Friday, November 08, 2013

Maja by Myrurgia (Vintage Perfume)

I haven't thought about Maja, the classic Spanish perfume by Myrurgia  for many years. But last year when Ramon Monegal Perfumes appeared in the US and I received the press materials, I learned that Monegal was the great grandson of Esteban Monegal, the founder of Myrurgia and the creator of Maja. That brought back some memories. In the early 1970s and into the 80 my mom had a gift set of Maja that she never used but kept in her dresser drawer to scent its content. The soaps that accompanied the little fragrance bottle  were so potent and spicy that you smelled them the moment you opened the drawer. I didn't like it very much back then.

Decades later I got curious about Maja. I could still smell it in my mind (my mind's nose?), but I suspected that I'd no longer hate it. I had to find a bottle, and I wanted a 70s (or earlier) one.While Victoria's review of the modern version on EauMG suggests that Maja is still a great fragrance, I'm always suspicious of reformulations. Besides, I wanted that piece of my childhood back.

I did some digging online, trying to figure out the various labels and packaging. Some of it was easy, like identifying the newer ones. Maja has been around since 1918, reintroduced in 1945, and later on got what might have been a flanker, Nueva Maja (1960, according to A good clue to the labels, though, was learning that the original figure that appeared on Maja's packaging was modeled after a Spanish avant-garde dancer, Carmen Tortola Valencia (you can read more about her in Denyse Beaulieu's post on Grain de Musc). She inspired Esteban Monegal and the original Art Nouveau label of Maja was created in her image. But the following years so many changes, subtle and big, to the packaging. Getting a truly original 1918-early 1920s bottle full of healthy juice was not going to happen. I was willing to settle on slightly newer stuff, and I did, but it's still a really old bottle, probably late 1960s if my comparisons and research are right.

Maja smells as soapy as I remembered, but not not quite so aggressive. It might be its age, though, because even the soap I found is very muted. Yet you can't mistake the intense spicy floralness for anything else. I recognized it immediately, but was surprised to realize that this perfume doesn't smell particularly feminine. The nutmeg and clove are very dry, as is the vetiver-patchouli-and-who-knows-what-else base. In today's world a guy could easily wear Maja of yore.  Myrurgia's signature colors of red and black are very fitting. It's all drama and passion expressed in loud voices. It's the opposite of what I perceive as a "French perfume"-- no dainty aldehydes, muguet, or sandalwood. Just clove and carnation, carnation and clove, lavender (which was just as I remembered. As a child I actually thought that Maja was lavender-centric), and a dirty green mossy-vetiver base that I love very much. It's interesting to smell the collision between the very soapy opening and the not-so-clean-after-all base the fragrance develops.

Even back when I was a kid Maja was not exactly a luxury perfume. Before it was readily available at drugstore it was the stuff people brought back as cheap souvenirs from Spain (that's how my mom got it), and usually only the soap.  Once again I marvel at how well-crafted and blended were some of those cheap thrills. Having it around brings back some fun into the field. I wear Maja occasionally, and I assure you that I'm not doing it ironically.

To read about Esteban Monegal and the history of Myrurgia see this post on Grain de Musc. More reviews of Maja can be found on Perfume Posse and BitterGrace Notes.


  1. Your mom and me, both! I also got my first soap and perfume back in the early 60's when a boyfriend returned from a summer in Spain. Maja came in a pretty little gift box with three soaps and a small flacon of perfume. My drawers were redolent of Maja for ages!

  2. living in houston, i smell maja quite a bit on older hispanic women. i really like the soaps they make these days - lots of scent and lather, but i don't like the perfume on my skin.

    years ago, i was doing a promo shoot - following news reporters around, and one was reporting on a deadly apartment fire where a child died. later that night, i was in a barrio with another reporter, where i smelled maja in the air.

    tauer's lonestar memories must've just come out, because i had a tester of it. and i swear, it smelled to me just like maja and the ruins of that deadly fire on my skin. can't tolerate it a bit to this day.


  3. I also have some strong associations with Maja and childhood. My mother and I travelled to Spain fairly often when I was growing up, and I also remember drawers scented with the soap. In a burst of nostalgia a couple of years ago, I bought some just to go back in time...I still like it and wear it occasionally. -- Annunziata

  4. My father (who shared my obsession with scent - it's what we bonded over) loved Maja soap, so it reminds me intensely of him. I looked for the oldest bottles I could find online, but ended up with two that had impossibly frozen tops (I tried *every* method I know other than drilling into the bottles). I took it as an omen to just leave it in the past, but about a year ago I tried again. Got a bottle I believe to be from the early 70s, but it just didn't seem the same. I really should simply order some older soaps and maybe they'll strike a chord in my memory banks.

  5. No; never cared for it. It was just cheap perfume like Evening in Paris and way to raw for my taste. Loved the box, though. No Hispanic people where I live wear it. And there are a lot of them.

  6. My uncle loves the soap, and whenever someone goes to Spain, he asks them to bring him some.

  7. I agree with you. The perfume is not delicate or feminine, but it does have an intense and unique quality to it that I personally like. But I may be a little biased here, given that I also associate the scent with my visits to Spain, a country I just love...

  8. I have an old bottle of Nueva Maja that came with an ebay perfume lot. Just as you observed with Maja, it's amazing how interesting some of the old cheap thrills are. nozknoz

  9. I have Maja vintage and many others Myrurgia,like Embrujo de Sevilla, Maderas de Oriente, Orgia (!!!) and Promesa. I bought them for nothing in an old antiques store in Barcelona.
    Maja is from 1916 and is a very spicy carnation , but don't forget that it"s an autentic fern: with lavender and coumarin, which explains its drydown and its unisex personnality!
    It's also interesting to know that Jean Carles worked for Myrurgia in the 30's. Although Maja was not made by him, it could have been !

  10. I have some from the old days lady I look after her husband gave it to her during the war , she sais , soap never open or used full bottle perfume and small empty one and the doll too

  11. I recently discovered that my local pharmacy carries the Maja line, and I bought a vintage bottle on eBay. Boy does it make me so comforted to think of my mum when I wear it. Spicy and so lovely a scent, not cloying at all. I love the talc and the soap! Great article by the way, thanks!


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