A few people were interested in hearing what I thought of my first Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab order (a 6-sample order) so I thought I’d post a followup for the folks who are interested! If you are not interested in perfume, stop reading right here because there’s a lot of frivolous rambling coming.

General notes first:

  • Shipping was very slow, which in all fairness they do warn you about. I think it took about 2 weeks for them to get the samples sent out to me.
  • Wish I’d known that if you log into the forums on bpal.org, a swap forum appears in the list where you can buy or trade for perfumes and/or samples. For any future samples, I’m going to check there first, since the samples are typically going to be cheaper and faster to ship.
  • I wasn’t sure what the imp’s ears samples would actually look like. They are tiny 1/32 oz bottles similar to this: the lid pulls off and has a little stick attached to it that you can use to dab on the perfume. There’s a white printer label label wrapped around each with the name of the fragrance printed on it. They are resealable, and I’m guessing you could get quite a few applications out of each– one might last a month, if you were wearing it every day, but that’s just a wild guess.
  • These oils are strong! My neck got a little red and irritated when I put on too much.
  • This is old news, but I hadn’t ever given it too much thought before: perfume branding is really something! There were several scents in this order that I wouldn’t have given a second thought to if they were fragrances pushed by Justin Bieber or J. Lo, but I’m finding myself wanting to give them more of a chance due to the vivid descriptions on the site (not only the official ones but the ones written by fans! The kind of cultish product loyalty companies would kill for). The site is kind of ugly, ridiculously hard to navigate, the shipping super slow, they sell mail-order perfume, which is such a difficult item to buy online–and you pay a few dollars apiece for the size of samples you could get for free by walking into Sephora, but the narrative and cultural allusions are like catnip to a certain breed of nerd or goth. In point of fact, I went to Sephora the other day and was thinking of getting some Fresh perfumes (my hands-down favorite scent is Fresh’s Brown Sugar,and I could bathe in that stuff–it smells amazing!) but somehow it seems like it would be more interesting to get a BPAL fragrance. Even if nobody around you knows, you’re not just dabbing on a smell, you’re dabbing on a subculture! And my little sheeple pea brain tells me I’d much rather be a “BPAL person” than a “Sephora person,” even though I’m perfectly aware on a conscious level that this is stupid.
  • I’ve read the Patrick Suskind book but not too much else about perfume, so I think at some point I might also check out: The Secret of Scent: Adventures in Perfume and the Science of Smell, The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry in Paris and New York, Essence and Alchemy: A Natural History of Perfume, and/or The Emperor of Scent: A True Story of Perfume and Obsession. Maybe even The Scent Trail: How One Woman’s Quest for the Perfect Perfume Took Her Around the World, although just from the title, I think this is probably insufferable, narcissistic privilege-lit in the vein of Eat, Pray, Love. (Which, to be fair, I didn’t read all of, but the little bit I did read rubbed me the wrong way in so many ways I couldn’t continue.)

The samples I ordered (the first five from the Mad Tea Party collection, the last one from A Picnic in Arkham):

