The first time I smelled the Aftelier scents in Henri Bendel a few months ago, I practically fell down on my knees in thanks that I hadn´t succumbed to the poetry in Marina´s review of Tango and bought one of those cute mini-sets. My initial reaction to the line ranged from indifference to disgust. They smelled strange, and not in a way I was digging.
But you know how it goes. On my recent New York trip, the same trip I fell for the old-fashioned charms of the Teo Cabanel line, I had a very different reaction on my second go-round with the Aftelier. If you want to read more about the brand, click here.
The Aftelier scents need time to bloom on the skin. On me, they either wear very close with minimal sillage or (if I get frustrated or impatient and dump on too much) it´s like drowning; there doesn´t seem to be much middle ground. I wish they smelled on me the way they smell in the monclins they have on display, which – can I just say how much I love those things? How great it is to stick my nose in one of those big ol´ snifters and get a bee´s perspective on a flower? (Since we’re a full service blog, here’s a page on making your own monclin.)
My favorites from the Aftelier line:
Cepes and Tuberose, a wonderfully oddball mélange of heady tuberose and loamy mushrooms. I know some of you love this scent. I don´t, but I admire it; it´s an exploration of the relationship among notes that are earthy, green, and indolic. If I ever turn into a tuberose fiend, this is going on my must-try list.
Fig – which if I am understanding from the site is really notes of jasmine, fir absolute and yuzu, working together to mimic “the richness of ripe black figs.” I was on that fig bender recently, and this wouldn´t be at the top of my fig list, but the more I sniffed it, the more interesting it was. This one, to me, was about finding the perfect tension between something sharp (fir) and something richly indolic (jasmine), with its resemblance to fig being secondary.
Parfum de Maroc – notes of Bulgarian rose, galangal, nutmeg, black pepper, and bitter orange. The first time out, I thought, huh, it´s like one of those really nice local-artisan essential oils called Tangier Souk or something. The second time, I thought, no – this is Tangier Souk as envisioned by Diana Vreeland at the height of her tenure at Vogue, the perfume version of a spread featuring camels, ruby-encrusted robes, red lips, kohl eyes, and tanned skin, a snake charmer and some jewel-toned afternoon light. Delicious and narcotic.
Shiso — “based on an old Geisha formula, with notes of shiso leaf, agarwood and turn-of-the-century spices.” I find this almost unbearably pungent; it smells simultaneously like tea and mint and cumin and other things I can´t identify. On the other hand, judging by the fact that I could not stop sniffing it when I wore it, I´m going to declare it a success. Although it didn´t floor me quite as much as …
Tango. Tango´s core is something called choya nakh, which the Aftelier website describes as an “extremely intense, deep smoky aroma from baked seashells.” It has additional notes of champaca, honey and spicy notes. I´ve put off this review several times because, like Marina, I´m having an incredibly difficult time coming up with a coherent way to describe it. The words I´ve discarded so far: smoky, roasted, sultry, dry, burnt, driftwood. The champaca´s exotic sweetness, along with that of the honey, is a counterpoint to the the fire-on-the-beach smell of the seashells. There´s a sweet-saltiness to the smell, animalic yet mineral, warm rather than cool. I find it sensual and intimate rather than in-your-face sexy.
At the end of the day, I like my fragrance with more crap in it – more bombast, more fakery, more flugelhorn and cowbell and what have you. For me, wearing Maroc, Shiso and Tango was like slipping into the stunning, custom-made, intricately embroidered dress of a chic bohemian friend in Santa Fe – and then realizing how stupid I looked. I am not endorsing an unsniffed purchase of these, because they are in my opinion something of an acquired taste. But if you run across them somewhere, do yourself a favor and give them a sniff. I don´t know anything about Mandy Aftel, but the scents I tried, and poking around through the perfume notes on the Aftelier website, lead me to conclude that she isn´t much interested in conventionally pretty smells; in fact, she seems drawn to the challenge of writing her own perfume music using fairly disparate notes, with strange (and strangely satisfying) results.
PS. Perfume freaks who like to play: on her website, there´s a section of essential oils and absolutes under “Botanicals.” In addition to choya nakh you can buy costus, “an aroma of old precious wood and violets, with a distinctly animal undertone of human hair, fur coats and wet dogs,” as well as aged beeswax absolute, broom absolute, hay absolute, “powerful and sweet, like dried figs, this base note works well with indole-laden florals, lending an herbaceous-sweet undertone…” okay, are you damp with desire yet? Also of interest is the Chef´s essences, edible flavoring oils (cardamom, cinnamon, jasmine, olive, rose, tobacco) along with suggested usages (cepes in your mashed potatoes for that wild-mushroom touch, saffron-infused olive oil).
seashells, mezzotint: M. C. Escher, mcescher.com