Sexual Health with SH:24

SEXUAL HEALTH WITH SH:24

SH:24 are helping to make sexual health more accessible from HIV testing to contraceptive information. We speak to one of the team members Linnéa about what started this innovative project… 

Tell us about SH:24 and what you do?

SH:24 is a London-based online sexual and reproductive health service. We provide free home STI testing in partnership with the NHS, free oral contraception sent to your home (available in Southwark and Lambeth), and support from clinicians via web-chat, phone and text. I am the creative content designer, so I make  illustrations for instructions and leaflets and manage and curate our Instagram account @sh24_nhs. My day to day work life is spent researching and planning posts and campaigns, and drawing occasional genitalia! 

How did the organisation come about?

In England, there have been large governmental budget cuts to sexual health services which means clinics are under a lot of pressure and severely oversubscribed, and many people are turned away due to lack of capacity. SH:24 came about as a way for people not experiencing symptoms to get regular testing without having to go to clinic. This frees up capacity in clinics to deal with more complex cases. We are part of an integrative service with clinics, which means we work together to offer sexual health and contraceptive support to a larger number of people, rather than replace clinics.

What do you see as one of the main issues people ignore about sexual health in the UK?

There is a lot of stigma attached to sexual health, and I think a big problem is the way we ignore the impact this has on people accessing sexual health services. Public health campaigns often use fear-mongering as a way to get people to take charge of their sexual health and access services, which I don’t think works and only feeds feelings of shame. It’s important to see sexual health as part of your general health, just as you would regularly go for check-ups at the dentist or GP. Anyone can get an STI, and it’s important the we work towards de-stigmatising STIs as a way to get more people to take responsibility for their own health. I think many people also ignore the impact that stigma and shame has on their actions – I can definitely say I used to be like that! Before working here I had only done a STI test once even though I was sexually active, and I was too scared of going to a clinic for fear of being judged.

How can people get involved with SH:24?

Join our new contraceptive forum – it’s about bringing together clinical expertise and user experiences, so that people considering their options for contraception can get a nuanced view of the pros and cons about different methods by reading other people’s experiences and having accurate medical information. It’s a place where contraceptive users (of any gender) and clinical staff can meet to support each other and answer questions around contraception. This part of our service is still being developed so we would love feedback from users!

You can also follow us on Instagram. I love hearing from people on Instagram,so whether you’re a service user who wants to share your experience of using SH:24 or a sex educator looking to collaborate on a campaign, get in touch!

Is there a service you find people aren’t aware that SH:24 provides?

We are working on expanding our contraceptive services, and besides the above mentioned forum, we also offer contraceptive advice via web-chat with a clinician.

Another service people aren’t always aware of is that if you test positive for as STI you have the option of opting in for partner notification, which means we will text any current or previous sexual partners that might have been exposed, so they can get tested. The notification is anonymous so there is nothing should be nothing in it that links back to you.

Tell us a campaign or movement that is close to your heart and why?

I love HERO and GMFA’s recent campaign “I test for: Me. Him. Us.”. The campaign, developed by and for BAME gay and bisexual men, aimed to increase HIV testing but also address the lack of representation of BAME queer men in public health campaigns. As Marc Thompson from BlackOutUK, an advisor on the campaign, put it: “The lack of visibility of men from black, Asian and other ethnic minority communities in sexual health promotion has been well documented as having an impact on BAME men’s sexual health and risk taking, which ultimately plays a role in the disproportionate rates of HIV infection in this population.”

I love the positive message of the campaign. The images are of loving, caring, black queer relationships, without the common stereotype of hyper-sexualisation, and positions HIV testing as a natural part of a healthy relationship. It shows HIV testing as an act of caring, for yourself and for others. Positive accurate representation is so important in determining if people feel included and engaged in public health, and I really believe this approach is an important step towards changing people’s attitudes and eradicating sexual health stigma!

Visit the SH:24 website for more information… 


The Tree That Changed My Life

The Tree That Changed My Life
By Jan Ambrose

Inspirational bitch Jan Ambrose went to the south of France and shed her corporate skin and a whole lot of tears . . .

Leaning against a tree in the south of France sobbing my heart out wasn’t quite what I’d expected when I signed up for a retreat after 26 years of working in a bank. I had taken the bank job aged 22 as a result of my father advising me to get a proper job. At the time, I was saving up to go travelling after graduation and I felt lost about what to do next. On my dad’s advice I’d applied for two jobs for when I got back – one with a retailer, the other a bank. The bank offered me a place on their graduate training scheme and I accepted, thinking I’d do it for a while till I worked out what I really wanted.

The training was interesting, I moved around departments, worked on different projects and secured a permanent role, enjoying the financial security and benefits. But if I’m honest, from the start, a small voice kept telling me there was more to life. I wanted to make a difference and help people and I knew that working in a bank wasn’t my true calling. I went with it, though. Time rolled by, I got married, we started our family. My husband also worked in the corporate world and I just settled. For 26 years, I found satisfaction from leading teams, helping people develop, mentoring and coaching but deep down I remained convinced I was meant to do more.

