January 8, 2013
Most of the perfumes I really love are dark, earthy and have dense floral notes with a woody and incense-rich dry down. Perhaps because before I ever wore perfume, collected it or wrote about it there was one aroma that I wore exclusively for years and, for the last fifteen years or so has haunted me: majmua attar. In my college years I managed a New Age bookstore. We carried metaphysical books but also a wide variety of oils incenses and crystals. One particular line (Blue Pearl) had incense and oil called “MAJMUA (a gentle grassy blend)”. At a time when most of my contemporaries were in hand-made patchwork pants, tie-dyed t-shirts and dripping in cheap patchouli, I was wearing a lot of black clothes, silver jewelry and only the majmua oil. Never before (or possibly since) have I ever experienced such a mystical scent on so many levels.
Majmua, an Indian attar (think pure essence oils blended into something stronger than pure parfum) whose name comes from an Urdu word that means “collection, or gathering” definitely lives up to its name. This ancient and robust blend contains no less than four attars: kewda (screw pine flowers with an aroma like honey and hyacinth), kadam (large fluffy pom-poms of flowers that have a soft woody floral scent), mitti (an attar of baked river mud) and ruh khus (an extremely potent extraction of vetiver). These essences are all blended into a base of warm and cozy sandalwood oil. What is NOT to love? If I ever had to choose ONE scent to wear above all others…it would be majmua! Sadly, Blue Pearl stopped making the perfume oil. They still carry the incense but I was at a loss; and for years I searched and looked for a scent or perfume to fill the void my beloved majmua had left. I came close, a few times, but never quite succeeded.
I did receive, one year for my birthday, a gift of majmua attar from a friend in Pakistan who braved the bazaars and markets of Karachi to make my ultimate scent dream come true. What came to me then was 10 times purer and 100 times stronger than the oil I was used to wearing. A true attar that you could apply two or three drops of, and it lasted close to 24 hours and projected magically. These oils were made and blended by native artisans and took my appreciation of majmua one step higher.
Every so often, in life, you experience “perfect moments” where you just know what is happening is meant to happen and you are reconnecting with an old soul-friend. This is what happened when I first talked with perfumer and founder of HOUSE OF MATRIARCH Christi Meshell. We knew immediately we were kindred souls and, as we talked on, I mentioned my love of majmua (what I had always affectionately called “The Maj”). Christi informed me that she too adored majmua and it was, in fact, the first perfume she ever tried to make was based on this heavenly attar. She never released it; as she said she never go it “quite right”. After smelling some of her newer scents (and three iterations of early attempts she had sent me) I told her I thought it was time she got back to work! I was honored to have been somewhat of a muse for this particular perfume, but all credit lies with the artist here as she has taken beautiful already aged essences and woven them together deftly like silk threads in a priceless (and quite possibly magical flying) Persian rug.
Despite the fact that true attars are (for the most part) pure fragrance, Christi has captured the true soul-stirring beauty of majmua in a 33% extrait combined with natural alcohols. The immediate warmth of the Indian sandalwood is apparent. So too is the humid freshness (like the scent of heavy rain falling on dry parched earth) of the mitti attar. Sweet and aromatic flowers swirl about you like petals riding on incense fumes, as they alternate with balsamic and aromatic green notes. Saying this is “an incense perfume” is like saying a Lamborghini is “just a car”. Some may want to call this scent “linear”; but, to do so would be seriously limiting one’s expectations. It is a warm and woody floriental scent that smells intensely exotic and intriguing the entire time you wear it, yet every now and then some note will shine through and surprise you.
What this perfumer has done with such an ancient blend is amazing. The attar itself can be a bit off-putting at first due to its concentration and can take a while to “quiet down” to something soft and comfortable. This extrait version captures not only the depth and complexity of the original, it has smoothed some of its rough edges and it goes on softly yet it has a sensual, almost animalic, wild side to it. It sings the ancient song with just as much reverence; and, it does so at a lower volume but captures every nuance and sings with clarity and grace. Capturing the essence of Majmua attar, in a perfume, was not a mean feat…I assure you. Christi’s use of already aged single attars and pure and costly ingredients only adds to the regal and opulent feel of the original while keeping it down-to-earth and lovely.
Kewda being sorted (Photo: Lingaraj Panda)
At times I get more of the dusky sandalwood vibe mixed with the softer kadam flowers. Other times the sweetness of the kewda seeps through as flowers rich with nectar exude a tantalizing sweetness that is balanced by the (very true) smell of the earth itself. The addition of the vetiver (a bit darker and more sinister vetiver than is usually used in perfumery) connects the scent and pulls it all together like a web of living beauty. Flowers, leaves, grass, roots and even some of the Earth itself have been combined flawlessly to remind us of the magnificence of Mother Earth and, since this is ultra-natural, actually can help us to harmonize and blend our energies with hers. It is truly magickal in how one sniff reveals one aspect of its beauty and then, when you exhale, another opens up to you.
Many perfumes bring images alive in our mind’s eye (or our “nose’s eye”, as it were). When I sniff The Maj I see visions of exotic women clad in radiant colors and painted with henna. Faraway marketplaces bustle with life and exotic powders, herbs and concoctions. I see proud Maharajahs riding on elephants with shining adornments of gold and rubies. I feel the warmth of the Gobi Desert, feel the ancient presence of Mysore sandalwood trees and hear exotic instruments playing a haunting tune from long ago. Women dance, veils twirl and heady incense fills the air, and somewhere Vishnu (sitting on his lotus with Parvati) smiles. Sillage: good. Longevity: excellent.
Disclosure: Review based on a 15 ml bottle sent to me by House of Matriarch.
Thanks to Christi Meshell and House of Matriarch we have a very special draw of The Maj. We have three 3mL attar bottles to giveaway; two to our US readers and one to our international readers. To be eligible please first identify yourself as a US or international reader then leave a comment on something about the House of Matriarch you learned from this article or on their website. The draw will end on January 12, 2012.
We announce the winners only on site and on our Facebook page, so like Cafleurebon and use our RSS option…or your dream prize will be just spilled perfume.
-John Reasinger, Editor
Editors Note: Christi Meshell wanted me to let people know the following. While she is going to continue to produce The Maj as a regular scent, this first "release batch" was crafted with aged sandalwood oil from the 1930's and when the gallon of The Maj she lovingly crafted is gone, the perfumer doubts she will ever find such a treasure again; making this current iteration very special.