  • The Dormouse: “A dizzying eddy of four teas brushed with light herbs and a breath of peony.” My hands-down favorite out of everything that arrived! This smells ridiculously good to me–fresh and green-appley and tea-leafy, with light floral notes that come out more in the drydown. I might order a full bottle of this when my sample runs out. The green tea smell is the strongest and purest in this one out of all the tea blends I tried–just wonderful.
  • White Rabbit: “Strong black tea and milk with white pepper, ginger, honey and vanilla, spilled over the crisp scent of clean linen.” Based on the description and my love of all the component smells, I thought this would be my favorite out of the batch. Unfortunately, I thought it smelled just terrible out of the bottle, with an overpowering baby powder aroma that I guess is probably the “clean linen.” It gets more interesting as it dries, with the black tea, ginger, and vanilla smells emerging, so I’m on the fence about it–will have to wear it all day and see what I think. I haven’t had the chance to wear all of these all day (the first day they arrived, I put dots of each one on my wrists, inner elbows, and knees and walked around smelling them all day until I got a headache and had to take a shower.)
  • Tweedledee: “Ridiculous! Kumquat, white pepper, white tea and orange blossom.” This has a nice, slightly bitter citrus scent, and the orange blossom gives it an interesting soft note, but it doesn’t have the immediate pure, sharp grab of, for instance, the Fresh citrus fragrances. I like it, but it’s lower down on my list of something I would buy.
  • Bread-and-Butter-fly: “Bread, lightly buttered, with weak tea, cream, and a lump of white sugar.” I thought I’d like this because I expected it to be more of a toasty, nutty smell, but it smelled just vile to me: a weird, sickly sweet, strong mixture of baby powder and fake buttered popcorn. Just awful. Hours later, it dries down to something nicer, with gentle vanilla and sugar notes, but I don’t think I could handle going through the earlier stages of reeking like an accident at the movie theater concession stand just to get to that softer base note.  I don’t smell bread in this at all, which I think would have made the butter smell more acceptable.
  • Eat Me: “Three white cakes, vanilla, and red and black currants.” Very sweet, as you would expect from the description. Not awful, but not my favorite. Initially, the sugary cake smell overpowers the fruity currants, but the blackcurrant becomes more noticeable once the cake fades a bit more. I’m still looking for a perfect vanilla perfume–I tried a few samples of Lavanila on Julie’s recommendation, but they were all too heavy for me, even the grapefruit vanilla one.
  • Night-Gaunt: “Their scent of their slick, rubbery hides is bittersweet, ticklish, and skin-creeping: something akin to yuzu, white grapefruit, and kumquat mixed with the snow-dusted flowers of Mount Ngranek.” I hated this initially, really thought it smelled disappointingly strong, bitter, and disgusting, but I just put a tiny drop on my arm to think about what to write about it now, and now I can’t stop huffing the crook of my arm. Maybe I over-applied it before? It currently smells just delicious, like a mixture of grapefruit and white gardenias–brings back memories of family vacations to Hawaii.

Plus they threw in two additional free samples:

  • Fae (from Bewitching Brews): “A brilliant, ethereal scent: white musk, bergamot, heliotrope, peach and oakmoss.” This is not anything I would have picked out for myself, since I don’t like musky scents much, but it’s not bad. The peach and musk are pretty evident to me, but I don’t smell the bergamot, heliotrope, and oakmoss at all. Because of the musk, it reminds me of either teenage drugstore perfumes or very expensive old-lady perfumes… nothing I would pick out for a signature fragrance, but maybe appropriate for certain occasions?
  • Deadly Nightshade Honey: (from Rappaccini’s Garden–there’s no detailed description of each of the honey scents) A wonderful surprise–I absolutely loved this one. It was my second favorite after Dormouse. It starts out with a somewhat spicy, green layer over a strong honey smell, and eventually dries down to just plain honey, but not too cloyingly sweet for my tastes. Actually, the entire time I tried it, I would have said it just smelled like plain honey, nothing more complicated than that, but comparing the dried version of the perfume to the freshly applied version made the green notes much more evident, and I think whatever the “deadly nightshade” smell is helps tone down the honey a little.

Some other BPAL fragrances I’m interested in trying at some point:

  • Dorian, from Sin and Salvation: “A Victorian fougere with three pale musks and dark, sugared vanilla tea.” Possibly something I’d hate because of the  musks, but I’m curious.
  • Aizen-Myoo, from Excolo: “Yuzu, kaki, and mikan with cherry blossom and black tea.” Katinka’s recommendation, and one that people keep comparing to Night-Gaunt. Mikan didn’t register as a citrus fruit to me when I was browsing the descriptions, but after looking it up, it sounds really appealing.
  • O, from Ars Amatoria: “Amber and honey with a touch of vanilla.”
  • Carnal, also from Ars Amatoria: “Bold, bright mandarin paired with the sweet, sensual earthiness of fig.”
  • Snake Oil, also from Ars Amatoria: “By far, our most popular scent! Magnetic, mysterious, and exceedingly sexual in nature. A blend of exotic Indonesian oils sugared with vanilla.” It’s described as “spicy” and “incensey”, which I’m not sure I like, but apparently the vanilla smell is strong too. There are a lot of glowing reviews in the forum about people being stopped on the street and asked about their perfume.
  • Akuma, from Diabolus: “Devilish temptation, as sweet as sin: blood orange, neroli, and raspberry.”
  • Kumiho, also from Diabolus: “A sharp, biting blend of crisp white tea and ginger.”

Are you a BPAL devotee? What’s your favorite?