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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Clarimonde Project

By Beth

For the last month I have been swept up in Venetian visions and pre-raphaelite fantasies, dreaming night after night of a beautiful woman whose angelic face hides a sad and terrifying secret. She is the vampiress Clarimonde, the haunting protagonist of the short story written by Theodore Gaultier. Clarimonde is the beautiful golden haired , green eyed 18th century undead courtesan who tragically falls in love with a young priest named Romuald who is on the very threshold of taking his vows, a promise that locks him forever into the biblical struggle between good and evil, right , wrong … and his own personal Heaven and Hell.

The story begins when Clarimonde comes to Romuald on the eve of his ordination, promising to make him happier than he would ever be in Paradise if only he would leave the priesthood for her. Although Romuald takes his vows he becomes romantically obsessed with the beautiful woman and when her page hands him a calling card that is engraved with the words “Clarimonde , Palace Concini” , he immediately regrets his decision to commit to the priesthood. Shortly afterwards , Romuald becomes the priest of a countryside parish where he continues his studies, yet pines over his lost opportunity to create a worldly life with the beautiful Clarimonde. It isn’t long though before a young steward comes to him in the middle of the night, begging for his assistance in saving the life of the mistress who employs him. Romuald arrives at the palace too late and discovers in his dismay that it is the dead Clarimonde upon whose lovely face he gazes and in his sorrow falls to his knees, kissing her passionately upon the lips, bringing her back to life while falling madly in love with her beautiful spirit and glittering decadent world.
From that moment on his life becomes complicated; Romuald and Clarimonde travel to Venice where he lives as a priest by day and a Seignior by night, enjoying the love of his beautiful Clarimonde , as well as pleasures of the flesh which he had never known could exist. The day arrives though when he discovers that she has been giving him a sleeping draught all along , sothat she could drink one drop of his blood each night. Eventually Romuald becomes so tortured by his double life that he tells his mentor, an older priest name Serapion his story. The older priest takes him to the cemetery and opens her tomb , where Romuald discovers her resting peacefully , glowing with life from the gift of his blood. The priest, driven to destroy what he cannot understand , pours holywater upon the sleeping Clarimonde who instantly disintigrates into ashes and dust. She comes to Romuald one last time in a vision, asking why he has destroyed the bond between them, sadly reminding him that she had asked for almost nothing in exchange for the love and beauty that she’d brought to his very existence.

I must admit right now that I hated the end of the story. I wished that Clarimonde had been able to choose a man that could value her for her true self without guilt , a man who could take what she offered him passionately and return it back to her without fear…..a man who could have honestly CHOSEN her. I have lived with one who was so scared of my femaleness that he sought to destroy my very essence through his violence, he could not CHOOSE me so he sought to destroy me. I think that every woman experiences a love like that once and perhaps that is why we all have related so strongly to her story. We are familiar with our blood, we know it’s taste and smell. We have bitten our lips many times in sorrow as we bandage our children, quiet our tongues or bury our dead. We know what it means to choose life, to choose to open ourselves up to love even though it may destroy us. We need men who are fearless in the face of our passions and our frailties. It saddens me that Romauld and Clarimonde lived in a time when she couldn’t be honest with him about who she was and because it was a time when women were by their very natures suspect, it would have impossible for her to have been honest with him, she who held such a deep and forbidden secret. I have always thought that within the bonds of secular religion live the very intolerances that destroy any real possibility for love to grow. I would have liked him more if he hadn’t chosen to have been such a spineless martyr , betraying her in the end to preserve his façade, his piousness. In the end he willingly took everything from her yet clearly didn’t trust what she offered him, choosing to destroy her instead of just allowing her to be , to choose another who could truly love her. I was saddened that she felt that she couldn't be honest with him and wondered what their possibilities would have been if she'd been able to ask for his passion outright. Women know that their lives are inextricably intertwined with natural cycles of life and death. We stare headfirst into the chasm of the unknown to turn our bodies inside out, riding the painful waves of childbirth , thinking that for sure we are dying until the very moment when life emerges at the bitter end of then spiral. We are not afraid of that which we do not quite understand nor do not seek to destroy the essence of the experience. We would gladly spill our blood for our passions and are left emotionally battered and violently scarred when we find out that the object of our affections was simply not willing to do the same but sometimes as it was with Clarimonde we feel that we are not worthy of asking for our hearts deepest wishes.

