This New Fragrance Made Me Cry After One Whiff

The power of scent memory is real.

carta immortelle
As the proud child of two Yugoslavian immigrants, I grew up visiting my family in Croatia during the summers. It’s one of the most beautiful places to go swimming, hike, and learn some farming techniques that I would never have witnessed if I had spent summers in New York City. But the thing that still leaves me in awe about this place is its scent. Whether it was waking up early in the morning to watch my uncle herd sheep through a mountain, or harvesting grapes in my grandfather’s vineyard, the flavors of the land and sea continue to captivate me, even though I live thousands of miles away.

So when Carta released their Immortelle 43|17 fragrance, I was shocked to discover how much it reminds me of my summers in Croatia. My family’s house is situated at the base of the largest mountain range, Velebit. It’s a place where the mountain meets the sea, and the briny salt aroma mingles with the musky flowers and shrubs, a smell that always leaves me with a heady high when I feel like exiting the valley and trekking up the mountain. One of the scents I always loved was that of the smilje plant—also known as Helichrysum italicum, or immortelle. It has a robust, earthy aroma with notes of toasted honey courtesy of the near-constant sunlight it receives. Whenever I arrive in Croatia, one of the first things I do after unpacking my luggage is grab some smilje, along with other plants and flowers, make a bouquet, and place it in my room.

In fact, Carta founder Heather D’Angelo revealed to me that she created the scent based on her honeymoon trip through the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. I was pleased to see that our country was getting some much-deserved recognition not for our national soccer team or our most popular beach party spots, but rather its beautiful natural aromas, and specifically, the immortelle plants that grow along the coast.
Capturing the scent of a very specific place isn’t easy, but then again, D’Angelo is not your average perfumer. She plays in the band Au Revoir Simone and studied tropical ecology and sustainability at Columbia after finishing her first bachelor’s degree at Parsons. Those studies bled into her work as a self-taught perfumer. As she reveals, “When I started gathering my ingredients, at first I wasn’t thinking about where my oils were coming from. I was buying things like sandalwood, frankincense, that I [now] realize are endangered, threatened, and overly exploited. So I started investigating these natural materials and thinking about where they come from and how resource-intensive they are.” From then on, it was D’Angelo’s mission as a perfumer to only work with environmental organizations that maintain biodiversity and to prioritize sustainability when gathering her natural ingredients.

So when it came to formulating her newest scent, Immortelle, she spent an entire year searching for the perfect essential oil to capture the essence of the Dalmation coast. “Eventually, I found a little [sustainable] farm in Bosnia called Vitaroma,” she explains. “They sent me a sample and I smelled immortelle for the first time, and it was an immediate love at first smell.” Although Vitaroma is not a certified environmental organization, D’Angelo was intrigued by the story of small-scale farming as a way to preserve the environment. She then gathered immortelle oil during her time in Hvar, an island off the coast of Split, and flew back home to San Francisco to make the scent, which took her another year of tinkering in her kitchen to get just right. “I ended up putting my rose-colored glasses on and putting a ton of nostalgia into this fragrance, since I can’t travel there right now.”

As someone who spent almost every summer of her life lounging on the rocky, sunny shores of Croatia, I can attest that this scent is an exceptional re-creation of the place I call home. From the minerally tang of salt water on sun-drenched skin to the sweet perfume of the summer air, I couldn’t help but be transported (in the way only the finest fragrances can manage). And yes, I did in fact cry.

I believe the reason D’Angelo hit the nail on the head with Immortelle 43|17 is that she used immortelle from two different regions along the coast. “On Hvar, the plants are exposed to constant sunshine, so they produce more of their skin-care-prized UV-fighting chemicals,” she says. “To me, they smelled a lot sweeter and more medicinal. In Bosnia, the helichrysum plants were grown in more fertile soil (compared to Hvar’s rocky coastal cliffs) and exposed to less sunshine, which somehow produced a more complex and funkier smell that I’m sure most perfumers wouldn’t be into, but I loved it.”

This particular combination is what helped her to essentially encapsulate all of Croatia in a 15 mL glass bottle. So whether you have roots here, or have simply been dreaming of visiting (pending a safer 2021), I highly recommend adding this fragrance to your own collection. I know I’ll be using a spritz or two on days when I feel especially homesick—such is the power of scent memory.

Photo: Courtesy of Instagram/@cartafragrances

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