Black Sea

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!

  • Robin says:

    Cracking up at the adventures of Hecate & Buckethead, and as the parent of a child who has nearly been expelled from all 3 schools he has attended (and he is only in 2nd grade) I need the blog too :d

    Hey, did you happen to try Micallef Avant Garde? I remember it sounding interesting although can’t remember why.

    • March says:

      I keep telling myself they’re just reaaallly, reeeallly intelligent. Whaddya think?

      I mean, as opposed to Satan’s spawn or something.

      No, I didn’t!!! And I’m kicking myself. I remembered it a couple days ago, and you’re remembering it because it was the only other one that sounded really interesting — tobacco, although also cocoa, which might have been a deal-killer for me.

  • Ina says:

    How fun, March! I can totally picture F&M. Been there myself but, like you, with about 10 minutes to look around. Black Sea is my main lemming right now! Adore the Black Sea – used to go there as a child a lot.
    Your next trip should be Chicago, btw. :-w

    • March says:

      I was hoping to get back out there this summer, but it doesn’t seem to be shaping up that way. I’m also ashamed I haven’t been back to Santa Fe since 2001, which is pretty pathetic.

  • AngelaS says:

    I can’t believe I won a drawing! I’m really excited, thank you. I’ll send my address right away.

    I worked at a pre-school for a while when I was in college, and I must have met a few Hecate and Bucketheads in my time. One kid even tunneled under the play yard’s fence and was picked up by the police an hour later. You know, those were the kids I liked the best!

  • Patty says:

    Okay, want that Black Sea. Can’t wait to get back home and sniff my little bit that should be there (I hope, I hope!!)

  • pitbull friend says:

    Hope you like, Louise. I know you have a problem with perfumes lasting for long. I think I’m pretty midrange overall on that, but Sensuality Water lasts on me, like for days. So, hope that you like it & that it likes you! –Ellen

  • Jennifer says:

    Black Sea sounds right up my alley. Like you I have a fear of cumin; it consistantly becomes BO on me. As for Wenge, well my father is a wood carver, and I know he has worked with Wenge, I will have to ask him if it has a smell.

    • March says:

      Excellent! Let me know what you find out!! I did this general internet research and it left me more confused, as you can see.

  • Elle says:

    Maria’s right – they’re all the same thing. Here’s a link w/ some decent info:
    Am psyched you’ve definitively fallen for FdB! 🙂
    I called F&M a couple of months ago to ask about the Black Sea, since the notes sounded so divine. Whoever I spoke to was extremely nice, but said they couldn’t ship it because it only came in 100 ml bottles and they weren’t allowed to ship anything over 30 ml to the US (we both agreed this was an odd rule, but not one they could get around). Am wondering if this rule still holds. Will have to call again. What did you think of Red Sea? The cinnamon note in that one had me intrigued.

    • Elle says:

      Just called to see if anything had changed. No. She can send me 12 bottles of something that is 30 ml, but she can’t send one 100 ml bottle. Sigh.

      • March says:

        Crap. I’m already trying to figure out a way around this — P may be itching for a bottle. Keeping my fingers crossed she gets her pkg the next day or two, with the rest of her stuff.

  • Louise says:

    Oh-and you were lovely in FdB-once the B.O. note calmed down, it melded well with March-scent.

    • March says:

      Thanks! I’m now feeling silly about not buying the bottle in Heathrow, although knowing I can mooch off of you :-” takes the fear away.;))

  • lissa says:

    ah London. I actually received wonderful service there. though it helped that I always flirted with the male associates. You gotta do what you gotta do. I particularily found Harrod’s to be friendly. I certainly hope you had tea somewhere as there’s a law you can’t do London without going to tea. The perfumes sound lovely and I am scouring the web to figure out where I can find the fig tea and black sea scents.
    Hecate and Buckethead frighten me, a new mom of an already wickedly smart 8 month old. I feel some learning experiences coming my way….

    • March says:

      Lots and lots and LOTS of tea. I love tea. I brought home a ridiculous amount (Royal Blend from Fortnum) because I can’t get it locally, although I bet if I searched hard I could find it online. Anyway, I fudged our wretched exchange rate, in part, by combining lunch and dinner into one tea-with-sandwiches at 4:30 or 5 pm, by which time I was exhausted anyway, and going to a pub in the evening by yourself night after night loses its charm fairly quickly, or at least it did for me.

      Fig-Tea is definitely around (luckyscent? lacreme? it’s pretty popular). Black Sea I’d never seen before.

      • Maria says:

        Beautyhabit carries two sizes of Fig-Tea. I got the small one for $25. Luckyscent only carries the larger size.

        • March says:

          That’s hilarious! Thanks to the exchange rate, I think I paid almost twice that.

  • kuri says:

    29 pages?! For pre-school?! Definitely longer than one of my college application. But beats taxes, right? Good thing you proofread Buckethead’s application 😀

    Frances sounds like a treasure.

    • March says:

      They just would have laughed. They already have me pegged pretty well as a mom./:) Besides, you show me a boy who doesn’t like to play with his block and tackle…

      Frances was great. I get that experience so seldom.

