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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Perfume Review: Agraria Balsam, Bitter Orange and Lemon Verbena

Agraria is a San Francisco based company, which specializes in ambiance products for the home and has a line of bath and body items and a cologne collection that consists of three scents, Balsam, Bitter Orange and Lemon Verbena.

Balsam is, to me, the smell of Baltic pine forests, which I remember from my childhood vacations in Latvia. Or to be more specific, it smells not so much of pine needles as of the tree bark. Put you nose right up to the pine tree trunk, inhale deeply, and the resinously woody, strangely cool aroma that you would get would be that of Agraria Balsam. Because of the evergreen and slightly smoky aspect of the fragrance, Balsam is also pleasantly evocative of winter holidays. For the lovers of woody scents with a pronounced resinous quality this scent is a must, and the price of $36.00 for 100ml can’t be beat. This is my favorite of Agraria scent and a staple in my fragrance wardrobe.

Bitter Orange is another winner in the line. It is an orange scent with a smoky rather than bitter undertone. The sweet, almost jam-like aroma of the citrus is contrasted with the dry spiciness of cloves. I am usually wary of cloves in perfume, I like them in supporting (see yesterdays review of Casablanca) rather than leading roles (except for Poivre, which I adore). When overdone, cloves tend to make me think of Christmas potpourri, which I love to use to scent my home, not my self. Luckily, the clove note in Bitter Orange is not aggressive and overwhelming. Although certainly quite apparent, it is there mainly to serve as a dark-red background for the bright-orange fruits. Like Balsam, the scent does have a festive sort of feel, but in a subtle way, it smells like a homemade orange pomander with with not too many cloves stuck into it. For an Instant Christmas effect try layering Bitter Orange with Balsam.

Lemon Verbena. For those who like verbena in perfume, this scent should be a delight. It is a lively, fresh, fairly sweet scent with a delicate green undertone. It is pretty and summery and impossible to dislike. Compared to the other two Agraria scent, it seems to me to be rather straightforward. It smells exactly like what its name suggests, no more and no less. I find it to be just a little too simple.

The three Agraria colognes are available at Fragrances & More, $36.00 for 100ml, which, as far as I can tell, is less than anywhere else; moreover, the shipping is free for all Agraria orders.

Images sources,, (Pine forest in Latvia by Laila Kule), (Orange with Cloves - Christmas pomander by Steve Sant) and


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, the Baltic sea and the pine trees! How I miss that... You nailed it with Balsam. It has that cool air quality, too, like the sea breeze. I wanna go home! Eep...

P.S. Pardon my whining.

11:26 PM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...

oooh, hard not to lemming at that price....

especially with such descriptions!

1:43 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel safer commenting today. I'll sniff these out sometime (if they ever make it this way), in particular the Balsam - my kind of thang.

6:23 AM EST  
Blogger elle said...

Oh, God. What tragic timing. I used to *adore* Balsam. Got exactly what you do in it. But just yesterday I tried it again and I can't explain it...I got dirty socks. On MUA, there's someone (Thalia?)who has always said it is a dirty socks scent and that *never* made sense to me. At *all*. But suddenly I get it. And, yes, as a card carrying skank lover I should appreciate that, but - sob! - I don't. The gods of skin chemistry are punishing me severely and I can't even think what my offense was. However, I still adore Bitter Orange. Yum!!!
Goes off to light candles at skin chemistry gods shrine and beg forgiveness for...whatever....

7:35 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

LOL at elle's "dirty socks"!! (sorry to laugh at your tragedy, elle.)

Not sure I want to smell like pine trees (is it very pine-y, Marina?), but Balsam sounds the most appealing to me of the three.

7:55 AM EST  
Blogger marchlion said...

Wow, these sound amazing! I'm a recent convert to balsam/forest scents (BTW I dropped my samp vial of Delice into the mail to you, along with, uh, something silly I hope you'll laugh at) They all sound yum, I bet at that size/price you could use them as room sprays too.

8:27 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

I'll whine with you. If I, a mere vacationer, miss it, I can only imagine how much you do. :-(

8:28 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

If these were, for example, Dyptique scents, sold for $60 a piece, no one would have raised a brow. Great scents.

8:29 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

I hope they start selling them in the UK. Maybe somebody already does? I stumbled on a site yesterday that had stuff that I wanted (forgot what), but of course they don't ship to the US. Looked great.

8:31 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Oh, no! I wonder what happened. I also wonder what note turned into dirty socks. I can't figure out, which of the notes *has* this dirty socks potential in Balsam. Darn!

8:32 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

It doesn't smell pine-y, really, it is sort of evocative of that smell, but in an abstract way, you know? It has cypress, and cypress has this pine-y-lemony undertone. I think you might like it.

8:33 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Oh, thank you so much!! I kind of imagine that Winter Delice smells sort of like Balsam. Or perhaps Balsam mixed with Bitter Orange.
Agraria has amazing diffusers for the house, I am not sure whether they have room sprays too, but I suppose you could these. I mean, $36...(god, this sounds so jaded).