By last year I had been studying life coaching and hypnotherapy for several months alongside my day job and I loved it. Supporting people to make positive changes was incredibly rewarding. So when the opportunity emerged to apply for redundancy I decided to go for it. The fear of leaving a stable well paid job after so many years was overwhelming, but I had to – even if I wasn’t sure how things would work out. I dreaded the idea that if I didn’t take this opportunity I would be with the same organisation until I retired and I knew I would regret that. With a vague idea of what I wanted to do but no clear plan (something I was deeply uncomfortable with) I took the leap into the unknown. The generous redundancy pay out meant I didn’t have to worry about money for a while but as soon as I left, I found myself racked with massive fears. Who was I to think I could change direction and build a successful business helping people? Who on earth was I kidding?

After a few weeks of floundering, I was worried I would be drawn back to the corporate world. It was kind of overwhelming – 26 years in the same job had on one level, ruined my confidence. I needed support to move forwards and find out if I was cut out for this. So I booked a place on a retreat. This meant 5 days in the peace and quiet of rural France working with a small group of wonderful women, enjoying yoga classes and working on ourselves,. It was a fantastic opportunity – a really magical time. As a group we discussed the things that held us back, sharing all aspects of our lives. Everyone there was, like me, trying to change but finding it difficult.

For me, the biggest breakthrough came when we started to talk about what rules we had allowed to form over the years that dictate our lives. I was shocked at what came up for me. The rules that emerged came from somewhere deep down. During one of the exercises I wrote:

–       Good girls keep quiet, don’t make a fuss and hold back

–       Always be on time, be polite, be respectful

–       You don’t deserve and can’t make a good income out of this ‘alternative hypnotherapy stuff’

I’ve done a lot of personal development work and self exploration over the years so seeing what I’d written really shocked me. I was so rattled I switched my focus to the next task without really taking it in – how did I want to live going forward. I found myself writing:

–       I want to live an even bigger and more magnificent life

Next I wrote down a quote from the French writer Emile Zola that I’ve had framed on my wall for years.   ‘If you asked me what I came into this world to do, I will tell you: I came to live out loud.’’

When I looked at the pages in front of me the contrast between how I’d been living and what I really wanted, was stark. I had been living out of alignment for so long. I felt an immense rush of emotion and I started crying. I felt compelled to move and getting up, I stumbled outside. Crossing the gravel path I was drawn towards a beautiful oak tree. I leaned against it, looked up at the leaves and cried and cried and cried for what felt like an eternity.

This was not the graceful weeping you see in films, this was full-on ugly crying, deep shuddering sobs as I let go of emotions I had been holding on to for years.  It was cathartic though and eventually the tidal wave passed and I felt a deep sense of peace. Exhausted I sat down under the tree. It was then I heard a quiet voice inside me saying ‘Welcome home …. you are loved.

Coming together later as a group we called out what we’d learned. Thank heavens we were in the middle of nowhere. I absolutely shouted to the universe what I had learned about myself ‘I am phenomenal, and I am here to live out loud.’ It was life changing.

Coming home, it’s resolved such a lot for me. I know I am here to use my skills and knowledge in coaching and hypnotherapy to help others grow and develop. I don’t know all the details yet of how that’s going to happen, but I’m working hard on it. I read recently, when you have the strength and courage to make a leap of faith and embrace change, an invisible mattress appears and the universe will support you.

Since coming back from France I have told the story of my retreat to many people and it seems to strike a chord. So no more holding back for me.  In particular I owe a very big thank you to that wonderful group of women and a magnificent oak tree for supporting me when I needed it most. With so much love.

You can contact Jan on: Jan.ambrose1@hotmail.com

See more about the retreat here


An unretouched image of Damn Rebel Bitch Nina Mdwaba to accompany her piece ‘My Black is Infinitely Beautiful’ for REEK Perfume's blog platform 'Bitches Unite.'

Eilean nam Ban project

Eilean nam Ban

By Ellen Patterson

We speak to actor and activist Ellen Patterson about her all female project  Eilean Nam Ban. An exhibition sharing stories about the extraordinary lives of ordinary women through art, poetry and more…

Tell us a bit about this project and how it came about?

When I started my masters degree I decided to look back over the work I had done for my undergrad and noticed there were a lot more men’s names in the reading lists than women’s. When I actually compared them, I found that only 30% of the reading I was asked to do in four years of university was attributed to a female voice. Only 1% came from a woman of colour. I wish I could say I was surprised. So, when we were given pretty much free rein on our final pieces this year I immediately wanted to create a platform for women’s stories to be heard. I have felt inspired countless times by a piece of art, be it a song, a painting, a poem (the list goes on) so I was drawn to the idea of bringing women’s stories to life in art. The project ‘Eilean nam Ban’ has since grown arms and legs and I am now presenting an exhibition featuring an original song by a Scottish fiddler, a song by an Irish singer, a painting, a collage (made by my Grandmother who, by the way, is most definitely a Bitch), and several poems…so far! This will be shown for free at the C.A.F.E in Brixton on September 28th.

What does the name mean?

Eilean nam Ban is an island just off the coast of Iona in the west of Scotland). Iona was the site St. Colomba’s destination when he left Ireland in 563 and he set about building an abbey there (Iona still has a very beautiful abbey). According to Colomba though, this great task could not succeed whilst there were either cows or women on the island. He insisted ‘where there is a cow there is a woman and where there is a woman there is mischief.’ Thus, all the women and cows were banished from Iona and sent to a neighbouring island which earned it the name ‘Eilean nam Ban’ or ‘Women’s Island.’ In solidarity with those banished women (and cows), I hope that my exhibition can act as its own small women’s island.

