When I first started collecting perfumes, I bought a lot of clove-heavy perfumes, because I loved the note, even if I didn't really realize it at the time. Now, with age, I still love a good clove note, but I'm a lot pickier.
Given that, I have an old bottle of Harissa that I almost never wear. In the early 00's, it felt so fresh and exciting, but now, fifteen years later, with its novelty and sheen long worn off, it's not really that great.
So what does it smell like? Cheap Christmas potpourri. It's that mix of clove and cinnamon candy with a pinch of citrus and mint for lift. To be more specific, it smells like Big Red gum or Red Hots candy mixed with a candy cane, sitting next to a big bowl of cheap Christmas potpourri. For a brief moment, there's a touch of bell pepper hiding behind everything else, acting as a quick nod to the harissa name, but this never smells like spicy red pepper paste, and what it DOES smell like is pretty pedestrian.
There's a saying in the art world, especially now that a lot of really questionable new art is selling for so much money: "Let's see how good it looks in 15 years." And I think Harissa doesn't really pass that test, no matter how much I loved it when it was new...
So refreshing and light, this would make a dreamy shower gel.
The notes would lead one to expect a heavy, spicy gourmand, but the composition is quite abstract with a plump and juicy fantasy fruit vibe. My nose can identify the cardamom, angelica, chili pepper, nutmeg, blood orange (though not really the tomato, or to be more accurate anything that's close to a real tomato) and yet listing the notes will give you little idea of how this thing actually smells. I would locate it out of doors what a memory of a dew-laden spring garden of mixed flowers, weeds and vegetables might call up, oh with a handy outdoor shower in the middle of it all. In the later stages the red chilli and a clove-like note become more prominent, and yet, this is no spice drawer perfume.
Fun-filled and energizing, it's a shame the projection is not better.
Harissa falls squarely into my "pleasant surprise" category. Coming from a house like Comme des Garcons, and with a name alluding to a mouth-searing North African condiment, I was expecting a harsh and unwearable capsicum concoction along the lines of L'Arisan Parfumeur's Piment Brûlant. Sometimes it's wonderful to be proven wrong!
The bitter, abrasive scent of green pepper is indeed present at the start, but it's folded into a cool and semi-sweet mélange of clove and citrus. Harissa warms up very quickly as the crisp top notes are joined by a mellow spice and incense accord, made edgy by the presence of black (not chili) pepper. All of this rests atop a cushion of sweet, rounded vanillic notes and nutmeg that makes Harissa's heart distinctly oriental in style.
Harissa's spicy-sweet, peppered heart vaguely recalls Lorenzo Villoresi's controversial Piper Nigrum - enough that I feel safe recommending Harissa to anyone who enjoys the Villoresi but wants a lighter, more refreshing fragrance. Given its composition Harissa is a surprisingly bright and transparent scent, perhaps because of a lingering crisp tomato leaf note that punctuates the main spicy accord.
As Harissa ages on the skin it grows progressively more mellow and diaphanous, while exposing a firm woody base that's warmed by just a hint of very clean musk. While it's not a weak scent, Harissa hangs close to the skin and does not trail clouds of sillage in its wake. Longevity is more than acceptable though, as the drydown progresses over the course of six hours or more. My lasting impression of Harissa is of a crisp, clear, yet exotic fragrance that would be great summer alternative to the traditional citrus and aquatic scents. My thanks to the kind Basenoter who sent me the sample - I would not have made this lovely find on my own!
Because the company list of notes contains both chilli pepper and tomato, I expected this to smell like a Bloody Mary spiked with Tobasco. To my surprise and delight, it turned out to smell like chilli pepper soda. The scent is bright and effervescent, even fizzy, with a slight sweetness. The tomato appears only in the dry-down, where it is light and not Bloody Mary-like at all. Weird and wonderful