Bite me!

a review of Aftelier Perfume’s ‘Fig’

Some people, I’m told, are only able to associate a certain brand of cookie with the word ‘fig’. I feel sorry for them.

Not only are figs one of the oldest cultivated plants on Earth, grown before we even grew wheat according to archaeological evidence, they are also surely among the most maligned. They bring up associations of those lunchbox staples of my childhood, or else sorry, solitary dried Smyrna figs left over on a Christmas platter after everyone plundered all the dates and nuts, somehow reminding us of a future we try to keep at bay with sunscreen and retinoids.

Unwanted, unloved and taken entirely for granted, what could one possibly love about figs? I’ll tell you.

On a scorching hot day in August the year I graduated, I found myself in a fig grove on a hillside in Arcadia in the Peloponnese – in Arcadia ego – with a German engineering student from Stuttgart I somehow acquired in a Bern café and a bookish Swiss philosophy student who joined us on the ferry in Brindisi. This fig grove faced south into the sunshine against a vertiginous mountain, and I can close my eyes and recall that breathless heat beneath the shady fig trees that seeped into our bone marrow as we polished off the last of our lunchtime wine-with-no-label, the entire landscape around us eerily silent in the siesta. It was too hot to move, too hot to think, and yes, it was much too hot for that, too. So as we lay back and peered up into that green canopy above our heads, I realized that some of those figs were ripe, that a few were about ripe to bursting in that timeless August afternoon. The only figs I had ever known were dried, and here they were on an Arcadian hillside, sun-kissed and whispering loud enough to be heard over the goats’ bells in a distant field…

‘Bite me.’

Something about that purple-red flesh beckoning under skin the color of a livid bruise, something I needed to know. I reached up and plucked it, and as I felt it drop into my hand with a velvet soft thud, while the German watched with one eye open and the Swiss philosopher snored away his wine against a tree trunk, I finally understood how Eve felt, not long before she invented the world’s first sustainable fashion line.

In a ripe fig straight from a sunkissed tree is the sum entire of purple sunshine, an empire of sweet and savor, no relation at all to anything in dire need of a facelift on a Christmas platter. Fig contains hints of spice and earth, sweet and very slightly bitter to offset it. It’s the kind of fruit that practically begs you to tear your teeth into that oozing, seedy, perfumed flesh and immerse yourself face first into a whole new sensory geography of ‘luscious’. Add in the thyme-oregano scent of the Arcadian countryside, the still air of siesta in August, and the pungent aroma of rock rose that grows everywhere on the hills like weeds, and it all adds up to one seriously wicked indulgence.

This is what comes to mind when I wear Mandy Aftel’s ‘Fig’. That first, fatal fresh fig in my life, when my horizon shifted, my world grew larger and my taste buds were realigned.

I’ve worn and loved several fig scents, among them Diptyque’s ‘Philosykos’, all bitter-dry heat and Grecian sunshine, and Olympic Orchids’ ‘A Midsummer Day’s Dream’ which is far greener and grassier. Both are great for different reasons, but ‘Fig’ is something else.

Mandy Aftel’s version seems… red-purple like the flesh of a fig itself and it smells purple, too, with that fruity pink grapefruit tang and grand fir, say the notes, but there are no spikes in this evergreen tree. Woven around it like a promise is a green ribbon that must be the fir my head tells me, but my amygdala tells me otherwise. ‘Fig’ gives my amygdala ideas that are all kinds of fruity truths with consequences.

If gourmand is a perfume category based on sweet, edible-seeming perfumes, then this gourmand is the first ever perfume I’ve nearly wanted to eat. Every hint of fruit and spice a fig can contain is found here with the pink pepper and the viridian jasmine sambac that keeps it from ever once nose-diving into lunchbox cookie territory, blooming away on my skin with all its seductive anticipation.

