According to legend, in 1380, the father prior of the Carthusian Monastery of St. James was caught by surprise with the news that Queen Giovanna d’Angiò would be soon arriving to Capri, so he picked a bouquet of the most beautiful flowers of the island to present to her. Sadly, the Queen ditched her plans due to bad weather, but the flowers were left sitting for a few days in the same water. When the monk finally went to throw them out, he noticed that it’d acquired a mysterious fragrance. He asked a friar versed in alchemy about it, and the friar who traced the origin of the scent to the “Garofilium Silvestre Caprese”. That water was the first perfume of Capri. Every good product comes with a half-decent origin story, it would seem.
But in truth old formulas of the perfumes were discovered inn 1948 and a chemist from Turin created a perfume lab on the island with permission from the pope and dubbed it “Carthusia.” The perfume laboratory is apparently the smallest in the world. Cool beans.
So, I’ve happily procured four large bottles of fragrance from the Italian house of Carthusia. This is not a brand with which I’m unfamiliar. I few years back I purchased a small and relatively expensive bottle of Carthusia Uomo – which means homme or man, but I wore it and enjoyed it immensely at the same. I found it in an obscure little boutique in the fashionable streets of Kichijoji, a trendy neighbourhood outside Tokyo. I actually ended up living close to that neighbourhood some years after. Good times.
Well, now I have eight times the volume of that soft and sexy Cathusia fragrance that I had back then, and I probably paid half the amount I paid for that wee bottle all due to the joy that is online second-hand shopping. Whohoo!
These are definitely some scents I’ll definitely be adorning myself more with in just a few months’ time. I should probably have waited to share them with you – there are so many other fragrances more appropriate for current season, but I’m excited about these because I just got them and wanted to share. These are all light EDT concentrations, FYI, and they come in 50ml or 100ml bottles that retail for 60 or 80 Euros. The house also sells 50 ml eau de parfum concentrations for many of its fragrances. So, let me share these scents with you, in order of launch date.
Io Capri is an Aromatic unisex fragrance launched in 2000 by Laura Bosetti Tonatto, who’s done a few fragrances for Carthusia and also has her own line of fragrances, which I’ll link to below. The notes are:
- mint, eucalyptus, sicilian lemon, star anise, Brazilian orange, litsea cubeba
- fig, tea, wildflowers, lemongrass, apple blossom, Egyptian jasmine
- seaweed, tobacco blossom
And here is how it is marketed on the Cathusia website:
“Dedicated to the goddess in whose honour Emperor Tiberius built one of the most important imperial villas in Capri, “Io” is a dynamic and decisive melange, both sophisticated and modern, that combines the sweet tones of wild fig tree with the cheerful, stimulating ones of tea leaves.”
This one is very unique to my nose and difficult to describe. It does smell of freshly cut grass, chamomile flowers, lemons and the ocean, BUT what really adds a freaky spin to it is the mint and eucalyptus meshed with green herbs at the top, which persist longer than typical top note time, and to me, the effect is a lot like Wrigley’s chewing gum. These minty smells are up far past their bed time, those naughty notes! But as a result of this bad behavior, the fragrance isn’t boring. I just wish the minty and bracing herbal bitterness didn’t mask the fig that plays second fiddle here, because that fig has some really decent playing skills. Ultimately, I think this is supposed to be a fig fragrance. There is nothing milky or too sweet to this fig, but it is fresh and fruity – dry, soapy fruit, and I want more of it.
The overall feel of this scent is clean and uplifting – what you would expect from the Italians. It also has vintage appeal. I’m taken back to a Florida hotel vacationing with parents as a kid. My brother and I are running through the ground-floor corridors of a mid-range hotel. It’s lined with well-worn, striped carpeting and fresh laundry on carts as we run by with excitement to get to the overly chlorinated pool. It’s that corridor. Sniff before you buy.
Next, we have Mediterraneo, which is apparently the second most popular fragrance from the house, second to their classic Fiori di Capri, a floral scent that targets women and matches the mythology I spoke of earlier. I’ve yet to get my nose on that one, though. Mediterraneo is a unisex, citrus aromatic fragrance that was launched in 2003, and the nose behind it the same Laura Bosetti Tonatto. In fact, all fragrances in the house are either from Laura or her fellow perfumer Luca Maffei. Here are the notes in this gem:
- lemon, bergamot, mint, eucalyptus, litsea cubeba, red thyme
- Sicilian mandarin, wildflowers, cardamom, jasmine
- white musk
A couple of snippets from the Carthusia website:
“Dedicated to the cradle of all the great civilizations of Europe, Africa and Asia, Mediterraneo is a sunny fragrance, original yet versatile, which blends the classical pristine freshness of lemon leaves with the youthful and sparkling tones of green tea.” Later in the description the copy says that the lemon and team combines with “white musk and cardamom to create a sun-filled and dynamic fragrance that evokes the magic of Capri Island.”
Yes, this is summer in a bottle – pink lemonade, fresh and clean and bright. Combined with that tea note, you can almost drink it. It’s a very gentle, lemon fragrance with a fantastically realistic sunny opening. As it the citrus settles you get more of the tea, and the mintiness in it is just there as an accessory – there is just a dash to fix the brightness of this lovely fragrance and not overpower it.
