There I was, at Esxence 2018., standing at the Carner Barcelona stand. Mr. Joaquim Carner greeted me, we talked a bit about previous collections, and then he asked me if I knew about the new collection – three signature bottles right in front of me – the new, 2018. Oriental Collection.
Joaquim simply said, his hand hovering over the bottles: “This is Spain.“
Three different facets of Spain, to be exact. The Roman, Moor, and Catholic heritage of this great country, thousands of years, uncountable history-changing events, art and science and the art of war, discoveries, conquests and losses, generations of people, their destinies, lives, individual contributions, and feelings sublimed into three perfumes?
I just stood in front of them, reluctant where to start first, digging out of my memory everything I have learned from history books (I am a history freak, you might have noticed) and travels, recalling images of numerous paintings I stood before in museums, going back in time and space to many cities and historic sites in Spain that I have visited, trying to remember all the scents and sounds and images which I have accumulated over many years.
Images swirled around my head like a wild roller coaster: Alhambra of Granada, Alcazaba, Cordoba, Sevilla, Madrid, Toledo, Malaga, Barcelona, and everything in between.
My sweet memories: the feeling of a hot summer’s morning and scents of the fish market in Malaga, simple beauty of the oldest church in Barcelona, Gaudi, more Gaudi (mind the trams!), El Greco and elonged somber-faced bodies on his paintings in Toledo, the sound of my footsteps in a labyrinth of streets in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, miles, and miles of beaches, sun, sea and wine, jamon – jamon, of course, late-night and hours-long dinners in Madrid, dancing in the streets, squinting and looking high up at noon underneath the Columbus Monument….sea again, I love sea, I can almost hear seagulls…the way my mind works!
For some reason, while I looked at those square, wood capped bottles my first association was dire of Gibraltar through which I have sailed. Pillars of Hercules.
That was quite a memorable experience! We were on a cruiser which sailed through Gibraltar at midnight, on our way to Morocco and I remember standing at the deck, cold wind and salty air striking my face while I looked up at those dark, almost threatening edges of two continents, so incredibly close and yet so dividing. A magical place where Africa and Europe almost touch…and did you know that the vertical lines on the Dollar sign, (the US dollar has origins from the Spanish Dollar) represent the Pillars of Hercules?
That “Spain“ memory chip in my head went wild.
Three perfumes, equaling Spain? Impossible! I alone could think of a thousand different ones!
I have been sniffing around Carner Barcelona for quite some time. They won numerous awards because of their dedication to producing high-quality lifestyle perfumes.
Their scents are manufactured in Barcelona by artisans and some of the most notable perfumers, they support local artisans, even their bottles are made from locally sourced wood. The famous culture of Spanish workmanship at its best. No wonder that soon after their launch in 2010. Carner became a cult niche perfume house. Nice.
Presentation is featuring minimalist design, fine craftsmanship, and perfumes are meant to make a connection between scents and emotions. Emotions and olfactory memories.
Sarah Carner:”It’s not only about creating scents but also about evoking memories, sharing experiences and transmitting emotions.”
I am especially fond of the „Black Collection“, Black Calamus being my favorite.
Broody, dark, resinous, sensual, and labdanum woody. I still have some of it left. Sandor 70’s – leathery, tobacco, mossy black. Rose&Dragon – what a story! What a dark, demanding, ferocious wild rose! One more thing: there is a base note present in all three of these perfumes: frankincense.
I am talking about the Black Collection because it was a bit different from the previous perfumes, mostly fine woody gourmands.
Are the Orientals a new chapter in this new direction?
This is Spain. Three different facets of Spain. Symbolic, just as you can see them in Gaudi’s work if you visit Park Guell in Barcelona…if you look carefully.
Megalium – The Roman Heritage of Spain
“Megalium, an ancient fragrance passed down through the ages, from a time when rose water flowed from fountains and balsams perfumed the lavish private lives of the Romans from their bathing rituals to their chambers and boudoirs.„
The perfume was used in ancient societies to bring believers closer to gods or to cure the body and spirit. Theophrastus, Greek philosopher and the father of botany (he wrote “On Sense Perception“ – about fragrances), was the first known writer to record Megalium – a sweet-smelling mixture that was considered capable of relieving the inflammation caused by any wound.
That was a very important mixture at those times! Of course, Greeks inherited this mixture from Egyptians, only to pass this remedy on to Romans.
It is recorded that Megalium contained resin and oil of Balanos (oil that was used in ancient Egypt as a base for perfumes!), cinnamon, and myrrh. This is certainly a more elaborate, modern Megalium! Yes, times are a-changing, but even today you can see remains of rich Roman influence in Spain and this perfume shows just how past and present mingle. I tested it to soothe my soul.
A spicy oriental it is, quite gentle. If you are expecting a screaming, loud oriental, this is not it.
Here we go again with calamus (remember Black Calamus?) but it is much sweeter, brighter, mandarin coated, and thus much fresher in the opening.
Cinnamon is soft and light, not overwhelming. Half an hour later, a few rose petals are floating gently, brightened with berries, and covered with nutmeg dust.
When spices fade a bit, frankincense and myrrh dance with them and start to lead at a slow and relaxed pace, not being “dark“ at all.
Longevity is very good, sillage not extreme (I took 2 spritzes each time I tested it on my skin-it remains “at arm’s length” which is perfectly acceptable) and I feel that its heart gives it personality. Wearable.
As I tested it, I recalled images of the subterranean maze 16 feet below the ground in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, the streets of the ancient city modern Barcelona is built on, literally. You can visit the Roman Ruins located in Placa del Rei – Museu d’Historia de Barcelona (MUHBA). It’s a great place to take a break from busy streets above and harsh sunshine during Summer.