I had never read the story of Clarimonde until my friend and fellow blogger Lucy Raubertas proposed to several of us that we might discover and create a perfumed project around it. She started a secret page for us and very quickly we began to breath life into her vision. The Clarimonde Project is a scented collaboration that began with about 11 of us but it quickly blossomed into so much more. From the start I knew that this was going to be an extraordinary project and for weeks I have lived immersed in a world of 18th century art , music and literature , waiting for the moment when I could claim Clarimonde as my own. I read hungrily as extraordinary perfumers like Mandy Aftel, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz , Monica Miller, Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl and Ayala Moriel began to describe the scents that they were blending for this project and it wasn’t long before I felt the compelling need to create something of my own. I became obsessed with the idea of scenting a pair of gloves. I looked for days for just the right pair andeventually I found them…a pair of vintage French kid gloves, embroidered and in perfect condition. It took a month for them to arrive, but they are beautiful, worth every penny and the eternally long wait. Armed with a wonderful article by Jeanne Rose about scenting leather I began to work. Leather and I are not strangers as I’ve spent many a moment caressing and cleaning my saddles and bridles. But the softness of the kid demanded a different respect, so I made a simple solid perfume of beeswax and jojoba which I scented with chocolate, rose, a bit of oud that I had, some sandalwood and cinnamon. I rubbed the creamy mixture all over my hands until they were very warm and took a sniff. Delicious yes, but something was missing. I went over to the beautiful parcels that had arrived and took out the precious vials. Slowly the scent began to take shape as I rubbed drops of each delicious perfume into my hands. 5 wonderful perfumes, each of them so very different and yet they blended so well together. I took another deep breath and was stunned by the sheer beauty of them all, It was as if I could smell the essence of each yet blended together it was the most potent mixture of scent that I’ve ever smelled, beautiful, sexual and feral. It was as if we’d all been dreaming the same dream, yet each of us had brought back a different piece of her soul.

It was the scent of Clarimonde and it permeated my senses, filling me with an odd mixture of joy and passion tinged with a touch of regret. It was amazing to realize that we had ventured into unknown depths to bring her most intimate secrets into the light.

I plunged my hands into the gloves and after what seemed like an eternity I removed my hands to find that they were not greasy at all, the fine kid had absorbed all of the oil and sweet perfume. I folded several pieces of tissue that I’d scented with the mixture and placed them into the palms of the gloves, wrapped more tissue around them and buried them for several days in a pile of warm autumn leaves. When next I saw them they were infused with not only the scent of all of that lovely perfume but the golden warmth of the leaves that they’d been resting in. They were lovely to begin with, delicate and soft with age but they even more beautiful now. They glow with the luscious scent but there is something else, an aura of love and loss, to me they smell of redemption and rebirth. The bitter ending of this story finds Romuald torn with regret, warning his readers never to look at a woman because most assuredly they will meet the same fate as he. It can’t help but be obvious that his real regret is that he lacked the courage to choose love over fear, to embrace passion instead of destruction, hope over resignation.

All over one tiny drop of blood.

The image that you see above is my tribute to her, an altar outside in my little herb garden that I have dedicated to Clarimonde and these scented gloves are my offering. Instead of being reviled she is worshipped, an 18th century Goddess of incomparable darkness and unfathomable light who was betrayed by the one that she loved , reduced to tricking him for the scraps of his passion that he could never openly offer her , the sadness being that she generously and openly offered him somuch. She has become my muse and in my ending, Romauld lovingly collected the ashes from her tomb and took them to a secret place where he built a shrine to the beautiful woman that he loved and kept her safe from harm. I can imagine no other.

To Mandy, Monica, Dawn, Maria and Ayala I am grateful, the scents, balms and precious gifts that you have each created are beautiful beyond description, elegant and provocative. I have been thrilled to be a part of this project. Warning. These beautiful perfumes are not for the faint of heart, nor are they for one who is not ready to be blown wide open to passion. Each of these beautiful scents manages to grasp the past, the present and the knowledge that no matter how much we wish it, that we cannot, must not liveforever, that life by it’s very nature is fleeting and impermanent. Everyone of these perfumes begs the wearer to live in the moment, each perfumer has interpreted the story of Clarimonde in her own way. Sleep one night on Ayala Moriels exquisitely scented dream pillow and you’ll know what I mean. The beautiful lip stains in shades of purple and blood red created by Monica Miller are sumptuous and sexy leaving my lips feeling as if they’d just been delightfully bitten. I am in awe of these perfumers and their abundant creativity. I have been blessed by their generosity and love receiving the packages that they have obviously crafted with such care more than they will ever know. Artists all of them, they are in it for the dream of creating something that is lasting and beautiful, perfumes that transcend time and space and provide the lucky wearer with a whole range of individual emotion. In this day and age of mass marketed mystique, that means everything to someone like me. Try every one of these wonderful fragrances and discover for yourself. They are all truly individual, inspired and wonderful.

