Monday, 2 June 2014

Darling Clandestine Perfume Overview and Review

Scent is probably the most underrated sense and is almost always an afterthought, from everyday toiletries to the quintessential Christmas gift of perfume - chosen by the bottle's aesthetics, the brand, and what the sales assistant was pushing that day.

Having both an overactive sense of smell and a distaste for most things generic has left me with a great disinterest in commercial perfumes - who wants to smell like millions of other people when scent is so intimate? Moreover commercial perfume inevitably follows the same recipe: something floral, something sweet, and maybe - if they're really pushing the boundary - something woody or a musk. Commercial perfume is also stupidly expensive, especially considering most are 'eau de toilet's and thus only contain around 10% fragrance: 90% of what you're paying is alcohol, the bottle and the brand. 

The Limbic System

I could wax poetic about the importance of scent on the subconscious mind as it can induce powerful memories and emotions due to the olfactory bulb being part of the brain's limbic system ('emotional brain') along with the amygdala ('lizard brain') and the hippocampus ('memory brain'). Essentially smells can make you remember, feel and react to things without knowing why, or even being conscious of doing so - scent is literally subconscious mind control.

What I'm trying to say is for something so important scent is disproportionately overlooked, and that is why I've fallen in love with indie perfume: amongst the typical florals you can also decide you want to smell like a damp forest floor, a cold rainy day or the metallic ring of ozone. You know what my favourite smells are? Fresh cut grass, mountain air, clean laundry and that warm masculine smell that indicates safety and love. Aside from a 'fresh linen' scented candle, a few laundry detergents and a handful of men's deodorants I've yet to find any commercial scent that smells remotely like any of these things, let alone coming close to actually activating my limbic system and making me happy rather than just "oh, that smells nice."


Although I've only just begun to venture into indie perfumes Darling Clandestine have become a firm favourite - they produce not only unusual scents but scents that are so complex, multifaceted, layered and deep that they're more akin to bottled memories and emotions than perfumes. These perfumes not only activate my limbic system as well as my amygdala and hippocampus - they're the emotional, lizard and memory brain whisperers - most of them also smell so damn good and are all insanely unique. Evonne, the sole owner and creator of Darling Clandestine, even states that some of her perfumes are "downright odd, unsettling, like the stories behind them" - I love this mentality as there is such a narrow range of appropriate or 'good' scents to use in perfumes, and I admire her pushing the boundary of what is acceptable and normal.

As with most indie perfumeries Evonne offers her scents in oil form - a little goes a long way and the scent on your skin will last longer, as well as making the perfume infinitely more portable, which also keeps shipping cost down. Moreover DC's fragrance oils are suspended in sweet almond oil and jojoba oil (amongst others) which are some of the nicest and my favourite skincare oils, as well as being much more expensive than coconut oil which some other brands use.

Scale representation of a bitsy, a solid and a sample vial on my huge hands and scrawny wrists

Unfortunately - unlike other indie perfumeries - you can only purchase three sample vials per order, this can initially be somewhat off putting as it requires a either making multiple small orders or investing heavily. However as each sample vial is less than half the price of other brands, coupled with Darling Clandestine also offering 'bitsy' 4ml/1 dram sized perfumes (which are almost the same size as other brand's full sized 5ml perfumes and are less than a third of their price) alongside her full sized 8-15ml bottles (which again are 50-200% larger than other brand's for the same price or less) means that Darling Clandestine's perfumes are actually much more cost effective. You can also buy solid perfumes from Darling Clandestine which I adore - they're more portable and, due to their beeswax content, tend to last even longer on the skin than oils.

Just two more caveats before I commence actually reviewing the perfumes: figuring out what each perfume is supposed to smell like and differentiating between them on Darling Clandestine's Etsy shop is both frustrating and confusing - I'd recommend using the 'Dicography' on their facebook page for an overview of scents and their seasons (when you can roughly expect them to be sold). Moreover Evonne tends not to list, or at least focus on, specific scent notes, and chooses instead to write wordy prose about what the perfume is inspired by or should evoke. I like this in theory as it shows her priority is to conjure memories and emotions, but in execution it's extremely confusing when shopping, so I created a spreadsheet that simply lists the name and main scent notes of each perfume alongside its season, as well as if I have or want the perfume and how I feel about it - but you can ignore that or copy&pasta everything to a clean document to personalise it for yourself.


