– 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…
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…
Top: Grand fir, pink grapefruit
Heart: Pink pepper absolute, jasmine sambac
Base: Africa stone, fir absolute
Disclosure: My sample was provided by Aftelier for review.