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.
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.
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 Aedes, Apothia, Escentual, Beautyhabit, Luckyscent, Miomia, Barneys New York, Senteurs d’Ailleurs, or at the Comme des Garçons boutiques.
Photography (top image) by Bois de Jasmin