Natural Luxuries

Aftelier Spotlight Week

– a spotlight on Aftelier Perfumes

Last night as I went to collect Spider-Man Jr. from saving the neighborhood from Green Goblins and other hazards, I noticed what had been bubbling away at the back of my consciousness for a few days. Suddenly, I was surrounded by the most heavenly scent. A combination of blooming elderflower and mock-orange wafted its way into my nose, the musky, fruity scent of the elderflowers mingling with the heady aroma of mock-orange, that we here in Denmark call ‘fake jasmine’, perfuming the air with its distinctive, unmistakable scent. Jasmine will only grow in sheltered conditions at this latitude, but mock-orange blooms everywhere here, and when it does, I know that high summer has arrived.

Those ubiquitous mock-orange bushes with their white, bridal flowers and their heady, heavenly scent are an example of natural perfumery at its finest. So I thought on a warm summer evening, which brings me to the topic of this week’s spotlight and one of the biggest seismic shifts in my own perfumoholic perspectives – Aftelier Perfumes.

Mandy Aftel – writer and perfumer extraordinaire – is rightly considered a pioneer of the natural perfume movement. Perfumes created with all-natural essences and oils, perfumes every bit as luxurious, special and rare as anything we perfume writers know, love and afford as we can. I knew of Mandy since her collaboration last year with Andy Tauer in creating a linden blossom perfume, Tauer’s ‘Zeta’ and Mandy’s ‘Honey Blossom’, but I had until recently never tried them, or indeed any natural perfume at all.

Natural perfumes came to my attention with the Outlaw Perfume Project’s ‘Mystery of Musk’ last year, a defiant stance in the face of IFRA restrictions and an important political perfume statement of its own. In the process, many perfumes were created that were, in a word, staggering for their breadth of scope and execution and to the best of my knowledge, no participant or human test subject broke out in hives because of it.

There it was. There I was, with my hard-wired preconceptions of ‘natural’ perfumes and unfortunate associations of bad patchouli and inferior blended scents, scents I would find in health food shops and artisanal markets that really didn’t impress me much, and certainly not with any associations of ‘luxury’.

So I was rather excited when Lucy of Indie Perfumes introduced my writing to Mandy, and in no time at all it seemed, a small collection of samples arrived. I can still feel my excitement as I looked at that pretty tin with its tiny treasures packed in orange and purple tissue paper, wondering what secrets they held.

Little did I know that the moment I unscrewed the first of those sample vials, my world would change…forever.

The Japanese have a Zen term called ‘satori’ – an instant where your entire perspective shifts and whirls and changes, when your horizon is forever broadened in a heartbeat and you get it, all of it…

That was me the night I opened up ‘Cepes and Tuberose’, and that cold chill of satori, something powerful, numinous and soulful wafted out of the vial and into my consciousness, and ever after, my world has not been the same that it was. It was the rush of something infinitely strange yet hauntingly familiar, some secret I knew but had forgotten.

I have been swiped sideways by perfumes not a few times this past spring and summer. That is nothing new. Never in my life was I blasted to olfactory bits to bedrock as I was by ‘Cepes and Tuberose’. For here was everything I had looked for in natural perfumery but had yet to find. Peerless beauty and the underlying hint of strange that accentuates it, the sleight-of-hand of a true and committed artist, a statement and a unique identity, all contained in a tiny sample vial.

I’ve since reviewed ‘Candide’, equally stunning, and thanks to Mandy’s generosity, more reviews are coming this week, starting with her justly famous ‘Tango’.

Because I’ve come to realize that natural perfumery – not something many of my fellow Danes are much aware of, if at all in this conglomerate-dominated age – is the one thing that gives me hopes for a future of perfume – to remind us all of the beauty that surrounds us every day in everything that grows and lives. When scents are prohibited in the workplace, when natural essences used for thousands of years are banned, ostensibly to protect the allergy-prone but in reality to promote proprietary synthetic blends, in some cases with unknown side effects, when the world we live and breathe in is farther and farther removed from anything truly… ‘natural’ – we need an artist like Mandy Aftel, an artist committed to a vision of what perfume should and could be, a perfumer who believes that ‘natural’ and ‘luxury’ are not mutually exclusive.

