Saturday, November 21st, 2009

Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab: An Introduction

Today, this lovely post introducing us to Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab is written by Jen Meade.

When not adoring her daughters, Ara (3) and Lulu (6 months), Jen works as a freelance makeup artist in the VA, DC, MD area. She is obsessed with Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, legal dramas, custom-mixing lipglosses, writing her blogs, and schmoozing on Twitter.

She runs two blogs:  Beauty School Blog (about beauty, duh!) and The Nail Ninja (bet you can’t guess what this one’s about!).

Is it possible to bottle the scent of Heaven?

I suppose that depends on what “Heaven” smells like to you, but I’m willing to bet the answer is “yes” and that proof lies at Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab.

You may or may not have heard of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab before. Known as BPAL by it’s many fans, the line has a definite edgy feel that may intimidate some people – but I wish those folks would poke a little further. Once you really take a look (and hopefully a sniff!), you’ll see that there’s beautiful poetry to be read, quirky pieces of art to be seen, and delectably well-blended scents to be worn.

More than 1,300 scents have been created by The Lab since it opened, though some were Limited Edition or have since been discontinued (making them super collectible). You think you’ll do anything for that old LE MAC blush, but would you pay the $800 someone spent on eBay buying a bottle of BPAL a few years ago? That’s how good these scents are! Don’t worry: a bottle fresh off the site retails for approximately $15, though some LE items may be more. You’re bound to find your “Heaven” in the array of scents The Lab has available, and if you’re looking for something a little more naughty than heaven well, you can find that there too!

Learn more about BPAL!

BPAL fragrances are oil blends, which takes some getting used to if you’ve only ever used mainstream alcohol-based perfumes. The oils are intense, but very human-friendly; they are hand-blended and made with all-natural ingredients. In addition, most are vegan (though some contain beeswax or honey) and absolutely none of them are tested on animals. These perfume oils come in 5mL glass vials with pretty paper labels, though a unique sampling system allows you to try almost any scent in a smaller portion referred to as “an Imp’s Ear” (or simply “Imp”). Imps are $3.50 each, or six for $19.50. Limited Edition items, some special collections, and scents created to benefit charities cannot be sampled. An unrelated fan-based forum, BPAL Madness has reviews of almost every scent, and you can check out reactions and scent descriptions there if you want to research before you buy.

Founder and perfumer Beth Morriarty Barrial has an impeccable nose and a real gift when it comes to taking a theme, place, work of art, or concept and bringing it to life through scent. While many of the concepts are “gothic” or seemingly pagan, others follow themes like Alice in Wonderland (“Mad Tea Party”) and Love (“Ars Amatoria”). BPAL scents range from light florals to robust spice and incense blends to the sweet taste of a peppermint stick. I promise there is something there for every single person, and the process of searching for your matches can be fun and incredibly rewarding.

The perfume oils appear small when held against a big old bottle of that department store perfume, so some may assume they’re very expensive, comparatively speaking. But BPAL scents are way more concentrated: an eau de toilette is usually 4% – 10% perfume oil, while BPAL’s scents are 15 – 80% perfume oil and contain no fillers. In other words, “a little dab will do ya”! As for packaging, I love the little vials and their unique and artistic labels. Using BPAL is a multi-sensory experience from looking at the old-time-y vial, to holding the glass bottle in my hand, to the smell of the perfume itself.

My own personal Heaven never leaves my side (seriously – I keep a vial in my little wallet!). It’s called Morocco and can be found in the BPAL theme “Wanderlust”, a series of scents based on locations around the globe. Morocco is described in this way: “The intoxicating perfume of exotic incenses wafting on warm desert breezes. Arabian spices wind through a blend of warm musk, carnation, red sandalwood and cassia.” I knew the minute I saw it that I wanted to try it. I honestly can not remember if my first bottle was a PR sample or not, but I do know I have bought several since! I adore wearing it “neat”, straight on the skin, but also like it mixed into unscented lotion and slathered all over. At times, I’ve tried it in a massage oil blend and have put it in an oil burner and scented the house. MMMM…. Divine!

“On earth there is no heaven, but there are pieces of it,” said Jules Renard. Which piece is yours?

