I was recently given the chance of getting to know better some of Mandy Aftel’s creations. I was most enthused about it, as for someone based in Europe it’s a relatively difficult line to explore. The cost of samples and shipping tends to be high, and there’s always the issue of additional import taxes. So I put the Aftelier Parfums alongside many other exciting American indie lines in the “too hard to get hold of” mental drawer and took my focus of the matter altogether. I was happy enough just reading Mandy’s books and let my imagination generate the rest. This until my Fragrance Daily colleague, Claire, proposed me to participate in an Aftelier Parfums sample pass thread organised by her on Basenotes. Of course I said yes, what do you think? As part of the European leg of the worldwide sample pass, I got to try pure Ambergris tincture, Ancient Resins body oil, Parfum Privé, Wild Roses, Tango, Memento Mori and Vanilla Smoke. You’ve probably guessed by now, this post is going to contain my impressions of the essences and perfumes tested. It’s going to be a two parts kind of thing and today I’ll talk about the Ambergristincture, Ancient Resins body oil and Parfum Privé.
Pure Ambergris tincture
I decided to get going with the less complex things and it was the Ambergris tincture with its elusive, siren call that I was the most curious about. After testing hundreds, if not thousands of perfume in the last seven years, individual raw materials are really interesting, because you get the opportunity to compare their singular smell with its metamorphosis inside an elaborate fragrance structure. To say I was surprised with this particular Ambergris tincture it’s an understatement. I’ve smelled pure ambergris before in its natural state, not tinctured and it was completely different. That lump of nearly white, stony yet porous material had a vaguely salty, warm, for lack of better word sweetness, undercut by a somewhat unpleasant odour a bit like dirty socks. Hard to pin down and very hazy, a ghost more so than a distinct olfactory presence. Like feeling for a few seconds someone’s breath brushing your skin before they move away. The tinctured ambergris on the other hand was unexpectedly powerful. I dipped the tip of a wooden coffee stirrer inside the tiny jar, rubbed a micro drop on my skin with it and kept to stick so I could return to it throughout the day. I took a first excited whiff and was completely flabbergasted because the ambergris tincture smelled exactly like thousands of fizzy bubbles rushing up to the surface of a champagne flutes. Very bright, a bit yeasty, almost aldehydic in its shimmering radiance. On the skin this impression didn’t last for very long being replaced by a muted, warm mustiness but on the wooden stick wow, it was going strong for hours. I think I can understand now how Ambergris can enhance the other notes in a perfume rather than being a dominant, distinct player itself. It’s more like a golden basting liquid that somehow helps everything to meld seamlessly. Very interesting experience but I still don’t think I would be able to pick up for sure the presence of natural ambergris in a perfume the same as I can’t actually pinpoint the presence of Iso E super for example. If I start to get a dull headache the more I spray something or the closer I smell it I can suspect big amounts of Iso E super but I can’t really distinguish its scent.
Ancient Resins body oil
I love using oils, both on my face and body. Self-massage it is a sort of self-discovery, especially on a sensorial level. Re-establishing the borders of the space your body occupies in the physical world. We live so much in the psychological world, we forget to simply be, in the way a plant or an animal simply is. It is crucial for our balance and massage helps me to focus on this. It’s also a way of showing some love towards my own body, silently thanking my limbs for all their priceless help and my bones for all of their indispensable structure. I’m generally concocting my own massage oils using whatever I feel like at any given time, but there’s one essential oil I will invariably add to every single impromptu recipe and that’s frankincense essential oil. I can’t live without it. I’m not a big fan of fragrances which have incense as the main player. In perfumes I prefer it alongside a whole load of embellishments, but in body oil I leave it mostly unadorned, with maybe some benzoin and a tiny bit of Ylang-Ylang which I love for it’s sensual voluptuousness. Needless to say, given my devotion to body oils scented with frankincense, I was absolutely delighted to try Mandy’s Ancient Resins version. And it’s a terribly good one. Firstly I smelled a slightly toasted, nutty aroma which made me suspect the presence of sesame oil, which I use myself a lot in my recipes, as it’s a very friendly, warming oil and great source of calcium. However, Ancient Resins is a mix of jojoba and fractionated coconut oil so I don’t know where my nose picked up that vibe from. And on subsequent applications I was unable to smell it again, so I gave up looking for an explanation. Then I could sense the frankincense, beautiful, serene, with its majestically calming magic, sweetened by lashings of benzoin and Balm of Gilead. The overall smell reminds me of propolis, at once aromatic, piney and ambery-sweet. It almost makes my mouth water, it’s so appealing. It also reminds me of the syrup my mother used to make out of pine buds. It was a delicious way of soothing winter coughs and I never protested against such medicine. There’s a lot of kindness and love in Ancient Resins body oil. You feel protected when using it. Like wrapping yourself in a warm blanket or in the arms of a friend. It is calming, grounding, cozy and delicious by way of earth and bark and temple and not by way of cakes baking in the oven not like there’s anything wrong with that. But it’s not the way of frankincense. Frankincense and all the old, sacred resins manage to delight your senses while also elevating your spirit. No wonder they have been used in rituals since the dawn of times. They remind us, that while we’re only tiny parts of a greater miracle, we are indeed manifestations of that miracle. And we’re worthy of love.
After testing the precious Ambergris tincture, it seemed fitting to start my exploration of the Aftelier perfumes with Parfum Privé which contains luscious amounts of the stuff. But Ambergris is hard to detect within a composition because as I’ve stated previously it appears to be working like a lubricant or a unifying thread, tying everything together with invisible, radiant, golden seams. And yet there’s always a bit of salty funk going on when ambergris is present, something that always makes me think of sperm, especially when citrus or vanilla notes are present too. I’ve felt that in Amouage Opus III, some Roja Dove perfumes, like Danger pour Homme for example, and now Aftelier Parfum Privé. Parfum Privé starts very citrussy, but almost darkly so. The bergamot note is amazing, very rich and on the cusp of being overdosed, with a gasoline twang that I love. Or maybe not gasoline but an intense, oily, peppery grassiness a bit reminiscent of really strong olive oil. Or gasoline 🙂 The florals peak through from the very first minute, but they’re initially overshadowed by what I perceive as bergamot. Their sweetness gets stronger quickly though, and before you know it ambergris plays with their honeyed nectar and the citric notes and yep, salty, yeasty funk rears its head and for a couple blissful seconds I can pretend I’ve just been rapturously, well, you know :). A subtle, soft smokiness pervades the perfume at this point alongside a slight dry, leathery feel and I could have sworn there’s labdanum in the composition but this is not the case. Parfum Privé behaves and smells like a chypre without actually being a chypre. No labdanum, no oakmoss, yet the elegant progression from bright citrus-aromatic beginning, through creamy floral heart ( superb orange blossom by the way) until musky, sensual drydown, is recognisably chypre. I can sense a touch of fruitiness too and something limpid yet dry, like floral tea. I checked the notes of course, I can never help it, and I decided to attribute these qualities to osmanthus. I’ve also decided to torment my boyfriend by wafting my perfumed wrist under his nose repeatedly, demanding a poetical description of the scent but he said to leave him alone this is too beautiful to be described. My disappointed face tugged at his heart strings and out of pity he said it smells godlike. And he’s right, Parfum Privé is like a gift from heaven, shimmering and pure yet sultry enough to remind you about the horizon line, where the skies and earth always meet.
* Image used belongs to Aftelier Parfums
TO BE CONTINUED
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