A Scent of Disruptive Women

A Scent of Disruptive Women

Alex Musgrave – Silver Fox

Germaine Cellier

Germaine Cellier

Germaine Cellier

Sophia Grojsman

Sophia Grojsman

Sophia Grojsman

Lyn Harris

Lyn Harris

Lyn Harris

Mona di Orio

Mona di Orio

Mona di Orio

Mandy Aftel

Mandy Aftel

Mandy Aftel

To mark IWD18, Perfume expert, Alex Musgrave, who blogs as The Silver Fox, writes about the contribution and struggle of talented women in the perfume industry –  those damn rebel bitches. 

for all the nameless lost wise women who used odour across centuries to heal, nurture and bind; I salute you… Foxy.

This skin game, the scenting of us, is a strange and arresting thing; a search for an odiferous counterbalance to our physical weight in the world.  It feels glossy, alluring and romantic, aspirational and transformative. The reality is one of cynical million-dollar marketing campaigns, explicit demographics, ruthlessly tested formulations and perhaps some small consideration to the scented juice itself.

The veneer is tantalising, an intoxicating collision of fantasy, artistry, business and passion. There will always be the discussion about whether perfumery is an art from. Everyone has an opinion on it.  Like Wong Kar Wai vs. the Twilight franchise or Cy Twombly vs. Jack Vettriano, there is snobbery, but both sides are necessary as light needs dark to shine brighter and darkness needs light to form shadow.

There are perfumers who flourish in relative anonymity, working for the big scent companies formulating candles, room fragrances, detergents, car, mall and hotel scents. Then there are others, arguably the artists and rockstar perfumers, who use perfumery to hurl us into memories of love and old classrooms, mother-love, dissent, heartbreak, fucking and betrayal.  For decades most of the auteur or dominant names in perfumery were men – strange considering the predominately female skin the juice would adorn.

The scene now is weighted differently. There are many more female perfumers making a panoply of compositions at all levels of the industry.  However much it may have moved from being a masculine-dominated world, there is still an underlying tremblement of women still having to prove their right to inhale the same rarefied air as the men. The title Master Perfumer is generously and to my mind, unnecessarily bestowed on male perfumers when they are assumed to have achieved a certain status.  It is a title of peers rewarding peers. It is also uncomfortably applied to female perfumers that the industry deems worthy. The feminine version mistress is too tainted by BDSM leering and TV home wrecker portrayals to be used and yet Master Perfumer reeks of patriarchy and Fifty Shades of Uncomfortable.

I have written extensively on both male and female creators, brand directors and perfume designers. Looking back through my archive I realise I have an unconscious bias toward the female nose although I can’t claim this is deliberate. I prefer the female cry and roar in music and my taste in literature has always been one of trusting the female voice. Thank you Charlotte Bronte, Margaret Atwood, Anita Brookner, Elisabeth Smart, Emily Dickinson, Sharon Olds, Helen Dunmore, Susan Cooper, George Eliot, Sarah Waters, Mary Renault, Jane Austen, Candia McWilliam, and Shirley Jackson. I have never felt the need to apologise for my need to search for beauty amid molecular moods. All we can ask of perfumery at the end of the day is that it smells good and that our skin is a primed canvas for the creations of the men and women who choose to follow the strange and some might say sanctified calling of odour.  

I have pondered the role of nurture in perfumery, sensing in certain strains of natural and artisanal work the shadows and whispers of ancient Wicca and witchcraft in the expert manipulation of herbal lore and essential oils.  There exists a desire to illuminate the skin as sun nurtures the leaves. The mixing of medicines, poultices, philtres and poisons is loaded with the sensual symbolism of scent, regarded suspiciously as the domain of outsiders, witches, nuns and misfits. I don’t think it’s entirely fair to claim that one gender is better than the other when it comes to the arrangement of materials and presentation of odour but I feel there is difference; shades of interpretation, vehemence and sensitivity in the catalogued work of female perfumers.

In the early years as with so many things the scarcity of women in perfumery was due to it being viewed as a particularly chemical (i.e. scientific) process and therefore not seemly for a woman. Why would the delicate things want to do it when there were men in the labs making beautiful scents for them to wear and of course sell in the rapidly expanding world of aspirational retail?  Female perfumers? Crazy talk. Yet within the story of perfumery there have always been women, it just depends on how your vision is filtered. From the women breaking bodies gathering millions of rose and jasmine petals, tons of orange blossom required to create neroli, harvesting iris rhizomes, wrapping soaps, bottling, packing or perhaps standing in the bright lights of a marble glittered department store persuading a hapless man that perfume will save his marriage.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, I want to write about some female perfumers that have scent-marked the air. This is a deeply personal selection; I like these perfumers and the work they have produced. Haters are gonna hate. I don’t give a fuck.  My choices resonate and for me gender does matter, female film directors make very different movies from male; ceramicists, tattooists, photographers, architects: all benefit from sleight of feminine hand. Equality is a right and on a sanguineous battlefield, any conversation will be at the edge of a sharpened word.

So…five women: Germaine Cellier, Sophia Grojsman, Lyn Harris, Mona Di Orio and Mandy Aftel; all of them incredible, all of them unique.  

Germaine Cellier

On my right arm is a tattoo of the molecular formula for iso-butyl-quinoline, a synthetic material that is now completely restricted in modern perfumery due to its highly allergenic properties. But at one time it was used in measured doses to create the sensation of textured untreated leather in green chypré compositions- like Bandit in 1944 by Germaine Cellier, created for couturier Robert Piguet with an unseemly overdose of this reckless material.  One of the most beautiful perfumes I have had the honour of reviewing was Le Sillage Blanc made by the heavenly Pissara Umavijani of Parfums Dusita, a perfume I described as ‘green forested pieces of skin’.  Pissara’s composition is a love letter to Bandit, an echo, not a copy; Le Sillage Blanc is bereft of floral notes and bitterly beautiful. Bandit was a talismanic perfume for Pissara as she grew up and it stayed with her as she became a perfumer herself.

There have been many reformulations of Bandit since the original; it is now well nigh impossible to know what it smelled like. You can sample it at the Osmothèque in Paris, the museum of odours that stores near-perfect replicas of old formulas using ingredients that are not banned.  A few obsessive (and lucky) collectors have bottles or traces and even so, the top notes may have long since evaporated. Pissara’s Le Sillage Blanc for me is the most haunting compliment by a contemporary perfumer at the height of her unique powers and I think perhaps the closest we might get to the spirit of the original Bandit.

The difficulty now is cutting through the sleeping beauty briars of myth and gossip that have grown up around the creation story of Bandit and of Cellier herself.  It is fact is that Germaine Cellier (1909-1976) was a rare superstar perfumer in an age almost entirely ruled by men. Cellier’s vision of perfumery was something genuinely schismatic and off-kilter. She was fearless. That we still reference Bandit and Fracas, which she made for Robert Piguet and Vent Vert and Jolie Madame made for Balmain, demonstrates the visceral and often discordant effects her work provoked.

Now those traits, risks and exquisitely articulated histories are viewed with wonder, awe and more than a little envy.  From Frédéric Malle’s Editions to Madonna, Cellier’s caustic ghost still hovers. Dead in 1976, wrecked from a life of ill health, too much whisky and her beloved Gauloises, her legacy is one of clash, character, determined beauty, insolence and a refusal to conform to her peers’ expectations.  Her use of pre-mixed olfactive bases at Roure where she worked led to accusations of laziness. These now legendary (and in many cases irrecoverable) bases were really perfumes in miniature, however in the hand of Cellier, over-tipping the levels of that inky hidebound shudder of iso-butyl-quinoline in Bandit or the icy verdancy of mulchy galbanum in Vent Vert they served as the most extraordinary theatrical backdrops for her perfumed signature.  

She is an icon and arguably her womanhood made her a better, indeed more revolutionary perfumer. Would she have created those extraordinary fragrances if she hadn’t kicked against the system and fought to compose work in her own cigarette, silk and steel way? Sometimes the crucible needs friction to create the right kind of fire. We can’t discuss tuberose without referencing the white buttery glow of Fracas or leathered chyprés with looping back to the knife-bristling couture lash of Bandit; such is the legacy of Cellier.

