My Favorite Things: Caraway

I have a secret crusade in perfumery. I want caraway to stage a coup d’etat on bergamot in the top notes of perfume. Caraway has the same bitter citrus feel as bergamot except this is more akin to bitter lemon. Because it is a spice there are also subtler aspects that go with the obvious bitter citrus. Caraway is one of the least used ingredients within perfumery. In Michael Edwards’ Fragrances of the World there are only 92 entries which contain caraway. I’ve asked and learned it is not too expensive, difficult to obtain, or fractious to work with. As part of my campaign I am going to give you my five favorite caraway containing fragrances.

Van Cleef & Arpels Tsar was the first place I ever smelled caraway but I was too unsophisticated to know what the different note was I was smelling. Released in 1989 by perfumer Philippe Bousseton it is a powerful fougere which uses bergamot with the traditional lavender and rosemary to start. The turning point comes in the heart as cinnamon and caraway brush aside the bergamot and rosemary to transform Tsar into something much more opulent before ending on a super sandalwood base. In this case the caraway shows all of the depth and subtlety it has available to it.

It was when I first tried Parfumerie General Querelle by Pierre Guillaume which has fueled my caraway enthusiasm. Querelle opens with one of the most beautiful openings of anything M. Guillaume has composed as he combines caraway with cinnamon and myrrh. The bitter lemon against the fire of the cinnamon juxtaposed on the sweet resinous quality of the myrrh is gorgeous. It sets up the vetiver, incense, and oakmoss finish perfectly. Caraway dominates the very early moments. It when I wear this that I most often ask why it isn’t used more.

Dirty-English-Juicy-Couture

Juicy Couture Dirty English is one of my favorite best buy perfumes. Perfumer Claude Dir created an overstuffed smorgasbord of masculine ingredients. Right at the top he sets up a title fight between bergamot and caraway which my guy wins by pairing best with the cypress and cardamom also present. Dirty English is fantastic for the price and it is caraway which starts it all off.

Byredo Baudelaire by perfumer Jerome Epinette is perhaps the most creative use of caraway. From a black pepper and juniper berry opening the caraway provides the citrus pivot to the gin-like character of the juniper berry. Like an exotic gin and tonic with caraway acting as the lime Baudelaire becomes this watery patchouli and incense fragrance. I can’t imagine bergamot being able to pull off the same effect.

Maison Francis Kurkdjian Cologne pour le Soir shows caraway can stand up to even the heaviest spicy notes. Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian uses caraway as the foil to the cumin within the honeyed top accord. When I tried the first debut collection of this brand it was this single accord which made me swoon hardest. Even as it deepens with ylang-ylang, incense, and vanilla it is the opening which sticks with me longest.

If you need a crash course in caraway here are five which can provide you a full profile of the note I most want to see used more often.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Juicy Couture Dirty English-Claude Dir Brings Niche to Mainstream

There are times I need a lot of encouragement to overcome an erroneous snap judgment I have made. One of those instances was back in 2008. On Basenotes there was a lively discussion about this new mainstream fragrance from Juicy Couture called Dirty English. Now this, at the time, nearly 50-year old man was not going to wear any perfume from Juicy Couture. I remember being quite vocal about it on the forum, too. All of this was without ever having tried it. Then I was in my local department store and a sales associate approaches me with a bunch of strips in her hand and hands one to me. As I sniff the strip picking out caraway, cardamom, leather, sandalwood, and oud. I was running through which niche house this could have come from. Then the rep told me what it was. Yes you guessed it this was Juicy Couture Dirty English and my jaw had disengaged itself from my face and was dusting the floor.

There have been a few valiant attempts to bring a niche aesthetic to the department store counter, Dirty English was the attempt for 2008. So far there has not really been a breakout success for any of these and this is why Dirty English is easy to find at the discount fragrance purchase points. I have regularly found it for less than $30 for a 3.4 oz. bottle.

claude dir

Claude Dir

Claude Dir was the perfumer behind Dirty English and this was in keeping with his very mainstream career to this point in 2008. He had made one of my favorite mainstream fragrances, Zaharoff pour Homme a few years earlier. Later on in 2008 he would start working on the niche side of the street when he composed Bond No. 9 Andy Warhol Lexington Avenue (now just called Lexington Avenue). With hindsight one can look back at Dirty English as the real start of M. Dir’s niche values.

Dirty-English-Juicy-Couture

Dirty English mixes pepper, cardamom, and caraway. The caraway adds an exotic tenderness to the spices and again I wonder out loud why this isn’t used as a substitute for bergamot more as a top note. All of the spice dusts the light woodiness of cypress. M. Dir then uses a leather accord called Santal Fatal which uses sandalwood, vetiver, and cedar to form the leather accord. M. Dir makes a fascinating choice of using marjoram as an herbal contrast to the Santal Fatal. He then uses the combination of nagarmotha and patchouli to make an oud accord and right here with the combination of all of these components you would be hard pressed not to feel this was a top of the line niche fragrance. In the end a very close-wearing musk finishes this one off.

Dirty English has about 4-6 hour longevity and above average sillage. This makes it an ideal evening out scent.

I was, and continue to be, impressed with the choices M. Dir made for Dirty English. If he was less disciplined with the choices he made this could have easily turned into a mess. Instead he turned out a fragrance I still look to wear for an evening out. I still can’t believe there is a Juicy Couture anything I like as much as this.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle of Juicy Couture Dirty English I purchased.

Mark Behnke