The Sandman is currently Netflix’s number one show – topping the trending and most-streamed charts, delighting the majority of fans of the original comic books (an occurence so rare even Neil Gaiman surely couldn’t have dreamed it) and reviving the shrivelled black hearts of mostly-ex-goths (such as myself) the world over. There’s a cultural significance to this resurgence of the Sci-Fi / Fantasy genre taking over new generations, a yearning for other worlds, for escapism. Seeing as the most instantaneous escape route is through our sense of smell – it being directly plugged into our limbic sytem, the part of our brain associated with memories, emotions and survival intincts – it seemed only natural to continue our series of perfume pairings with a spolier-free scenting of The Sandman…
To truly do justice to the multiverse intricacies of The Sandman storyline(s) would take many more thousands of words than I have room for here, so for those of you not familiar with either the comic book series or the Netflix adaptation, I would suggest you just start watching or reading, along with a perusal of The Sandman Wiki on fandom.com if you want to explore more. Basically put, in the Wiki’s words:
‘When Dream is unexpectedly captured and held prisoner for a century, his absence sets off a series of events that will change both the dreaming and waking worlds forever. To restore order, Dream must journey across different worlds and timelines to mend the mistakes he’s made during his vast existence, revisiting old friends and foes, and meeting new entities — both cosmic and human — along the way.’
I would suggest for full immersion, you should burrow down various rabbit holes of your own, The Sandman has always been a springboard for further research and I promise your time will be well-rewarded.
Before we get to the wafting of various fragrant suggestions, I should address the fact that, on first hearing a live-action adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics was being made, I shrank like a salted slug.
For me, and countless others like me, these weren’t merely comic books or entertaining tales cleverly told, they were part of what made me who I am. That sounds increbibly melodramatic, but from being enthralled by the stories, venturing in various dusty comic book shops around the country and causing a sensation in some (a GIRL had crossed the threshold), through to following the threads of literature, metaphysical mythology, philosophy and history woven throughout; they proved transformational.
With every newly published edition, an increasing passion for gaining goth attire that might be accquired from boutiques within the vicinity of Tunbridge Wells (no mean feat), lashing on liberal layers of black eyeliner and a quest to burrow down the endless rabbit holes of research burned within my soul. I hold Neil Gaiman and the artists he collaborated with at least partially responsible for constructing the weirdo that sits before you, typing this.
So yes, along with everyone who’s ever endured the prospect of a favourite book ‘coming to a screen near you’, I shrank, somewhat aghast the televisual types might RUIN it. And by ‘ruin’ of course I mean not do it exactly as I never even knew I wanted.
I should have known better.
With Neil Gaimain himself firmly at the helm of the adaptation as Executive Producer, his creative fingers involved in every pie – casting, writing, filmography; hell, he might even have personally coiffured the actors’ hair for all I know (in fact that was veteran makeup and hair designer Graham Johnston, but you get what I mean) – the first two main Sandman storylines, Preludes & Nocturnes and The Doll’s House, have been intricately merged to form a single, breathtaking story. Due to the myriad complexities of entwining two full stories, and the often abstract, metaphysical way those stories are told, of course some changes had to be made, but the true spirit, the unique aesthetic, is unmistakably omnipresent and seeing the characters on the screen feels like meeting dear old friends again.
Now, if you’ve got this far, well done, and thank you for indulging this intermingling of my interests. But you might be wondering what the point is of matching perfumes to anything, let alone a TV show. It is this: fragrance is famously an invisible entity that’s tricky to convey in any format to someone who’s not yet smelled it for themselves. You must navigate the emotional maze of instinctively cultural and personal associations while attempting to clearly explain the concept without merely relying on a list of fragrance notes – which is as useless as a shopping list is to tasting the finished meal, or the names of paints are to understanding the deeper meaning an artist is hoping to project. In writing it becomes trickier still, the fact being there are no words ascribed exclusively for smells (other than negative connotations) in the English language. A bit of a stumper for writer and reader alike, then.
So, we fragrance journalists grasp at allusions and similies – colours, textures, tastes, places and people to conjure the spirit of scent in your imagination. Not exactly as though it had just been sprayed in front of you, more like you’d just woken from a dream in which it figured, and the scent of it still lingered on waking, like motes of dream dust glinting in the first golden fingers of dawn.
