Some months back I ordered Les Petites Morts, a discovery set of 2ml samples for Parfums Quartana’s collection of nine fragrances based upon poisonous plants called Les Potions-Fatales. Why? Because it had everything: colorful packaging, the thrill of trying new and potentially unusual fragrances, and a coupon in the form of a $50 discount on a full bottle if you buy the discovery set. It was a pretty sweet pot, for sure, particularly since I’m a bit of a bargain slut, but I ended up being so smitten by the nifty sealed packaging that I just stared at it for the better part of two months, afraid to intrude upon its space-age beauty in the act of discovery.
Anyways, I eventually opened it, and having finally managed to work my way through through all nine of these “little deaths”, I figured I’d share my survivor’s tale by ranking and reviewing each fragrance. I’ll say from the start that the entire line is very well done, and quite frankly, at least half of them were so good (orgasmic, you might even say) that I’d happily add them to my collection now, but that coupon ain’t gonna discount the entire line, so this ranking is an object lesson in personal taste and how finely I can split hairs. Anyways, without further ado, here’s is Parfum Quartana’s entire Les Potions-Fatales line, ranked and reviewed:
9. Digitalis is–for lack of a better phrase–a savory cologne. It smells of just-rinsed, freshly cut bell peppers and cucumber, tossed up in the air with some basil leaves and tumbling down in slow motion like some kind of advertisement for a salad at a fast good chain. Just like the fast food salad, though, it begs the question: wouldn’t you prefer your veggies from literally anywhere else? Digitalis is novel enough and smells quite nice for what it is, but it took me nearly thirty years to come around to putting bell peppers on my pizza, so I suspect it’ll be a while before I come around to this one. That said, I’m sure there’s an audience for it, possibly female, and definitely into laughing alone with their salad:
8. Lily of the Valley is neither a muguet soliflore nor even particularly reminiscent of lily of the valley. Instead, I find it to be more of a damp, lost-the-the-woods floral with punctuated by dark wafts of sharp, luxurious leather. Lily of the Valley has a vivid sense of space, and it’s a great fragrance if you, like me, always felt like the wicked stepmother in every fairy tale is the only person who you’d want to talk to at a dinner party, but I’m too much a Diorissimo queen to shake my disappointment that this doesn’t deliver a big, bold lily of the valley anywhere. After all, even if you’re going to leave the children in the woods by the end of it, you can at least pick a path to abandonment that follows one of my central tenants: whenever possible, always more muguet!
7. Hemlock is what Socrates was given when he was sentenced to death for corrupting Greek youth, and based upon this soft, seductive benzoin fragrance, it was a helluva delicious way to go. There’s supposed to be a vinyl accord in there to add some menace, but I found Hemlock to be effortlessly wearable and only modestly kinky at best. Instead, I found myself recalling Penhaligon’s spectacular raunch queen, Amaranthine, and while Hemlock’s way more demure, both build creamy, seductive floral-vanillic accords that have a downright erotic feel. Hemlock might be but a seductive purr when compared to Amaranthine’s an orgiastic chorus of moans, but it’s absolutely worth a listen.
6. Mandrake is a fantastically weird take on men’s fragrance. There’s lots of juicy green apple and pomegranate that takes a sharp left turn away from traditional wearability with what I’m guessing is the birch leaf and root. It fits fantastically, like the crucial note to a uncanny, earthy/waxy accord built upon the comparatively flat familiarity of its otherwise fruity opening. That said, I can’t confidently decide if this one’s better meant to be worn out or privately enjoyed as olfactory art, but it deepens beautifully with suede and rhubarb and dries down into an “addiction accord” with compulsively sniffable sandalwood and tonka at the base. Bonus points for making me think of the Mandrake from Final Fantasy VI:
Sure, I’d rather think about Gladio, but until Parfums Quartana releases a line called Les Final Fantasy Thirst Quenchers, I’ll take whatever unintentional nerd allusion I can manage.
5. Poppy Soma is niche Opium, and while I swear that’s a compliment, I’ll also admit I feel like a bit of a louche for not ranking it higher. Poppy Soma is giving me incense, Sichuan pepper, and poppies, so naturally I love it. The former of which makes me instantaneously think of Opium, and the latter of which makes me think of Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz:
[Fun fact: When I was young, I used to ride my mother’s long-handled duster around our house while I would sing the Wicked Witch of the West theme’s to myself, and then, when I got a bicycle, I rode it around the neighborhood while singing the Wicked Witch of the West’s theme to myself, so do with that what you will.]
