I love this fragrance blogging thing. It gives me welcome respite from filling out the twins´ preschool re-enrollment forms, which were 29 pages – one set for each kid — due today. I am hopeful their college admissions paperwork will be less burdensome. At least they should be able to do the forms themselves at that point, sparing me the job of coming up with insightful answers on questionnaires like the Family Home Life Survey. Sample question: what does your child especially like to do? Answer: “play in the mud” (Hecate) and “loves to play with his balls” (Buckethead). This second answer I had to go back and obliterate with Wite-Out once I realized what I´d written (I replaced the last word with “trucks”).
Yes, to my joy, the twins have been invited back to the Learning and Creative Play Correctional Institution for a second year! Hecate has, in fact, become embedded in their institutional memory, as they had to revise long-standing parts of their operating procedures in her honor. Guidelines regarding entry-door and side-door security were tightened, along with some adjustments in the nap protocol, restrictions on climbing structures, additional lessons establishing the maximum allowable playground perimeter, and minor changes to the footwear clause.
Anyway, I went to London to buy Micallef Gaiac and came home with Black Sea instead, and today´s post is both about the fragrance and the process, which interests me enough to blog on it. I´m hoping it´ll interest you, too.
I showed up at Fortnum & Mason 20 minutes before closing, having misread the closing time (FYI the building is undergoing substantial renovation, with two floors closed, including their famous tea room, and the fragrance floor just reopened.) I looked like hell. I´d arrived that morning in London in the same clothes I´d been wearing for two weeks. I had my game face on, though, which turned out to be irrelevant, because Frances, the SA, greeted me with the same polite, slightly reserved professionalism I think I´d have gotten in a Chanel suit. I told her I was a fragrance fan, I had cursory knowledge of the line, I´d only smelled Gaiac and something else which I couldn´t remember, and I was there for a quick sample and would be back on Saturday to buy – probably Gaiac, in the absence of something else that grabbed me even more. Also, I wanted to smell Pomelos, having a love affair with the (related) grapefruit. Also, I wanted to not smell the 20 or so fragrances lined up in front of her, because experience has taught me that I´d smell everything, have a ball, and go home with (potentially) nothing. I don´t know why, but it´s true. So could she please point me to a few things in our few minutes, and we´d have another go on Saturday?
Pomelos was off the list right away — on my skin it soured and had an odd bark-like note. She sprayed a card with the Watch, which is the sort of zaftig, baroque white floral (jasmine?) I associate with my mother-in-law, God bless her, and if she were still with us I´d have bought it for her on the spot. I´m hoping it´ll be all me in a decade or two, but I´m not quite there yet. I said, let´s move in the direction of the Gaiac and away from the Watch, because I´m interested in less sweet and more strange, even masculine, if you follow me. And she did follow me, handing me Winter, one of their four seasons, which was quite interesting but ultimately too abrasive – sandalwood? (and I´m guessing a pinch of cedar.) The Patchouli was too medicinal, with a mint-like note. We agreed to try one more thing, and I left wearing Autumn, which I thought might be The One.
By Saturday, though, I´d decided that Autumn had just enough cumin to remove it from the running. I´m long over my cumin-phobia, but it´s a note I tend to focus on when I´m wearing it, and I wanted my Micallef to be about something else. With Lee for company, I dove back in, pretty sure I´d be leaving with Gaiac.
Then she handed me a card sprayed with Black Sea. (Notes listed inside the box are: pink pepper, clove, cypress, saffron, gaiacwood, muguet, carnation, sandalwood, cedar, incense, ciste, vanilla.)
Micallef offers a custom-perfume service, for God knows how much money, and I´m having trouble imagining what notes they´d run together that would be more perfect for me than what I´ve just listed above. They might as well change the name to Eau de March. You start off with a dusting of spices and it´s a bit sweet-ish; I didn´t know the notes, and just as I was beginning to categorize it mentally (woody floral?) the saffron and gaiac appeared, and they´re what makes the Black Sea work so well. Because, yes, on its own, Gaiac is lovely (I´d place it somewhere between Donna Karan Wenge and oud), but framed by the other notes it´s part of a full orchestra rather than a single instrument. Maybe someday I´ll get bored with saffron, but it hasn´t happened yet, and its warmth is the perfect foil for the more somber gaiacwood. Smelling the fragrance over the first half an hour it just gets smoother and smoother, with the incense (gentle, luminous) and touch of vanilla ultimately giving you the softest of skin scents. The carnation and muguet, to the extent that they´re detectable at all, are only there on as a vague floral presence in the opening. Unless I misunderstood, this is part of the men´s line; after the first two minutes or so there´s nothing at all floral about it. I´d place it squarely in the unisex category. The bottle is lovely, hand-painted with stylized jewel-studded coral; if you read their printed blather it´s all about the artistry of the bottles (along with corkers like: “Influenced by the romance and passion shared by Martine Micallef and her husband, Geoffrey Newman…”) The fragrance, although smooth, is quite strong and much more suited for winter in my climate, and I´ll be tucking it away until then.
An opportunity to demonstrate my ignorance: I believe the fragrance Donna Karan Wenge is meant to evoke the dark, mottled beauty of the (endangered) African wenge wood used for flooring and other things, but actual “wenge wood” doesn´t have a resinous smell; in other words, DK Wenge doesn´t smell like wenge. I also think (possibly wrongly) that agarwood, aloeswood and oud are the same thing, although maybe in different formats (with oud being a resin?) The fact that they are sourced from various countries doesn´t help clarify matters. Research on guiac/gaiac has further muddied the waters; I believe it´s a resin as well, but nothing I found talks about its particular smell (it´s used in homeopathy and also in laboratory tests). If you can shed light on any of these substances, please do so.
Availability: In addition to Fortnum (they ship), some of the Micallefs are at first-in-fragrance, and one (Winter) is at luckyscent. I believe a commenter last week said they’re also at the Galeries Lafayette in Paris.
PS: Winners from last week’s post (samps of Black Sea, Courtesan and Fig-Tea): pitbullfriend, AngelaS and gail!