Sophia Grojsman

Sophia Grojsman will be remembered as the perfumer who stared into the soul of a rose – it looked back and whispered yes. Born in Belarus in 1945, she talked of a childhood of taste, her mother unable to tell if food was fresh, asking the child Sophia to test everything, heightening her awareness of flavour. The family moved to Poland then emigrated to the USA, where Sophia joined IFF (International Flavours & Fragrances) in New York as a junior perfumer.

Working for a fragrance behemoth like IFF means a vast array of projects from fine perfume to candles and scents for detergents and fabric softeners, a huge (and profitable) part of the fragrance industry.  It takes a determined mind to navigate the elaborate politics and nuances of the industry and Sophia is now a Vice President of IFF with some of the most iconic perfumes of all time to her name. In all probability you have worn at least one or two of her compositions.  Calyx by Prescriptives, Lancome’s Trésor, Paris, Parisienne & Yvresse for YSL, White Linen and Spellbound for Lauder, Tentations for Paloma Picasso, Vanderbilt and the original Lalique for Lalique, just to name a few. Calyx was a personal favourite of mine, marrying a deeply weird almost rotten melonic surge with crystalline verdancy and a feminine cologne sensitivity. Clinique now own the remnants of Prescriptives and sadly Calyx now smells like a disturbing imposter.

If you research Sophia her name is entwined with roses, it is the bloom that defines her and has rewarded her with beautiful results.  She is quoted as saying:

Rose is a flower of love; it is the first flower that a man gives to a woman.’

And if you think about this simple exposition you will realise how much power it contains, not just in the justification of olfaction, but in terms of chroma and psychology. It may seem like an eternal cliché but roses are laden with an enormity of symbolism all over the world with a myriad of connotations. Shape and form from tight bud to reckless loose blooming.  Somehow it is a flower that manages to reinforce and transcend stereotype and this is how Sophia Grojsman uses it, combing the overt familiarity with that yearning for romance and billowing profusion of aroma.  

Somewhere in my childhood there was Paris, an explosion of dewy exuberance amid my mother’s normal olfactory routine of Opium, Dioressence and Paloma. It was probably purchased from a duty free shop as we travelled across the Middle East and West Africa. It was radically different from the sultry ambered mysteries of Opium, a perfume my mother adored. Paris appeared in 1983 and had many of the hallmarks of 80’s heavy hitters. It’s big and sensual; the floral notes appeared hugely bright like neon butterflies flitting across the sun.

Sophia is known for overdosing materials in some of her compositions, arguing quite cogently that the fullness of the overdose would rise like cream to the top, thus providing a dramatic luxuriance to the start of the scent. Paris was a love letter to the city from Yves Saint Laurent in the form of a lavish bouquet of pink roses. A simple idea; the brief was a swatch of pink fabric from a YSL collection, but the execution of simplicity is often the hardest thing of all.  In the iconic original ad campaign, the beautiful Lucie de La Falaise, niece of Saint Laurent’s beloved muse Loulou, held her bouquet with a strange ambiguity; implying a gift of love but also implying a woman who had bought them for herself on the way home to her apartment from a flower seller near the metro exit. Her huge 80’s gold earrings and bold scarlet mouth hint at the floral dazzle within the scent.  

The great allure of Paris is the erotic anxiety between the rose and violet notes that spill out of the heart and consume the senses. Orris, jasmine, linden, lily, lily of the valley and ylang all swirl in attendance to the main duo; carnal, glittering rose and dark, emo violet. It smells vast, like a universe of floral forever, yet the control of the notes and structure is masterly. There is an undertone of frivolity as there should with any scent inspired by Paris, but the tenacity reveals something more glamourous, mature and opulent, balanced with smooth musks, cedarwood and a carefully calibrated heliotrope note. Just enough to add a hint of old-school Guérlain echo, but thankfully not enough to dose that rather sickly cherry-pie vibe that sometimes flickers alongside heliotrope.

Some scent watchers say that many of Sophia’s creations have a similar feel, leading to discussions in perfume forums on the Grojsman Accord, believed to be equal parts Galaxolide, Hedione, Iso E Super and Methyl Ionone. Galaxolide is a clean sweet musk with gentle woody tones; Hedione is a gorgeous white-metallic, citrus-imbued isolate of jasmine; Methyl Ionone is an iris-tinted woody material and Iso E Super is a hugely popular booster musk and the main ingredient in the hugely successful cult scent Molecule 01 by Eccentric Molecules, created by German perfumer Geza Schoen. Placed in her formulae, particularly with large doses of rose, this kind of clean, cool musk combo deliriously exalts the floral body of the perfume and amplifies the tenacity on skin.  

Sophia’s importance as a composer of voluminous immersive perfumes cannot be overstated. Her commitment to the world of olfaction and mastery of different styles is exemplary. As a female perfumer she has created a repertoire of complex romance and smart storytelling that continues to influence perfumers today.

Lyn Harris

In 2000 a young English woman called Lyn Harris launched Miller Harris a London-based brand with four perfumes: Fleur Oriental, Citron Citron, Feuilles de Tabac and Coeur De Fleur. It was the culmination of years of training in Paris and at Robertet in Grasse.  It was a brand of memory, romance and the seduction of personal experience. Compared to the clamouring fragrance noise on the high street, there was a sense of elegant quietude to Miller Harris emitted by a clever signature mix of British natural materials like blackcurrant, moss, ivy, gentle woods and smart floral notes mingled with touches of French aromatics like basil, bright citrus notes and figs from the Mediterranean coast.  These hung like voiles over souvenirs of stillness, memories of Scottish childhood, the love of a French man and the smell of salt on a beloved’s beach skin.

One of my favourite writers has always been Elizabeth David who flooded British post-war cuisine with the vibrant colour of Mediterranean food. I read the copies my mother gave me over and over. The pages are falling out and stained from attempts to capture the essence of the books. Her descriptions of wine-soaked daubes, venison, shellfish, artichokes, fresh herbs, olives and oil-drenched aubergines enraptured me. You must remember that in this day of image-obsessed culture where we seem incapable of reading three sentences of instruction without an image; Elizabeth David’s books were published without pictures.  Her gift with words was enough.

I mention David because Lyn’s perfumes with their deeply emotive riffing and referencing on location and olfactive textures remind me of David’s writing. Both women have the ability to conjure up places, smells and sensation by using a carefully chosen palette or recipe of words. I can only imagine how fascinating an encounter between them would have been in real life.

Lyn’s catalogue was always tight and beautifully controlled and my pick is L’Air De Rien, the beguiling and affecting perfume she created for Jane Birkin in 2006.  It is one of a series of signature scents that have signposted my life. There are times when I crave it like a drug. It is a smudged and contemplative take on a musky vanilla scattered with dust motes, dissolving antique books, smuts of snuffed out candles and a moreish scent of body heat, an odour that stills us in silences where heartbeats sound like bombs.

L’Air De Rien translates as much as possible as nonchalantly, but even its literal translation, a sense of nothing, suggests the ambiguity at the heart of this Birkin/Harris collaboration. Its very unexpectedness makes it sublime. Jane Birkin is the keeper of the Gainsbourg flame and the most celebrated interpreter of his songs. In the UK we have never acknowledged the talent of Serge Gainsbourg. His relationship with the young and English Jane Birkin created a scandal in the 60s.  But it was a complex and fascinating love story. Controversy, talent, cinema, song, beautiful women, cigarettes, self-doubt, celebrity, love, sex and death. Such is the magnetism of the Gainsbourg legend.

