Scents with a hint of glam goth

Crushed velvet has never been Lizzie Ostrom’s thing – but she’s quite happy to explore the dark side of perfumes

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By Lizzie Ostrom on

Where did all the goths go? Maybe I’m not loitering around Camden Lock enough, but I am convinced there is much less blackberry-coloured crushed velvet in circulation these days. And what happened to that all-in-one powder foundation in shade 0001, so matte it made one’s skin look like a crumbling head in the British Museum’s Greek galleries? 

Goth fashion (now glam goth), apparently, is back, although this time minus the ripped fishnets and those scary, suffocating leather trench coats from The Matrix – for which I’m thankful. Actually, who am I kidding? I’m not a participant in the goth look at all. The nearest I’ll go is some kind of “Little House On The Prairie gone sullen” outfit – Kansas Goth. And even then with coral lipstick, which is not in the acceptable colour palette.

But though a voyeur sartorially, I can fully participate in gothic perfumes, a fragrance category that doesn’t really exist in the shops, but which I’m going to try and invoke for you here. To me, gothic means something that smells coldly vampiric, yet with a hot quickening of blood underneath. Most obviously gothic is the scent of a thorny, burgundy rose about to wither. To get this effect in a fragrance, you might look for something with a woody or amber-y base. Some of the timber-like perfumery materials, like Norlimbanol, smell as shrill as being caught in an icy wind in a graveyard. They reverberate and haunt, scissoring up fat juicy rose petals into shards. A favourite goth rose of mine is the amber Nevermore by Frapin, which has the added kudos of being named after Edgar Allen Poe’s poem,The Raven. This scent manages that effect of being aloof, yet ravishing. If the aroma were a metal, it would be pewter.  

Much more camp is Bloody Wood by Les Liquides Imaginaire, a brand built on the concept that some of its scents are poisons and others antidotes. Hmm. This perfume has been stained red to resemble a giant bottle of Benetint and it smells of rose petals and grenadine, that pomegranate flavoured cocktail ingredient, which I think is there to give the effect of red wine. I once used it for a talk on scent and Hammer Horror films, and shared it round while we watched a scene from the wonderfully schlocky Brides Of Dracula from 1960 (full of great quotes such as: “He was my son. Now he is only…. a beast of the night.”) It’s a juicy, buxom rose scent, definitely the crushed velvet look, and the scariest thing about it is the price – at £160 per 100ml bottle, you will need to moonlight as an exorcist to gather the shillings together.


Leather is often perceived as a gothic fragrance family, both because of our association with the hide and because it is often experienced as low in pitch and inky. But, to my mind, lots of leather perfumers are more biker than baying wolves. A recent launch that I think nails what we’re looking for is Smoked Plum & Leather from Jo Loves. Until a few hours in, the plums in this fragrance smell as if cooked down without any sugar, so you get that bracing edge. Only later do they release their honey. And the leather opening has a cold stoniness to it – smoke coming off a bonfire from the night before. I’m going to come out with a nonsense analogy here by saying “Viking dessert banquet”. Let’s take this unhistorical fantasy further: pelts, caves, goblets of wine, crimson fruits piled high, menace in the air. In other words, the theme of the best Halloween party ever. Would anyone like to organise it? I’ll bring the perfumes. 



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