Understanding Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab

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And a review of some of their scents…

“Have you ever heard of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab? Get to your computer immediately“. That’s how it all began so long ago for Christy and I, BPAL super fans. Since then, we’ve been just a tad bit obsessed. But can you blame us? Where else can you get a dark, romantic perfume for under $20? They are unlike anything on the market today. (And if you haven’t already, make sure to read our interview with Beth, the mastermind behind the line.)

I’ve heard mutters of those new to the line being confused by their site. It’s understandable, with over 600 oils produced, it can be a bit daunting to navigate. But once you know a few tips, you’ve unlocked the door to a really spectacular fragrance experience.

For a newbie, I suggest your first stop should be their search page. Here you can enter an oil’s name (if you know it) or a fragrance note. For example, entering “strawberry” results in 4 oils that contain that note (though that number changes as new oils are introduced). If you click on the name itself, you will be redirected to the BPAL forums (more on that in a moment), but if you click on the purchase link, you will be brought to the category page that it’s a part of and this is where the oil can be bought.

From the search page, if you want to know a bit more about a particular scent, click on the name to visit the Forum. At this very dedicated and active BPAL fan community, you can get real life descriptions and reviews (and a whole lot more!) from forum members.

Getting the hang of it? Ok, see that giant list on the left side of their home page? These are direct links to their fragrance categories. Peruse them, it’s fun! One of my favorites is Carnaval Diabolique, fragrances inspired by a twisted, dark and haunting circus.

Still not ready to take the plunge and purchase a 5ml bottle? You can order a 1/32oz sample vile in almost any non-limited edition scent the Lab carries. They call them Imps Ears and they are a mere $4 each, or six for $22. It’s a great way to sample a batch and find your own signature scent.

That’s it; the basic knowledge needed to explore the exciting world of BPAL. Of course, as you become more familiar with the line, you can delve into all of their special limited editions. Like their Lunacies, special oils available with every new moon. Right now, I recommend a look at Halloweenie 2009 (for example Trick or Treat 2009 is the scent of Candy Corn!) and Pa-Pow, an oil dedicated to Lab team member Ted’s dog, his best friend and companion for 17 years who recently passed away. It’s the scent of “evocative of bright days running through the grass and sun-warmed puppy fur dusted with California wildflowers” and proceeds from the sale of will go to the Pasadena Humane Society.

And the Yuletide 2009’s were just released this morning!
38 limited edition holiday oils. I can’t even list all the ones I’m excited about. Just. Go. Look!

We received a range of ten classic oils to test. I’ll let our review team fill you in on the details of all the scents. But a few of my personal favorites from the package…

Snake oil – the lab’s most popular scent. Magnetic, mysterious, and exceedingly sexual in nature. A blend of exotic Indonesian oils sugared with vanilla.

The Antikythera Mechanism – This is my new favorite. Every time I wear it my hubby says “you smell soooo good” (usually followed by neck nuzzling). Teakwood, oak, black vanilla, and tobacco.

Alice – As sweet and beautiful as it sounds. Milk and honey with rose, carnation and bergamot.

Review Team, let us know your thoughts on the oil your received. And other Bpal super fans, tell us what’s your all time favorite oil?


  • Stef Andrews

    Stef is a plethora of things. Amongst them: co-founder of we heart this, photographer, condiment connoisseur, Philly girl in the California desert, borderline hoarder and a hardcore beauty junkie. She also has a touch of wanderlust and, arguably, the cutest dog in the whole world... skin tone: NC 25/30 skin type: oily with a fear of rosacea favorite beauty product: high end skincare and lip products


  1. So yeah, I’m loco for BPAL. It’s really exciting to be a fan. You know how great it is when MAC comes out with a new line? And you can’t wait to place an order? It’s the same thing. Really similar actually. Like MAC, their most often limited editions. Like MAC, they’re artistic. And like MAC, they’re a bit of joy for 20 bucks! When they’re updates come out (like today’s Winter 2009 Yuletide) I sit down with a glass of wine and study the list and plan my attack; the ones I absolutely need, the ones I’m really interested in, the ones that make me say “wha?” It’s a ritual, BPAL is very ritualistic.

