One of the best parts of the independent perfumers is they aren’t making metric tons of fragrance. The opposite is true. They can take a precious ingredient of which there is only enough for a limited edition and let it out into the hands of perfume lovers. Some of my favorites are introductions to heretofore unknown ingredients or specially aged or distilled versions of more common ingredients. In the hands of a perfumer who is sharing this kind of gift you hope for the best. Mandy Aftel goes far beyond that in Aftelier Perfumes Joie de Vert.
Any regular reader knows I am an aficionado of green scents. Just the name, translated as Joy of Green led me to believe this was going to be something I was destined to enjoy. Ms. Aftel uses as the focal point of this perfume a twenty-year old artisanal batch of anise hyssop essential oil. This is a deeply licorice-like material. For those looking for a reference it is more Ricola than Twizzlers.
Licorice in perfume is at its best when it is intensely herbal. This anise hyssop oil is a softly herbal licorice that also contains a loamy forest floor green as part of its profile. From the first moments I smelled this I felt I was hiking through a deep forest. Glints of sunlight through the dense canopy come via orange. A woody herbalness vis coriander begins to form the trees. This sets the stage for a catalytic reaction as oakmoss, and fire tree oil exert themselves on the anise hyssop. The licorice-y piece never recedes but it does alter as the oakmoss adds a textural velvety greenness. The fire tree oil threads a slightly animalic facet into the green. This might be a forest but there are some things living out there. As this assembles itself there is a truly resplendent green in place.
Joie de Vert has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage. This wears quite close to the skin in a shimmery way.
If you are a fan of green ingredients in perfume this is something you must experience just to smell the anise hyssop oil. It is unlikely you will ever have another opportunity to try a 20 y.o. version again. It is the soul of natural perfumery of which Ms. Aftel has been a part of for decades now. Which brings me joy no matter what color it is in.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Aftelier Perfumes.
This is the time of year when I start looking back as I assemble my short list for the best perfumes of the year. One thing it does for me is I spend so much time looking at the new tree in front of me that it forces me to look up at the entire forest. In the perfumed world that is 2020 one trend was honey that was not honey. What I mean by that is many perfumers wanted to have the sweetness of honey in their perfumes. They also wanted to avoid using actual honey. That ingredient sometimes balances on a knife edge of lovely and not so lovely. Which is why it is not one of my favorite ingredients. Leave it to the creative perfumers to teach me something new. My latest instructor is Mandy Aftel and her Aftelier Perfumes Violet Ambrosia.
I have always been a fan of the ingredient broom flower. It has a dried sweetgrass vibe which I would not necessarily think of as a honey surrogate. Ms. Aftel is not working with run-of-the-mill broom. She has an absolute which has aged for twenty years plus. She says that is what amplifies the honey characteristic of the ingredient. Violet Ambrosia shows that off.
The perfume opens with the violet and broom together. Violet has always had a slightly candied quality to me. Ms. Aftel is using a distillate which gives that some life. It adds to the scent of this aged broom. The richness supplies a honeyed effect, but it comes via that sweetgrass I know from more pedestrian versions of the ingredient. I kept thinking this was a botanical version of honey like ambrette is of musk. It forms a softly vibrant accord around which the rest of the perfume develops. Some powdery mimosa and carnal ylang-ylang sing of innocence and not. Violet leaf adds a focus before things diffuse too much. Vanilla and sandalwood form an appropriately warm woody foundation.
Violet Ambrosia has 12-14 hour longevity and is primarily a skin scent.
I have been looking back over the year to remind myself of the best. Violet Ambrosia will be on that list. I must thank Professor Aftel for her latest lesson, on broom, to this ever-curious perfume lover.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Aftelier Perfumes.
I have had an affection for walking through the woods since I was a Scout, as a child. We would spend many S. Florida weekends among the pine trees learning skills for our merit badges. I was always kind of reluctant to take a shower after returning home. I liked the way the remnants of the scent of the weekend clung to me. The bits of sticky pine sap under my nails I could smell even after the shower. I continue to enjoy a walk through a pine forest, decades past my scouting days. It is one of my favorite smells of nature. It draws me closer to nature. Aftelier Perfumes Forest Bathing has given me a new perspective on that.