For painting a lyrical portrait of a fragrance, focussing on people (or, in this case, beings) to liken them to can be incredibly useful because just as we might feel beckoned by a particular character in a book or on screen, matching a fragrance to that character can help us understand something of the perfume’s own personality. It’s a shortcut to a common understanding. Each fragrance has, I believe, a scented soul, if you will, which means we can immediately feel at one with it or, conversely, borrow a perfumed persona utterly unlike our own to wear as a cloak of concealment or a shield of bravery as required.
The characters in The Sandman are perfectly suited for perfume-pairing, in my (admittedly weird, geeky) opinion, so I’ve attempted to do that with some of the cast here; but even if you’re not already a fan, I hope at least one of the following will beckon to you…
Lord Morpheus, Dream of the Endless (played by Tom Sturridge) – edeniste, Dream Lifeboost®
With the world on his shoulders as he poetically mopes his way through centuries of catastrophies, it’s definitely time for ol’ Morph to soak up the soothing nuances of this aromatic herbal musk. The house worked with neuroscientists and two of the world’s top perfumers – Aurelien Guichard and Jérôme di Marino – to ensure the perfume ingredients properly hit the spot. Spanish labdanum essence reminds you of warm skin and cuddles (which he could probably do with) snuggled in the softest white musks evoking that feeling of sinking into a plumptious feather bed. Promising to ‘foster peaceful dreams’ and advising the wearer to ‘open yourself to a pure, soothing vision of the world surrounding you, and let go’ he should probably have it in an IV drip. FYI: You can read more about this revolutionary wellbeing brand on our page dedicated to edeniste.
£68 for 30ml essense active harrods.com
Death (Played by Kirby-Howell Baptiste) – Papillon, Anubis
Usually personified as some tall dude in a medieval hoodie who’s either ominously looming about the place or playing chess, Gaiman’s Death is rather lovely. Sweet-natured and caring, with a perceptive understanding of human nature, she carefully eases poor souls into her realm when she can and is the much-needed counterpart to her younger brother’s perplexed moping. This fragrance would suit her wonderfully – being inspired by the Egyptian God of the afterlife, Anubis ’embodies the sacred mysteries of Ancient Egypt’ with sultry swags of jasmine enrobed in rich suede and smouldering swathes of woody incense. Rippled with the ambered hay-like notes of immortelle, speckled with pink lotus and saffron, it’s a scent that leaves you feeling sheerly veiled in magnificent mysteries.
£145 for 50ml eau de parfum papillonperfumery.co.uk
Desire (Played by Mason Alexander Park) – Memoize London, Black Avaritia
The twin of Despair, Desire is irresistibly glamorous with a streak as cruel as they are beautiful. You might say they have ‘issues’ (more issues than Vogue, darling). Riddled with something of a younger-sibling complex, revelling in their complexities, even; Desire often attempts to meddle in Dream’s affairs for their own gain. You might want to dislike them, but there’s something that speaks to the lust in our souls that cannot help but fall in love. True sensorialists will adore revelling in their own decadence with this scent, then – a perfumed plunge into ‘the essence of indulging all of your wants and needs in abundance.’ With a honeyed grapefruit warmth that doesn’t feel so much sun-kissed as full on snogged with tongues, the sumptuous violet / oudh smokiness twists into an addictive woody vanilla base that will have you yearning for more, more, MORE.
Despair (Played by Donna Preston) – Contradictions in ILK, Devious
The twin of Desire, we don’t get to see a huge amount of Despair in this first season, much of their time being spent marvelling at humans at the end of their tether. Extremely close to Desire, the two spend much time scheming against their elder brother (poor Morpheus). There’s a fabulously seductive urge to lean into one of our darkest depths within this scent – a hugely liberating invitation to ‘delve into the forbidden thoughts that whirr silently without sensor.’ Drowsily lulling the senses with a boozy cherry liqueur, the sweetness is stirred through with bitter almond and a dry hiss of spices – nutmeg and cardamom seguing into sticky vanilla beans, nutty tonka and creamy sandalwood. I imagine wearing this while reclining on a chaise in a boudoir, reading tear-stained love letters tied in frayed, scarlet velvet ribbons and delighting in my own sulkiness.
