Suzanne's Perfume Journal

The above are lyrics excerpted from a song titled “Are My Thoughts With You?”  from Linda Rondstadt’s Silk Purse album from 1970. It’s a song that sounds of its era and is rather fascinating for that reason: if you go to YouTube for a listen, you’ll hear some Hammond organ beneath the guitar, a good dose of harmonica and snare drum, and not long after that some gospel-sounding strains from the backup singers. It’s got everything but the kitchen-sink, it’s dated sounding, and yet there is Linda Rondstadt’s powerful voice that builds to an emotional crescendo along with the lyrics—a combination that knocks me for a loop. To my ears, it is a bluesy, gospel anthem from the only religion I will ever fully belong to—the cult of the Hopelessly Tender-Hearted Lovers of the World—and though at times I wish I could quit that religion, I’ve so far never been able to and probably never will. Proof enough is that this song is the first thing that popped into my head when I sprayed on a certain perfume this week—a startling gorgeous and dense all-natural perfume called Carmine from the House of Matriarch—a decant of which arrived to me by way of Sweden in a fragrance package from perfume blogger Sigrun.

(By the way, have you met Sigrun? Strawberry-blonde beauty from Stockholm, every bit as cosmopolitan as she is babe-o-licious. A sweet and insightful person to talk to about traveling, wine and food, as well as fragrance. Her blog is called FragrantFanatic.)

I’ve mentioned before that perfume is never experienced in a vacuum, so when I describe my reaction to this perfume, the Swedish connection must be accounted for as an influence, but considering that I had planned on writing a review of another perfume that Sigrun sent me—Robert Piguet’s Bandit—and how quickly I threw out those plans after smelling Carmine, that connection alone can’t account for how powerfully this perfume hit me in in the solar plexus and sent me spiraling back to the age of seventeen, the week my boyfriend with the Swedish name (and the Scandinavian good looks to match it) had just returned to his part of Pennsylvania, hours away from where I lived.

If you’re a regular reader here, you know I grew up on a dairy farm, which is how I came to meet this beautiful boy on a late-summer evening at a statewide 4-H event being held at the nearby university, where by heritage alone he stood out as being breathtakingly different from any farm boy in the state. When the music stopped playing at the outdoor dance where we met, the first thing we did was break curfew (rather stupidly, since it involved a head-count), and instead of returning to our respective dorms we retired instead to a deserted stretch of campus lawn where we necked for hours on end until a search party with flashlights discovered us. After that we spent the next half-hour sitting in a too-bright room getting lectured at and threatened with the punishment of being sent home, but all I could think during those moments was Oh God, I’m never going to see him again! Perhaps the look of pain on my face was interpreted as the look of someone who’d been properly admonished, for no further punishment was meted out. By some odd brand of fortune that rarely happens to me, when that event ended I did see him again rather soon—at venues where he’d never turned up before—and when autumn rolled around and my father hired a fitting crew to groom cattle we were putting up for sale, I came home from school one day and discovered that my guy was one of the crew. He stayed at a nearby motel for an entire week—one of the best weeks of my life, soon followed by the worst: when he returned home I was not prepared for the crash, and a crash it quite literally was. On my worst evening I was standing in the kitchen drying dishes as my mother washed, hoping every time the phone rang that it was him, and every time it wasn’t him it seemed like a dish slipped from my hand and landed on the floor. In reality, I think only two dishes actually shattered, but it was enough for my mother to gently remove the dish towel from my hand and excuse me from my chores. As I headed upstairs to my bedroom my father called out from somewhere, “What’s the matter with her?” in the most exasperated voice possible, to which my mother half-whispered the response, “She’s in love.”

