In these days between New Year’s and the Epiphany I always think about The Three Wise Men. Following a star to Bethlehem to behold the newborn Savior bearing gifts. The gifts are well-known; frankincense, gold, and myrrh. Each king carried one. What has captured my attention as I’ve written about perfume is two of the three are classic components of perfumery. What we know of ancient perfume making is they were also important ingredients there. I’m not sure if it is my inner Magi but resins, woods, and spices are my preferred fare in January. Thankfully I am not out searching for a prophecy. I am on the search for another perfume for this time of year. In Carner Barcelona Megalium I found it.
Creative director Sara Carner was inspired by the ancient perfume of the ancient Greeks and Romans. The Greeks called it Megaleion while the Romans called it Megalium. According to The Perfume Handbook by Nigel Bloom it consisted of “cinnamon, cassia, and myrrh” in the Greek version while the recipe for the Roman version was, “balanos oil, balsam, calamus, sweet-rush, xylobalsam, cassia, and resins”. Sra Carner asked perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux to make a modern reformulation of this ancient recipe. Sr. Flores-Roux takes inspiration from both Greek and Roman versions to form the framework of this new Megalium.
Sr. Flores-Roux opens with the cinnamon. He uses calamus as the source of the spiciness which he deepens by using cinnamon leaves adding a shade of green. The spices broaden out with pimento, nutmeg, and white pepper adding some zest to the cinnamon. Sr. Flores-Roux then provides a thoroughly modern riff as a spicy Bulgarian rose finds some space among the cinnamon accord. The base accord arrives with styrax providing the connective ingredient before the sweetness of myrrh and the austere frankincense come forward. The resinous foundation is given additional oomph with olibanum and opoponax.
Megalium has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
It is easy to see back to ancient times while wearing Megalium. I can even imagine Balthazar and Gaspar; the Magi with myrrh and frankincense gifts wearing the ancient form while on their travels. This new version is a perfume of kings made from the gifts of the Magi.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Carner Barcelona.
I was fascinated with volcanoes as a child. I don’t think it was the very first, but it was one of the earliest scientific things I wanted to know more about. When I had to do a report in school and I could make the subject “volcanoes” that was what it was. I’ve never been to an active volcano to see the pulsing orange lava bubbling up from beneath the earth. I’m also not sure I want to see it any better than National Geographic shows me in their documentaries. Because of the lack of actual experience there is a shortage of information which my imagination is happy to take the place of. My mind’s nose tells me that the smell would be acrid and sulfurous. What is fun about fragrance is when one is designing a perfume, they probably don’t want acrid and sulfurous as their keynotes. It was interesting to see how Carner Barcelona Volcano would interpret their title as a perfume.
Sara Carner is the creative director for the brand which bears her name. In the first few years it was an exploration of her hometown of Barcelona. Starting two years ago Sra. Carner began to spread her wings into less geographical inspirations for the new releases. These have shown Sra. Carner has much more to say in fragrance than stories of her her birthplace. She has shown a more adventurous style which Volcano might be the apotheosis of. She collaborates with perfumer Jordi Fenrnandez on his second perfume for the brand; following last year’s Latin Lover. The perfume volcano has a bit of mineralic bite, but the eruption of hot materials are all resins.
Volcano opens with spicy Turkish rose out front like a sacrifice to the god in the crater. The rose is lapped in spicy flames of ginger and nutmeg. The whole floral accord goes up in flames as smoky nagarmotha and similarly styled frankincense from Somalia come together in the heart accord. These notes form a kind of hot stone effect. Sr. Fernandez then sets off a flow of benzoin, labdanum, and vetiver to mimic the oozing lava. Except this is a warm viscous resinous feeling unfurling on my skin in slowly radiating waves over the hot stone accord in the heart.
Volcano has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I’m not clever enough to have thought what I think a volcano inspired perfume should smell like. Having smelled Sra. Carner and Sr. Fernandez’s version I think an eruption of resinous ingredients is a great choice.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Carner Barcelona.
Fair, or not, I have perfumers categorized in certain categories in my head. I use these imperfect classifications as foundations from which to observe their latest work. When it comes to Rodrigo Flores-Roux I think of him as one of the greatest floral perfumers working today. I can’t remember the review but it was a fragrance which was primarily incense. I made the comment within that piece that Sr. Flores-Roux rarely worked with the resinous end of the palette. He, rightfully, reminded me that there were plenty of examples from his portfolio. Even then the stubborn persistence of Sr. Flores-Roux as a floral specialist remained in my faulty reasoning. With Carner Barcelona Black Calamus Sr. Flores-Roux makes his most compelling argument to date on how poor that line of thinking is.
Black Calamusis part of the three fragrances within the Black Collection, all composed by Sr. Flores-Roux. Creative director Sara Carner wanted the perfume to represent, “The bright sweetness of calamus…..sumptuously blending with exotic resins and balsams.” Using the cinnamon-like core of calamus as a platform for spice and resins seems like a natural fit. Sr. Flores-Roux proves that assumption to be correct.