Are there any particular people who have inspired you on your journey?

The biggest inspiration for this comes directly from REEK. I have followed REEK closely, working with you at any opportunity I get and your mission to let no women go forgotten has been a huge inspiration. All the work that Sara has done outside of REEK to shine a light on women’s stories has also really spurred me on.

How can people get involved?

Make your voices heard! I am still looking for stories and for artists to collaborate with. The stories can simply be the tale of a woman who has inspired you, be it your best friend, your mum, or that lady in the café at the bottom of your road whose smile always brightens your day. It can be one sentence or one thousand sentences  – if you want her story to be heard, I want to hear it. If you are an artist and want to get involved, I can send you one of these inspirational stories to use to create a work of art in whatever form you choose.

And anyone who can come to the exhibition, it would be great to have you there!

What issues do you see people face in your day to day?

This answer could be pages long; sadly I think we are very skilled at ignoring things that are staring us in the face. I will just focus on one issue for now, one that I see every day in my line of work as an actress; the constant treatment of women as inferior. I see this when a woman is told to lower her register or she won’t sound important, when she is told at 32 she can only play a mother, when she stands up for herself in an audition and is turned away. Time is not just up on the outrageous practice of accepted sexual harassment but on the perverse attitude towards and the shabby treatment of women every single day. She is a person, just as much as he is.

Tell us about a campaign/advert that made you angry.

Anything on my sister’s Instagram feed. The worst was Kim Kardashian selling those weight loss lollipops. For a brief moment I genuinely wanted one. I am a 27 year old woman who is secure in her body (most of the time) and I was lured in. How is a fourteen year old who is being bullied at school supposed to read that and not be convinced they should be shedding pounds one lolly at a time?

What message would you put on our on our sticky bitches? (gender equality stickers, free on our site

LIVE IN PEACH (go cruelty free)

What are your three favourite smells?

Just smells or scents? Okay, I’ll do both! Smells; summer rain, talcum powder, a burning log fire. Scents; Bitches, Witches, The Dark Heart of Old Havana  by 4160 Tuesdays.

Are you more of a witch or a bitch?

Definitely a Bitch. But can I still be in the coven?

Yes. Yes you can.

You can support the ‘Eilean nam Ban’ project on their fundraiser here. All charitable donations in aid of The Fawcett Society. To get involved contact: eilean.nam.ban@gmail.com


We Are All Activists

We Are All Activists
By Kennedy Younger Dold

Writer Kennedy Younger Dold  looks at the phenomenal success of the youth movement in politics today through the lens of history.

All over the land, the kids have finally startin’ to get the upper hand.
They’re out on the streets, they turn on the heat,
And soon they could be completely in command.
(Sweet, 1974)

Museums and galleries are quiet places. The stern, official portraits of historical figures make it all too easy to forget the vitality of the stories on display. But, those tales demand to be told. They are the stories of the young, the restless and the rebellious. History tells us stories of many young people who achieved notoriety.

In 1777, Sybil Luddington rode twice as far as the more famous midnight ride of Paul Revere to warn of attacking British regulars during the American Revolution.  Not only did she ride twice as far, but at 16, she was half his age as well. Joan of Arc was 17 when, leading from the front, she inspired the French army to victory after victory during the Hundred Years War with England. Henry V was 29 at the Battle of Agincourt.  Flora MacDonald was 24 when she helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape after the 1745 Jacobite Uprising. Victoria was 18 when she became Queen. Alexander the Great conquered and created an empire at the same age. Mary Shelley, at 20, published Frankenstein.  At 23, Nellie Bly was exposing inhumane conditions in American asylums.  To pile on even more extraordinary achievement, she traveled around the world in 72 days… just to beat the fictional record set in Jules Verne’s classic Around the World in 80 Days.  Flash forward to the 20th century and the rise of the self and culturally aware teenager.  In 1977, Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia (age 19) (although fictional) brought hope to a galaxy far, far away. Young people shaped the post-war years: staging protests, fighting for civil rights, and writing pretty incredible music.

All these people were decades from their first grey hair; yet, they shook the ground beneath them. Today, people are surprised by their ages. People remember Queen Victoria as an aged monarch in black mourning clothes. They often forget the fiery woman, just 18, who fought to govern in her own right.

Today, it is regularly held young people need to reach an arbitrary age to fully understand the world. Older generations dismiss their opinions as naive and unsophisticated. They insist younger generations ‘wait their turn.’ So when is a generation’s opinions worthy of consideration?  In America, you are legally an adult when you turn 18; you can vote, get married, sit in judgment of your fellow citizen on a jury, be charged criminally, enlist and go to war. Oddly, you cannot order a pint until you’re 21. However, attaining legal age doesn’t seem to convince older generations that a level understanding of the world has been achieved or that expressed points of view are of any value. Historically, acceptance seems to come down to an individual’s drive to create change and the allied ability to jam their foot in the door and grab opportunities.

