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?