Black Calamus opens with the title note present. Calamus has spiciness most often compared to cinnamon. I also see a bit of ginger lurking underneath. Coriander and pepper seem to elicit a little more of that ginger character. It provides a lively opening before the woods and resins come to the foreground. There is a fleeting floral intermezzo of osmanthus and rose before labdanum leads the resinous charge. A silvery high-grade frankincense joins in. Then Sr. Flores-Roux constructs an oud accord. Most of the time these accords are there to add in a tamer version of oud. Sr. Flores-Roux goes the other way by using cade oil to add some of those rough edges back to the oud accord. Some vanilla smooths out the latter stages but for the most part Black Calamus is frankincense and oud for many hours.
Black Calamus has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I am happy to be proven mistaken in my presumptions. With Black Calamus Sr. Flores-Roux makes his point to me that he is not just a specialist in florals; he is just a special perfumer who can do it all.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Twisted Lily.
There are some perfume brands which take pride in the city where the creative director comes from. There are some perfumers who are almost inextricably bound to their heritage when composing perfume. The creative director at Carner Barcelona, Sara Carner, has taken perfume lovers on a tour of Barcelona over seven fragrances since 2010. Perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux is a proud Mexican from whom Mexico City makes it into many of his perfumes. Sra. Carner and Sr. Flores-Roux have teamed up for a three-fragrance collection called the Black Collection in which the melding of both creative inspirations takes place.
I will eventually review all three of these fragrances because they all are worth my spending the time with. When I first tried them, there was one which immediately grabbed me; Sandor 70’s. The name comes from a legendary bar in Barcelona which was the pace to be seen in the 1970’s. It was a place where patrons puffed cigars while sitting in leather chairs. What Sra. Carner and Sr. Flores-Roux designed was a modern chypre with a heart of tobacco and leather with one specific keynote from Mexico which knits them together.
There is one thing I admire with Sr. Flores-Roux and it is his way of sometimes inverting the pyramid. With Sandor 70’s before getting to the club he provides a mesmerizing floral accord consisting of an aged jasmine absolute, osmanthus absolute, and Bulgarian rose. The osmanthus holds the center as it has the leathery quality which will provide the transition to the heart. It is that vintage jasmine which has a soft fierceness to it which harmonizes with the spicy rose. This ability of Sr. Flores-Roux to find the intersections of different notes, especially florals, is one of the things which sets him apart. The heart is that leather chair with a Cohiba in hand. The leather accord is a refined animalic leather. The tobacco accord is more sweet than narcotic. The connective note that is used is Mexican vanilla which, as in the top accord, elevates all of this when it is together. The vanilla picks up the inherent sweetness of both leather and tobacco making it glow like the ember on the end of the cigar. The base is a modern chypre accord of patchouli, vetiver, oakmoss, and frankincense.
Sandor 70’s has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Sandor 70’s is one of the best perfumes within the entire Carner Barcelona collection and my favorite of the three Black Collection releases. The reason is it is the one where Barcelona meets Mexico City inside a club in 1970’s Barcelona.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Twisted Lily.
As summer sets in we all think of taking some vacation time. For many of us that choice is to head to our favorite, or nearest, beach. It is one of the reasons the whole aquatic genre of fragrance has been successful. It reminds us of being next to the ocean even when we are in our work-a-day world. Up until about a year and a half ago I was impatient with this style. It had grown insipid in its insistence on slavish imitation. Then something surprising happened as some of the independent perfume brands did a hostile takeover of the aquatic. They used the basic building blocks but began adding new ingredients. It was like they were looking for their own private beach to share with those in the know. As a result, I have a whole new grouping of aquatics to wear this upcoming summer. One of the latest additions is Carner Barcelona Costarela.
Costarela is the seventh release for Carner Barcelona. Owner and Creative Director Sara Carner took us on a trip of her hometown of Barcelona over the first five releases. Last year was the first release to travel somewhere else, Palo Santo, but it fit in with the overall brand aesthetic. Costarela is a marked departure from both place and style for the brand.
Sra. Carner worked with perfumer Shyamala Maisondieu on Costarela. One of the things which fueled my disdain for the previous generation of aquatics was they got the marine vibe right but they missed out on the beach. Sort of like a forest themed perfume focusing on the trees but missing out on the earth they grow in. In Costarela Mme Maisondieu brings the surf and the sand together.
Cotarela opens with a delightfully odd pairing to open an aquatic. Bergamot for its sunny qualities is a staple of the form. Saffron is not. Mme Maisondieu adds the saffron and it almost seems like it acts as sun spots against the sparkly brightness of the bergamot. This phase has surprising staying power. I expected it to move along but it hangs in for over an hour on my skin. Eventually the crashing waves draw my attention away from the sun. Here Mme Maisondieu’s marine accord imparts the combination of water and salty sea spray. Then the mineralic sand accord buttresses that familiar sea spray accord with a granularity of stoniness that completes the total beach accord. Like the top notes Costarela lingers here for a quite a long time. When it eventually progresses into the base it is a very dry woody accord of cedar and ambroxan.
