Comme des Garcons Red Series Harissa : Perfume Review

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Comme des Garçons Harissa is a quirky little citrus-spice scent from the imaginative Series 2: Red collection of fragrances themed around the color red as it is found in spices, woods, flowers, and fruits. The fragrance has its origins in harissa, the bright red condiment common to North African cuisines that contains red chili peppers, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, caraway, and cumin.  The condiment is used as a flavoring in stews and in couscous dishes.

pepper

Harissa the fragrance is not so much an olfactory recreation of the condiment as it is a nod to the idea of it.  It is a citrus scent based upon what marketing copy says is a “North African blood orange”, and additional touches include red chili pepper, angelica, saffron, nutmeg, cardamom, and tomato.  The fragrance is only mildly spicy despite the list of notes.

I don’t suppose anyone nearby would mistake you for a North African dish; it’s abstract enough not to be a gourmand scent.  I’ve always liked the Comme des Garcons fashion house for its (mostly) wearable, wonderful strangeness and I like Harissa, just not as much as I like Palisander and Sequoia, which are also housed in the Series 2: Red collection.

Harissa the fragrance is a delicate dish. I found myself pressing my nose to my wrist immediately after application, looking for the invigoration of the spice blend playing out against the orange. The orange in Harissa is surprisingly mellow, but the pepper warms it up a bit. You can smell both in equal measure throughout. In the end, one is left with an oddball tomato/nutmeg/cardamom scent with a bit of cedar in the base.  This phase sputters along and the whole thing is gone in a couple of hours.

Harissa vanished in an hour leaving a woody trace behind, after a promising start that displayed the full range of notes.  The pepper note is similar to that found in L’Artisan Poivre Piquant and so is the “wet” quality.  I found it refreshing but ultimately slim; like a diet dish when I really wanted something more filling.

If anything, investigating this scent made me crave a roasted vegetable couscous with merguez sausage and a fusion harissa involving the same ingredients as are part of this fragrance.  Harissa the fragrance really does start out eat-your-wrist good and should be tried just for its fun and unexpected nature.  Too bad it doesn’t pack more punch.

harissa

Comme des Garçons Harissa (Series 2: Red collection) lists notes of harissa, North African blood orange, red chili pepper, angelica, saffron, nutmeg from Grenada, cardamon, tomato. $102/100ml Available at AedesApothiaEscentualBeautyhabitLuckyscentMiomia, Barneys New York, Senteurs d’Ailleurs, or at the Comme des Garçons boutiques.

Photography (top image) by Bois de Jasmin

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19 Comments

  • marsi: Thanks for reviewing Harissa! I like it when it’s hot and I want something refreshing. April 23, 2013 at 8:48am Reply

    • Suzanna: Isn’t it interesting how refreshing this (and Poivre Piquant) are? They have a cool and wet transparent quality to them even if they sound murkier. April 23, 2013 at 9:11am Reply

  • BlinkyTheFish: It’s strange, every time I sniff it (and I wanted something fiery and different, darn it), all I get is this awful combo drink my parents use to have at breakfast – V8 mixed with orange juice. April 23, 2013 at 9:49am Reply

    • Suzanna: Horrible! But that points out the relative strength of the citrus note, which is as you say a bit orange juice-ish. I’ll take it beyond that to say that it is like a drink meant to mimic orange juice.

      I can see where you would be disappointed with this, and I too would like something more pronounced and hot. April 23, 2013 at 10:49am Reply

  • Annikky: Thank you for the review, Suzanna! This actually sounds nice to me, but what I really want to smell now is Sequoia… April 23, 2013 at 12:42pm Reply

    • Suzanna: I love Sequoia and Palisander. Sequoia is so lovely and mulch-y, damp like the Northwest. You will enjoy it! April 23, 2013 at 9:01pm Reply

  • nikki: Interesting…I love Harissa and there is a new book out by Kitty Morse, Mint Tea and Minaretts, with recipes for Harissa! Marocco is a great place for good food and Harissa! However, a harissa perfume is not quite what I would like….I would love a really good Oriental perfume reflecting the orientalist view of Marocco though! Even though Serge Lutens has lived in Marrakesh for thirty years, none of his perfumes really strike me as that special orientalist perfume I am looking for… April 23, 2013 at 1:24pm Reply

    • Victoria: Nikki, a bit off topic, but how is the book? I saw it mentioned in Saveur. It seems very expensive to order from any of the European Amazon sites, so I decided to wait till I’m in the States to buy it. It sounded fascinating though, especially her account of preserving an ancient palace her father purchased.

      Suzanna, reading your review made me crave harissa and couscous! April 23, 2013 at 3:00pm Reply

      • Suzanna: V., I had a fantastic recipe for it that I lost years ago. I am still trying to see if someone has it on line! April 23, 2013 at 9:02pm Reply

      • nikki: It is an interesting read, but the photos are really the best. The recipes are nice, too. You can read an excerpt on her website which leads you to the mint and minaret site, let’s see, here it is:

        http://mintteaandminarets.com/

        She used to have people over in her Riad for cooking classes. She also has some videos on youtube showing how to preserve lemons and so. Lovely woman, she is on facebook as well.

        I found the book interesting as I travelled frequently in Marocco, however, it does describe some of the unpleasant and cruel happenings there, too (the reason I am not going anymore), so it is close to the truth and more challenging than a cookbook. The photos are absolutely gorgeous and it is a fascinating read considering that the author grew up in the former French Protectoriat. April 24, 2013 at 12:07pm Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you very much, Nikki! I will check out the website. I suspected that it was more of a personal account than just a recipe collection, and now I’m even more curious about it. April 24, 2013 at 12:26pm Reply

          • nikki: Yes, it is a personal history and the time frame is so fascinating…I am surprised there aren’t more books about the experience of Europeans having lived in the Maghreb before these countries became independent, i.e. Algeria and les pieds noirs. There is another book which I would like to recommend to you: Colette Rossant’s cookbook about her childhood in Egypt before the Jewish diaspora. I think it is called “Memories of a lost Egypt”. Absolutely wonderful book. Her story is beautiful and heartbreaking, a little like “A la recherche du temps perdu”, as far as memories of times and places which will never be like this again. She lived in Heliopolis, a garden suburb of Cairo with Belle Epoque Villas. Of course, now it is just a shadow of itself. I leave it at that. April 24, 2013 at 4:10pm Reply

            • Victoria: Nikki, you’ve guessed it! 🙂 I have and love Colette Rossant’s book, and some recipes in it were so good, they’re now a part of my repertoire. April 25, 2013 at 6:04am Reply

              • nikki: Don’t you just love the roast chicken with the leeks under the skin? April 25, 2013 at 9:53am Reply

    • Suzanna: Nikki, I am curious what “special orientalist” perfume would smell like–what comes close to it? April 23, 2013 at 9:02pm Reply

      • nikki: Good question, Suzanna, I am still looking. There is a difference between the reality of the Maghreb/Middle East and the Orientalist notion, brought forth in the 1800’s by painters such as Delacroix. That is what I want in a perfume: the 1001 nights aspect. Shalimar is pretty good in that regard, and SL Ambre Sultan also has one facet, however, I have not found one perfume that really encompasses the notion of orientalist dreams in perfume. I have not tried Ambre Narguile though… April 24, 2013 at 12:25pm Reply

  • Talozu: I love citrus scent that remain me about spring to the summer season. That’s pretty good for aromatic therapy. April 23, 2013 at 10:45pm Reply

    • Suzanna: Talozu, I couldn’t agree more! April 24, 2013 at 10:27am Reply

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