March 25, 2008

Interview: Black Phoenix Founder Talks Shop

Since all the cool kids are wearing perfumes from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab lately (I'm hooked on Black Forest, Tex really enjoys his Jazz Funeral, and Chris swears by Coyote) I interviewed founder and creative director Beth Moriarty for AMC, curious about her horror-themed fragrances and her taste in movies. Unfortunately in the space of my article we were barely able to scratch the surface of her incredibly thoughtful answers; the insight and energy Beth puts into her trade is astounding, just what you'd hope when you're reading the hundreds of lush product descriptions on the BPAL site.

I couldn't bear to toss all that aside, so here's our interview in its entirety, a peek behind the curtain at the mind of a deliciously mad perfumier (sort of like a mad hatter, I imagine, only tinged with belladonna instead of mercury).

ME: Can you describe the challenge of crafting horror-inspired scents?

SHE: We're conditioned to find certain scents attractive as perfumes. There are traditional formulas in classic perfumery – a chord structure you're expected to follow. The challenge in creating horror-themed scents lies is forcing yourself to throw that all away. I need to make sure that I'm not distracted by some conservative standard of beauty or by the conventional, tried and true mechanics of perfume. Because of the nature of our company and the topics we use for our inspiration, the desired end result dictates the entire composition of the perfume. It is my belief that there is a true beauty in the macabre, and that's what we try to exemplify. Beautiful scents can evoke haunting, disturbing, and terrifying imagery. It is most important to me that I stay true to the concept that I'm working with, regardless of whether the scent conforms to what's considered acceptable or desirable in mainstream perfume, and in the end people may find that the scent of graveyard dirt, embalming fluid, or shoggoth pheremones stimulates them. Conventional beauty is so friggin' boring. I'd rather wear a scent that embodies the sensuality of Salome or the ferocity of the Sacred Whore of Babylon than some pre-packaged formulaic Sexy Perfume™ that was conceived of in a sterile chemist's laboratory.

I think another challenge is making sure you don't take yourself too seriously. No one should take themselves too seriously, especially a woman that makes Eau de Herbert West for a living.

ME: What BPAL scent do you personally wear the most?

SHE: You never get over your first true love, and mine's Snake Oil.

ME: Which classic horror stories or movies would you like to see get contemporary movie treatment?

SHE: I'd like to see more Lovecraft. You can never have enough Lovecraft. IƤ! Shub-Niggurath!

ME: Can you tell me why you think horror movies are important?

SHE: Is it cheesy to quote people? Poe said, 'We are attracted to terror because we long to know some reality above this surface of appearances that we are doomed to labor in. We long to know some kind of transcendent verity. Some glimpse of truth. Some supernal beauty.' I couldn't possibly agree more. There's beauty to be found in Hellraiser's Cenobites and the sexual liberation of Dracula's brides. I understand that people reap a great deal of pleasure from the arousal they get from fear and the adrenaline rush that most horror films provide, but I think that only goes so far. A truly good horror story forces you to examine parts of your own psyche that, in the course of a normal day, you would never intentionally confront, and shows you beauty in places you wouldn't normally expect to find it.

ME: If you had to pick your favorites...?

SHE: I love Roger Corman's Poe cycle, all of the James Whale horror movies, and the artistry of the German Expressionist horror films. I love macabre comedy and camp, like Arsenic and Old Lace and The Fearless Vampire Killers. I enjoy suspense/thriller horror more than I love slasher/gorefest movies, and there are a lot of B-movies out there that I adore. I love a hell of a lot of horror, but if I were to break down my favorites…

(Beth's top ten horror movies were posted in the AMC article, which you can check out here.)

My sincere thanks to Beth and the rest of the BPAL team, what would we do (or smell like) without you??


Crystal said...

Beth is a true goddess in human form. Without her,I know that my life would be a lighter shade of pale, an definitely not smell as sweet.

Anonymous said...

The oils from Black Phoenix are not blended too well and you can tell they use certain bases (gingerbread, cake, pumpkin) then add in other oils. I'd say what Black Phoenix is great at is the marketing aspect. They create a "collectors mentality" amongst buyers and have shifted to primarily selling limited only scents, and the fans blindly buy it all up.

Anonymous said...

Oh, hooray, anonymous. Don't see those too often with BPAL.

You can tell they use certain bases (gingerbread, cake, pumpkin) then add in other oils.

And did you hear about Guerlain's seasonal Cherry Blossom series? Every year it's just sakura with some other stuff mixed in. Can you believe these hacks?

and have shifted to primarily selling limited only scents

Yes, they never create new general (permanent) catalog scents. In fact, they're going to cut back to the 30 most popular in order to better concentrate on the 3 monthly lunar blends, so buy the other 400 while you can!

(/does not usually feed the trolls but is tired of overly negative people)

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, I forgot to say:

Excellent interview, thank you for posting the full version! :D

Unknown said...

Great idea!! Nice interview!!