For the French, Birkin is La Veuve Gainsbourg. Their daughter Charlotte is now an icon in her own right, an angular haunted beauty who combines Serge and Jane in startling shards. She is an acclaimed singer/songwriter with a voice that channels her father and mother and yet is distinctly her own mournful disco expression.  As an actress she has forged an unapologetically bleak and raw pathway as a muse for Lars Von Trier in Antichrist, Melancholia and the disturbing Nymphomaniac. All of this is wrapped around the Birkin/Gainsbourg narrative.  The images of Serge and Jane from the 60s are a mix of naïve sex kitten and louche cigaretty old lounge lizard with English country girl abroad and a shy musician deeply in love with his muse.  Yet with L’Air de Rien, Lyn chose to focus on the silence, the moments away from all of the paparazzi bulbs and headlines.

Jane didn’t wear scent and wanted something that would capture the scent of old books and her brother. Smelling it each time I am always amazed at how beautiful it is, how odd the pieces are as they coalesce. The after-years of memory, the vocal echoes, a whiff of cold wax and dust in the empty hallways of the mind. It feels incredibly feminine to me, deft and tender with a secretive ache somewhere in that slide down to vanillic dirt. Personally I think it is something only a woman could have composed; Lyn Harris is a genius with close up, personal composition. She moved on from Miller Harris in 2014 to found Perfumer H in Marylebone where she combines bare, fine raw materials with astutely observed memory rotating around concepts such as Moss, Snowdrop, Charcoal and Rain. It is as if the mood has become the essence.

Mona di Orio

The death in December 2011 of Mona Di Orio at the age of 42 from complications following surgery sent shockwaves of grief through the tightly knit and obsessive fragrance community.  For someone who has not worn her perfumes and experienced the profound beauty of composition and insight that Mona painted into her work, it is perhaps hard to understand the enormity of her light being extinguished so suddenly. For her devoted and loving partner Jeroen Oude Sogtoen, left surrounded by her scented legacy, he had the painful challenge of moving forward through the sticky sands of grief whilst trying to navigate a different route for the House that would both honour Mona’s memory and allow new perfumers to respectfully follow in her footsteps.

Each year on the anniversary of her death, those of who us who connected to her so urgently and vividly through her work join Jeroen in a moving tribute on social media to remember a woman who was one of a kind; a perfumer who developed a chiaroscurist language of her own, dazzling and erudite in its analysis of classic materials.

Mona was determined to be what she became, a psychological artist of olfaction, and a painter of the internal machinations of materials. From the spellbinding odours revealed to her in a street as a teenager as she impatiently opened her first bottle of L’Heure Bleue by Guerlain, through the rigourous and scholastic sixteen years apprenticeship with Master Perfumer Edmond Roudnitska in Cabris.  She was his last pupil and in many ways his finest work; he instilled in her a unique desire to see the living world, approaching plants holistically, imagining a soul and tasking her to envisage how that might smell. But she was far from being just a student, though she learned extraordinary things with Roudnitska and you can sense the master’s hand guiding some of her work. How could Mona continue without Roudnitska’s voice echoing quietly through weather and shadows?  But ultimately she was her own creation; a woman who understood that perfumery was alchemy to disrupt and alter our lives.

The early compositions including Carnation, Lux, Nuit Noire, Jabu and the glittering Chamarré were eventually discontinued as Mona pursued an ambitious dream of perfect things. Les Nombres D’Or is a sensational collection, one of the most beautiful and eloquent produced by any contemporary perfume house. The compositions, rich and searching explorations of key materials such as Vanille, Musc, Vetyver and Cuir are near perfect and utterly unorthodox portraits of difference and classicism. These were inspired by the mathematical concept of the Golden Ratio and demonstrated the purity and acumen of Mona’s accumulated methodology.

After her death, Jeroen took time to grieve. To go forward surrounded by the personal reminders of olfactive and personal love was a tough call and I’m not sure some of the perfume community really understood how raw his experience was. In the end he unveiled a sensual updated version of the House, central to which was Mona’s trademark perfumed chiaroscuro, manipulating her materials akin to the light and shadowed nuances of Vermeer.  The House was in her name and she was perfumer and muse. Watching, we waited to see how Jeroen would manage and after a fumed and mournful start with Melanie Leroux’s Myrrh Casati, inspired by the sensational smoke and mirrors eccentricity of Luisa, Marchesa Casati Stampa di Soncino, Jeroen found a oddly perfect echo of Mona’s sunlight and Cabris languor in the boreal Nordic reflections of Swedish perfumer Fredrik Dalman. His Dōjima last year, a perfume infused with the delicate mysteries of rice as currency, sacred drink, face powder and dust was utterly sublime.

The most wonderful part of the Maison evolution was the wise return of Lux, a scent that in many ways encapsulates the essence of Mona di Orio.  It took me a while (i.e. years…) to get it, the reflecting of Cabris zenith light with resins, amber and a smoky, powdered vanilla that dissolves like dawn. In my essay on Fredrik’s Bohea Bohème I described Lux as ‘a bare white bulb swinging in a stark, empty room’. I’d revise that now by adding that it would reveal a vase of sunflowers and a bowl of orpiment-shaded lemons. Lux was a personal project for Mona and it feels private, almost autobiographical in the way it combines her emotional connection to the terrain of her apprenticeship but also demonstrating the necessary awareness that all light needs shadow to create rapture.  

As a perfumer she brought immeasurable beauty to perfumery, a haunting fusion of Roudnitska’s rigourous ideals and her own innate sense of how our skin should project the light of odour. Mona may no longer be with us and this in itself has sadly charged her work with a certain mythology, but she survives in the molecules and compositions she left behind and in the gracious grief of Jeroen Oude Sogtoen who keeps her shadowed flame gently alive.

Mandy Aftel

California-based Mandy Aftel is one of the most influential and sage perfumers working today. Does the fact she is a woman matter when it comes to her beautiful and profoundly imagined output? I think it does.

I wanted to capture the feeling of how the past is alive in the present but transferred into beautiful, shadowed feeling of layered richness and sensuality.’

These words are a mantra, a rhyme and rhythm of creation for Mandy.  She has written two vital, thrumming books on scent, odour and most importantly a textured history of materials and practices that allow her to place herself within a rich tapestry of perfumed life.

Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent’ (2014) and ‘Essence & Alchemy (2001) are important reads about the soul of perfumery, not just creation and the simple smell of things but the compelling human why and how our lives have been addictively entwined with a multifarious cacophony of odour and sensation for millennia. Her gathering of perfume books, pamphlets and documents to research her own publications provoked a need to create.  Her original work as a weaver, collecting natural ingredients to dye her own threads allied with her training as a therapist, has enabled her to enrich her place in the world by understanding the fugitive layers of the past. We should be grateful for this, her work, composed from materials sourced exclusively herself are unlike anything else. For me she is sacred and wise, an incarnation of healer, witch, midwife, priestess, matriarch and parfumeuse.  Her work thrills me; it has a rare ability to connect to an emotive part of self that still surprises me with each delicious revisiting of her perfumes.

I reviewed Palimpsest for my blog, an astonishing scent built around Firetree essence from Australia, chthonic and resinous, that I can smell on my skin without even wearing it.  It is such an important perfume for me, preoccupied as I am with ink on skin, reworking tattoos, re-inking new designs and leaving visible traces of the old beneath. Many of us live perfumed lives like this, writing stages of our existence in scented molecules on flesh. One of the other perfumes I wore as I was working on my Palimpsest piece was Vanilla Smoke and recently, I have been wearing this a lot as heavy snow fell across the city where I live.

Vanilla Smoke received amazing reviews when it launched. So many purported vanilla scents come and go it is hard to keep track or even care when the word vanilla pops up. Even as a diehard vanilla lover, I sometimes succumb to fatigue. I noted the launch and the word smoke and thought I must try it. There are only a few perfumers who understand the low feral anima of vanilla. Vanille, Mona Di Orio’s take on it was a wooden ship awash with booze and vanilla pods, the woods soaking up the juices. It is an incredible scent; added into the mix is the barely perceptible spoor of a wild animal, a snarling cat roaming the sticky, swirling decks.

