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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Review of Exotic Aromatics from Aftelier (Otherwise titled: Burgeoning Credit Card Debt)

I recently placed an order from Aftelier, one of my favorite sources for rare and exotic natural perfumery ingredients.  Aftelier is owned by Mandy Aftel a premier natural perfumer.  She literally wrote the book when it comes to Natural Perfumery and her fragrances are amazing.  I, like Mandy am drawn to the rarest botanicals.  When I read about a new essential oil or absolute that I've never smelled before, my heart rate quickens with excitement and I feel an adrenaline surge.  My thoughts are something along these lines:  Honeysuckle Absolute . . .  Oh my!  I've never heard of such a thing.  I never knew such an exquisite thing was AVAILABLE!  What must it smell like?  Imagine the gorgeous, amazing, original perfumes I can create with this . . . Must order immediately.  I then have to step away from the computer, red-eyed and sweating before I do something crazy like max out my credit card buying copious amounts of Honeysuckle Absolute.

I have ordered from Aftelier in the past--and while I knew it was risky--I used their rooibos absolute as a main ingredient in my Osmanthus Oolong natural perfume.  I say risky as Aftelier specializes in hard to find ingredients in very limited quantities, so creating a professional size retail scent utilizing an ingredient that you may not be able to acquire again is perhaps not the smartest idea.  Murphy's Law being what it is, Osmanthus Oolong has become one of my more popular fragrances and I began getting concerned about creating a new batch in the near future.  I found my beloved fruity rooibos absolute was no longer available from Aftelier (gulp) and indeed an extensive google search for other suppliers was unsuccessful.

I sheepishly emailed Aftelier inquiring if there was any rooibos absolute available.  I was surprised to receive an email back from Mandy Aftel herself.  She explained she had a very limited quantity remaining that was her own personal "stash" and she had been unable to procure anymore despite her best attempts.  However, she was willing to sell me a small quantity so that I could re-create my beloved perfume.  She recommended I call in my special order.  I was relieved and happy that I would be able to recreate my original perfume.

I called and was startled to reach Mandy herself.  She explained her assistant was away.  The conversation went something like this:

ME:  "Hi, umm Mandy?  This is Charna calling.  I emailed you about the rooibos . . . ?
MANDY:  "Hello?  WHO is THIS?"
ME: (nervous) "Charnafromrhodeislandcallingaboutrooibos."
MANDY: "I have no idea what you're talking about."
ME: (stammering) "ROO-BOOZE.  I wanted to place an order.  I need more Roo-booze absolute please!"
MANDY: (long pause)  "Do you mean ROY-BUS?  I've never heard of ROO-BOOZE."
ME: (gulping, face burning.) "Umm, I guess I was mispronouncing it?

I have always had extreme nervousness in conversing with people I admire.  I have met many a pop star or celebrity and barely batted an eyelash, but put me in a room with the finest writers, painters, or in this case, perfumers and I can barely make eye contact.  My husband likes to call this awkward social dilemma my English Major Groupie-ism.  He coined this term many years ago when we first started dating.  We were talking about books over dinner, and he told me one of my favorites was written by his uncle.  I was stupefied.  Mouth open (a particularly unattractive look when on a dinner date) I yelled, "You're related to JAMES BALDWIN?"  I peppered him incessantly with questions regarding his uncle, his life, his writing etc. for the rest of the date.  My husband jokes he knew I was hooked on him from that moment on.

I admire Mandy Aftel very much, and consequently I was a stark raving idiot on the phone.  I desperately wanted to ask what it was like creating a perfume for Madonna, but luckily was able to control myself.  I did find out some interesting things about how she works; such as she does not tincture botanicals for use in perfumery.  This surprised me a bit, and made me appreciate the influence of Anya McCoy, the head of the Natural Perfumers Guild all the more.  Anya is another well known perfumer who encourages other perfumers to tincture away.  I realized I must have assumed that this was how all natural perfumers worked.  I was slowly understanding that not all successful natural perfumers worked the same.