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57 thoughts on “Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab: An Introduction

  1. sarah

    I bought some of the Imps a couple years ago, and theyre great! Its kind of like buying pigment samples, but for perfume. :)

  2. becki

    i LOVE bpal! my favorite is suspiro, but my imp BROKE. :(

  3. amy

    I will definitely take a sniff into Black phoenix alchemy lab because I love custom scents. Usually, I prefer oils based scents over alcohol scents because they last longer and the scent is stronger. I would sell out extra money for oils over scents with alcohol and fillers any day.

    • Amy, I totally with ya! Now, when I smell commercial scents they seem almost harsh, and certainly not as… what? deep, maybe?… as the BPALs.


  4. Anna

    Wow…its so weird seeing BPAL on here xD . These are the only perfumes I ever use!

  5. Sara

    ive always wanted to try out bpal but there are so many different scents its entirely overwhelming. i have no idea where to start

    • Heather

      Sara, check out the forum at You can get reviews and suggestions very easily there, and everyones very cool about helping BPAL newbies!

    • becki

      Sara, just pick a basic scent you like (rose, vanilla, sandalwood, etc) and do a search on BPALs website. Youll get a list of all the scents containing that basic and you can choose from there. BPALs message board also has more detailed descriptions of every scent. Have fun!

  6. Eden Landers

    sounds awesome. I think I’ll have to check it out!

  7. Oh yay! BPALs are by far my favorite perfumes. I have about 350 of the bottles and over 400 of the imps.

    Lovely, lovely addiction. 😉

  8. Stephanie

    I LOVE BPAL! Im so glad this is on Temptalia :) Yes its a bit weird seeing BPAL on here, but I think it goes to show how awesome it is.

    My favorite is Alice.

  9. I have heard of BPAL and was actually very close to ordering a bunch of samples once, but then didnt… I dont know why! I think I was just overwhelmed by the variety!

    And… I am now addicted to both of Jens blogs. Thanks so much for introducing her!

    • Thanks, Catherine! Glad to have you on board. :-)

      I know the variety can seem so amazingly overwhelming, right? I dealt with that by just buying a few that really stood out and I knew couldn’t (probably?) go wrong! I love the Search function since it leads to the forums and I can hear what people think about the scents. Helps me makeup my mind!


  10. DonnaN

    Ive been a BPAL fan for about two years now…..I havent bought anything new from them since spring. My collection from them is pretty OLD school………..

  11. I have been a huge BPAL fan for years! Some of us will do just about anything for a LE scent and Ive hunted for a long time for some of mine. Straight off the site, my faves include Bengal, Boomslang, and Alice.

  12. My personal suggestion is to scroll down the left hand sidebar and find the Search link. Then, put in a fragrance note you like, like rose or nutmeg. When the search results come back, look through and find one you think sounds interesting, then click on the name – that will take you to the forum where you can read peoples reviews and see what they say. That helped me get a grip on the (very substantial!) site and collection. The first things I looked up were sandalwood and amber but if you like *odd* things like peppermint or smoke try those words too, and see what you get! 😉


  13. Jessica

    BPAL is where most of my money goes! The LEs have been getting most of my attention but I made myself promise to check out more of the GC – I have a GC wish list twenty miles long that I keep adding to and ignoring x: At the moment my favorite is Dionysia. loveeeeee.

    • I do the same thing you do, with makeup, too. Theres such a frenzy for LEs that sometimes its hard to collect the basic catalog. And BPALs basic catalog is so voluminous (like MACs shadow and lipstick collections!). I always have a large wishlist!

  14. Ive never heard of bpal but after reading this article, I want to get to know the line. I want a perfume that smells like heaven! :)

  15. becki

    omg, im all mixed up now. disregard that last post. 😀 the one i had that broke was egle, and my favorite. a little flowery, a little like clean water.
    my second favorite is suspiro, jasmine-y and very much like lillies.
    my third favorite is brown jenkins, spicy and musky. :)

    • Im a spicy, musky type scent-lover, personally! Though Beths jasmine is lovely. Ill check all of these out. Im an addict! 😉


  16. stellans

    Ive been a huge BPAL fan (and customer!) since late 2006, and will happily admit this is my one vice, LOL! I love it, and love smelling like something different every day. My current favorites: Red Rider, Sybaris, and Imp from the General Catalog. There are other favorites among the Limited Editions (LE): Rose-Red, Semiramis, and Agapé.

    • Stellans – I know you…. is it from MUA or BPAL forums? Anyway, Im glad there are so many BPAL fans out there. It means I never have to give them up! Good to see you again.