There has been something unique to the smell of a pine forest to me. It isn’t just the terpenic nature of the pine trees themselves. It was the expansiveness of the space in between. If you are trying to make a perfume which captures that you literally have to find the forest instead of the trees. Ms. Aftel finds the entire forest including what lies between the woods.
Ms. Aftel begins with the trees. I was expecting Christmas tree redux but Ms. Aftel is more creative than that. There is fir balsam but there are also the cleaner woody lines of hinoki, cypress, and sugi wood. They represent a delineated style of woodiness while also imparting a soft focus to the entire tree accord. The forest surrounding comes via the surrogates of filtered sunlight; pear, beta-ionones, and linalyl acetate. The latter two are the main chemical components of violets and bergamot, respectively. By going directly for those ingredients, in concentrated form. It also creates a gauzy effect to match what came before with the trees. The floor of the forest is represented by a fabulous myrrh which has a freshness I don’t usually associate with it. As it comes together, I am surrounded by the forest.
Forest Bathing has 12-14 hour longevity and is a skin scent with minimal sillage.
When I take a walk in the pine woods near home it is a meditative endeavor. I walk through the tall sentinel pines while breathing in the natural smells. It is only after being anointed with Forest Bathing that Ms. Aftel reminded me of the glory within the forest.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Aftelier Perfumes.
My love of camping came from being a Boy Scout. The camping trips we took throughout Florida every summer were transformative. I learned to love the geography and wildlife of my home through spending time in it. If there is something which reminds me of those days, it is the smell of the Florida pine. We would hike all day through forests of them and camp at night underneath them; sentinels from the darkness outside our campfire. It is one of the beautiful things about perfume when I smell something for the first time, and it connects to a memory. When I received my sample of Aftelier Perfumes Embers & Musk I was back in the woods of Florida surrounded by pine trees.
Mandy Aftel is one of our greatest independent perfumers working with an all-natural palette. She has been one of the most important members of the American indie perfumery community. Every new perfume from her is a new opportunity to learn what the possibilities are for natural perfumery. In Embers & Musk she chose pine tar to represent the embers and ambrettolide as the botanical source of musk. I am a fan of the pungency of pine tar in perfume. I was worried that the delicate ambrettolide would get stuck in the stickiness of the tar. What happens is why I write about perfume and Ms. Aftel makes perfume she knew exactly how to give both room to shine.
When I climbed my share of Florida pine trees as a boy, I always came away with some of the resin on my hands and legs. If I got enough on me, I could roll it up into a pea-shaped ball which I would roll around in my fingers. That fresh scent comes forth in the earliest moments of Embers & Musk. Yuzu and apple add a crisp framework for the pine. This is the fresh smell of the pines at sunset. Baie rose comes along to begin to modify the piney keynote nudging it in an herbal direction. This sets the stage for the smoke to arise. So many perfumers go right for the cade oil and often unbalance their perfume. Ms. Aftel has alternatives to that. Here she uses guaiacol as the source of her smoke. Guaiacol is a component of whisky and if you really focus on it you will get that. Ms. Aftel is not after a boozy effect she wants that smell of campfire clinging to clothing. The guaiacol is threaded through the pine tar with a precision to achieve just that. This is where the ambrettolide comes in. It adds a clean sweaty skin scent underneath the smoke. It would remind me of sitting in my tent before going to sleep. The remnants of the smoke from the campfire over the smell of my skin.
Embers & Musk has 10-12 hours of longevity and average sillage.
Ms. Aftel has created a perfume with a large presence while adding in the subtlety you might not think possible in a perfume where pine tar is the keynote. It is why she remains one of my favorite perfumers. Embers & Musk took me back to those summer nights hiking into the pine woods of Florida.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Aftelier Perfumes.
One of the books I used to broaden my knowledge of perfume was “Essence & Alchemy” by Mandy Aftel. A combination of history and how-to it was part of my introductory library as I sought to understand more. It was a short step to trying some of the author’s perfumes. Ms. Aftel is one of the most successful independent perfumers because of the foundational knowledge she brings to making her fragrances. The first perfume for her brand, Aftelier Perfumes, was a solid perfume called Alchemy. Like so many independent perfumers it was a rich perfume experience based on one-of-a-kind materials. It is this which makes independent perfumery as exciting to me.
