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Bombay Duck London

The 12 Scents of Christmas No. 8: Carthusia Ligea 'La Sirena'

For a fragrance confected by monks – yes, monks – Ligea is pretty darned sexy.  Airy and sugary all at once:  all baby powder, mandarin orange, bergamot and an iced Limoncello on the side, wrapped up into one crisp-yet-marshmallow-ish confection.  And yes, this is another one that Shalimar-lovers could have an affair on the side with.  (In fact, if I found out that a Guerlain family ‘nose’ had retreated to Capri – where Carthusia’s perfumery is based – for some soul-searching with a little fragrance-creation moonlighting on the side, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.)

As I haven’t yet visited Carthusia’s minimalist, seemingly John-Pawson-esque HQ, I don’t know whether the monks really do spend their mornings singing Gregorian chant, and the afternoons at a different kind of organ altogether, playing with essences of the different fragrance elements native to this sun-drenched Mediterranean isle.  (Including wild carnation, which is apparently a spiced signature ingredient in all Carthusia’s women’s fragrances.)  But in my fantasies, that’s certainly what happens.  Whatever:  as I say, for a monk-made perfume, this is pretty raunchy – hence its inclusion in my Christmas dozen, as something you might well wear to the office party to get lucky.

Powderiness, of course, is not everyone’s tasse de thé.  (If you had a great-aunt who swamped you in a great fur-coated bear-hug while virtually suffocating you with her Shalimar, you can pass on this.)  Personally, I love the sherbet-dabbiness of a powdery scent:  the cloud of air up the nostrils, both cocooning and head-clearing all at once.  I am also fond of a velvet puff and a boudoir-esque pot talc, for post-bath drying – so the feminine powdery element is, as they used to say on Juke Box Jury, a ‘hit’.  Ligea owes its powderiness to an ingredient that’s relatively little-used in contemporary perfumery:  oppoponax – also known as sweet myrrh, a herb that thrives in Italy and gives off a balsamic, incense-y resin.  Just sometimes, oppoponax can smell a little plasticky – and this does trigger occasional flashbacks of sniffing Barbie or Action Man (when my brother wasn’t looking), as a kid.  I find it deeply addictive, one of those can’t-stop-sniffing-my-own-wrists notes which can prove deeply embarrassing on pubic transport.Ligea was a bit of a voluptuous siren herself – a Barbie of her day, if you like:  ‘One of three sirens who lured sailors to their death with a bewitching song’, so the legend goes.  A daughter of Demeter, handmaiden to Persephone.  Actually, Carthusia’s own history is even more romantic.  (You can take this with as much salt as you like, but I’m perfectly happy to buy into it.)  Apparently, way back in 1380, the father prior of the Carthusian Monastery of St. Giacomo discovered that Queen Giovanna d’Angiò was about to descend for an unexpected visit.  (The modern-day equivalent is probably finding out your mother-in-law happened to find herself around the corner and is ‘popping in’ – prompting a mad last-minute tidy-up whereby you stuff every discarded newspaper, empty wine bottle, well-thumbed Grazia and unopened bill from British Gas into the washing machine drum, to be sorted later.)

So the story goes, the father prior had just enough time to put together a stunning flower arrangement using Capri’s bounteous floral harvest.  When the water was thrown away after three days, having been unchanged till then, it had apparently acquired a divine scent from one of the native flowers – and that became ‘the first perfume of Capri.  (Don’t know about you, but when chucking out a vase of flowers I have certainly never been tempted to dab the somewhat stagnant pool at the bottom of the vase behind my ears – but hey, it’s a good story.)  Anyway, I love a fragrance with a heritage – and they don’t get much more evocative (or ancient) than Carthusia’s.

Ligea itself clings on for dear life even to dry, winter skin that I’ve neglected to moisturise – it has an impressive sillage and even greater staying power, with generous amber and vanilla notes that tiptoe in and loiter for ages.  Super-soft, the dry-down is ultra-comforting (if you go for this type of thing), wrapping itself around you as toastily as a Hungarian goose-down duvet – or a hot Sahara sirocco wafting through a window if you happened to be in, yes, Capri.

In my case, that’s unlikely to happen, Capri being an island of vertiginous drops and hairpin bends, unappealing to someone with no head for heights who’s more at home on, say, the Zuyder Zee or the Norfolk Broads.  But on a freezing English day, I can sniff my Ligea-drenched wrist (I really have to stop this or they’ll talk), and definitely imagine myself somewhere warmer, sultrier, more sensual.  A place I’d quite like to take my clothes off, actually, and tap into my inner siren.

Just don’t tell the monks.

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