A Green and Searing Heart of Light – with a giveaway!

– a review of Aftelier’s ‘Haute Claire’

If I were ever to make a list of all the dozens of perfume notes I tend to gravitate towards and dote upon, the ones I tend to seek out as if compelled by some guardian angel of perfumery, at the very top of that list you would find that savage, green beast known as…galbanum.

Galbanum has been used since antiquity in perfumes and incense mixtures. The ancient Egyptians adored it every bit as much as Germaine Cellier, when she put it at the front and center of the greatest green perfume of all, Balmain’s Vent Vert. In the long list of my own personal great immortal perfumes, galbanum has been the green heart and common thread of most of them – Vent Vert, Bandit, Cabochard, Miss Dior, Dioressence, Silences, Chanel no. 19, even my latest favorite green, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ Vert pour Madame.

So imagine how excited I was to learn that in another perfume collaboration instigated by Nathan Branch, Mandy Aftel and Liz Zorn of Soivohle were exploring the challenges of two seeming contradictions – galbanum and ylang ylang. Galbanum, which sings in such a high, green pitch, and ylang ylang with all its lusciously sweet, tropical arias, not giving an inch, not even for galbanum.

Here I sit with Mandy’s ‘Haute Claire’, and since it arrived, I’ve been trying to wrap my mind, my nose and my words around it.

‘Haute Claire’ – sometimes spelled ‘Hauteclere’, meaning ‘high and clear’ or ‘noble and fair’ – was the name of a sword that belonged to the paladin Olivier de Vienne, the protector and teacher of Roland in the medieval French epic, ‘The Song of Roland’. Both the name and the contents suit each other completely, one as sharply defined as the other, both a testament to a unique artist’s sleight of hand that gives a perfect balance and a perfect reach.

First of all, I’ll start by saying this is like no galbanum fiend I have ever encountered before. Just as I had to, you can forget everything you know about green florals, chypres, and fougères.

Haute Claire is indeed very green, it is quite floral, it has slight intimations of chypre, and yet, it resembles nothing I have any kind of reference for, and oh, how I love it when that happens!

That sharp, green and resinous edge of galbanum glows just below a bright, emerald burst of lime and wild sweet orange, the kind to wake up all your sensory perceptions to high alert. Neither the lime nor the orange are so sweet they detract from galbanum, because throughout the complex development of Haute Claire, it beats like an untamed heart beneath every other element. Ylang ylang in both CO2 and extra dance so effortlessly with honeysuckle absolute and clary sage all along that searing galbanum blade, adding another dimension of floral, another, creamier shade of chartreuse to that pulsing heart, all the elements poised on the singular point of that metaphorical, perfume sword.

They whirl around in the emerald light…now ylang ylang in all its wonder, next the heady, sweet air of honeysuckle and the rounded, mellow tones of clary sage binding them together as they dance in tune along the blade…

So many of the notes in ‘Haute Claire’ are such inherent contradictions if not paradoxes in perfume that should cancel each other out and yet somehow they never do. That glowing, pulsing soul of galbanum and the heady ylang are seamlessly, effortlessly balanced in a fragrant duel where one is never stronger than the other. It never turns bitter and always remains green all the way through a spectacular drydown of vetiver and ethyl phenyl acetate with its hint of rose and vanilla adding just a feather-touch of soft and sweet, one final burnish of the blade. It wears equally well on men or women, I’d say, and lasts well past the four-hour mark, and that, too, is no mean feat of natural perfumery.

If ever a perfume were a testament to alchemy and artistry, to the juxtaposition of opposites and a balance of a paradox in essences, it would be Haute Claire. It smells like no other perfume, behaves like no other galbanum, and has an inbuilt architecture very similar to the sword that gave it its name, and that, too, I’ve never encountered before.

I’ve been sideswiped by Mandy Aftel’s skills as a perfumer with all nine of the perfumes I’ve been privileged enough to try. They have all evoked – and invoked – a wide range of responses and reactions, conjured different dreams and associations. But no other Aftelier creation has ever been like this one, both a paradox and a contradiction, yet such a seamless, perfect whole.

