The Phases of Mandy Aftel’s Bergamoss

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When it comes to physics there are three phases of matter: liquid, solid and gas. In perfumery there are two phases solid and liquid. Almost all new perfumes are made as liquids. There are very few brands which make solid perfume versions of their liquid perfumes. Even rarer is the perfumer who composes with a solid formulation as their preferred form. One perfumer who has always considered the form her perfumes will take as part of the creative process is Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes.

Ms. Aftel and I had an e-mail conversation sparked by her sending me a sample of her Eau de Parfum version of Bergamoss at the end of last year. Bergamoss in its solid form was one of the perfumes I considered for Perfume of the Year. It is a shimmering modern chypre revolving around a unique focal point of flouve absolute. When translated to a liquid form Bergamoss becomes more expressive. Instead of shimmering it feels more like a sunbeam of focused light and energy. The flouve, so mobile in the solid formulation, feels more like a pivot point in the EdP as the bergamot switches to the chypre. I was interested in Ms. Aftel’s take on how, as a perfumer, she approached a solid versus a liquid perfume. The conversation provided a unique insight into Ms. Aftel’s considered creative process.

Mandy working on Bergamoss

Ms. Aftel at work on Bergamoss

To start I wanted to know in the most basic way how Ms. Aftel viewed her solid perfumes and her liquid versions. She related to me, “I started making solid perfume over twenty years ago and they were the first perfumes that I made. They have a very special place in my heart. I always carry one with me in my purse and use it when I am out. In the beginning of my career, there was no overlap between my solid and liquid perfumes, in other words, a perfume I created was either a solid perfume or a liquid perfume. Whenever I am creating a fragrance the form and carrier of the fragrance are a part of my creative process and I create for something to be in a specific form.”

Also part of conceptualizing a solid perfume is the very different way it is applied. The very act of dragging a finger through the solid and applying it to my skin provides what I consider a unique tactile experience. Ms. Aftel also feels this adds to a perfume in its solid form as she says, “I think of my solid perfumes as simpler, denser, and easier to layer.  I also see them in my mind’s eye traveling with my customer to various and sundry parts of his or her life and bringing some beauty and comfort there. I love the different ways that you can apply perfume, to dab, spray or smooth on a solid perfume. To me these ways of application are intimately connected to the total experience of the perfume on the body. I always think about how a person will experience putting on a perfume of mine and this impacts how I create the perfume and how I package it.” 

I was very interested in the concept of creating for a specific form and asked her to use her two most recent releases, Bergamoss and Vanilla Smoke, as examples to clarify this, “Bergamoss was intended to be a solid perfume because I liked the way that the soft heaviness of the oakmoss revealed itself in a base of wax and oil.  I think of solid perfumes as better for layering.  The drydown on Bergamoss felt like a beautiful foundation upon which to layer liquid perfumes. Vanilla Smoke needed the lift of the high proof perfume alcohol to spread out into and reveal the different levels of wood and smoke and vanilla.”

bergamoss solid

With that in mind I had to know why release Bergamoss as an Eau de Parfum. Ms. Aftel said, “I always thought Bergamoss would make a beautiful liquid perfume — perhaps more beautiful than the solid version — but I wanted it to be a solid perfume. The richness and history of vintage chypres called out to me have the substance of a solid perfume —  and I liked the shimmering aspect of the solid on the skin. But when the holiday came around I wanted to offer another version and was concerned that perhaps it wouldn't make the leap from solid to liquid form with grace. I knew it would be much lighter and brighter and was relieved to find that it still has the substance of the forest coming alive at dusk.”

Ms. Aftel sees Bergamoss as a solid perfume and as such the Eau de Parfum is a limited edition which will be discontinued in February 2016. Her reasoning for offering it as a liquid at all is, “My solid perfumes are expensive and I wanted people to have a chance to experience Bergamoss without having to purchase a solid case.  I love having a small line of perfumes and will stop offering a perfume even when it is selling well and in demand.  It has to do with my interest, as an artist, in the whole of my perfume line being coherent to me and not growing too large. I think of my fragrant offerings as chapters of a book that should create a whole.”

