Monday, September 29, 2008
Bring Out Your Dead: Maja, Myrurgia
Yes, I know, strictly speaking Maja is still alive, but the near-criminal reformulation inflicted on it a few years ago has killed it for me, so it makes my roster of the departed.
Maja, for those not lucky enough to have known it in its original state, was a rich, spicy floral. It was one of those perfectly blended wonders that is difficult to describe, but Dioressence comes darn close to being its twin. Maja was just a bit deeper, with distinct carnation and green notes and touch of vetiver in the base. Its tweaked personality is a drastic change, modern and cold in all the places where the original was warm and sensual. Today's Maja is a thin swill that one Basenotes reviewer aptly compared to cheap aftershave.
Maja was launched in 1921, and I have no idea whether it ever had a life as a luxury scent. By the time I came across it in the 1970s it was a drugstore standard, inexpensive but acceptable in polite company, like Emeraude or Yardley English Lavender with a slightly more exotic allure. I know I bought my first bottle at a Rexall in Nashville. Whenever I had to cash to blow I'd head straight there and buy something--anything--to feed my budding cosmetics addiction. Anybody remember Allercreme or Angel Face makeup, or Helena Rubenstein skin care? God, I loved all that stuff.
Of course, I bought fragrances, too, and one day nestled alongside the Jovans and Cotys I saw a cheap gift set of Maja perfume and soap. I'd never smelled it, but I loved the trademark packaging, which reminded me of a treasured doll one of my uncles brought me from Spain when I was small. The moss-green color of the juice was was alluring, too, so like any reckless little perfume freak I snatched up the unsniffed bargain.
I couldn't believe how beautiful it was. It was full-bodied and sexy, so unlike the girlish musks and white florals--Tatiana, anyone?--that were all the rage at the time. Although its composition was completely different, its character reminded me a little of my great perfume love, My Sin. Maja was earthier, though, and less refined than the Lanvin. My Sin evoked the soulful aspect of sex, while Maja was all heart. Its smooth drydown made me think of the warm, velvety skin at the top of a woman's thigh next to her furred mons. (Is that too much information?)
I wore Maja off and on all through high school and college. It was a bit of a guilty pleasure, since it was so cheap and old fashioned, with none of the classic cachet of My Sin or my other beloved oldie, Chanel no. 5. Whenever anybody came in my dorm room and saw it I'd invariably get a "What's that?" I don't think it ever garnered a single compliment. Still, I never stopped loving it, and I was really distressed when it suddenly became difficult to find. I wandered around discount stores and flea markets all through the 80s and 90s looking for it without any luck. I'm sure there were bottles around but I never happened upon one, and no one I asked had ever heard of it.
This was my first experience of the agonized quest so familiar to all vintage perfume lovers. If you think about it, it's astonishing that we are able to maintain a passion for something as trivial as a perfume for decades, especially when clones and cousins abound for pretty much every scent. But nothing ever replaces The One, and the joy of finding it after the long hunt is as much a reward as the scent itself. I got my moment of joy sometime around 1997 in a cosmetic store in Rockville, Maryland, when I found a one ounce bottle of Maja PdT that looked as if it had been sitting on the shelf for years. It is no exaggeration to say my heart leaped when I reached out to take possession of it.
Such drama, alas, is a thing of the past. You can find almost any forgotten perfume on eBay these days, and it can be yours with no agony at all, unless you count the unpleasantness of paying through the nose. I shelled out a ridiculous amount for an old bottle of Maja EdP on eBay a while back. It's beautiful, but I have to say that I got a lot more pleasure out of stumbling upon some old Mexican-made gift sets at a Big Lots store here in Tennessee. (FYI, the Mexican Maja, if you can find it, is inferior to the juice imported from Spain, but still light years better than the reformulation.)
Unlike some of my other discontinued loves, I've got enough original Maja to see me through the rest of my perfume-wearing life. That's probably a waste. Lovely as it is, its erotic charge makes it hard for me to imagine dousing myself with it when I'm 80--but who knows?
Majas on a Balcony, Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (?), 1800-1814. Image from Web Gallery of Art.