  17. zeezee

    I love the nerd-chic appeal BPAL offers, and that alone compelled me to try a few of their oils (I mean, could the self-professed Pratchett adept resist it?) – sadly, I found them all lacking fragrance-wise. First off, I don’t like the oil format (goopy, runny, stains clothes) and second, most seem amateur at best. And finally, I *hate* navigation on the site.
    That said, Morocco happens to be one of the few that I’m still curious about.

    • ZeeZee, I’m all for nerd chic! I agree- the navigation on BPAL’s site is a disaster! I looked at the site, got overwhelmed and didn’t come back for months and months!

      I disagree that the scents are amateur, but I love that we don’t all have the same opinion, which would be boring. I think Beth has a very amazing gift and a great nose! The oil format doesn’t bother me. Quite to the contrary, I kinda like it. Must be the latent hippie in me! 😉

      What fragrances do you like the best?


  18. I need to try this. Ive been looking for a fragrance based on Sampaguita flowers, my grandmas favorite flower. It looks like I may have found one just now :)

    • Christy, that’s one of the things I love about BPAL! Like I said, there’s something for everyone. I have never even heard of Sampaguita flower! I got clever and used the Search feature to see what scent you came up with. Manila! It sounds so pretty. May have to add an Imp to my next order. Thanks for sharing that find with us.


  19. jarvenpa

    Oh, this is one of the best descriptions of the Black Phoenix experience Ive read. My all time favorite BPAL is the currently unavailable Antique Lace.*sigh* But there are so many others that are wonderful. BPAL is my one major extravagance.

  20. Cara

    Oooh thanks for this article! I have been obsessed with BPAL for the last couple years and its great to find fellow fans :)

    • Cara, anytime you want to chat BPAL, hit me up! The Muse and I trade “oohs” and “aahs” on Twitter all of the time, so if you’re on there join us! :)


  21. Melissa

    I’ve got quite a large BPAL stash growing (expoentially…yikes!), but this is the first I’ve heard of the $800 scent–what one was it? Offhand, I can’t think of anything nearly so sought-after. :)

    • I don’t know which one it was, to be quite honest. I found that info on the BPAL site! I sent a Tweet to Beth and Kathy, but didn’t get an answer – it must have gotten lost in the Thanksgiving shuffle. I will try to ask again tonight when they’re on again. :)


    • Melissa, I was told that it was a prototype of Ded Moroz!


  22. MAChostage

    It’s sooo nice to see BPAL talk here! I’ve been hooked since around 2005 and refuse to wear commercial scents, this is where it’s at for me! So many lovelies, but my “signature” scent is Scherezade. :-) I’ve got a ton of others, too, I just love it!

    • Scherezade is awesome! Yes. Definitely love that one!

      I don’t wear most commercial scents, now, either. I do find Bond No. 9 scents to be good, on the whole, and I like Tom Ford scents, too. Oh! And Prada scents are nice. And Michael Kors, too. 😉 That sounds like a lot, but if you think about how many scents there are on the market, I still only pick from a very narrow range. lol


  23. Aimee

    I just tried Morocco and Im definitely adding it to the wishlist. My current faves are Plunder and Snake Oil – I love the spicy, incense-y scents!

    The independent, organic hippie grocery store near me has started carrying a limited selection of BPAL and I make a point to try a new one every time I go in. Its so awesome to be able to sample them instead of relying on written descriptions!

    • That would be so nice, to be able to sniff along and decide! Of course, I don’t mind buying Imps, but I still think I’d try more scents out of my comfort zone if they were right in front of me. :)

      *whispers* Ya know — I’m just not that into Snake Oil. (!)


    • MAChostage

      Ahhhh you’re so lucky to have a retailer near you that carries some BPAL! I’m right with you in that I *love* the spicy incense-y scents, too!

  24. pik

    LOL i have a BPAL order in the mail at this moment, and I’ve been anxiously checking EVERYDAY b/c i can’t WAIT for it to arrive!
    my personal favorite at the moment is also from Wanderlust, and it’s called Port-au-Prince… I think it’s supposed to be spices, rum, and tobacco, but on me it’s pretty much straight spice and it’s gorgeous.

    • I’m going to have to check that one out! Thanks!