My point is that when it comes to references points (intentional or otherwise), Poppy Soma is working off the best, and I truly adore the Sichuan pepper and how Poppy Soma shifts from resinous to smoky, as if it mimic the poppy’s “lifecycle” as a narcotic substance, so it’s no wonder Poppy Soma won the 2017 Parfum Extraordinaire of the Year at the Fragrance Foundation Awards. That said, while it’s probably a great thrill for people who miss the magic of “old” Opium and would love a fresh take on it, I like “new” Opium plenty as is—and as pedestrian as it sounds. Poppy Soma’s fantastically designed and executed from top to bottom, but even with that inspired Sichuan pepper note, it feels a bit too impeccably tailored for my tastes, and it’s missing a certain je ne sais quoi extravagance to make it an outright improvement to the idea. Maybe when I run out of Opium or Yves Saint Laurent reformulates it beyond my trashbag sensibilities, I’ll at long last open myself up to its perfect, familiar beauty. I’m sure I’ll sing the Wicked Witch of the West’s theme to myself whenever I do.
4. Bloodflower is probably ranked higher than it should be, but what can I say? I love it. I have a fascination with and love for metallic notes, and Bloodflower has a big, bold metallic note in it. There’s lots of clove (also, arguably, reminiscent of Opium), and I get the rose in it, too, but this is all really adornment to make this stonking metallic note (here called a “blood accord”) a beautiful stonking metallic note. Bloodflower has enough clove and rose to lend a suitably gothic, but the metal in it is its bracing, guiding force. Smelling it fills me with life, even if I become quickly convinced it’s a life best lived strewn upon a fainting chaise, wan and overflowing with poetic melancholic. It’s not as resolutely bizarre as Le Labo’s Another 13 or Estee Lauder’s Dazzling Silver, but Bloodflower still probably qualifies as an acquired taste. That said, I like to think of fragrances as (among other things) an invitation to a dinner party, and anybody RSVP’ing “yes” to the Bloodflower party is somebody I’m confident I can have good conversation with, even if the party’s thrown by Hannibal Lecter:
3. Venetian Belladonna is niche Poison, and that’s also a compliment, but where I’d argue Venetian Belladonna succeeds over Poppy Soma is by actually improving upon its source material. Poison earned its place in the annals of great perfumes by way of its loud, bawdy chutzpah, and it feels like a piled-on plate at all-you can eat buffet made only of desserts: it’s definitively, determinedly too much. Venetian Belladonna, then, dials back the wall of sound from 11 on that central plum-and-tuberose accord, which allows us to better appreciate the ingredients individually. The plum is now more of a satisfying amuse bouche, the tuberose more confidently indolic, and the whole thing breathes. Venetian Belladonna is still sweet, but it’s lighter and more nuanced than Poison, a movable feast of a plum-tuberose fragrance for those with a more discerning palate.
2. Wolfsbane is so unfalteringly fantastic that my feelings for it have not changed one bit since I first spoke of it over on Instagram:
Wolfsbane is a deliciously camp take on masculine fragrances. Yes, at its heart is a “traditional” woody base with patchouli and vetiver, but even that’s a little…queer (the black truffle and deer tongue, perhaps?). Moreover, i get a heavy dose of Prunol that combines with a sinfully buttery tuberose at the top to give you a decadent, fruity oriental dry down that feels about as butch as a mouth full of purses, and I *love* it. Seems my ideal “men’s” fragrance smells like a pineapple upside down cake drag act. Who knew?
The only things that I will add are that I like to think of Wolfsbane as bit of a masculine fragrance genderf*ck, a Béchamel test (typo and it stays) for how much one might cling to or refuse gender norms, so if I met a man who wore this, I’d surely marry him, or at the very least, make plans to entrap him like the woman in Errol Morris’s Tabloid.
Also, while I’d like to take it a step further and insist that enjoying Wolfsbane should be a standard in f*ckability, much like how John Waters feels about having books, let’s be realistic: my body’s such a brokedown temple these days that imposing any kind of standards these days is a bit like putting up a “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service” sign after the Board of Health closes your restaurant for being ground zero of the Gwyneth Paltrow Pig Flu from Contagion:
1. Midnight Datura is everything, literally. Most niche perfumeries seem to like to work at narrow ideas, as if elegance and simplicity are the only paths to great art. That’s all fine and well, but it’s a modern way of thinking that Midnight Datura has no time for, saints be praised.It’s a veritable kitchen sink approach to the grand dame floral that has citrus, spice, rum, butteriness, a dizzingly complex bouquet of flowers, and a hint of powderiness that to my mind recalls the old Coty face powder (itself scented with L’Origan, so I’ve read). Midnight Datura is proof that they do still make ’em like they used to, a new kind of modern grandeur built upon the classicism of the first half of the 20th century and the outsized sensibilities of the 1980s. It’s a 21st century road of excess; I’m not sure if it leads to the palace of wisdom, but I certainly want to go wherever it’s heading.
So there you have it. No surprise here from this self-proclaimed “slut for tuberose,” but my top three all employ some bawdy, bodacious tuberose, so your little deaths may vary in size depending upon your particular pleasure. If you’ve tried Les Potions-Fatales, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, and if you’re a guy that likes Wolfsbane, I’d love to grab dinner some time. Moreover, if you haven’t tried this collection out but you’re curious to, I can’t recommend the discovery set enough (not to sound like a shill or nothin’). Les Potions-Fatales covers an impressive spectrum of fragrance styles and does them well, so there’s bound to be something in the bunch to get you off.