Suzanne's Perfume Journal

Beatnik Emptiness Incense: Elegant Smoke Signals

(Created by a Cherished Blogger)

October 28, 2013:

There are a number of blogs where I can call myself a faithful reader, which for me implies that I show up at least once a week and consume pretty much everything the blogger has written since my last visit, and this is certainly the case with Victoria Jent’s perfume and beauty blog EauMG. Considering how long I’ve been involved in the online perfume community, and how I’m now at a point where I’m essentially sated when it comes to perfume collecting, it takes something unique to bring me to a blog regularly, and in the case of EauMG, there are several things—the first one being the sly humor and quirky descriptions one often finds in Victoria’s posts, if one visits often enough. Take, for instance, her review of Frederic Malle’s Dans Tes Bras, a perfume created to mimic the scent of skin and which Victoria reveals to have a number of facets—not just a powdery violet floral, but also a tinge of something that smells like salt, blood and mushrooms, and which she ultimately describes as smelling like: “A really cute nosebleed. I know that sounds gross, but that’s what it is like on my skin – mineral violet-heliotrope. It’s the kawaii-est bloody nose ever,” she says in the wrap-up of her review (Victoria’s Final EauPinion).

Descriptions like these give me something to smile about because I’m that person who can picture a really cute nosebleed, and I love her off-kilter way of viewing the world. Yet more delicious than her sense of humor is the fact that humor isn’t her main thrust. Victoria’s insights are often made quietly, and in that same seemingly lighthearted review of Dans Tes Bras there is also this little nugget, in which she observes that its perfumer, Maurice Roucel, “went on a mission to create a fragrance that reminds one of warm skin. And he succeeded. But one of the things that I realized is that so much of what we perceive as ‘warm skin’ doesn’t really exist without functional fragrances – laundry detergent, lotion, soap. It’s a symbiotic relationship. Roucel nailed it.”

I don’t know about you, but that tidbit is the kind of thing that stops me in my tracks. There are other things about her blog, too: on the beauty side of things, she recreates vintage makeup looks (“Get the look of Britt Eklund” kinds of posts, which she’s quite good at); she offers up some great gift guides, and then there are her stream-of-consciousness Smell Diary posts in which she details what life presented to her smell-wise (usually unrelated to perfume) on a daily basis: brief descriptions that are evocative and poetic, distilled to a point that makes them read like street poetry.

Because I’m a fan, when Victoria recently announced on her blog that she had started a company called Beatnik Emptiness—an “alt-cult fashion brand” which features a mix of imported and domestic fashions—and that her online boutique also includes a line of incense that she makes herself, I wanted to support her with a small purchase. When her package arrived, and she included not only the Lily of the Dust incense I ordered but two others, I quickly realized that I now had something new to write about because, true to what I expected, these are good. Really good. Scented with perfumes that are her own custom blends, all three incenses I tried are exquisite and smell like nothing you would find in a headshop. They smell floral in a way that one would expect of incense made by someone who is a perfumista, which is to say, expensive, refined and unique. Sniffing them from their respective tins is even more pleasurable than burning them, but I have burned more than a few since they arrived, and I’ll say again that this is not the incense of college dorm days and hippies—unless your idea of hippies was The Mammas and The Pappas, which probably explains why I love them. These are the silky, California Dreaming version of incense. Made from natural wood powders steeped in the aforementioned fragrances, these cones burn softly and the smoke they give off is floaty and ethereal. Currently, there are 7 different incenses on the Beatnik Emptiness website, and here’s my description of the three I received.

La Coquille is my favorite—so much so, I really would love to have this in perfume form. The notes for it include lotus, aldehydes, iris, paper and ambergris, and Victoria calls it a cool, silky ozonic floral. In concept, it’s based on a surrealistic French film called La Coquille et le clergyman (The Seashell and the Clergyman), which in the words of Wikipedia, “follows the erotic hallucinations of a priest lusting after the wife of a general.” I’ve never seen the film and can’t make any connections between it and the scent, but Victoria also identifies the scent of this incense as being “clean,” and I would definitely concur. La Coquille, when I smell it unlit, evokes the color blue to me: there is something very uplifting in its floral combination of lotus, iris and aldehydes that makes me imagine that I’m in the Cycladic islands of Greece, where the sun and blue sky appear to have scoured clean all of the buildings. My mind soars when I smell this scent: it doesn’t smell like sea, it smells like the mind’s representation of how an endless blue sky making love to the sea (and to its islands filled with stark white houses) would smell if one could write the olfactory script to that scene.

SeVard is Armenian for “Black Rose,” and as of this writing, it’s not listed on the Beatnik Emptiness website because Victoria is still tweaking it. “SeVard is something I’m working on, a motor oil rose. It’s my pretend biker gang and a take on traditional ‘hippie’ incense,” she said in a note that accompanied my package. I’m not sure I can add much to her own description, because it does indeed smell like a dark, oily rose … a rose that has been delivered by way of motorbike, as if it traveled across the country Easy Rider-style and is now windblown, its petals impregnated with bike grease and road dust, or maybe the oil of the leather motorcycle jacket in which it had been tucked for safe keeping. If I’m in disagreement with any part of Victoria’s description, it’s a happy partial disagreement: SeVard smells a bit hippie-ish in terms of the motor oil scent when it’s in an unlit state, but it’s still a rose fragrance, and when the cone is lit, the elegant scent of rose is what mingles with the smoke. This is not a complaint, and I hope Victoria won’t tweak the motor oil side of the equation too much, because I like what I get now: a bit of rose softening the smoke, creating a tender smoke signal that is rather romantic. The more I burn this, the more I love it; SeVard has obviously been aiming its smoke rings at me.

Lily of the Dust is “a heady floral with lots of spicy ginger” and features notes of “stargazer lily, fresh ginger and dusty screenplays (dust accord)” per the description on the Beatnik Emptiness website. This is also a pretty accurate statement of what I smell, with the exception of “heady.” To me, Lily of the Dust smells like a very realistic lily with an equally realistic accompaniment of ginger, and because both of these scent facets smell like something one would encounter in nature, I find a certain amount of dewiness in the overall scent. The odd thing is that this dewiness is indeed couched in another aroma that could be called dusty in that it's reminiscent of sawdust or of a certain kind of paper one rarely encounters anymore. When I was in grade school in the 1970s, we used to get this gray, unbleached tablet paper (with wide-spaced lines at the bottom of the page, where a little kid could write in clunky letters and still have the assignment be readable, while at the top there was always an unlined portion where pictures could be drawn), and I will always remember the way that tablet paper smelled: pulpy and oddly stale. That’s the kind of aroma that Victoria’s dewy, spicy lily is wrapped in, and I would say that overall, it lives up to her concept: a sense of something alive and fresh that somehow can’t escape the past—or maybe doesn’t want to. There is enough peppery, gingery spiciness here to suggest a backbone, such that when I huff Lily of the Dust from the can, I can easily imagine a girl named Lily—a dramatic young thing, definitely a theatre major—who has a love of everything retro.

I thought Lily of the Dust would be my favorite, but I find that when burned, it loses some of its scent identity in the way that the other two incenses don’t. It smells lovely and incensey, and the dewiness of the lily and the freshness of the ginger certainly perfume the smell of the smoke but, in the process, lose their defining scent characteristics. Even so, if I wanted to make a room smell intimate, inviting and deliciously retro (in the way that burning incense will always strike me as retro), I’d light up Lily of the Dust and consider my mission accomplished.

Beatnik Emptiness Incense Cones are available from the boutique’s website; $19.99 for a tin containing 20 incense cones.

Credits: photo of smoke is from; photo of incense is from the

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