Vanilla Smoke proves that Mandy Aftel is one of the perfume world’s great vanilla manipulators; you know by the tactile inhalation of the Madagascan vanilla that she doesn’t settle for any old vanilla absolute. Why would you? Like a colour tone or lux of light, it is about the search for personal interpretations of materials. The vanilla absolute in Vanilla Smoke is rich and chewy, with an oily wood-panelled back-taste to it, its beauty dramatically enhanced by a blueish Lapsang Souchong note, the tea smoked over pine needles. This has imparted a faint yet discernable terpenic nuance to the mix, counterpointed by saffron and a lovely soft touch of yellow mandarin at the top of the scent. The sensual joy of the perfume is to be found in the glorious drawn-out fade of vanilla on your skin.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day it is vital to note how far we have come in terms of women working as perfumers within what was once regarded as a man’s game. Despite this I can’t help feeling that something is still off, an underlying prejudice of masculine science vs. the emotional impact of feminine spirit. Though this should be celebrated; all of the perfumes I have described are technically brilliant, however they are illuminated and in some cases fireworked by the female hand and the emotional commitment that sometimes seems lacking in men working at the same level. There are men like Bertrand Duchaufour, Julien Rasquinet, Rodrigo Flores-Roux, Hiram Green, Rodney Hughes, Fredrik Dalman, Cristiano Canali, Bruno Fazzolari, Hans Hendley and Quentin Bisch who relinquish affecting aspects of themselves into their work allowing us to connect perhaps tenderly.

This is a personal view, formed by writing for many years on many different styles of perfumer and maker. I have gravitated subconsciously toward female perfumers as a buyer, writer and wearer; could I distinguish masculine and feminine work in a blind test? Probably not, but that is not my point – my reasoning is to celebrate some of the extraordinary women who have left a potent olfactory sigil of individualism in the past, present and future of scent. Germaine, Sophia, Lyn, Mona and Mandy; thank you. And thank you as well to my female roll call of skin…

Alexandra Balhoutis • Alexandra Carlin • Alexandra Kosinski • Alexandra Monet • Aliénor Massenet • Amber Jobin • Amélie Bourgeois • Anais Biguine • Angela Ciampagna • Anne Flipo • Anne-Sophie Chapuis • Annick Ménardo • Annie Buzantian • Anya McCoy • Calice Becker • Caroline Sabas • Cécile Ellena • Cécile Zarokian • Charna Ethier • Christi Meshell • Christine Nagel • Corinne Cachen • Dana El Masri • Daniela Roche Andrier • Dannielle Sergent • Daphné Buguey • Dawn Spencer Hurwitz • Delphine Jelk • Delphine Thierry • Domitille Michalon-Bertier  • Dora Baghriche Arnaud • Dortothée Piot • Ellen Covey • Emilie Copperman • Evelyne Boulanger • Florence Idier • Francoise Caron • Hildi Solani • Honorine Blanc • Ineke Ruhland • Jeanne-Marie Faugier • Jeannine Mongin • Jennifer Botto • JoAnne Basset • Josephine Catapano • Karine Dubreuil-Sereni • Karine Vinchon Spehner • Laura Tonatto • Laurie Erickson • Liz Moores • Maria Candida Gentile • Maria McElroy • Marie Duchene • Marie Salamagne • Marie-Aude Couture-Bluche • Martine Pallix • Mathilde Bijaoui • Mathilde Laurent • Mylène Arlan  • Nathalie Cetto • Nathalie Feisthauer • Nathalie Koobus • Nathalie Lorson • Patricia Choux • Patricia de Nicolaï • Pissara Umavijani • Randa Hammami • Ruth Mastenbroek • Sandrine Videault • Sandrine Videault • Sarah McCartney • Shelley Waddington • Shyamala Maisondieu • Sidonie Lancesseur • Sonia Constant • Stephanie Bakouche • Tammy Frazer • Vanina Murraciole  • Vero Kern • Veronique Nyberg • Victoire Gobin-Daudé • Victoria Minya • Violaine Collas • Yosh Han

Bandit (Piguet 1944)
Paris (YSL 1983)
L’Air de Rien (Miller Harris 2006)
Lux (Maison Mona di Orio 2006)
Vanilla Smoke (Aftelier 2015)

Alex’s blog, a scent of elegance is here: http://www.ascentofelegance.com/




We speak to Mhairi creator and owner of  Bonnie Bling about lasers, feminism and #metoo… 

Tell us about Bonnie Bling.

Bonnie Bling is my alter ego where I gather my thoughts on what’s been around me lately and then design and create my own laser cut jewellery inspired by my absolute adoration of all things Scotland.

What would you like to see change to help women in business succeed?

I feel that there is very much an ‘old guard’ of men in suits who don’t take women in business seriously. I remember when I set up my first (Graphic Design) business, going to start-up events and the ‘networking’ hoo-ha’s you were advised to go to, and feeling really uninspired by them. I always sensed that male-dominated hierarchy in the room. They treated me like my business was a ‘hobby’, but it made me more determined to do something different. Fifteen years on and I’m sure that world still exists but now there are alternatives. Social media groups make it easy to connect with like-minded women to support each other and that makes a big difference when you’re new to the field or even an old un like me! We are more outspoken, creative and kinder in our approach to each other’s businesses now and that is a huge step forwards.

What gender equality cause means the most to you personally and why?

Since I had my kid it’s been a real eye opener, the pressures on working parents was something I had never even considered before. Maternal and paternal leave restrictions in this country leave a lot to be desired, and inflexible working for both parents cause huge issues for many. We work far too many hours in this country, getting a balance right for a family life can be a real struggle. I am fortunate in that I have my own business and this has afforded us the luxury of being able to juggle things more than most people, but that comes at a financial cost as you can’t be all things, all the time. I was super close to losing my whole business and giving up on it all. Before my kid hit 3 years old, which is when parents get their first allocation of free childcare, it was very difficult to juggle the work/home responsibilities. I don’t know how we’d have coped if it weren’t for my amazing parents who helped out, but others aren’t as fortunate in that regard and it’s something that has to be taken on by employers and the government. There has been more awareness of parent’s rights to apply for flexible working, but companies can still refuse to grant requests. We have a long way to go to getting this right. Check out Mother Pukka for info on their awesome Flex Appeal movement.

Why is the #metoo cause so close to your heart?

When the #metoo tag started appearing across social media, I was dumbstruck. We all felt it, that clanging in your stomach, the sadness in your heart, when you realised that all those moments where you had yourself been sexually harassed were real, that it wasn’t just you, that others had had much, much worse experiences. It was the saddest of days but also a turning point in becoming a positive movement. Personally it brought back a lot of encounters that I had blocked from my memory and had never discussed with others, it made me acknowledge them and that in itself was empowering. I had never realised, or indeed considered, that so many others had experiences similar to my own, and that made me goddam angry! How had these assholes got away with their behaviour for so long?! Not anymore.  

I made my own pin of support as I wanted others who saw me wearing it to know that even if they didn’t want to speak out, that I understood, like a silent signal. I truly hope that the #metoo movement has become a milestone in our society’s attitudes to sexual abuse and harassment, and that future generations won’t have to tolerate what so many before had to endure.

What women do you most identify with from history to the present day?

I feel like a shiny happy pop Princess on the surface, who retreats to her bunker to shave her hair off, have a meltdown at the state of society, and work on her schemes to stick it to the man. I’ve always been like a wide eyed puppy dog growing up with the likes of Madonna, Debbie Harry, Kate Bush, Grace Jones, these strong, fantastic artists who broke the rules but also managed to tread a line that made them MONEY! They put up and fought through a whole load of shit I’m sure, but they played the game by their own rules and made it work.

Tell us about some women that inspire you?

The creative community in Scotland is strong. Everyone knows of each other if not directly, then through social media. We are a small country but we are well connected. The number of insanely talented women we have in our creative business community is mind-blowing. Over the past 6 years Bonnie Bling has brought me together with some of the most inspiring souls I’ve ever encountered and growing alongside them has been a super rewarding experience. From Gillian Eason working her ass off at Creative Dundee, Sam at Isolated Heroes building her fashion brand, Lynn McCrossan crafting Scottish cashmere on another level, the team at WE Mean Business creating a safe, supportive online space for women in business, to my neighbours in the Hidden Lane who are creating their own small businesses from our little backstreet in Finnieston (Libby Walker, Vanilla Ink, Hidden Lane Tearoom, Shona Fidgett)  I consider myself very lucky to have met and be surrounded so many kick-ass creatives.

