I am quicksilver, the fox in the night, emotional about the poetry, love & desire in scent, read me.
Sunday, 28 July 2013
Sweet & Floured Skin: ‘Castaña’ by Cloon Keen Atelier
is Spanish for chestnut, a familiar nut with a singular smeared and floury
taste. Sweet or savoury, chestnuts are very distinctive; an acquired taste like
asparagus, anything caprine and pomegranates. I love them candied, cooked with
game, ground, distilled, fried or simply roasted in their shiny shells. They
smell of the earth, chthonic. Despite growing on trees, they seem more correct
on the ground amid leaf litter and the colours of autumn.
I have a
very specific memory of roasted chestnuts linked to a miserable night in Paris
as a student in the early 90s. I was an early manny and as such, part of a vast
network of often unpaid naïve student slave labour, expected to appreciate the
glamour of the city and the experiences being somewhat grudgingly extended to
us and yet work ridiculous and demanding hours.
C and I didn’t go home that Christmas and the guy I’d been seeing brushed me off
like snow on his shoulder. We lived off Boursin, horribly cheap wine in plastic
bottles, baguette and C’s miraculous garlic-laden macaroni cheese she managed
to conjure up on a hot plate in her little room. God knows where our money
went. We look amazing in the photos, so on clothes, booze and cigarettes I
evening we were in the Marais, after a few hours of pastis on a chilled
terrace, wandering the Place des Vosges, one of our favourite places, vibrant
by day, shadowed and eerie at night. It was drizzling and the streets were
mobbed with shoppers, bags crashing into us as we moaned to each other,
over-dramatising as only petulant, slightly pissed English students could. I
was never dressed properly for any weather, thin t-shirts, ripped jeans and a
cricket sweater that had seen better days. More rent than tourist. I’m sure it
was all horribly deliberate. The photos demonstrate a smug knowingness I hardly
recognise now. I always had a fag in my hand no matter what the weather.
we wandered, peering in at windows and dodging manic cars and raging klaxons,
we could smell roasted chestnuts. It’s a very distinctive smell, unlike
anything else, soft and inviting, wrapped in milky smoke. The little Dickensian
stands emitted its heat and glow into the saturated evening. I wanted some, badly.
The smell made my stomach howl. The marchand
des chataignes wasfrom
Marseilles, his singsong accent, blurring his vowels like Mireille Matthieu. I
remember begging him for two bags as I only had enough for one. Whatever I said
worked, he waved his black-smutted hands at me and muttered joyeux noel…smiling through the rain. I
shouted joyeux noel back and ran to find C, who was standing in a doorway,
angrily trying to light a crooked damp cigarette.
of those sweet hot chestnuts, split and crisp, reeking of the newspaper cones
the seller had made himself has stayed with me forever. Ink and floured
nuttiness, sugared starch, but most of all, a scent of streets, of lights and
rain, traffic fumes and exhaustion. I am very wary about eating roast chestnuts
now. I see the vendors, smell the whiff of cracking burnt shell, the ooze of
sweet inside. But I’m not sure I want to actually rekindle that particular
memory. We walked for miles as we always did, Rue de Rivoli, Louvre, Chatelet,
Gare de Lyon, Bastille, back to our rooms. In the morning I remember my fingers
smelled of fire and sugar, the smudged newspaper tossed across the floor near
my crumpled Gitanes.
cooked with chestnuts since, stuffed partridge with them, pan-fried them with
sprouts, maple syrup and walnuts, made a sauce with them, mixed with prunes and
Armagnac and poured it over venison. And I’m anyone’s pretty much for a quality
marron glacé… If you told me I had a
rare disorder which meant I had to spend the end of my days living off marrons glacés and honeydew melon, I
would be a very happy Fox.
as a fragrance note is rare enough to stand out. Strange really, because it is
a very distinctive note, warm and sugared, floury and woody-soft. They taste
like they look. Snug and golden. There are hints of saffron, patisserie, spiced
apple, sweet potato and artichoke. The texture is glutinous and dry, powdered and strangely
sherbety. There are a few rather unusual perfumes that have taken chestnuts as
a theme and done lovely things with them. Betrand Duchaufour has been creating
perfumes for the Sersale Family at the Hotel Sirenuse on the Amalfi coast for a
number of years now. I am huge fan of his hot, terracotta-infused Paestum Rose. But his melancholic and
comforting Sienne L’Hiver is layered
with notes of the earth: truffles, leaves, straw, coal roasted chestnuts,
violet, woods and musks. The elements of wandering through forests, of trying
to lose oneself, kicking at the ground, all around the odours of autumn descend
and infiltrate the senses.
one is Aqua di Casta by Testa Maura,
created by Corsican perfumer Xavier Torre. These are really beautiful intense
fragrances, made with true passion and desire. Carticasi is another one, a profoundly resinous floral with ylang
and rose but tempered with the weird brittle snap of mastic. Wonderful. Aqua di Casta is a homage to the
chestnut trees of the Castagniccia Corsican highlands. Blended with pepper,
wood and ginger it is a dry sun-swept scent, filled with the rustle of leaves
and sound of coruscating summer winds.
