5 The Strange South Reviews: Baby Shoes + Come Play With Us + Commala + First Love + Gatlin
Wolves of the Calla is my second favorite Steven King book. My first favorite Stephen King book is the second Dark Tower book The Drawing of The Three, but of the Dark Tower series Wolves pulls in firmly in second place. I love the Dark Tower books. I first read them about 10 years ago in college and they were extremely formative for me. I'd grown very tired of various versions of what I called "regurgitated Tolkien" and the Dark Tower series felt like a deconstruction of quest fantasy. Plus, as much as The Lord of the Rings gave us an English mythology, The Dark Tower gave us an American one.
With the second IT movie coming out I've been impressed by the number of Stephen King perfumes that came out this year. It's really cool to see so many tributes to a living legend of the horror genre. However, I was a little sad that the Dark Tower books were not getting as much love when there are just so many great concepts in there. What does a thinny smell like? I need to know because reasons.
And then I saw TSS's fall collection and I've got very, very excited. They had two Dark Tower scents and one looked deeply in my wheelhouse.
I've never cried from a perfume before, but I cried when I tried Commala. I need to put this out there. It smells like the books. Not like the paper pages or a book but it smelled like Midworld. Like, spoilers, but Commala has a rave review coming. There's a real possibility that it is currently my favorite perfume of all time.
All perfumes in this review were allowed to rest for several days ( over two weeks 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, honeysuckle Meyers clean day, 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.
For spray perfumes/EDPs: I gently give them a little shake. I then wrap my arm in a towel except for the test area (again, top of the arm or back of the hand.) I then spritz the EDP on with a couple of pumps then remove the towel. The goal is to keep the EDP restricted to the test area.
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.
For the 1mls: See my previous bottle review [link].
In regards to the 5ml spray EDP: I found the spray EDP to be non leaky, easy to open (both to take off the cap and to unscrew the sprayer), and to spray well. The labeling was not damaged through normal handling. My only criticism of the 'bottle' is more a criticism of the carrier: As I mention below there is some separation in the EDP where one clear liquid sinks below the other one. I compensated for this by extra vigorous shaking but I don't know what's separating out of the carrier, and if it blends enough with the carrier to be adequately dispersed when the spray bottle sprays.
A reminder: Each nose is different and each skin’s chemistry is different. Your mileage may vary.
Baby Shoes (Pet Sematary)
I remember this one being an atmospheric with an asphalt note - can’t recall the others though.
In the bottle: I can see the asphalt note right away - it smells like stone and old cigarette butts and parking lots. It’s slightly acrid and sweetly chemical.
Below that I’m getting well… baby shoes. Baby powder, a sweet vanilla-like scent, a bit of rubber and a textile and a lemony white floral. The perfume is aptly named. There’s something dark in there too (beyond the asphalt). Might be a dirt note or a dark resin/wood of some sort. It’s hard to pinpoint.
Wet on my skin: Topnotes of baby powder, a creamy smell (kind of like cold cream), vanilla and lemony floral. Midnotes of rubber/textile, and that dark note. The asphalt note makes up the base.
It reminds me a lot of TSS’s Fire in a Bottle if Fire in a Bottle lived underneath a parking lot.
Drydown: The asphalt has risen to the top - an aura of that chemicals-and-stone-parking-lot smell. Directly beneath that is the rubber smell. I’m beginning to wonder if the rubber is a separate note or is just part of the asphalt. Wreathing this smell is the vanilla, lemony floral, and just a teeny tiny bit of the baby powder left over. At the very base I’m still getting some of that dark note mixed with something like cardboard.
After 30 mins: The ‘sweet’ notes in this have died back a tiny bit compared to the drydown, and the whole perfume is wearing slightly sweeter but otherwise pretty much the same. The whole thing is kind of eerie smelling and contrasts light, sweet, traditionally perfumey notes with dark atmospherics.
Scent cloud starts a couple of inches out from the application site. It wears close to the skin without much throw.
Official Notes: Upturned dirt, gasoline, powdered skin, smashed apricots, cream, and white musk.
So the dirt + gasoline is what smells like asphalt in this I'm pretty sure. It is not a potting soil dirt - if there are any acrid elements to it, it’s blending with the gasoline. The creamy notes I was getting were the well… cream. The powdered skin notes are the baby-powder, probably the vanilla and I think that might be where I was getting the smell that I was like ‘I don’t know… cardboard?’ about - it’s that kind of flat-skin smell. The white musk is what I think my brain was reading both as the kind of the rubber smell, and the dark elements at the base (the raw muskiness of it is kind of dark). The apricots must be what smelled like a lemony floral to me - they didn’t smell strongly fruity in this.
Verdict: This is a well constructed perfume for its theme, and I think fans of strong atmospherics (particularly ones that lean towards asphalt, tar, or parking lots) will like this. For me it’s an interesting smell and I’m glad I got to smell it but I wouldn’t want to wear it. Passing my sample on.
