Friday, November 7, 2014

Review: Snake Oil by Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, From the BPAL Ars Amatoria Collection (For Cosme-Haul Fragrance Friday Freaks)

By Randi Reed

Snake Oil perfume oil, from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s Ars Amatoria collection, is this week’s Fragrance Friday review because, although we did a BPAL fragrance last week, warm, multi-purpose, unisex fragrances are perfect for this time of year. And who doesn’t love the humor of a perfume called Snake Oil?

FTC Disclosure: I bought this fragrance myself, and Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab links do not earn commission. I posted a shortened version of review on Fragrantica under the username CosmeHaul.

Snake Oil, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s most popular fragrance, is a complex unisex perfume oil with a lot going on. It’s smokey, sweet, vanilla, and warm incense-y woods and spice, with a bit of leather and tobacco for good measure. Then there’s that sweet, powdery flower note that, depending on your chemistry, comes out to play at the very end.

The BPAL website describes Snake Oil as “Magnetic, mysterious, and exceedingly sexual in nature. A blend of exotic Indonesian oils sugared with vanilla.” I’d agree with that. In the bottle, Snake Oil lures you in, wraps around you, and makes you gotta have it on your skin.

Once applied, your chemistry’s reaction to fragrance plays a huge role. On me, when it's first applied, Snake Oil reminds me of burned vanilla sugar or scorched cotton candy, with maybe a little smokey bourbon. The smokey notes overtake the more sensual ones (such as leather, which lingers in the background), reminding me of a smokier version of the fragrance of Beauty Protector hair products but with more vanilla and a bit less tobacco.

I like vanilla incense as incense, and I love vanilla and "Oriental spice" fragrances (Shalimar a favorite). But from application until about an hour after drydown, Snake Oil’s sharply smokey aspects make me smell like I spent too much time sitting near a campfire toasting marshmallows. Or perhaps escaped a forest fire after applying vanilla perfume and drinking little bourbon.

Snake Oil does round off a bit eventually. On me, the sharpness of the smoke gets softer, and a sweet, powdery floral-like note joins the party at the end. I can't identify the flower, because the smoke wraps around it, but it reminds me of yellow daffodils and becomes more powdery over time. When this floral-ish note joins the party, Snake Oil isn't bad on me and is what saves it.

It’s also what keeps me trying Snake Oil periodically as my bottle of it ages in the back of the perfume drawer. I do reach for Snake Oil occasionally when I want a different perfume for autumn…but overall, it’s just not “me” because of the smokey note. I’d much rather smell it on a guy.

As a home fragrance in autumn or winter, though, two drops of Snake Oil in warm water in an oil warmer is fantastic. In this application, it’s a well-balanced, less-smokey blend of vanilla incense, leather, and woods, with a slight accent of that powdery floral thing hiding in the background. Here the effect is warm, sensual, and a little 1920’s exotic…but it’s more “smoking opium on a leather couch in Valentino’s Library circa 1925” than full-on “opium den.”

Whatever’s in there, you want it. And isn’t that the true nature of Snake Oil?

Did it trigger my fragrance sensitivity issues? No.

Sillage (how far a fragrance trails away from the person wearing it), Score 1-4, 4 being strongest: 2-3.
Snake Oil’s sillage gets stronger as it blooms, so I recommend holding off for a long time before applying more. You may find you don’t need to.
Best season and time for wear: Autumn and Winter.

Long lasting? Score 1-5, 5 being extremely long lasting: 5. As perfume, I could still smell it on my wrist 24 hours later. As a home fragrance, I had to add more warm water after a couple of hours, but not more fragrance.

Misc. Pros, Cons, and Tips: Snake Oil is a fragrance that can smell completely different on different people (which makes it a popular unisex fragrance for couples). Other reviewers, whose chemistries pull more powder, report more of a “baby powder” fragrance, which on me doesn’t come out until I’ve been wearing it for some time, and then only lightly. Still others report more warm vanilla and less smoke.

Kept in a dark place, Snake Oil ages well. (I think it actually gets better.)

Snake Oil’s old-fashioned apothecary-style bottle and label are perfect for its name.

Snake Oil's label. (Image: Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab.)

I like that Black Phoenix Alchemy Labs products are hand blended, and that BPAL does not test on animals or use components derived from animals or endangered plants. BPAL creates fragrance compounds to stand in for notes that are usually animal-derived.

Notes about the reviewer’s chemistry:
My chemistry hates Chanel no. 5 or overly green fragrances. (On me, Chanel no. 5 turns into Eau de Catbox.) Sweet, spicy oriental fragrances with vanilla or tonka work well with my chemistry.

Would I buy it again?
As a home fragrance, yes. I’d also recommend it for someone who wants a new fragrance, because at $17.50 for 5 ml or $4.00 for a 1/32 oz. sample, it’s reasonably priced enough for a blind-buy experiment.

Score 1-10: 6.5 as perfume, 7.5 as a home fragrance.


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