Aftelier Sepia Review – Only 700 years behind everyone else!

Well, crap!  I thought I was on the bleeding edge of reviews for Mandy Aftel’s Sepia, but a quick Google around puts paid to that notion.  This, this, this, this and  probably missed some.


Aftelier Sepia

Aftelier Sepia - dust animated into life


Sepia.  That is all, class is dismissed.  

I kid!!  Well, not really. That sums it up better than the nickel’s worth of words I can put together. Dust that is alive, buoyed up on a current of air, something more than it really is, and it rolls, that’s a Kansas Dust Storm  – it is pulling up dirt, decay, manure, mold, hay, grass, throwing it in the air, and it dances and holds together as something not solid, but more than solid, taking what is dead and making it live.

The afternoon this dust storm rolled through had this jacked-up feel to the air – it was hot, but a cool tinge, and nothing felt quite right. When that storm appeared on the horizon, we all stared at it for the longest time as it got bigger, puzzling through the “um, why is that thunderstorm on the ground?” idiocy that naturally occurs when you are seeing something that used to happen daily in the ’30s, but we had never seen in our lifetime.    My mother was an infant when the worst of them were rolling through, so she didn’t remember what they looked like.  My father would have been about 10, but he was dead and was not throwing down any clues for us, though I can still hear him laughing because I swear the dust animated him too.

I’m not sure if it was 10 minutes or 30 minutes before we reached consensus on what we were seeing – a ’30s-style Dirt Storm in something like 2006.  We watched it in fear and dread and serious jaw-dropping awe, despite knowing this was not that kind of dirt storm, and we weren’t staying in some plastered-together sodhouse on the prairie, and there wouldn’t be one the next day to lay another layer of fine dust over everything.  But we felt it – the air prickling, the smell of dirt, and all the other smells that it sucked up with it, and it churned and eventually rolled over us,the wind howling.

First time I smelled Sepia, it was just like that – some fecal qualities to it, underlying rot, hay, grass, layers of dust and time had smoothed them all out until I splashed it on and disturbed their peace, and they fanned out, animating time and death.  Sepia is brilliant, as is Mandy, because she made it out of blood cedarwood, yellow mandarin, pink grapefruit, pink lotus, strawberry, jasmine grandiflorum, cocoa, coffee, flowering tobacco, oud, indole, ambergris, cepes, and labdanum.  And I just looked at this list of notes again and asked, where did you hide the necromancer note?!?!?!  She was inspired by Ghost Towns, and I’ll go along with that as long as the Ghosts are still walking-around dust piles.

On a level of 1-10 for Perfume Difficulty Sniffage, this is a solid 9, maybe a 10, depending on how patient you are in the drydown, which is really lovely after that rollicking start. I haven’t spend any time in discussing that because it’s so secondary to the really great parts!  You keep a smidge of the weird, diminishing, but never gone, but it’s completely wearable and completely distracting.  If you are swanning through this blog by accident and think you need  some of this, and the most difficult perfume you’ve attempted is Michael Kors Treacly Sweet Island Vanilla Rum, you might want to slow your roll a little. You’ve been warned.

I did sample the parfum version, and my source was Mandy.  I will have some of the EDP I can give away as samples to three lucky commenters.  So have you tried anything by Mandy? Tango (plastic sex doll head (go read it, it’s so perverse) or some version of that – I completely forgot about that review!  Hard to tell from reading it, but I really do love Tango) or Cacao or Cepes and Tuberose, Secret Garden, anything? Have you just missed that boat?  I have my little perfumers workbook course and kit that I’ve been sitting on for months now that Mandy has, but I am so inspired by this scent, I’m sitting down and starting on it pronto so I can make something absolutely not as interesting as this, but I’ll tell you all about my fumblings, and that will make it fun for all of us!

Winners of the Guerlain Myrrh sample – Julie, violetnoir (where have you been, woman, I’ve missed you, and congrats!  You should drop by more often) and Portia Turbo-Gear.  Just click on the Drop us a Note at the top (look up!!!) and remind me what you’ve won and give me your address.  I’ll give you a quick confirm once I get it so you know it didn’t land in my spam net.

  • Hester says:

    Oh man, this sounds just far beyond amazing. Aftelier is one of the many, many brands that hasn’t come to us in South Africa and that I’ve not found anywhere in Europe when I’ve been there. ‘Necromancer’ is the word that’s really stoking my fire here . . .