The most common roadblock to seizing a historic opportunity is a sense of helplessness. When faced with injustice, it is exasperating to hear ‘nothing can be done.’  Of course something can be done! It may happen in simple baby steps, but incremental change, no matter how minor is still forward movement.

It does not matter how old you are; what matters is your voice and actions.  Your action maybe the genesis of a movement lost in time. It can also be the last weight needed to tip the scale and open the floodgates.

In the worse sense of tragedy, this February in Parkland, Florida 17 high school students and staff were added to the already too long list of domestic mass-shooting victims in America. However, instead of only offering ‘hopes and prayers,’ students as young as 14 rose above tragedy and created the Never Again Movement.  Emma Gonzalez (age 18) became its face. She helped to organize, plan, and execute nationwide marches and rallies culminating in the massive March for Our Lives in Washington DC and sibling marches across the country on March 24. Even my own small hometown in Kansas assembled in support. Emma and her friends put intensive pressure on the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the politicians who accepted their donations.  Originally, the NRA focused almost solely on hunter and gun safety. In the last decades it has devolved into an extreme right-wing lobby group fighting any restrictions or reservations to unfettered gun rights. Regardless of public opinion or reasonable and rational measures to control gun violence, the NRA has maintained a stranglehold on any gun legislation. For the first time in a generation, the young students of the Never Again Movement have defied the odds and pried open a national dialogue.  In response, many states have begun to pass laws requiring increased background checks and bans on the sale of military assault-style weapons, high volume magazines, and accessories designed to increase rapid-fire capabilities.

The Parkland students turned a terrible act of violence into a tumult for change.  Almost immediately NRA and right-wing critics began the age-old chant: ‘high school students are too young, too naive to understand the interworking of American politics.’  They need to ‘wait their turn.’ The students’ response was quick. They were old enough to understand the dangers of getting shot; they were old enough to demand reforms. Their message was clear, if the adults were not going to do anything to protect their lives, to secure them safe schools and communities – then it was up to the youth to do it.       

Earlier on the other side of the globe, Malala Yousafzai was 15 when she was targeted and shot by the Taliban in 2012.  Since she was 11, Malala had been writing accounts for the BBC’s worldwide audience about life under Taliban occupation.  From tragedy, she turned to activism. At 17, she became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for her work on education for women and young girls.

Lauren Duca (age 27), a columnist for Teen Vogue, realized her platform to help young women understand the world around them and seized it.  In a startling op-ed about President Trump’s lies and ability to gaslight the American public, she caused a media fervor. Lauren became a spokesperson for young American women; and was interviewed on some of the largest US news outlets and talk shows.  Famously, on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, Lauren affirmed young women in America can, should, and do understand the world around them. Responding to his criticism, she asserted young women could have a world outlook and still enjoy fashion, make-up, and personality quizzes. The duality of young people to both understand complex issues and enjoy life is what makes them incredibility resilient.  It helps them to avoid the dangers of disillusionment. It keeps them driving for change. They see how beautiful and amazing the world can be and are not afraid of living in a diverse world or facing the unknown.

To achieve a progressive worldview, young people must move beyond only thinking on a grand, Romantic historic scale and realize ‘great deeds’ are made up of daily actions and choices. It was only after the fact, after history studied and documented and realized the significance of an action that they were deemed extraordinary.  History’s young people did not necessarily realize the gravitas of their choices. They simply acted in the face of the challenges. The same ability to act in incremental steps is within the capacity of everyone.

The 2016 election became the origin of a generation of young voices, who realize they have a responsibility.  Although crushed, I voted in that election. The worst part was explaining to my, then 17-year-old, sister, why her country didn’t care enough about her to vote for her future.  Why her country sided with a platform with planks to restrict the autonomy of her body, the access to her education, the ability to marry who she loves, and would allow the deportation of her friends.  I reminded her, we still and will always have the chance to do something. We can be sad, we can get mad, but we must stand back up. We must, in the words of a defeated but not silenced Hillary Clinton ‘never stop believing that fighting for what is right is worth it.’

There has been a dramatic rise in women running for office and young voters using their voices. To date, many have won their primary elections and stand ready for the 2018 midterms.  Recently, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (age 28), a Democratic-Socialist, won an upset victory in the Democratic primary for the 14th Congressional District in New York.  Her voter were young, many voting for the first time.  Rashida Tlaib (age 42) won Michigan’s Democratic nomination for the House of Representatives seat vacated by John Conyers. As the Republicans did not present a candidate in their primary, she will run unopposed in November.  Come January, Rashida will become the first Muslim woman in Congress. In my very conservative, home state of Kansas, Sharice Davids (age 38) a young, gay, former MMA fighter, White House Fellow, and daughter of a single mother (who not only raised her daughter but also served in the US Army as a Drill Sergeant!) is standing against the conservative incumbent in Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District.  Additionally, if Sharice wins the upcoming November election, she will be the first Native American woman in Congress. Youthful voters must and do use their voices because they know they can make a difference.  By voting, young people shape the America they want to see. They are making America look and sound just as diverse as the young, hopeful faces they see in the mirror.

