Io Capri

cuppa heaven by Az~Kate
cuppa heaven, a photo by Az~Kate on Flickr.

A few years ago, I received a Carthusia sample set from the rep at Holt Renfrew. This was back in the day when they re-opened their Vancouver department store and launched “Holtscents” – a niche (or mini boutique) in the store front with interesting perfumeries from around the world. Unfortunately, by the time I picked my favourite among the samples – the line got discontinued (along many other good brands, such as Miller Harris and Ineke), which was disappointing and disheartening to see – just another proof for Vancouver’s very limited appreciation for scent. Thankfully, Frederic Malle is still there and they keep rotating other niche brands (currently the new kid on the block is Byredo, which I don’t care much for). Io Capri and the other scents from Carthusia can be found in person and online at Anthropoligie, The Perfume Shoppe and ScentBar, so it’s not all lost...

But ranting about retailers choices aside: Io Capri was not what I thought I would fall for. I’m usually biased towards the heavier, smokier, spicier, oriental or chypre members of a perfume line, with an occasional unusual floral that I find intriguing. With Carthusia, I found myself drawn to the two light and fresh ones: Io Capri and Mediterrano.

Like most winning scents in my history, it’s the combination of familiarity and intrigue that usually “grabs” me. And Io Capri is a prime example. There was more of the unfamiliar in it; and on the surface, it’s not what I would pick over smoldering incense or moss-laden composition. There is a fine balance between crisp eau-de-cologne like freshness and the complete opposite – a flowery, feminine perfume with a sultry and salty undercurrent.

Io Capri opens with a bitter, acrid sharpness of citrus mingled with herbs. But immediately you will notice a violetty, floral mélange that has an almost nostalgic bittersweetness to it, and as it grows on the skin it takes the shape of parma violet in full purple ripeness. Green garden notes of tomato leaf become apparent suddenly – totally unexpected; and a slightly soapy, overripe purple fig floats on a cup of iced green tea. After this succession of notes, Io Carpi settles into an abstract cup of violet and fig tea scent, paired with salted green almonds - and other than that, remains rather unchanged throughout its skin life.

Contrary to my initial observations of Io Capri, it is actually a rather complex scent. It does remain linear after that initial burst; but there is more to it than "just" tea. Aside from the whimsical surprise of green tomatos, it is really that intriguing combination of candy-like beta ionone and salty notes that got my attention. A look at Carthusia's own website reveals an interesting scent pyramid that would explain quite easily why it won my heart:

Top notes: Wild Mint, Sicilian Lemon, Chinese Eucalyptus, Aromatic Litsea, Star Anise, Brazilian orange

Heart notes: Fig, Wildflowers, Tea, Apple Blossom, Egyptian Jasmine, Ceylonese Citronella

Base notes: Seaweed, Tobacco flowers

Fig in Fragrance

crossed processed figs, originally uploaded by MatthewA.

Global warming makes Vancouver's summer feel real. And with it comes a craving for figs. I miss their tangy, fizzy sharpness. I miss their oddly refreshing green sap-milky attitude. I even miss the burning in the tongue as soon as you betray their fabulousness and decide to move on to the next victim in your daily diet.

I would spend many hours of my summer wrapping the fruit in brown paper bags, to protect it from the coveting eyes and beaks of birds. I would spend my mornings around the tree picking the first fruit that might have ripened in the heat remaining over night. I would go back there late afternoon for a snack, checking on the more fruit that ripened in the scorching sun, while frying my bare feet on the sun baked earth.

Figs are one of those fruit that if you don’t eat them fresh, you better not eat them at all. Fresh in this case means that you’ve just picked them from the tree less than an hour ago and preferably haven’t washed them either. It’s better to eat them dusty than washed. Trust me. Once you wash them, they lose both their flavour and their texture: their skin softenes and they become this characterless green sack of seeds…

Black (or “red”) figs keep better and are more marketable. Yet their flavour is often less intense or interesting in my opinion. It is the green figs that I am truly passionate about. And I’ve never seen them sold anywhere… Last summer I’ve had them after about 8 years of green fig withdrawal…

Diptyque Figuier Candle, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Olivia Giacobetti’s Philosykos for Diptyque is by far the most satisfying fig scent I’ve ever encountered. It reminds me of the whole fig picking experience, tongue burning, milky sap and all. I’m sure by now you are well aware of my partial opinion about it. This summer I am enjoying both the scent as well as the “Figuer” from Diptyque. I got it at Lola, and the first time was very unfortunate: the candle has no scent at all, unless you happened to stick your nose to the flame. Not even than, really. Christina was kind enough to take it back (this is her personal favourite too, and after (not) smelling for herself the poor performance of that particular specimen, has given me a replacement candle, which I am enjoying tremendously.

But for those of you unmoved by Philosykos or simply looking for other fig scents to indulge in this summer instead of the real thing, there are quite a few to choose from, as a quick search on Make Up Alley may turn out.

While I can’t claim to have tried them all (well, I haven’t!), I can definitely bring a few to consider and which I would like to re-visit this summer:

Figs in Bowl, originally uploaded by MatthewA.

Aftelier's Fig re-creates the experience of overripe black figs, the kind that is actually worth trying even when not freshly picked. An accord of resinous yet sweet fir absolute along with jasmine sambac and yuzu creates this pleasant illusion for a moment in the opening. In my experience, the FIR is the star of FIG, and the jasmine creates a perfumey impression, which dries down to a powdery sweetness.

Jo Malone’s Wild Fig & Cassis
: As the name suggest, you get two fruit here: green fig and black currants. I found it to be a little to fruity to my liking, yet I think it makes an interesting layering companion to Black Vetyver Café.

Fresh Index Fig Apricot: Like most of the Fresh line, I find this one to be yet another artificially delicious fruity aroma with too little substance to back it up and account for its perfumeness. The base is musky and head achingly artificial. Still, it’s one of my more favourite combinations in the line (the other being Pomegranate Anise and Redcurrant Basil).

Figue Amere by Miller Harris: If you’re looking for a more sophisticated fig, this might be an intriguing challenge for the fig lover: it is one of the most perfumey of all the fig scents I’ve tried, besides Aftelier’s FIG. Bittersweet and salty at once, it feels dusky rather than summery and reminds me of salt-dipped green almonds, myrrh and heliotrope more than figs...

Io Capri, on the other hand, is an uncomplicated summer pleasure of wild fig and tea leaves. To me this smells mostly of green tea, and while being not in the least sophisticated it makes perfect sense for summertime, when we tend to be a little more extrovert and don’t need the additional distraction of a contemplative fragrance. Io stays the same on my skin, light and fresh and delightful, both unchanged and extremely long lasting yet at the same time never overpowering.

Another fig and tea combination, but more perfumey than Io is Fig-Tea by Parfums de Nicolaï
As a whole, I find Patricia de Nicolaï's fragrances to be quite perfumey.

Feel free to share your favourite fig scents with me here. I would love to hear your opinions and recommendations for any fig scents I haven't smelled or heard of but should!

And last but not least is the first fig perfume to be released, also by Olivia Giacobetti – this time for l’Artisan Parfumeur, which reportedly proceeded all the other scents I’ve mentioned. While it is indeed a very fine fragrance, I believe that Ms. Giacobetti got it perfect the second time around with Philosykos. To me, Premier Figuier is a tad too melancholy, and too green with its mastic leaf top notes, and it is a tad too fleeting as well. Nevertheless, the coconut milk base makes it my second choice after Philosykos when a green fig fix is required.

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