In Remembrance of Sylvia Plath


Sylvia Plath. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Sylvia Plath. Image from Wikimedia Commons

I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart. I am. I am. I am.

Sylvia Plath was a brilliant American poet who is beloved and remembered for her fiercely emotional writing. In crafting my perfumes, I seek inspiration from the lives of some of history and literature’s most fascinating subjects. I make these perfumes as tributes to people who inspire me and I feel a deep connection to. Sylvia is not only a luminary, but for several years, people wrote to me requesting I make a perfume inspired by her and her seminal work, The Bell Jar. Because the circumstances surrounding her death are so tragic and she still has family members alive, I want to be extremely sensitive when discussing the poet. Here is a brief look at the short life of a haunted genius.

Early Life

Sylvia Plath was born on October 27, 1932 in Boston Massachusetts to parents of German and Austrian descent. Even from a young age, Sylvia’s genius was recognized. She began to write poetry, even having pieces published in local newspapers, by age 8. She was extremely ambitious owing in part to her mother’s pushing, and she was also recognized as a gifted painter.

Tragedy first struck her young life when her father died a mere week after her eighth birthday. Her grief was profound and from that point on had no love for religion. Many scholars and biographers believe that this early loss was the original catalyst for her chronic depressive episodes.

Finding and Losing Herself

When she made it to Smith College in 1950, Sylvia found herself. She excelled at her collegiate studies and edited the Smith Review as well as Mademoiselle magazine. Her big break guest editing for Mademoiselle required her to live in New York for a month during the summer of her junior year. The experience was tumultuous and disappointing, leading to a downward spiral that resulted in electroshock therapy and her first suicide attempt. It was this experience that provided the inspiration for The Bell Jar, her only published novel.

The thing about depression that people often forget is that while for someone like Sylvia it is a recurring problem, it is not an all-consuming, forever thing. There are breaks of joy in between. She was able to recover from this episode and earned a Fulbright Scholarship to Cambridge. It was there that she met Ted Hughes, the future poet laureate.

At their first meeting, he took her earrings and she bit his cheek so hard that she drew blood (this from a journal she kept). They married after four months. So that kind of gives you an idea about this relationship. Their relationship has even been compared to that of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald – passionate, co-dependent, mutual literary inspiration and destruction.

From 1956 through 1962 the couple moved around a lot – Sylvia taking various teaching jobs in America and running in circles with writers like Anne Sexton, before they settled in England.

They had two children together, an additional child she miscarried after Hughes beat her. In 1962, they separated when she discovered that he was having an affair. Sylvia took her two children back to London where they rented an old flat that had once been lived in by William Butler Yates, fate she thought.

It was there during the final six months of her life that she wrote the poems from Ariel, her collection which brought her posthumous literary fame. The Bell Jar had been published just one month before she died.

Despite the care of Dr. Horder, her close friend and doctor, she did not make it out of her final depressive episode. In the early morning hours of February 11, 1963, she sealed the room to protect her children, and turned on the gas. She placed her head in her oven and died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

A Tribute to a Master

When creating this tribute perfume, I wanted to capture the essence of her writing, not necessarily her as a person. I chose a passage from The Bell Jar that I found to contain deep emotional resonance that speak to the overwhelming burden of choice, as well as a beauty to the natural elements in which she describes. Below are the lines:

 “I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor… I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.” – The Bell Jar, 1963

May her beautiful soul rest in peace.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit this list of suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

 

Gather 'round, it's history time for my new perfumes

Remember when I used to write about history? Probably not because it's been sooo long. Well, I'm about to fix that because I have 4 brand new perfume tributes to let you know about! Madame MoustacheA Perfumed Oil for Fancy Ladies & Gentlemen of Exceptional Quality

On the American Frontier you needed backbone and sheer wit to not only survive, but prosper. Eleonore Alphonsine Dumont, aka Madame Moustache, had both in stride. Originally born in France (at least that's what she claimed), Dumont was a notorious gambler hustling her way through mining camps and gambling houses in the West. She amassed a small fortune only to lose it all to a man of charm, but little substance. With dogged determination Dumont upped her gambling efforts and started her own gambling house "Vingt-et-un" (21) a saloon for stylish gents, no women, save for herself, allowed. Her charm made her the perfect, unassuming gambler, and with the addition of running a brothel, she found her fortune back in excess. When her beauty faded she became known as Madame Moustache, owing to a line of dark hair on her lip - which she wore with pride.