What are your three favourite smells and why?

Honeysuckle, we had it outside our Highland holiday home and reminds me of long seaside school holidays in the most beautiful, remote, tranquil surroundings.

Sea spray- it blows in your face on wild, choppy days and cleans out your mind. It reminds me of all the ferry journeys I made as a teen of divorced parents, making the boat trip from one parent to another.

Sun tan lotion- the moment sun hits my skin I can smell the freckles popping out.

Are you a bitch, a witch or a bit of both?

I’m a bitch, but a good one.

What do you think makes a DAMN REBEL BITCH?

Support, sensitivity, positivity and a fun-tactic sense of humour.

What advice would you give yourself a year ago?

Don’t try to do it all, just do what you can.

Bonnie Bling are hosting a celebration on Saturday 10th March at their Hidden Lane HQ.


We’ll also be raffling off our one off, totally unique #metoo necklace to raise funds for Glasgow Women’s Aid.



REEKperfume founder, writer and activist, Sara Sheridan writes about the bitches who started it all… the suffragettes. 

My grandmother, Eva, drummed into us when we were kids that we had to vote ‘especially the girls.’ She was born in 1909 and remembered the first time her mother cast her ballot in the general election of 1918. In the UK, it was our very own damn rebel bitches who ignited the call for the female vote – the Jacobite women. After the 1745 uprising huge amounts of Jacobites were arrested – including many female rebels. The UK’s prisons were straining at the seams and the women (mostly Scottish) landed themselves in court. Many were fined for their part in the rebellion and, to the shock of their English counterparts, paid with their own money. In Scottish law these women were able to own property. In England at that time women were property and any fines would have to have been paid by their closest male relative. The bitches did not hang around when they spotted the difference and 1746 saw the first call for female members of parliament – made by a group of upper-class English women who wanted the same property rights as the Scottish women they’d seen in court. They were laughed out of Westminster. It took 172 years before the first female MP was voted in – Constance Markievicz, an Irish republican who, as a Sinn Fein representative refused to take her seat.

That women gaining the vote (or suffrage) was clearly linked to female members of parliament is not surprising. The lengths to which they had to go to achieve that basic right is. In Scotland (home of most of the Jacobites) the greater legal status of women helped to fire progress on women’s rights – particularly in education and the professions. The University of Edinburgh’s early admission of female medical students (who were sent home on ‘male’ anatomy days, which were considered too shocking for women – honestly!) was revolutionary and the ‘Edinburgh Seven’ the first group of matriculated female students at any British University, began their studies in 1869. They were prevented from graduating – in fact their participation in anatomy exams sparked a riot in 1870. However, many became pioneers not only in their own field, but also in the fledgling suffragette movement. They were also instrumental in starting female medical schools across the country.

Overall, Britain was behind in terms of women’s rights – especially considering the position of world power it occupied at the time. Different countries proposed different solutions – giving the vote to women who owned property or women past a certain age but gradually universal female suffrage was becoming common. Swedish women had been voting since the 1700s. New Zealand passed legislation in 1893, Australia in 1903, Finland in 1906 and Norway and Denmark in 1913. During World War I several central and eastern European countries started to extend voting rights to women and one of the first acts of the new parliament after the Russian revolution in 1917 was to extend the suffrage to female citizens, but Britain still hadn’t done so.

It’s difficult to underestimate how radical women demanding the vote was viewed in the UK or the anger around it. Those involved in the movement were subject to abuse and were treated in the same way radical terrorists might be today. They often operated under police surveillance and many were arrested. When they went on hunger strike in prison they were force fed, being held down and having tubes inserted directly into their stomachs. This was a horrific practice which many of the women underwent twice a day, hundreds of times. Sylvia Pankhurst described it ‘I struggled as hard as I could, but they were 6 & each one of them much bigger and stronger than I. They soon had me on the bed & firmly held down by the shoulders, the arms, the knees, the ankles. Then the doctors came stealing in behind. Some one seized me by the head and thrust a sheet under my chin. I felt a man’s hands trying to force my mouth open. My breath was coming so quickly that I felt as if I should suffocate. I felt his fingers trying to press my lips apart and I felt them insert a steel gag running around my gums and feeling for gaps in my teeth. I felt I should go mad; I felt like a poor wild thing caught in a steel trap. I heard them talking: ”Here is a gap.” ”No; here is a better one—this long gap here.” Then I felt a steel instrument pressing against my gums, cutting into the flesh, forcing its way in. Then it prised my jaws apart as they turned a screw. It felt like having my teeth drawn; but I resisted- I resisted. I held my poor bleeding gums down on the steel with all my strength. Soon they were trying to force the india-rubber tube down my throat. I was struggling wildly. They got the tube down, I suppose, though I was unconscious of anything but struggling for at last I heard them say, ”That’s all” I vomited as the tube came up. They left me on the bed exhausted, gasping for breath & sobbing convulsively. The same thing happened in the evening; but I was too tired to fight so long’

The government passed a ‘Cat and Mouse Act’ which meant women who were too weak to continue in jail could be released and then re-arrested when they had regained their strength – meaning that even short sentences could drag on over months with force feedings – a form of torture.

This didn’t deter the suffragettes from a programme of civil disobedience that seems breathtaking today including women who gave their lives to highlight the cause – the most famous being Emily Davison who died after being run over by the King’s horse during the Derby in 1913 when she stepped onto the
track to raise the green, purple and white suffragette flag. At public meetings it was common for women to be assaulted by men in the audience and there are multiple reports of suffragettes being punched and kicked,  sometimes losing teeth in the affray. The movement was split with some women favouring non-violent protest and others keener to fight back and, crucially, prepared to damage property, setting post boxes alight, burning down empty houses and attacking exhibits in galleries – including on one occasion forcing the Tate Gallery to close. Clubs seen as particularly male (or which excluded women members) were also attacked – golf courses had suffragette slogans cut into their greens and cricket pavilions were torched. Suffragettes who chained themselves to railings outside public buildings in protest were routinely sexually assaulted by police.

During WWI the argument to withhold the vote became insupportable while British women (trained by the medical pioneers from the Edinburgh Seven onwards) joined male combatants at the front. Famously Dr Elsie Inglis set up field hospitals but she wasn’t the only woman by a long chalk. That these brave female doctors and nurses remain uncommemorated on war memorials in the UK to this day, is a national disgrace which activist, Leslie Hills has already written about on this blog.  However, the women who initially got the vote were, in the main, not the women who had gone to war. At first it was the middle class over 30s only – or at least those who owned property (or their husbands did). From there our rights extended.

My favourite of the medical, suffragette pioneers remains Grace Cadell who attended one of the medical schools for women set up by Sophia Jex-Blake, the instigator of the Edinburgh Seven. President of her local branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union, Grace refused to pay taxes in a protest against her vote being withheld and as a result, she had her furniture taken by bailiffs and sold in the street. Grace showed up and turned the sale into a suffragette meeting. When she was fined for another act of disobedience, she paid her fine in coppers as an act of defiance. She also acted as a doctor to the many women who were in and out of prison and who were released into her care when they were too weak to continue in jail. In 1914 at the trial of Maude Edwards, charged with slashing a portrait of George V, Grace was so outraged she ended up being carted out of court by police officers for causing an affray. She was a single woman in a time when that was socially disadvantageous but Grace died leaving a huge amount of money in her will to her four adopted children – all ‘saved’ from a local orphanage and brought to live in her house. As with so many amazing women, there’s no monument to stand testament to her huge spirit, her generosity and her determination but now, 100 years on, it is important that the memory Grace, and indeed of these women has not been forgotten. Far from it. When we march today, we march in their footsteps and when we militate for change, our voices echo theirs, part of something far larger because ladies we are not there yet. Not by far.



