Strange Invisible Perfumes: The Art of Fragrance

Perfume junkies are a funny breed. They can spend hours on fragrance forums, debating silage, base notes and the advantages of oud over guaiac. They yearn for the rarified and the exclusive and wouldn’t think twice about spending a few hundred dollars on a bottle of perfume. I am nowhere near that obsessed, but I am certainly an “at risk” demographic: I cannot remember the last time I have bought a “designer” perfume, I turn up my nose at the mass-market and the generic, I fangirl over perfumers (Olivia Giacobetti! Swoon!) and my favorite scents are, to my chagrin, wincingly expensive. My perfume snobbery also means that, despite a few notable exceptions, I remained fairly unimpressed with the natural perfume offerings available to the green beauty consumer. Some of the scents, though lovely, were too simplistic, others skewed too sweet and vanilla-y and I even found Honoré des Prés, the green perfume line created by my beloved Olivia Giacobetti, to be dispiritingly insipid and banal.

Part of my problem with natural perfumes is that the majority of them, including my favorites from La Bella Figura and R. L. Linden, are oil-based. While oil feels lovely on the skin, I find that the fragrance doesn’t last as long as it would in a base of alcohol and as much as I like a pretty roll-on, I missed the classic experience of walking through an aromatic cloud of fragrance and spritzing it on my pulse points. I was all but ready to give up on finding a natural fragrance that could pose a challenge to my conventional favorites. And then I discovered Strange Invisible Perfumes. You already know that I am in love with SI’s Virgo perfume from its brilliant Zodiac collection and its Signature Collection is the perfect showcase for the creativity, talent and discernment of the brand’s creator.

SI 1

The aromatic essences at the heart of Strange Invisible perfumes are obtained by a traditional method of botanical hydro-distillation and the scents are carried in Esprit de Cognac, a traditional perfumer’s alcohol, distilled in Napa from non-GMO and pesticide-free grapes. I am particularly enamored by this commitment to quality and tradition not only as a perfume aficionado, but also as someone who was once properly obsessed with Patrick Suskind’s Perfume. This sophistication and old-world elegance translates to the perfumes themselves: the scents are just as complex, interesting and uncommon as those from some of my favorite niche perfume brands.

I had my first Strange Invisible experience when I tried a sample of Atlantic that came with my order from the Spirit Beauty Lounge. It was masculine and rich, with its notes of bay rum and frankincense, warm and complex and interesting. I never end up using fragrance samples, mostly because they are kind of inconvenient to use and partly because I simply forget, but my sample of Atlantic got used up to the last drop. Imagine my excitement when I was told that SI would be one of the brands I would be highlighting for A Night for Green Beauty.

Still, my excitement was tempered with a soupçon of dread. For one, I find that that it is incredibly difficult to write about perfume without getting too florid or too technical, though the latter doesn’t even help, because perfume is so individual that knowing all about a scent’s base, middle and top notes doesn’t necessarily mean that you will know how it will smell on your skin. I also worried that I would find it difficult to find enough good things to say in describing the entire line because, as my regular readers may know, I am incredibly picky and difficult when it comes to scent. Liking one scent from the line didn’t mean that I would like the rest of them. In fact, it was incredibly unlikely.

SI Box 2

When I was told that I would be sent a lineup of samples for all of the SI scents, I was expecting something like a ziplock baggie or, at best, a drawstring pouch containing a jumble of glass vials, since this is the usual means of presentation of even the priciest of perfume samples. What I received instead was a lot more akin to a box for precious jewels. SI’s delightfully named Perfume Minibar contains all of the scents in the brand’s Signature Collection (the primary line that includes all of the scents made by Strange Invisibles, with the exception of the Reserve Series – limited edition, exclusive scents that showcase the rarest and most precious of ingredients). I know that I often go on about packaging, but it is especially important for something like perfume: a product that is, by its very nature, all about the sensory experience. Paying for samples can often feel like a rip-off, yet it is a necessary evil when buying perfume online, so I really appreciate the care and love that went into packaging the Perfume Minibar.

SI Box 3

As I mentioned (repeatedly), I am picky and hard to please when it comes to perfume, but my problems with selecting a fragrance are compounded by the fact that my husband is, quite possibly, an even bigger perfume pain than I. He is both picky and cursed with a super-sensitive nose, which means that he usually starts to cough, sputter and whinge incessantly whenever I spray anything smelly in his presence. I suppose it’s a testament to his love for me that he agreed, however grudgingly, to go through the Perfume Minibar with me and help me to select a favorite.

The pretty purple box contains 12 perfume samples. The law of averages and my taste dictated that I was possibly going to like a maximum of 2 scents in addition to Atlantic. I liked every. single. one. Now, that is not to say that I would have picked all of the scents for myself. For example, the pretty, delicate fan favorite Fair Verona is a little too dainty for my taste, but there is no denying that it’s a gorgeous, feminine, yet sophisticated scent. The fact that even liked the scents that weren’t quite “me” is actually kind of remarkable because ordinarily, when a scent doesn’t click with me, my reaction tends to be fairly virulent. This is partly because when a conventional perfume doesn’t agree with me, it tends to act as a migraine trigger. One of the many advantages of natural perfume, at least for me, is that I am yet to get such a reaction from any natural perfume. Even beyond that, however, I was blown away because I didn’t dislike any one of the SI scents. And I didn’t just like, but actually loved 5 of the scents: the delicate Aquarian Rose, the dark and dangerous side of rose represented in Black Rosette, the aforementioned Atlantic, Dimanche, and New Orleans-inspired Magazine Street.