Ms. Aftel recently discovered the remnants of those materials and has decided to bring Alchemy back as a limited edition. This time it is as an oil formulation instead of a solid perfume. What makes this something to be sought out are the presence of three materials, two of which are no longer available. They are aged versions of labdanum absolute, vanilla absolute, and ylang-ylang concrete. These three ingredients are like early Holiday presents to perfume lovers. They are what creates the magic in Alchemy.
Alchemy opens on a spicy citrus accord of orange and black pepper. This is reminiscent of the spiced orange which is prevalent around the Holidays. It is an ideal Seasonal opening. It then transitions into the rich floral heart I recall from the original. This is where the ylang-ylang concrete becomes the star. Ylang-ylang has this fleshy quality which I find appealing. The concrete brings that out. It adds a sensual depth which is amplified with absolutes of Turkish rose and jasmine. The spicy rose captures the pepper and orange from the top accord. The jasmine adds an undercurrent of indolic flower. I’m not sure I can overstate the beauty of this ylang-ylang being used here. This is the kind of complexity which comes from the finest ingredients plus it has been aged for an additional fifteen years or so. This moves toward a comforting base accord where the labdanum and vanilla come together over benzoin. The two aged ingredients provide subtle grace notes throughout the later stages especially the vanilla which finds just the right balance of sweet to contrast the resins. Once Alchemy is all together it is the same opulent floral I remembered.
Alchemy has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Experiencing Alchemy again after so many years it reinforces all of what I think sets independent perfumery apart. The singular vision of an artist like Ms. Aftel. The use of unique small-batch materials. Finally, an appreciation of history applied to today. Alchemy is a special experience by returning to the beginning.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Aftelier Perfumes.
We did one of those trips through New England when I was a young boy. One of the destinations I was looking forward to was Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. While most of my friends were big on dinosaurs; I was all about whales. Ever since the factoid of the blue whale being the largest animal on Earth lodged in my head that was my giant animal of choice.
Mystic Seaport is a museum dedicated to the New England whaling business. As we walked through the grounds there were two things which caught my attention; scrimshaw and ambergris. Scrimshaw was engraving done on the ivory they harvested from the whales they caught. I was transfixed by an innate ancient quality of the pieces on display. The etching was fabulously intricate in depicting the ships they were on. I would buy a silver ring with a small piece of scrimshaw in it. It was my first piece of jewelry. The second thing was exactly the thing that would intrigue a young boy when I was asked if I wanted to smell whale vomit. “Yes, please” as I waved my hand frantically. I don’t know what I expected but what I smelled was something which smelled of the ocean more than upchuck. Although it was plenty stinky enough to satisfy my adolescent anticipation. When Mandy Aftel contacted me to tell me her latest perfume, Aftelier Perfumes Antique Ambergris, was on the way my now more mature anticipation was piqued.
Ms. Aftel is one of the crown jewels of the American independent perfume community. She was one of the first. She has been giving, as a teacher and a writer, of her knowledge. She also runs the Aftel Archive of Curious Scents. One of the stars of that collection is a 100-year-old bottle of antique Ambreine. Now you might think that’s a typo, but it isn’t. Ambreine is the chemical which makes up the floating piece of whale excretion which becomes ambergris. Ambreine in its pure form has no scent. Once it is set forth to float upon the sea, exposed to sun, and eventually to beach itself; the molecule is designed to undergo multiple chemical reactions as the ambreine reacts in multiple directions. The longer it is exposed the more complex the mixture. Once you smell a long-aged sample it will draw you in with its kaleidoscopic nature.
At the request of Ms. Aftel’s best friend, who had fallen hard for the old bottle of ambreine, she decided to create a perfume. This is what has become Antique Ambergris. I also love the idea of a perfume which is based on ancient ingredients is produced as a solid perfume. Ms. Aftel is one of the few producing solid perfumes and I find the tactile quality of smearing a dab very sensual. I know they are difficult to do but for this perfume it fit so well.
After spreading some Antique Ambergris on my skin, the aged ambergris Ms. Aftel uses floats to the top. This is not the century old version from the museum, but it is plenty old enough to be compelling. What is amazing about older perfume ingredients like this is the multitude of grace notes which surround them. Ms. Aftel calls them “phantom notes” but these are way more substantial than flitting wraiths They provide shading impossible to be replicated without having aged. This kind of experience is tripled by her adding in antique civet and aged cypress absolute. As these all come together the essential quality of ambergris, civet, and cypress are there, but it is the grace notes which provide the joy of Antique Ambergris as it develops over hours on my skin. These three notes are supported by a sturdy coumarin but it really is just a pedestal for the stars of the show.
