Monday, February 19, 2024

Myrrh Casati Perfume by Mona di Orio

How we relate to the smell of a perfume can change over time. 

I purchased Myrrh Casati by Mona di Orio in 2014. There was something about it I couldn't relate to, which is why it was relegated to the back shelf in a fragrance storage closet. After reading mixed fragrance reviews, the only tangible sentiment I had for the luxury perfume was buyer’s remorse. Ten years later, the smell of Myrrh Casati taught me a lesson. 

The black box containing the perfume was adjacent to a box of vintage Indian sandalwood oils stored in a light-proof container. The juxtaposition of two objects, one rejected the other beloved, prompted a question. Would ten years of aging shed light on the way Myrrh Casati expresses its volatile message? It smelled like a naïve chiaroscuro ode in 2014; all effort, no shadow, no light.

Disappearing top notes, a typical occurrence in collectors' vintage perfumes, are less likely to alter the character of a well-composed fragrance kept out of heat and light. Myrrh Casati spent ten years in a box. The potential for change, even synergy, was worth seeking. I considered how the bottle of perfume reappeared when I wasn't looking for it and took it as a sign. I sprayed the perfume on my wrists and gave it time to bloom. 

The opening of the fragrance was familiar. I detected the bitter leather tang of myrrh, its medicinal edge mellowed by time and sweeter materials in the formula. I continued to focus on the perfume’s character in the way one appreciates a well-composed painting, photograph or glass of wine. It wasn't long before I was catapulted into remembering a specific smell from the past.

Myrrh Casati reminded me of the time I discovered an exquisite aroma produced by a combination of Cretan labdanum, Siam benzoin, Omani frankincense and Yemeni myrrh resins on a temperature-controlled incense heater. The perfume touched the boundaries of the incense blend in memory. This connection, from past to present and back again, changed the way I relate to the perfume today.

A temperature-controlled incense heater offers a gift that's hard to forget once you've experienced it. The underside of its ceramic lid acquires a patina of smells over time. Each incense heating session creates an effect that paves the way for the next session’s fragrant mark. Smelling the lid after it's cooled down is akin to dropping a needle on a record you need to hear again and again, so you can hold on to the feelings and meaning it inspires.

Painting of Luisa Casati by Joseph Paget-Frederics

My reference points for myrrh prior to owning an incense incense heater included: the smell of myrrh on incense charcoal (combustion), reading research papers and books, perfumery training at Givaudan and the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), aromatic scentscapes at Catholic and Orthodox churches in New York City, and disappointing perfumes that claimed myrrh and buried it in the formula (sans the fragrant pomp of pharaonic burial). Exploration across Commiphora species generates new sensations for my nose.

There are times when a person can't relate to things they haven’t experienced or aren’t ready to receive. This may have been the case in my initial evaluation of Myrrh Casati by Mona di Orio. Studying aromatic plant resins used as incense allowed me to broaden my olfactory palette and further develop expertise beyond perfumery training. This informed a second attempt to understand Myrrh Casati ten years later. Thankfully, it was long enough for the perfume and me to come to terms with each other. Time changed both of us.

The Alchemist by David Teniers the Younger (1743-45)

Notes & Curiosities:  
If there’s anything that perfumery has taught me, it’s the reality of impermanence in the form of discontinued fragrances. Myrrh Casati is, for the time being, gone. The presence of absence makes room for something new in myrrh-themed perfumes.

Perfumer Mona di Orio trained with legendary nez Edmond Roudnitska before striking out on her own. Her work was brilliant. The first perfume released after her untimely death in 2011 was created by another perfumer in 2014. Myrrh Casati was disappointing, something that was just "there". Perhaps we needed to hear the sound of Mona's olfactory voice tickling our skin and our senses. It's not what we received, whether by objective evaluation or expectations as admirers of her work. Mona's formulas had multiple experiences living inside of them; a matryoshka of nose surprises. 

Access to quality resins is important. Be sure to seek out a knowledgeable vendors run by people that support fair trade and sustainable harvesting. In my experience, Dan Riegler of Apothecary’s Garden in Canada is one of these people. (I use his materials at home and in the classroom.) Mermade Magickal Arts sells aromatic resins, roots, wood and artisan unique incense blends you won't find anywhere else. Owner Katlyn Breene's incense offerings are often reviewed at Olfactory Rescue Service, a website dedicated to incense. (Breene introduced me to a White Lotus incense heater in 2020 that's still going strong. I'm rather fond of her Luthier incense blend.)

Exquisite incense from Mermade Magickal Arts by Katlyn Breene

Learn more about incense resins in a post titled: The Incense Project: Lessons from Peruvian Myrrh. You'll probably want an incense heater after you read it.

Ingredients in Myrrh Casati include, but may not be limited to: Peruvian pink pepper, Guatemalan cardamom, saffron, licorice, Siam benzoin, Somalian myrrh, Somalian frankincense, Indonesian patchouli, Indian cypriol (nagarmotha), and Paraguay guaiac wood. The smell of Spanish labdanum, a key ingredient in the "amber" category of perfumery that applies to Myrrh Casati, can also be smelled.

Patchouli, vetiver and sandalwood are materials that age beautifully over time. Interestingly, all three were used in the formula for Crêpe de Chine by F. Millot (1925), a vintage floral chypre perfume. Check out Bo Jensen's chemistry explanation under Vetiver here. You can look up ingredients on the Essential Oils page, find out what they smell like, and learn cool things about scent chemistry.