 

Everyday, more and more young people realize the power of their voice.  They are not different from famous figures celebrated in the history books.  They can be young people refusing to accept things ‘just the way they are.’ They ask questions, demand answers, and pave the way for a bright new future.  Historically, this is nothing new. It’s the same reaction to the same questions. Some quietly accept while others stand against the status quo. Joan of Arc had it when she was one of the first to scale the walls at the Siege of Orleans.  Henry V had it when he stood in front of his tired, downtrodden, and outnumber band of brothers at Agincourt. Nellie Bly had it when she self-admitted to one of the worst mental asylums in America to expose the reality of the conditions. Emma Gonzales had it when she stood silent for 17 minutes in front of a crowd in Washington DC to honor her friends who lost their lives to senseless violence and political negligence.   Lauren Duca continues to write politically astute articles for Teen Vogue. She proves teenage girls are not only intelligent but have insightful and important things to say. The Parkland students could have faded into yet another American tragedy, but they said no. To an entire nation, they said ‘never again.’

In my new home, in Scotland, the same spark lives. Here, 2018 has been celebrated as the Year of Young People. It has witnessed university students using their platforms to organize marches, meetings, and charity drives. On other fronts, young women refuse to have their careers halted by glass ceilings and young men are making conscious efforts to identify and combat sexism.  These stands have often meant confronting their own friends. Young people volunteer time to work political campaigns, work in shelters, or simply provide an ear to listen to those previously ignored.

The power and potential of being a young person transcends geographic boundaries.  We don’t see walls as barriers. Instead, walls are there to be climbed. Better yet, young people petition and protest, so walls are never built.  Young people go forward with open minds. Just because something works does not mean it cannot be made better. Just because something has been that way for a long time, does not mean that it is not time for change.  Young people are reaching out to each other to work and stand together. The Damn Rebel Bitches of the past did it and this self-proclaimed Damn Rebel Bitch is just getting started.

The young people of the past teach us to not sit silent – especially not today.  As Bishop Desmond Tutu said, ‘if you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor.’ Sitting silent is only acquiescing to injustice.  It is naïve to think you are too young to make a change in this world. You grossly underestimate yourself if you believe you cannot make a difference. As the students of Parkland have demonstrated, if you do not act then who will?  The heroes of the past were not superhuman, they were ordinary young people who faced challenges, saw their opportunity to make their world better, and grabbed it.

My voice may shake.  It’s terrifying standing up, but if I stay silent, if I sit down – nothing will change.  I’ll grow old wondering if I could have done something more, spoken out louder, or extended a hand just a little further to those in need.  Maybe, if you’re one of the lucky ones, you’ll be remembered in a museum or get a paragraph in a textbook. Regardless, if you stand, if you take action, you will know you confronted injustice. In decades to come you will look in the mirror and confidently know you did everything you could to better the lives of those around you and the world.

There’s plenty happening. What are you waiting for?

Never Again Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/NeverAgainMSD/

Lauren Duca’s work for Teen Vogue https://www.teenvogue.com/contributor/laurenduca?page=1

You can donate to the ACLU here https://www.aclu.org/


Moody Girl

MOODY GIRL INTERVIEW

We interview Emily Fazah founder of Moody Girl an initiative to start a conversation about PMS… 

Tell us about the inspiration behind Moody Girl and how it got started?

Moody Girl was created after years of suffering with PMS. From the age of 15 onwards I noticed a huge difference in the way I suffered with my periods compared to other girls at school. When trying to open up about both the psychological and physical effects it had on me I realised that this wasn’t something people spoke about honestly and from then on I learnt to suffer in silence and to just get on with it. There came a point when I just couldn’t ‘get on with it’ any longer and I decided to speak with my local GP. As a young girl seeking answers I thought surely my doctor would have some answers! Unfortunately this was not the case and GP after GP met my woes with the same blank expression. All that was offered was the contraceptive pill (which sent my moods completely wild) or anti-depressants, which I refused to take, as I knew deep down what I had wasn’t depression. Finally after extensive research I was referred to the Chelsea and Westminster PMS clinic where I spoke to the first doctor who seemed to understand and since then things have got much better. For so many years I felt so alone as if no one else was going through the same as I was. But then I thought ‘what if other women have been suffering in silence too?’ It was then that I decided to start Moody Girl. Moody Girl aims to open a line of communication between women suffering with destabilising hormonal conditions. You can see moody girl here.

How can we get involved?


The whole purpose of Moody Girl is to build a community of women who have suffered with any type of period drama. Moody Girl has an online forum for women to chat through everything menstrual related. The best way to be involved is to sign up to the Forum and post any questions you may have or answer existing questions asked by other users. All we ask is that users are non-judgmental and inclusive when listening to any girl or woman who reaches out.

What has been the response been like for MG?

So far, so good! At first it was a daunting process sharing my PMS struggles after keeping them locked up for so many years but after the initial website launch I have learnt to be PMS and proud. The Moody Girl Stories that have been submitted have made the whole project worthwhile. To be able to hear from other women who have been suffering too is sad but also a relief, seeing as I felt so alone for so long. One of the stories we received came in all the way from Virginia, USA, and completely blew my mind. You can read all of our Moody Girl stories here


What would you like to see MG achieve over the next year?

