The best fragrances are transportive. Scent is such a primary sense that certain fragrances act like an olfactory Tardis, transporting us through space and time by dint of an unusual note or connection to our personal history. This author can’t smell CK One, for example, without revisiting amateur snogs in the school library. Which is exhausting, since today’s commuters seem as keen on it as 1990s schoolkids did.
But some fragrances lead us to places and times we’ve never accessed. Margiela’s Replica range is arguably the don here, a scent collection designed to summon a specific place and time. As in, specific to date and place: a Madrid barber’s in 1992; a fireplace in Chamonix in 1971; a Brooklyn jazz club in 2013. Spots few will have actually visited, but which are bottled and made accessible to all by an expert blend of sticky or smoky scents.
Carthusia’s Mediterraneo is equally bewitching. The fragrance was released in 2003, but the ‘1681’ emblazoned on the bottle gives some clue to a much longer history. The house is based on Capri, a tiny island just off the coast of Naples, and its scents are supposedly recreations of formulas that nearby Carthusian monks kept secret for centuries. The legend goes that in 1380, after creating a particularly fragrant flower arrangement for a visiting queen, the monastery’s father was overcome with the aroma of the water his blooms had sat in.
The monks came up with various concoctions based on the local flora, then sat on them for a few centuries, before finally handing the recipes to someone who could do something with them. Enter Carthasia, which hired nose Laura Tonatto to give them a modern tweak, while maintaining the link to Capri.
The result is the Mediterranean in a bottle, an eruption of citrus and sun-drenched flowers that whisks you to Capri without the indignity of Easyjet. The opening is all bergamot and lemon, swiftly joined by the herbier notes of mint and thyme, which mellow Mediterraneo just as you worry this is something you were so supposed to drink, not spray.
The heart is uplifting, with clean and fresh notes of cardamom and more citrus from the mandarin. But it’s the musk that emerges which pulls everything together, and stops the fragrance sitting solely on the female side of the fragrance shelf. Wear from now until the leaves start to fall.
Available from The Grooming Clinic, priced £60 for 100ml of eau de toilette.
Bottle: A simple, square flacon, with a traditional stopper head. Looks like Chanel No. 5, smells like heaven.
Head notes: wild mint, Sicilian lemon, aromatic litsea, Chinese eucalyptus, Spanish red thyme, Calabrian bergamot;
Heart notes: Egyptian jasmine, Guatemalan cardamom, wildflowers, Sicilian mandarin;
Base notes: white musk.
Best for: smelling like George Clooney. It’s his fragrance of choice, after all.