A Perfumed World
BY CASSIE H. / PHOTOGRAPHY by JENNI PORKKA
I challenge you to boot up your computer, and have a look on the popular American auction site, eBay; type in a search for the Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, or BPAL. On any given day, these small, coveted vials are being sold and traded by fans all over the world, sometimes at prices that would astonish those not in the know. Here’s another one: Travel to bpal.org. This is a site dedicated to the Lab, created and moderated by users and lovers of the BPAL products. Finally, navigate to blackphoenixalchemylab.com; this is where the magic happens…but what IS the Lab?
The Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab is an online company specializing in natural perfumed oils, as created by partners Elizabeth Moriarty and Brian Constantine four years ago. These oils come in two sizes, 1/32oz samples, referred to as “imps ears” or simply “imps”, and 5ml bottles. Originally, imps were filled manually, and labels were written by hand. In a very short time, as the Lab has gained cult-like popularity in just about every country; they now boast an automated filler and a brick and mortar store in Los Angeles, California, plus a thriving community that branches out from the bpal.org forum to other megasites such as LiveJournal and MySpace. Amazingly, this following has mostly sprung up from the positive word of mouth inspired by the friendly ‘family’ atmosphere within the BPAL world, and the sheer quality of the many, many products that are now available.
The Lab outputs an astonishing amount of hand blended oils, featured on the site with regular updates including a monthly “Lunacy” based on the Native American custom of giving distinctive names to each Full Moon. Most of the oils are similarly steeped in history and literature, with names stemming from authors such as Lewis Carrol and H.P. Lovecraft (The Mad Tea Party and Picnic in Arkham), to an entire series based on classic works of art (The Salon). These inspired themes strike chords of fond memories for most enthusiasts, and many claim that simply smelling this or that blend does invoke the person or place it is based upon. Even the bottles from the Lab are beauty in miniature, with label art crafted by acclaimed artist Jennifer Williamson. But why the rampant collectibility?
Not all of these scents are available year round. While many are always on offer, the Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab creates seasonal, holiday, and other quirky blends that are only available for a short time. The full moon Lunacies are usually only active for three days before disappearing, and other Limited Editions have set runs before they too become discontinued. Once this happens, and sometimes even before with the very popular oils, bottles become hot commodities, and worth their weight in gold. Blends from 2004 and 2005 in 5ml sizes have sold easily for upwards of $75, and some of the rarer imps, those 1/32 of an ounce sample vials, have sold for $30, if not more. Still, the Lab doesn’t encourage opportunists who only collect their oils for profit on auction sites, as this is emphatically not what the communities are about, and such profiteering is rebuffed. Regulars on the bpal.org site and other forums trade bottles and imps like baseball cards, with a sense of goodwill and friendship. It’s an amazing phenomenon that has blossomed from the hard work and dedication of the Lab extended family and loyal clientele, which has now become a thriving company in its own right.
Run out and buy: Shub-Niggurath. Based on a fictional deity from the Lovecraft tale, “Shub” as it is affectionately called, was discontinued and became extremely collectible. In their infinite wisdom, the Lab brought this wildly popular spicy scent back recently, and it is now available from the general catalogue. Snap it up before they change their minds!
Dollars and Scents
There are plenty of other notable e-tailers that offer lovely products for the scent obsessed. I’ve spent a bit of time hunting up the cream of the crop.
Run out and buy: Butterball Bath Bomb. This little baby is made with natural cocoa butter and ylang ylang, for the perfect bathing experience.
Heaven and Earth Essentials has been going strong for over two years in its current incarnation, but owner Michele has been churning out perfumed oils and other accoutrements for twelve years. What makes HAEE a stand out success is that customers are able not only to custom-blend such items as body butter and soufflés with their own scent choices, but also suggest new items to be introduced into the catalogue, or offer ideas for scented oil blends. This hands-on approach gives Heaven and Earth Essentials serious advantage against competition, resulting in a loyal fanbase both in the United States and the UK. Popular scents include Black Cat, Sunnia Golden Dragon, and White Cat, with general catalogue and limited editions being introduced on a regular basis. HAEE offers a complete lineup of products for your fragrance, bath, and skincare needs including essential oils, soaps and scrubs, cleansers, and even hair treatments, all handmade on site from the best ingredients from around the world.
Run out and buy: Voodoo Punani. The name says it all, trust me.
Possets evolved from a small Kentucky company into an up and coming driving force in the perfumed world, and is now located in Cincinnati, Ohio. The power of the internet has given Fabienne Christenson, super sharp proprietress of Possets, the ability to expand from her hometown into a global internet franchise. After a long stint in business, Fabienne never forgot that her childhood dream was to pursue a career as a perfumer. An MBA later, she’s put her savvy and know how to good use, and has rebuilt Possets from the ground up, currently expanding the brand to include Possets Naturals, handmade oil blends with 100% natural ingredients and absolutely no synthetics. A smart move in a market that is saturated with inferior products! Fabienne is embracing organics, which has opened up an entirely new customer base among vegetarians, vegans, and other eco-friendly groups. Possets also has a general catalogue of bestselling blends including Madame X, Silver Violets, and her own divine signature scent, Fabienne. With a men’s line currently in the works, Possets is one to watch.
Run out and buy: Madame X. Spicy, with a trace of sweet…the ultimate sexy scent.
Droplettes is a brand new offering from Blooddrop Clothing and Fineries, a company specializing in custom fitted corsets and other handcrafted clothing. Astrid has been making her own perfumes for quite some time, and has opened her doors to new customers just this year. Droplettes are very much French inspired, with whimsical names, delicate labels, and very feminine scents ranging from musky to deliciously sweet. In an effort to compete with larger companies, Astrid has completely updated the line with new ingredients, and is releasing new blends at a furious rate. Fan favourites include Citrouille, Soleil, and Happy Birthday, which upon request can be personalized to include a name on the label for a lucky giftee. And this just in…keep an eye out for bath salts, bath butter, mild soaps, and even moisturisers coming soon. There’s a lot to love about Droplettes, with much more to come. Take a look at the site and take advantage of the amazing prices…and grab a corset while you’re there.
Run out and buy: Delicieuse. Honey, vanilla, and a splash of peppermint, it’s divinity in a bottle.
Photography by Jenni Porkka