This is the last installment in my Aftelier miniseries and I think I’m right when I say I’ve saved the best for last. And when I say the best I’m not necessarily using any objective criteria like technical brilliance, composition originality, and so on but rather the subjective impact both fragrances had on me. They stirred me, churned my guts and soul in their perfumed vertigo, drawing me in like a feather towards the center of their whirlpool. And once you reach the center the only way is down, into the darkness of the depths.
Memento Mori genuinely frightened me. It is so evocative, almost too literal in reproducing it’s intended concept. Remember you are a mere mortal. Remember you are going to die. Remember all your loved ones are going to die. Over and over. Remember death. This perfume won’t let you forget. It grips your heart, twists your stomach into knots and pulls the curtain away. Mandy Aftel goes for the solar plexus with this baby. No pussy footing around the subject, no ultimately delicate, tender melancholy in the manner of Serge Lutens De Profundis with its dewy chrysanthemum blooms swaying in the chilled, smoky autumn air. Memento Mori is real despair, real decay, real anguished intimacy, real love and fear. Memento Mori is all too impermanent flesh and all too easily bruised skin. Vulnerable and unnerving. One sniff and I’m ten years old, back in my mother’s sick room. She was so ill we nearly lost her. And I was too afraid to cry because I felt crying would have made the nightmare come true. So I walked around in my childish trance, taking refuge in drawing and story books, trying hard to believe that things were ok and my mother is not going to be taken away from me. And she wasn’t. Not in the way I couldn’t even dare imagine. She was in hospital for a while and then she was back. Difficult episodes became sort of a new normal, because she’s a chronic sufferer and her condition has a habit of flaring up often and hard. We adjusted as best we could and the smell of her room when she was unwell made its appearance more habitually than any of us would have ever wanted. It’s that sickly sweet smell of suffering bodies, with fevered skin covered in a fine beading of sweat, the warm, vaguely unpleasant breath of a parched mouth and the slight musty odour of crumpled bedclothes. A bunch of dark red roses, redolent with fragrance, wilting away in a cobalt blue crystal vase in a futile attempt to soothe the sadness and cover up the waxy, buttery, yeasty, musky, sour smell of illness with its undeterred persistence, like a bad premonition of things to come. She was in her early thirties and she was fighting for her life. It chills my spine to think I’m older now than her age then. Puts things into perspective like nothing else. I think you can understand that it’s impossible for me to analyze Memento Mori as I would many other perfumes. I can tell you it’s an unsettling floral, mostly rose I think but perhaps jasmine too, and it’s part dry, part stale, part waxy, part sweet and part disturbingly ripe. But to even say Memento Mori is a perfume is to underplay it in a big way. I don’t know what it is. It’s as if the perfumer in a moment of alchemical inspiration, has thrown a few essences together and they coalesced into being, into breathing, a vision which could easily be real, tethering on the edge between life and death. Everytime I wore Memento Mori it felt like there was another presence in the room apart my own. I came out of this experience wrung out and teary eyed. I’m not strong enough for it yet. Maybe I have to learn first that remembering death is in fact remembering that I am still alive.
On the other hand, I can dance Mandy’s Tango. And I can let it dance me. I want it to dance me. If Tango was a man he’d have me in a second. It’s the head spinning sensation of falling in love or at least in desire. It’s crazy sex that lasts for hours on end and doesn’t happen in the soft comfort of a fluffy bed but on sweet earth under the stars.It’s burning away the boundaries between mind, body and soul. It goes deeper and harder than most. It’s an embrace that never lets go. You might be burn to cinders but that flame is worth any price. How can I describe this beautiful vortex? When I smelled Tango for the first time it was like a flash of recognition, in spite of it being almost unlike anything else I’ve ever smelled. I recently read in a Murakami’s book about the Tibetan Wheel of Passions. The wheel is ever turning and the outer rim’s feelings dip low or raise to the surface but one’s true love stays fastened to the axel, immobile and always present. Tango is like one’s true love. Rare. Exceptional. Memorable. Tango is one of Mandy’s most complex creations, blending many botanical essence to devastating effect. It is a sort of spicy marine oriental with leather and floral elements. Smoky, ambered, fiery hot, with a gutsy salty breeze blowing over the burning embers only to make them glow even brighter, Tango smells in turns oceanic, medicinal, sweet, creamy, herbal, fruity, resinous, bitter, animalic and the list goes on and on. Peering into Tango’s ever-changing kaleidoscope reveals more than anything else the passion and joy of creation. I like to think Mandy had a lot of fun making Tango. Maybe stomping her feet like an Argentinian flamenco dancer, hair loose and favourite sensual music resounding in the background. I should perhaps promise myself that one day, when I grow up, I will write the way Tango smells like. But then, there is only one Gabriel Garcia Marquez.