Monday, April 7, 2008

Cuba, and other good things

Way back on Valentine's Day, the nice people at Czech & Speake sent me an email asking if I'd like a free sample of one of their fragrances to review. I know exactly nothing about Czech & Speake, except that they sell pricey furniture and fixtures in the UK. I was vaguely aware that they had a fragrance line, but was never sufficiently intrigued to investigate. However, refusing free perfume is a serious violation of the perfumista bylaws, so I said yeah, sure, send me some Cuba. Some of the others--especially Neroli--sounded pleasing, but I was lured by the combination of notes for Cuba: "... top notes of bergamot, lime, peppermint and a hint of rum ... Layered with a melange of spicy and floral middle notes, mainly rose, clove and bay, Tonka beans add a subtle softness ... base notes of tobacco mixed with the richness of frankincense, cedar wood and vetiver round off this striking fragrance." Sounds good, no? For some reason, I got the idea that Cuba would be similar to Balenciaga's Rumba, minus the plummy fruit, and with the welcome addition of tobacco. I like Rumba, but I've always thought it would be better if it was a tad less feminine. Since Cuba was described as unisex, it seemed promising.

Well, no. Cuba is absolutely nothing like Rumba. It is, however, a rich, interesting fragrance, not at all the insipid juice I expected from a housewares store, even one that sells $4,000 mirrors. The bergamot and peppermint really dominate the top. I don't get a lot of lime, and the rum plays hide and seek. The heart is confounding. It goes a different direction on me with every wearing. Sometimes it's mostly soft tonka and rose, other times it's all clove, all the time. The former is very, very good. I love tonka and rose. The latter, not good at all--a little clove is fab, but too much is a deal breaker for me. The tobacco in the base is sweet and subtle, definitely subordinate to the cedar and vetiver. I get very little frankincense--which is just as well, since it generally gives me trouble.

The verdict? I'd give it a B+ overall, and an A for truth in advertising. It's a dandy match for its name--a classic, refined masculine scent with a distinctly tropical character. Not "fresh," thank god, and not the least bit funky. It's smooth and medium sweet, with just the slightest hint of an edge, provided by the clove/cedar pairing. The first few times I tested it, it seemed way too butch for me. That's not saying much--Ysatis is too butch for me--but I thought the unisex label was stretching things a bit. However, I've got a dab on my arm as I write this, and I have to say it smells damn good. Maybe I'm just feeling a little more tomboy at the moment, maybe it just didn't agree with the cold, wet weather we were having during my first test drives. In any case, I can imagine enjoying this as a nighttime summer scent, something to wear for an evening out, but it's got too much oomph to be a casual daytime frag for me.

Dave, on the other hand, can wear it any time he wants. It smells incredibly good on him, clean but cuddly. For some reason, the lime and rum are very obvious on his skin, so he sorta turns into a giant boy daiquiri. I like that.

And now for something completely different...

I just want to say a happy word about Tigerflag Natural Perfumery. I have no affiliation with TNP whatsoever, except as a contented customer. A lot of you are probably already familiar with the Tigerflag site, but I had never visited it until I wandered in while searching for the Madini oils that have been my recent obsession. Amrit Kaur, who owns Tigerflag, is a cancer survivor and MCS sufferer who started the business to provide people with a variety of natural alternatives to synthetic fragrances. She carries a selection of the Madinis, some attars, and a line of aromatherapy perfumes made from essential oils. (Other stuff, too--candles, diffusers, etc.) The aromatherapy scents are very simple, but they're inexpensive and the ones I've sampled have been quite nice. The Dervish Dance is wonderful if you are a ylang-ylang fan. Her attars are on the affordable side, too, and she sells sample vials for just a few bucks. I've placed 3 or 4 orders with her recently, and the service has been lightning fast. There are always some extra sniffs tucked in with the orders--what more could you ask for?

Photo of sunrise in Havana from Wikimedia Commons.

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