Maja, Old and New

To google Maja, Myrurgia’s iconic fragrance from 1918 (probably most familiar to people in the U.S. in soap form) is to find everything and nothing.  Its ubiquity – the Spanish equivalent of Ivory Soap?  Jean Nate? – means there are dozens of places to buy it online and a simultaneous total lack of information about the brand or the fragrance.   I never did find a complete, plausible list of fragrance notes.

One website featuring products from Spain enlightens: “Hints of rose, jasmine, and other flowers.  Esteban Monegal, an artist, sculptor, and violinist, decided to create bath products that would be as much a work of art as his musical contributions. This is the result: a luxurious brand unrivaled throughout the world.  The classic Maja fragrance, unchanged in 100 years, is now available in a remarkable bath and shower gel…” The website notes (with an apparent lack of irony) that the products are now made in Mexico.

Shifting over to Basenotes and MUA, where the reviews are thin, offers up a strong case that “unchanged in 100 years” is a fiction — the fragrance has not only been reformulated recently in its move to Mexico but (according to furious reviews) is a ghost of its former glorious Orientalist scented self.

If you´d like to read some interesting information about the brand, Carmencanada at Grain de Musc has forgotten more than I´ll ever know, so here´s a link to her Myrurgia blog post and another to her great post about Carmen Tortola Valencia, the person who appears on the Maja label, and thanks to Carmencanada for educating me.

So.  There I was in our local Perfume Discount Mart, sniffing around with the proprietress, who has the patience of Job, as far as I´m concerned.  I saw the bottle of Maja and sprayed it on absentmindedly while sniffing two or six other things.

Every now and again a cheap, fun fragrance dances into my life when I least expect it.  Maja does smell like the kind of fragrance that should exist as soap (which is the only way I´d thought of it).  It smells like good carnation and jasmine soap, not “soap” as in Clean Laundry.  It smells lightly spicy and gently floral.  There is a touch of green and citrus, and nothing “fresh,” thanks very much.  It is a skin scent with surprising longevity.   It´s the sort of thing I´d use in warmer weather instead of cologne.

I bought an older bottle of the original Maja EdT on eBay for comparison.  I can see what people are complaining about – it´s a different scent.  It still smells like soap, but it´s darker and spicier and almost masculine.  The older version smells sour, in a nice way; it is muskier and smells of incense.  The vintage version really wins in the drydown — the guest-room carnation and spices gives way to a honey-soaked richness that the new stuff just can’t match.  The newer version has been gourmandized a bit, with a creamier, warmer base. Smelled side by side the contrast is fairly striking.

The older Maja EdT is stronger, although it´s not a fragrance powerhouse.   Neither of them is the stuff of genius, but both of them are welcome, simple fragrances when I want my sillage to be minimal and uncomplicated.  The original is the obvious classic, and the drydown is delicious, but I have to say, I rather like the new one too.  They smell nice layered.  I cheerfully shelled out $14 (!) for a 1.7 ounce bottle of the new stuff and the vintage can be found pretty regularly on eBay.  And now I need to try the actual soap.

PS.  You can friend Patty and me on Facebook.  There’s a Perfume Posse group you can search for, and we (and some other people you will recognize) are attached to it.  I’m a newbie on Facebook, I joined recently along with a bunch of my friends from college.   Come find us, we’d love to meet you!

Maja perfume poster:

  • Joyce says:

    I loved the writer”s reflection on this delicious scent which I have loved for several years. It is a sensual and romantic aroma. I prefer the original honey,musty,older incense version and hope I get the opportunity to choose both in the future,

  • Shelley says:

    Just pointing out to powder fans that you can get Maja scented powder, too…I got a great deal on an edt + powder gift pack from an online dealer a while ago…

  • Melanie says:

    My husband loves the Maja soap. He always buys it in Mexico, which is where we’re headed next month…I’ll have to look for the cologne as well as the soap.

  • Robin says:

    I’ll have to look around for some vintage Maja one of these days. I used to buy the soap every so often, but more for the guest bath than for me, and haven’t even smelled that in ages.

    How old was your “old” bottle, do you know?

    • March says:

      R, I don’t think it was old at all. 🙂 I probably should have said “the pre-reformulated scent.” Browsing online, the new one has a rounder cap — black on top, red stripe on the bottom. The bottle is also taller and thinner. The one prior has a more muffin-shaped maroon cap and the bottle is shorter.

  • Louise says:

    March-I really need to deposit some cash with that lovely perfume shop owner-so sweet and patient.

    And now I have an idea-Maja! After your generous spritzes, the modern is winning hands down..still hanging around all sweet and spicy 😡

  • Zoe says:

    Oooh, Maja. My grandma’s one fragrance, so for me, the epitome of old-lady-scent. She has the big bar of soap in the shower and small ones to scent her linen, and the EdT to spray in her hair on special occasions. Love it on her, but it would be very weird on me.

    • March says:

      Oh! To scent her linen!!! It makes me want to run down to the linen closet right now and spray it around…

      I feel that way about Jean Nate. For years I had an elderly neighbor who wore Jean Nate, and every time I smell it I think fondly of her, but I can’t imagine wearing it. 🙂

  • quimerula says:

    It is Nenuco, a baby’s fragrance that is very popular even today.