Come Play With Us (The Shining)
In the bottle: Spiced, slightly medicinal berries, something sharp and kind of metallic and wood. I can’t tell if the berries themselves are inherently slightly medicinal (like elderberries) or if it’s a sweeter berry being combined with something herbal. The scent is fruity, caustic, and dark-woody-resinous. It kind of reminds me of the smell of red lollipops or cough drops but strongly spiked.
Wet on my skin: Okay, so, on the skin I’m getting:
In the top notes: medicinal sharpness - like camphor or a medicinal berry. Under that is a fruity scent (reminds me of berries - but could be wine), something ozonic or coldly metallic, and wood. The scent is medicinal, cold, fruity and woody. There’s also, somewhere in there, something that reminds me slightly of the smell of cashmere but I can’t tell if that’s two separate notes combining and creating something at their edges or if it’s one distinct note on its own.
I could also see there being a red, sharp floral in here but, again, blending effect. The lollipop smell is much reduced - this smells more like a ghostly alcoholic beverage.
Drydown: Juniper berries. I’m almost certain these are juniper berries. At this point in the scent I’m getting topnotes of juniper berries with something sweet underlying. Then there’s a floral - smells red and a little sharp to me. Under that is something dusty smelling that reminds me of heliotrope. There’s an edge in the scent that is cooly metallic, and then that woody base.
After 45 mins: Very similar to the drydown - perhaps a tiny bit more fruitiness. It’s still wearing fairly strong. I get a scent cloud 2-3 inches from the application site. It has a bit of a throw where I’ve been getting whiffs of it throughout the test period.
Official Notes: Bourbon, waxed wood, stale water, red musk, and blood orange.
Okay! So the bourbon is what smelled medicinal to me, and, low key, I still think it smells a bit like juniper berries moreso than bourbon. The waxed wood was the wood I was getting - maybe a pine? The fruit is blood orange. The red musk is what smells kind of like lollipops or cough drops - it’s recognizable now that I have the name in front of me. The stale water must be what smells kind of dusty-heliotrope to me.
Verdict: Not my thing, but, for someone who wants to smell like a spooky drink of hard liquor with a medicinal edge this would fit the bill. I’ll be passing my sample on.
Commala (EDP) (The Dark Tower: Wolves of the Calla)
As a note: this one got an extra vigorous shake because it looked like there was separation of some sort in the bottle, with either the perfume or the alcohol being heavier and settling on the bottom.
Also I remember this having an apple cider, dusty dirt, and leather note and I wanna say there’s a rice note as well.
In the bottle: Every time I smell this new I start tearing up because it smells like Midworld. It smells like the books. This is going to be a disgustingly rave review because to me, this is perfect. It might be my favorite perfume of all time levels of perfect with how it is in the bottle.
At the top you get the apple cider, which sparkles and shines. The leather is soft and rough without being acrid at all. It smells realistic (like aged gun holsters).
Below that is a smell like rain clouds rolling over golden pastures of soft grass - I assume that’s the rice. All of this is layered over a resinous, traditionally masculine base.
Wet on my skin: Leather, sweet alcohol and dust underscored by apple cider and rice. That stormcloud lingers on the horizon. I don’t like this quite as much as I liked it in the bottle. The perfumers alcohol has a distinctive smell and the leather is more forward muting the sparkling and resinous notes that, for me, made this sing. Almost instantly though (because EDPs dry down so fast) the scent begins to balance. It’s much softer than the strong scent in the bottle. I experimentally added a couple of extra spritzes from the bottle to see if that altered things any.
It seemed to bring out the resin and apple cider more, and the whole scent is slightly stronger when applied in that higher amount.
Drydown/After 30 mins: Sweet soft leather, sparkling cider layered over soft golden rice fields with a thunderstorm rolling in and swirls of dry dust. It smells almost exactly like it did in the bottle. Scent cloud starts softly about two inches from my hand.
My only complaint is I wish this wore stronger. I wish this hit me like a truck. I want to drown in this scent.
Official Notes: Mugs of spiced cider, tanned suede, prairie grass, rice, rain clouds, and dust kicked up from a heeled boot. Yup, all here, all exactly right for the book, all exactly right in the scent. Y’all. Y ‘ A L L.
I only wish it lasted longer (I got a good couple of hours out of it - but would prefer more) or wore stronger. I don’t know if it’s the amount of EDP I’m applying or if it’s the separation that’s happening in the bottle and my shaking was not enough to properly atomize it. It would probably last longer on hair or clothing though - EDPs often do.
How the oil performs compared to the EDP: I’m including this section this time because I received the perfume in two forms!
In the bottle the leather is richer, as are the spices in the apple cider. It lacks the glittering quality the EDP has in the bottle. On my skin wet the apple cider starts to come out, but overall the scent is richer and heavier than it is in EDP form - I also feel like I’m getting more of the dirt. In the EDP the dirt is just a soft dustiness, like dry dirt but here it’s adding richer, earthier tones.
As it sits on my skin it begins to migrate to the scent the EDP had - that perfect balance of prairie-under-a-thunderstorm, dusty dirt, and cider. It never quite gets there - there’s a bit more of an alcoholic tang to the oil - but it gets very close.