Love the lid's artwork - notice how full the jar is

Tapederos are a hooded stirrups for riding - obviously a nod to the leather notes in this perfume.

Main notes: sage, roses, smoke and leather.

This was my first ever DC fragrance and is one of my favourite perfumes of all time - a friend sent me a vial of this in a random grab bag of perfume samples when I expressed an interest in getting into indie perfumes. When I first smelt it I was instantly transported back to a rural Buddhist temple in Chang Mai, Thailand when I was about 5 years old - it smells old, slightly musty like damp wood, with an incense like warmth of something living and perfumed. Of course reading back on the notes the mustiness is leather, the incense is smoke and the 'living' ruralness is the sage and the perfumed air is roses. There's depth, warmth and a slight sweetness, overall it's not a soft or subtle scent but in its boldness there is warmth and comfort. I could bathe in this scent and love applying it after a shower so it's the last thing I smell as I fall asleep.


Love the naked lady - though out of all my solids this was noticeably much less filled

Serpentina is part of the latin name for the plant Indian Snakeroot, and is obviously evokative of serpent, or snake.

Main notes: green tea and opium.

Another all time favourite! Serpentina is clean, green, fresh and cool, like laundry blowing in the wind on a spring morning. I'd like to think I've tasted my fair share of green tea, and have smelt opium resin on the antiques my father likes to collect, but I honestly am not recognising either of those scents in Serpentina. I wish I could naturally smell like Serpentina all day everyday - if I had three wishes one of them would be that my sweat smelt like Serpentina, it's the perfect scent - subtle yet distinct, an extension of clean skin and fresh air without ever smelling perfumed or cloying.


Unfortunately I only bought a sample of this, but isn't that cinema ticket label adorable?

Pistola is spanish for pistol, or gun. Pistolas was inspired by Evonne's grandmother who when young lived in Mexico City and whose hip bones were prominent like "pistolas".

Main notes: Gardenia, lavender, city sidewalks and tobacco leaf

Pistolas is a surprising favourite of mine (ok, you caught me, I'm only reviewing my favourites here) as it seems to be a typical floral, but it's the stunningly accurate gardenia that has stolen my heart. Gardenias grew outside my bedroom in Thailand where I spent a significant portion of my childhood and adolescence, their scent is green and light and fresh as well as being floral - hence why they are one of my favourite flowers. However I've never found a gardenia scent that smelt even remotely like the living plant - all were too sweet, too floral, too flat. Perhaps it's the tobacco leaf that adds depth, or the sidewalk that acts as a backdrop - my theory is I smelt the gardenias as a whole plant - the damp earth, the sun baked concrete and the green leaves - rather than the flower detached from its element, and that's what Darling Clandestine has captured: a living floral rather than the clinically sweet and boring scent of purely petals. I honestly can't smell any lavender but perhaps it ties everything together or amps up the gardenia - either way this scent is perfect. This is a scent I'd wear on a summer day with a sun dress and flip flops, and if I ever have a daughter this will be what her bedroom would smell like.


Those are the three Darling Clandestine scents I am utterly in love with, however there are more that I just love, a few that I like a lot, and many that I like but simply can't make my mind up about - interesting, not what you'd expect from a perfume - so exactly what I love about Darling Clandestine! I hope to get around to reviewing all my DC stash at some point, even including the three perfumes that I have a visceral reaction against!

Darling Clandestine also has the most amazing customer service - I must've changed my order and added to it about half a dozen times, including changing my address which meant I was massively undercharged for shipping (even when I offered to send her the difference Evonne refused) and she also including a bunch of extra samples!


And finally, a completely trivial reason why Darling Clandestine has stolen my heart: Evonne loves sharks as much as I do!


Saskia X

PS "Come closer, I smell amazing" - Darling Clandestine

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