    You’re also taking a leap of faith. When you’re ordering a scent online you have too. Some scents that I was sure I was going to love, don’t work for me. Body Chemistry is one sneaky bugger! But, that’s were Ebay comes in. I list oils that didn’t work, and get money to buy new ones. And with the LE ones, you usually end up getting back what you paid. It’s a whole system that I’ve really grown to love!

    I either had, or sniffed most of the oils that we received. And of the batch, my absolute favorite is The Antikythera Mechanism (for reasons listed above). The note of Tobacco threw me with the description, but it’s not cigarette, it’s tobacco in it’s pure, un-smoked form. It’s so warm, totally sexy and just envelops you and everyone around you. I heart it with all my heart!

    My other all time favs (all of which are NOT limted editions): Faith (sugared violet, sold in a set with Hope; sugared rose), Tweedledee (Kumquat, white pepper, white tea and orange blossom) and Grandmother of Ghosts (laurel, stargazer lily, splintered woods, peony, mandarin and white musk, and is spiked with pale pepper; this smells just like my grandparents attic!)

    .-= stef´s last blog ..Interview with Beth, founder of BPAL =-.

  2. Oh how I heart BPAL. As you can tell from Stefs review, there is so much to love. I remember her call, and I got on their site right away and spent the next few hours eating up all the amazing descriptions, reading the reviews on the forum and becoming totally addicted before I even smelled anything! I knew I was going to love it all. I ordered 6 imps and Snake Oil and let me tell you, I was blown away and an instant fan for life :)

    Their moon scnets always make me swoon, and the frequency of their new collections and LE scents keeps you excited at all times for what’s coming up next!

    For this review I tried out MOROCCO (Arabian spices wind through a blend of warm musk, carnation, red sandalwood and cassia.) It’s one of the warmest prettiest soft musky scents ever. It stays allllll day, smelling just as good at night as it did when I put it on in the AM. and its a General Catalog scent, always available, and only 15 dollars!

    The oils really are so affordable, and like Stef said you can re-sell or join up on the forum and do swaps with other BPAL lovers!!

    You really can’t lose. I can second her emotion for the Antikythera Mechanism….I also LOVE that scent. Snake Oil of course is amazing. Dorian (A Victorian fougere with three pale musks and dark, sugared vanilla tea) is absolutely gorgeous.

    The whole Mad tea Party collection is good enough to eat. Mouses Sad and Long Tale (Vanilla, two ambers, sweet pea and white sandalwood.) is my current favorite from that collection. One of the lightest sweetest vanilla’s I’ve ever tried. Mixed with the other notes it comes across as such a beautiful feminine scent.

    Shub-Niggurath! from the Picnic in Arkham is another very warm, gingery super sassy scents. I love it… perfect for this time of year. It’s (A blend of ritual herbs and dark resins, shot through with three gingers and aphrodisiacal spices. )

    I could seriously go on and on, but you get the picture. There is so much to love! Treat yourself! Go type in your favorite scent note in their search engine and get yourself 6 imps with that note. You are bound to discover a scent you won’t be able to imagine life without once you smell it!

    5 stars from me of course!!! thump thump <3

  3. Oh BPAL, how I love thee!! I received the iconic Snake Oil to review, and let me tell you, I love it even more now than I did the first time I sniffed it years ago. If the thought of something dark, mysterious, sweet, spicy and powdery sounds appealing to you, you need this fragrance in your scent arsenal asap.

    There’s a bit of controversy (ok, maybe not controversy but there are definitely two camps) over whether this scent is better “fresh” or “aged”. It seems that if you like it a particular way, you REALLY like it that way and cannot be swayed. I personally can appreciate it both ways. Wearing this fresh, I think the almond note is more pronounced and it’s got more of a powdery candy sweetness. When it’s aged, I think it becomes a much richer, deeper, darker fragrance. I like to think of it as something to look forward to. It’s literally the gift that keeps on giving!