I could quote from ‘The Song of Roland’, but to be honest, I found something a little less dramatic and a lot less gory, that seemed to fit it equally well. If a sword can be immortal, then a perfume can be no less, and so I found this from Rumi…

‘Death came, smelled me
and sensed your fragrance instead
From then on, Death lost all hope of me…’

An immortal poem of immortal deeds, an eternal perfume…and a perfumer whose art makes it look as easy as a sharp, verdant edge…

‘Haute Claire’ is available in 30 ml EdP and in sample form from the Aftelier website.

DIsclosure: Sample provided by Aftelier for review.
Original image: ‘Ace of Skies’ from the “Chaos Tarot”, image of ‘Haute Claire’ provided by Aftelier.

Top: Galbanum, Mexican Lime, wild sweet orange
Heart: Ylang ylang CO2, honeysuckle absolute, ylang ylang extra, clary sage
Base: Vetiver, ethyl phenyl acetate, vanilla absolute

To read of the fascinating and sometimes frustrating process of creating ‘Haute Claire’ on Nathan Branch’s blog, start here.

Last, but not least – leave a comment! Thanks to Mandy’s incredible generosity, I’m holding a giveaway for a 5 ml sample spray of Haute Claire. One lucky reader will get to experience the Aftelier attention to detail in both perfume and packaging! So..leave a comment! The draw runs until July 25th at midnight CET, and a winner will be determined by random.org.

49 thoughts on “A Green and Searing Heart of Light – with a giveaway!

  1. I adore this review, Sheila! And that quote at the end from Rumi, took my breath away. It seems you and I got the same general vibe from Haute Claire, but we expressed it in our own ways, it's so fascinating to see how this strange and wonderful perfume is creating such incredible responses across the blogosphere. Well done! (oh, and don't enter me in the draw, obviously!)

  2. “Haute Claire is indeed very green, it is quite floral, it has slight intimations of chypre, and yet, it resembles nothing I have any kind of reference for, and oh, how I love it when that happens!” Something that is new and doesn't 'smell' like anything else!? YES, I need to sniff it, please enter me!

  3. Both your and Carrie's reviews make me absolutely want to smell it! I never had the chance to smell any of Mandy Aftel's fragrances. I'm interested in ylang-ylang but haven't yet found the fragrance that would make me fall in love with it, maybe this would be the one! Please enter me in the draw! 🙂

  4. Carrie – I'm so glad! I know both you and I did battle with this one! That quote from a poem by Rumi blew me away when I found it…(he's one of my favorite poets), and it seemed to fit the context beautifully! I won't enter you in the draw…;)

  5. Alnysie, I don't think anything much can prepare you for either Mandy's creations or Haute Claire, but it's a great place to start! You're in the draw!

  6. No, I didn't think the original Vent Vert could be beat, either, Elizabeth! But Haute Claire, you might have guessed, is no ordinary green…So good luck to you in the draw!

  7. Oh dear! you got us all dreaming about this perfume! I am now reading Mandy's book after following her letter exchange with Liz Zorn; I am thrilled by her views on perfume and scent. As a long time addict to green notes (an a galbanum fan) I sure want to explore this new wonder!

  8. Only recently have I started to realize how much I love green notes- a hot and cold kind of fragrance like haute claire really intrigues me and I am dying to smell it. Please enter me in the draw!

  9. As a big fan of Mandy's, I see her creativity expanding to boundaries way beyond what any of us could have thought of…I would dearly dearly LOVE to try this one!

  10. Thank you for focusing all that passion and alchemical word-smithing on Haute Claire. My heart soars reading your review. When I was creating this I kept referring to galbanum as the “green razor” and to create something that was seamless with that edge was my dream. I am so grateful to you for this.

  11. What a beautifully written, passionate review. Amazing that anyone could seamlessly pair galbanum and its olfactory opposite, ylang ylang. (But Mandy has a special genius for pairing unlikely partners.) Oh, enter me in the drawing, please!


  12. Your review was pure poetry. 🙂 I'm relatively new to natural perfumes, but I love Mandy's boronia and have never so much as sniffed galbanum. Haute Claire sounds like a sensualist's heaven.

  13. Beautiful review. I remember loving Vent Vert in the 70s, and I would treasure the chance to smell Haute Claire. Please enter me in the draw, thanks.