Poet and Best Bitch Raheema Khan shares her work with us


they don’t deserve you
crawling in your anger – you scare them, but you empower us.
it takes courage to express what many have never done
giving the brown woman a voice
we belong and we’re here to stay.
being skillful, intelligent,
that’s what got us here.
your diversity report says different,
but we know the score.
we’re not ashamed to be brown
we’re enlightening you all . . .


I wrote to you every day for six years
Posted the letters on my tiptoes at the letterbox
Waiting for a reply that never came.
You can’t make up for that now
So please don’t try to validate yourself with a title that will never be yours.


you taught me to survive
i am a warrior because of you.


23 years on and only now I feel comfortable in my own skin
years of hating the flatness of my bare back
the lack of curve in my backbone
having no ass

the narrowness of my nose
parts of myself that stem away from ideal beauty
not being able to see where I fit in
perceived as being unfeminine because
a woman standing over 5’9” is in a place of dominance
somewhere I shouldn’t be
threatening your masculinity with my lack of delicate femininity
but years of hatred have offered all directions of thought
allowing me to see my difference as something within my control
comforting and beautiful
so my beauty isn’t going to be shaped by you
but instead has given birth to a voice that will never be silenced


your trauma isn’t meant to be forgotten
when you sugar-coat and kill it
you reject your experience
saying no to the burning that finally led you to an unlabelled life
your individuality untainted by the limitations of reality
remembering pain doesn’t always have to be violent.
but forgetting it ever made you feel keeps it alive


my love for myself will not stop at the hands of someone who hasn’t felt love.
you remain a specimen that is left to examine
for those that take joy in trying to re-piece people who deny how to feel.


Tell me I’m pretty
I crave your words.
Not your touch because that’s pursuable,
Making you utter what you’re incapable of satisfies me
because you feel the discomfort of being forced to suffer.



Actress and all round Damn Rebel Bitch, Ellen Patterson, writes about her experience at the Women’s March in London.

A year ago today hundreds of men, women and children gathered to stand against the election of a sexist and racist candidate to one of the most powerful positions in the world. That day I was far from London, but I followed the event on social media from South Africa and I could feel the determination and drive for change. It was clear that the year ahead would be a big one. In the past twelve months, incredible progress has been made with thousands of women fighting tirelessly to have their voices heard through campaigns such as #MeToo. Some people thought this might be ‘a flash in the pan,’ something that would blow over sooner or later (for many preferably sooner.) Today ,outside 10 Downing Street we made sure people wouldn’t make that mistake again. From baby bitches to lady bitches and many fabulous male bitches, voices rang over London to tell the world that time is up. Time is up on sexual harassment and abuse, on gender based bias, on bigotry and prejudice, on racism, Islamophobia, transphobia and homophobia. Time is up on anyone being made to feel anything other than proud to be in their own body. Shola Mos-Shogbamimu triumphed over the elements as she led our voices thundering through the snow and the rain, introducing inspiring speaker after inspiring speaker. The air shook with resolve as we stood together in support of our sisters. We stood with our sisters in Poland who are told they cannot choose what they do with their body, our sisters in Sierra Leone forced to live in fear of abuse, our sisters in India who disappear day after day, our sisters in Ethiopia who are mutilated without remorse, our sisters in Ireland who have to leave their country to access medical services, our sisters in the United Kingdom being pressured to conform to a binary gender norm. To our sisters across the world of every race, religion, culture and sexuality today we tell you loud and clear – WE STAND WITH YOU.

As I lowered my frozen fist, with mascara streaming down my face and watched the rain-streaked placards march into the distance, I felt pride on a whole new level – this was damn rebel pride. No one could have been in any doubt that this was a fight that was not losing momentum any time soon and that the year ahead is destined be one that can, should and I hope will change the world. From the wonderful people from Bloody Good Period to Helen Pankhurst, the great granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, the crowd today represented a global movement hell-bent on creating greater equality. A world where every bitch can be who they want to be.


Photography by: SNY Photography 

“I have been brought up by women, most of the most important relationships I have in my life are with females. My Mum, my Gran and my Aunty. I have watched my wee sister grow up and I have blagged a wonderful girlfriend. I have young nieces and nephews, little minds still free of the inequality facing millions today.”



Michael MacLeod, journalist and media producer, hits hard with this piece about sexism in the tech industry. Bitches, you will be shocked.

Most history books will document 2017 as the year women exposed sexual abuse in Hollywood. For the technology world, 2017 will go down as the year women exposed scandal after scandal on a truly world-changing scale.

Eight months before the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, the tech industry was rocked by allegations that led to confessions exposing a culture of workplace sexual assaults, unequal pay, harassment and bullying.

It was the year the world woke up to the fact that men controlled the worst of the internet and women should fix it. There is undoubted male-bias behind the scenes of the web and the career ladders linking its architecture. The social media platforms that many people believe resulted in a Trump presidency were mostly built by men.


Billionaire CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that his 2018 goal was to ‘fix’ Facebook, implying that even he regards it as broken.

To its credit, Facebook does do a lot to encourage and celebrate the women in its workforce. But that’s because it can afford to. Smaller companies point to a supply chain that doesn’t meet their ideal recruitment demands.

Despite some wonderful efforts, the likelihood – right now in 2018 – is that any employer seeking a software developer will end up hiring a man. Why?

Only seven percent of UK students taking computer science A level courses are female, according to careers advice group Women In Tech. Of those young women, only half landed a job in the same field.

That’s an absolute tragedy for equality.

As a result, women make up just eight percent of the UK’s technology engineering workforce according to the most recent ONS figures.

A huge 70 percent of startups have no women on their board of directors, according to Silicon Valley Bank’s SVB Startup Outlook Report 2017. The global survey reflects the answers of nearly 950 startup firms.

“We cannot be deceived by our seemingly large network of talented and successful female founders, investors, board members and innovators,” admits Claire Lee, the Managing Director and Head of SVB’s Early Stage Practice. “The data show us these women remain a lonely minority in the technology world.”

The disparity is cemented into the very building blocks of the internet. Brick by brick, those blocks need to be rebuilt, with women involved at every level: research, user experience, design, programming, testing, project management, analytics, marketing, team management, business development, thought leadership and boards of directors.

When you consider most of these roles are dominated by one gender, it’s no wonder we’ve got an unfair internet. Shutting out women, denies innovation, shuns valuable community links and misses out on clear ideas of what the internet can and should be. It lacks a true reflection of the world and humanity.

I almost submitted this blog post every week over the past six months. But every week brought another gender-related scandal within the tech world. This piece would be tens of thousands of words long if I listed them all. So, here’s a summary of 2017’s biggest gender-related tech sector scandals. Some of these stand-alone reports were the result of dozens of brave women uniting to share their stories.

February 2017: Susan Fowler, a former engineer at Uber, blogged about a pattern of sexual harassment during her time there.  I strongly urge you to read that blog post and reconsider whether you want to have the Uber app on your phone. Her claims sparked internal investigations exposing a rampant workplace bullying and sexism culture. After many setbacks, Fowler was finally vindicated. Her strength to speak out ultimately resulted in the resignation of the multi-billion-dollar firm’s chief executive, Travis Kalanick. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/21/technology/uber-ceo-travis-kalanick.html

June 2017: Four months before the Harvey Weinstein accusations surfaced: an avalanche. Dozens of female entrepreneurs told the New York Times that sexual harassment was rife in the technology industry.

Their bravery paid off. Venture capitalist Justin Caldbeck admitted making unwanted advances in the context of business deals. His company collapsed as investors withdrew. Read him groveling after-the-fact here. His apology warned that this was only the beginning. “It is outrageous and unethical for any person to leverage a position of power in exchange for sexual gain, it is clear to me now that that is exactly what I’ve done,” he said. “The dynamic of this industry makes it hard to speak up, but this is the type of action that leads to progress and change, starting with me.”

