Every perfumista I know has, at one time or another, wanted their “own perfume” or has “osmagined” the perfect perfume. They don’t want just a signature scent; but something made for them by a perfumer that encapsulates all their favorite notes and accords. I was lucky enough to receive such a perfume (inspired by my suggestions and blended flawlessly by the perfumer Adam Gottschalk of Lord’s Jester) this past March, as a birthday gift.
My oldest and deepest passion has always been literature, especially Greek mythology. When Adam burst on the scene with all natural unisex perfumes based on that pantheon, I was intrigued to say the least. Once I received samples and reviewed them, I was floored by their complexity, their depth and the amazing ability with which Mr. Gottschalk captured each and every aspect of the mythical inspirations…even if he did not know them at the time! There was something going on here, something timeless and magical. If I was ever going to own my “own scent”, Adam would have to be the one to construct it.
Persephone is one of my favorite stories in Greek mythology. Her bright and beautiful aspect as the goddess of flowers and Maiden of Spring, the deep and abiding love she had with her mother (Demeter) and her eventual role as the dark queen of the Underworld has always fascinated me. She is sovereign there due to her being seized by her uncle Hades (who was smitten with passionate love by one of Eros’ arrows) and dragged forcefully into his somber realm. Her being tricked to taste of the fruits of his garden (pomegranate seeds), despite her refusal to eat anything in her grief, is why she is forced each year to return for three months: why we have winter. None who eat the fruit of the dead may ever return to Earth. Demeter refused to let ANYTHING grow while her daughter was gone from her, and mankind nearly starved. It is only through a compromise ordered by Zeus that she spends three months in the netherworld (one for each seed she ate) with Hades and the rest of her time with Demeter that we have the seasons.
Adam and I saw orchestrating such a progression, found in Persephone’s story, into a perfume to be quite a challenge; but we knew that bringing such a thing “to life” would create a beautifully complex scent that would be unique, if nothing else. Many of the scents I adore have lots of dark, thick flowers, somber woods, incense and earthiness. On the other hand, I also love bright and shining citrus scents with spices and musk. Persephone would have to begin sunny and somewhat innocent before becoming a full floral scent (sexy enough to attract the attention of the King of the Dead) but also include the spring flowers Persephone so loved…including the hyacinth she bent to pick when the earth rumbled and Hades took her in his chariot.
Also we would have to somehow unite these bright and feminine notes with the more chthonian accords of cypress and poplar (trees mentioned in literature about the underworld), asphodels (the black/gray daffodils that grow on the Elysian plains) and the tart fruit that eventually forced her to become Hades’ unwilling bride all while adding hints of earthiness, her mother’s grief (and hers) and include not only her melancholy; but her fierce and often cold aspects as she sits beside her “husband” while winter chills those above.
When Persephone (which is extrait strength) arrived in my mailbox, I was so very excited…yet a bit frightened that despite Adam’s extremely talented nose and wonderful way with scents that it would not be “right”. I tore into the box. The bottle looked just like all the other Lord’s Jester bottles; but the juice…it was almost BLACK. How very perfect!! I took off the cap and gingerly sniffed the sprayer: just a hint of fertile earth and a delicate memory of flowers. Almost too excited to breathe, I sprayed it on…
What greeted my nose was a perfectly proportioned blend of heady cypress (my favorite wood that had always been sacred to this goddess) and rosewood with its divine warm clean woodiness. All around me spicy geraniums and marigolds danced and green leaves blew around me fiercely like a summer storm was approaching! There it was: that perfect blend of sweet sunny citruses and magnificent woods alongside dry flowers containing just enough of an earthen note, without smelling like compost. I was already swooning…five seconds in!
As she began to develop on my skin, a gorgeous array of flowers began to bloom. Gardenia, full and sensual, oozed her buttery nectar while soft rhododendron, warm frangipani, regal rose and indolic jasmine sambac became stronger and more prominent (but never too feminine due to the lingering cypress). Here Persephone is Queen of Flowers and dances barefoot in the meadow as the blossoms all bow to her. Even the fruitiness of the hyacinth (what caught her eye and lured her away from her companion nymphs) is here. Midway through the heart, I catch a whiff of something shadowy and wild, just under the surface. The bouquet of flowers falls away and the clouds cover the face of the sun.
There is still a waft of sweet flowers, yet something powerful and utterly primordial has muted them. Jonquil (a type of narcissus/daffodil) comes to the fore and alludes to that shadowy flower that litters the Stygian meadows. It is a cold and somber flower with soft silken petals issuing a strange and surreal darkly green scent. As this finally settles on the skin, it becomes altogether different. Something truly spun of shadows and surprisingly rich remains. Poplar buds create the feeling of being in a dark grove. Styrax (another of my favorite woods) creates a feeling of ancient timelessness. The lingering scent of hay (drying), tobacco and labdanum completely captures the homesickness of the new queen for the sunlit world above. The scent has become sad and cold, yet still somehow manages to remain stunningly beautiful and never once does it descend into something overtly frightening or hadean. The smallest amount of well-placed hyrax (Africa stone) keeps this mysterious and musky, along with the ambrette, which rounds out the more animalic tone with a woody floral feeling.
Very rarely do we come across perfumes that are almost “perfect” for us. I can honestly say this one checks all my “boxes” and manages to integrate everything I desired and then some. If you are seeking a rewarding bespoke experience, I urge you to contact Lord’s Jester via their website and look at the two bespoke options they offer. It may seem like a lot of money…but for a perfume that is yours (and “all you”) it’s worth it! Part of me wants to share this as a retail release, but I think (for now) I will keep it just for me. Persephone extrait has good sillage and excellent longevity.
I do want to share 1mL of “my” perfume with one reader but I want you to share my love of mythology; so we’re going to play a little trivia. Leave a comment with the answer to this question: Name the gardener of Hades who tempted and tricked Persephone with the pomegranate seeds? Whoever names this first will win. You better work fast because the contest will end at 12:01 AM EST August 2, 2012. There will be no spilled perfume for this so check back because if you snooze on this one you won’t get a second chance.
–John Reasinger, Editor