There is something special about Sarah McCartney’s perfumes. I have been living with two of them for the last couple of weeks and both have enchanted my nose and cradled my senses in their spellbinding embrace. ‘Sunshine and Pancakes’ was, and continues to be true love, with it’s simplicity shining from my skin like the glow of pure happiness. ‘Urara’s Tokyo Cafe’ has taken a little longer to find it’s voice but I feel that it becomes all the more powerful for being mysterious…. But more on that later.
The question that burns at the heart of this new love affair that I have going on with 4160 Tuesdays is this: Is Ms. McCartney a genius, or is she just blessed with a natural flair and lots of luck? You see, when I think of the process involved for making fragrance, I have this idea of a poised and immaculate perfumer in a white shirt, sitting at their organ, drawing from a huge catalogue of knowledge as they painstakingly mix and blend and calculate. It seems so clinical and controlled, all the passion of the perfume contained within the glass beaker, to release it’s emotion only when it touches skin. When I think of Sarah McCartney I imagine a lady wearing excellent glasses and stripy tights, chucking stuff into a big mixing bowl and having a cup of tea at the same time. The resulting perfume one would assume to be of a lesser quality to that produced by the perfumer in white. That is simply not the case. Somehow, in her spontaneous, seemingly haphazard way, Sarah McCartney has created fragrance with as much beauty, structure and credibility as any classically trained perfumer.
The stories behind the perfumes explain a lot about Sarah’s work ethic. They all started as gifts for friends, as bespoke scent made to measure for a particular person, as perfume to be worn by the characters in a book. Her perfumes are personal, they have not been made for a wide audience, although they certainly seem to appeal to an awful lot of people. They have a wonderful homespun quality that only adds to their attractiveness. The idea that she might be able to sell her fragrance still seems to be rather an afterthought for Sarah McCartney, this being one of a dozen different projects she has on the go right now. It is hard to know whether it is this spontaneity and freedom that allows the fragrances their unadulterated appeal, or whether Sarah is one of those mad workaholics who does an amazing job of making everything look effortless. 4160 Tuesdays has the organic feel of a brand built purely on instinct and a lot of luck, but Sarah McCartney has the look of a warrior, albeit wrapped in multiple, brightly coloured layers. Which ever it may be, I like the outcome very much.
So to the fragrance in question. From what I can garner, Urara was the owner of a cafe in Tokyo where Sarah McCartney hosted an event. Literally translated Urara means ‘breeze in the cherry blossoms’. If that’s not inspirational for a fragrance then I don’t know what is! The perfume contains notes of Rose, Violet, Geranium, Raspberry Leaf and Tangerine, with a resinous base of Opoponax and Tolu Balsam. One look at the note listing and I was rather excited. I also (although I generally make it a rule not to) read a very lovely review of the perfume from The Scent Critic which is quoted on the 4160 Tuesdays website, which describes the fragrance thus:
“It’s probably the ‘easiest’ of her scents to wear: a gorgeous fuzzy marshmallow of a perfume, baby-powder pretty but with a touch of green grass. And then when you’ve had it on for a while, quite a while, it gets quite sexy. But it’s probably the hardest of the 4160 Tuesdays fragrances to review: so seamless it’s virtually impossible to identify any one note. To me, it is essence-of-spring blossom. Imagine lying under a cherry tree in a dream, while petals gently float down and shroud you in their floral sweetness, as if on time-lapse. It smells like all the edges have been lovingly buffed off this perfume, till it’s smooth and soft as a baby’s bottom. (Only a lot more deliciously-scented.) It is also quite seriously, seriously addictive.”
I definitely agree with the seriously addictive part. However, such is the wonder of personal skin chemistry that in other respects I feel as if I’m wearing a different perfume to the one described (beautifully) above. My initial reactions were similar but very quickly all turns shaded and mysterious….
‘Urara’s Tokyo Cafe’ opens with lovely fresh rose, petals unfurling in the daintiest of pinks. Atop this sparkles grapefruit and tangerine, the feeling is very bright and airy. Almost as soon as those petals have opened a slightly more aromatic accord appears, herby and green. The perfume is now dappled with shade between the rose bushes.
From beneath, the resinous warmth of sweet Myrrh stains the green and pink with umber tones. I usually find Myrrh way too prevalent in perfume, my skin makes it cloyingly sweet and churchy. Here it gives the wonderful impression of a great splash of strong green tea, saturating the base of the scent with an almost tannin-like tang. It’s such a pleasant experience to smell the resin balanced by the green goodness of geranium and rose. It has all the atmospheric depth that incense can bring to a fragrance, without any of the smokiness. It took me a good few tests to identify it for what it was and I was so pleasantly surprised.
‘Urara’s Tokyo Cafe’ stays brooding darkly on my skin, like forest mosses. For the longest time it doesn’t change, seeping colours across my wrists, olive green, deep umber with tiny pink blossoms opening like stars here and there. For all it’s depth it stays translucent, like gouache, projecting with amazing vibrancy.
Only after about an hour does the perfume start to shift, warming and sweetening. The sweetness is fruity from the raspberry leaf and warm from the resin and slightly powdered from the violet. I try to enjoy violet in perfume but I often find it rather challenging when done ‘artistically’ and stifling when done ‘classically’. Here it is just a pleasant dusting over the richness of the main body. Very subtly done. ‘Urara’s Tokyo Cafe’ is still brooding and shaded, but now it seems also to glow with warmth. A very enigmatic effect that leaves me with my noise glued to my wrist, trying to breathe it all in before it fades….which it doesn’t, for about ten hours.
There is some seriously clever perfumery at work behind this fragrance. If I hadn’t been testing it over and over to pick out different notes I could have just let it flow over me in one continuous drift of shadow and light. It is at the very end that I can imagine lying under the aforementioned cherry blossom branches, as the notes all blend together and sing me softly to sleep. It has wonderful balance, clarity and structure, it flows beautifully from the skin, last for hours and is undeniably alluring. There is only one tiny hole I would pick in this perfume and that is a very slight laundryesque, musky note at the very end that seems out of place and a bit artificial. It may just be my skin.
So, Sarah McCartney. Talented self taught perfumer or just lucky with the pipettes……..? Without a shadow of a doubt she is getting it very right, whatever she’s doing. I suspect a big splash of magic goes into each bottle she produces and the result is right here on my skin. I sincerely hope that she continues to build 4160 Tuesdays into a brand that gains as much recognition as it deserves and long may her intuitive and very individual approach to perfumery continue.