Marfa, Texas, is having a moment, and that moment seems to be only gaining momentum. The town is situated in far West Texas, established 150 years ago as a water stop along the railway line that cut through this barren part of the state. The wife of a railway executive was given the task of naming towns in the area. Inspired by Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamozov which she was reading at the time, she named the pit stop Marfa after a character in the novel. This was a fitting and ironic foretelling of a future that would see a sleepy western outpost turn into a haven for bohemians and artistic types. (For an interesting article on how many West Texas towns were given names with literary references by this same woman, see here .)
For many years its only claims to fame were the ghostly Marfa Lights phenomena and being the setting for the classic film Giant, starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean. The arrival of New York minimalist artist Donald Judd in 1971 was the early signal of a change that over the next forty years would make Marfa the darling of modern artists specializing in installation art and the minimalist style. Judd was drawn by the vast expanse of land, in its own way a minimalist pallet that made the perfect backdrop for his art. What keeps Marfa's cool factor is that, at least when I visited about five years ago, the town hasn't lost its western soul, probably saved by its very remoteness from being an of-the-moment destination overrun with gentrified culture vultures.
"Marfa. Tough to get to. Tougher to explain. But once you get here, you get it." Marfa Visitor Center
Marfa is not easy to get to. Unless you fly private, the nearest airport is three hours away. I went through Marfa several years ago with my family, the first stop on an onward journey to Big Bend National Park. It's a long trek down two lane highways, the pavement shimmering in the heat like silver ribbons, bordered by a barren landscape of cactus and scrub brush. If you're approaching Marfa from Van Horn on Hwy 90 you'll come across Prada Marfa, about 25 miles before you hit the town. It's a permanent installation erected in 2005 by Scandinavian artists Elmgreen and Dragset, and probably the most well known of the town's quirky art, in part thanks to Beyonce's 2012 Instagram shot in which she seemingly hovers in a mid air jump in front of the building. For an NPR article with more information on Marfa's art scene, read here.
Photo of Prada Marfa by Jason R Weingart
Cofounders Clare and John Molloy started Memo Paris in 2007, inspired by travels and Clare's strong identification of place with scent. The story is that the couple actually met on a trip, hovering in the air in a chair lift together (could there be a more perfect meeting story?) and have traveled together ever since, memorializing some of their favorite destinations with Memo scents. Memo is shorthand for the memory of a place through scent and the Molloy's, along with perfumer Alienor Massenet, attempt to capture the essence of a place in scent, just as you might try to capture it with a photograph. Memo already has three collections: Les Echappees, Cuir Nomades, and Graines Vagabondes. With Marfa they launch their fourth collection: Art Land.
Memo Marfa has top notes of orange blossom absolute, oil of mandarin, agave accord; middle notes of tuberose and ylang ylang; and base notes of sandalwood, cedar, vanilla seed and white musk. I saw a few comments on fragrance sites when this scent was first released basically saying, "Marfa? Tuberose?". and as someone who has visited that desert town I had the same qualms. My tuberose references are directly linked to Southeast Asia. But a little research revealed that "tuberose is a perennial related to the agaves-- Wikipedia". It's on Wikipedia so it has to be true!? Another surprise, tuberose is a native of Mexico. Voluspa came out with a perfume some time ago called Tuberosa Agave. So there actually is a botanical precedent.
It's interesting how people can have different scent reactions to the same place. My Marfa might have had notes of parched earth, cactus blooms, ozonic streams, or maybe aldehyde stars in a velvet black sky. Other than the quirkiness of the town and the fun place we were staying, El Cosmico, my biggest memory was the brilliance and multitude of stars in the night sky. There is a movement called Dark Sky Association which is trying to preserve light- pollution free spots where stars can be observed in true darkness. Marfa is situated in one of those dark areas, near Big Bend National Park For a list to see if you live anywhere near a designated dark sky area look here.
There was only a sliver of a moon that night at our campground hotel on the outskirts of Marfa, as we swung in hammocks drinking beer and gazing up at the heavens. The stars were so thick they illuminated the ground with a silver glow. It felt as if you could see a whole universe inside the midnight star studded depths, some faintly glowing somewhere in infinity, yet other stars so bright they seemed close enough to grab. It was awe inspiring in a world that defies that feeling. Clara Molloy chose sparkling starry eyes to decorate the Marfa bottle, a memory and reminder of the twinkling stars that fill the night sky, the stars gazing down on us as we look up at them.
Photo of Stardust Motel, Marfa, by Jason R Weingart
So enough back story. How does the perfume smell? When I first spray Marfa I am in a cloud of sweet powdery orange blossom. The orange blossom makes me think pink and orange, and the first thing that popped into my head was that song, "Just Another Tequila Sunrise" and in truth, desert sunrises and sunsets can be glorious. The orange blossom and mandarin scent is fun and fuzzy and all encompassing, but I'm wondering, where is the tuberose? But a slow transition starts to take place. Have you ever seen those photo series where you start out with one celebrity photo and in about seven frames it slowly morphs to a completely different celebrity? That was the sort of smooth transition Marfa makes in changing its mood from orange blossom to tuberose.
Tuberose is vaunted for its sensual and voluptuous nature, but in ayurvedic lore tuberose is said to open the crown chakra which is responsible for peacefulness of the mind, increase the capacity for emotional depth and physic powers, and most interestingly in this artistic town, aid in stimulating creative powers. This zen list makes me wish I could experience that night in the hammock under the stars one more time, this time floating in a cloud of the cosmic karma of Memo Marfa.
I enjoyed Mark Behnke's review of Marfa on Colognoisseur. Read here for another take on this fragrance.
Beautiful photo of night skies over Marfa from jasonrweingart.com. He holds photography workshops in the desert which must be amazing.