  • maggie says:

    Aftelier perfume is the perfume for me – I have smelled a few samples now and love every one, especially Fig. They are just so interesting! Feels like wearing the equivalent of Jung’s ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections’.

  • Natalie says:

    I’ll admit it, calling a scent “difficult” or “challenging” is like catnip to me — mrawwwrrr! I totally understand the commenter above who just wants to smell nice, but I do love to sample odd things, whether it’s food or perfume or people, and once in a while those oddballs turn out to be your soul mate. And even the icky ones can be fun in that eeeuuuwww-smell-THIS-one kind of way.

    I haven’t ever sampled anything by Mandy Aftel, but I’ve often been tempted and would love to remedy my failure!

  • Dionne says:

    Patty, this post is a rollicking delight. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the Letters to a Fellow Perfumer between Mandy and Laurie Erickson, being a huge fan of Laurie’s work, but I have yet to try anything by Mandy – so many scents, so little time!

    • Patty says:

      I really should have read those letters, but time is always at a premium, unfortunately. But I think not reading them kept me from having any preconceived notion of what the exact intent was, which I like more often than not.

      I agree, so many scents. Sometimes I feel bored beyond belief, I think it was another of the perfumista phase – the fugue. But I finally seem to have snapped out of it, and all is right with the world.

  • Flora says:

    Don’t worry, your reivew is not the last – mine is still pending! 🙂

    I liked Sepia very much but I had a different experience than yours – no “necromancer” for me, just a little animalic foxiness to make it interesting. Or is my tolerance for serious skank just getting higher with time?

    • Patty says:

      Aha! I feel much better now!

      the necromancer was the animation of the scent when it felt like it shouldn’t be animated at all. I get the animalic foxiness, but it wasn’t the main feature. It was how it all came together.

      Of course, I also believe your tolerance for serious skank is getting higher. I thought mine was until I got that McQueen Kingdom. Daaayum. I didn’t know anything could leave me that smut-woozy.

  • ana says:

    Hi, Patty! Great review as usual! never tried anything from Mandy’s line.I’m struggling to get to grips with Europe’s fragrance landscape first.And what an expensive journey that is! Anyway , thank you very much for the draw! Would love to win one of the samples.

  • Connie says:

    I’ve never tried anything from this line but would love to do so. Thank you for the draw. 🙂

  • Mandy Aftel says:

    What a stunning review Patty – I was quite swept away! I love your lively style and inspired evocation of the Kansas Dust Storm, thank you for this precious gem!
    xo Mandy

  • Janice says:

    I got a sample of this and didn’t like it, or just didn’t get it, the first couple of times I wore it… but I kept coming back to it because it was so strange. Now I think I’m addicted. I also love Tango and Cepes & Tuberose, which are both gorgeous in completely unexpected ways.

    Please do report on what happens when you start to work with the perfumer’s kit!

    • Patty says:

      That was me the first time I was trying it last week when I was writing about something else. It just kept distracting me horribly. I’ve been wearing it on the inside of my wrist for the last two days, and it sticks there most of the day, and it just slowly fades, like a top winding down slowly. then I spin it up again.

      I will. anything terrible happens, you guys will be the first to know it!

  • dleep says:

    I have never tried anything from this line. I would love to sample this. Thank you.

  • HB says:

    Wow – I never shy away from a challenge and if there’s magic afoot I’d have a hard time resisting this one. Would love to be in the draw. It could be my first of Mandy’s fragrances.

  • Irina says:

    please, enter me the draw- never tried any of Mandy’s creations

  • Barbara says:

    Don’t know if I’m eligible cause I won a sample of Cartier in Feb. but would like to be entered. Never tried an Aftelier (Honey Blossom) sounds right up my alley!

  • AnnieA says:

    Will have to get a sample of the cepes one for a foodie friend…

    • Patty says:

      but it’s mushrooms and tuberose. I think it;s a great combination, not one I’d put together, but, well, you know!

  • bookhouseshell says:

    what a great review! Kudos! I’ve never sniffed Aftelier, guess I didn’t know what I was missing, but now I do, so please enter me in the draw.

    • Patty says:

      am I going to have 100 people hating me now after they get their sample from Mandy and go… um, really?

      so much pressure in this reviewing stuff. 🙂 I’m kidding! I love talking people into huffing something different. yeah, I was that kid – hey, try this, it tastes like honey, I promise! And then it was reallly kim chi or rocky mountain oysters.

  • dremybluz says:

    Sounds weirdly interesting. Put me in the draw.

  • Musette says:

    Holy mackeral, gal! You blew my MIND with this post! I was ……well, I was totally mesmerized.