At the moment it is just me working on Moody Girl with some help from my amazingly talented girlfriends and supportive boyfriend. In the next year I would love to have a more permanent Moody Girl team and a space to work from. My first fundraising event is coming up in August and this is to raise money for further research into PMS & PMDD and the team at Chelsea and Westminster PMS Clinic. The goal is to continue with fundraising events & too start retreats for PMS & PMDD sufferers. The Moody Girl retreats will offer educational and nutritional talks, meditation, yoga, music therapy and a general opportunity for women to meet and talk through their experiences of coping with PMS & PMDD.

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

All of the women who have had to suffer in silence with a destabilising condition over the years. My auntie was a beautiful, intelligent women whose whole being changed after she had children. She was put on antidepressants which then spiralled into alcohol addiction and sadly she passed away. My mum and I feel she had undiagnosed post-natal depression. I identify with all women who have been fighting for answers or have been misdiagnosed throughout their lives.

My Mum. She has been the only woman in my life that has believed in my symptoms fully since they started at age 15. She has suffered with PMS herself and has come out the other side fighting. She pushes me to not let it dictate my life. Companies such as Bloody Good Period, GurlsTalk, and Freda are doing amazing things too!

Tell us about a beauty campaign that made you angry? 

To be honest most campaigns relating to periods right now make me happy. I’m overwhelmed to see finally people are opening up and being proud! What does make me angry is GPs handing out antidepressants to women suffering with hormonal problems before steering them in the direction of specialists to get a definitive diagnosis.

What do you think makes a DAMN REBEL BITCH?


In my opinion a Damn Rebel Bitch is someone who fights for answers and pushes through the PMS fog better and badder than ever.

What advice would you give yourself 10 years ago?

You aren’t alone. You aren’t depressed. Keep pushing for answers, you will find them!

What do you think are the three biggest lies out there about periods and period pain?

1) Women use PMS as an excuse for everything. 

2) Menstrual pain is a myth. 

3) It’s wrong to talk to boys about periods.

Get involved with MOODY GIRL! Join the conversation or get involved with their fundraiser, Sat, 18/08/18 more details here


LGBTQ+ Centre London Needs You Bitch

LGBTQ+ LONDON NEEDS YOU

The LGBTQ+ community in London is working together to create an LGBTQ+ community centre and they need your help. 

The word ‘community’ is hard to define. For some, it’s a common geography, a shared history or passion that brings a group of people together. For LGBTQ+ folks, it’s who we are. For us, community, can be a lifeline.

When we heard about this project we wanted to put all the bitches on red alert!

We know you will want to support this initiative as much as we do. The much-needed centre will be a space away from nightlife for LGBTQ+ of all ages and backgrounds to feel safe and call home. It will be completely accessible and multi-purpose, run by and for LGBTQ+ people as a not-for-profit. It will be open from morning until night for use by individuals and campaigning groups.

The Centre will serve as a cafe, a meeting point, a workspace and a social centre, with an information hub, research facilities and a signposting service for those seeking support to discover the brilliant charities and organisations that specialise in LGBTQ+ specific service provision.  

In just six months the Centre project has already engaged with hundreds of people through meetings, events and online, and they have garnered the support of Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott, the Mayor of Hackney, MPs in the local area, business owners, community groups, charities, health practitioners and the press.

The team of volunteers needs to raise £50,000 by June 13 – if they don’t make the target, they’ll lose the donations that have already been pledged. Please dig deep and give what you can.
www.crowdfunder.co.uk/londonlgbtqcentre

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can reach the team at londonlgbtqcentremedia@gmail.com


AFTER EIGHT

AFTER EIGHT

So how did it feel to be part of the historic Irish vote? We asked one of our best bitches, Niamh Kelly.

We came, we saw, we wore the t-shirt. We repealed the 8th.

Friday 25th May 2018, was a historic victory for Irish feminists, who had been campaigning for the 8th amendment’s repeal ever since it was passed in 1983. The Catholic Church’s influence in Irish politics has been in decline for years, and this referendum shows that a new secular, but compassionate Ireland is here to stay. At 18:30 it was announced that Ireland has voted to repeal the eighth amendment of its constitution, with an astounding 64.51% voting Yes.

As an Irish woman, being part of this change is something I am beyond proud of. It’s a moment I won’t ever forget. I was lucky enough to be able to make the journey home and join the thousands of Irish people who were #HomeToVote.

The trip home was emotional and scary. It was filled with an uncertainty whether the beautiful small country I call home, would do the right thing, and vote for a change that affects so many women on a daily basis. Hearing the stories and reading the news throughout the campaign I was sure that Yes would be the outcome, but as the days became closer uneasiness set in.  

Coming from a small town it’s easy to come into contact with closed minded people – you know they are there, even if you don’t agree with their opinion. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, the same way all Irish women should have a choice. The yes vote seemed like a no-brainer,  but apparently not. Seeing so many YES signs around the town and people holding signs saying “Beep for yes!” I was pleasantly surprised by the people behind the pro-choice movement and the chance for change.

Being back in Ireland a couple of days before the vote allowed me to speak with amazing Irish men and women of all ages, who restored my faith in the nation. We are a compassionate country, working to make good changes for our citizens. Throughout this campaign, the people of Ireland came together for yes, a yes for the women of our country.

