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Friday, November 11, 2011

An Aftelier Perfumes Experience: At Home on the Range (Part Two)

By Donna

This is the second and final installment in my reviews of a selection of the Aftelier perfumes by Mandy Aftel. Part one can be found here. In this part I explore the broad range of the perfumer’s talents, from lush floral to classic cologne to Oriental fantasy and more. Her creativity in putting perfume elements together in new ways is truly impressive.

Perfumer, author, artist, flavorist, innovator, and gifted communicator Mandy Aftel has been busy breaking down the barriers between indie/niche perfumery and the “big boys” for some time now, and her work has been instrumental in the recognition of natural perfumery as an art worthy of the respect that the classic perfume houses and luxury brands have always enjoyed in the modern era. Before I began testing the fragrances in earnest, I read her groundbreaking book Essence and Alchemy, which not only explains many of the technical aspects of perfumery for the layperson, but illuminates her own creative process and how the lessons of the past are interwoven with modern techniques. My understanding of the perfumery process was increased exponentially and I recommend this book very highly.

One of the fragrances I have been testing is a solid version, this one called Orchid. Its name is a little misleading as it was actually inspired by the lush scent of Oriental lilies, a favorite of Mandy’s and which also happens to be my own favorite floral aroma; I have grown lilies for many years and I just can’t get enough of their intoxicating aroma. Lily is hard to re-create in perfumes, because like many other flowers, no natural extract currently exists, so the olfactory impression must be created by blending other elements. This one somehow manages to smell very much like lily using orange blossom and other ingredients and captures that oddly rubbery, humid character that many lilies have which makes them smell “tropical” even though they are not, and in fact some scented orchids have this quality as well. I was delighted to discover that I shared a favorite flower scent with Mandy and she has done a wonderful job of capturing the fragrance I love so much. As an added bonus, her solid perfumes are made with jojoba oil and beeswax, which impart their own richness to the mix.

Another sweet, rich fragrance in the Aftelier line is Fig and it’s not like most other fig perfumes I have smelled; no green, leafy astringency here, this is the fragrance of sweet, syrupy fruits, meltingly soft and ripe. It reminds me of a favorite treat when I was a child – growing up in New England, fresh figs were simply unheard of and they were only available dried on a string or in cans and I loved those canned Kadota figs in heavy syrup. They were far too sugary of course but I always had a sweet tooth, and this Fig perfume has the delicious “figginess” without the sugar overload. Now for the big surprise: There is no fig in it at all! As with lily, no natural perfumery essence exists, so it is magically impersonated here by a blend of yuzu, jasmine sambac, grand fir absolute and a type of “fruity” Spanish lavender. I have no idea how this was accomplished but I am highly in favor of it. It’s not just a one-note scent of course, it’s a real perfume with depth and longevity, and the Africa stone in the base adds another layer of complexity to this seductive and succulent gourmand perfume. Most fig scents are cool and meant for summer wear, but this one is perfect for fall and winter.

One of the samples I requested was way out of my comfort zone, as I was interested in exploring Mandy’s range; was there anything she could not do? Apparently not, as I found Shiso to be very wearable even though on paper it is miles away from what I usually like. Now this one does have considerable astringency, and pungent is the word for it. The herb Shiso is also known as perilla and is a sharply flavored plant in the mint family that’s used as a culinary accent and in herbal tonics as well as in fragrances. This piquant note is matched perfectly with a brisk green pepper note to start, but it mellows fairly quickly on skin, and what this really ends up to be is an excellent eau de cologne style fragrance, with the shiso standing in for the more traditional herbal notes like rosemary or Artemisia that might be used in a classic cologne blend. A touch of clove and agarwood (oud) in the base gives it warmth and solidity. It’s still not “my thing” but I liked it a lot, much to my surprise, although I think it might smell better on a man than it did on me.

Parfum de Maroc begins as a classic Oriental “spice market” fragrance and is another one that rewards patience. It opens with a dense, murky chunkiness, as so many naturals do, that makes you think it’s going off in a Yankee Candle Ye Olde Potpourri direction but of course this is Mandy we are talking about, so just wait a little while; it gradually becomes infused with light and by the time the drydown arrives it glows from within. I thought of that antiquities shop in the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark once it had fully developed; the scent of an Eastern marketplace in sepia shades, and a mysterious darkened room full of secrets surrounded by the brilliant desert light outside. It has considerable depth but somehow loses weight as time goes on, which is a pretty neat trick for a perfume in this genre. Some of my favorite spicy notes are here including black pepper, nutmeg, saffron, and cardamom but no one of them dominates and even the usually assertive nutmeg is woven into the mix with a light touch. Turkish rose at the heart provides the perfect backdrop, and sticks around to partner with the gorgeous and luminous myrrh in the base. Much pressing of nose to skin ensued during my testing of Parfum de Maroc and it ended up being one of my favorites of the bunch.

The grand finale is Mandy’s very special Parfum Privé, which she made for herself and then decided to share it with others, luckily for us. It was made with a no-holds-barred approach when the perfumer acquired some real ambergris, which is an almost unheard of luxury these days. The concept behind this floral Oriental perfume is to smell like the night air in Hawaii, a place I have never been, but if it smells anything like this please book me a flight today. To my nose it is all about the osmanthus flower, also a very pricey ingredient, but it’s a dark and haunting version of that tiny blossom that can be so lighthearted in other fragrances. Even the addition of the best orange flower absolute does not make this a sunny scent for me, because the base of earthy opoponax, vintage sandalwood, ambrette seed and ambergris deepens the tone and gives it more heft than any other osmanthus fragrance I have smelled. (I am a fan of Serge Lutens’ sheer and delicate ode to osmanthus, Nuit de Cellophane, but Parfum Privé is the one that really deserves to have “nuit” in its name.) If this is how ambergris transforms a perfume, now I know why it is so highly prized. I can just imagine an evening breeze carrying the fragrance of night-blooming flowers, yet also bringing the ripe scent of vegetation just on the verge of decay, a reminder of how quickly plants grow, bloom, die and are reborn over and over in a tropical climate. This perfume has no rough edges; just a fecund smoothness that melds perfectly with skin and the final drydown reveals the full beauty of the ambergris. This would be a real treat to have for special occasions, especially romantic ones, since it is so soft and sensuous. It’s way out of my price range, but I am very happy to have had the opportunity to smell this wonderful composition and I recommend that anyone who thinks that natural perfumes can’t be great should try it.

Disclosure: The perfumes I sampled were given to me for testing by Mandy Aftel at my request.

Image credit: Glowing sky over field image from

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Anonymous oil tank installation MA said...

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11:14 AM EST  
Blogger mandy said...

Donna – Thank you so much, you are fabulous! I am so thrilled (and honored) to read more of your writing about my work. It means so much to me - I feel quite blessed to have had so much of your brilliant attention. Your perception and translation of scent into words is so powerful and brilliant, and with such a warm, personal touch.
- Mandy Aftel

11:45 AM EST  

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