Suzanne's Perfume Journal

August 16, 2013:

It happened back in late 2011: I was leaving comments at a friend’s perfume blog that caught the attention of another reader, and we wound up trading remarks back and forth on that occasion and others, until at one point we were in danger of hijacking the comments thread. Not wanting to make that faux pas, we began emailing each other in early 2012, and though there have been hiatuses in our ongoing conversation, for the most part we’ve been talking ever since. How can we not? I hate to use this comparison (because I’m not a fan of either of these actors) but it’s apt: Lavanya and I are like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito in the late 80s comedy film Twins. She is a young and beautiful East Indian woman with graduate degrees in the sciences, who will no doubt show up on a program like Nova someday, where we’ll find her talking about the human brain and its mysterious ways. And I am, of course, me: a woman who for the past thirty-odd years has been thanking the gods everyday for a thing called Language Arts, since I barely managed to pass high-school chemistry. Even so, some chemistry must have rubbed off on me because it exists between us: Lavanya and I discovered that we not only love many of the same perfumes—vintage Chanel No. 5, Amouage Jubilation 25, Frederic Malle Noir Epices and Montale Black Aoud, to name a tiny few—but the way we perceive certain perfumes (what we actually smell and how we describe it) is strikingly similar. We share a common philosophy on beauty, we are word junkies who enjoy long emails, and then there is this other connection—the one that surprised us most. She used to live in my town—it was where she earned her master’s degree, where she was “introduced” to the United States, and where she met her husband. And, in even more of a coincidence, she was living here during the very period that both of us fell down the perfumed rabbit hole.

Had we met each other years ago, we could have gone sniffing together, but then we wouldn’t have had this surprise that has unraveled between us. We not only love a good many of the same perfumes, but we have a shared love of a couple odd and tiny places: a half-hidden Indian grocery shop that she calls “the Aunty store” because it is run by a dear little woman who fits that role; an Austrian bistro “where bacon is an herb” and where Seinfeld-like conversations run riot between the owners and the customers. (In fairness, the Austrian bistro is no longer tiny, but it was when Lavanya lived here, and her remembrance of its Seinfeld atmosphere is part of what drew her to a place that didn’t offer much in the way of vegetarian food. She asked me if those conversations still go on today in the restaurant’s new and bigger space, and I’m happy to report that they do.)

“Maybe because you and I spent time breathing in the air of a town that has nurtured us both, we somehow exchanged some DNA along the way and now share similar perspectives on the things we're breathing in today,” I said to Lavanya in one of our earliest emails—and though I was being playful (not theoretical, as my earlier remarks might lead one to believe), the very latter part of that statement has mostly proven true. So when she recently sent me a package filled with all manner of lovely things (gorgeous earrings, eyeshadow, tea and a couple other goodies I’ll mention soon), I needn’t have worried that the only thing in that package that didn’t turn me on was the perfume. When I wrote her back to tell her that the new, upscale iris scent (Iris Nazarena from Aedes de Venustas) was nicely done but didn’t sing to me, she acknowledged that she was feeling the same. And having confirmed that we are more the Iris Poudre-type of iris lovers, we quickly dispensed with Iris Nazarena and moved on to discussing the olfactory loves that her package did turn me on to, neither of which is a perfume.

The first one, in fact, is actually a food item—Lavanya refers to it simply as “supari”—and while my (Internet-based) understanding is that the term supari can refer to a variety of candied seeds, herbs and nuts that are used as breath fresheners in India, the ones Lavanya sent are a form of sweetened dried betelnut from a company called Rasily. In previous emails, she described them as smelling similar to a certain rose-chypre perfume we both like, and though I won’t spill the beans and say which one (as I believe she’s planning to write about it at some point), I can affirm that she’s absolutely right. These supari smell and taste like a combination of sweet roses, gentle menthol and slightly bitter greens. Cool like moss, perfumey like roses, they almost seem too good to be true, and I guess they are: after telling her I’d eaten one packet and was starting in on another, Lavanya cautioned me not to eat too many of them, as they’re addictive and actually bad for one’s health

I can be positively indulgent, however, with a shea-butter body product that she is huge fan of and which hails from a small company in Lawrenceville, Georgia, called Cocoa Pink. Cocoa Pink makes a number of lotions and potions; the item Lavanya sent is their Voluptuous Body Butter, and this is how good it is: she sent me a sample-sized pot (a .50 oz size) from which I’ve been wearing a generous dollop at least three days a week, for the past three weeks, and I still have more than half left.  (And I will be ordering more because it’s amazingly affordable.) To me, the words “paraben-free” and “100% vegan” aren’t as important as they would be to others; I mention them because I know that it is one of this product’s selling points. What I love is this body butter’s incredibly rich feel coupled with the fact that it’s so fragrant, it can be worn as my chosen scent-of-the-day (or layered beneath a heavier oriental perfume). Looking at the product on the Cocoa Pink website, I assumed it only came in one scent, when in fact there’s a huge list of fragrances that the customer chooses from (in a drop down list) when ordering. The sample Lavanya gave me is scented with a formula called Black Widow, which smells like the cosmetics section of my favorite ethnic store: a mix of sandalwood-like vanilla, earthy patchouli, light incense and amber. Despite its dramatic-sounding name and list of ingredients (“Smoldering dragonblood resin, sweet aged white patchouli, a pinch of sugared black vanilla beans and wood smoke from a distant crackling fire”), it smells whipped, airy and milky: an elegant meringue of headshop scents. If that description sounds oxymoronic to you, well it does to me too, and yet it’s fitting. I’m not a fan of headshop scents, but here they are ethereal and so cushioned by vanilla that, it not only works for me, I find it boho gorgeous! (And at only $7.50 for a 2.75-oz tub, or $13.99 for a 4.75-oz tub, a true steal.)

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A Package from Lavanya

If Lavanya were chiming in here, she’d want me to relate that Black Widow isn’t on the current scent list right now, but might be going on the Fall scent list. (Yes, I can read her mind … we’ve got that twin connection going on. She’d also want me to mention that she’s not affiliated with Cocoa Pink, simply one of its loyal customers. But if you’re thinking that a Danny DeVito-like twin might not be very trustworthy, then you might want to pose these questions to Lavanya herself.  She can be contacted through her lovely blog, Purple Paper Planes.)

Photo of package wrapped with maps can be found at various sites (I can't remember where I found it).
Photo of Cocoa Pink Voluptuous Body Butter is from the company website.