Costarela has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I think Sra. Carner needed a beach vacation she could carry around with her. By designing Costarela I now also have a beach carry-all whenever I need to get in that relaxed state of mind.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Carner Barcelona at Esxence 2016.
There are brands which execute so well on their stated aims I get worried when they take their first steps away from that. The truth is for a brand to have longevity you can’t reliably keep mining the same inspiration. At some point the creative team has to take something of a chance in moving to a different vein of inspiration. My first indication that a change is coming is the press release. When I received the press release for the new Carner Barcelona Palo Santo there was not a mention of Barcelona. The previous five releases have captured the artistry and vibe of the city on its label I sort of wanted them to keep showing me more. Instead creative director Sara Carner has gone into the woods searching for a perfume which represents the mystical.
Palo Santo is the name of a wood indigenous to South America. It is burned as incense. Used medicinally as a tea. It is also part of mystical cleansing rituals. Palo Santo translates to holy wood because it has been used throughout the centuries in the sacred rites of the area. Sra. Carner asked perfumer Shyamala Maisondieu to help her find a way to interpret this wood as fragrance.
In the previous five perfumes in the Carner Barcelona collection there was a real sense of vibrancy which matched Sra. Carner’s love of Barcelona. Palo Santo is the opposite of that as it almost asks the wearer to speak in solemn whispers while meditating. Mme Maisondieu works throughout the composition of Palo Santo to build a pyre of sacred smoke rising through a hole in an imaginary roof.
Mme Maisondieu chooses an interesting opening pair of the slightly fruit quality of davana floating on rum. The boozy opening could be mistaken for a party night on La Rambla. It doesn’t linger long before Mme Maisondieu deepens things while making Palo Santo a little less party and a lot more church. In the heart she takes guaiac wood and tonka to create a sweetly woody accord which she then pours warm milk over. This makes the heart contemplatively incense-like with a softness different than the top notes. That quality continues into the heart as two additional lighter woods add themselves into the mix as amyris and cedar join in. They fit seamlessly and make for a woody quartet of tenors. Vetiver provides the final bit of green woody aspect.
Palo Santo has 10-12 hour longevity and below average sillage.
While Sra. Carner has taken a trip away from Barcelona, Palo santo does fit in with the rest of the Carner Barcelona collection. In particular it feels like a natural progression from Rima XI. After enjoying Palo Santo I am ready to follow where Sra. Carner is ready to lead me. Even if it is deep into the woods.
Disclosure; this review was based on a sample provided by Twisted Lily.
In every big city in the world when I visit I do like most tourists and go visit the things in the city that all visitors want to see. That approach reduces these cities to a large open-air museum. They give you a glimpse into the history of the city being visited and a superficial experience with the actual things which make those cities special. I always try and make a point of spending time in a real neighborhood for most of a day when traveling. It is these moments when I actually gain some insight into the soul of the city. Carner Barcelona has been taking perfume lovers on a fragrant stroll through the city of Barcelona and each of the four releases since 2010 have exposed another aspect of Creative Director Sara Carner’s home. The fifth fragrance continues this trend, El Born, which is named after the Barcelona neighborhood of the same name.
Based on the description in the press materials El Born is an old area of the city dating back to medieval times but now it has become a narrow warren of boutiques, restaurants, and wine bars at street level. Above on the open air balconies you see the citizens of El Born enjoying the day as they look out over the neighborhood. As part of the creative direction Sra. Carner took the perfumer, Jacques Huclier, down to El Born to take a sniffing tour as inspiration. In the end the brief for El Born influenced by the experiential walk would be to create a complex gourmand.
El Born uses lemon and bergamot to start and M. Huclier adds in angelica and honey and while I definitely can pick those notes apart together they form a really lovely licorice accord. When I smelled El Born for the first time at Esxence I fully expected to see licorice as a note. Instead the very herbal nature of angelica is wrapped in the honey and it creates a strand of herbal-tinged licorice. M Huclier then takes a fabulous ripe fig redolent of the soft pulp inside. Together with the licorice this is as good as it gets for a gourmand fragrance beginning. The heart offers a floral intermezzo of jasmine attenuated by heliotrope so it lilts instead of overpowers. The base notes are dessert as a chocolate accord of vanilla absolute, peru balsam and sandalwood provides a traditionally sweet final lagniappe finishing this walk through El Born.
El Born has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Sra. Carner has shown an admirable attention to detail in this perfume brand which carries her name. This has led to a reliable quality for each new release and El Born lives up to its predecessors’ pedigree. I have never been to Barcelona but Sra. Carner will have sufficiently prepared my nose for the day I finally do visit. My first stop will be to spend a day in El Born; until that day this fantastic perfume will have to tide me over.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Carner Barcelona.