Antique Ambergris has 10-12 hour longevity and low sillage.
Antique Ambergris is an example of what the best independent perfumers can produce with small batch ingredients. There is almost nowhere else something like Antique Ambergris could come from. Ms. Aftel captures the ancient art of scrimshaw with an exquisite perfume etching of antiquity.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Aftelier Perfumes.
When I was really starting my descent into perfumed obsession in the early years of the 2000’s it started with the discovery of niche perfumes. What that meant to me were small brands with distinctive artistic aesthetics. Those early years of this century saw the rapid expansion of this style of perfume. Presenting themselves as an alternative to what was available at the mall. It was, and remains, part of the reason I enjoy perfume.
Then in 2006 on the blogs I follow there was mention of this new perfume from Switzerland. A young artist by the name of Andy Tauer had released a perfume called L’Air du Desert Marocain. My perfume world changed again. I discovered there was another world of fragrance makers who worked on their own; independent perfumers. It would be the acclaim for L’Air du Desert Marocain that pointed those who love perfume to a new place.
Every year I am struck by how vital this community is. What spurred me to write this column was my editorial calendar for the next week. One of many important lessons I learned from my Editor-in-Chief at CaFleureBon, Michelyn Camen, is the importance of keeping an editorial calendar. That means I have all the different days subjects planned out in advance. Sometime when I look at my white board I can see patterns which arise out of the list. Looking over next week’s list I saw six wonderful perfumes from six different established independent perfumers. It made me think about where we are now.
One of the things I write about a lot is the concept of a brand aesthetic. It should be easier when an independent perfumer is the only voice in the room. From experience I can tell you it is not. I try a dozen or so new independent brands a year. I provide private feedback which is just between the perfumer and I. One of the more common sentences I write is, “What are you trying to achieve besides smelling good?” The brands which have succeeded have almost always had a personal answer to that. The ones who ask me “What do you mean?” is probably a reason why they don’t succeed.
Proof this has succeeded is there is a part of Hr. Tauer’s perfumes which has been dubbed a “Tauer-ade”. There is a scented fingerprint which says where this perfume came from. The same can be said for Charna Ethier of Providence Perfume Co. or Maria McElroy of Aroma M. I feel if I was handed any of these, and others, perfumes they are identifiable because of this. Independent perfumers can refine a personal vision over every release.
Another more fractious aspect of independent perfumery is very few of them have any formal training. Like all artistic efforts there are the precocious few who are blessed with innate talent. For those the years spent making their perfumes provides its own kind of training; learning through trial and error. That same effort is also rewarded for those who learn entirely from that. Time can be a great leveler. Some of the early founders have become the teachers for those who are drawn to make their own perfume. Mandy Aftel has produced great perfume, under he Aftelier Perfumes label, and a wave of students from her California studio. AbdesSalaam Attar does the same in Europe.
One of the most important aspects of the current state of independent perfumery is the ability of the perfumers to use small batches of amazing ingredients. Particularly over the last few years there have been releases which are made from materials that have been gone from mainstream and niche perfumery due to the difficulty of sourcing enough to produce hundreds of bottles. The independent perfumer can produce tens of bottles if they desire. A good example are the perfumes of Russian Adam under his Areej Le Dore brand. He can source actual musk from the animal through a license he has. Other independent perfumers create their own tinctures, botanical hydrosols, co-distillates, or enfleurage. Each of these create magic. The botanicals sourced by Yasuyuki Shinohara from his home island of Hokkaido, Japan for his Di Ser line are what makes those perfumes unique.
The final thing which has made independent perfumery so important is it lives outside the geography of France, the US, Italy or Great Britain. For over 100 years that was where the perfume we knew came from. Independent perfumery takes place everywhere with the influences of location finding its way into the bottle. All four of the countries where modern perfume was born have their share of independent perfumers who have things to say about that history in their new perfumes. The perspective that comes from elsewhere is invaluable.
If you need the best argument for the importance of independent perfumer in 2018 follow along next week as the perfumes speak for themselves.
As I reach the end of the year I am beginning to start looking back over 2017 looking for trends. Two things which stick out was tuberose was everywhere. The other trend was deconstructing a familiar keynote. In some cases, there were deconstructed tuberoses. I will say that I enjoy the perspective of that style of perfumery, but I must admit I had been craving a more fully rounded tuberose. Natural perfumer Mandy Aftel was here to grant me my wish with Velvet Tuberose.