So I was
very intrigued to see a new fragrance called Castaña appear last year from small niche house called Cloon Keen
Cloon Keen Atelier Creative Director - Maggie Magnan
Galway on the West coast of Eire, Cloon Keen Atelier was set up in 2002 by
Creative Director Maggie Magnan and partner Julian Checkley. Originally noted
for very high quality soaps, chandlery and bathroom products, the decision to
move into fragrance seemed inevitable, considering the finite attention to
detail and emphasis placed by Maggie and the brand on every aspect of Cloon
Keen’s in-house manufacturing. Each product – perfume, bottle, candle, label,
soap etc is hand-finished, painted, bottled and finished in Galway. It’s all
about connecting to the product, impacting and touching the final thing, be it
a Gooseberry Leaf candle for a room,
or a bottle of Lune de Givre fragrance,
tucked neatly into its crisp clean white cylindrical Cloon Keen box.
distinctive white packaging is finished beautifully. There are touches of Dior
and the old Montana line about it. For all that, the typography and clean lines
give Cloon Keen Atelier a striking and durable brand image. The mix of Irish whimsy
and niche artisanship is a little uneasy. But there is tremendous pride and
rightly so in the origins and continued local sourcing of labour and materials.
I live in Edinburgh, one of the most recognizably branded cities in the world.
I have seen so many small city companies attempt to deal with the question of
scots whimsy and the notions of so-called Tartan Tourism. It’s incredible
difficult to balance the symbolism of what you know will draw the eye and soul
with what you know is blatantly touristic. For the record I think Cloon Keen
have managed on balance to get it just about right. Selling the fragrances
through Les Senteurs in London for example lends the brand a heavier weight of
niche that might not have come their way before.
Cloon Keen Atelier Boutique at Christmas
currently four fragrances in the Cloon Keen portfolio. Castaña, inspired by a memory Maggie Magnan had growing up briefly
as a child in Andalusia at Christmas. The roasted chestnut accord is mixed with
a huge warm vetiver note, red pepper, cardamom with cassie and jasmine
Bataille de Fleurs is a love letter to mimosa, that
most French and Côte d’Azur of milky yellow blooms. This takes it name from the
annual Nice Festival Bataille des Fleurs.
The thing that intrigues me about this scent is the fact it is created by
Stéphanie Bakouche, who to date has only created one other scent, the
magnificent Invasions Barbares for
MDCI. This is fascinatingly different, a harmonious marriage of soft, billowing
mimosa, with tart lemon tree leaves, jasmine absolute and the warmth of fig.
Terre de L’Encens is the least interesting for me. I get very
tired of smoked scents, no matter how innovatively they seem to be constructed.
The inclusion of immortelle, one of my touchstone note intrigued for me for a
while, but it fades under a rather acrid over-use of frankincense and a thrown
away iris, that lies on the composition like a cheap coat left on an expensive
bed at the end of a party.
Lune de Givre has the most gorgeous name. Frosted Moon. Just lovely. One of the
best I’ve come across in years. So bravo on that. It’s also damn weird, echoing
Les Nez’s bizarre mangetout smelling Unicorn
Spell and Magnetic Scent’s Nordic-noir Tindrer
in itsuse of chilled rooted
notes like iris, angelica, galbanum and damp woods with the animalic hunger of
Ambrette seed. It’s silvered and cold, with a freezer burn intensity. Not normally
my thing at all, but Lune de Givre is
constructed with great delicacy and an eye for glittering effect. The landscape
may be cold and shimemring with ice and diamond dust, but nonetheless it is
hard not to love the light.
ordered Castaña. I had to. The
roasted chestnut accord and cassie absolute did it for me. I was intrigued as
to how the pieces might embrace. When it arrived, (Accompanied by a bottle of Ambre Russe by Parfums D’Empires, a
vodka/boozy, flaming leather fur-tastic amber for my collection) I realised how
beautiful the Cloon Keen bottles are. They look quite generic online, but
resemble old-fashioned ink-wells in the ‘flacon’ as it were, with nicely made
hinged silver lids that close with a satisfying click. The white cylindrical
boxes do remind me a little of the Dior Exclusive collections, I have about
four or five EauNoire ones in my study, they have a similar touchable quality and
were once thought of as food for the poor, although paradoxically like oysters,
are now considered a elitist victual. In parts of southern France, the chestnut
tree is still sometimes refereed to as l’abre
de pain or the bread tree, as the nuts were ground down to make a flour
substitute for those who could not afford wheat flour.
for chestnuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, fungi, truffles and tubers is something very
few of us do anymore of course except food specialists and those paid to do so.
There are an epicurean treat, not the necessity of old times when these things
were needed for actual survival. These elemental scents of forest and harvest have
distinctive mulchy, leaf-litter echoes of long lost hunter-gatherer ancestors.