Madame Moustache Perfume Oil contains notes of tobacco pipe, vegan Egyptian musk, fire, and vanilla. This alluring scent is meant for fancy ladies and well kept gents, and smells like a warm campfire.

VIII: A Cologne Oil Worthy of Kingly Pursuits

Before he became the rotund, belligerent king of his twilight years, young King Henry VIII was a stylish youth deeply interested in the arts, education, sport, and was a devout Catholic called a Defender of the Faith by Pope Leo X. As the second son of Henry VII, he was never expected to become king, but when he did, he did so with lavish excess and cultivated an image of a Renaissance man. Henry VIII's obsession with producing a male heir (partly his own vanity, and partly a desire to avoid another War of the Roses) is what led to the two things he is widely known for: the English Reformation and his six wives.

England's most famous king had a soft spot for the finer things in life and was said to wear a concoction of ambergris and civet, two of the finest scents of the time. This cologne oil inspired by the illustrious Tudor has notes of ambergris, belladonna, clovebud, tobacco, bay leaf, fire, and Peru balsam.

Archibald MensiesA Cologne Oil for Explorers of Merit & Other Fearless Pursuits

Back in the 1700s there was still a large swath of Earth left unexplored, especially in the New World. Archibald Menzies was a Scottish surgeon who moonlighted as a botanist and naturalist. He was hired aboard George Vancouver's HMS Discovery that traveled around the world and is of particular note here in Seattle as they were some of the first to explore Puget Sound. Like Charles Darwin, who wasn't even born until 15 years after the Discovery expedition, Archibald Menzies documented plant life and cultivated seeds. He discovered the Douglas Fir and brought/planted orange seeds in Hawaii (still there to this day) for future ships stopping there to port (oranges helped with scurvy).

This cologne oil features blood orange, oak moss, Egyptian musk, tobacco, and fir. Dab some on your wrist and go exploring.

Beatrix PotterA Dead Writers Perfume

Beatrix Potter was the author and illustrator of the beloved children's story, The Tale of Peter Rabbit. She was born to a wealthy Victorian family and after summering in the Lake District as a child, she began her lifelong work as a naturalist and conservationist. Using the royalty money from the success of her book she bought Hill Top Farm and surrounding areas in an effort to keep the English countryside pristine.

In Peter Rabbit she wrote, “Peter was not very well during the evening. His mother put him to bed, and made some chamomile tea: "One table-spoonful to be taken at bedtime.” This perfume was created after reading these lines to my own child. Beatrix has notes of moss, blue spruce, dragon's blood, fire, earth, and chamomile. It has a wonderful green scent with the light floral of the chamomile headnote.

Let me know how you like them!

Badass of the Week: Doc Maynard

Warning: I'm going to use the word "badass" like 50 times because there is no other word to describe the awesome that is Doc Maynard. I'm supposed to do a tutorial today, but, well, I'm just so excited to introduce my men's colognes that I couldn't wait to share a little history lesson behind the inspiration for my first cologne.

I first heard about Doc Maynard when I read Boneshaker by Cherie Priest. Seriously, if you like steampunk, alternative history, zombies and badass female heroines, you need to get on that stat. At that point, I didn't live in Seattle, I was still in either Los Angeles or San Francisco I don't even remember, so frankly nothing outside of that had entered my mind and I just thought he was some made up character. NOT SO!

After I moved here, I got really interested in local history because there's a ton of it and, well, BONESHAKER!! I went on the Underground Walking Tour (yes! you can go underground to old Seattle that burned down) and that was basically a love song to Doc Maynard. So who was this mysterious man with the name straight out of Tombstone or something?

