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.