July 2017: A memo written by a now ex-Google engineer sent Silicon Valley into uproar. James Damore claimed ‘biological causes’ made women less suitable for intense jobs like his. He even moaned that ‘every difference between men and women is interpreted as a form of women’s oppression.’ Google fired him , scrambling to distance itself from his comments, but the impact was huge. Among his controversial ‘solutions’ to tackling gender imbalance was a section titled ‘De-emphasize empathy.’ I’ll spare you the detail but here’s the link for transparency.

The timing couldn’t have been worse. James Damore’s diatribe rallied some in the alt-right, newly emboldened by Donald Trump’s defence of Charlottesville white nationalists as very fine people.’  They saw Damore as a martyr and called on people to boycott Google for firing him.

One of the most celebrated responses to Damore came from another former Google engineer, Yonatan Zunger, who said: “The conclusions of this manifesto are precisely backwards.

“It’s true that women are socialized to be better at paying attention to people’s emotional needs and so on — this is something that makes them better engineers, not worse ones.” Something odd happened in the summer of 2017. As the executives tumbled, their confessions began morphing into strange rallying cries for diversity and inclusion. In one case, an admission led to an apology followed by an almost never-ending essay of pitiful wealthy white male privilege masquerading as a manifesto to change the entire industry.

It’s rarely a good idea to read the comments, but the comments below this apology from investor and former Google executive Chris Sacca are a fascinating debate.

Sacca apologised after entrepreneur Susan Wu accused him of touching her without his consent

Ms Wu said: “There is such a massive imbalance of power that women in the industry often end up in distressing situations.” At one large firm, a working group had more men called Matt than women, according to this excellent New Yorker report published in November.

Did you realise it was this bad before? Truth is, it’s probably worse. These are the stories of the women who felt able to speak out. It’s certain there are others who haven’t and that these examples are the tip of the iceberg that women in tech have been up against. But there is a fightback. Coming soon, on this blog, we’ll meet the women leading it.



Indian sex guru, Osho has written over 600 books some of which advocate rape. An undercover feminist investigates on REEK’s behalf.

You know when you can’t believe what you’ve just clicked on? I couldn’t believe it when I stumbled on this either – a respected sex guru advocating rape. Surely not. Don’t take my word for it: Type “osho rape” into a search bar and go over the results. Most of them won’t be blogs, but the writings of Osho (real name Chandra Mohan Jain, 1931 – 1990) an Indian spiritual icon and leader of the Rajneesh movement. He advocated a more open attitude towards human sexuality, earning him the tag line of “sex guru” in the media. In 1991, an influential Indian newspaper counted him, Gautama Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi among the ten people who had most changed India’s destiny. Osho’s entire works have been placed in the Library of India’s National Parliament in New Delhi – over 650 books are credited to him, in more than 60 languages, which makes him, by any standard, a major international writer. There are more than 600 Osho books on Amazon.

When you google Osho, the 2nd highest results points to his book, “The Secret of Secrets”, which retails at over £220 in hardcover. Here’s a quote from it:

As far as rape is concerned, look into your unconscious, look into your dreams. It is very rare to find a woman who has not dreamed of being raped . . . There is a certain attraction in it. The attraction is that you are so irresistible that a person is ready to go to jail for 10 years, or if it is a Mohammedan country, is ready to die.”  

The “Secret of Secrets” is available in full online and also for sale on sites like Amazon and GoodReads where it’s rated highly by dozens of readers. Osho’s pro-rape philosophy is also quoted on websites including the fan site http://oshosearch.net, which states: “The information on this site is of religious nature. It represents a mankind’s heritage, just as recognized by the government of India pronouncing the books of Osho (Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh or Chandra Mohan Jain) as heritage of India and placing all his books into the governmental library.

One of the most damning quotes used on this site reads:

“It is not certain that raping the woman is certainly bad. Perhaps she was also waiting for it. Perhaps she was getting frustrated that nobody is raping her. There is a deep desire in every woman to be longed for, and the more drastically you long for her the more satisfied she feels. And rape is the ultimate in longing for a woman. You are ready to commit a crime just to have her. You may be imprisoned for years in a jail, you don’t care.”

It reads on:

For example, the rape of a woman is certainly ugly. But who is responsible for it? The society, the culture, the religion – they have been trying to keep men and women apart. Your biology knows nothing of it, and when you see a beautiful woman on a dark night, alone, your biology takes over your so-called morality and religion. . . . In most of the cases you and the woman are both brought up by the same idiotic society. They have told the woman to remain away from men, they have given her a certain psychology to avoid men. Even if somebody is attractive to her, she has to say no.

All psychologists agree that a woman is raped because deep down she desires it. It gives her a great ego, that she is so beautiful, so lovable, that people are ready even to commit suicide – there are countries where for rape you will be sentenced for your whole life or you may be crucified; still the man wanted her. There is a great satisfaction – he risked his whole life!

Two major themes dominate Osho’s rape stance: The willingness, even complicity of the woman and the lack of any individual responsibility. The blame, it seems, belongs to a vague, un-punishable perpetrator.

“A man commits rape. A man commits robbery. A man commits murder. Certainly something has to be done. But not punishment. Because the man who commits rape simply means he is sexually unsatisfied. And your society has not given him a chance to be sexually satisfied. Mohammedans are allowed to marry four wives. In the world there is an equal proportion of men and women. Now if men are going to marry four wives, then what about those three men who will remain without wives? And if they start committing rape, is it a crime?” (From here)

Osho remains without a doubt, one of the world’s most popular spiritual leaders on a global scale. Just one of many Osho Facebook communities has 2.5 million people liking the page and 2.4 million following its posts. Dozens of others have hundreds of thousands of followers in search for enlightenment.

During the past few weeks, in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, the #metoo hashtag has highlighted numerous heart-breaking and infuriating personal stories of abuse against women (and men) – at the hands (quite literally) of powerful directors, actors, politicians, teachers and many others. At the moment of writing, there are over 93 million results on Google for something that barely existed a couple of months ago. To all the above-mentioned categories of powerful sex predators, it’s all the more exasperating to add yet another: Spiritual leaders, gurus offering guidance and comfort to people all over the world going through vulnerable times.

Who of us hasn’t wondered about enlightenment? Or meditation, or mindfulness, and how many people doing so must stumble over an Osho book or walk into one of the many mediation centres promoting his teachings? It takes a particularly cynical type of guru to use a genuine interest in self-betterment to advocate rape.

If you know any Osho followers in your circle of friends, publishers, meditation centre and Osho community leaders – share this with them. We have to take the power away from rape gurus, and strip them of their status, all-knowing aura and huge international followings, in order to stop them advocating for (and excusing) rape. If you’d like to do something act now.

Want to report an Osho site

to Google:

  1. Go to drive.google.com.
  2. To open the file, double-click.
  3. At the top, click More .
  4. Click Report abuse.
  5. Choose the type of abuse found in the file. Each abuse type has a description to help you determine if the file has violated our policies.
  6. Click Submit Abuse Report.

Or to Amazon on https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/help/reports/infringement



We spoke with Ashleigh about shaving her hair in support of her mum. What a brilliant bitch. Here are her words and how you can support Brave the Shave…

I shaved my head on Saturday 25th November 2017. The date wasn’t significant, it just happened to be a date a certain amount of time after my mum’s first chemo session when we knew she would likely need to get the clippers out too.

Sure as shit the chemo was really going for it and my mum’s hairloss was rapid in the two days before the shave.

My mum was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer in October and to put it bluntly it has been really fucking shit. Her diagnosis came as a huge shock as she had only been feeling unwell for a few weeks.

From the get go she was assigned a Macmillan Nurse, someone who could not only advise her and assist with any worries but also someone that I could call if I had any questions. The shit thing about cancer is that nobody can actually tell you how someone will respond or what their prognosis is because it’s a really shitty waiting game. It’s really hard at times, but having access to support and assistance like this is comforting and necessary for people to cope and carry on.

Without charities like Macmillan, so many people would have further suffering. Supporting these charities is vital in ensuring everyone can have access to their care and encouragement – because that is sometimes all you need.

So far I’ve raised around £2150 in the 19 days my profile has been live, so much more than I had anticipated and I’m so grateful for everyone’s generosity and messages of support.

