Friday, 23 August 2013

Castaña, Cloon Keen Atelier, Review: The Anti-gourmand

As a fume writer I get to smell an abundance of perfumes. Increasingly, with the more I smell, the more I can spot repetition or creative idleness. Especially at the moment where we are oud and ambered to the point where almost nothing smells like innovation, merely copycats.
Once in while I’ll sample something that smells truly original, something that is markedly different to that what exists en mass. A very special example of this is Castaña by Irish perfumery – Cloon Keen Atelier. Why is it so special? Because it’s a nut themed scent that doesn’t smell like cake.

In recent years we’ve seen a trend for gourmand fragrances, i.e. Scents that contain edible ingredients such as plentiful vanilla, nuts, fruits, sugary and boozey notes. Gourmand lovers sometimes gain emotional gratification from these creations, claiming that they provide comfort or nostalgic memories, often of homely pleasures such as baking or family gatherings. They can perform as a hug in a bottle. Gourmand haters speak of their often cloying sweetness, their dislike of wearing food rather than scent.

My opinion resides somewhere in the middle. I own the Serge Lutens creation, Jeux de Peau (games on skin), which basically smells like a terrific sandalwood mixed up with sticky Danish pastries. I adore it for about 6 days a year. Otherwise the bakery bomb bottle lingers at the bottom of my collection cupboard underneath those which are more easily wearable.

Other appealing gourmands that have caught my attention include Parfumerie Generale’s Praline de Santal (uber sweet hazelnut liqueur sandalwood) and Tonkamande (fulsome almond vanilla with a curious ‘vimto’ dry down). I appreciate both but couldn’t wear either without commencing insatiable cravings for confectionary. Perfume should not make you rush out to purchase most of your supermarket’s bakery isle within minutes of application (which interestingly I have done since starting this post earlier today).

Which brings me to Castaña. Cloon Keen say of it’s composition:

Inspired by a childhood memory of the mouthwatering aroma of street roasted chestnuts in Andalusia, Perfumer Delphine Thierry has captured this fleeting sensation and translated it into a sophisticated and signed perfume. The centre piece of this composition is an overdose of Haitian vetiver, which is traditionally a more masculine note. However, when combined with the super feminine and luxurious floral notes of cassia and jasmine absolute, an opulent nontraditional feminine perfume is created." 

Which sums it up rather well.  

Castaña’s roast chestnut theme is unusual, in fact a check of Fragrantica’s ‘search by note’ reveals no other fumes in the database that contain it. I imagine that it’s more or less impossible to extract a natural odour of roast chestnut and that it is in fact a delicious synthetic and a composite of other notes. What it does bring to the perfume are two notable sensations, overwhelmingly lush creaminess and a just a hint of smokiness.

Traditional Portuguese tiles depicting chestnut roasting in the street

At Christmas, my mum puts out a great wodge of nuts in a crystal bowl with an ineffective nut cracking device. Said device does two things; it a) forces you to grip really hard and ultimately captures and crushes your finger as the shell finally cracks (cue swearing and pain) and b) explodes chards of nut shells at high speed all over your clothes/the carpet. Basically, it’s an ardous task to get into a nut so when you finally manage it you have to savour it’s consumption without haste. My favourite is the Brazil nut, which I like to gnaw tiny bits from and then suck slowly. Brazil nuts taste of exotic dairy, like milk but woodier and sort of foreign.

This is the only time I’ll ever write something as daft as this at Odiferess (apologies) but the chestnut in Castaña ‘smells of the sensation of eating creamy woody foreign nuts very slowly whilst sat in a garden full of white flowers on a humid evening within half a mile of a neighbour having a bonfire’  

Which isn’t a cloyingly sweet moment..

And doesn’t make me desire a cake binge..

As for the smokiness, I think this might be coming from the vetiver as much as concept of a chestnut roasting. Whilst vetiver is usually favoured for it’s delightfully green, grassy and pungent earthy pleasures, the real thing smelt as an essential oil additionally has a distinct smokiness and dryness reminiscent of baked hay and bonfires.

It’s all sounding very conceptual at the moment but place these notes alongside the floral heart and you’ve got something extraordinary – a perfectly harmonious floral with a rich, smoky, deeply natural atmosphere and no screechy edges. And it’s not very often I say that about something containing buckets of Jasmine.

The danger of curious rare notes is that they can stick out of a composition, a bit like someone playing the spoons on their knee in the middle of a cello concerto. Castaña is smooth, so smooth that you probably couldn’t guess the individual notes unless you’d already translated it’s Spanish name. Even then you’d have a tough time contemplating what sits alongside the chestnut so seamlessly.  

Who would I recommend it to? Probably people like me who can’t tolerate too much sweetness with their foody scents, perhaps even (again, alike myself) those who can only tolerate jasmine in a supporting role. Ultimately, it's for those seeking a magnificent quirky floral with a great deal of wearability. 

Thank you to Les Senteurs for my sample.


  1. Ooh, we Brit bloggers must be psychically attuned because I have been meaning to review this one for some time, but never got around to it. I may not bother now, as yours is so comprehensive. Love your summary of Castana - by no means daft in my book. ;-) I own a bottle of this, however, it is an earlier formulation that they subsequently tweaked, which I happen to prefer because it is more luminous and less realistically nutty. Let me know if you would be interested to try it.

  2. Hi Vanessa, thanks for your understanding of my daft (ish) summary. I've been lent a book from the 50s written by a naturalist about the sense of smell, it talks about our limited vocabulary for describing scents. I guess at times we have to resort to strange metaphors and imagined situations! When I've finished it I'll photocopy the best bits for you if you like?
    Please don't send me any earlier Castana, I already have too many frags that were beautiful before tweaks. They make me sad. But thanks for the very kind offer.. I did however smell the reform of Ma Griffe today and was very pleased to discover that it's still fantastic.

  3. Hi Sarah,

    That book sounds like a fascinating read - wouldn't mind taking you up on that offer if it isn't too much trouble to copy the bits.

    I know I prefer the slightly earlier Castana, as a lover of many - if not all - things blurry and indeterminate, but others might well consider this added 'nutty verisimilitude' version as the way to go!