For most of my life, I’ve treated fragrance as an extravagance for those with the time and money for flippant luxury. But I am now the abject devotee of a perfume: La Cautiva by Fueguia 1833. It’s a lightly vanilla-and-blackcurrant-flecked concoction that reminds me of cotton candy — not the plebeian country-fair variety, but the limited-edition gourmet fluff atop Oddfellows ice-cream cones that invaded Instagram during the summer of 2017.
Fueguia 1833 is an Argentinian brand founded by Julian Bedel, a former musician turned self-taught perfumer. It makes luxury natural fragrances, candles, and attars with ingredients sourced completely from local communities. Among them are leftover guaiac wood from Argentinian carpentry shops, herbs from Patagonian patches, and tuberose and jasmine from Chennai.
Bedel, who talked to me from his Milan laboratory, told me that he was drawn into the complexities of perfume after his father gave him Linda Buck’s 2004 Nobel Prize lecture, “Unraveling the Sense of Smell.” Instead of outsourcing to a distillery, Bedel established his own. He started out with simple home scents derived from the foliage and flora that he grew up with on his family’s Argentinian farms, and eventually expanded into a full line of fragrances with whimsical inspirations: Argentinian landscapes, napping whales, Carl Linnaeus, and Charles Darwin. (At the time of our call he was at work on a scent inspired by the Italian chemist and critic Primo Levi).
All Fueguia 1833 scents are manufactured in small batches in-house (400 bottles at a time) and sold only in Fueguia 1833 boutiques. I discovered the brand when I walked into the Crosby Street flagship at 7:50 p.m. to escape being pelted by the rain. With midnight-blue walls, shelves full of herb-filled bottles, and over 50 perfumes displayed atop wooden blocks covered by beakers, the store resembles a lab run by a mad scientist with a flair for velvet.
The salesperson generously let me sample the scents even though it was ten minutes before their closing time, and I went from a few cautiously appreciative whiffs to taking in great lungfuls of my right forearm after encountering La Cautiva. It smells like confectionary come to life, like the whites and pinks in Alexei Ratmansky’s extravagant ballet, Whipped Cream, about a young boy who overeats whipped cream and has a sugar-induced fever dream (extremely can relate).
Sweetness is tricky in scents; it walks a fine line between being sophisticated and cloying. In perfume, it usually comes in one of two options: brittle spray-can vanilla whipped-cream fumes, or fizzy orange-flavored fruity explosions like a Fanta bath. La Cautiva, however, smells like the spun sugar clouds on top of the raspberry-jam-stuffed sufganiyot (pillowy Hanukkah donuts) at Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery in the West Village. Or like the fluffy puffs from a newly opened box of soan papdi, a flaky Indian sweet that dissolves on your tongue in a whirlwind of ghee and pistachio.
In the time it took me to walk home from the store, I earned some strange looks because I couldn’t stop bending my head to my forearm. Mimicking the aftermath of a smooth sugar high, the perfume at first startled and then made me want more.