    I’m just stopping by – I can’t be in the draw ’cause that just looks funny. But! Man. I am blushing at the thought that I totally missed the Mandy boat. Guess I’ll have to swim out to it, and soon!

    xox :Devil:

    • Patty says:

      Oh, for pete’s sake, woman, what do you want? I’ll put some things together along with those O’Drius that I haven’t yet sent to you. you should be fairly amused and fascinated for days. i can’t believe you’ve missed these! Tango, Cepes & Tuberose? Cacao? Honey blossom, solid oud? Nothing? Yikes.

      i am the only person I’ve ever known that gets this jacked up over dirt/dust/wind. Put them all together, and I’m in heaven. But I don’t like any of those things on me. Growing up on a farm wasn’t that pleasant. I always had my feet/legs/arms under a hydrant trying to wash off the mud, caked and drying mud or seven layers of dust I’d picked up riding on the back of the pipe trailer for 2 miles.

      • Joanna says:

        Nah, I’m a midwest girl too and I have a thing for dusty, earthy scents Patty. Reading this review made me think about what it smells like to watch a dust devil blow across a field. I also have this quirk about trying to find a scent that smells like an old empty drawer. I like going to flea markets and opening old dressers and cabinets just for that empty history scent.

  • Stacey says:

    I haven’t yet met an Aftelier scent that I don’t like. I just recently discovered the luscious Honey Blossom, so now I’m yearning for more of that after emptying my tiny sample. Sepia sounds very intriguing, unlike anything else, so I would love to win a sample!

    • Patty says:

      my girl! Me too. Honey blossom is just gorgeous, I agree, and it’s so perfect for the spring. That reminds me, I need to put some on. 🙂

  • loverdoll78264 says:

    Though I have heard much about this line, I too,am a pauper, so please include me in the draw. . . .G

  • pam says:

    This sounds fascinating! and no, I have not tried any of this line. Wonderful pose, Patty.

    • Patty says:

      Thanks, Pam. I guess I always think everyone has run across a sample of Aftelier. this will be fun introducing people to it!

  • Poodle says:

    I have not tried any of this line and while the concept is interesting not sure about the notes for me. I would try it if I had the chance but whether or not I’d actually buy a sample to do so is unlikely. I love odd scents but there something about this one that isn’t grabbing me. I’d love the opportunity to change me mind about it though.

    • Patty says:

      You are brave! 🙂 I’d be interested to hear what you thought. When I read about the concept, I really wasn’t that interested at all. The delivery on it was so much more than I thought it would be. It could just be my childhood association with a lot of, um, earthy smells, and even when they sometimes make me cringe, I don’t mind them and just turn them around in my head. Could explain why I liked JAR Ferme tes Yeaux (sp) so much too.

  • yash says:

    I recently tries secret garden..amazing scent..cant wait to try sepia.Heard it is as love/hate scale as Tangoo..seems right up my alley!!

    • Patty says:

      Secret Gardenis flat-out beautiful, as are some of her other scents. Tango and Sepia skew to the weird. Sepia, though, on the drydown, I think is absolutely wearable and beautiful, so it does double-duty for me. I could see why someone might hate it, and it’s probably about as polarizing as Tango is!

      for me, I’d rather hate something with a passion than be indifferent to it. So hate is always preferable to not remembering something. 🙂

  • FragrantWitch says:

    You had me at ‘necromancer note’! This sounds very interesting, if difficult. I love the idea of the evocation of a ghost town with all the attendant accretion of scent sediment. I’ve not tried any of the Aftelier line but this seems as good a place as any to start! Thanks for the chance. 🙂

    • Patty says:

      Now that I’ve thought of it, I really *want* a necromancer note!

      I know you like the unusual, so I’d start here or with Tango. She’s doing Tango and Cepes & Tuberose in EDP now, making it a little more accessible from a price point of view, which is nice!

      Tango always cracks me up every time I smell it – trapeze barbie booty call in a teeny vial – and i completely adore it.

  • I’ve tried several of the Aftels. They don’t last on me. Not even an hour. And, as i sadly remarked on another blog, I’m hanging up my perfumista crown. I don’t want a perfume that smells fecal or like rotting hay, or decayed grass. I don’t care if it’s expensive or created by brilliant virgins wearing hairshirts and halos. I want a scent that makes me want to remember it, and makes those who catch a waft of it want to remember me. I want to enjoy a scent from top to bottom. I don’t want armpits or secretions or to wear something “challenging,” or metallic or like a cantaloupe left in a church and rolled in seaweed.