All the while, this luscious purple-hearted perfume sings sotto voce of breathless August afternoons beneath the green canopy of an Arcadian sky, and right before I’m about to gnaw off my wrist, a heady drydown of Africa stone and fir absolute decide to do me in. Fig jam, says Mandy Aftel’s website, and if that’s what it is, I want to be tarred and feathered in it, I want to wallow in it, I want one fig grove instant to live eternal in my mind these thirty years later, when a velvet-soft, bruise-black fig fell into my hand to such fatal effect, bursting open to show itself, that fragrant, sweet, luscious, jammy, spicy, sexy red-purple flesh that whispered…

‘Bite me.’

Top: Grand fir, pink grapefruit
Heart: Pink pepper absolute, jasmine sambac
Base: Africa stone, fir absolute

Aftelier’s ‘Fig is available from the Aftelier website, from Scent and Sensibility in the UK and from Sündhaft.

Disclosure: My sample was provided by Aftelier for review.


18 thoughts on “Bite me!

  1. Ripe figs are possibly the sexiest fruits on this planet – just think of what they look like when they are opened….

    Obviously, I want to smell (like a) Fig 😉

  2. Though I've never had the privilege of tasting them fresh from the tree, one of our grocery stores carries fresh figs, and they are an amazing treat.

    This fragrance sounds so very you, Tarleisio! And so very perfect for summer, too. Yummy review (pun intended). 🙂

  3. You got to the heart of my figgy creation and I thank you for that.
    I love that you said it was a purple perfume because I think of it that way too. The Africa Stone is there to tone down the jammy sweetness of the fir and jasmine.
    I am s so deeply grateful for your artistry.
    Mandy Aftel

  4. What a beautiful post….! Thank you. I definitely want to try Mandy's fig…
    Growing up in Greece, fresh figs are a summer staple. I enjoy figs in all their stages of maturity, from firm greenish, tart unripe to purple, bursting, honeyed over-ripe ones.
    However there is this rural legend that you are not supposed to sleep under a fig tree because its shadow is “evil” and the milk dripping from the bruised stems attracts snakes. All this is just a legend though. In fact the shadow of a fig tree has a great fig leave scent.

  5. You've captured the pleasure of the aimless wanderings of youth very well. What a wonderful association, I can only imagine it, as I've never been to Arcadia, nor sat beneath a fig tree (nor have I tried Mandy's Fig). But that's one of the ways great perfumes can be so useful to us– to take us places we've never been before, or revisit places from our past. I love the idea of a purple-tinged fig perfume, because almost all of the fig scents I've tried have a green vibe to them.

  6. Marie, I have to agree with you – there is something outrageously sexy about figs, esppecially when you open them! You'll find out, soon enough! 🙂

  7. Suzanne, so you know a little about that empire of flavor in a fig! Weel, they really don't get any yummier than this, and really, I need to find a better word!

    Lasciviously lush. How's that? 🙂

  8. Mandy – thank you so much for your comment! Yes, if there ever were an exercise in synesthesia, then FIg would smell red-purple, or so it seems to me. WHat I loved about the Africa stone is that suggestive, animal-musky drydown that made everything else sing! And sing, it certainly did!

  9. Memory…I remember that story because I heard it later…and something about the shade of a fig tree attracting scorpions…Well, it's just a story. Nothing bad happened, the philosophy student woke up dazed and confused some hours later, only to find that the German and I had eaten all the figs! 😉

    As for a shady fig grove…it smells, in a word, heavenly. The trees, the bark, the sunlight reverberating off the leaves…et in Arcadia ego, eating purloined figs…

  10. Carrie – I agree with you – most fig-themed scents veer to green – not a bad thing, but 'Fig' never does, in fact, it would be fair to say it really isn't like any other fig out there, and I've met a few. And take me away it also did…to an afternoon I had nearly forgotten!

    Of all the places I traveled that summer, the outer reaches of the Peloponnese were among my favorites, that hillside in Arcadia, the letdown that was Sparta (not much of it to see, really), and above all, three days on an empty beach near a town called Pylos, where the good king Nestor of the Iliad once reigned…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s