Mandy Aftel is one of those incredibly gifted creatives who seems to be able to bring a sense of purpose and wonder to all that she does. Not only is she a master perfumer in her studio in Berkeley but she is also a teacher and fantastic writer too.
I’ve profiled Mandy Aftel here on the blog and she makes wonderful perfumes of which I’ve reviewed Vanilla Smoke, Velvet Tuberose, Palimpsest, Cuir de Gardenia and also Oud Luban, Cepes, Tuberose and Amber Tapestry.
Fragrant: The Secret Life Of Scent is a book written by Mandy Aftel that I read this summer. I was spellbound by her deep dive into the exploration of five scented materials (cinnamon, mint, frankincense, ambergris and jasmine). Of these materials, ambergris is the one that has a real sense of mystery and otherworldliness. It’s a substance excreted by whales, washed ashore that then comes into our lives on the odd occasion as a material used in perfumery. Ambergris is highly prized for its long-lasting fixative abilities (creating stability in a fragrance) and sheen creating effects in perfumery. Here’s an extract from Fragrant: The Secret Life Of Scents that reveals the origins of ambergris.
“Ambergris is a waxlike pathological growth found in the stomach and intestines of about one in a hundred sperm whales, and also in the pygmy sperm whale. Its exact causes are still uncertain, buts growth may be spurred by the irritation created by indigestible elements in the foods eaten by whales, such as the beaks of cuttlefish, which are almost invariably found in ambergris. Sometimes the whale will sicken and die before the condition can remedy itself, but usually the “raw” ambergris is expelled as a stinking fecal mass.” (Mandy Aftel, Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent)
As you can imagine there are various classifications of ambergris and it has a multi faceted scent profile. Aftel notes the various classifications of ambergris as Marine, Sweet Marine Silver, Pure White, Earthy Woody, Antique, White Gold and Sweet Black. The scent in these different ambergris versions can vary between having marine elements, earthy facets, amber and dirt like odours.
Antique Ambergris is the name of this new perfume and is inspired by Aftel’s 100-year-old bottle of prized Antique Ambreine. She states that this material is one of the compounds of ambergris and requires time to mature to develop to its potential. The scent in this bottle was much loved by her best friend and the new perfume is Aftel’s labour of love to craft a perfume reminiscent of this antique scent.
Antique Ambergris (Solid Perfume) : from Aftelier Perfumes // Perfumer : Mandy Aftel // Year : 2018 // Notes : Antique Ambergris, Antique Civet, Aged Cypress Absolute, Coumarin
The Low Down : A perfume packed with aged materials that transform into an intimate experience.
First up let me say that this scent comes in a solid format. Personally I really enjoy this style and feel that it affords a more personal application compared to the more ubiquitous spray. A solid format has a smooth, creamy texture, (don’t think wax), sinks into skin and you need to be more precise in application. It does promise a more subdued effect than a liberal spray so please keep this in mind. It’s definitely more of a skin scent than one that will proclaim your arrival ahead of time.
I know that ambergris can take on many olfactory facets and recently I smelt a reasonable sized chunk that was rather pungent in odour. It had a dirty, marine scent and was unlike anything I’d encountered. I was surprised by the intensity of the scent. You’ll be relieved to know that Antique Ambergris smells nothing like this.
When I first spent time with Antique Ambergris the idea was to have a solitary moment on a work trip to Norway by the water with surrounding forests and drop dead views and really take in the perfume. The scent really did come to life there and I smelt a tree filled forest, with an earthy presence. A liquorice vibe also comes through which is no doubt from the coumarin as this material occurs naturally in the liquorice plant. A dryness yet also an ominiprescent warmth envelops this scent that really highlights the hay like nature of coumarin. It also has a lovely sense of an ambered feel that overlays the fragrance. Sometimes I also catch a whiff of a delicious bitter chocolate too. The blend of civet and ambergris gives the fragrance a depth that is no doubt aided by the use of aged materials. This is a frictionless application though and you won’t feel that sense of repulsion that can be the case with heavy civet hitters.
Antique Ambergris worn by the lake and forests seemed to me at the time like something the Norse Gods could have conjured. It smelt strong in the calm and solitude of the Norwegian surroundings, yet in the comforts of home it comes across as a much more cosy perfume. Antique Ambergris smells not at all musty or fusty, it is one that you will feel at ease with, whether at home, sitting by a Norwegian lake (with Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology in hand) or walking in a forest. You do get a sense of the specialness of the materials and the love and craft that has gone into the development. It’s not a challenging perfume in the way that Cepes and Tuberose can be on first wearing. For those of you who prefer a more complicated skin wear then this may not be your pick in Aftel’s collection. For those of us who also like to wear perfumes that smell great and conjure special moments then this is one to try.
P.S. My Mood Scent 4 colleague Samantha from I Scent You A Day was lucky enough to visit Mandy in her home in Berkeley and look around the Aftel Archive of Curious Scents. Click on her link below you can have a tour into her world as well.
Read more about Antique Ambergris : I Scent You A Day // Cafleurebon // Colognoisseur // For where to purchase : Please see the Aftelier Perfumes website for further details. A one quarter ml sample is US$ 15 and a sterling silver compact containing a one quarter ounce is US$350 // Images : Cover by Megan In Sainte Maxime and perfume photos from Aftelier Perfumers // Disclaimer : Samples gratefully received from Aftelier Perfumes. Opinions my own.