Ms. Aftel is one of the best independent natural perfumers because she has had years of acquaintance with her palette. What this generally means is she produces natural perfumes of unusual depth. I am always impressed at the layering she can attain in her perfumes. Velvet Tuberose is a veritable masterclass in using a keynote as the foundation from which specifically chosen notes provide new perspectives. One additional note on Velvet Tuberose is it is a solid perfume. As I have mentioned in previous reviews of other Aftelier solid perfumes, the tactile experience of smearing a thin layer on my skin is much more intimate than spraying it on.
The beginning of Velvet Tuberose is the tuberose absolute that will be present from beginning to end. This is not a deconstructed floral this is an edifice of tuberose; solid and soaring. Tuberose absolute also brings out some of the other facets besides the central indolic floralcy. This is evident when fir picks up the green mentholated thread which runs through all good tuberose. Here it is like pine becomes the needle with which to pick out this green quality. There is a buttery creaminess to tuberose. Ms. Aftel matches it with a creamy sandalwood. As the two styles of creamy combine there is a soft sweetness which arises. Finally, an earthy patchouli captures those indoles and buries them in damp soil. None of this really develops in phases it is all happening simultaneously. It depends on where your focus is. There were times the patchouli perspective hit me first then I notice the fir and vice versa. It means Velvet Tuberose is an expertly blended fragrance.
Velvet Tuberose has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
As much as I adore the idea of wanting to see the structures of perfumery pulled apart. It takes something like Velvet Tuberose to remind me that those same structures still are worth re-visiting. Ms. Aftel was the perfect tour guide to take me back to a towering tuberose which is fully constructed.
Disclosure: This review was based ona sample provided by Aftelier.
The essence of curiosity is to look around the corner, walk through the door, open the book, or look inside the drawer. A life where one avoids these things is one where something inspiring is most likely missed. When we went on family road trips I had some of my most fun poking around in the roadside shops. The ones which had signs like “If you break it, you bought it.” Each place was an undiscovered country where possibility could present anything to me. I still have some of the items from those road trips on my desk. Those early discoveries remind me of what I might still find today.
I wonder if the curious, today, spend too much time swiping and clicking their way through the electronic roadside shops. A step away from experiencing things on the electronic highway is something perfumer Mandy Aftel just opened recently.
Ms. Aftel has been a consistent source of reference for perfume lovers. Her first book “Essence and Alchemy” was one of the earliest essential fragrance references. Through her work with the Natural Perfumer’s Guild, in its early days, along with the classes she has taught her knowledge has been easily shared with many who want to try their hand at perfume making. I have no interest in making perfume myself although Ms. Aftel, through her books, has explained the basics I should be aware of. What all of you who have read my words know has been a consistent fascination for me are the ingredients. The Aftel Archive of Curious Scents is a museum of over three hundred natural sources of perfume ingredients. I don’t know how or when but I am going to go spend an hour inside this magnificent collection.
Until then I have to satisfy my curiosity with Ms. Aftel’s latest perfume inspired by her museum called, Aftelier Perfumes Curious. The idea behind the perfume is what it might smell like if you stood in the middle of The Aftel Archive of Curious Scents and inhaled. What comes to life in that breath is a mixture of smoky muskiness contrasted by spicy citrus.
Curious opens with a full-spectrum orange accord. Ms. Aftel combines the green leaf with a bitter orange. In the sour, the green finds some purchase to form an accord which feels rounded out. It gets roughed up a bit with some spices cutting through the citrus. The heart is smoke over wood. The wood is identified as Siam wood. It smells like an exotic hardwood after being charred a bit. This is a light smoke not the obtrusive kind you more often find. Out of the smoke comes tobacco absolute. Ms. Aftel calls it the ultimate botanical musk. I have never looked at it from that perspective. It is made more malleable by also using hay absolute as a catalyst to spark the development.
Curious has 8-10 hour longevity and minimal sillage.
Come Inside My Friends To the Show That Never Ends….
Curious is like the carnival barker enticing you closer to the attraction just through that door over there. Like those family road trips, I want to take a drive to Berkeley to visit this newest of roadside attractions wafting Curious the entire way.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Aftelier Perfumes.
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.