    As for the notes in this mysterious fragrance (it’s described on the BPAL website as only “a blend of exotic Indonesian oils sugared with vanilla”), I’ve heard people say they smell A LOT of different things when they wear Snake Oil. Seriously, over the years I’ve heard whipped cream, tobacco, head-shop incense, chocolate, balsamic vinegar, Christmas trees, cinnamon sugar toast, Tabasco, red wine, cherry vanilla cola, green grass, Chai tea, Play-Doh, potatoes, fireplace, amber…the list goes on.

    Now if THAT doesn’t make you curious about Snake Oil and want to buy a bottle asap, I’m afraid nothing will. :)

  4. I’ll be honest – I’ve never really been a perfume fan. I’ve always preferred clean, subtle scents and pretty much all of the perfumes that I’ve come across are much too strong and too flowery for my tastes. So, of course, I was extremely skeptical that I would like a randomly selected scent from the internet (leap of faith indeed, Stef)!

    When I popped open The Antikythera Mechanism, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a sophisticated (but not old-lady!), earthy scent that evoked visions circa the Victorian era. It also reminded me a LOT of the gardens of the Morris Arboretum (my parents used to take me when I was little) and has even inspired me to plan a trip there!

    The scent is long lasting, though it does fade to what I’d consider a pleasant after-taste by the end of the day. Lots of people noticed the scent (but nobody was overwhelmed by it). My mom sniffed it out right away and within seconds of greeting me, asked why I smelled so good.

    I believe that Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab will be staying in my life and I would strongly recommend giving their scents a try!

  5. Since I’ve been feeling quite motherly and asexual lately, I chose Snake Oil to get some of my sexy ooomph back. With it is dark and heady scent, Snake Oil immediately made me feel like old school Angelina Jolie–a sexy Goth chick. I kept expecting it to act as a phermone and attract scores of men to me. It didn’t. All I attracted from the Snake Oil was a headache. This is some powerful stuff and shouldn’t be put on like regular perfume as I did (wrist-wrist-behind the ears). I would suggest putting it on in subtle places like the lower back or behind the knees.

    It lasts a long time; I was still smelling it six hours later. It was a great scent, though. It did smell like a mix of vanilla, musk, incense, and maybe even something spicey like black pepper.

  6. I so love BPAL, I discovered them when a friend got me a bottle of Snake Oil as a present, and I was like….OMG how have I lived without this. It is by far the sexiest go to scent I have ever found! It’s one of my staples.

    Rakisha your right about just needing a little. Unlike regular perfume, these oils are pretty concentrated and just a dab will hold you all day, depending on your body chemistry. I wear Snake Oil all the time and just need a little and it lasts all day. People are always asking.. what is that you smell so good!! On me it’s a spicy vanilla when applied that morphs into a dreamy vanilla incense as the day goes on.. LOVE my Snake Oil.

    I was sooooo excited when WHT sent me Dorian… I had an imp of it and loved it and now it’s officially true love. with its three pale musks and dark, sugared vanilla tea, it really stands out as a vanilla musk dream! More on the musk side than vanilla, but a light musk. This is my Autumn oil for sure!

    I wish I could give it 6 stars. If you are a fan of musk or vanilla GET DORIAN!!! You will not be disappointed.

    I love that BPAL has themes.. their entire Neil Gaimen collection is AMAZING….Stardust is one of my favorite books, and the BPAL scent
    Victoria (Graceful vanilla musk, tea rose, and stargazer lily.) is such a perfect match for the character…. and it’s a gorgeous scent!!

    I love love love that they sell the imps, such a great way to test-drive the fragrance! And every time I order a bottle they always send a couple imps.
    Getting an BPAL order in the mail is like Christmas…so fun & exciting.

    I have been a loyal fan for a couple years now and was so excited to read Beths interview… she sounds just as cool and amazing as I knew she had to be!!

