Back to our Friday schedule! Welcome to the weekly Perfume Chat Room, perfumistas! I envision this chat room as a weekly drop-in spot online, where readers may ask questions, suggest fragrances, tell others their SOTD, comment on new releases or old favorites, and respond to each other. The perennial theme is fragrance, but we can interpret that broadly. This is meant to be a kind space, so please try not to give or take offense, and let’s all agree to disagree when opinions differ. In fragrance as in life, your mileage may vary! YMMV.
Today is the start of the Memorial Day Weekend here in the US, which also marks the official start of summer for many people. I returned from my travels last Sunday, having spent a week in Northern Italy, five days in Spain, and a long weekend in New Jersey (college reunion). It was all great fun, but I’m glad to be home! I did get a chance to spend time in the fabulous TWA Hotel, in the repurposed landmark TWA terminal at JFK Airport, which I loved:
Along the way, I did make a few fragrance purchases (I blame the favorable exchange rate): two private-label eaux de parfum at the garden island of Isola Bella, one centered on neroli and the other on roses; Prada’s La Femme and Carthusia’s new A’mmare in Milan; and Santa Eulalia’s Albis in Sitges (a beach resort outside Barcelona). There were a few traditional local perfumeries in Sitges and it was fun to explore them. One in particular, a tiny shop, had a very nice selection of niche perfumes (that’s where I got Albis). I look forward to really testing them now that I’m home. The only semi-blind buy was La Femme; I’ve tried it before and liked it, and I wanted to get something by Prada in Milan, so when I found that at a 50% discount …
Do you have any perfume purchases planned? Any plans for the holiday weekend, if you’re celebrating it?
Another pleasant surprise today for my Advent SOTD: Carner Barcelona’s El Born, which I’ve worn before and like very much. I’ve also stayed in the neighborhood El Born, for which the fragrance is named, and it is a completely charming, fascinating part of Barcelona.
So, first, the neighborhood. El Born is one of the medieval neighborhoods of Barcelona, full of tiny, narrow streets that barely fit one car or aren’t wide enough for any cars at all! It is now a trendy, funky city neighborhood full of art galleries, restaurants, boutiques, museums, but also very family-friendly, containing residential apartments, food stores, pastry shops, schools, and parks. Its most famous structures are the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, which signals its proximity to Barcelona’s waterfront (the waterfront is now in Barceloneta, ten minutes away; the church used to be on the actual waterfront before Barcelona was expanded, and its parish consisted largely of fishermen, dockworkers, and their families); the Picasso Museum, housed in five combined medieval palaces or large townhouses (like the “hotels particuliers” of medieval Paris); the El Born Centre Cultural, a fascinating museum about the neighborhood’s history, in a restored covered market; and the Parc de la Ciutadella, a park built on the site of a demolished citadel fort that had been built in 1714 by King Philip V of Spain to control Barcelona after conquering it during the War of Spanish Succession. The fort was a hated tool and symbol of conquest and military occupation, and it was demolished in the mid-19th century during a rare period of Barcelonan independence.
“El Born” is traditionally understood to be the medieval district south of the street Carrer de la Princesa and east of the “Barri Gotic”, or Gothic Quarter, starting at the Via Laietana. However, nowadays many use the name to refer to the area that is technically a neighborhood called “La Ribera”, between Carrer de la Princesa and Barcelona’s legendary Palau de la Musica (“Palace of Music”), which includes more residential streets as well as the Mercat de Santa Caterina, a restored covered food market full of Catalan epicurean delights. Can you tell that I love Barcelona? I’ve been lucky enough to visit a few times, thanks to my husband’s work that used to take him there once or twice a year, pre-pandemic, and it is now one of my favorite cities. It is also home to some very happy perfume hunting-grounds, by the way, where I have delighted in serious “perfume tourism” in niche boutiques and perfumeries.
Carner Barcelona is a fragrance brand that was launched in 2010 by Sara Carner. It aims to capture the spirit of Barcelona and Catalonia in its fragrances: “We are captivated by Barcelona’s Mediterranean soul; its architecture, culture and the unique way in which history merges with the contemporary lifestyle and the vitality of its people.” El Born is part of its original collection and was launched in 2014. It is described as an “amber floral”, and that’s accurate — I would say it is mostly amber, slightly floral. The notes listed on the brand website are: Sicilian Lemon, Calabrian Bergamot, Angelica, Honey (top); Fig, Heliotrope, Benzoin from Laos, Egyptian Jasmine (middle); and Madagascan Vanilla Absolute, Peru Balsam, Australian Sandalwood, Musk (base).
