Mrs. C is a cross stitcher. As a result, I have spent a lot of time at exhibitions of different types of fabric art. One version I have come to have an appreciation for by attending these shows is that of tapestry. In a funny way, my affection for it comes from a line in a biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson by author Robert Caro. In the introduction to the third volume “Master of the Senate” Mr. Caro describes LBJ’s use of power like this; “Throughout Lyndon Johnson’s life, there had been hints of what he might do with great power, should he ever succeed in attaining it-bright threads gleaming in a dark tapestry: hints of compassion for the downtrodden, and of a passion to raise them up; hints that he might use power not only to manipulate others but to help others-to help moreover, those who most needed help.” That sentence caused me to look at tapestries more closely looking for the contrasting threads to the larger themes because it was there one could find illuminating surprises.
There are few perfumers who I would expect can truly create a fragrant tapestry on purpose, although if asked Mandy Aftel would be one of the first names I would think of. One reason is that throughout her fragrance career she has thrived by creating extremely layered compositions. When Ms. Aftel sent me the press release for hew newest, Aftelier Perfumes Amber Tapestry, I expected something which would live up to its name.
"Maize" by Sheila Hicks
Ms. Aftel used as an inspiration piece a tapestry by artist Sheila Hicks called “Maize”. The piece pictured above is one of her miniature works which she calls “minimes”. As you look at the piece and begin to let your nose imagine the way that could become a perfume you get a glimpse into what Ms. Aftel has achieved with Amber Tapestry. While you look at the larger blocks of color, just as with the quote above, I want to draw your attention to the thinner strands. Amber Tapestry has a prominent set of olfactory blocks, as well, to which Ms. Aftel adds some impressive thinner perfumed threads which bring it all together.
The first layer of this consists of the sweet vanilla cherry of heliotropin mixed with the brightness of yellow mandarin. Each manages to stay distinct from the other not forming a greater accord; much like the first two blocks of color in the inspiration piece. In the heart two sources of jasmine form the main color blocks. Jasmine sambac provides the transition from the mandarin to the floral as each carries significant aspects of the other. Once that movement is completed jasmine grandiflorum comes forward to add in the more traditional sweet and indolic contrast of jasmine. The thin threaded layers here are courtesy of pear to tease the fruitiness of the sambac out a bit more and cinnamon to keep the indoles just a tad more behaved. Now we come to the large yellow block of amber. Ms. Aftel builds it from labdanum and ambreine. This is really a recapitulation of the two jasmines because ambreine is a more refined version of labdanum which accentuates the sweeter aspects. It is one of the reasons labdanum is so versatile because it can be altered by the method of isolation used. In this case the two forms of labdanum mesh together to form a greater accord with the ambreine connecting to the sweet floralcy of jasmine while the labdanum itself provides the required depth and presence. Alongside the amber accord, Ms. Aftel matches maltol to amplify the sweet which transitions to coumarin to elevate the toasty warmth and finally benzoin to pick up the resinous nature of the labdanum. The final layers of castoreum and ambergris add a whiff of the animalic for the final color block.
Amber Tapestry has 10-12 hour longevity and low sillage.
Ms. Aftel has created a fittingly complex perfume in Amber Tapestry which lives up to its name. Just as when I look at an actual tapestry it is those complementary filaments which thread it all together.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Aftelier Perfumes.