    I totally heart BPAL & WHT for including me in this testing..

  7. I’ve wanted to try BPAL for a while, but there are too many choices and I’m really terrible at limiting myself…I totally want the Halloweenie 2009 scent, though, because I imagine it would be awesome to smell like candy corn…

  8. This stuff lasts a long time. I have the Morocco Perfume blend from awhile ago, and adore it.. I have had people stop dead in thier tracks, to ask me what I was wearing.. and, “Wow, you smell so good”, flew off thier lips! A dab will do you! I would like to try the snake oil.. sounds so nice.

  9. Love BPAL. LOVE it. I’m a big fan of Black Pearl (the mix of coconut and iris gives it this heavy sexy, I’m Elizabeth Taylor and I’m lying in silk sheets kind of smell…) and Nuit (which is a bright and sparkling floral scent.)
    The bad part about BPAL is stopping. Just reading these comments, I now have four new scents I want to try. You people aren’t helping my bank account!! :-)

  10. Oops. Got excited and didn’t post the actual scent descriptions like I wanted to. Their full descriptions are the best, even without the actual scent notes you can tell what it’s going to smell like….

    Black Pearl (Coconut, Florentine iris, hazelnut and opalescent white musk.)

    Nuit (dazzling white musks, white rose and night-blooming jasmine with the soft moss of moonlit meadows, a waft of Egyptian incense, and a gentle breath of moonflower.)

  11. Hi Alyssa,

    I know, we are such evil enablers! It’s true though. As I read through the Yuletide scents this am I was like “need it. need it. need it. need it…uh-oh!”

    Thanks for your comment. And Black Pearl? Yum!
    .-= stef´s last blog ..Etsy – 4 for BPAL =-.

  12. Ha, I knew that Stef would be intrigued by the Black pearl. She likes her tropical/coconutty scents. I, on the other hand had to add Nuit to my BPAL To Buy List. Alyssa, you had me at “a bright and sparkling floral scent!” The formal description (dazzling white musk and moonlit meadows?!) just sealed the deal.

    At the top of my list is Dorian – I can’t believe I haven’t picked that one up yet, and of course, after reading everyone rave – I need to get Snake Oil as well.
    .-= Tyna Werner´s last blog ..Etsy – 4 for BPAL =-.

  13. I tested Shub-Niggurath and it’s one of my all-time favs for sure! (I’ve probably had somewhere b/w 50 and 100 imps ears samples and full size bottles over the years – and that’s actually not many – ask Stef or lots of girls on this site it sounds like!). This is right up my alley because it’s a foody scent. The description from the lab reads “The lust incense of a corrupted Astarte” (I think she was the goddess of fertility? NO wonder you sent this to me, Stef-ha ha). “A blend of ritual herbs and dark resins, shot through with three gingers and aphrodisiacal spices.” Ginger comes through really strong in this and it’s beautiful – I think ginger snaps when i wear it – and maybe cinammon. After I’ve had it on for awhile I smell some of the herbs – I have no idea what they are, but they’re very rich and blended beautifully with the ginger. This scent is perfect for fall – I feel warm and cozy when I wear it, and if I hadn’t just had a child recently, I’d probably feel sexy, too. No one has mentioned my scent, which surprises me because I think it smells spectacular – it may not mix with my chemistry to last long? Some of my students have said they’re hungry when I’ve walked past them, so maybe there’s something there, but then again, they’re 9th graders and are always hungry. Who knows, but I love it and will continue to wear it even if no one else can smell it because it makes me very happy!! Usually I get plenty of compliments on my lab oils as they are quite potent. So, Shub and the lab in general get a huge 5 stars from me!!

  14. I haven’t ever heard of BPAL and tend to stay away from perfumes. I lean more towards clean or light fruity smells. I do this because most perfumes on me end up smelling like an old lady who showers in flower perfume. I don’t know how it happens either. Even if there is no flower listed on the label, somehow it comes out when it’s on my skin.