      • Mary Contrary

        BPAL is hyped more for it’s addiction value than for the quality of it’s scents. I’ve tried over 100 of the scents and they were all fairly standard and uninteresting perfumes. Of that 100 I’ve liked only about 3, liked not loved. I could happily live without any of them. They are a similar standard to Body Shop & Lush scents. More fun than sophisitication.

        The enormous popularity comes from the “I must buy it just in case I miss out on something really amazing”, mentality of it’s devotees. This is fuelled by BPALs numerous updates in which common scent themes are rehashed, repackaged and then put up for sale for a limited period of time. If you don’t get it while it’s available then you run the risk of really loving something you can never buy again. It’s a clever marketing move, I’ll give it that.

        I’ve yet to find anything in the BPAL lineup, regular catalogue or limited edition which I can say I really love. And to be honest the sheer expense of testing all 1,000 perfumes on offer just in case there is something amazing there is pure stupidity in my book. If the forum favourites don’t work on you, stop there and go and find something you do like elsewhere. It’s a common experience for more than 80% of BPAL to not work on you or be to your taste.

        BPAL is not cheap. If you dilute it to EDP concentration and then compare it ml for ml with any designer perfume, you’ll find it’s as expensive as Chanel and doesn’t smell half as good. But if smelling like a baked good is your thing then you might find it’s one of the only places that will sell you gingernut snaps in a bottle.

        • Mary Contrary, I’m sorry you’re not a fan of BPAL, but differences are what makes the world go round, right?

          I find the “hype” among fans to be powerful indeed, though how is it different from the hype around MAC? Or any other company that releases Limited Edition scents? (Hullo, Urban Decay Alice Book of Shadows!) Like MAC, BPAL offers and extensive catalog of permanent scents for those who don’t want to indulge in the limited edition frenzy.

          I am surprised to hear you disliked nearly 100 scents from BPAL! That’s a lot lot to have tried. And to have found all of them lacking is really surprising. My guess is you’re simply not a fan of the perfume oil genre in general, because even Vegas odds would lean towards you liking one in a hundred scents. Definitely sounds like you and BPAL aren’t a match. :(

          To say the scents are “standard and uninteresting” is certainly an opinion rather than fact, as scent preference is completely subjective. I disagree with you, as do many of the fans. I find the range varied and comprehensive. They are completely different from synthetic, mainstream fragrances, which are the ones I assume you find “sophisticated”. Frankly, I don’t think BPAL fans care if their scents are viewed as “sophisticated” by anyone else. I find Chanel and the other “sophisticated” scents to all smell like a bottle of chemicals, so again: thank goodness we’re all different and there’s something out there for all of us!

          Lastly, diluting BPAL to EDP concentration is inane. They’re perfume oils and meant to be worn as such. Diluting them (with alcohol, as with Chanel) isn’t the point, so you’re comparing apples to oranges.

          Thanks for sharing your views on BPAL, though! I love to hear all sorts of different opinions. :)


  25. Beck

    I am really disappointed in Bpal lately.=/
    The raised the prices so general catalog is now 17.50, Limited Editions
    are now 20.00,Panacea collection is now 28.00 each,22.50 for Carnivale Diabolique,etc. etc. I placed an order before the price increases and that is going to be my last and final order with them. They have lost me as a customer because most of the oils I received lately were disappointing they were just not that great and they barely lasted 30 min.(or less) on my skin before they virtually disappeared. I started ordering back when she first started up and I liked the company a lot better back then. I still have some classic favorites like Snake Oil the most popular house blend and a handful of others. Another reoccuring problem was I was getting a lot of PLASTIC from the oils. They would smell good for a moment and then turn into plastic. And some of them are just terrible, I mean the worst rotten grandma-ish perfume and cheap men’s drug store cologne. I do not think the price increase is warranted as a reflection of the quality, because it seems to me that quality control is non existent and these oils are being churned out at a very rapid pace, allowing the quality to suffer.And I think some of the components are not of the highest grade, hence the plastic smells and the lack of lasting power. I will wind up at Saks buying something that truly lasts and is worth every cent.

  26. Jo

    For those here who are BPAL fans, I thought I’d share that they are coming out with a new line based on the classic novel/movie
    “The Last Unicorn.” I’m so psyched! They have a section on their site for it but it’s still under construction. But I found the site to pre-order it at and ordered the gift sampler. I’m not missing this one. Thought I’d share!