The movement to repeal the 8th has shown me the power of community and the compassion the people of Ireland have for women. Being an Irish women in 2018 is a feeling like no other, but the fight doesn’t stop here. Northern Ireland is still campaigning to bring the same choice to its women. Friday’s referendum has no impact upon the law in Northern Ireland and we need to rally together to make the same choice available there –  and to women all over the world.


THE BEAUTIFUL BODY HAIR DEBATE

THE BEAUTIFUL BODY HAIR DEBATE

We asked Danni, a Body Positive Advocate who runs the Chachi Power Project, to give us her wise words about body hair. Oh my.

#imafeministbut

At a recent all-female networking dinner event in Glasgow, the conversation came around to body hair removal. How pathetically stereotypical of a women-only event you may groan, but wait… it’s not that old cliché. After starting my Body Positive Side Hustle: The Chachi Power Project in 2017 I’ve realised just how much women are dictated to about how they are supposed to ‘be’. What I find most shocking is the form we are ‘supposed’ to take isn’t only a slightly modified body… at times it can be the complete converse. It’s as if we’ve been told to hunker down in a corner and make ourselves busy with unrealistic, impossible tasks so the big boys can play.

Body hair has been a big player in my conversations with fellow females throughout my whole life. Only in the past couple of years did the conversation flip from ‘do you wax or do you shave?’ to ‘why should women need to exist as hairless pre-pubescent lust-filled objects?’ And that’s exactly where that conversation went that night in Glasgow.

Up until a couple of years ago my almost robotic reaction to seeing hairy female legs was ’”ewwww she doesn’t shave her legs”. These days it’s tough not to Hi-5 women with a curl under their arm or scream ‘YES SISTER’ across the street when I see a pair of hairy pins.

I’m still bewildered at my previous reaction. I mean, how fucked up is it that women are controlled and brainwashed to the degree that ripping out our natural vulva hairs isn’t just a thing we do once in a while but it is expected and we’re demonised if we don’t partake.

Internalised Misogyny is incredibly powerful and I’m glad I am slowly but surely unlearning its Women v. Women vibe and escaping its toxic grasp.

There are so many facets that play into why we remove (and are expected to remove) our tache, beard, leg, arm, underarm, vulva, ass, foot, finger, brow, tummy, tit hair… and YES for some women it is ALL of the above… Hours and hours, hair by hair just so we can get through the day without being stared at, laughed at, called names and told to go back to the circus.

Here’s a wonderful essay which discusses where body hair removal started, what caused it, what hair implied about women in different times and how hair was removed from the body in days of old… check out how horrifying it got:

“How to Remove or Lose Hair from Anywhere on the Body

Boil together a solution of one pint of arsenic and eighth of a pint of quicklime. Go to a baths or a hot room and smear medicine over the area to be depilated. When the skin feels hot, wash quickly with hot water so the flesh doesn’t come off.”

Nowadays the abuse, the judgement, the worry, the self-criticism often remain too much to bear. So we still epilate, shave, wax, pluck, pull, depilate and laser. It seems a painful and expensive price to pay.

I’m not pretending I’m not one of those people. Sometimes fighting the fight is more tiresome than removing the hair.

Whilst being a Body Positive advocate sometimes makes me angry, most of the time I’m taking part in heartfelt conversations, showing compassion and understanding and finding the humour in ridiculous, unreachable standards.

Last year I took part in a magnificent hashtag on Instagram: #botanicalbodyhair

It was started by @sarah_louise_ferg and @unfounddoor. Two women who, from what I can tell after following their online lives, live in a world of poetry, nature, sunsets, humour and creativity.

With this hashtag they made something beautiful out of an important topic which encouraged vulnerability, shone light on something which women find shameful, while poking fun at impossible beauty standards.

They started the hashtag by replacing the hair they removed from their body with beautiful botanicals and took artistic photographs of the results. Slowly but surely other’s followed suit and an excellent hashtag was born.

Alongside this article are my contributions… beautifully styled and photographed by my sister Lisa. You can check out the hashtag and it’s 263 beautiful inspired posts here. Sarah Louise Ferg’s blog regarding her reasons for starting it and some of her favourite posts here.

As humorous and light hearted as the hashtag may seem I think it was a beautiful and important piece of feminist and body political activism created in a gentle and accessible way.

The conversations it started were enlightening, empowering and sometimes frustrating – the best type of conversations. We don’t all have to agree but let’s open the floor for different voices and opportunities to learn from and challenge others.

Perhaps the fact that all the images created were visually stunning and typically beautiful but with an important underlying message made it easier for people to enter the conversation who may otherwise have stayed quiet. Who knows?

I just know it was a fun way to spend a Sunday with my sister. We nearly wet ourselves laughing at the ridiculousness of figuring out how to attach purple fronds to my upper lip… in the end we just shoved them up my nose.

Because I believe in our right to bodily integrity I respect everyone’s right to do with their body as they see fit.

So, I say, do what you like when it comes to your body hair. Grow it or take it all away- it’s your body- do what feels right to you.

If you are going to remove your hair then great but let me ask you this: you may think it is nicer/ cleaner/ sexier/ preferable but… if everyone else in the world didn’t remove their body hair… would you still do it?

Sometimes it’s a good idea to question our motives. To dig deep and ask interesting questions about our choices. Sometimes the answers are uncomfortable. That’s ok. Asking the question is the important bit.

