Jasmine, Isis transports you straight to the Nile. Its aquatic florals give off a lacustrine luminescence that is softly supported by base notes of ancient resins. Kedra gave me the opportunity to smell some of her Lotus and Water Lily absolutes at the salon, which have a wonderfully fluvial-alluvial pungency that is lacking in synthetic lotus notes. Blue Lotus – according to elusive perfume writer, John Steele – is also a mild narcotic and may have been used to induce mind-altering states in ancient Egyptian rites.
I’m realizing that I could single out a number of Opus Oils
fragrances that I’ve loved over the years, and that this would lead me away
from my main point – my belated review of their 2012 release, Strawberry
Passion, put out by Monica Miller of Perfume Pharmer and Skye Botanicals. But I just have to discourse a bit on
Vampyre of the collection, “Are you afraid of the dark?” Vampyre is a very special scent;
according to Kedra, it has over a hundred different ingredients, not all of
which are going to appear in the product’s official description,
naturally. Though I consider
myself a “white light” or positive polarity magician, I was immediately drawn
to Vampyre as a ritual oil. For
me, the heady combination of Saffron (which I’ve described as a solar oil in a
previous post) and Honey evoke both the ancient world and the power of the Sun
– Kedra’s cheeky inclusion of the Vampyre’s poison in his namesake
formula! Classic Rose rounds out
this blend, giving it a heart feel (again – note Kedra’s perfumed puns), while
Cedarwood and Black Agar suggest ancient woods, i.e., the Vampyre’s
coffin. Agar, also known as
Aloeswood and Oud, is a particularly interesting note, as it gives off the odor
of great age and decay. But
there’s far more than kitsch at work in Vampyre – it’s a sophisticated, complex
oil unlike anything I’ve ever smelled before, and I find it to be especially
appropriate for drawing the ancient gods.
And now for something completely different: the sinfully scintillating Strawberry Passion! This collaboration between Kedra of Opus Oils and Monica of Skye Botanicals originated with Monica’s desire to incorporate the essence of strawberry into a bespoke perfume. Monica created a flower essence (click here for more info) out of the strawberry flowers growing on her property. Flower essences have no scent of their own, but are imbued with the life energy and thus the healing properties of the flower they are taken from. Getting a perfume to actually smell like a strawberry is a bit trickier. Have you ever smelled a strawberry? More likely you remember the taste of an organic strawberry, and the Platonic ideal of strawberry in your head conjures up the long, hot, languorous days of summer and the tang of a fruit that is both tart and sweet. Most of us have also consumed strawberries with sugar: perhaps with cream, perhaps as a jam, perhaps as a sweet sauce for our waffles or pancakes.
If you’re a woman who’s come of age in Western culture, you already have firsthand experience of things that are supposed to smell like strawberry, not smelling like strawberry. You bought that hot pink plastic tube of chapstick with a glittery strawberry on it when you were ten, and came away from that purchase a little disappointed. Your first boyfriend gifted you with a tub of strawberry bubble bath, and the synthetic harshness of the fragrance made you a little sick. If you happen to find a candy that actually does a good imitation of a strawberry, you might enjoy consuming it, but I bet you also have the intuitive knowledge that “this flavor can’t be natural.” And you’d be right.
What makes Strawberry Passion Perfume so unusual is that it is natural – at least the Green version. The scent is available as both the more outdoorsy Green (think of gorging yourself on fresh strawberries on a summer afternoon), and the more cost-effective Cream, which includes some synthetic notes (strawberry married to its good friends, cream and sugar). Both are exquisite, and I admire both versions for different reasons. There are benefits to natural ingredients and benefits to synthetic ingredients, and the true perfumista is more concerned with the overall bouquet than with the source of all the notes. A basic rule of thumb is that an entirely synthetic composition tends to smell harsh, unrelenting, and flat, in that its notes are less likely to adapt to your personal body chemistry. Completely natural fragrances are more alive in their reaction to your individual body chemistry, but they also tend to be very dear price-wise, short-lived both in the bottle and on the skin, and they don’t often smell like what we typically think of as “perfume.” We’ve all been so influenced by the introduction of synthetic notes into perfume, beginning in the late nineteenth century, that we’ve lost many of the nuances of the ancient art of perfumery in pursuit of scents that are bigger, stronger, and longer-lasting.
