When she was 12 years old, Beth Barrial had a life-changing experience in a park after dark with some friends.
"A scent passed me by that sparked a strange, unfocused memory from early childhood," she describes. "I had a sudden recollection of one perfect moment of joy and complete freedom, unfettered by worry, responsibility or care, and it was truly a moment of contact with the sublime."
Not unlike in Marcel Proust's famously extended account of eating a madeleine and drinking some tea in his early-20th century work Remembrances of Things Past, Barrial realized that the scent is what triggered her memory, so she immediately became enamored with the sense itself: "I pursued my interests in fragrance the old-fashioned way -- through apprenticeship. I had no intentions of turning my interest in perfumery into a career. It was something I loved, and something I wanted to learn and experience for the sake of that love."
But she has turned it into a career. Together with her brother Brian Constantine, Barrial started Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab in 2000 in the back room of her then-boyfriend Ted's Echo Park apartment. That boyfriend is now her husband, who's since launched Black Phoenix Trading Post, which deals in dry goods, beauty products and other stuff related to the fragrance line. Together, the trio still runs a family-owned business that specializes in making one-of-a-kind products inspired by specific memories, pop-culture icons and a wide variety of other unusual sources.
Despite its success, Black Phoenix has no brick-and-mortar store. Barrial says it's because they want to keep prices as low as possible. Even so, Black Phoenix has a space at Burbank's all-horror bookstore Dark Delicacies, where people can come in and sniff out the company's catalog items for themselves.
So, what do the creatures in Jim Henson's Fraggle Rock and Lewis Carrol's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland smell like? In the Black Phoenix universe, Gobo's fragrance has notes of sugared pink grapefruit and vanilla cream, while Uncle Traveling Matt is more dark chocolate, figgy vanilla and pear. Meanwhile, Alice smells like milk, honey and flowers, and the Cheshire Cat reeks of red currant, dark musk, Roman chamomile and lavender.
"Morocco, Dorian, Embalming Fluid, Alice and Eat Me are all well-loved," says Barrial, "as are Crowley from our Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett Good Omens line.... Jareth from our Labyrinth line, Liz from our Hellboy line and Lady Amalthea from The Last Unicorn line."
Black Phoenix also has a series of scents for Halloween, like Día de los Muertos -- a blend of sweet cactus blossom with notes of things you'd expect to find on an altar, such as incense, candy and tobacco. Then there's Mango-Infused Pumpkin Chai Latte, which smells like, well, a mango-infused pumpkin chai latte.
Taking into account its wide range of products, it's worth noting that Black Phoenix is an eco-conscious outfit that hates animal testing and strives to minimize its carbon imprint, while also participating in fundraisers for nonprofits such as Heal the Bay, AIDS Project Los Angeles, Bat Conservation International, the Red Cross and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
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Black Phoenix isn't just about a the end result of a particular scent, either -- it's about the process, the aesthetic and the lifestyle that each fragrance represents.
"We focus on capturing emotions, moments and archetypes within our creations, and we thrive on exploring the boundaries of what is considered beautiful," says Barrial. "Scent is a glorious sense and through it, we can inspire passion, ferocity, dread or grief.... We can understand the finer aspects of love and loss."