Luscious, Ascetic Labdanum and a New Favorite
Labdanum is one of those ingredients that you have to stand up and pay attention to. Not in the sense of slavishly attending to a diva, but in the sense of listening to Orson Welles’ soliloquies in Shakespeare; nothing else can be heard, just that voice. Labdanum is so rich, so complex, and so very unique, it’s like one of those soliloquies. There are infinite perfumes that contain dib dabs of labdanum, and it’s a key component of the amber family, yet there are very few that put labdanum in the starring role. It’s just too commanding. And strange? Oh yes. It’s an ancient potion derived from the Mediterranean rock rose (Cistus ladaniferus) and collected from the beards of goats, or with strange instruments made of leather thongs.
But I love it when labdanum is the star of the show. And I love it when perfumers feel the same way. Sonoma Scent Studios did it with Incense Pure. Donna Karan with Chaos. And now Dr. Ellen Covey (Olympic Orchids) has done it with Dev 4, of the DevilScent Collection.
The Devilscent project was completed by a group of indie perfumers who had read our own Tarleisio’s (Sheila Eggenberger’s) novel, Quantum Demonology. You can read more about the project on Perfumer Pharmer and at Tarleisio’s blog.
Each perfumer created a set of perfumes to complement scenes of the book or its characters. The Devil character is said to remind people of Mick Jagger’s Turner in Roeg’s notorious cult film Performance. I definitely get a lot of Turner from Devs 1 and 3, both animalic, leathery knockouts.
My favorite of the group, and now, my favorite labdanum perfume, is Dev 4. It doesn’t remind me so much of the devil, but of the Desert Fathers of the Church, those wild men (and women) who couldn’t bear to be in human society anymore and just went out there into the Egyptian desert. And stayed. Dev 4 is full of rich labdanum, but it’s dry as desert bones, stern and ancient, the spices austere but compelling. It’s a deeply contemplative and serious perfume, meant for moments when you’re alone and finally thinking through the philosophical assumptions that have undergirded your life. Or you can wear it while reading Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita, or Shelley’s Ozymandias.
Ellen Covey has said that labdanum, “…is one of my all-time favorite perfume materials. To me, labdanum is one of the most grounding, calming, and comforting of all scents, and one of the most beautifully sensual. When I was making the Dev variations I got addicted to smelling labdanum when I went to sleep…. Maybe it's just coincidence, but I have the impression that it promotes a lot of vivid, film-like dreams. When I've emptied a container of labdanum resin, I wash the last tiny bits out with alcohol and add it to a hot bath ... the scent rising from the water is heavenly!” (Now that’s a good tip!)
The DevilScent Collection of 4 Devs and one Lil (for the book’s character, Lilith) is premiering on Olympic Orchids in July.