Natural Nuances: Aftelier Perfumes Secret Garden and Oud Luban
As I lamented in my recent post on the demise of classic floral bouquet scents in mainstream perfumery, they just don’t make them like they used to -unless “they” are a natural perfumer with the talent to bring forth all the best of the essences they have to work with. One need look no further than Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes to find such a gem, because the recently launched Secret Garden exemplifies what can be accomplished with the right balance of ingredients. This gorgeous fragrance was inspired by the famous book (and ensuing films) by Frances Hodgson Burnett of the same name centered on a neglected walled garden on a somber English estate that is found by two children who secretly bring it back to glorious life after a long-ago tragedy; the garden heals all who enter it both by virtue of the hard labor involved in its restoration and the rich beauty it reveals in return. This perfume is a fitting tribute to resurgent life, as I cannot imagine anything more lush and inviting.
When I first smelled Secret Garden, it immediately reminded me of several of my favorite vintage fragrances, and in the best possible way; the luscious, languid florals of Lanvin My Sin, Corday Fame and Blanchard Jealousy and a touch of the fruity mystery of Rochas Femme greeted my nose, and just dabbing it on made me feel as though I had suddenly developed an hourglass figure accentuated by back-seamed silk stockings. A shadow of the balsamic Oriental warmth of a Shalimar, or even Dana’s Tabu the way it once was in its glory days, adds depth and interest. (This is no mystery - it has civet and castoreum in it to give it that irresistible sex-in-a-bottle vibe, just like those great old classics did.) At the same time, it is an exceptionally beautiful modern floral perfume, with top notes of bergamot, geranium and blood orange and a heart of raspberry, jasmine sambac, blue lotus and Turkish rose absolute. The florals blend in a superbly balanced way so that no one note is predominant, and the result is heady and almost narcotic. Vanilla, benzoin and aged patchouli complete the delicious and expansive base, which also includes a truly novel ingredient called deer tongue, a botanical essence that imparts a warm powdery feeling similar to Tonka bean to the composition. The drydown lingers for many beautiful hours thanks to the complex base materials. For fans of the floral Oriental style of scent, this is a superb must-try example of the genre.
Another recent introduction from Aftelier is Oud Luban. I will not go into great detail on this one because I simply can’t compete with Beth’s description of it for her contribution to The Clarimonde Project. It is warm, smoky, leathery and subtly spicy, and the splendid high quality oud is of course entirely natural and blended with an exceptionally fine grade of frankincense known as Luban. I have a sample of the solid version, and as Aftelier fans know, Mandy’s solid scents are among the best in the business. I would recommend that oud fans keep some of this around of it for reference purposes as well as to wear, because this is what high grade natural oud perfume is supposed to smell like. With oud’s still-burgeoning popularity, several synthetic substitutes have been developed since the real thing is so expensive, at least for the good stuff; cheaper natural materials that might not exactly be real oud are finding their way into perfumes as everyone jumps on the bandwagon. If you want to go right to the source, as they say, you can’t go wrong with Oud Luban.
Image credit: “Secret Garden” gate from ARendle’s flickr photostream via Creative Commons Share Alike license, some rights reserved.
Disclosure: The samples were sent to me by Aftelier Perfumes at my request for testing.