I have no idea if Linda Rondstadt was playing on the stereo that evening but it wouldn’t surprise me, as her Silk Purse album was frequently on our turntable. Small wonder that “Are My Thoughts With You?” became the anthem of love-sickness for me. Considering how old these memories are, though, I do wonder what triggered this song to play inside my head upon smelling Carmine. I’m guessing it’s the Swedish connection, but all I can really say is that the two are well-matched. Carmine smells like it has everything in it but the kitchen sink—and yet it all works together beautifully—producing a scent that smells like everything that’s listed in the first three stanzas of the song. If one was going to fell some trees, build an island, flag down a streetcar, and breathe every last breath of love into the cup of a flower, the end product of those exertions might just resemble the vaporous, vine-entwined, fruited and nectarous scent of Carmine.

I was going to attempt to describe Carmine using the sytem established by the late British perfumer Alec Lawless, who worked with naturals and who thought of perfumes in terms of having a heart, a nuance and an intrigue (and which I just learned about here), but this perfume is one that is not easy to fit into those categories. I can say that, at its heart, Carmine is a wild-island profusion of exotic and liqueur-like blooms—kewra flower, a bloom that smells like an intense fruity rose; champaca, a flower that is similar to magnolia, only much deeper in scent, with jasmine, spice and tea-like facets; and davana, an herb with flowers and leaves that smell fruity in a fermented, boozy kind of way—to name a few. They are the dominant feature of the scent, and they are bedded down in a rich soil of smells in which soil is the operative word: there is a definite skanky note in Carmine provided by hyraceum (aka "Africa stone"), but also there is a chocolaty patchouli note and a resinous accord that smells both balsamic and incense-like, such that the whole effect makes me think of the decaying floor of a rain forest. But before either of these things develop—in the truly weird-smelling opening stage of this scent—there is a vaporous, mentholated greenness that seems to mix with everything at once, such that it reminds me of a tangle of vines crawling over green wood.

It’s appropriate that the name Carmine refers to a vivid shade of red, because this perfume is as full and passionate as a lover’s heart. It smells like the wildest island of one’s imagining—a place with a throbbing pulse, where your head feels dizzy and thick at the same time. It is not an island of rest and relaxation, but one that is a symbol of you when you’re in that infatuated, love-sick stage of wanting and missing someone. As such it smells fevered and overly fertile and gorgeously intoxicated and a little bit rotting and dark.

If it were a scent that could be sung, it would have the funereal strains of a church organ in it; it would have the soaring sound of a gospel; it would have the beating accompaniment of a drum; and it would ask “Are my thoughts with you, babe?” in a voice as longingly sweet and gritty and beautiful as Linda Rondstadt’s.

I'm gonna plant me some seed,
Grow me an ocean,
Cut me some trees,
And build me an island.
Stand on the corner,
Flag down a streetcar,
Go somewhere and phone him
And ask him where my thoughts are.

I'm gonna say to him,
Are my thoughts with you, babe?
How twisted they are, babe.
Since you went away, babe,
I ain't been thinking too straight.

And if that don't get through
I'm gonna build me a flower,
Sit down in the morning dew
And kiss it every hour.

Lyrics excerpted from the Mickey Newbury-written song "Are My Thoughts With You?" which the writer-performer released on his own album in 1968, before Linda Ronstadt recorded it on her Silk Purse album of 1970.

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Carmine eau de parfum is an all-natural fragrance with a terrific sillage and a surprising longevity. Created by perfumer Christi Meshell, it's composed of the following notes:

Top Notes: Hiba Wood, Kewra, Tagetes (Egypt)
Heart Notes: Black Pepper, Michelia Alba, Michelia Champaca, Davana
Base Notes: Patchouli, Vetiver, Tonka, Oakmoss, White Copal, Bruizinho, Tobacco, Chai Masala, Africa Stone, Celestial Amber, Sandalwood (Africa)

Carmine can be purchased from the House of Matriarch website, where a 1/3 oz roll-on bottle is priced at $88 and an absolutely exquisite, 4 oz crystal bottle is priced at $390. The site also sells samples for $9.

April 30, 2012:

The House of Matriarch Carmine:

A Heart in the Shape of an Island