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,

  • Cathy says:

    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 says:

    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!

    • March says:

      Well, I do know you can buy these little sample sets (three? four?) if you don’t want to spring for all of them, I think they’re a decent deal if you can narrow down what you want. They’re on the website. I am glad they work for you, even sans cowbell. :”>

  • Robin says:

    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?

    • March says:

      No, they just sit there. Sigh. If I were built more like a monclin….

      Ah, you’re trying to corner me, eh? I am *supposed* to write, I would never endorse an unsniffed purchase. And for me personally, since my unsniffed record is amazingly crappy (practically a guarantee I’ll hate the scent) I should rail against it. But I still think the occasional unsniffed purchase is fun — a little surprise. In which case, it should be: 1) cheap, however you define cheap (you wouldn’t miss the money); and 2) either from a house or containing notes you have good luck with (Guerlain, incense.)

      • Robin says:

        LOL — was hoping you had a sure-fire bet, and I could order it. In the mood to buy today 🙂

        • March says:

          Hmmmm, I wonder what you would like? To me your tastes are so wide ranging, and I don’t always guess correctly what you would like. And good heavens, what *haven’t* you sniffed at this point?!?

  • chayaruchama says:

    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 says:

    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.

    • March says:

      oh. my. goodness. Knocking over the antique flacon, I hate that. Glad to hear she was so nice about it.

      I can’t even remember Absinthe! And if I had my own fragrance created, I too would be relying on the effects of synthetics.

  • Patty says:

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

    • March says:

      Barbie sex! Barbie sex! I still see the barbie sex, that weird toasted note. BTW when I stuck it under Chandler Burr’s nose he looked sorta disgusted.

  • Heather says:

    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.

    • March says:

      Definitely flugelhorn and cowbell. I don’t begrudge people who want/need to avoid that fakey stuff, but it’s a huge part of some of my favorite perfume effects.

  • violetnoir says:

    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. 😉


  • Anthony says:

    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.

    • March says:

      I put in (and deleted) comparisons both to Yosh and JAR, oddly enough.

      Yosh, because they wear sort of like Yosh to me — a little too muddy, except her lily ones, which will shear the top of your head off. And JAR, sort of — like a natural-perfumer version.

      Except JAR wears clearer on me, if that makes any sense, and I get real sillage from JAR, even if I have to wait a bit for it.

  • tmp00 says:

    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 says:

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

    • March says:

      Because … they’re hand-carried to your home by vegan-clad, nuclear-free, non-synthetic old-growth hippies?

      I have no idea. The bottles are small and not particularly delicate looking. I buy so little stuff online I am not that familiar with general shipping costs.

  • BBliss says:

    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

    • March says:

      You’re welcome. As a fellow FWC (fragrance with crap) fan, you can probably live without these. Malena up there says the orchid smells really lovely but has lousy lasting power. 🙁

      • BBliss says:

        Sorry – late back on this, but…FWC’ers Unite!

        Ok – I’m passing, and on BPALs,too – which just never drew me. Love the lively discussions – and apt descriptions – you know I can smell the Barbie Sex, even though Tango has never been tested! Amazing.

  • Divina says:

    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.

    • March says:

      That sounds like a great show! I like the few suggestions they made on the site. After all, our sense of taste and smell is so close.

  • Malena says:

    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.

    • Divalano says:

      I am SO with you on those BPALs. I tried a flight of imps once & my friend & BF made me wrap them securely & banish them to the trash immediately. They were admittedly rather rank on me. I’m told I must have just lucked into bad picks but btwn that experience & their not so great customer svce I’m pretty much done with the line.

      • Malena says:

        those BPAL sample vials really *whispers* stink – even if you don´t put them on skin. i keep the few i still have wrapped in a box, hoping to swap them away as soon as possible 8-|
        but there actually a few that aren´t so bad like for example snake oil & morocco. but after all the others were such a disappointment, i didn´t keep those either.

        • pitbull friend says:

          I can’t tell you how relieved I am to hear this. I tried about a dozen BPALs — the descriptions all sounded so wonderful, and about the BEST I got from any of them was the smell of cardboard & bubblegum, like (sorry non-USians) when you unwrap a Topp’s baseball card with the thin slab of gum inside. I don’t even think I gave them away, as I often do. How do they make a living? Does everyone make one big order & then never again? –Ellen

          • Louise says:

            yeah, I did a huge sample order, and only one worked…Harlot 😉

          • March says:

            But of course! 😉

          • Divalano says:

            I have one friend who loves them & SHE has a whole crew who she swaps with. This friend sneers, SNEERS at my niche perfume. I even sent her some to try & she called it “over processed” & gave or threw most of it away, I think. We don’t discuss perfume so much anymore. Pity. Our noses obviously see very differently.

          • Malena says:

            BPAL has a huge fan base, but i agree with divalano:
            the majority fo people who like BPALs don´t like “normal” – not to speak about niche – perfumes.
            that might be the reason why the stuff doesn´t work for us, i guess 🙂

          • March says:

            I think BPAL is a lot about the image rather than the juice, but since you could argue that about a lot of stuff we smell, not sure my argument’s worth anything.

      • March says:

        I tried maybe two BPALs and they both gave me a rash. Not saying anything else on the blog because I don’t want any BPALs putting a hex on me. :-$

  • Marina says:

    Toldja! (said she smugly) :-b

  • Divalano says:

    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.

    • March says:

      Did you smell them in the monclins? I can REALLY smell them in the monclins, and there’s the rub of course. I’m not carrying a monclin around to sniff them, I want to smell them on my skin. The first time I tried them, dabbed on, mostly they were just very muddy.

