How to Smell: Cape Heartache

January 11, 2016 1 Comment


Context: A story within a story (within a story)

If you’re new to the Imaginary Authors line, here’s a crash course: Perfumer Josh Meyer composes a perfume and then invents a backstory around it. He imagines that he has created a perfume based on a book (which doesn’t exist) by a famous author (who doesn’t exist). In reality, Meyer himself is the creator of the whole thing.

All of the perfumes in Josh Meyer’s inventive line are based on these fictional works of fiction and, yes, imaginary authors. Cape Heartache, the eighth scent in his line, is based on a fictional work of fiction called Cape Heartache, fronted by Josh’s made-up Philip Sava. In this way, Imaginary Authors is a creative mash-up of olfactory, literary, and—just look at the bottle artwork—graphical arts.  

First impressions

Meyer’s intention with Cape Heartache was to recreate a foggy, smoky, Pacific Northwest forest. And that’s what you’ll find right out of the gate with Cape Heartache: a glorious accord of dry wood, sharp green coniferous needles, cool and damp air, and the trace of a campfire burning far upwind. Douglas fir provides the wood, while pine resin, hemlock and spruce absolutes, and a dry, woody molecule called norlimbanol (which perfume critic and writer Chandler Burr has said smells like “the scent of total dryness”) join to sound an evergreen chord.

Meyer was inspired by the landscape of Forest Park, an enormous park near his Portland, Oregon, home. Don’t think “park” like your local grassy acre with a smattering of trees and playground equipment. Don’t even think “park” like New York’s sprawling Central Park. In the case of Forest Park, the emphasis is squarely on the “forest,” with more than 5,000 acres as wild and wooded as when explorer William Clark found them in 1806.

The trees that you find in Forest Park are predominantly the same trees that you find in Cape Heartache: Douglas fir, western hemlock, and cedar. The area is also home to vanilla leaf, which figures into Cape Heartache’s composition. Vanilla leaf is not related to the vanilla we typically associate with the word—that stuff comes from the vanilla orchid—but is simply a leafy green foliage. It’s what gives Cape Heartache the slightest hint of green leafiness at the top. 

Meyer also wanted to capture the smokiness of a far-off campfire, and he achieved that with the slightly sweet, smoky guaiacwood. Oakmoss, vetiver, vanilla, and benzoin round out a comforting base that lasts several hours on the skin.

The catalyst

If Cape Heartache were to stop there, it would be a lovely, smoky scent that expertly evokes a foggy forest landscape. But none of Meyer’s scents stops at being just plain nice; everything he does pokes at convention with an unexpected plot twist. (Think of the notes of fresh tennis balls and clay court in  The Soft Lawn, featured in the Olfactif Vignettes of Spring collection.)
To make Cape Heartache truly special, Meyer returned again to the landscape of his Pacific Northwest. He thought about the wild strawberries that grow among the trees in Forest Park and decided to take another cue from nature. With the tiniest trace of a strawberry accord, the perfume became something much more intricate and complex than the sum of its parts. Where the evergreen notes were crisp and sharp, the strawberry was soft and round. Where the smoke was dry and savory, the vanilla was sweet and subtle.
The addition of strawberry made something more than the sum of its inspirations, too. To smell Cape Heartache is not to smell a walk through an evergreen forest with a strawberry patch nearby, but to smell an abstraction of such a walk. It conjures sensations: light but dark, dry but juicy, smoky but clear, salty but sweet. A harmonious set of contradictions.

So if Cape Heartache is based on a pretend work of fiction, what’s the story?

"If you are looking for the pieces of a broken heart," our imaginary author Philip Sava says, "you might try rifling through the twigs and needles on the forest floor."

It’s a story of lost love, of walking among the ruins of a relationship confined to the past tense. It’s a story of being in a lonely, quiet place where the air is thick with a fog that the sun can’t penetrate. But it doesn’tsmell sad, you might be thinking. No, but memories of lost love don’t always feel sad either, do they? That’s why we pine for them until our hearts hurt from the longing: Because for a time, the memories we want to relive have such hold of us that we’d rather chase after them with false hope than turn around and face the unknown that lies ahead.

Want to try a sample of Cape Heartache? Go for it. We don't blame you one bit.


1 Response


February 04, 2017

Cape Heartache is an excellent coniferous fragrance. I’m a huge fan of coniferous scents and love to have their resinous notes clinging to my skin and wafting off me in beautiful scent trails. Cape Heartache does have sweetness in the dry down, but it is more like the sweetness that exists in the balsamic soul of the fir and the pine to my nose. Perhaps a bit sweeter than that…but not much. This fragrance is a gem and should be at least sampled by every true lover of fir and pine.

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