Oud Luban is a wonderful perfume, rich and smoky and with an overtone of Frankincense fairly oozes a lovely tension, a delightful struggle between duty and passion. In this perfume passion clearly wins because the incense that she has layered between all of magnificent resins fairly scream of exotic opium dens and sensual thoughts. There is something balsam like as well, a tinge of sweetness , a hint of citrus , sweat and leather. The smoky choya lends a complex fairly religious austere emotion to the scent. Oud Luban is a perfect solid perfume, elegant and raw, yet sensual and buttery. Oud Luban is dirty and I mean that in the very best way because it grounds and relaxes me. It’s a scent to wear when you’re completely naked because it loves sweat and skin much like a perfect caramel tastes even better with a bit of sea salt and chocolate. It layers beautifully with florals and gives them an unworldly depth. I think that Oud Luban is fascinating because It’s a little bit conflicted, yet very complete which makes it all the more delicious and provocative to a girl like me. The yearning…the torment…..the inappropriateness of it all…..bring it on…..I love it! I’m one of those peculiar (maybe not so!) ladies who finds her passions completely aroused when she’s in the least appropriate of places so anything that smells remotely monastic is a delightful temptation for me, an audacious invitation to misbehave. Thanks to Mandy for giving me the perfect excuse……

When I opened the parcel that I received from Ayala I was transfixed even before I saw its contents. I didn’t need to see what was inside, I could tell simply by the scent wafting from the envelope that I’d received an extraordinary gift and that I was going to enjoy it very much. Inside was beautifully handmade dream pillow, of creamy silk with a single precious garnet sewn into its folds that I am sure symbolizes the one drop of blood that she needed to survive . A dream pillow is a beautifully simple thing, a precious little parcel that’s been filled with herbs designed to enhance the experience of sleep or in Romaulds case something that he would have filled with herbs from the monastery gardens to banish his impure thoughts of Clarimonde. Ayala’s interpretation of the scent is very pretty and has an absolutely ethereal quality that is disarming, because the fragrance is very sexy. The beautiful pillow itself is filled with relaxing herbs and flowers such as valerian and lavender that by their very nature should easily promote an easy restful sleep, but Ayala has also perfumed it with her beautiful “Clarimonde” , which is sumptuous , exotic and twisted with a heavenly wisp of violet that windsthough her gorgeously spicy oriental/floral blend and gives this perfume its very otherworldly and deeply spiritual quality. My husband described it as remarkably beautiful and I agree. My dreams have been exquisite and happily filled with very impure thoughts.

The package that I received from Monica Miller was absolutely intriguing . From her label which is a fabulous celtic knot of intertwined bodies to the contents inside, an exquisite little vial of her lovely Sangre Eau de Parfum and two remarkable lip stains, one called “Purple Shadow” and the other aptly named “Scarlet Kiss” , the experience from start to finish was delightful. For some reason, I felt as if I had to be dressed to wear these, so I put on a lovely shirt of purple velvet and some gorgeous black velvet trousers. That wasn’t enough so I swept up my hair and fastened it with a golden comb of my grandmothers that I keep for such an occasion. That seemed to be better so then I did my eyes in a soft kohl pencil and swept a hint of blush across my cheeks. Then I stroked the Sangre across my throat and onto my wrists and finally applied the lips stains, mixing them until the effect was dark and winey. I looked in the mirror and felt incredibly elegant , practically of anotherworld. Monica’s lip stains not only feel delightful but they taste wonderful because they are filled with essential oils, resins and herbs. The base she used is shea butter and my lips loved it and responded accordingly by looking bee stung and beautiful. Sangre, her scented tribute to Clarimonde is gorgeous. I loved the deep dark fruit essences that she used along with a fresh sweet chamomile and the way that she’s blended them with the rich floral heart and base of musks, honey and sticky resins creates a bacchanalian feast of a perfume that manages to be both Bohemian and classic at the same time.

Immortal Mine: Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl
Immortal Mine is a lust, passion filled and wildly untamed perfume that delighted me from the second that I opened the vial. First of all, it was beautifully presented, covered with bloody red sealing wax that was oozy and dripping all over the cap anddown the sides like a fabulous candle or a vial of blood. It made a delightful crack and what emerged was one of the most fascinating perfumes that I’ve ever smelled filled with incense, lust and magic. It was instantly arresting. Immortal Mine came with the most remarkable list of ingredients; Soil from an unmarked grave, wyverns blood, amber, longing ,smoke, wax, myrhh ,words from a dead mans mouth, desire and much more…..I loved it and I haven’t stopped wearing it since the moment I put it on. I must admit that I’ve never smelled a perfume that instantly suited me as much as this one does. Permit me to reach into another vampires world for a moment but there’s something of Immortal Mine that if you know the story of Lestat and you remember back to his days on the stage in Paris at The Theatre of the Vampires you’ll understand. The only words to describe the beauty of Immortal Mine are indulgent and hedonistic and of all of these perfumes it is the one that is the most wicked. There’s nothing kind or sweet about this one…it takes you, spins you around dizzily and doesn’t let go until you’re completely dizzy with desire. To me it occurs like a dreamy, hypnotic spell, a few drops of this in a glass of port and I would probably give up everything……

