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.
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.
Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian is one of the elite perfumers working currently. He burst upon the perfume scene in 1995 as one of the perfumers behind Jean-Paul Gaultier Le Male. His career would only trend upwards from there. M. Kurkdjian has made a large number of perfumes I think rank among the very best. In 2009 he started his own line, Maison Francis Kurkdjian. From the initial seven releases to a collection which now numbers twenty-seven fragrances it is one which has always had my attention. I have realized over the last couple of years that it is with this brand where I will start somebody off who is dipping their toe into the niche perfume sector. The perfumes which make up the collection carry a baseline classicism which I think is why they are such appropriate entry level choices into niche. These are the five perfumes I usually take someone through when introducing them to this brand.
One of the first seven releases Aqua Universalis lives up to its tag line of a “A scent for all things”. This is the best clean musk perfume I own. M. Kurkdjian uses a selection of citrus matched to lily of the valley as his come-on. The base has a few sheer woods along with a blend of white musks that M. Kurkdjian has become known for. In Aqua Universalis it all comes together. When I am showing this brand to someone new to niche this is the bottle that most often is purchased.
The masterpiece within the Maison Francis Kurkdjian collection is Absolue pour Le Soir. That is not where someone new to the brand should start. Instead the precursor release Cologne pour Le Soir is a great introduction to themes which will be intensified in the later release. Absolue pour Le Soir is an animalic feral beast with honey. Cologne pour Le Soir is a domesticated feline with honey. From a spicy opening into a lilting incense heart down to cedar sweetened with vanilla. In the original seven this was the one which captured my attention the most.
In 2012 the oud craze had reached its heights. Every time I saw oud in a new release I inwardly said, “Please no more”. The problem was the early oud fragrances were using oud as something to represent exoticism. 2012 would see the end of that as some of the best perfumers began to use oud in constructs which showed its versatility. The simply named Oud was one of those. M. Kurkdjian has a way of tweaking something classic and making it seem contemporary. With Oud he was able to take a note which had usually been used as a wrecking ball, transforming it in to something less pulverizing. By using saffron, cedar, and patchouli along with a Laotian oud which imparts a more delicate profile; containing interesting grace notes which M. Kurkdjian teases out. Oud will make you believe the wrecking ball has become a brilliant fragile crystal ball.
Masculin Pluriel is the best example of M. Kurkdjian’s way of re-interpreting classical styles. Here he takes the fougere and makes it his own. It starts with a single source of lavender that is herbal and green as well as floral. It is so good M. Kurkdjian keeps the rest of the development simple. Cedar, patchouli, and vetiver are the usual fougere components. The fabulous leather accord also present is not. It is that which contemporizes Masculin Pluriel.
When I tried the original 2013 release Aqua Vitae I wanted it to have more heft. Two years later M. Kurkdjian granted that desire with Aqua Vitae Forte. A fabulous mixture of spices, citrus, orange blossom, sandalwood, and vetiver. It is as easy to wear as an old pair of jeans. As I have only had a year to introduce this to people when I take them through Maison Francis Kurkdjian it seems like Aqua Vitae Forte is finding as many admirers from the novice niche users as Aqua Universalis.
These five are where I think you should start but this brand has many more advanced delights once you delve deeper. It is one of the stronger collections currently on the market.
Disclosure: This review was based on bottles I purchased.