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.


Anonymous said...

I discovered "Maja" in Juarez when I was about 12, I had family in El Paso I visited every summer. So different from what my mom let me wear - "White Shoulders", although I would sneak her "My Sin" ever since I could remember. I wore it so much in high school that my nickname was "Maja". The packaging was what seduced me as well!

Whodoo said...

We are on the same frequency exactly. I just washed my hands with the Maja soap you sent me and went looking for the little bottle of the edt, thinking simultaneously about the black bottle of edp that broke in my all-tile blue bathroom of my last apartment and sent me straight to Flamenco dancer's heaven. The pang of the loss of that Maja original is like a little knife in the heart. There was something gloriously bitter and deep about original Maja that is jut not there anymore.

Did you ever smell Maderas del Oriente also by Myrurgia? It was gorgeous, too, in it's quintessentially Spanish way, and scarce as hen's teeth.

Come, let us sit on the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings...

Mary said...

Once upon a time, a very sweet but otherwise unremarkable sailor of my acquaintance, fell deeply and madly in love with me via my letters to him during a Med cruise. He mailed me tons of love tokens, including a rabbit fur blanket (yes I said rabbit fur blanket) from Greece, leather goods and a woven carpet from Morocco, Murano glass jewelry from Italy, perfume from the south of France (nothing too imaginative, Chanel I think) and luscious Maja soap from Spain.

The soap was my favorite thing. He fell out of love with me when he returned from sea and discovered that I wasn't the marrying kind. Not to him anyway.

Damn that Maja soap was the bomb.

chayaruchama said...

I did love this, too.
Shame it went the way of all flesh...sad and wan.

Dang, Mary !
I can appreciate how that sailor felt about you, you siren....

BitterGrace said...

Ah, so we're united in our grief. That's some comfort.

Mary, I love that story, though I have to say I feel a bit of a pang knowing that no man will ever bring me a rabbit fur blanket.

mauracordova, it is good to know there was another precocious perfume addict like me, doused in forbidden My Sin at an early age.

R, I have never smelled Maderas del Oriente, though I think I've seen it on eBay. What's it like?

Chaya, I'm always pleased when we share a favorite--you have such incredible taste.

Anonymous said...

The title means Woods of the Orient, and that's what it smelled like, in a very big way. It was just amazing.

Anonymous said...

Check this:

BitterGrace said...

Just fyi, Anon, that's actually a set of Nueva Maja--for some reason it distributed in nearly identical packaging to the original Maja, but it's quite a different scent.

julie said...

I'm the "cheap aftershave" basenoter you referenced. I have 4 bottles of Maja at home: Maja Nueva with the dancer on the label and deep green juice, least but not last the horrid reformulation in a tall bottle with a red and black cap, and two Majas, both with golden colored juice, one made in Spain and one made in Mexico, different shaped bottles both with maroon caps. Here's the Mexico

and here's the made in Spain:

The Maja I had in the 70s looked like the made in Spain bottle here, but smelled like my my Nueva Maja (vintage, ebay), if my memory serves me correctly, spicy and carnationy. I wore that Nueva Maja for two weeks straight in the heat of August—it was perfect.

The made in Mexico starts with an almost rotten smell, then goes butterscotch sweet, whilst the made in Spain is a polite floral.

Anonymous said...

I was given Maja soap as a wedding gift from my then husband, who'd actually bought the soap for me in Spain. I never cared for the perfume itself, but the soap was heavenly. I am happy to report it stills smells the same.

My condolances to Maja lovers who can no longer find the original. More than one perfume has faded away in my lifetime, victims to changing tastes. But nothing compares to the original impressions of youth. Thank you for the memory.

Anonymous said...

I count myself among the very lucky. I have 3 of the round soaps scenting my lingerie. These were brought to me by my most beloved aunt when she and her husband toured Spain so many years ago and I was a teenager. The soap is easily at least 45 years old and it still smells wonder today. I too lived in El Paso and remember going to Oppenheimer's in Juarez where Chanel and Maja were staples. It was the first place I remember Chanel No. 22. These scents take me back to a wonderful time.

Unknown said...

Mexican Maja ... Yuck! Burnt rubber after-smell. Only vintage Made in Spain "old stock" for me.

Unknown said...

Maja soap from Mexico . . . burnt rubber chemical after-smell. My Mexican Maja goes into "la basura." Only old stock vintage Made in Spain Maja for us!

Unknown said...

Maja soap from Mexico . . . burnt rubber chemical after-smell. My Mexican Maja goes into "la basura." Only old stock vintage Made in Spain Maja for us!

Anonymous said...

I had used and was addicted to the original Maja fragrance in its lovely box with a flamenco dancer from the late 1950s through the 1960s until it disappeared from the shelves. I made do with slathering on the soap (which seems to have retained the classic charm) until recently finding it in a fragrance store in San Diego's Old Town. To be honest, after 30 years it was hard for me to remember what the vintage version had smelled like so I gleefully bought a bottle of eau de toilette and still loved it but found that the scent isn't lasting. I keep checking my wrists (it is always best to apply scents to the pulsating parts of your body). Now I find out on a blog that this is a newer version, which may explain the reason the scent is short lived. Maybe this is because it is not the cologne but only eau de toilette? At any rate, I still enjoy the ever-constant Maja jabon. Nothing would please me more than to find the original product in the vintage package with the Goya-esque maja or gypsy. Also, young ladies, I am one 80-year-old woman who still plays flamenco guitar and wears whatever Maja product I can find.


Great article!! Still some authentic Maja by Myrurgia can be found in Spain. Have a look at