I fucking love my mum, she is a great gal.

Fuck cancer.

Support Ashleigh’s cause by donating to her Macmillan shave page. 

If you have a cause you’d like to share on BITCHES UNITE get in touch – info@reekperfume.com



Poet, performer and game-maker, Harry Josephine Giles, is lead singer of Fit to Work – a quasi-autonomous, non-governmental punk act. They talk to REEK about equality, dissent and the importance of words.

Who are you, Harry Josephine Giles?

I’m a writer and performer. I’m from Orkney and I live in Leith. I do poetry, theatre, games and now punk. I love it all. I never saw an art form I didn’t want to try.

What makes you a feminist?

Um… I desire the complete destruction of an oppressive global system of gender hierarchy? I think the practice is more important than the identity. People claim the identities they need, and that’s grand, but it’s what you do with it that’s most important. I’m always trying to do feminism better.

What equality campaign is most important to you? Why is dissent important?

You know, I don’t really like the word equality. There’s a site, againstequality.org, that I highly recommend. ”Equality” implies some authority certifying it, or legislating it, but I want something we can take. And I’m not interested in equality between groups of people within a system of oppression. I’m interested in the destruction of that oppression. I want the end of a gendered system of being.

As for dissent: well, freedom comes first through learning to say no and being able to say no to things. No, I don’t want that; no, you can’t have me. And once you’re good at that can you find freedom through saying Yes. Yes, please. Yes, do that. Yes means nothing if you don’t get to say No.

What does all that look like to you?

I wish I knew. It’s probably revolution. Let’s be revolutionaries. I guess it looks like mutual support and community and organising in a way that doesn’t rely on hierarchies of power. Trying to overturn power, and trying distribute resources equitably (not necessarily equally). And justice, justice is a more exciting word than equality. Justice, equity, transformation. It also looks like being accountable to our peers, lovers, communities – and them being accountable to us. Mutual accountability is revolutionary.

What has been your personal experience of gender equality?

I’m still figuring out what feels possible there, or even liveable within the system of gender we’re currently stuck with. I’m still in that process. I’m friends with a lot of trans people who find some kind of stable gender identity and others who welcome the instability. The trans umbrella encompasses a lot of different ways of living. It’s an adventure and it’s also hard – terrifying actually. I am quite public about that journey, but it’s fraught with risk and pain. All that means I’ve had different experiences. I’ve spent a chunk of life being seen as male and trying to live up to that, and then a chunk of life trying to understand the psychological wound of masculinity, what bell hooks calls “the first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males, psychic self-mutilation”, trying to critique and recover from that. Now I’m spending a chunk of life as something Other, and that’s different again.
In practical terms, that means that, while my wardrobe all comes off the “Women’s” rack, some days I pass as male, if a little queer, and some days I’m clearly something else. If I’m in a dress and leggings, or have done my full hair and make-up, I get a lot of sir-ma'ams (or, in Scotland, hen-pals), because people don't know where to place you. And then, if you go out with any obvious masculine features and, say, you’re wearing a dress, you will be harassed. I get that at least 50% of the time, just as all women face daily risks of harassment. So my current experience of the lack of gender equality is of being indeterminate and that being a source of both pleasure and danger. Sometimes I enjoy it, and other times the daily violence of that is impossible. And that’s just clothes and self and street harassment. We haven't even started on economics, social exclusion, mental health, border control, the carceral state…

What inspired you to create Fit for Work?

I didn’t! A couple of friends of mine who are professional musicians and who I went to school with asked me to do vocals for their punk side-project. I said yes immediately, obviously, cos it sounded fun. Thinking through what I wanted to do with that, I decided I wanted to put an aggressive femininity into that very masculine space of punk. I strut around in my thigh-high boots and my knee- high dress and bring to the stage a feminine energy into that the refuses to be boxed in. That is inspired by the long history of Riot Grrl – women’s punk music. Femininity can be furious, violent and resistant too.

Do you feel there are big changes happening right now? What words are important in that?

There are always big changes. In one way history moves really fast and it can be astonishing how quickly some things change and at the same time how slowly other things change. For example, I grew up and went to school under Section 28 (the most destructive imaginable law – the law that banned even discussion of anything LGBT in schools) and not only has that now gone, when I do workshops in school I see posters for trans youth groups – meeting at lunchtime. That took only 20 years. It’s an enormous change. But, on the other hand, it we had hundreds of years of feudalism, and now we’re only a 150 years or so into capitalism, and even though some of the dynamics have changed it’s still the same destructive and immiserating system it ever was.

What people do you most identify with from history?

Emma Goldman, Lucy Parsons, Catullus and Sappho.

Is smell important to you? Which smells and why?

You’re in the best place to fight if you’re centred. So my favourite smell is the smell you get when you are halfway up a mountain and the wind is blowing and you get the freshness off the top of the trees and the freshness coming down off the snow. You can’t smell the city at all. That’s when I feel most calm.

Then there’s rotting seaweed and silage and manure – the overpowering smells of living on an
island. They take me right home.

What makes you a Damn Rebel Bitch?

I’m damned – I’m definitely going to hell and I’d be disappointed if I weren’t. I grew up with hellfire sermons, so though I don’t actually believe in hell my gut is still convinced that’s where I’m headed. I’m a rebel cos it’s in my bones. I have never got past the stage when a two-year- old kid first learns to say No. I’m still there. And I don’t know if I’m a bitch yet – but I aspire to be.

Tell us what kind of bitch you’d be, then?

A problematic bitch.

Find out more about Harry’s work: www.harrygiles.org and more about Fit to Work: fittowork.band

All images by Void Works Photography.



Lauren Turton is writing a dissertation on Body-Shaming in Contemporary Media and the Effects it has on Young Women.  She needs your help:

I am currently in my final year at the University of Portsmouth studying Criminology and Criminal Justice Studies. When I was in my second year and thinking about what I wanted to do for my dissertation research I struggled. Everybody else was interested in the police side of criminology, prisons, and rehabilitation, however I looked more to the social harm side of criminology. During one of my units, Crime, Media, and Culture (CMC), I was interested in stereotypes and why people make judgments about individuals and groups.
This is what started me looking into bullying and stereotypes within social media though I thought this was too generic. I wanted to take these ideas further and body shaming came to mind after looking at some research I was doing for the CMC unit. I knew it was a big issue in modern society, especially for young women. I started looking into the subject more and I didn’t realise how much of an effect body shaming had on young women, specifically the media’s involvement in it. Young women have to deal with the picture of the ‘ideal’ women everyday, from adverts on TV and in magazines to billboards at the side of the road to sponsors on their social media feed. After doing some research on body shaming, I started to notice it more and more from people around me, body shaming other people unintentionally and even body shaming themselves. I wanted to find out for myself how much of an impact body shaming had on young women. This led me to be doing the research I am today. I decided to make life hard for myself (well worth it though) and do two different types of research to gain as much data as I could to make an accurate judgment on how body shaming effects young women. The first part of the research is an online survey. This looks at how young women use different types of media including social media, other online media and print media. The survey asks if they have personally been body shamed, how this happened, how old they were and the effects it had/has on them. As well as looking at if they, themselves, have ever body shamed, how they did this and the reasons behind it. The second part of the research is looking at social media comments, specifically Twitter. This is to gain an idea of what people are saying to body shame young women and to see what young women have to view on a day to day basis on their social media feeds. As well as finding out how prevalent it is on one of the faster growing social media sites. Having both of these angles to analyze gives a full picture of body shaming and the effect it has on young women. It also gives us an understanding of how we as a society can make changes to reduce any impact that does have on young women. If you would like to help out with my research and you are female, living permanently in the UK and between the ages of 18-25 feel free to fill out my survey on the link below:


When I started my dissertation research on body shaming, I knew it was a big issue, but the response I am getting from it is mental and I am genuinely shocked. Makes me so proud to know it is so relevant in today’s society and that people really do want it to improve. I’d like to thank my dissertation supervisor Lisa Sugiura for helping me through this, as well as pushing me to go further with my ideas and research.