Lucienne (Played by Vivienne Acheampong) – The Perfumer’s Story, Old Books
Chief librarian, guardian of The Dreaming and perhaps the most trusted confidant of Dream himself, Lucienne has rather more responsibilities than issuing fines for late returns. A reminder of how useful librarians can be – and how vital libraries are to the human soul – anyone who proudly counts themselves a bibliophile or even (*whispers cautiously*) a book-sniffer, should immediately file this fragrance under Most Wanted. Hushed incense curls through motes of dust dancing on hazy, sepia-toned memories, as properly earthy patchouli, amber-veined vetivert and cooling cedar slowly evanesce. It speaks to those who relish nothing more than rifling the depths of slightly dank basements filled with ancient manuscripts, of climbing Edwardian wooden steps (the ones that slide) and finding the whole experience deliciously, subversively sexy, somehow.
£95 for 30ml eau de parfum libertylondon.com
Lucifer Morningstar (Played by Gwendoline Christie) – Robert Piguet, Bandit
User reviews of Bandit online range from ‘a bit scary’ to ‘a beastly mechanical terror.’ I kind of get what they’re saying – this leather and smoke scent is like wearing a whip’s kiss. It hisses at you, all airy aldehydes popping in the manner of a shaken Champagne bottle, darkness and light personified as burned rubber and the hot, greased chains from a motorbike suddenly unravel to reveal preternaturally pristine white flowers. Hugely sophisticated yet beguilingly unsettling, one can only imagine the gasps of terror when this was first launched in 1944; it’s one for outcasts, those with a reputation that precedes them, and who’d like their perfume to as well. If you’re not aware of Germaine Cellier, the deliberately devilish perfumer who composed it – look her up. She would have approved this pairing. It can be tricky to source the original, so for those less overtly Luciferian, try the newer Bandit Suprême, which glowers less gloatingly.
£165 for 100ml eau de parfum robertpiguetparfums.co.uk
Johanna Constantine (Played by Jenna Coleman) – Eris Parfums, Scorpio Rising
Swaggering with all the sass one would expect of Johanna, a dry smouldering of spices sizzles to an ambery explosion of incense, smoke, and leather. ‘Like the astrological sign it’s inspired by,’ they say, it’s ‘beautiful but dangerous, magnetic but formidable.’ Dangerously spellbinding, this scent feels like it grants you extra powers, which Ms Constantine will certainly need on her chosen career path as necromancer and demonologist for hire. If you’re casting out otherworldly entities and dealing with Morpheus’s moody mumblings as a day (or night) job, you’d certainly require something emboldening to the soul. This fragrance does the deed in a bewitching performance that radiates ravishingly for hours.
£138 for 50ml extrait de parfum saintecellier.com
John Dee (played by David Thewlis) – Calvin Klein Eternity for Men
John Dee unwittingly echoes the bleak words of Larkin’s This Be the Verse, ‘They f**k you up, your mum and dad. / They may not mean to, but they do. / They fill you with the faults they had / And add some extra, just for you.’ I feel he should cleave to the comfort of a scent that’s become a timeless classic since its launch in the 90s. A soapy froth of lavender, lemon and lily of the valley becomes sharper as it grows, a harder, metallic egde slicing through the cleanliness via the piquancy of juniper and geranium, while the base is wreathed in white floral notes – lily, jasmine, orange blossom, which ‘reject the notion of love as nothing more than whirlwind romance, choosing to focus instead on the timeless power of eternal commitment.’ Though Dee might want to reflect on that phrase and consider chasing its more romantic notions rather than an overhwhelming obsessiveness (I nearly chose Klein’s Obsession as an alternative), there’s no doubt it’s a scent you’ll want to keep going back to.