I’m pleased to say that the natural perfumery movement, which has come into prominence in the last decade, has made great strides in improving both the quality and availability of natural perfumes. I also really want to honor both Kedra and Monica for their integrity, and willingness to state when a perfume is all natural and when it contains a synthetic ingredient. Perfume, unfortunately, is an industry which is rife with spin and flim-flam, and it takes courage and moral conviction to pull the curtain up on a very secretive profession. The fact remains that most of us – and that includes the world’s best noses – are going to favor perfumes which are a mix of both natural and synthetic ingredients. You can’t beat natural resins for base notes and true florals for mids, but a perfume with some synthetic additives has gone to finishing school. She tweaks your nose delicately with her top notes, and then flows gracefully into Acts II & III, never hitting a sour note in her performance and maintaining a tight control of her evanescence right on through the drydown.
Which is a long way of saying that I think most people would probably prefer the Cream version of Strawberry Passion! I won’t try and compete with all the stellar reviews that already exist, which are conveniently listed for you at the Skye Botanicals Etsy store. A lot of reviewers have compared this scent to a rich dessert or strawberries soaked in cream, but I don’t get that at all. It’s true that nummy Vanilla is filling out the base, but this perfume has all the freshness and warmth of berries without the tang, and none of the sour pungency of a real milk note. My husband said it made me smell like a slutty yet still high-class piece of candy, and that’s what we’re all going for, right ladies? Sultry Amber and soothing woods support this fragrance, and I think this cheesecake image which I nabbed from Skye Botanicals says it all. Imagine a woman with pale creamy skin flushed pink with passion, and you have the feeling-tone of this perfume. Strawberry Passion Cream is that rarest of things: a real sexy perfume that isn’t relying on raunchy animalics or masculine notes to send the message. Rather, this creamy girl is coquetting you with her not-quite-innocent kisses, showing the fruit of her ripe youth but leaving the glittery strawberry chapstick and bubble bath at home.
Now for the bad news. I don’t think Strawberry Passion smells like a strawberry, although it perfectly evokes what it is to consume and enjoy a strawberry. I’m sure the energetic pull of the Strawberry Flower Essence has a lot to do with the mood of the perfume, but to my mind, so does the subtle beauty of Boronia. As you’ve probably guessed by now if you didn’t know already, there’s no way to extract a natural strawberry scent directly from the fruit itself, and so natural perfumers must construct accords to mimic these elusive fruit notes. An accord is a blend of many notes so fashioned to smell like one note, as in an accord of apple or pear. Kedra’s berry accord is just gorgeous, but if you’re familiar with the effusive power of Boronia, you’ll notice that it’s pretty high in the mix. There’s just no mistaking that delicate, uplifting, (and painfully expensive) lemony-raspberry floral.
Now my husband’s choice was very clearly for the Cream, but if I was buying for myself I’d choose Green. I think this is really as good as natural perfumery gets, in that this blend smells like perfume, and a very memorable and complex one at that. Green carries all the sharp, citrusy bite that Cream lacks, but the heavy floral mix of Tuberose, Boronia, Rose, and White Water Lilly, embedded in a woodsy-earthy base, provides a piquant counter-balance to the riot of fruity top notes. And once again, the Boronia sings out clear as a bell, a plus for me because I think this natural absolute has potent aromatherapeutic qualities. To sum up then, Strawberry Passion Green gives Jo Malone a run for her money, and I recommend it as spring and summer wear for the daytime sophisticate. Cream is for pretending that you’re on your first sleepover date. Compare the notes of both “au naturel” GREEN and “mixed media” CREAM and choose for yourself!
You're probably wondering if this post has anything to do with astrology. Why yes, as a matter of fact, but I’m going to do the smart thing and put most of my astrology-aromatherapy exploration into a Part II. Strawberry Passion – both versions – put me into such a lovely state of mind that I gathered a whole new post’s worth of material on its singing heart note, Boronia. Boronia is new enough to perfumery that we know very little of its origins, lore, and ancient uses, and so I took a left turn away from Strawberry Passion in my research, into another world of Dreaming and aboriginal plants which is best saved for a subsequent post. But I’m placing Boronia under the rulership of the Queen of Heaven, Venus, because this fragrance is so uplifting for the mood and so desirable to lovers. The glyph for Venus, remember, resembles a hand-mirror, and Boronia inspires a self-love and contentment which is absolutely delicious. Look out for more on Boronia’s aromatherapeutic properties in an upcoming blog!
Be sure to pay a visit to kool kats Tiger and Kedra in their Hollywood salon, but if you’re looking for Strawberry Passion, go through Perfume Pharmer.