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.
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.”
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.