Saturday, June 9, 2012


The Opium Den. 19thc. Vincent G. Stiepevich.
I have two pet peeves in indie perfumes. One is Haunt. Every time I go to their site, EVERYTHING is sold out, or coming soon. I've been there right after they've announced a new release, and all of them, sold out, not available, nada. I begin to wonder if it is actually possible to order from them or if you need to know the sooper-seekrit handshake or something.

The other is BPAL. Their site makes my head explode. Pages and pages and pages of it. I don't want to sort through eleventy thousand elaborate description to find a couple of scents to order. Some of the descriptions are nice and simple - a few notes, not too hard to figure out, while others are paragraphs long with a metric boatload of notes, flowers and flowers, six essential spices, four atmospheric components, fresh cookie breath and the sweat of an Ethiopian lumberjack. At which point my head explodes again. Too many choices, too much information. My brain goes all BSOD and starts a memory dump. I've gotten a few imps as part of trades, and they've been nice but not what I would expect, given the hype. None of them have made me go OMG. Must. Have.

But...there has been one BPAL scent I have craved. Kathy Effing Jacobs described Red Lanterns in one of her Makeup Heroes videos. This one, I think. I've been stalking ebay for it ever since. BPAL describes it as "A tribute to the opium den cum bawdyhouses of Shanghai in the 1930's. Golden amber, blonde tobacco, Sudanese black coconut, rich caramel, black currant, white opium and delphinium laced with a sensual blend of Asian spice."

As luck would have it, after about a year of looking, I found (and actually won) a bottle of it just in time for my birthday. I was so excited I stalked the package on USPS tracking waiting for it to get here. While I was waiting, I checked out BPAL Madness to read the descriptions of the scent.

Uh-oh. Every description I read emphasized caramel. Not that I dislike caramel, but that's not what I'm looking for. I don't want it to smell like a Russian Tea House, I have Solstice Scents' delightful Russian Caravan from last winter for that. Russian Caravan is listed as a blend of smoked black tea, leather, pomegranate, black currant, amber & pink peppercorn. It's a lovely, spicy-sweet scent that makes me think of drinking hot tea in a horse-drawn sleigh. That's all well and good, but I want Red Lanterns to smell like an opium den* full of lounging odalisques. Smoky haze and a scantily clad Joan Chen.  I began to fear this would be another Haus Amber. Great anticipation followed by a painful letdown.

delicious, but not what I'm hoping for.
When I actually got the bottle, I was almost afraid to open it. But I did, and I was thrilled and relieved to find that the smoke, spice and opium notes were the strongest on me. The caramel comes up later, but it's subtle and dark, almost buried in the amber. After a minute of indistinct spiciness I get a rush of smoky, incense-laden lassitude. As the scent dries down, it becomes a spicy caramel/tobacco/currant blend, very exotic, very deep and darkly inviting. And when I say tobacco, I don't mean cigarette-smell, but the unique, papery smell of drying tobacco leaves. Similar to the smell of tobacco in a tobacco shop or a really good unlit cigar, but not quite the same - there's a definite spicy plant undertone that's hard to describe. After a few hours I'm left with something very like the way the lingering scent of a campfire clings to your clothes and hair long after the fire has burned out.

"A New Vice: Opium Dens in France", cover of Le Petit Journal, 5 July 1903

In short, Red Lanterns is everything I'd hoped it would be; lush, smoky, sinful and delicious. I love it. It reeks of indolence, luxury and decadence.

*not an actual opium den, that would probably smell terrible. The romantic idea of an opium den.

not sexy


As always, all products were purchased by me for my own use. My opinions are my own and always will be. Your mileage may vary.


  1. This scent sounds incredible. I am sad I read the post (read it earlier, read it again) because it's so well written that I now want a fragrance I may never have...

  2. As you probably know, I am a big BPAL fan. Red Lanterns is an incredible scent. I'm glad you were able to score a bottle of it!

    BPAL's descriptions are a bit, uh, flowy, and there site needs major work. I guess after buying so long I am used to it, but for new customers, it's a total turnoff.

  3. Always love your writing even if I don't crave whatever scent you're describing. Been trying to get you on Facebook but to no avail. Hope you're OK.

  4. My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!

    Midnight Flowers

  5. ". . .fresh cookie breath and the sweat of an Ethiopian lumberjack." You totally crack me up. ~ Robyn