    I want a scent I can love and wear and still love. For six years, I’ve thought myself a perfumista, and now, sadly, I’m giving up. I’m just another woman who likes to smell good and feel happy.

    • Gwenyth says:

      I hear you, QuinnCreative.
      I enjoy sniffing fragrances that are weird/different/challenging, but at the end of the day I merely wish to smell good and feel happy, too.
      Every person has their own preferences and perceptions – so what smells weird to me might smell wonderful to someone else, and that in itself is wonderful.
      A perfumista, to me, is someone who enjoys fragrances, in myriad formats and types. We, all of us, don’t need to like or wear the same things to reach our goal of Smell Good/Feel Happy.
      I’ll never give up my Perfumista card.

      • Thanks, that was generous to say, so I could feel included. It just feels like *work* all of a sudden. Sort of like wine did for a while. In that case, it was as much the people who did the talking as the whole tiroir thing. Now I just order what I like, or ask for suggestions and am happy being an amateur.

    • Patty says:

      I don’t think you have to hang up your perfumista crown at all. I think scents are meant to do different things. I like the quirky stuff, but I also like plain old-fashioned beautiful and wearable perfumes. I don’t think they are mutually exclusive all the time, but totally get that not everyone is in for the things that are odder.

      I really think there’s room for everyone to love what they love and just ignore those things that aren’t that much fun for them to try. 🙂

  • Brooke says:

    I had the pleasure of attending one of Mandy’s events at her studio a few months ago. I has previously sampled a few things but loved trying everything in her line. Tango, Cacao, Cepes and Tuberose are amazing. Also, the solid Oud Lubin and Parfum Privee were out of this world. I also fell in love with her face oils and teas. I can’t wait to spend some time with Sepia.

    • Patty says:

      I haven’t played in her face oils and teas. Now I think I may have to. I need to go through the course so I can do the level 2 one that she has out at her studio, which sounds like my idea of heaven!

  • Lisa D says:

    I’ve tried Lumiere, which is great – this review reminds me that I’ve got to dig my small bottle (and when I say small, I mean miniscule) out from wherever it’s hiding, and wear it already! I also have a couple of her books, which I appreciate and have made scents from. My favorite recipe is the Chocolate and Saffron body oil, which leaves me swooning at my own fabulously scented self.

    • Patty says:

      i know, I have a whole nest of Aftelier samples that I’ve got tucked away in the cute gold envelope – love those! – and that’s one I need to try too. Wait, how did you make the chocolat and saffron body oil, and what recipe??? Do I need to get one of the books?

      • Lisa D says:

        The recipe is from the book, Aroma, that she co-authored with Daniel Patterson. It’s about using essential oils in food and fragrance. I’m sending you the recipe via the Drop Us A Note function!

  • Joanna says:

    Haute Claire is really nice and I splurged and sampled Prive, which I wish I hadn’t since I loved it so much. Thanks for the great review, Sepia was already on my radar and it’s nice to have this added push to do so.

    • Patty says:

      I haven’t tried that one yet. I bet I have a sample of it around somewhere!! Prive is seriously gorgeous and so pricey! I haven’t fallen that in love with it, but mostly because I’m ignoring it. 🙂

  • tammy says:

    Oh, I am lemming a sniff of this something fierce….ghost towns are one of my husband’s hobbies (and I am relatively certain we met each other in an old Western mining town in a former life, possibly Georgetown Colorado specifically) but I am a-skeert of the wood note. Woods blow up on me terribly lately.

    Did you find it woody at all, or mostly dust? I rather like dust.

    • Patty says:

      Dust, dust, dust, and more dust. Sawdust. There’s some wood in the open, but that’s all caught up in that mangled fierceness that then just becomes intriguing to track to the end.

  • I’ve never tried any of the Afteliers… partially out of fear, partially out of just plain being poor… Secret Garden may be my first lemming from her line, or maybe the face oils… I’d be interested to try Sepia, though!

    • Patty says:

      Secret Garden is seriously beautiful, as is the Honey blossom (not sure of the name) one. Either one of those, you are getting just straight-up beautiful perfume to wear. Prive is also beautiful. The weird ones are beautiful, too, but a lot of them not in any conventional way.

  • FG says:

    This sounds weirdly wonderful and right up my alley, thanks for the great review!

    • Patty says:

      and it smells good too, which is the part that’s still got me confused a little. I expect my weird to go on one side of the column, not to span both wearable art and weird.