8:36 AM EST  
Blogger marchlion said...

M, the things I've used as room spray would make you laugh -- or cry...

8:47 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Go on then, make me cry...give me an example. :-)

8:58 AM EST  
Blogger donanicola said...

Interesting review - the balsam sounds right up my street. Thanks also for the nudge on the ludmilla site - I just looked and it has the Estaban cedre stuff I love and which I had despaired of finding again!

9:09 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

That's what it was! Esteban! Ludmilla seems to carry the scents they don't sell here yet.

9:11 AM EST  
Blogger marchlion said...

Fracas. Bois d'Armenie. Desert Marocain. Armani Ambre Soie.

9:23 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

B...B...Bois d'Armenie?????

9:30 AM EST  
Blogger elle said...

I'm wondering if maybe my bottle turned? Because, honestly, I can't figure out how it could be so different now on my skin. Maybe Thalia (or Ellie?) had a turned sample as well and this is what happens to it when it goes off. I swear this used to be one of my top favorite winter evergreen scents. I'm going to order a new sample right now and see if it is different.

10:48 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

I hope that's what it is. Please don't order, let me send you a sample!

10:49 AM EST  
Blogger StyleSpy said...

Oh, I do love the smell of bitter orange, something I discovered the first time I sniffed Bigarade Concentrée by myboyfriendJeanClaudeEllena at FM. Um, have you tried these as perfumes? I wear my favorite room spray (Esteban Ambre) as a perfume. Is that hopelessly weird? It just smells sooooooo good, and incidentally is MUCH cheaper than most of the actual perfumes I own!

11:22 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

LOL at yourBFJCE! I don't think it's weird at all to wear room spray. As long as it smells great and your skin has no odd reaction to it, why not!

12:15 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Oh, I didn't know about that home line. Thank you for the info!

12:17 PM EST  
Blogger NowSmellThis said...

I agree entirely that the Verbena is "too simple"...I adore Verbena in general but didn't need this one at all. Bitter Orange is lovely but I prefer iPF's Spezie, where the orange notes last longer. Sounds like I need to try Balsam!

12:23 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Balsam is wonderful. Oh, I do like Spezie too. Everytime I complain that nothing in iPdF line impresses me, I forget about Spezie, which IS impressive.

12:25 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just looked at the notes on the Balsam. They included "wild rhododendron." I wonder if that accounts for the "dirty socks" effect some people get. That would be my bet.

1:38 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Is that how it smells, Wild Rhododendron? :-) Scary flower :-)

1:42 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, okay, so I'm prejudiced against rhododendrons. The flowers of some rhodos and azaleas (same genus) do smell nice. But I bet the foliage would smell like dirty socks. :-)

2:07 PM EST  
Blogger lilybp said...

Well, I like Balsam cologne, but I can't say I love it. There's nothing wrong with it, you understand, it's just somewhat---weak on me. Can't find any dirty sox, either (since I often like scents people describe this way--e.g. Rose Poivree--I had some hope upon hearing this). Oh, well.

I have smelled their diffusers however, and I do really like Balsam, Bitter Orange, and Lavender in that form. Not so cheap though (for a diffuser).

2:14 PM EST  
Blogger katiedid said...

The Balsam review was so evocative! Lovely, concise, and so strangely specific that it's easy to imagine what you are smelling in it. Thank you :)

Elle - "dirty socks" Hehe!

3:52 PM EST  
Blogger marchlion said...

Hey, it SAYS right there in the reviews that Armenie is based on the paper you burn to scent the air ... okay, so I'm just skipping the "burning" part! ;-)

4:08 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

I had to google rhododendrons, I am ashamed of myself. They look lovely, but I have no idea how they smell :-)

4:15 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

So the diffusers are not such bargains as the colognes? I agree that Balsam is not strong.

4:16 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Ginestet perfumes were inspired by wines, we don't drink them :-) Using Bois d'Armenie as a room spray. Sacrilege! *pouts*

4:23 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Thank you! Have you tried these colognes?

4:24 PM EST  
Blogger katiedid said...

C - oh golly! I love rhodies. They're the one flowering plant (besides things that grow from bulbs) that I can actually manage not to kill!

The fragrance of the flowers on the rhododendron bush can vary, depending on the hybrid or subgenus. (There are lots of natural hybrids, too, so saying "wild" is not a particularly specific descriptor.) Some smell a little musty: it's not bad, but not interesting either. Some smell sweet, almost delicately so, while others' sweetness is almost like a floral Kool-Aid. Some smell almost... hm, spiced and fruity, I'd say.

4:27 PM EST  
Blogger katiedid said...

Oops, we crossed paths there. Nope, I keep meaning to, but then never get around to it!

4:28 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Thank you so much for the info, it's fascinating!!

5:45 PM EST  
Blogger lilybp said...

I think the diffusers run around $95 (so, NOT a bargain:). They are VERY nice, though.

7:54 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Funny how the colognes are almost "cheap" and the home products are not.

8:42 AM EST  

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