A Twilight blue Oriental Perfume”. What an amazing description and it absolutely speaks to the evocative and complicated emotions that Dawn Spencer Hurwitz has captured in her elegant and refined perfume “Paradise Lost”. There is a moment in the story where Clarimonde lays dying , waiting for Romauld to come to her castle. The room is misty and silken, there is a page with an ivory cane keeping his vigil by her side. In her bedchamber, there are quilts of gold and silver and a vase of faded flowers. Clarimonde herself is pale and wan, slipping quietly in between the dreamlike veils of life and death. Into this scene wanders the innocent and love stricken priest. DSH’s Paradise lost is gossamer and beautiful, the scent of that bedchamber, of that lost innocence. He kisses her and is lost within time and space from that moment on. Paradise Lost is full of amber, sable, chamomile, candlewax and so many other luscious accords that give this lovely perfume the aura of an oriental opiate. The effect of Paradise Lost on the skin is akin to a robe of soft velvet and rich brocade , forming a cloak that pulls you seductively through the bedroom door and forever into her unforgettable and unfathomable world.

There are many other remarkable writers who have been involved in The Clarimonde Project. Please visit them all! They are Indie perfumes Scentless Sensibilities, the Perfume Pharmer, Scent Hive, Jade Dressler, LostPastRemembered and The Clarimonde songs of Alexis Karl.



Blogger Flora said...

What an amazing story, and what creative responses by the perfumers involved! The only one I have tried so far is Oud Louban, which I adore. As always, you have woven a mesmerizing web of intrigue!

It's really a shame that stories like this always have to end with the woman being punished just for being female and "luring" men into lust - but Romuald must surely have suffered for what he did, knowing that he had been happier with her than he ever would be again.

1:28 AM EST  
Blogger marsha said...

The group must have enjoyed creating this so much! I would have loved to be involved in something like this!

8:08 AM EST  
Blogger indieperfumes said...

Beth, this is so beautiful. I love your passionate involvement in the story. I believe that Gautier gave it a conventional ending but presented Romauld's eternal regret and the vividness of the luxury and passion of their life together as a rebuke to the harsh and demanding dogma he could not break away from. The real punishment was to do without Clarimonde once Romauld had himself a taste of life together with her infinitely loving spirit and power. As she said, I am Life, I am Youth, I am Beauty, and together we shall be Love. Those are the words of a goddess from a different religion entirely.

Thank you for writing such a beautiful evocation of the story and the perfumes. I am so intrigued by the story of your gloves! I have a deep affinity for gloves as objects and I hope more people start offering scented ones -- they figure in the origin of perfume in the West, after all.

Just a note to say I am in the process of setting up a separate site on Wordpress on the project called The Clarimonde Project so it can go on. Honestly I think the perfumers went all out made things that are at the pinnacle of their accomplishment. Such a beautiful group that made so much beauty.

8:26 AM EST  
Anonymous Alexandra said...

Dear Beth,
Again your post speaks to my heart. I haven't read the story, but as you mentioned, the novel rings a bell. It is a story told by a man; of course the woman has to die- because of her love for him. She could never be anybody else's, even death cannot stop her passion for him. It might not have been done deliberately by the author or consciously, but the plot bears echoes of a wishful thinking. Such has been my opposition even to Kundera, where the main hero of the unbearable lightness seems ultimately the one who is never deserted. And then, the priest's harsh realisation after burning her to ashes, that his life has not meaning. This reminds me of a very famous Greek poem (Waiting for the Barbarians), where what you fear, could be ultimately your savior! Enjoy!

12:29 PM EST  
Blogger mandy said...

Thank you so much Beth, I am moved by your intimate, sensual review of Oud Luban! I love your descriptions of the finer notes as they evolve, and the images that you conjure up convey the sensory experience so well. It was such a pleasure to be part of this fabulous project, and your beautiful reviews contribute so much.
- Mandy Aftel

1:19 PM EST  
Blogger MJRose said...

Is there a way to buy these fragrances - they sound amazing.

5:01 PM EST  
Blogger indieperfumes said...

The heading on each of the sections of this article lead to the perfumer's sites -- they are all offering samples of the perfumes.

7:18 PM EST  

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