To me, the florals are definitely in the background, playing supporting roles to the star, which is that lemon. If you are a fan of citrus scents, you can’t not enjoy this. Of course, there is only musk at the base, so this won’t last hours and hours, but it’s not terrible. I would decant a big bottle like this so you can respray during the day. This is an easy blind buy. You’ll use wear it.
Third in my Carthusia bundle is Via Camerelle, a citrus aromatic fragrance targeting women. This was launched in 2006. Via is Italian for street, and this scent was named after Capri’s picturesque shopping street. Here are the notes:
- lemon, bergamot, marjoram, orange
- lily, jasmine, cyclamen
- cedar, musk and amber
This fragrance is pitched as
“a memory, an emotion, a walk in the harmony of a ray of sunshine, through blue skies and freshly picked flowers. The freshness of lemon and bitter orange combined with hints of sea moss and cedar wood create a fragrance that celebrates the love for the sea, flowers and life.”
OK, so this is another citrus scent but the citrus in here compared to Mediterraneo only sparkles with half the wattage, and it’s a greener citrus, but not to the point of being unpleasantly sour or bitter. It softens up after the green subsides, and you get some delicate herbs and amber notes. But very delicate. I also do detect the jasmine, but it’s very subtle.
This unisex fragrance lives way too close to the skin for me to fully enjoy. You’ll have to respray every one or two hours as well, as it does not last long. I really don’t understand why that is, because Mediterraneo only has one base note fixing it, whereas this one has musk, amber, and cedar. If you don’t want to stand out at all, pick this one, but honestly, you’ll get more of your money’s worth with a cheap freshie like 4711.
My last fragrance by Cathusia is 1681, an aromatic spicy fragrance aimed at the male market. It was launched in 2010, and was named after the year in which the monks began to make fragrances using local herbs and spices. The notes are:
- coriander, red thyme, rosemary, Mandarin orange, bergamot
- iris, black pepper, lavender, petitgrain, neroli
- incense, sandalwood, cedar, amber, vanilla, musk
The website describes this fragrance as one that is
“characterized by a strong essence of incense, typical of the old military and ecclesiastical circles that inspired the fragrance. A bouquet of scents of great charm and character, able to seduce and conquer.”
This is maybe my favourite of the four, even though I guess it does lean a wee bit masculine. Not that I care or that that is important. There is more overt complexity to this fragrance, and you saw the base notes, so you know that this one is going to last longer than the previous three. But perhaps that’s not saying much. Purportedly this fragrance reminds people of Dior Homme or Dior Homme Intense, but to be honest, although I’ve definitely sniffed that fragrance, I cannot for the life of me remember it.
The opening to this is typical of an elegant citrus cologne, but the citrus is very subdued; the herbs are more prominent to my nose. The fragrance then shifts into an organic earthiness and the composition is spicy, woody, dry, and vintage in nature. The rooty herbal notes in here allow this to be worn in warmer months, I think, making it pretty versatile. The part that makes it unisex is the retro lipstick note, again, not too powdery, but definitely makeup-smelling. There is a waxy fog that persists throughout the duration of this fragrance. That’s got to be the iris speaking.
I’m brought back to my childhood sifting through my mom’s makeup drawer – I970s makeup, not from the 1680s! Actually, I’m strangely also brought back to dad’s sock drawers. I promise you that is not as strange or displeasing as it sounds. I do also very much appreciate that tinge of frankincense that bubbles up gently at times. This is a very distinguished and classy release from Carthusia. Good, especially the early middle notes. What would make this fragrance better is a more interesting and tail end, which leaves me wanting.
How would I rank these four? Well, obviously I will go with 1681 as my top choice. I do think there is a sexiness to this one and I would love to smell it on my man in addition to myself. There is something calm, comforting and even familiar about it to me. I know I’m boring here, but I have to confess that Mediterraneo is indeed also a solid pick. It’s not original, but it’s a solid representation of the house and no one’s going to dislike this. It’s fresh, it’s bright, it’s beautiful, and an easy choice for anyone on a hot day. Next, Io Capri gets a great score for originality. That chewing gum vibe is not unpleasant, but weird for me, so I wouldn’t reach for it everyday, much as I adour fig. Via Camerelle, rates last, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad fragrance. It’s just not exciting enough for me personally to wear, and I don’t like the performance at all. I’ll probably sell this one, to be honest.
Now are any of these fragrances worth buying at retail price? Well, none of them are projection monsters, and none of them last the whole day, so in terms of performance, they’re not going to give you a bang. But they’re all beautifully crafted and very elegant fragrances. Also, they aren’t priced ridiculously in the first place – this is an affordable niche house – and they all have the power to transport you to the island of Capri, even if you’ve not ever been there. I’ve no doubt that Carthusia’s fragrances adorn the locals and tourists of this Italian vaca spot. So if you HAVE been there, it’s likely that that power would be all the more captivating and smile-inducing.