Aftelier Perfumes

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

84 Comments
Cathy April 29, 2008

Chocolate Lovers please try/sniff Mandy's "Cacao". It smells like a chocolate candy cane at first, then bottom notes of blood orange come through. Exquisite. I have been wearing it for 2 years and there isn't a day that goes by that someone asks what it is and where can they get it.

jen February 14, 2008

I got some Aftelier samples in a swap a while back. I tested them all (Tango, Cognac, Cacao and Blond Tabac)and thought they were nice. Then they started to really grow on me and now I need to get some bottles (whenever I save some $$) Worth trying for sure. And I can not resist: More Cowbell!

Robin February 12, 2008

I would agree these are an acquired taste. Somehow though, thought you'd like them more than you did. But, most curious about what you WOULD endorse as an unsniffed purchase?

chayaruchama February 12, 2008

I have quite a few of these- my favorites are Tango and Cepes, but I also lover Shiso, PdM, Cognac, Orchid. The lady is very compelling, gracious, and knowledgeable, too.

Cait February 12, 2008

Hello, I had a great time when I visited Aftelier a couple of years ago. Ms. Aftel was very understanding when I knocked over and spilled one of her antique flacons full of perfume!!! :d I bought a solid jasmine perfume in a little tin that makes me all mushy about the Bay Area, where I discovered jasmine on the vine. I also did love Maroc and found Absinthe strange and animalic in a dirty way I liked. I want to try this one you've reviewed. Lately, as I think about what kind of perfume I'd like to create, it's of a different sort than these. I go for synthetics in a big way because I see it as using all the tools available for marvelous artifice. I do want to try the rest of Aftel's scents that I haven't yet tried, and Tango sounds pretty compelling.

Patty February 12, 2008

Tango will always be barbie sex for me, but I do admire what she does with notes.

Heather February 11, 2008

Oh god, March. You never fail to make me laugh. Flugelhorn and cowbell. I really, really liked Tango when I tried it at Henri Bendel, but I know exactly what you mean. As much as I like the au naturelles, I also like me some flugelhorn and cowbell.

violetnoir February 11, 2008

Gosh, I have seen these somewhere, March, but I can't, for the life of me, remember where. Next time I do though, I will give them a sniff and a whiff. ;) Hugs!

Anthony February 11, 2008

damp here... I can't wait to try these. Who knows when that will be but there's something about their weirdness that is really speaking to me! Something tells me that might hit me like a JAR would.

tmp00 February 11, 2008

I tired these at a store here and I thought they were just lovely, but not something that I'd ever wear. I love your description of the dress- that's exactly it. I can appreciate their intricacy and lovely strangeness, but they just aren't for me. BPAL? :-&

Debbie February 11, 2008

I had never even heard of them. Why is the shipping so high?

BBliss February 11, 2008

Hmmm - sound v. interesting, esp. that Maroc and Tango, and the orchid solid - because I just love perfume solids (ever since I had something from Avon in a gingerbreadman pin - I was 4, but that's another topic entirely...) However, seems like too much trouble to chase around because I like "fragrance with crap in it," too...but if I ever run across, now I'm infomed - thank you!:d

Divina February 11, 2008

Speaking of Chef's Essences, I caught Mandy on an episode of Chic Eats where she had brought some of her essences to the house of a friend who is indeed a chef. She really made an impression on me - I'd love to meet her.

Malena February 11, 2008

i didn´t have much luck with mandy aftel´s scents. perhaps i just can´t wear those natural perfumes... they weren´t horrible, but i wouldn´t wear them myself (even if they were less expensive). i´ve samples of all the ones you mentioned (except fig) & some others as well, but none really worked. cepes & tuberose was all mushrooms on me & smelled of maggi (a german liquid spice mix). after reading marina´s review on tango i had high hopes, but there was an odd note in it as well, something i just don´t feel comfortable with. it vaguely reminded me of the BPAL oils. i cannot wear those either - most of them smell just plain awful on my skin. the only one i quite like is one of her compact perfumes, called orchid. it´s rather lovely, lightly spiced & smells of orchids & orange blossoms. - but: the lasting power is really poor! normally i don´t have any problems with lack of lasting power, but i had to re-apply constantly.

