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.