Once upon a time, perfume was an attempt to capture that moment in a garden or the woods when we breathed deeper and happier and felt elevated above our humdrum human existence and our everyday selves, out on a summer evening to collect a little boy for bedtime, when suddenly we realized with a shock to our awareness…

The elderflowers are blooming, and the mock-orange, too.

And elsewhere on Planet Earth, an alchemist is hard at work to freeze that moment in a perfume…

8 thoughts on “Natural Luxuries

  1. Your words do Mandy's work justice, in such an elegant way. I love knowing that her creations have blown apart your world (and preconceptions) in the same way they did to mine!

    …and that tin! I have two of those tins and I treasure them. There is a way that Mandy has reconciled the visual and olfactory, and even the tactile senses that is so flawless. The total package.

    Since you wrote your review of Cepes & Tuberose, I have been fortunate enough to sample it, and I was as impressed as you were. My newest obsession is Cacao, I will probably be reviewing that one next. SO Looking forward to your Week of Aftelier!


    These two quotes:

    “A spiritual process as well as an aesthetic one, the art of perfumery is at once holy and carnal, spiritual and material, arcane and modern, tangible and intangible, profound and superficial.” – from 'Essence & Alchemy: A Natural History of Perfume' by Mandy Aftel

    “Natural Perfume, created from natural materials and aromatics is a multi-layered phenomenon: In a breath, we are able to reconnect with the natural world and ourselves in new and profound ways.”
    ~ Mandy Aftel

    YES! This is why it's so important for us to have these experiences. That's what nature is supposed to do for us, though more and more we are removed and isolated from nature. So Natural Perfumers creations become even more important.

    It's very spiritual, working with these plant materials that have been used for thousands of years, and by such people as Cleopatra. It grounds, and connects you to the Earth.

    Mandy is one of the most important mentors, that I have met thus far, and she is a generous and beautiful human being.


  3. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.I loved reading it and was again wowed by your imagination and ability with words.

    Creating perfume is such a profound experience for me. You see so deeply into my process and what I am trying to do. It means so much to me.

    Thank you too Carrie and Amanda for always lending you voice and support — do not think it goes un-noticed and it is greatly appreciated.
    Mandy Aftel

  4. So beautifully expressed, I am moved.
    Mock orange also sends me into a higher state of happiness instantly. It actually blooms next to the train station by me and floods down the stairway onto my subway platform in Brooklyn, it's so heavenly, and the contrast heightens the effect even more. I think the inhabitants in the farther Northern climes would be very much taken with the great natural perfumes/perfumers, especially Aftelier.
    BTW, there is a festival of patchouli going on, Monica the Perfume Pharmer I believe has tried to reach you — we must get the samples over to you if you haven't gotten them already. They will re-frame your patchouli memories for the better by far.

  5. Carrie…sometimes, serendipity happens as it did for you and as it did for me!

    Another thing I love about Mandy's creations is tha, yes it's a complete package…visual, tactile, olfactory, one artistic statement in every little careful detail in three – or is it five dimensions? 🙂

    If you liked the warm-up, you might like the rest, coming up…

  6. Amanda…I agree, that one of the things I most appreciate in natural perfumery is precisely that sense of soul and life, so sorely lacking in so much commercially available perfume today.

    Sometimes, all we need to cope with the spills and thrills of modern life is to…reconnect with life itself, and if time is of the essence, then perfume takes us there as fast as we can sniff! 🙂

  7. Ah, Lucy…so you know it too, that fragrant trail of mock orange, blooming at a subway station, no less! Mock orange is one of my favorite things about summer!

    I can't wait to expand my patchouli horizons, and I'll keep you posted when I do!

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