To broaden your idea of what a normal female body is, why not follow bearded model and body political activist Harnaam Kaur (her Instagram is great but if you wanna get a real taste of her wit and vibe then head over to her Twitter). Also learn from Dana from @dothehotpants as she traverses round NYC with her gloriously hairy pins and figures out her thoughts about the male gaze and socially acceptable bodies.

Perhaps invest in a cute pin from the @yourwelcomeclub and show off how you celebrate body hair.

And one last suggestion: No more commenting on other people’s body hair, no more commenting on other people’s bodies full stop, unless you want to exclaim how beautiful the being in front of you is.

Danni holds talks, workshops, events and retreats which encourage people to be part of the Body Positive Movement and figures out ways we can all have better body confidence.

Website:           https://www.chachipowerproject.co.uk/

Blog:                 https://www.chachipowerproject.co.uk/blog

Facebook:        https://www.facebook.com/chachipowerproject/

Instagram:       https://www.instagram.com/chachipowerproject/

Twitter:            https://twitter.com/chachi_power


IT'S ALL FUN AND GAMES UNTIL SOMEONE GETS PREGNANT

IT'S ALL FUN AND GAMES UNTIL SOMEONE GETS PREGNANT

Growing up in Ireland, abortion was always considered a bad word; something that would be spoken about in private or as hypothetical. “If I ever got pregnant, I’d be on the first boat to the UK” was an ongoing joke…

I don’t know how many girls ever did “get the boat” but all I can say is my heart truly pains for them that did. On top of an extremely stressful and scary situation most would have had to travel into the unknown, likely alone, to get this done.

On my 26th birthday last year I found out I was pregnant. After three years of living in London, being single and broke (the London dream), I don’t know how to begin to tell you all the thoughts, fears and stresses that came with seeing those dreaded blue lines. I’d just been home to Ireland for a week and while I was there I knew deep down that I was pregnant but I was avoiding the facts. A week later on Tuesday 22nd August, I decided to suck it up and take the test. That evening, unexpectedly, there was not one emotion going through my brain. I was dealing with a blank. I don’t remember anything about that night – what I said, or what I did. I felt numb and silent, something had switched.

Stress and worry are natural reactions to situations like this, but the emotions running through my body at that time are something I don’t recall experiencing before. Figuring out what to do next felt like another obstacle to overcome, so I cannot even begin to comprehend how I would have been able to organise traveling to another country to have an abortion. Currently, 10-12 financially-able women travel to the UK every single day to undergo safe abortion services because they’re unable to at home. These women travel across seas feeling shameful, without a choice and without a guarantee of future medical support.

Getting an abortion was an extremely personal decision and was affected by many things other than just becoming a mother. I was brought up in a society which would judge me for being a single parent, but they also didn’t want me to get an abortion – what the fuck was I supposed to do? At the time I couldn’t even tell my closest friends, simply because I couldn’t get the words out. I didn’t know how I felt about myself and I couldn’t deal with the added stress of worrying about how people viewed me and my decision.

Nine months on and my family still don’t know. I think that is the hardest part. My family aren’t backwards, we’re actually very open, but growing up in a catholic environment we’re told to believe that abortion is wrong and even for me the negative connotations are still attached. A lot of energy is put into reminding myself that I made the right decision and keeping this a secret from my main support system has been one of the biggest burdens. I’ve always been a strong individual who’s been able to handle everything life has thrown, so the thought of having people, especially my family, take pity on me would be the worst.

Living in the UK has helped me realise how common this scenario is, and, most importantly, that I’m not alone. Many of my friends have been in this situation and having someone to speak with about my feelings regularly has allowed me to get through this. It is a massive strain on your personal energy to make sure you’re ok everyday, and I have no doubt if I was in Ireland and this had happened I would be in a very different situation mentally.  Having the option to speak to people about this anytime I need to do so has been vital. If I was in Ireland I wouldn’t have had that and I don’t know that I would be ok now for that simple reason. I was met with nothing but compassion and empathy during this situation. The NHS services in the UK made this entire situation feel like less of an obstacle, I was met with solidarity and support from all of the nurses and doctors I encountered, something I will be eternally grateful for.

Regularly I think about my decision and although I have no regrets I can’t help but think, what if? I have no doubt that one day I will be an amazing mother but it was not the right time for many reasons and I am ok with that – even if it’s not something I can’t talk about openly right now. I want women to feel empowered to make their own decision when it comes to their body and not feel shame when making the choice that is right for them. I’ve done all this myself, my way and learned so much about myself in the process.

Repeal the 8th is how we lift the stigma surrounding abortion, removing ‘shame’ or embarrassment for women in Ireland doing what’s right for them.

The REPEAL THE 8th VOTE is on the 25th of May. Want to get involved and show your support? Follow these links…

https://www.repealeight.ie/memberssupporters-submissions/

http://www.abortionrights.org.uk/quid-pro-choice/

Keep an eye on our social media on the 25th to hear from women who have travelled home to Ireland for the repeal vote. Ladies, we salute you.


An unretouched image of Damn Rebel Bitch Nina Mdwaba to accompany her piece ‘My Black is Infinitely Beautiful’ for REEK Perfume's blog platform 'Bitches Unite.'

A Scent of Disruptive Women

A Scent of Disruptive Women

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/