Arsenic (Tokyo Milk)

Imagine opening a brand-new tin of herbal pastilles, only to find that the white powder in which they lie is not confectioner's sugar, but finely milled zinc-- its insidious taste racing like metallic fire across your tongue.

Imagine entering a plush Venetian bordello and discovering that it smells disquietingly of an outdated dentist's office: clove oil, mercury amalgam fillings, mint-infused alcohol, autoclaved stainless steel instruments.

Imagine the loveliest girl -- perfectly brought up, impeccably turned out, not a hair out of place -- concealing the soul of a mad genius. Her name escapes you now (something Arbus? Sylvia Path-- no, Plath!) though it is destined to burn a hole in you someday. Behind her eyes, an annihilating force bides its time-- but it won't be your fault when she blows. After all, she looks so normal.


Arsenic recreates these experiences and all their attendant emotions, from anticipation to outrage-- and the real shock is that you won't demand your money back. On the contrary: you'll start saving your pennies to buy more of this ghostly concoction with its sweet metallic tang, just so that you can experience the thrills -- and chills -- all over again.

The long-lost half-sister to Aroma M's Green Geisha -- raised, perhaps, in a circus sideshow and allowed free access to the Mütter Museum during her impressionable youth -- Arsenic states its sympathies right off the bat with a central note of green absinthe. As we all know, the presence of absinthe alerts the Gothically-inclined that this will probably be right up their dark, secluded alley. But wait a tick: publicity deceives. Though saddled with notoriety from decades of bad press, absinthe (being a distillation of bitter wormwood, aromatic hyssop, fennel, and anise in good eau-de-vie) also possesses powerful worth as a fortifying tonic. In perfume, as in apothecary, its sharp green odor does the opposite of put you to sleep-- rather, it rouses the appetite with a brisk little poke.

Are you awake? Yes? Good. Chase la fée verte on your own time.

To fully revive us from the last vestiges of stupor, a mortarful of pestle-crushed herbs and seeds is passed under our noses. No sooner does the mind register their aroma than the mouth fills with a disturbing taste, at once saline, sweet, and metallic. There is something beautiful and poisonous about this accord, as when metal corrosion explodes in a rainbow of crystals whose hue both attracts the eye and shouts a warning of toxicity.

And all the while that you taste salt, you smell vanilla.

It's the creepiest thing in the world.

It's also a huge amount of fun.

One could say that Arsenic is 'weird, but in a good way'. Without being disrespectful, the same could be said of Margot Elena, creatrix of Tokyo Milk. This Denver-based artist, perfumer, and queen of quirk imbues her products so deeply with her unmistakable aesthetic that wherever they can be found -- from Anthropologie to the tiniest hole-in-the-wall boutique -- one feels as though one has stumbled upon somebody's personal vanity table, where all the lovely objects are up for grabs.

If you enjoy Arsenic, you may also take a shine to the rest of Tokyo Milk's "Dark Collection" (AKA Femme Fatale)-- a perfume series of playfully somber demeanor, brimming with hidden tricks and unholy talents. (I will be reviewing it all here, so stay tuned.) If, on the other hand, you prefer a more holistic oeuvre, Margot Elena's Lollia line (held aloft by Oprah Winfrey as a Favorite Thing of 2004) is for you. And if you just feel downright K&E (Kicky & Eclectic), oh, how you will love and toast Love & Toast, with its high, bright, and happy smells like Pomme Poivre, Sugar Grapefruit, and my favorite, Honey Coconut.

FromTheDeskOf... has a really great interview with Margot Elena, as does BotkierBlog. But trust me-- for a hands-on introduction to the world of Margot Elena, get thee to a perfume display table!

Scent Elements: Absinthe, vanilla salt, cut greens, crushed fennel