This winter I read Mandy Aftel’s Essence and Alchemy and not only learned a great deal about natural perfumery and its history, but I also found myself reveling in its mystical and spiritual aspects. Ms. Aftel’s book takes you on a journey of the natural perfumer as alchemist. Converting raw matter into something more pure and divine; potentially enabling us to connect the material world with the spiritual. This may or may not be the intention of a natural perfumer, but her book lays a convincing argument that botanical transformation or solve et coagula, to dissolve and combine, just might lead to a transcendental encounter.
Reading her book was informative and moving, but I had never actually worn one of her fragrances. And frankly, I was reluctant to do so after having such a wonderful experience with her writing. I was worried that I would have too many expectations of her perfumes, and if they weren’t met, the let down would be enormous. So I waited.
Two months passed until I filled my shopping cart with some samples at Aftelier.com which I must say is no cheap endeavor. But the time had arrived to experience the alchemist at large. I have started my personal Aftelier foray with the Orchid Solid Perfume. What does an orchid smell like you might ask? I really don’t know. After a little research I found that some have no smell, some are putrid, and some are akin to jasmine, honeysuckle, gardenia, rose, violet, etc. Additionally, the flower’s oil is very difficult to distill, so the perfumer must attempt to approximate what she/he has envisioned for the orchid’s fragrance. Whatever Ms. Aftel envisioned for her Orchid Solid, was utterly gorgeous.
Aftelier’s Orchid is an interesting fragrance that might take a little time to grasp, but it’s also one that you can surrender to immediately. The initial spicy peppery, cinnamon topnotes made my nose twitch with delight and curiosity. But I accepted the culinary twist and remembered the first time I inhaled a deep purple plumeria that smelled of cinnamon and simply let the fragrance evolve. The floral/spice mix melted into my skin and after my introductory puzzlement, I realized I could not imagine Orchid unfolding in any other manner.
The true beauty of Ms. Aftel’s creation is the orange blossom absolute. The interplay between the tropical narcotic, and the youthful fresh qualities of this blossom are perfectly balanced in her Orchid Solid. It’s green, heady, lush, citrusy, and vital. In Essence and Alchemy, Ms. Aftel describes absolutes as “floral essences at their truest and most concentrated.” That is certainly how the orange blossom of Aftelier’s Orchid flowers on the skin, truthfully.
Of course I had to do some research and find out what the spiciness was all about that I was perplexed and captivated by. I found Ayala Sender’s review of Orchid on her blog, Smellyblog, and she mentions that shiso is used in this fragrance. I have to plead ignorance in this regard, as I don’t know much about shiso except for what I have recently read and unknowingly consumed. Shiso, also known as perilla and many other names depending on if you are in Korea, Vietnam, India, etc, is a culinary herb. (Here is an informative article from the LA Times on its many uses). Clearly, shiso is responsible for the peppery, cinnamon opening and elegant transition to Orchid’s heart.
I will echo Ayala’s sentiment that Orchid does not last on the skin as I long as I would have hoped; approximately two hours. This is such a stunning fragrance that I would love for it to last all day. Yet, while I only have a sample of Orchid, it’s a pleasure to dip my finger into the perfume solid and reapply, and I can only imagine that doing so with the sterling silver compact feels like a precious ritual. And precious it is, as the compact is $175 for 1/4oz.
Many of you may know, but some of you may not, that Mandy Aftel has an exhibit in her honor at Bendel’s in New York City, Living Perfume: The Natural Alchemy of Mandy Aftel from April 18 – May 11. If you are in the New York area, this is not to be missed.
Aftelier’s Orchid Solid Perfume is available at Aftelier.com and Bendel’s in NYC. Aftelier products do not contain artificial colors, synthetic fragrances, petrochemicals, phthalates, or parabens. This is clearly stated on the website.
Posted by ~Trish