Friday, January 9, 2009

Cimabue by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz (Parfums des Beaux Arts): fragrance review

From the effulgent Byzantine mosaics of Ravenna as seen in the warm light of noon to the incadescent Scrovegni Chapel frescoes by Giotto in Padua during the cool silence of a winter afternoon, Italian art is infused with the resplendent light of the South which never fails to draw a beatific expression out of me. That golden light has been captured in a fragrance called Cimabue by independent niche perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz. Cenni di Pepo (Giovanni) Cimabue (c. 1240 — c. 1302) was the artist to bridge the opulence of Byzantium with the insight, knowledge and brilliance of the Renaissance and counted Giotto among his students. Cimabue, the fragrance, is characterised by Dawn as "my Saffron note étude" but it provides a porthole into her greater agilité in various techniques. It's no coincidence that Dawn began her career as a painter progressing to work at Boston's famed ESSENSE Perfumery and imbuing her perfumes with fine art principles (texture, color, line, light, shape, and expression) in her own line, Parfums des Beaux Arts, LLC.

Cimabue (pronounced chim-a-boo-way, according to Dawn) had first come to my attention through a perfume enthusiast and online friend who sent me a sample some time ago. I recall I was favourably impressed and left it at that. But now that the Saffron Series has caught up with me, what better time to revisit and explore the intricasies that weave throughout its composition?
Cimabue materialized out of love: the love of a perfumer to her clients. When a lover of Safran Troublant sent a request to Dawn to make something comparable, Dawn set out to create Cimabue. Yet Cimabue is not a rip off Safran Troublant, but rather a spicier, richer, enigmatic interpretation that spans the spectrum from honeyed floral to bittersweet spicy to luscious oriental much like the colours of those frescoes take on different shades depending on the light cast.

Cimabue begins on complex citrus , immediately flanked by unctuous saffron with the feel of aromatized olive oil for a creamy, starchy Carnaroli risotto. Although there are flowers' essences in the composition, none emerges prominently, instead undulating into layers that are folded in the spice mix. The smell of clove, cardamom and nutmeg slither when Cimabue takes on the skin, then the sandalwood, vanilla and sweet powder combine in a classic milky gourmand drydown that accounts for a very warm and pleasantly sweet ambience with average lasting power.
Cimabue should please spice lovers as well as gourmand lovers and will bring a little warmth in the depths of winter.

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz Cimabue notes:
Top: Bergamot, bitter orange, cardamom, clementine, Italian neroli, lemon, nutmeg
Middle: carnation absolute, cinnamon bark, clove bud, Egyptian Rose geranium, Grandiflorum jasmine, honey beeswax, Moroccan rose absolute, Mysore sandalwood, Saffron absolute, Tuberose absolute
Bottom: Ciste absolute, East Indian sandalwood, labdanum, oppopanax, Siam benzoin, Tahitian vanilla, Tamil Nadu sandalwood, vanilla absolute.

Cimabue is part of the more upscale collection Parfums des Beaux Arts (limited editions) and is available in various sizes: 0 .25 oz Eau de Parfum travel spray will set you back $27 while a limited edition flacon of extrait de parfum runs for $135 while a body butter and a foaming creame compliment the experience. Samples and sampler packs are also available on the DSH website.

Related reading on Perfume Shrine: the Saffron Series

Painting of Madonna enthroned with the child, St Francis, St.Domenico and two Angels by Cimabue displayed in Galleria Uffici Florence courtesy of Christus Rex


  1. This is a very lovely work by Dawn, isn't it ?
    She is a delightful lady, as well.

    Loving the saffron series, my friend.
    Shades of Little Birds, by Anais Nin...remember the story of the husband who needed his new bride to roll in saffron, in order to be 'capable' of pleasuring her ?

    Kisses to you !

  2. Mike Perez17:10

    Well being the cinnamon lover that I am, this scent has been recommended to me a lot by Basenoters. I still haven't smelled it. I am not a lover of saffron, so now I'm a little nervous to try it - would you say it's cinnamon prominent?

    Coincidentally, a friend bought me a DSH Parfum Beaux des Arts scent for my birthday, Sienna. It smells like an artisanal rice pudding - amazing stuff! My first entry into DSH scents. I'm impressed!

  3. So pleased to see your review of Cimabue. I prefer it to Safran Troublant, spicier with less rose.

    Mike, I do think the cinnamon is prominent, which is one of the things I love about it. DSH has a great sample program, you might want to take advantage of!


  4. My dear I,

    yes, indeed! It has the right balance of "sugar" and "spice" :-)

    I love Anais Nin and was saving that story for later on ;-)

  5. Mike,

    I think you might like it, because the spice mix is such that you don't get the saffron you might be used to from other compositions. I get lots of cardamom (blends well with saffron) myself.

    If you like spices in general like me I think you'll love her Tamarind Paprika, which I am planning on reviewing in the future.

  6. Gail,

    you're very welcome. Glad you enjoyed the review. :-)
    Rose is a bit problematic for me too; not when "bastardised" though.


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