Suzanne's Perfume Journal

RE: your comment on mukhwas & Arabie: My goodness, are we on the same wavelength! Here's a link to my review page on MUA-- scan down to Arabie (posted on 2/2) and you'll see what I mean. :) If you like Indian food, you'll recognize black caraway as the seeds sprinkled on naan bread. Very different from European caraway, but they both seem to be present in Arabie, and they certainly complement one another. I too keep going back for just one more spritz, it really is addictive....

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Does anyone remember the simple but utterly charming film 84 Charing Cross Road, which came out in 1987 and starred Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft? It was a film in which hardly any action took place because it was a story told in letters: a 20-year correspondence that begins between two strangers—Bancroft’s character, a brash and single New York City writer who has a love for the English classics, and Hopkins’ character, the polite English bookseller who fills her mail-order requests for hard-to find-books during the years 1949-69. I was reminded of this film—specifically, of the delightful flurry of correspondence that occurs between two strangers whose only obvious connection is a passion for English literature—during some recent email exchanges with a number of lovely perfume people, one in particular being a very talented artist and writer named Megan Ruisch. A month and a half ago, I had the pleasure of “meeting” Meg when she wrote to tell me of the “search-engine serendipity” that had brought her to my post on Serge Lutens Arabie:


Thank you so much for your kind note regarding my Arabie post -- and particularly for letting me know the fascinatingly strange way in which you found it. You spurred me to run upstairs and spritz, so now I'm sitting here sniffing and trying to make out the black caraway. I love the taste of caraway seed in rye bread, and haven't had it in ages (and I think my mom used to put it in coleslaw). I'm not certain I've ever smelled caraway seed, though, so I'm intrigued. As I sit sniffing, an image of a bowl of candy-coated fennel seeds (Indian mukhwas) is flickering through my mind, which is quite, thank you!

“Arabie's first notes of orange peel, caraway, cumin, and anise evoke the aromatic and colorful mixture of roasted seeds, spices, and rock sugar served as a palate cleanser after a satisfying Indian feast. Brief notes of nigella (black caraway) and honey usher in a tranquil, long-lived sandalwood chord that is strongly reminiscent of those slightly cluttered metaphysical shops where boxes of incense are stored on top of silk scarves from Bhutan. Eventually this settles into a drydown of the softest patchouli imaginable, mingled with a powdery vanillic accord which recalls handmade paper so old it crumbles to dust in your hand.

“It is said that the mind is a mansion in which every memory occupies its own room. Often, we happen upon a door whose lock has rusted shut; in such cases, a stray sensation -- a particular slant of light, the touch of a certain fabric, or a perfume -- can act as a skeleton key, freeing what is imprisoned within and facilitating a rush of reconnection.”

March 28 2010:

Oh, Perfume Gods, what mania you inspire! I managed to keep myself from clicking the Buy Now button on a bottle of Arabie (or at least so far) but I became a goner for the incredibly articulate, thought-provoking and all-around lovely writing of Megan Ruisch, who now has her own perfume blog—Parfümieren. If you love great writing, please pay it a visit. Her full post on Arabie (as well as a good many other fragrances) can be found there, but in the meantime, here’s a little excerpt from her Arabie post:

As soon as I read her note, I ran upstairs and grabbed my decant of Arabie and then went searching through my spice cabinet to see if I had any black caraway seeds, which, alas, I didn’t. So instead I sat at my computer in a cloud of Arabie and wrote her back:

I have a feeling that I have been in some of the rooms in Meg’s mansion—and I look forward to exploring there further. Thanks to perfume, and the blogosphere, I can. I hope you will too.

After recently sampling ARABIE, I was struck by a particular olfactory note that I tentatively identified as black caraway seed, known to botanists as Nigella sativa. I wondered if any other perfume enthusiasts had picked up on this, so I Googled "Serge Lutens Arabie", "black caraway", and "nigella". And so I came to read your witty and insightful essay. I was especially delighted with the passage in which you explained why ARABIE struck you as reminiscent of Russia. In Russia, black caraway (nigella) seeds are called chernushka and are a staple of Russian, Ukrainian, and Eastern European baking. For me, their scent is at once exotic and domestic, enlivening and comforting... a bit like Nigella herself. :)

A few days later I heard back from her again:

Images: Typewriter keyboard is from; mukhwas photo is from

Oh, I really, really want to read you review of Arabie!! Is it possible for you to copy and paste it into an email for me? Your link to your MUA page didn't show in your email, but even if I did have it, I'm not sure that I would be able to access it because I am not a member of MUA.Please send it if you can. You've got me into an Arabie frenzy now. I'm thinking I might have to buy a bottle, as my decant is almost drained.

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By then my interest was really piqued. After all, here we were—total strangers who upon sniffing Arabie had somehow tuned into the same radio station, channeling thoughts of Indian Mukhwas, of all things. I wrote back again:

A Conversation about Serge Lutens Arabie
(Or Where Perfume Lovers Meet)