  • Judith says:

    Oh, Black Sea sounds perfect. The only Micallef that I have liked of those I have tried is Gaiac, so this sounds perfect! And, of course, I love Hecate and Buckethead!:x

    • March says:

      Judith, it’s official — Louise sprayed me yesterday with Feminite du Bois yesterday and it’s heaven! I get a little bit of the cedar B.O. drifting back and forth for the first hour, but not unbearable, and then it’s all good. We meet at the mall, have a coffee, and sample swap, then walk around sniffing ourselves and each other. I wonder if mall security has an eye on us, sometimes.

  • Louise says:

    Thanks for the tip, Ellen. Amazon has several of the V’taes even cheaper-will give them a spin!

    • pitbull friend says:

      This comment was supposed to be here, so ignore comment #17.

      Hope you like, Louise. I know you have a problem with perfumes lasting for long. I think I’m pretty midrange overall on that, but Sensuality Water lasts on me, like for days. So, hope that you like it & that it likes you! –Ellen

  • Louise says:

    Go Buckethead! I simply adore hearing of the twins antics. I any only hope that elementary school doesn’t slap the spirit out of them…though I doubt it.

    My darling son managed to challenge the spirit if not word of many “laws” in his early schooling. Gender-assigned clothing was clearly optional-as was cross-gender clothing at times. Nap time was time for protest, as in standing on an unassigned cot and screaming about the injustice of it all to any waking (or now-woken)audience(he gave up naps early). His punishment was a fine reinforcemnt- time out in the “comfy chair” with his thumb and a book. He always won.

    Can’t wait to trace your petite steps in London.

    Black Sea has it all, no? Will dab on male companion soon…

    • March says:

      You’re going to have such a good time! I am so excited for you, I’ve never been to Paris when the weather’s nice.

      So — on the Louise skin — give us the results? Did it last?

      The FdeB is STILL going on me. Amazing stuff. The MJ Homme was gone pretty quick, though (I tend to cling to things.)

      • Louise says:

        Yup, it lasted fairly well, by Patty’s metric (4 hours, is it?). I enjoyed the scent a lot, but still feel it echoes the good DKs (B. Cashmere, Chaos) a lot-too much probably for me to buy.

  • chayaruchama says:

    Congrats, you lucky winners…
    The F&M experience sounds truly memorable !

    This should be definitely-sniffworthy…

  • Lee says:

    I think I’m in love with Hecate and Buckethead. And Black Sea, but you know that anyway.

    Actually, I think March’ll testify to the EXCELLENT service we experienced everywhere that Saturday. It’s remarkable really – Britain never used to be about good service; it was more in the lines of ‘get the hell out of my shop’ done with a glance and a smile, of course (it took me two years – two whole years! – to finally get the SA at my local deli to smile and be pleasant. I’m resilient). I don’t know if this is a true picture of Britain’s service sector right now: I don’t shop enough.

    As for the passion between those two – I’ve seen photos, and I don’t wish to imagine Micallef’s perfumes as lovejuice from their unions…

    • March says:

      That’s funny you mention that. The Big Cheese and I had a long semi-argument upon my return, when I kept raving about the customer service I received all over the U.K. He kept acting as though I were daft (sorry, like Madonna I’m having trouble letting go of the Britspeak). He lived there for a year and did the Slumming Through Europe tour, and he said the service in England, in particular, sucked.

      The only place I received sort of marginal service was Scotts of Stow (Stowe?) (affectionately referred to by our guide as Snots of Stow), but that whole town grated on my last nerve anyway. No offense. Twee plus ultra. I kept waiting for Mrs. Tiggywinkle to breeze past me.

      • tmp00 says:

        Mr. Twiggywinkle? =)) I adore you!

        I think some places (that aren’t Macys) are tumbling to the fact that if you aren’t nice to people they will shop elsewhere. Maybe it’s the upside to being able to get anything anywhere.

      • Lee says:

        I tend to concur on the Cotswolds. Overrated chocolate box parade.

  • Gail S says:

    Oh,oh, are you kidding me? Me Gail, not some other Gail? Because I so want to smell that Black Sea! Whoohoo!

    And I’m right there with you on those rewritings of rules based on your children’s actions. My kid, now 20, has been followed her entire life by new rulebooks, just to fill in loopholes she found!


    • March says:

      Yep, you, hon! I forgot your s, I’m sorry (I even went back to check, feeling a little silly …. it’s not like Gail is some super-unusual name.) Please email us your address under comments.

  • Gina says:

    Loved the review, March! I’m jonesing for Black Sea, sounds like everything I love in a perfume.

    • March says:

      It’s pretty much everything I want in a perfume too, just not this time of year! The Fig-Tea is getting a workout, and I’m sure we’ll be back to boring old Bvlgari White any day now.

  • Lavanya says:

    Lovely reviews!!..I am absolutely lemming black sea-sounds quite amazingg..

    • March says:

      Lavanya — thanks. It’s beautiful. I wish Micallef would make their line more available, but they’re very much wrapped up in its exclusivity.

