Umami in Perfume. Cepes & Tuberose by Aftelier
This week I want to talk about mushrooms, in their a) edible, b) elegant and c) earthy incarnations in perfume. Why mushrooms, you might ask? Because it is boring to live on the "same old, same old diet" of familiar notes. The food industry figured out a while ago that a certain something apart from sweet, sour, bitter and salty is needed to create tasty dishes, and perfumery should branch out too. An ingredient that sounds odd on paper, will smell sublime on skin. There must have been a time when an average consumer would have balked at the idea of putting on an oil that came from a tree infected by a fungus, but nowadays Bath & Body Works add oud to their bestselling scents.
The "certain something" food industry embraced is, of course, umami, the meaty, savory, "tongue-coating" 5th taste, found in seafood, meat (especially cured), tomatoes, soybeans, carrots, Chinese cabbage, sweet potatoes, truffles, soy sauce, green tea, Parmesan cheese and, of course, mushrooms. To be fair, perfumers have been offering us umami for a while also to a certain degree, be it unintentionally or on purpose. Think about Hilde Soliani Stecca or CB I Hate Perfume Memory of Kindness (tomatoes); Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier Eau des Iles (smoky, cured meat); Honore des Pres I Love Les Carrotes (self-explanatory); Alan Cumming Cumming, Tom Ford Black Orchid and Editions de Parfums Une Rose (truffles). Some gardenia scents, most prominently JAR Jardenia, can smell of (Parmesan) cheese and mushrooms, and myrrh has a mushroom-like undertone as well (Serge Lutens La Myrrhe, Annick Goutal Myrrhe Ardente). Apart from Mandy Aftel's Cepes & Tuberose, there are several other fragrances which actually declare mushrooms as one of the notes, namely Ermite from The Perfumer Movie Coffret, CB I Hate Perfume Wild Hunt, Kiehl's Forest Rain, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz Cuir et Champignon and Providence Perfume Co. Indolice.
As I mentioned above, gardenias have a certain raw, soil-like quality. Until I smelled Aftel's version, I had never noticed that aspect in tuberose. Mandy Aftel told me that she herself hadn't realized that "there was a rich earthy communality between the two aromas" until she smelled cepes and tuberose together. She of course, knew about this facet of the smell of cepes, but was "quite surprised to find a place in the tuberose absolute that linked to this facet of the aroma."
Smelled on its own, tuberose absolute is as I know it, buttery, slightly mentholated and slightly rubbery. Smelled on its own, cepes absolute smells of soy sauce and red wine, a mouthwatering, "tongue-coating", savory aroma. Smelled right after cepes, tuberose suddenly turns to me with a facet it hasn't shown before ... there is something in fact meaty there ... meaty and dry and coated in earth...a certain piquant pungency that it took a mushroom to bring to light...or darkness, as it were.
The composition of Cepes & Tuberose is uncluttered. The two main ingredients are so rich, complex and charismatic, that any other notes have to be "quite simple. The cepes and the tuberose intertwined was all the star material that the perfume could aesthetically accommodate." (M.Aftel) A little bit of citrus in the top notes brightens the fleshy dark brown of the blend; woods seem to both enhance the creaminess of tuberose and to add to the dry spiciness of porcini. This is undoubtedly one of the most unique tuberose perfumes - and much more than a tuberose perfume. It seems wrong to categorize it as a floral. But neither is it anything else really. It requires a new olfactory category of its own ... Umami.
Available at Aftelier.com, $45.00-$300.00, depending on the size, $6 for a sample. While you are there, do order a little bit of Cepes absolute too ($35.00 for 1/6oz).