Right away, when I spray El Born on my skin, I smell the honey and angelica top notes. They provide a soft, warm, but slightly herbal sweetness: a bit like caramel but not sugary, if that makes sense. It is more like clover honey, i.e. honey from bees that have feasted on clover nectar. There is a brief spark of citrus at the start, but it doesn’t linger. As the middle phase develops, the sweetness is carried by the fig and benzoin, with heliotrope contributing a subtle floral dimension. I don’t really pick up the jasmine at all, and I’m okay with that! The other accords are very soft, and the honey lingers among them. The vanilla accord joins in pretty early in this fragrance’s progression, and it’s just the kind of vanilla I like — more botanical than gourmand. Balsam, sandalwood, and musk notes in the base carry forward the soft warmth that characterizes all stages of El Born.
El Born, the fragrance, is just as ingratiating as El Born, the neighborhood. I should note, however, that the actual El Born neighborhood does NOT smell as wonderful as this fragrance! It has that damp, stony smell that many medieval neighborhoods have, sometimes with a soupçon of sewer due to ancient drains. Never mind! It’s a truly delightful place to visit, with wonderful food, restaurants that serve meals until very late in the night (late per this appreciative American tourist’s POV), interesting things to see around every corner (and there are LOTS of corners in El Born).
The photo below isn’t specific to El Born, but it demonstrates (again) the incredible sense of style and color that characterizes Barcelona, and it comes from the city’s annual competition to design holiday lights for some of the major city streets (one of which is Via Laietana, the western edge of El Born). This shows lights in the Diagonal neighborhood:
Now really, if those lights don’t put you in a holiday frame of mind, as we enter the last week of Advent, what will? Have you visited Barcelona, or tried any of Carner Barcelona’s scents?
I recently had a birthday (yes, I’m a Virgo) and treated myself to some fragrances — surprise, surprise. One of them was a tester of Ramon Monegal’s Monbloom. I had been curious about it because I like several of his other fragrances very much; I discovered them several years in Barcelona, home of the brand and perfumer, where my husband was kind enough to buy me a bottle of Lovely Day. When I saw a tester for a good price, I pounced.
It’s odd that I was intrigued by Monbloom, because normally I’m not a huge fan of big white florals, and Monbloom is definitely tuberose-forward. The brand’s own romantic description:
Olfactory inspiration, resplendent and magic. Bewitching floral filter. Exuberant and voluptuous tuberose and jasmine with exotic Osmanthus. Magic and power dressed in incense and labdanum are linked to the incandescent strength that emanates from cedarwood.
This is my festive tale of a magical celebration of a starry night in Dubai.
The notes are listed as: Comoros Ylang-Ylang, Sevillan neroli, orange blossom, wild strawberry, Karnataka tuberose, Moroccan jasmine, Chinese osmanthus, Indonesian patchouli, Spanish cistus, Indian oud, American cedarwood. Quite a few white flowers in there! Elena Prokofeva wrote a wonderful piece for Fragrantica about the many haunting legends associated with white flowers: “Dark Legends of White Flowers” and referred to tuberose and jasmine as “flowers of seduction and death.” I don’t experience them that way, but most white flowers do become most fragrant at night, to attract insects which are active after sundown, so they have a strong association with darkness. A “starry night” in Dubai — what might that resemble? A stroll through fragrant palace gardens like those in the Alhambra of Granada, or in the Royal Alcazar of Seville?
Tuberose, native to South America and noted by Spanish missionaries as early as the 16th century, is among the most fragrant of all white flowers; it has been written that the Victorians warned young girls against inhaling its fragrance lest it inspire wild passions and carnal desires. To my nose, tuberose often smells a bit soapy — more clean than seductive. Monbloom is neither sweet nor very soapy. It was initially launched in 2015 as an exclusive for Bloomingdale’s and the city of Dubai, and it is clearly intended to appeal to a Middle Eastern customer, with its hints of oud, resin, and incense. Those notes create an interesting counterpoint to the sweetness of tuberose, jasmine, orange blossoms and neroli. I tend to like green, almost bitter, chypres, and sweetness is not something I seek out in fragrance, so I appreciate the difficult balance achieved in Monbloom. Although it starts out with a gust of classic white flower notes, it becomes more complex over its development as the cistus, oud, and cedarwood emerge, creating a subtle breath of incense, resins, and wood. I will have to study it further, though, as I was very cautious in my initial applications — no more than a small spritz on each wrist.