Marina February 11, 2008

Toldja! (said she smugly) :-b

Divalano February 11, 2008

I've tried on the Cepes/Tuberose & the Tango & I must say, I'm glad I'm not the only one who has trouble getting it about these. I really, really want to but ... I don't get it. Maybe I was expecting to smell something right away, maybe I need more patience but ... it was almost like I couldn't find them. I could sort of smell what people were talking about but then ... not. I walked away thinking ok, these just don't work on me. You've convinced me to try again but I'm only half hopeful it'll work. However, aged beeswax, wow. I might need to check into that.

Elle February 11, 2008

I have yet to acquire a taste for the Afteliers, but I seriously suspect it's just a matter of time before I do. I did fall quite hard for Tango, but failed to go back and resample the rest of her line. I'd tried it ages ago and rather missed any potential magic - but did admire her for not boring me. I'm a hardcore SIP fan, so I can see myself coming around to another potentially challenging line. Must. Have. Costus.

Anne February 11, 2008

I have samples of many of the line. I read about them on the site and am drawn to them so I dig them out and try them, again, and again. Confusing. Glad to see they do the same on you. Some days its love, some days like. Most days I get impatient. I think the only one I was able to enjoy the entire day was Shiso. They ARE frustrating but I AM impatient. Note to self.......It's not always about immediate gratification!

Louise February 11, 2008

Ah, this is sooo strange, March! I ordered 6 Aftel samples a few weeks ago, including none of the above-my set includes: Immortelle L'Amour, Razala, Autumn, Espionage, Sabotage, and Palas Atena. I gave all a brief test, found 2 quite nice (Espionage, Palas Atena) and the rest unbearably bizarre on my odd hide. I was very sad about the Immortelle-love that note, but I could only smell bitter vinegar here. I think I still need "pretty". And, perhaps needless to say, the natural perfumes linger only briefly on me. So I says to myself, self, I need to get those Aftels to March to review. And here you are...Of those you reviewed, I have only tried The Cepes/Tuberose (interesting, in a CB kind of way) and Tango (just got light smoke). The set is yours for testing and Aftel Part Deux, if you'd like :d/ I hope the family is recovering from the winter plague :)>-

MattS February 11, 2008

You can never have enough cowbell in a scent. :d Of all these, the Costus stuff has caught my attention more than anything.

Lee February 11, 2008

I've yet to smell any Aftels being this side of the Atlantic. Costus does smell of wet dog though. In a good (and strange) way. Wet dog and dusty attic.:d

Catherine February 11, 2008

OMG, March, perhaps the last thing I needed to see this evening was Aftel's name, for it's just about put me over the edge. :x I've been playing with that shopping cart for weeks now, ever since I stumbled into a swap for Shiso. One swap led to seven swaps, and I have not been disappointed with Aftel's parfums once. They are *delish*! While I've been swapping for bottles unsniffed, I agree that they are sufficiently different--and strange, in ways--that one should try to test them before buying. I think the perfume gods have been watching over me, for they seem made for my skin. On me, there is actually quite a bit of sillage--and on my friend, the perfumes just waft across a couple of feet every time she moves her hand (and that is with a miniscule droplet, too!) I also find that they develop for hours and hours, changing in unexpected ways. While they often begin "earthy" or rich, they grow more and more floral and ethereal, as if I were examining a flower from the soil up to the petals. I'm not sure if you--or others--have found that to be the case. I'm eagerly waiting to read the comments from others. Of the seven I have, I'm unsure if I have any real favorites...maybe Shiso, maybe Blond Tabac, maybe...no, I love them inordinately, whichever I put on. The one I've been eyeing to buy for weeks now is Parfum de Maroc. I wonder how long I can withstand the desire, now that you've written such a review!! Big kiss for bringing these more into the limelight!