  • Maria says:

    March, I believe that oud, aloeswood, and agarwood are all the same ding-dong thing. It all depends on what image the perfume house wants to promote. An oud by any other name would smell as resiny, as Shakespeare might have said if he’d been a contemporary perfumista.

    Your wonderful Fortnum experience is in sharp contrast to my DH’s and my experience this evening at Macy’s. The friendly woman at the Christian Dior counter had never heard of Eau Sauvage. The woman at the men’s fragrance counter sounded as if she thought we were a pimple on the buttocks of her day (but I suspect she treats everyone that way).

    • Louise says:

      Oh Lord, Maria, I love that last image…will be plagiarizing you heavily today!

    • March says:

      Maria — I think that, at Macy’s becomes the monopoly, they give their sales people some sort of reverse people-skills training. Macy’s swallowed my beloved Hecht’s last year, and the vibe is completely different. It just points out how much better the service is at Nordstrom.

      Thanks for the info about oud — the perfume notes are such claptrap anyway, I finally decided to state my vague position and see if anyone could clarify.

      • pitbull friend says:

        sighhhh For a century or so, there was a local chain here called Dayton’s. It had employees who worked there for 50 years because the place was “family.” Importantly for me, I could walk into the ladies’ suit department and say, “Hey, I haven’t worn anything but jeans in years and I need something for an interview,” and the helpful women would fix me up nicely.

        Then it got bought out by the Chicago-based Marshall Fields, and the salespeople were pleasant enough, if you could find them. Recently, it was bought out by Macy’s, and now they’re rude if you can find them. Is anyone still wondering why more folks are shopping online??? (Well, actually, they are pretty rude at the thrift shop I go to, also, but when you find a fabulous piece of new clothing for $5, it’s OK.) –Ellen

        • Teri says:

          I’ll join you in a moment of silence for Dayton’s. My mother’s family is from the Minneapolis/St. Paul area and when we’d go visiting there, I’d often go on shopping expeditions with my cousin and her best friend, one of the daughters of Dayton’s owners. Of course we’d be treated like royalty when we stopped by with the owner’s daughter in tow – lol – but we were also treated every bit as well when it was just my mother and I shopping.

          With Macy’s swallowing up everyone else, all the charm and individual character of the different department stores will soon be as extinct as the dinosaur. And whomever decided that the combination of snotty and pushy was the best way to sell luxury goods should be drawn, quartered and then shot, in precisely that order.

          • pitbull friend says:

            Oh, Teri, do tell if you’re ever headed this way! One can always use an excuse for a sniff around town, don’t you think? :d –Ellen

    • March says:

      PS — I’m processing what you wrote. Didn’t recognize Eau Sauvage? At the CD counter?!?!?!:o

      • tmp00 says:

        I had that happen a few years ago at the Bloomingdales in Century City: it wasn’t Dior SA, but they did look at me like I asked for a bottle of Eau de Horsepoop.

        Both Macys and Bloomingdales are evil. I want Bullocks back (and Marshall Fields and Hechts and Steigers and..

        • Maria says:

          Eau de Horsepoop–that’s exactly what the men’s fragrance SA acted as if I’d said. At least the CD SA was pleasant; she said she was new.

          This weekend we’ll be in Sacramento, so we’ll visit Sephora to see if they have Eau Sauvage. *guarding self and DH against Blue Sugar attacks*

  • Tigs says:

    Congrats to the winners – couldn’t be going to a nicer group o’ ladies. Thanks for the rundown, March, this sounds lovely and Frances sounds like a God-send. Ah, Hecate, I love to hear her antics. After Chippy, the family dog, ate a number of softer toys, my mother called a local store and asked the owner if he had rubber balls. She could not figure out why he kept hanging up on her.

    • Maria says:

      Tigs, I laughed so loudly that I’m surprised my DH and dog did not come running.

    • March says:

      Frances was GREAT. Nice to play with someone really well-informed.

      I’d have hung up on your mom, too.

  • pitbull friend says:

    Oh, thank you! Bless the child whose tiny hand chose my name! After a bunch of odd unpleasantnesses in the last few days, I especially appreciate it.

    BTW, a minor slip off the wagon just now. I know you are a fellow enjoyer of V’tae’s Sensuality Water and Green Grass & Sunshine, and, well, they were closing out a couple of things for cheaper than cheap (I mean, a $25 bottle of actual perfume?), so… am hoping that, for instance, their summer fun vanilla/coconut/tangerine scent “Two-Piece” will be an adequate cheap substitute for Creed Virgin Island Water. Couple of other interesting things — something called “Sacred Fire,” described as “Skillfully blended amber (made with labdanum, rose, jasmine, strayx,[sic] and vanilla) …sandalwood, davana, rare osmanthus, frankincense, Himalayan cedar, pomouwood and coriander…” “Pomouwood?” Google tells me it’s Bulnesia sarmienti, from Cambodia. Will share if it turns out to be good. –Ellen

    • March says:

      It was Enigma’s turn; you can direct your burnt offerings to her — thanks for the tip about the V’Taes. Although I’m not sure there is a precise substitute for VIW (although I wish there were) because I want some, but not enough to shell out $185… Sacred Fire sounds rather nice, doesn’t it? Will investigate further.