      I can also smell them better in the morning, but it’s still not great sillage.

      Yeah, aged beeswax. How great does that sound?

      • Divalano says:

        Yes, the monoclin sniffing convinced me to do a skin test. Those things are so cool! And, I’m not a fan of big sillage. I like my perfume to be a more personal experience …. like, if you’re smelling me, we’re close enough for you to be in my personal space. But even so, I like a little more oomph than these gave me. Interesting about the morning smelling thing. I wonder why?

        • March says:

          I think we like the same thing, just using slightly different language. I don’t like monster sillage either — but ideally I have a sense of a fragrance wrapped around me, that delicate aura. I like to be able to smell it on myself without killing people around me. And unless I hold the Aftels up to my nose (like on my wrist) I can’t. Even dabbing behind the ear and on my bosom, I couldn’t smell it.

          I’m assuming in my case it’s nose fatigue — generally by 4pm in NYC I’ve smelled a LOT of stuff! :”>

  • Elle says:

    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.

    • March says:

      Doesn’t that sound great, in a really semi-disgusting way? If I had to pick one, though, I think that hay sounds amazing — or, wait, I want the beeswax. Or … /:)

      The thing, ultimately, that I thought was coolest about Tango (and to a lesser degree, Shiso) is not only do they not remind me of anything, I can’t even do much of a job describing them. Now *that’s* a weird scent. 😡

  • Anne says:

    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!

    • March says:

      Oh, I dunno. I have delayed (or zero) gratification in enough areas of my life already, thanks very much. So if fragrance is one of my areas of need for instant pleasure, so be it. Sure, I’m willing to wait 20 or 30 minutes for something really worth it. But the Afteliers are too much of a crap shoot — on ME. I think I’d need to recalibrate my nose away from the tricks of synthetics, which I am very fond of. :)>-

  • Louise says:

    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 :)>-

    • Louise says:

      Geez, whiz, I just reviewed my Ayala Moriel set…the Afteliers are seperately boxed (waiting for you: Cognac, Amber, Blond Tabac, and Cacoa). No wonder they were “completely different” Doh!


      Starting the week off confused 8-|

      • Malena says:

        i´m another one who had difficulties appreciating ayalas scents 🙁
        i really wanted to like them, but didn´t find a single one i could see me wearing.
        among others, i also sampled espionage & palas athena, but i didn´t feel comfortable at all when i tested them.
        i like strange scents, but there was a note in them that really put me off.

        • March says:

          Huh, now I’m looking forward to smelling these even more. I think I’ve only ever smelled two?

        • Vasily says:

          I’ve tried a number of Ayala Moriel’s frags … only one of them works for me. Rebelious is on my favorites list … my notes say it’s fruity, resinous, animalic, herbal, complex. A very strange and compelling perfume. But most of her frags don’t have great sillage and the longevity is nothing to write home about … I personally can’t afford investing in expensive natural perfumes that I can’t smell unless I bury my nose in my wrist, and that are gone after an hour. But Rebelious is one that I’m definitely going to buy When My Ship Comes In, and there are a few of her frags I plan on trying this spring. Aftels’ frags I’ve still to try, but I’ve concluded I’m not a “natural” perfume kind of guy, my 60s hippie roots notwithstanding. 🙂

          • March says:

            Well, I will have to try that particular fragrance then, since it seems we share some of the same feelings about the types of fragrances we like in terms of sillage and longevity.

    • March says:

      I already emailed you! And I have smelled very few of Ayala’s scents, I would love to try yours. I’d wanted to try that Immortelle one.

  • MattS says:

    You can never have enough cowbell in a scent. :d

    Of all these, the Costus stuff has caught my attention more than anything.

    • March says:

      More cowbell! :d/

      I thought of you when I read the costus, and the hay, and there’s a rock styrax one on there that sounds like you. Heh heh. BTW I don’t know if you look but pricewise I think they were considerably less than the blended perfumes, but I didn’t really look at quantity. You could blend a little with CB Musk … make sure all the pilot lights are off in your house first, though.

      I think I’m more an unwashed-French-trucker-shorts girl myself.

  • Lee says:

    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 says:

    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. 😡 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!

    • March says:

      Hey, you’re welcome! Glad you are pleased. I’m making a new effort in 2008 to review things on this blog that I found interesting and sniff-worthy, even if they aren’t “me.”

      The sillage thing is a huge issue for me. If they wore differently I’d be more interested, but I still don’t think I’d wear them much. Thanks for your information about their development on your skin. Smelling them in the monclins has thus far been my favorite way to smell them, and then you’re getting the whole picture at once.

      • Catherine says:

        Dear March, I just wanted to add that sometimes I think, “How can I like everything of this one line”–particularly a line as strange as Aftel’s. I worry that I’ve become “cultish” or something. So, I’ve brought them around to friends, and some of them turn absolutely foul on their skins. Foul. Like dead squirrel. After experiencing that–and it isn’t pretty even for the bystander–I can understand why some of the comments here are not positive. I consider myself lucky that Afteliers wear very clear and bloom beautifully on my skin. On the other hand, I cannot wear Yosh or Anya and the other natural perfumers I’ve tried just smell like hippie-shots. I guess I can’t have everything! 🙂

        • March says:

          Catherine, late back to the party (sick kids) — I do think skin chemistry and perception play a huge part in our likes and dislikes. People who dislike almost an entire line probably have an issue with the base (like Caron)and I think the reverse is true as well.

          I’m happy for you because you’ve found something that works for you that is very unusual and you won’t find on 50% of the folks around you, which is even better!