Top notes: Royal cinnamon essence from Laos, Cinnamon tree leaves from Sri Lanka, Mandarin integral extract, Calamus essence India
Heart notes: Nutmeg essence from Moluccas, Indonesian Pimento Berry essence, Indian White pepper absolute, Bulgarian rose extract
Base notes: Olibanum extract Somalia, Ethiopian Myrrh extract, Yemeni Opoponax extract, Styrax resin
Ambar del Sur – The al-Andalus heritage of Spain
„Reminiscent of a time when royalty perfumed their hair with exquisite musks, the scent of amber wafted in the air, and enchanted patios bloomed with florals and romance. Ambar del Sur is an aromatic tribute to the al-Andalus of the past.„
The scent of Moorish Iberia… The scent of more than 700 years of al-Andalus…Yes, there were constant conflicts, and blood was shed but there was also a period considered to be a Golden Age when trading and science flourished and the scent of imported spices and musks filled the air inside hammams and castles built.
I wore it for days, even managed to find my Damascene earrings bought in Toledo.
Funny, this perfume did not take me to Alhambra or Cordoba as expected, no, Toledo was the first place that came to my mind.
This perfume also reminds me of the art of damasquinado – steel decorated with threads of gold and silver, an ancient craft passed from generation to generation, coming from Damascus at the times of al-Andalus…
I wouldn’t call Damascene jewelry “pretty“. It is not “pretty“, it is different, cold and bright, steel and gold, quite unusual. It is a work of artistic craftsmanship, developed through centuries. It is a statement.
So is this perfume: rich and shiny but somehow bold. Again, if you expect a loud, blunt oriental, this is not it. It does open with bright Bergamote, shining like the flash of gold on Damascene jewelry, the first thing you notice. Then you begin to see shapes, birds, flowers and petals, dainty details, a playful jasmine note.
As time passes, the black steel surface behind all that glitter is more and more visible: its heart starts beating strong, stronger by minutes turning it into a true oriental, almost hedonistic.
Amber from the South. Ambergris…This is what this whole introduction was about…I did spray some on my hair and it woke me up in the morning.
The amber, sandalwood, vanilla wear all the way through the dry down, a very creamy tonka smooth one. Sensual.
I think this could be my favorite in the line, but please do not forget that I do tend to wear perfumes that many would consider more “masculine“ than others.
Top notes: Italian Bergamote
Heart notes: Water jasmine, Indonesian patchouli, Australian sandalwood, Accord amber
Base notes: Myrrh, Spanish citrus, Venezuelan tonka bean, Madagascan vanilla absolute
Botafumeiro – the Catholic heritage of Spain
“Botafumeiro: rings of biblical times when pilgrims traveled on foot along the pastoral Camino de Santiago in route to the tomb of St. James resting below the historic stones of the Cathedral. Swinging to great heights along the church, the Botafumeiro censer expels billows of scented smoke filling the air with a heavenly aroma.”
Do you know what the Botafumeiro is? Literally – a smoke expeller in Galician. The one and only, a huge censer in Santiago de Compostela Cathedral!
It has been used since the Middle Ages, to clean the air when many pilgrims arrived, after walking the route for months, after a long journey, tired and – unwashed.
It was believed that this ritual could stop the plague from spreading… and there is an element of silent prayer present as well. Scented prayer.
I can only imagine how spectacular it is to watch the Botafumeiro in full swing! All that frankincense surely affects everyone attending!
I have never been to Santiago de Compostela, nor walked El Camino, but I do know how censer works and how frankincense from a censer or burnt at home smells.
My late grandmother used to burn frankincense at her home, that is one of my earliest olfactory memories of her. I don’t exactly recall when or why, but I do remember chunks of nice smelling yellowish resin material. Where and how she obtained it, I do not know. I only know there was always some in her house. Did she use it to honor saints on their day to achieve a spiritual connection or to chase away evil spirits, I will never know.
I have read somewhere that it helps focus the mind and overcome stress and despair, so all this might have had something to do with it.
It isn’t that simple and this perfume is definitely not only about frankincense, but it is also more than that. Again, this perfume does not shout. It sings divinely and it immediately reminded me of vocal music of the Middle Ages, choral songs, chants. It starts out with a scent of flowers from the altar, warm and heavy. That turns swiftly into a sweeter tone with a soft layer of spices – nutmeg is subtle but remarkable.
From somewhere deeper Muguet accord emerges but it is tamed, rather clean and sharp.
Sandalwood and incense warm things up. Styrax adds a dash of smoky, dry with a fine bitter incense facet. It is definitely adding a twist from an antique to a modern feeling, making it quite multifaceted, meditative, and spiritual in almost a New Age way.
Botafumeiro is very wearable. I wore it all day long and it felt very comfortable as my scent of the day.
On my skin, it is long-lasting, with moderate sillage. I did spray only twice in the morning and didn’t mind reapplying every five hours, even though it stayed close to my skin.
Top notes: Italian Bergamote, Pink peppercorn, Indonesian Nutmeg
Heart notes: Freesia accord, Muguet accord, Spanish cistus, Indonesian patchouli
Base notes: Styrax resin from Honduras, Mystikal, Musks
These fine perfumes belonging to the Oriental Collection/Carner Barcelona are available as 100 and 50 ml Eau de Parfums, and the prices range from 95 EUR (50ml) to 145 EUR (100ml) at the official Carner Barcelona site.
I hope you will enjoy them as much as I do. As I will enjoy Barcelona, soon…
The Plum Girl
Photos: The Plum Girl, Carner Barcelona catalog
Samples supplied by Carner Barcelona