I found that for the half hour or so I wore the oil that it seemed to be more persistent and stronger than the EDP - these qualities indicate to me that it’s probably longer lasting too.
Verdict: The question is not if I upsize with this, it’s how I upsize with this. Do I get the big EDP and just go hard with the amount I use? Would it last longer on hair or clothing? Do I get it in lotion as well as in perfume form? Decisions, decisions. But yes, strongly recommended if you find your tastes are similar to mine and/or love The Dark Tower books.
First Love (The Dark Tower: Wizard and Glass)
I remember this has a hay note and a rose note? You kind of have to do a Dark Tower scent with a rose.
In the bottle: In the top notes I get the rose - it is sweet, youthful, bright, and framed by the other notes in the scent. It is not a heavy, thick, or overwhelming rose. Besides the floral I get some soft muskiness and some more of that storm-streaked-sky smell. I can see a little bit of a fresh hay/dried grass note in there at the base. This is like a feminine counterpart to the more masculine Commala.
Wet on my skin: Top notes of rose and sweet citrus. Midnotes of dry grass, overcast skies, and maybe a leather? A textile? Something that smells like clothes. The base is softly, sweetly musky and thick. The scent is gentle, sweet, deceptively bright, feminine of center and a little bittersweet feeling.
Drydown: Rose, citrus, and a powdery scent at the top. Below that is the hay and a misty smell. Something about the hay makes me feel a little queasy. Real talk: I tried TSS’s Deerskin a while back and some note in that created an aversive reaction in me too… and now I’m suspecting it’s the hay because there’s something in this that has that similar… sour-dried-grass vibe to it. Though I suppose there might be some other crossover between the two scents.
However, if you liked Deerskin this one is a lot like a more feminine version of that.
The base is still musky, and there’s still a note in here that reminds me of either cloth or leather.
After 30 mins: About like the drydown. There’s some note in here that almost reminds me of cinnamon - I’m guessing it’s tonka/coumarin. That might also be part of what’s not feeling great about the scent for me. The coumarin (if it is in there) could be being used as a hay note or to enhance a hay note.
Official Notes: A lone rose stands among hay stacks, threads of honeysuckle, cedarwood, oakmoss, and chypre accord.
The rose is there, I can see the honeysuckle and cedarwood with the words in front of me. The cedar is adding to the impression of ‘citrus’ and the honeysuckle blending with the rose to make it sweeter and brighter. The oakmoss… I wonder if that was what was making me think of leather or a textile. I can see a bit of darkness in the scent but it’s not strong. The chypre is where the citrus itself is coming from, since chypre typically involves bergamot/labdanum/oakmoss. I wonder if this one has a little something extra because I do feel like I’m getting some coumarin/tonka and some sort of mistiness (though the mistiness could conceivably be from the bergamot).
Not sure where I was getting the muskiness from - maybe the labdanum in the chypre?
The hay note as has been discussed is definitely there.
Verdict: Apart from that hay note I actually like the components of this one, and I think without the hay I’d like the scent. The rose/honeysuckle/chypre combination in particular is very nice. However, with that hay note and my particular aversion to whatever is in it, this one will be a pass from me.
Gatlin (Children of the Corn)
In the bottle: Wow! Intense. Very dark brown, kind of acrid. I think I’m getting notes of super dark leather, dirt, oil, metal (maybe blood?) and gasoline. It honestly smells like a tractor. There’s this kind of nutty-sweet undercurrent under the strong dark-brown machine smells.
Wet on my skin: Very intense: I’m getting something sweet at the top that reminds me of the smell of Southern Comfort… which is a caramel bourbon, so I’m going to guess caramel and bourbon notes. Below that is that tractor smell… and then corn - either corn husks or dried corn. Masculine, atmospheric, very strong, and aggressively intense outdoor-farm smell with sweet topnotes.
Drydown: Topnotes of that sweet SoCo kind of scent - I think there’s a distinct possibility that molasses might be involved. But it’s a sweet grain alcohol type scent. Beneath that is the dried-corn smell tractor smell - leather, dirt, metal, and oil. I feel like I’m getting an edge of salt somewhere in there.
After 45+ mins: Still wearing quite strong. There is a sweet note coming through that I think is part of the leather but might be a touch of decay. Otherwise it smells about the same as the drydown. Still a strong, mildly sweet, very dark atmospheric.
Official Notes: A cornfield burning against a night sky.
Well, I can see that broadly, conceptually. This is not a smoky scent though - anything burning in there is as if there is a gasoline-fed fire and you’re sitting on a tractor with an old cracked leather seat as you watch it. It’s much more a dark atmospheric with some sinister sweetness in it (not sugary sweetness - again, think Southern Comfort).
Verdict: I don’t know. This isn’t the type of thing I’m typically drawn to, but it’s well done in an acrid, atmospheric kind of way. It’s a good creepy, conceptual scent and it’s another one I’m glad I tried… but would I wear it? Probably not. I’m torn between keeping my sample as an oddity in my collection (I have a number of conceptual scents I keep for this reason) or passing it on.