A New Perfume Translates the Greek Island of Corfu Through Kumquat
Growing up in the Midwest, I wasn’t exposed to the widest range of foods. True to the Scandinavian heritage and harsh winters of the region, I remember a hearty, meat-and-starch focused cuisine, one meant to warm and sustain through the cold and dark. As I got older, I started expanding my palate, and I can remember many firsts: my first pho, my first dosa, my first doro wat. But out of all these first experiences of more far-flung tastes and flavors, none stands out in my memory as sharply as my first kumquat.
I remember walking into my history class and seeing a bowl of strange-looking fruits on the teacher’s desk. They looked mildly hallucinatory, like grapes crossed with oranges, and when my teacher gave me one and told me to pop it in my mouth whole, I thought she was playing a practical joke on me. When she finally convinced me that was how one was supposed to eat it, I bit into one and fell in love. The lightly bitter rind, the surprising tang, the way it tasted like a more complicated orange—all of these impressions crystallized into a sense memory so clear and specific that I can still recall the text on the classroom posters that hung above the blackboard. Since that moment, kumquat has been my favorite citrus. So when I heard that Aedes de Venustas, a New York–based perfume house (whose Latin name translates to “Temple of Beauty”), was releasing Corfu Kumquat, a new scent built around the fruit, I jumped at the chance to smell it.
Corfu, a Greek island in the Ionian sea, is known for the kumquats that are grown on its Northern shore. These are often transformed into liqueurs and candies, but Aedes de Venustas founders Robert Gerstner and Karl Bradl, working with Greek perfumer Ilias Erminidis, wanted to resist the classic gesture of taming kumquat’s bitterness by adding sweetness. Knowing that citrus notes are often short-lived, Erminidis paired kumquat with Calabrian bergamot, the same pithy citrus that gives Earl Grey tea its distinctive flavor. This linkage extends the citrus top notes and grounds them in a spiciness that is tempered by the subsequent arrival of the heart notes: ginger, lavender, Granny Smith apple, and rhubarb.
To my nose, this bouquet is remarkable for the way it introduces floral and fruit notes while resisting any sense of sweetness. Translating the dryness of the kumquat rind into different registers, this stage of the scent’s development also introduces a seaside note that references the salt air of Corfu’s coastal atmosphere. As the citrus notes dissolve into this airy background, a base of vetiver, musk, cedar, and tonka bean reveals itself, an earthy mix that completes the olfactory image of a Mediterranean vista.
An innovative take on a classic citrus perfume structure, Corfu Kumquat manages to be both familiar and enticingly otherly. The bitter specificity of the kumquat note colors the rest of the composition, bringing forth new olfactive qualities from familiar materials. It’s a striking ode to a singular place and a singular fruit. One that, as the perfumers put it, “lasts far beyond the moment it’s released.”