Doc Maynard was a frontier doctor and friend to the Native Americans, famous for becoming one of the founding fathers of Seattle. After losing his fortune in Cleveland, he bade farewell to his family promising to send for them as he made his way to California seeking a new life. He totally didn't send for them though because he found out his wife cheated on him... but he didn't want to totally screw her over so he stayed with her for a time (nice guy!). On the trail to Oregon he used his medical knowledge to help fight cholera which proved fortuitous as he met the love of his life, the widow of the wagon train leader, Catherine Broshears. He accompanied her to Puget Sound where he got involved in logging and swindled San Francisco for 10 times what he paid amassing a small fortune. But it was city building that interested Doc Maynard saying that he wasn't interested in wealth, just building the greatest city on earth. He opened a store, became Justice of the Peace, befriended local Native Americans, helped start brothels (he felt vice was necessary on the frontier) and even petitioned for a separate Washington Territory. It was at his urging that Seattle was named for Chief Seattle, leader of the local tribe and his bestie. At that time, Seattle was an upstart little village that made its fortune first with logging and then ultimately being the last stop for supplies on the Alaska Gold Rush Trail. Jesus, this dude was awesome, I need to visit his grave. Writing this I was getting jealous of such cool state history but then I remembered I'm from New York.

photo (19)
photo (19)

Aaaannnyway, I make my fragrances with historical and literary figures in mind and when I decided that I wanted to venture into colognes... Doc Maynard was the first person I thought of (actually second behind King Henry VIII but I haven't perfected that yet). This cologne is a tribute to Seattle's original badass and brings to mind sasparilla and old saloons. The sassafras lends a root beer scent while the underlying juniper berry (used to flavor gin) smells fresh and clean. Layers of moss, sandalwood and tobacco round out this cologne.

I LOVE HISTORY!!

Tart of the Week: The Duchess Georgiana Cavendish

For fans of Georgiana, the title of this post is written in jest, you'll find out why below. For those of you who don't know who Georgiana is, or if you just don't like Keira Knightley which seems to me the only reason why you would not have heard of the Duchess, it's story time. Georgiana Spencer (Princess Diana’s great-great-grandaunt) was delighted to find out that she had caught the eye of the influential (and rich!) Duke of Devonshire. Always the aristocrat, Georgiana supported her husband’s political affiliations with friendliness and charm – becoming at one point one of the chief fashionistas in England. She was even pen-pal to Marie Antoinette. However, difficulty in producing an heir led her husband to grow distant and he began a not-so secret affair with Georgiana’s friend Lady Elizabeth Foster. The trio lived as a ménage-a-trois (not by Georgiana’s choice) for the rest of her life.

Despite her marital unhappiness, Georgiana found solace in the arms of Charles Grey who later became Prime Minister. They had an illegitimate daughter whom Georgiana was forced to give up. Charles Grey is the namesake of the ever popular Earl Grey Tea. She died at the age of 48 most likely due to alcoholism.

One day whilst searching for information on historical figures, like I do, I found a website written as a gossip blog in Georgiana's "voice." It's called The Duchess of Devonshire's Gossip Guide to the 18th Century, and while it's a cheeky Georgian version of TMZ, it's clear that the author's focus is history because there's tons of interesting stuff I didn't know. They even have a Tart of the Week section!! Anytime someone uses the word "tart" as an insult I feel warm and fuzzy inside. I wish all people would talk like that, I'd be less weird. There's also a companion site for Marie Antoinette but we'll talk about that tart later. While the discovery of these sites validated the fact that there are other people out there like me, I was kind of jealous I hadn't thought of it first.

Anyway, the point. So, as you know I make perfumes. I read a lot of historical fiction, and biographies for that matter, and thought it would be cool to make perfumes inspired by what I think historical figures might have worn based on their personalities. I love grandeur and tragedy because I'm crazy.

Georgiana was one of the first I made. This perfume is dedicated to the star-crossed lovers by a mix of Black Tea and Bergamot (ingredients of Earl Grey Tea) as well as the delicate florals of Jasmine and Lavender. I giggled like an absolute school girl when I realized that not only had I made a pleasant perfume, but I'd made one that smelled like Earl Grey tea. Because Georgiana and Lord Grey were lovers. SEE WHAT I DID THERE?!?!?! As of last night I only have one more bottle left of Georgiana. But don't worry, I'm going to make more. It just takes about a month for it to be pretty and I wasn't expecting it to be popular so let's chalk it up to poor planning on my part and call it a day.

If you are intrigued by Georgiana's story, you should read Amanda Foreman's biography which the 2008 movie The Duchess, starring Keira Knightley, is based on. The original title of the book was Georgiana, The Duchess of Devonshire, but since the movie came out you might only find it as The Duchess.