It does not surprise me that such a well-crafted perfume comes from Ramon Monegal, who is the fourth generation of perfumers in the Monegal family, founders of Myrurgia, which has been creating fragrances for over a century; he began training in perfumery in the 1970s and worked for several firms before returning to the family company, which was acquired by Puig in 2000. After working for the combined company for several years, M. Monegal left to launch his own artisan brand. He takes inspiration from his birthplace and city of residence, Barcelona, the Mediterranean, and his homeland of Spain.
When we took a family trip to Spain some years ago, mostly through Andalusia, it was brought home to us just how close Spain is to the Middle East, especially where it faces Morocco across the water. It was, of course, partially occupied for much of its history by the Moors, who left Spain with a remarkable legacy of architecture and gardens. So it isn’t much of a stretch for a Spanish perfumer to feel affinity with Dubai, home of remarkable Middle Eastern attars and perfumes.
If you are a lover of white flower fragrances, Monbloom is absolutely worth trying. Unless you do truly love the narcotic white flowers, though, I wouldn’t make it a blind buy. I did buy it blind, because I have enjoyed several other Monegal fragrances and felt comfortable taking that chance.
Have you tried Monbloom? Do you have other “Big White Flower” fragrances you enjoy?
My lovely husband has returned from another business trip to Barcelona; and I am now the happy recipient of several samples of fragrance from the niche perfumery Carner Barcelona, as well as the “travel set” of its fragrances Tardes and Rima XI. I haven’t had a chance to try them yet, so this week’s “Fragrance Friday” will be about the perfume house instead.
Carner Barcelona was founded by Sara Carner in 2009. According to the company website, Continue reading →
It was a long week. My husband had to be out of the country all week on business and I had to resolve a very challenging situation at work with lots of ramifications. But now it’s Friday! My work challenge appears to be successfully resolved; and my nice husband is home, bearing gifts from Barcelona. For me: a large bottle of Custo Barcelona L’Eau. Lovely!
Custo Barcelona is a fashion firm that was born in Barcelona. Its style is young, funky, colorful and cheerful. So is its fragrance. According to various websites, CB L’Eau is supposed to be a lighter version of the original Custo Barcelona fragrance that came out in 2008. The same “nose”, Alberto Morillas, developed both. For L’Eau, the top notes are bergamot, grapefruit and galbanum. Heart notes are peony, jasmine and “exotic fruits.” Base notes are musk, tonka bean, woody notes. It smells very European to me but not French. Catalan, perhaps! Definitely a citrusy floral with woody undertones: bright, cheerful, feminine, warm.
Custo Barcelona fashions, from Photoquivir 2015.
I love Barcelona, especially the Barri Gotic and the Eixample neighborhood. I love the food, especially the fresh seafood, the tapas and the different kinds of sangria.I love Antonio Gaudi’s architecture there, including the stunning Sagrada Familia cathedral, still unfinished; his signature curves, bright colors and fanciful patterns have clearly influenced later Barcelona designers like Custo Barcelona and Desigual. And Custo Barcelona L’Eau definitely evokes the city, with its playful vibe layered over complexities. It reminds me of the Parc Guell, a Gaudi masterpiece and fantastical park with gardens, mosaics and fanciful structures. The gardens contain fragrant herbs, trees, and flowers. Some of its trees are tropical; some bear fruit. The blog In Search of a Thousand Cafes describes it well, with many lovely photos, including the one above.
CB L’Eau starts off bright and juicy, but the galbanum top note gives it a green, herbal astringency that cuts the sweetness of the citrus notes. It slowly blossoms into a light, fruity floral — more flowers than fruits, which I like. This part of its progression matches the bright pink of the peony notes and the pretty bottle.
I love how the shape of the bottle matches the typography of the design house’s logo. The bottle is really unique, with its textured metallic inset of silver, asymmetrical cap and ombre tinted pink glass. The last phase of CB L’Eau is lightly musky, with sweetness from the tonka bean and dryness from the woody notes. I can still smell the base notes on my wrist ten hours after first spraying myself. All in all, a delightful gift from a delightful man! I’m grateful to have both.