They bring an odour of the outside in. However sanitised it may be now, when I
smell the split and ooze of cooking chestnuts and taste the hot, fudgy
breadiness of the little brain-shaped things I feel comfort and for a moment the
kitchen is full of gilded trees and leaves, seed casings roll past chair legs
and clutter cupboards.
love in Castaña is the use of
contrasts. It would have been all too easy to have gone down the autumnal
leaf-kicking route, all Brora catalogue editorals, cashmere knits and nutty,
berry laughing warmth. Add some amber base notes, a touch of smoke, a spike of blackberry
leaf, cedarwood, galbanum, coriander seed, a drizzle of honey. But no, perfumer
Delphine Thierry has gone down a very different gustatory route, for it is a
very gourmand in tone, patisserie-like and smudged, but very Spanish and
Portuguese in taste. Thierry has some interesting fragrances under her belt, Galaad for Lubin, a very peculiar honey,
tobacco and cypress drenched leather scent. Akaad
for Lubin as well, a luxurious amber perfume with vanilla, frankincense, elemi and
styrax with a whopping clary sage note. Two fragrances for a small niche brand
called Evidens de Parfum. One of
these, L’Eau Parfumée No 2 is a
rather fabulous sounding powdered oriental inspired by the smell of Black
work on Castaña is quite lovely; the
roasted chestnut accord lifted by a fabulous whoosh of Haitian vetiver. This I
think makes all the difference. The grassy balsamic grab of this particular
style of vetiver lends air and lemony fun to formulae, perfect to offset the
carbohydrate weight of the chestnut. I am big fan of cassie absolute in scent,
it is not used nearly enough or with correct care and attention. The only
perfume allowing it full magisterial abandon is Fleur de Cassie by Dominique Ropion for Editions Frédérick Malle.
Ohhhh the glory… the sexual danger. I don’t actually trust myself in it! Using
cassie and jasmine absolutes in Castaña
add an animalic, skin/boudoir facet that is quite unexpected alongside the
edible nut note. But it works beautifully, taking the place if you like of
smoke and drama and laying down a new more refined set of rules which say that
skin may be gently inhaled and admired but ravishment is at the wearer’s
discretion. Red pepper and cardamom are also in the mix, both vivid notes with
strong personalities if not tempered correctly. I can only catch the faintest
whiff of red pepper, a dusting of Catalan spice on the breeze. The cardamom is
more evident in the initial spray and then dries away to a soft almost ozonic
effect later on.
I was initially
quite taken aback at how much Castaña
smells like Jean-Claude Ellena’s wondrous Bois
Farine he created in 2003 for L’Artisan Parfumeur. Ellena was inspired by a
tree found only in the Réunion Islands whose red flour smelt of flour. This
opened his olfactory memories of his mothers’ hands baking patisserie in the
kitchen when he was a child as Bois
Farine was the perplexing and moreish result.
opening of Castaña really is
shockingly similar to Bois Farine. Doughy,
sweet and floury with the same textured sensation of being able to able to
physical touch the scent with your fingers. But this strange echoing soon wears
off as Castaña develops a more
saline, cooked note as it settles onto the skin. Bois Farine always stays sugared, hazelnutty and powdered due to
the iris, anisic fennel notes and the sandalwood which can often smell quite
milky in compositions depending on its quality and levels.
the cooked sense of Castaña. Traditionally in Andalusia a
perforated roasting pan called a tixolo
is used to cook the chestnuts to perfection. But any dry pan, roasting or coal
shovel over an open fire will do. It is this dryness of the cooking I can smell in this clever and sensual
perfume, the slight note of metallic heat under the sweet, fudgy comfort of the
slashed chestnuts themselves, sizzling and creaking in their shells.
It is not
the longest lasting fragrance I have ever worn but I wasn’t expecting it to be,
the assemblage of notes is delicate and there is nothing massively heavy
kicking around in the formula that is going to anchor it for hours and hours to
the body. One thing I am pleased with is the decision not to go down the white
musk/Ambroxan/Iso-E-Super route either. It would have been easy enough to slick
chemical CGI over the naturals, coating them in icy depth and extending their
molecular DNA on the skin tenfold. There is a lot of this about just now. You
can blame Olivier Cresp and the juggernaut success of Dolce & Gabbanna Light Blue with its ocean of starchy
clean Ambroxan. But the Cloon Keen Atelier fragrances have a trademark
tenderness that makes them incredibly charming to wear.
always a real pleasure to come across new fragrance brands that actually stand
up to skin scrutiny. I have wanted to road test the Cloon Keen fragrances for a
while now and have sampled them a few times over the past few months. Castaña feels very special on the skin, satisfying
and refined. The chestnut note is salty-sweet and so evocative for me of that
madcap miserable night in wet Paris. It was one of those evenings when you
realise the humbling truth of being alone amid so many people. But the smell of
inky paper and hot roasted chestnuts lit up our bedraggled and self-pitying souls
and I have a memory of getting ready to Mylène Farmer, heading off to a bar of
course, the one we always went to, (they picked us off the floor a little too
much if I remember) knocking back vile crème de menthe cocktails and kissing
totally inappropriate strangers. I’m glad I’ve found this perfume, I don’t
really want the full visceral rush of eating roasted chestnuts, I’m not sure I
could bear the pain. Castaña has a
nostalgic glow, a cashmere distance that suits me just fine.
For more information on Cloon Keen Atelier, please follow the link below: