4 The Strange South Reviews: Tall Paul + Longer Thank You Think! + God of the Lost + The Emperor of Ice Cream
I am so thrilled to get to do some press samples for The Strange South's fall collection. Spoilers: Stephen King is a good fit for TSS. Not every scent in this collection was 'for' me but every scent in someway felt... King-esque? It reminded me of the very American, very straightforward, very blunt and kinda grimy the way his writing gets. In a Stephen King book the streets have a coating of dust and mundane crushes up against the supernatural and that's what TSS is doing with these four scents.
Each scent here represents a kind of typical perfume 'archetype' we've seen before but with something subtly 'off' about it that makes it kinda eerie. In a way this makes the collection hard for me to make up my mind about some entries. I'm not the biggest ultra-sweet gourmand lover on the planet Earth... but what about when those funnel cakes are laced with splintered wood? I don't really 'do' decay scents (much less cloyingly sweet ones) but what about when there's a breath of papery, spicy tobacco caressing the scent like the dry, withered hand of a vampire?
It's super cool how TSS has interpreted this stuff and even when a scent wasn't one I'd want to wear I was blown away by the conceptualization and artistry of the perfumes in this set I've tried so far.
(Spoiler: One perfume I will be covering in the set covering the other half of the set made me tear up. In a good way. Seriously. I'm not covering it here yet - but Commala (inspired by my second favorite of the Dark Tower books) was so perfect for that series (which is an incredibly important book series to me) that seeing The Dark Tower nailed like that moved me in such a way that I have to pop in this paragraph on a review set that doesn't even contain Commala).
All perfumes in this review were allowed to rest for several days ( around four or five days in this case) after arrival. The perfumes were kept in the dark in a plastic box if small enough. If too large for a box they generally sit on top of a bookcase or bedside table, or inside of a drawer. I did crack them open to sniff them directly after arrival, and with a couple to do an initial test. The reviews are not based off of these initial impressions - though if a rest did change the smell I’ll note that.
I’m doing a half-hour skin test with each perfume. They are always applied to skin that has either been washed or hasn’t had perfume on it that day. Sometimes I will run one scent on one wrist/hand/arm and the other on the other wrist/hand/arm. When I wash my hands for review purposes I wash with Dove sensitive skin, or citrus Doc Bronner’s.
Before doing test periods I often wear or play with other scents in my collection (that I wash off). I also am often wearing scented lotion on my feet and ankles (that I do not wash off). Sometimes I wear scented hair products simultaneously. Theoretically there could be cross-contamination.
For oils: Each sample was gently swirled before application. Then applied directly to skin - typically the top of my arm or the back of my hand.
Each review is written without looking at the notes in that moment. Frequently I will glance at a perfume’s notes beforehand. At the end of the review I will list what the official notes are and comment on how I think they interacted.
A reminder: Each nose is different and each skin’s chemistry is different. Your mileage may vary.
Tall Paul (IT)
I recall this is supposed to have a ‘chipped paint’ note. IT is one of the Steven King books on this list I have read - and the Tall Paul scene is pretty buck wild, so I kind of have an idea of what to expect.
In the bottle: Wood and a caramely smell - maybe funnel cakes? - with an edge of that chipped paint. Very sweet. The wood has a soft ‘pine’ note to it - and there’s a bit of a musky quality to the scent. It’s very rich and that tiny edge of pine combined with the sweet-chipped-paint smell strikes me as taking a gourmand and giving it masculine nuances.
Wet on my skin: Funnel cakes (oil, cinnamon, powdered sugar, fried batter), vanilla musk, with an undercurrent of golden piney wood and edges of sweet chipped paint. Kind of cloyingly sweet - there’s also something giving this a slightly sinister character, which is appropriate.
Drydown: It’s less ‘funnel cakes’ now and somewhere between ‘cinnamon toast’ and ‘cream drenched French toast’. It’s very rich, cinnamon has come out and blended with the ‘musky vanilla’ scent and it has a helluva throw for an oil. There’s a whisper of masculine smelling pine at the base and edges of those paint chips.
Overall it smells like a scent with spiced-fall-gourmand topnotes, rich white-sweet midnotes (cream, vanilla), and musky basenotes with nuances of pine and paint chips and something a little bit sinister I can’t put my finger on.
After 30 mins: Pretty much identical to the drydown - perhaps even somehow stronger and fuller as a scent. I got wafts of it the whole test period, and a strong scent cloud starts 2-3 inches from the skin.
Official Notes: Splintered wood, chipped paint, the melange of sweets and musk from a bewildered crowd, and a memory of smoke.
I get the sweets and the musk for sure - think baked sweets or ice cream more than fruity candies or chocolate though. The wood and paint are there but sit at the edges of the scent. The smoke is so subtle that I think it was what was giving the scent a bit of a ‘sinister’ vibe I couldn’t put my finger on.
Verdict: Super nice cinnamon French toast gourmand. Waffling on keeping my sample - ultra sweet gourmands are not something I wear a lot, but I do like cinnamon French toast vibe. This would make a killer candle. I recommend this to fans of baked style gourmands that are sugary sweet but want a tiny bit of a twist (and some subtle masculine nuances).
Longer Than You Think! ( The Jaunt )
In the bottle: Fir trees (maybe specifically palo santo?), soft greenery, tart edge of something lemony and a lush floral (maybe a white floral?). Very outdoorsy in a way that’s reminiscent of evergreen forests. Reminds me a bit of BPAL’s Jersey Devil.
Wet on my skin: Definitely a white floral in there! It might be a bitter-smooth jasmine. Not acrid but blending with the spicy-soft-greenery (kind of herbal). All of this is wreathed in those fir trees and there’s that tart edge. Little bit of that ‘fresh cut grass’ kind of greenery that gives me a headache. A very clean, green smell verging on aquatic.
Drydown/After 1.5 hours: I uh… got distracted with dog stuff. The good news for y’all is - this was an extra long test period.
In terms of smell it smells very much like it did wet except maybe a touch less green, a tiny bit more towards that ‘aquatic’ vibe. The lemony smell is still quite strong, as is the pine. The floral is more subtle and blending more, but is still present.
Wears strongly close to the skin, but with a fairly mild throw.
Official Notes: Gardenia, walnut, galactic resins, dust, and darkness.
Ah! Gardenia is the white floral. The walnut in this is very woody - I didn’t get any real nuttiness in this at all. The galactic resins must be where the fir smell and green smells are coming in. I don’t know if the lemony details are from the gardenia or one of the resins. I don’t get much dusty about it - but I do see how the kind of ozonic/aquatic character of it could represent darkness, as well as there being maybe a drop of a super black patchouli in here.
Verdict: If you like clean, fresh, resinous smells that head into outdoorsy-woodsy and unisex this one is probably worth your time. It’s well balanced and very clean. I do want to note: I think if you’re really into ozonic scent it’ll remind you of the natural world being twisted into something alien… but if you’re not into ozonic scents it may go into that air-freshener territory. I think this one might end up being divisive and a Your Mileage May Vary scent.
For me it’s not my thing - how green it was early on was actively painful. Passing on my sample.
God of the Lost ( The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon )
In the bottle: Bright, clear sweetgrass (vetiver in there maybe? Smells like sun-soaked grass) and soft fur slashed with caustic herbs and resin. There might be a touch of a floral in there, and maybe a bit of very bitter citrus like a green bergamot.
Wet on my skin: The fur note has come way forward. The floral in this remind me of the floral in Stereoplasm’s Mothman - very golden and slightly caustic. Sweet, sun-soaked grass in the background. Golden, shimmering resin throughout and dry dusty dirt at the base. It smells like a golden summer’s day that’s slightly… off, with a bit of caustic, almost medicinal herbs in there.
