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 perfumeprojects.com). 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.