A PERFUME FOR MITCHELL & HANA
My best friend was getting married to someone I love because she is perfect for him. Would I make him a fragrance to wear at their ceremony?
After spending so much time being haunted by Hannah Wilke and Ana Mendieta, after dark 2020 and the sad year that followed it, after losing a family member and my dog, after having spent so much time nuzzling up so close to death, what better project to bounce back into the living with than a perfume for a wedding? (Of course I said yes.)
Named after one of the great huapangos, Cucurrucucú Eau de Parfum features the singular material I believe to be the most alive of them all—copal negro. Ignored by Europeans due to its sacred use in the scent traditions of various indigenous cultures that have occupied Central American lands since time immemorial, this copal is not plentiful enough to be used in industrial perfumery—nor should it be. But it shouldn’t be lied about, either. And it shouldn’t be completely erased. But in perfumery, it has been. Since Steffen Arctander wrote the book Perfume & Flavor Materials of Natural Origin in 1960, wherein he reported copal produced no essential oil, those in the vanguard industry have parrotted his claim. He was mistaken and so are they.
I grew up, as did my best friend and his bride, in land just north of where copal negro grows—land that Gloria Anzaldúa wrote “was once Mexican, / was Indian always, / and is. / And will be again.” And for as long as I’ve squinted at the lie vanguard perfumery tells about copal, I‘ve always seen through it. Copal absolutely produces an oil. I know it because I encountered it occasionally growing up.
But like love, real copal oil is rare and hard to find. But like love, it’s not impossible to find. It can be found. And when I found an artisan distiller with copal oil made from the resin of branches that feel from a tree in 2018 in Guatemala, I pounced. Most of what I purchased will remain in a lockbox to age. But some made its way into Cucurrucucú, a perfume for the wedding of Mitchell and Hana—people I love and consider rare, too.
In the perfume, that vibrant and rare—tho not impossible and absolutely not erased—oil of copal negro breathes warm life and heart into cade tar, moss, cedar, muskrat and orris. Strong and stable, it’s the olfactive equivalent of a bear hug, lending fortification to lighter papyrus and pine absolutes, smoked hinoki wood, and a sooty ink accord of lactonic angelica and leathery saffron. And topping off the perfume is a smoky mezcal accord kissed with the cooling anisic nip of wormwood. The Invisible Stories’ Tracy Wan, whose writing and thinking on perfumery I respect so, so deeply, experienced this cocktail-incense perfume as a “mezcal absinthe negroni,” which sounds just like a drink that, if I still drank, I would love to drink.
So instead of drinking it, I’ll wear it. I love this perfume and the reason it exists. I love the person who asked me to make it for him and I love the one he chose to love, the one who also chose him. And when this small microbatch of Cucurrucucú EdP sells out, it may be a while before it returns. But I promise it won’t be gone forever. Like love, and like copal oil, it exists. It’s just rare. So if you miss trying or acquiring Cucurrucucú this time, don’t worry. It’ll be back. And probably when you least expect it.
Until then, “no llores / Las piedras jamás, paloma / ¿Qué van a saber de amores? / Cucurrucucú...”