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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Umami in Perfume. Cepes & Tuberose by Aftelier

By Marina

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, $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).

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Blogger Tama said...

I bought a little bit of this recently - it is truly a wonderful perfume that excites the nose. OI like perfumes that are odd but wearable and this fits that category to a T. Nice review!!

2:26 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This sounds like perfume for advanced students. Cepes&Tuberose is certainly an experience, is it also a perfume you wear? So intriguing!

3:00 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

"Excites the nose" is so well put! That's what a perfume should do. :)

7:05 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Well maybe sort of advanced :) Depends on what beginners wear. If one is going to jump from fruits, it might be a shock. If one has been wearing woods and flowers, not so much. I do wear it, it's like Tama said above, odd but wearable.

7:07 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fascinating article that I can really sink my teeth into (!)...haha! sorry, I couldn't resist.

"Umami" seems to be the foodie buzz word these days and I see it popping up at the fragrance blogs too. It's difficult to understand, though, if you subtract the mushrooms.

I'm not wild about mushrooms in fragrance. That being said, I adore Wild Hunt on husband. I think I'm going to seek out this's too hard to resist :-)

Thank you!


9:24 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my pursuit of All Things Tuberose, I've been trying to avoid this one... but I can see that I'm going to have to attempt it at some point. I tend to be very sensitive to earthy or mildewy notes, so I'm worried that I won't recover from sniffing a sample.

Or, God forbid, that I spill it on the carpet and have to smell it for the next six years. I love to EAT mushrooms, but wearing them? I'm apprehensive.

Still, I can see that It Must Be Tested.

9:27 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

It is the kind of a "taste" that I find hard to describe. All the words that are used, meaty, savory, etc are not QUITE getting there. I know what it is, but I can't express it. Frustrating :)

9:28 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

You will live to tell the tale, I am certain of it. :) I don't know if you'll like it...But I think for a tuberose lover it is a must-sniff, it shows it from such a different angle.

9:31 AM EST  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Mmmm...have a sample of this waiting for me to try it, or rather, retry it, since I ordered it after wearing it for an afternoon in NYC. To me umami in perfume is a natural extension of saltiness and muskiness--a fleshy ripeness.

10:53 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Fleshy ripeness describes it perfectly!

10:55 AM EST  
Blogger mandy said...

I love that you call cepes and tuberose umami ---- that is perfect.

In 2003, when i first created this perfume i never got labels printed for it because i thought it would only be around for a short while. I would call my graphic designer jody (who has been with me since the beginning) she would come over with a a few dozen labels. After a while when this perfume had found its way to many more fans she finally said "let's get some labels printed!"

marina thank you so much for this insightful review.

12:25 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Thank you very much for stopping by! Here is hoping that however many labels for C&T are printed, you will keep running out of them :)

12:27 PM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...

I really like her work and this one is a real winner..

1:32 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

which other Aftelier scents do you like?

1:34 PM EST  
Blogger ScentScelf said...

A while back, I found myself thinking about umami in the context of Niki de Saint Phalle. My brain connected the vegetal slightly dirty taste in a green tea latte (oh, hush, yes, it was sweet, too) with an element in NdSP.

To me, it is important to remember it isn't simply having an element of dirt/mushroom/root, but that not quite fatty not quite bitter something that makes your tongue half twist...but...something...culinary garden-y?

...maybe something Cepes & Tuberose-y? You know, I'm a bit agitated with you, thanks to this review. I had successfully set aside my urge to seek this one out; completely reactivated now. :-p

2:28 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Then my work here is done :)
You describe it so well: not quite fatty not quite bitter something that makes your tongue half twist. That's umami to me too.

2:39 PM EST  
Anonymous Victoria said...

Love this post, since I love the idea of savory gourmand in all of its forms. Your mention of Cepes & Tuberose really makes me curious to smell it. I have read plenty reviews of it already, but I love how you put it, "t requires a new olfactory category of its own. Umami." Sounds like a memorable fragrance to me!

8:29 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I hate tuberose, why am I so anxious to try this scent? The Umami facet yes, but I'm thinking to that this might have an aspect of tuberose that I liked so much in Nuit de Tubereuse??

8:36 PM EST  
Blogger Flora said...

I have been wanting to try this, and I am quite sure I would love it after reading your impressions! Weird idea, but fascinating.

1:01 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

I would love to hear your thoughts on C&T when you try it!

7:27 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

if you hate tuberose, this might be the tuberose for you, because it is not her usual expansive floral self here. And I do see how a parallel with NdeT can be made, in a sense that both are woody, slightly spicy.

7:29 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Do try and weigh in, as our resident White Floral Queen! :)

7:29 AM EST  
Anonymous Sturdon said...

The other day I bought some umeboshi plums to add to rice and was surprised how plum-y they smelled. When I first unscrewed the lid and smelled the paste I thought the plum umami scent might make an interesting addition to a tropical floral. I wonder if the umeboshi plum note has an umami fragrance equivalent

9:49 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Oh my goshy umeboshi! :) I love plums, any kind, and an umami plum sounds especially appealing :)

10:22 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marina, I'm sold! (notice I didn't need much encouragement) ;)

6:51 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

I am glad! :)

6:54 PM EST  
Blogger Nadira said...

I just tried this one for the first time on Saturday. It's definitely not me, and I wouldn't even say that I "like" it, but I am absolutely fascinated with it. I just can't stop smelling it.

I guess that's when you can tell something is art: when something doesn't please you in simple terms, but you still think it's wonderful.

12:24 PM EST  

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