  • quimerula says:

    Just popping in to add that in the Myrurgia site (in Spanish) they list these notes: rose, jasmin, carnation, geranium, gardenia, lilac, violet, freesia and hyacinth. :)>-

  • Nava says:

    Wasn’t there another Myrurgia scent available in the US about 30 years ago? Nenuca (sp?) or something like that? I have distinct memories of my next-door neighbors using it. They were like my 3 big sisters and everything they used, I wanted to use, and I cannot stand Jean Nate to this day because they hated it so much.

  • violetnoir says:

    Hey there!

    I wore Maja back in the day when I was a student in Salamanca, Spain. I loved it then, but don’t think I would wear it today.

    Hope to hear from you soon!

    Hugs and love!

    • March says:

      You’ve got mail … thanks for taking this on, it will be fun to meet new people!

      I wear such heavy things, so much of the time. It’s nice to try out something light and fun every now and again.

  • helenviolette says:

    I have almost bought this soap on several occasions- just because I liked the packaging (and I am big on soap)-now I am curious about the scent too…Off to facebook! :d

    • March says:

      Hey, I have a ton of new friends on Facebook! <:-p There were people who were complaining that the soap isn't what it used to be, either. But how bad can they make soap? Don't answer that. 😉

  • pikake says:

    …soap that is. Will check on the EDT next time I’m there.

  • pikake says:

    I believe I can get Maja at the Perfume House, what a quirky place that little den is.

    Oh, and I just “friended” you at FB. Thanks for the invite! <:-p ~Trish

    • March says:

      You’re welcome! It’s fun to have perfume friends. As I said to Mike, I think I want the soap now.

      • pikake says:

        Well, I can make sure the Perfume House is stocked up on their Maja if you decide to come here for your summer vacay!

        • March says:

          My husband keeps encouraging me to use our miles! I got a great flight to LA. I want Louise to come with me to Portland…

          • Liesl says:

            Portland has some awesome restaurants, too. Some friends, my husband, and I are trying out this 5-star southern restaurant this weekend called Screendoor.

          • pikake says:

            I was just at the Screen Door on Saturday! It was quite good. They make some mean fried Okra and a fabulous lemon drop (not really southern I guess). The butter lettuce salad was amazing. But the fried chicken was very good, but not life changing. :-\” Bernie’s is just as good, if not better IMO. The restaurants in Portland are wonderful don’t you think? I’d put them to the test alongside any major city in the US. Maybe even better b/c the organic/sustainable food movement is huge here.

          • Liesl says:

            I love this whole rep Portland is getting now as cutting-edge culinary. Organic/sustainable food makes it all the better….Isn’t Portland on the top 5 list of greenest cities in the US? It might even be #1.
            I’m stoked about Screen Door because of their vegetarian options. I mean, what southern restaurant has an entire section dedicated to veggies? For brunch AND dinner? 😡

          • pikake says:

            Yes! The beet salad was really good too. You know about the crazy wait right? I think you can get a rez with a party of 6 if you get there when they open. Otherwise, be prepared for a line out the door!

          • Liesl says:

            So it wouldn’t even be worth my time to call? Sounds like we should just show up 5:30ish and hope for the best.

          • Liesl says:

            There will only be four of us.

          • pikake says:

            this is thread is getting so mini! get there when they open. we got there at 5:45 (4 of us) and they were full. there was an hour wait!

          • Louise says:

            Ooh, is this a formal invite? We just need to not tell my family how long I’m staying :d/

            I do speak the Oregonian dialect, but maybe you’d rather have me as an interpreter in Paris 😕 ?

          • pikake says:

            Louise, so are you from Portland, but living away from here now?

          • Louise says:

            Yes, sadly… 🙁

            I left for grad school, and got swept away with work and family in the DC area. I miss Portland something fierce, but then again..I have a good life here :d

    • Liesl says:

      Hooray, a fellow oregonian! <:-p Hey, do you know if the Perfume House carries (and I know this is at best a long shot and at worst a stupid question) No. 22 edt?? The website doesn't disclose all their vintage/rare stuff, I can't find it on the Chanel site, and it seems what online distributor I can find that sells it is out. I have family member who flies to Europe regularly, so I'm thinking I may have to wire him some money and beg him to get me a bottle.

      • Gretchen says:

        The US Chanel boutiques carry No 22 edt in the big-bottle Les Exclusifs version. San Francisco has a Chanel boutique; that may be the one closest to you. Not very close, but closer that Europe, at least. Perhaps they will do phone orders. Good luck!

      • Louise says:

        A shout-out to another Oregonian :d !

        • Liesl says:


          Btw, I hit reply to yours and the computer said I was responding to the post. Good thing I was actually paying attention, or my response would have been really random 😕

  • Mikeperez23 says:

    Every year, like clockwork, my Grandmother (my Dads mom) used to get a bottle of Maja, a set of Maja soaps and Maja powder for her wedding anniversary presents. Every year! The scent is wired to my brain, as a child.

    Of course, I’ve never smelled it as an adult. Now I want to. Thanks for reminder!

    • March says:

      You’re welcome! I sort of want the soap now. And I think the original would also make a nice linen spray. A man could totally pull it off.