  14. The most intriguing part of your review was calling this a marvel of alchemy and artistry. That certainly caught my interest (plus, I love both galbanum and ylang-ylang as notes).
    Oh, I do wish I'd get lucky… 🙂

  15. I am so excited by this fresh sounding fragrance. I have
    a feeling that it might end up being a spring scent for me but only testing it will tell. Please enter me in the draw!

  16. Gorgeous review of a beautiful perfume. Sometimes I just like to know what you will say in reaction to a stunner like this, because it enhances my pleasures in it. Waiting a bit before I do a post myself, and assimilating all the interesting and enthusiastic reactions.

  17. A lovely review on a lovely perfume, I look forward to sampling this one when I order next on Aftelier.

    Thanks so much for the draw opportunity also!


  18. In college I wrote a paper for a medieval class on “The Song OF Roland”, which makes me extra intrigued about this scent. Big respect for galbanum-heavy compositions doesn't hurt either.

  19. I tried my first Aftelier perfume yesterday, Shiso, and it was a near religios experience. I'd love to be able to try out this one as well, so please enter me into the draw 🙂

  20. The more I read about this one the more intrigued I get. Especially when you say it's unlike anything else, and “alchemy and artistry”. Would love to enter for the 5ml, a generous gift from Mandy!

  21. Mandy, what can I say that my review didn't already state? Except if there ever were a prime example of alchemy in action and the 'Union of Opposites', then Haute Claire is a prime example of that impossible art – and so…of your artistry!

  22. To all of you who commented so far…I've had by necessity to forego my usual habit of commenting back to each of you individually, or things could get vastly out of hand! So instead I will…thank you, ALL OF YOU!!, for your comments. I've read each and every one of them! And I wish you all the best of luck in the draw!

  23. I love that Haute Claire represents nothing you have any kind of reference for! All the more intriguing. I too am very drawn to green scents and also a fan of ylang ylang (honeysuckle too) so I'm eager to smell how this came together.
    Thanks for the evocative review and to you (and Mandy) for the generous draw opportunity.

  24. A great review! Would love to experience this first hand. Im always looking for a fragrance that takes your imagination some where. Please enter me in the draw, thank you!


  25. I can't wait to sniff this. I have mostly spicy exotic scents without any green notes or just green and fresh.

  26. Haute Claire must be an exceptional perfume to inspire such a fabulous review. Well done! I would love to be part of this draw.

  27. I agree, awesome review. I've tried nearly all of Mandy's liquid and solid perfumes and her's are by far my favorite of the natural perfume realm to date. I would absolutely love a chance to see how she has tamed and featured these two amazingly powerful notes. Please enter me into the draw. Thanks!
    Laura Matheson

  28. Just as I began to feel jaded and weary of reading reviews, I came across yours and it wowed me! Please enter me in the draw; this green beastie sounds wonderful.

  29. Wonderful review, as always.

    Perfumes with properties of paradox, contradiction, duality, yin/yang, dark and light etc., they truly stir passion within me.

    I have only come across a couple of perfumes with those qualities. Like meditating or spending time in nature, I swear the perfumes “expanded” my consciousness. Haute Claire sounds like it may have the same effect!

  30. Between you and Carrie, I don't stand a chance!

    Beautiful words, as always 🙂 As I said in response to Carrie's review, if this perfume is half as beautiful as you've described, then I am going to need a bottle!!!

  31. Wow, what an amazing review. This is my first time on your blog so I will be sure to not miss your future reviews. With all the raves for Haute Claire, I will definitely be purchasing a sample soon if I don't win your lovely drawing!

  32. Instead of blathering my usual sales pitch ;), I'll keep it short and sweet…

    All of you who have commented so far – you're in the draw!

    All of you who are curious – that's the idea!

    All of you who have encountered Mandy Aftel's perfumes – you know you're in for something extraordinary.

    Meanwhile, all of …me is quite blown away by the comments I've received, so I'll just shut up (at last!!!) and say…thank you, each and every one of you!

  33. I love Aftelier– it was the line that sent me down this danged rabbit hole! Tango and Fig are so beautiful, and I'd love to smell this one, too! Throw me in too, please!

  34. Thanks on this wonderful review!

    Haute Claire must be a delight for green scent lovers. I have still to find my green Holy Grail (and it's not easy), and I admit that galbanum is not my cup of tea. However, I'm looking forward to trying this scent. All the reviews are so promising!


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