Here is the crazy part: you know who else loved every single one of the scents? The Englishman! He started the sniffathon with eyes cast towards heavens and a look of resigned martyrdom on his face and ended it rubbing perfume on every square inch of his arms, while exclaiming “Oooh! This one would work for me!” every 30 seconds or so. That’s actually one of the cool things about the predominant majority of the SI fragrances: they are perfectly unisex. Even the ostensibly more feminine fragrance like Aquarian Rose smelled sexy and masculine on my husband. The only two scents that I found to be explicitly feminine were the jasmine-heavy Fair Verona and, probably unsurprisingly, Prima Ballerina.

SI Dimanche

After much back and forth, the Englishman and I settled on Dimanche. Its primary scent notes are rose, iris, honey and amber and the perfume is described as a scent memory of a Sunday lunch in Paris. If I am perfectly honest, I have spent countless hours in leisurely Parisian lunches and I am not sure this scent represents my recollection of the experience, but it is a gorgeous scent. It’s spicy, bold and has a sexy masculine edge. If I have to come up with a Paris-scentric analogy, it makes me think of those insouciantly glamorous Parisian women with perfectly tousled bed-head hair and makeup-free faces, who splash on their lover’s cologne as they run out the door. Unfortunately, the Englishman seems to have fallen for this scent as hard as I did and it now migrated to his side of the bathroom counter. That’s ok though: I I already have my eyes on Black Rosette and Magazine Street. ANFGB boutique, here I come!

Now, I already mentioned that I find writing about perfume to be incredibly difficult (no, really, it took me about 3 weeks to write this!). I know I am repeating myself, but perfume is hugely and profoundly individual. While I often feel completely comfortable recommending skincare products, at least for certain skin types, I would never make an explicit recommendation for a perfume; not only because people have different tastes (clearly I am in a minority with my hatred of vanilla), a person’s individual chemistry can have a dramatic impact on the way a perfume smells on their skin. The Strange Invisible perfumes are unquestionably expensive and, more than ever, I would implore you to try before you buy. These caveats notwithstanding and although a gorgeous fragrance is in no way a necessity, it is, unquestionably, one of the most delightful luxuries we can spoil ourselves with. Strange Invisible perfumes represent a perfect marriage of traditional perfumery, luxury, creativity and purity and they will always have a place of honor on my vanity.

Perfumery is an art and Alexandra Balahoutis, the mind and nose behind Strange Invisible, is a true artist. In a few weeks I will be bringing you a peek into Alexandra’s world as well as an opportunity to experience the magic of Strange Invisible for yourself.

8 responses to Strange Invisible Perfumes: The Art of Fragrance

  1. I find myself attracted to dark florals and vanilla in fragrances. I also enjoy spicy when done right and adore alluring woods. This brand sounds unequivocally wonderful. I hope for the chance to try them soon!

  2. Jpantastic

    Something about the having a perfume associated with my zodiac sign makes it feel personalized-like it was created just for me. I love my Cancer scent.

  3. linda

    I thought I was alone in my dislike for vanilla scents!!! It seems like so many natural companies are filled with vanilla based scents for some reason. I personally don’t like smelling like a baked good all day long! I’ve tried some SI perfumes and they are amazing. Unfortunately I have an allergy that means I can’t use some of the ones I like best. My wallet is happy about that but I’m sad. I’m still on the look out for a perfect natural perfume for me.

  4. Patricia

    Great review – makes me want to buy one of those delightful purple boxes, with all those tantalising scents!

  5. I’m also in the “at-risk” demographic and an all-around green beauty enthusiast so I get where you’re coming from. My problem with botanical fragrances is they can smell too much like an essential oil blend, whereas I want fragrance that smells like a perfum. Dimanche is the only SIP I’ve tried, and I liked it, too. I purchased a sample blind; its description “leisurely Sunday lunches in Paris” resonated with me. If you like jasmine and tuberose, I recommend Hiram Green’s Moon Bloom. He has another, a chypre called Shangri La that I’ve heard good things about but haven’t tried (yet). I liked HDP Vamp a NY. Yes, it’s a bit generic and really sweet, but it smells great on me. As an aside, I just discovered your blog and smiled at your mention of “the Englishman” as I have someone I refer to as “the Frenchman” who is very biased when it comes to perfumes, e.g., “everyone knows the best perfumes are French.” I’ve been steering the Frenchman away from his beloved Chanel, and he likes the (now discontinued) artisan mixed media fragrances from Soivohle (not 100% botanical but way more so than Chanel).

    • TheHermesHippie – Author

      Yes! Totally agree on the EO blend. It’s one of the things I love about SI: nothing essential oil-y about them. The Shangri La sounds interesting, must give that a try. I’m funny with floral scents: I do love some, but a lot I find too heavy.

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