Charenton Macerations Christopher Street ~ fragrance review

Christopher Street atmosphere

I can rarely resist a New York reference in a fragrance or a beauty product. Charenton Macerations is a new independent fragrance line created by Douglas Bender, a New York resident who has worked in various aspects of the fragrance industry, and its first scent is inspired by an old and storied New York location: Christopher Street, one of the best-known by-ways of Manhattan's Greenwich Village. Christopher Street was developed in collaboration with perfumer Ralf Schwieger. Its composition includes top notes of alcoholic lime, bergamot, bitter orange, leather and tobacco; mid-notes of cinnamon, clove bud, “Dance on Skin,” orange blossom and Poet Carnation; and a dry down of incense, moss, musk, myrrh and patchouli.

As the Charenton Macerations website mentions, Christopher Street has been "home to merchants and misfits, Beatniks and Bohemians, dissidents and protesters" over its three centuries of existence. It evolved from colonial farmland into a site of shipping and trade, a crucible of modern art and literature, an epicenter of the sexual revolution, and a key location in the gay liberation movement. Although many of its long-loved bookstores and cafés are now closed, a few reminders of its history still stand, all with their own distinct olfactory profiles: McNulty's Tea & Coffee Companythe Stonewall Inn ("Where Pride Began"), Village Cigars (at the intersection of 7th Avenue).

According to the Charenton Macerations blog, the brief for Christopher Street suggested that the fragrance could include "subversive tones of metals, smoke, watered down alcohol, wet woods, clove, burnt coffee, and dark tea." That's pretty much what we get in the finished product. Christopher Street opens with sharp, bitter notes of lime and bergamot that are quickly submerged in a haze of booze and tobacco. The tobacco is present both as cured leaves and as cigar smoke, and the smoke seems to have already seeped into the old wood and broken-in leather that are also present in the heart of the fragrance. The base exudes handfuls of earthy, crumbled patchouli and dried moss, as well as as subtle sweaty note. I end up not knowing whether I'm in a bar or a barn, but either one would be fine with me, if it smelled like this.

Although I more typically wear floral fragrances (especially nostalgic, slightly powdery florals), I also love the "real life" smells of things like antique wood and worn-out leather jackets and whiskey, not to mention real patchouli (as opposed to the clean-scrubbed "patchouli" listed in so many mainstream fragrances). For that reason, I've enjoyed testing Christopher Street, and I can recommend it to anyone who regularly wears similar notes. Although it's promoted as a non-gendered fragrance, it feels traditionally "masculine" to me; of course, if you're a woman who enjoys wearing dry, woody-leathery fragrances, you'll love this one. It starts off strong and it softens a bit over time; it also happens to have excellent staying power on skin.

Christopher Street is contained in a plain spray bottle with a simple label. When ordered through the Charenton Macerations website, it arrives wrapped in a square of thick, suede-like leather tied with a narrow strip of the same material and accompanied by a teabag-like pod of patchouli leaves. The patchouli can be used as a sachet in a drawer or closet, and the leather square and strip can be spritzed with fragrance and carried or worn; this kind of attention to detail makes the whole product feel even more hand-crafted and personal.

The tagline for Christopher Street is "Out of the Bottle, Into the Street." (I think that's a twist on "Out of the bars and into the street," one of the battle cries of the gay rights movement.) You could also consider the situation in reverse, as though the personality and history of the street have been captured in a bottle. Gaia at The Non-Blonde reviewed Christopher Street in February; she found it more citrus-y and "fun" than I did. Then again, everyone who spends time on the actual Christopher Street will form his or her own impressions and memories of the place, and many fragrances do work the same way.

Christopher Street bottle

Charenton Macerations Christopher Street is available as 30 ml Eau de Parfum ($100) via the Charenton Macerations website

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17 Comments

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  1. Oakland Fresca says:

    Jessica,
    Your blogs are always wonderful. I have many cigarette and G and T fueled memories of Christopher Street when I was, to quote Dylan, “older then; I’m younger than that now… ” I appreciate the roam down memory lane. I will keep a look out for the fragrance… does anyone remember the name of the pub with the piano circa 1990?

    • jaqsyd says:

      Rose’s Turn, Marie’s Crisis, Duplex??? Rose’s Turn is no longer, Marie’s still where it always was, and The Duplex is now across 7th Avenue. Ring any bells?

      • Jessica says:

        I wasn’t drinking age then, not quite, but I’ve heard of these places! and I have friends who bar-tended and/or played piano at the Duplex et al. Let us know which one you’re thinking of when you/we figure it out!

      • Oakland Fresca says:

        Duplex maybe. But it wasn’t so polished and glitzy back then. Too many cigarettes (I’ve never been a real smoker, but some nights, with some friends, in that city… I was probably wearing Joy and reeked!) and too much gin… but fun fun fun. Now I drink a glass of wine and pop a maxalt at the same time! So pathetic. But I can afford more perfume…

        • solanace says:

          You made me laugh, OF. Another day I saw a bunch of young people partying at the street with their plastic glasses of beer and cachaça, and my only thought was: How can they drink standing up? I remember I used to do that, but it seems like another life now. At least we can pay for the good wine, as you said!

          • Jessica says:

            Ah, all so true…!

      • jaqsyd says:

        I’ll be going to The Duplex in about a week to see a friend perform. I will raise a glass to you both, Oakland and Jessica. And while I don’t have Christopher Street to wear, since my friend is performing excepts from his new musical based on Dorian Gray, I will wear something appropriate. Thanks for the post, Jessica!

  2. hajusuuri says:

    From the Peanut Gallery…

    I can appreciate the challenges of starting a business from the ground up. Yes, I realize this is an indie perfume company but ONE product at $100??? Even Neela Vermeire launched with 3 perfumes using, in my opinion, a more reknowned perfumer (no knock on Ralf Schwieger with his track record of successes).

    That said, I wish there was a way to obtain a sample. I hope wider distribution will bring the perfume to more hands (erm..noses) than only to those willing to spend $100 blind.

    • Jessica says:

      I think the line has made a “soft” launch with this product, which will be rolled out all spring and summer… hopefully to be followed by others? I do think they’re working on the samples issue.

      NVC is one of my favorite indie launches of recent years! Especially Mohur.

    • I intentionally launched Christopher Street solo. I really wanted to focus in on this story. This was a big fragrance story to tell, and one packed with deep personal import to so many people (myself included). It would have felt somehow disrespectful not to give it our full attention.

      But I completely understand your quest for more concepts from CM. And there is definitely more development to the works… including a current project on another way to look at this idea of “activism in a bottle.”

  3. An excellent post that has only furthered my desire to try this slice of New York history and geography.
    The co-creator and owner is a most excellent fellow and will talk happily about the many voices that influenced the creation of the fragrance.
    This is a scent, like the street, with quite a story to tell.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    • Jessica says:

      Dandy, I’m sure you’ve already checked out the CM blog, but anyone who hasn’t visited it yet, and it interested in Christopher Street, might want to stop by to learn more about the thought process behind the fragrance.

  4. body67 says:

    i SO want this.

    • Jessica says:

      Body67, I hope you’ll have a chance to try it out!

  5. solanace says:

    Lovely review, Jessica. I learned a bit about the history of Cristopher Street, and I’ll make sure I stop by the next time I go to New York. And the perfume sounds really apealling, I’ve been on a tobacco (scents) binge lately…

  6. maw808 says:

    I do believe the chant was “Out of the closets and into the street!” I’m so delighted to live through the queer renaissance. It’s been a long time coming. This new launch includes many of my favorite notes, and I can’t wait to try it!

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