Moving on to my order of botanicals placed with Aftelier.  Along with the Rooibos Absolute I also purchased:

  • Aged Beeswax abs.
  • Rum CO2
  • Agarwood Essential Oil
  • Fresh Mint Abs.
  • Honeysuckle Abs.
  • Phenyl Ethyl Acetate (natural isolate)

My impressions of the botanicals are as follows:

Aged Beeswax Abs.  (dark brown viscous) Love this!  This aged beeswax is very different from other beeswax absolutes I've sampled.  It is dark brown in color and less sweet than other beeswax samples, with a hint of smokiness and increased depth.  Smelling this stirs me creatively and a multitude of different perfume ideas scroll through my head.  The honeyed smoke scent reminds me of autumn.  I want to use it in every blend.

Rum CO2  (clear) This is insanely expensive and I hoped I wouldn't have buyers remorse.  As soon as my shipment arrived, this was the first bottle I gleefully twisted open to inhale.  It is very powerful and requires a very light hand when using.  At first whiff, it smells like incredibly strong rum extract one might use for cooking.  On further reflection, there are honeyed whiskey notes with hints of creamy vanilla and spice.  It's absolutely delicious! As I mentioned before, it's super concentrated.  One tiny drop nearly overpowered a one ounce blend I was creating.  However, it's magical.  The way it transforms a creation is incredible.  I made a delightful masculine scent that may be one of my favorites using the rum co2.  I only hope as it ages the rum does not overpower the blend.

Agarwood  (light golden oil) I was surprised to note the light color of this oil as most agarwoods/oud I have sampled have been dark colored.  This agarwood smells very different from others I have experienced.  There is no musty, moldy note I have encountered with other agarwoods.  I wonder if this oil is distilled from the wood before it is infected?  I did notice the scent tenacity was much lighter than I expected.  The aroma is light, woody and masculine.  I found it somewhat similar to Australian sandalwood, however a little less "creamy" or "powdery."  I like this botanical very much and look forward to getting to know it better.

Fresh Mint Abs.  (dark brown/green) I like this and I'm surprised that it blends with many other aromas.  Mint can be very tricky to use in perfumery, and this absolute seems to play nice with others.  I believe Aftelier describes this essence as "surprisingly versatile" and indeed it is.  When smelling the fresh mint from the bottle it's fresh and minty, a bit like high quality scope mouthwash!  I became intrigued by mint absolute after trying some of Alec Lawlesses' Essentially Me fragrances where mint absolute was used as part of the top note.  With a light hand, the mint freshens up florals and tames indolic notes.  It seems to work particularly well with orris, violet leaf, mimosa, sage and rose.  I have more experimenting with this ingredient to do to understand it better.

Honeysuckle Abs. (dark brown) Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.  I was giddily anticipating the arrival of this honeysuckle.  It smells exactly like the honeysuckle flower.  No part of the actual flower essence seems to be lost in the creation of the absolute.  It is sweet, plump and succulent.  It smells like hot summer days.  If you close your eyes and inhale you can feel the sun on your face and hear the faint drone of buzzing bees.  Amazing!  I find the aroma reminiscent of some jasmine grandiflorums.  I want to be careful when blending with this exquisite rare ingredient not to overpower it, I must let it sing!

Phenyl Ethyl Acetate (clear) I will admit immediately that I know nothing about natural isolates.  This is my first experience with such an ingredient, and I did not know what to expect.  My first impression upon inhalation was frankly YUCK.  A sickeningly sweet acidic floral liquor mixed with nail polish remover (I think that's the acetate talking.)  I'm not exactly sure what to make of this.  In it's concentrated form it does not smell "natural" to me.  If the bottle is held far away from the nose, one can get a faint pretty fermenting floral aroma.  When diluting this in alcohol, I feel like the scent flip-flops back and forth between pretty and horrible.  It's very hard to describe.  Phenyl Ethyl Acetate is definitely potent.  I have tried it in one blend (2 drops in one ounce alcohol) and it is a very dominant top note with amazing longevity.  I have never had a top note last so long.  So far, it seems to work well with fruity floral type blends.  This isolate seems to need time to meld with the other ingredients and ages well.  This is double-talk for: The perfume with Phenyl Ethyl Acetate smelled terrible at first, but now that it has aged a few weeks it's much better.  I believe Mandy Aftel mentioned that she used Phenyl Ethyl Acetate in her Lumiere perfume, so I have high hopes for utilizing this natural isolate.

I know, I am a major dork