I had to finish our conversation about Bergamoss asking Ms. Aftel to describe this particular chapter in her compendium of perfumes, “My book of perfumes is ever changing with the introduction of new perfumes and the phasing out of old ones. It is something I do intuitively: There is a beautiful and alive “rightness” that I strive for in the whole of the offerings of Aftelier Perfumes.  I don’t want any perfume in my line to be too close or repeat a creative idea that is central in another perfume.” When pressed on Bergamoss EDP she chose a quote from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, “Bergamoss EDP is a brief character — “that struts and frets its hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.”

I want to thank Ms. Aftel for taking the time to answer my questions so thoroughly. It is always interesting to hear an artist find a way to describe something which is at heart an intuitive process.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Aftelier Perfumes Vanilla Smoke- Modern Oriental

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There are times when I hear a new vanilla perfume is coming from one of my favorite brands I get a nervous feeling. What I should remember when this happens again is these perfumers and brands are my favorites because they don’t do what is expected. Even so when I received an e-mail from perfumer Mandy Aftel announcing her new release Aftelier Perfumes Vanilla Smoke that nervous feeling returned unbidden.

What it is that I worry about is that especially in the case of vanilla there is a tendency to use vanillin as the source. This ingredient is where most of the vanilla focused perfumes go over the top in overdose and leave me wanting something more, or more correctly less. Ms. Aftel gives me that extra something I am looking for as she eschews vanillin for a Madagascar vanilla absolute as one of two keynotes in Vanilla Smoke. I will admit I am also tiring of perfumes which layer on the woodsmoke and incense. As with the vanilla source Ms. Aftel shows she is not a perfumer who trods the expected path. The source of the smoke here is Lapsang Souchong tea. Together they form the titular notes for this perfume.

MandyAuthorPhoto

Mandy Aftel

Vanilla Smoke opens with a wry knowing smile as Ms. Aftel brandishes many of the components of a more pedestrian construction in the early moments. A bit of sunny mandarin, a touch of light wood and some vanillin. The first couple of minutes had me worried but like a trickster Ms. Aftel rapidly shifts gears into her very clever version of vanilla and smoke. The interstitial note is saffron absolute as it imposes itself on the top notes and immediately makes them more interesting. It provides a bit of camouflage for the keynotes as they begin to rise up in prominence. Real vanilla absolute has the sweet you are familiar with but it also contains much more. There is much more complexity as gentle facets of spiciness and woods make this something more easily found in a jungle than on a baker’s sheet.  I say it every time I review a fantastic independent perfume that the ingredients they use are what set them apart. Ms. Aftel’s Lapsang Souchong is an extract of the tea leaves that were further smoked over pinewood. This allows for this Lapsang Souchong extract to have the heft necessary to stand up to the vanilla absolute as an equal. This ingredient captures the strong black tea and the smokiness inherent within it without ever smelling like a campfire. It is an exotic source of smoke. The final ingredients are coumarin to help accentuate the sweet vanilla qualities and ambergris which adds its unique foundation forming an incandescent veil over the final stages.

Vanilla Smoke in the Eau de Parfum concentration had 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage. In the Perfume concentration it had 16-18 hour longevity and almost no sillage.

Ms. Aftel sent me both of the concentrations available: the Eau de Parfum and the Perfume versions. The Eau de Parfum is much more expansive and the notes which particularly shine in that are things like the saffron and the coumarin as they have more obvious effects. The Perfume concentration is much more contained in its development and it is the keynotes which are mostly in evidence throughout. I thoroughly enjoy both concentrations as I could say the Eau de Parfum is more smoke as it expands to fill up the space around it. The Perfume is more vanilla as the absolute has more influence over the Lapsang Souchong. I think it will all be personal preference which to choose as both are spectacularly good.

I had to laugh when I was looking on Ms. Aftel’s website to see how she categorized Vanilla Smoke. Right at the top of the page it says “gourmand”. I could not disagree more with that as I think of gourmands as something entirely different than what I experience in Vanilla Smoke. If I was categorizing this I would call it a Modern Oriental. Ms. Aftel has taken the traditional Oriental tropes and transformed them into something that feels like an update to that family. It is as satisfying as anything I own in that genre.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Aftelier Perfumes.

Mark Behnke