£39.99 for 100ml eau de toilette boots.com
The Corinthian (Played by Boyd Holbrook) – Serges Lutens, Dent de Lait
You know those people who can assume the expression of slightly alluring approachability by smiling with their eyes in selfies (‘smizing’ as Tyra Banks memorably put it in America’s Next Top Model)? Well, meet the ultimate smizer: The Corinthian. The problem of scenting him was solved on remembering this little number. It’s suitably charming at first, a toothsome softness recalling happy childhood memories of eating a paper bag full of milk chews from the newsagents. But then, there’s a creeping realisation of the name’s true meaning as it settles on the skin. Translating as ‘milk tooth’, its inspiration, says Lutens, was the memory of a child losing its first tooth. Yes indeed. And if that concept disturbs you, don’t watch the campaign video. Fusing the electric crackle of aldehydes with almond milk and incense, right at the end there’s a metallic sharpness you can’t quite place. But don’t worry, it’s not your teeth The Corinthian is after. He’s all about the eye contact…
£110 for 50ml eau de parfum escentual.com
Cain (Played by Sanjeev Bhaskar) – Boy Smells, Tantrum
Most siblings have felt the urge to murder each other at least once a week, it seems, but Cain notoriously (and repeatedly) scratches that particular itch. Residing in a darling little cottage with said sibling in the Dream Realm, he’s not without his niceties – a softer side revealed in his love for their pet gargoyle – so something with an edginess that nevertheless manages to be secretly lovely is called for. Bring on Boy Smells fittingly named Tantrum, which is better behaved than the name suggests, but still strikes out with a punch of peppercorn splintering the woodiness of cedar. There’s oodles of grounding vetiver infusing the base, thank goodness, as senses are further soothed by the addition of powery orris. Embracing the ethos of ‘better out than in’ might not always be advisable, but I say spray this one with abandon.
£105 for 65ml eau de parfum spacenk.com
Abel (Played by Asim Chaudry) – Bruno Fazzolari, Corpse Reviver
Created by perfumer and synesthetic artist Fazzolari, this ominous-sounding but actually utterly delicious scent was created as an addictive antidote to rouse the hungover back to the land of the living. Rather fitting, then, for poor, frequently buried Abel, who could do with some instant reanimation on a regular basis. Rosemary-flecked blood orange and a welcome shot of warming whiskey awaken the forest-y shadows of cypress, while a fragrant feast of dark chocolate and the salty, animalic purr of civet are swirled through the calming creaminess of vanilla. I feel this would infintely appeal to his sweet tooth (he’s fond of a reviving cuppa with a side of cake to calm his nerves, after all), and really a fabulous fragrance is the very least of what he deserves.
From £8.50 for a sample vial eau de parfum roullierwhite.com
Matthew the Raven (Voiced by Patton Oswalt) – 4160 Tuesdays, Court of Ravens
Matthew is Dream’s emissary and can travel between worlds as a handy observer / advisor. Not that Morpheus listens to him as often as he should. Matthew is a wittily sarcastic cynic, as well he might be, having once been human and, as the Sandman Wikki explains, ‘had a car accident and is tricked into being possessed by his wife’s evil shapeshifting uncle.’ Well these things happen, and because he dies in the dreaming he becomes part of that world. Why, apart from the name, is this his signature scent? It’s got all the dryness of a Chypré’s oakmoss mixed with singed rose petals and incense, to which perfumer Sarah McCartney added Yakima peppermint, French lavender, cumin and pink grapefruit: ‘To bring glossy black glints of ravens’ wings, shining as they catch the light.’ A handsome devil, and knows it.
£40 for 15ml eau de parfum 4160tuesdays.com
[Addendum]: I wrestled with including Roderick Burgess – the embodiment of ‘be careful what you wish for’ – in this, because his story is central to the first few episodes, and the decisions he makes are central to, well, everything. But for the sake of completeness, instead of describing his character and risk spoilering (which should be reclassified as a cardinal sin), and because a friend on social media asked what my pairing would have been for him and I immediately knew; I shall add my answer here in full:
Roderick Burgess (Played by Charles Dance) – Commes Des Carçon, Series 3 Incense Avignon
I would choose Commes des Garçon Series 3 Avignon for Roderick Burgess. There are lots of other options, but my mind kept circling back to this. It’s actually based on Catholicism, the ‘bells and smells’ parts, but like much of what Burgess does – it’s a cleaving, amidst the darkness, for comfort. For certainty. Avignon is old, cold incense. It’s snuffed candles and dusty cellars. It’s charred church pews and chalk circles, a trembling silence that throbs through the centuries.
£56 for 50ml eau de toilette libertylondon.com
Written by Suzy Nightingale