Back in the mid 00’s, when I started searching for more than my local perfume shop had to offer, Czech and Speake were all the rage. Their Cuba was one of the first straight-up tobacco perfumes. Dark Rose slipped inconspicuously into oud-rose territory. Frankincense and Myrrh still remains a staple for incense lovers. In fact Czech and Speake were pioneers in the niche trend as their love affair with perfume started in 1980. What they did before that? They still are high end retailers of bathroom fixtures and male grooming accessories from London! The jump from that to perfume remains a mystery but it is a very successful one.
Being the weirdo that I am, the scent in their line-up that caught me by the nose was Citrus Paradisi. I am one of those people who appreciate a nice citrus scent but I almost never go the extra mile to actually buy a bottle. I kind of look down on them. But Citrus Paradisi is special, first of all for the fully intended, I suppose, pun in the name. Some perfumes exude humour and this is one of them. Citrus paradisi happens to be the scientific name of grapefruit. It also conveys an idea of serenity, tranquillity in the middle of the Garden of Eden. I sounds exactly as a citrus perfume should: non-confrontational and pleasing. Czech and Speake however decided to release this curve ball of a scent hiding the true colours behind the peaceful name. The slightly dark, piss-y colour of the juice is a hint of what lies ahead.
Instead of the parts of grapefruit most commonly depicted in scents, zest or juice, Citrus Paradisi decides to focus on the pith. One spritz of this will send you in a bitter, dry sea of olfactory ambiguity. The tart smell of grapefruit skin mixes with a camphoracious, minty, vegetal smell. But grapefruit may not immediately recognisable. To be absolutely fair, it is there from the start but you can’t see it because you don’t expect this treatment of the favourite breakfast fruit. Put in the juicer, together with the empty grapefruit cups, are pine needles, pepper and what smells like lavender to my nose. In fact the pine-y notes are part of the natural grapefruit odour profile. As I learned from Luca Turin, pinanethiol is a constituent of grapefruit extract and has an egg-y, pine-y smell. I suppose most perfumers try to hide pinanethiol if it pops out in their compositions, but John Stephen who created Citrus Paradisi deviantly decided to play on it. The result is an intensely herbal citrus concoction that becomes more and more spicy as it warms on the skin. Wafts of cumin mix with hints of onion into what most freaked-out negative reviewers are quick to condemn as body odour. If Yves Saint Laurent Kouros is body odour to your nose then you may agree, But if you love Kouros, then Citrus Paradisi could very easily pass as a summer flanker of it, The secret is in the monumental base notes that anchor grapefruit on the skin. Oak moss and ambergris and a soupçon of rooty vetiver contradict your own preconceptions about citrus scents and turn what could have been a “lovely” (and I mean that in the worst possible way) cologne into a smoke screen of perverted darkness. So this is an ideal scent for someone who would like to explore the world of citruses but at the same time remain true to the Victorian imagery of Britishness that Czech and Speake represent. A grapefruit that is dark, hot, sensual and perverted. Using the most traditional ingredients, citrus, spices, oak moss and ambergris, John Stephen created a scent that is unique, timeless and therefore will always remain contemporary. A scent that I, the citrus shunner, love so much that finally I bought a full bottle.
Notes from Czech and Speake: grapefruit, coriander, pepper, patchouli, oak moss
Notes from my nose: grapefruit, pine, cumin, vetiver, oakmoss