Drydown: As this dries down a feral, animalistic smell comes through - harsher than a black musk, maybe nag champa? Below that is the golden sweetgrass, the resin, the yellow slightly-caustic floral. Tiny whisper of dry dirt.
After 30 mins: Similar enough to the drydown but the feral animal smell dominates. There’s like, a hint of smoke in there too. But otherwise the same golden grass, resin, yellow-floral, dirt combo.
Official Notes: Birch, mud, honey (vegan), pelting rain, and the hulking, faceless creature trailing your scent.
Oh wow! Okay. So I can totally see the birch in there when it’s mentioned - it’s a very dry, woodsy, grassy birch. It’s what I was reading as the sun-soaked grass and the resin. The ‘mud’ note smells more like dirt to me. I can totally get the honey - and the way it interacts with the birch is what made me think of a floral - it’s a very subtly sweet honey. The rain I think is in there - but the note comes off as almost a traditional aquatic, adding to the grassy impression. The animalistic, dark smell that smells like nag champa to me is the hulking, faceless creature.
Verdict: Very eerie and unsettling. Not, for me, a terribly wearable scent - but a really clever interpretation of the themes. If you liked Stereoplasm’s Mothman and were like ‘Hm I wish this were even more monstrous’ and was kind of dirty and feverish… then this is for you. I’ll be passing on my sample but I’m struck by the craftsmanship here.
The Emperor of Ice Cream ( ‘Salem’s Lot )
I remember this had a ‘wilted flowers’ note. .. and I remember ‘Salem’s Lot is about vampires. Never read more than the first few pages of it though.
In the bottle: Slightly over-sweet flowers layered over sticky vanilla. A curiously spicy edge - not like an autumnal spice, but like dragon’s blood or spicy red peppers. A base of sweet blue green amber that reminds me a bit of a sweeter version of Alkemia’s Foxfire.
Wet on my skin: Sticky, sickly sweet. Bitter, spicy citrus rising to the top over the sweet. Like, citrus that’s tangy like dragonsblood. It has a bite to it - real teeth. The part rising is also a little papery. Wreathing that is the sticky sweet vanilla and the sickly flowers with a hint of decay. At the base is that blue-green amber. There’s some sort of familiar, musky note in the midnotes I can’t quite place.
Drydown: Coconut! The scent I can’t place is coconut! A really musky, developed coconut.
So in the topnotes you have the wilted floral - kind of a pleasant white floral bouquet with a hint of decay to it. It’s rather faint - almost more of a nuance than a core note. Then you have the spicy-papery-citrus combo smell. Beneath that is sweet, sweet vanilla and coconut. The coconut in this very rich - it reminds me a lot of the coconut in B. Perry Studios’ A Snoball’s Chance (In Hell). Below the coconut - which dominates - is a soft blueish-greenish-white amber.
After 30 mins: Stable to the drydown. Maybe the peppery, papery smell is a bit more forward and the coconut is a bit more tamed.
Arm’s length throw.
Official Notes: Limp flowers on a windowsill, strawberry ice cream, tobacco leaves, tonka, and a dribble of young blood.
The wilted flowers are the slightly decaying florals, the vanilla/citrus/coconut smell must be the ice cream accord (it is quite sweet). The peppery, papery smell is the tobacco leaves. The tonka blends with the ice cream accord - but I can pick it out with the words in front of me. The ‘dribble of young blood’ must be the resinous notes I’m getting - either some sort of amber or even a dragonsblood.
Verdict: I legitimately dunno if it is my thing but I can appreciate it as a well crafted scent. Those of y’all who know me know I’m sensitive to decay notes and try to avoid them. The scent is a well crafted gourmand with some sinister twists in it from the decaying flowers and the tobacco leaf. I’d recommend it for anyone who likes a kind of sinister, sticky, cloying sweetness in their perfumes. As for myself? Not sure - which is a big deal for me for a perfume with a decay note. It’s cloying which is usually off-putting to me… but that contrast of tobacco leaf in there really elevates it.