    So when Stef asked which one we would be interested in trying, I picked the one with no flower listed. Bordello: A decadent, deep perfume, lusty and luxuriant. The scent evokes images of velvet-lined Old West cathouses, tightly laced corsets, rustling petticoats and coquettish snarls of pleasure. Bawdy plum with amaretto, burgundy wine and black currant.

    Sounds good right? But low and behold, when i put it on my wrist, I smelt like an old lady with flowery perfume. I quickly learned to put it behind my ears. Apparently when it’s behind my ears, the flower scent is not as strong. It smells lovely!

    Every now and then I get a whiff of this lovely, lusty, delicious smell. At work I talk on the phone a lot. And one day I forgot to but this oil on, picked up the phone and was pleasantly surprised to smell Bordello! I couldn’t wait for the phone to ring so I could sniff the phone without looking like an insane person!

    I just took the tour of the website today, and was so greatfull for the tutorial! (thanks Stef) I found my next scent! I’m a HUGE coffee fan, so I typed in coffee and found 3 scents, and purchased, Miskatonic University. The scent of Irish coffee, dusty tomes and polished oakwood halls. OH YEAH! An addicted coffee drinker going back to school to get her masters in library science? I think this might be a perfect fit!

  15. I MADE A HUGE MISTAKE IN MY REVIEW. I DIDN’T TEST SNAKE OIL BUT DRAGON’S MILK. Aside from the name, everything else is accurate.

    A truly fae nectar! Dragon’s blood resin and honeyed vanilla. “

  16. I forgot to mention this! If you are a heavy-duty BPAL nut (or a Excel dork like me), there is a set of spreadsheets at Scent Scribbles that you can download to keep track of all of your faves and find even more to buy. This helps if you’re like me and had dozens of Imp’s Ear and kept going, “Wait, what’s this one again? Do I like it?” They may not be pretty documents or updated frequently, but it can help you if your BPAL collection gets out of hand. Or if you’re a lost lamb like me who wandered away from BPAL after years of serious love, and who has found their way back again, thanks to WHT. :-)

    Also, Scent Scribbles is just a fun and informative website in general. It tracks the smelly goods from various lesser known companies like CB I Hate Perfume and Villainess. You can also search by scent note on Scent Scribbles, which will show you BPAL products with that scent in them, as well as from other companies.

  17. Alyssa, don’t apologize for too many comments, we love comments!

    I also love scent scribbles. Thanks for the link, I don’t know how I didn’t know about that before. I’ve got my BPAL findings in a very messy Word doc, only organized by “love it, leave it, want to try”. This is much, much better!
    .-= stef´s last blog ..Etsy 4 for Friday – Witches =-.

  18. Ditto Alyssa! And I know a couple of BPAL fanatics that are going to love that site. We enjoy our sorting at we heart this.

    I realized I did post my BPAL review earlier – I wrote it all out and posted my five stars but forgot to submit – doh!

    So, I went a new direction with my BPAL scent and couldn’t be happier! I tested the lovely, delicate Alice from the Mad Tea Party collection. I’m always so intrigued by the darker, muskier scents of this line, but I shook things up with this pick – a mix of “milk and honey with rose, carnation and bergamot.” It’s so pretty and feminine, almost wholesome but not too sweet. After the first almost sugary, honey floral pop the oil warms to my skin and gets a subtle powdery scent. It’s lasts all day and wears as a clean, slightly sweet, just took a long hot bath and having some tea with honey as I curl up with a book sort of cozy feel. It’s so nice for fall.

    Now, thanks to Stef’s piloting instructions, I’m off to search for oils with Tuberose. I recently discovered I’m drawn to them. Hooray for all the amazing combinations and stunning variety at BPAL!
    .-= Tyna Werner´s last blog ..Etsy – 4 for BPAL =-.

  19. I love The Bow and Crown of Conquest. It’s gorgeous and subtle and somehow manages to be both comforting and sexy. I get loads of compliments on it.

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