Friday, July 08, 2011

Jasmine in Berkeley - Visiting Mandy Aftel + GIVEAWAY

Just a couple of hours after landing in SFO, I headed to Berkeley, for my long-awaited visit with world renown natural perfumer and writer Mandy Aftel. Peaking through the thoroughly-shingled house, a window offers a glimpse into the world that awaits within: several rows of antique and vintage perfume bottles, beakers and flasks. I knocked with a copper door-knocker shaped like knocking wrist, and Foster, Mandy’s husband, greeted me with a smile. Moments later, Mandy joined him welcoming me with a big warm hug.

Mandy gave me the tour of her lovely home studio, which upon entry had a distinct smell of raw natural aromatics, although not in the least overpowering and my nose got used to it very quickly. I browsed through her beautiful flacons to smell her newest creations – Honey Blossom, which was nominated for FiFi, and smells primarily of linden blossom CO2; and Candide, which is a voluptuous jasmine possessing both depth and light, partly I think because of the beautiful frankincense and the highlights of the natural isolate benzyl acetate (which is a very sheer, bright ester that is present in most white florals – i.e.: gardenia, jasmine, ylang ylang, narcissus, hyacinth, etc.), and even got a whiff of Haute Claire - the new perfume she created during her correspondence with perfumer Liz Zorn on Nathan Branch's blog, based on a contrasting accord of galbanum and ylang ylang.

Mandy has generously let me feast my olfactory bulb on her fascinating perfumer’s organ, featuring not only unusual and at times quirky aromatics (sarsaparilla absolute, for instance) and isolates; but also most rare, vintage oils of years past – patchouli, and twin glass bottles of vintage ambergris tincture and ambreine (an isolate) that came encased in an antique leather box.

I also smelled other rare treasures, such as her tiare absolute, blue lotus absolute (the prettiest I’ve ever smelled!) and the foody sarsaparilla (yum!), and even a rare tincture of musk deer’s pods (without the grains inside, which were scraped away before the pod found its way to Mandy’s studio). The musk tincture did not smell remotely as I imagined it would be – it was more green than animalic to my nose, almost like angelica. I personally prefer ambrette seed so much better, but than I have never blended with musk and it is likely to have an unusual effect beyond how it smells on its own, similarly to how ambergris behaves, which is why animal essences have been in such demand for centuries, and why there is still so much controversy around them. Thankfully, there are alternatives available to today’s perfumers that are sustainable as well as cruelty free and reach similar effects. Perfumers today are using African stone tincture instead of civet and castoreum; ambrette seed instead of musk; and beach harvested ambergris, which does not harm any whales in the process – and of course, mass scale perfumery would use the synthetic alternatives.

We both share a passion for tea, so I was very excited when Mandy brewed a pot of her Frankincense GABA oolong tea. Mandy’s technique of scenting her teas is very different than mine – technically they are “aromatized” with the essences she chooses and blends carefully (where as mine are blends of teas that were often perfumed with flowers, in conjunction with freshly dried herbs, spices, fruit, etc.). I was pleasantly surprised at the delicate, subtle complexity of these scented teas. They were so beautiful and balanced. I smelled all four from their tins (linden blossom, and the jasmine & mint were both beautiful but there was only time for so many teas in one afternoon!). We started with the Frankincense GABA tea – an oolong rich with antioxidants and scented with a tincture Mandy prepared herself of an unusual specimen of frankincense that has a very smooth note. It opened feeling quite citrusy, like a light Earl Gray or Orange Pekoe tea, and the woody notes only peaked out later on as she kept re-steeping the tea. To my delight, when we were done sipping this delicate brew, she prepared her beautiful Ginger & Turkish Rose Tea (also oolong tea), a combination that sounded strange to me when I first saw it, but smelled so delicate in the dry leaf, and just sublime when steeped. Mandy certainly has a knack for surprising scent combinations, and being able to reach a stunning balance with notes that wouldn’t normally pair too easily together.

Isolates seem to be a newly found obsession among natural perfumers, as they open many possibilities with their single-molecule purity – a quality that is so different from the complex essences we work with, often containing dozens if not hundreds of different molecules. It was not difficult to fall in love with some of the isolates Mandy picked for he palate – Benzyl acetate (jasminey), Octanol-3 (rubbery and a little like black truffle), Alpha Ionone (woody sweet candied violets), Methyl Methyl Anthranilate (grapey wintergreen), and anisaldehyde (like heliotropin with hints of licorice and green notes). I bought a few interesting isolates and oils at the end of the visit, and also Mandy generously gifted me with the very last bottle of her Petitgrain Citron, which she describes as possessing the scent of Meyer lemon blossoms!

Time flies when having fun, and sooner than I hoped the visit had to come to an end – after all, I couldn’t be late for the party Yosh Han organized for me… About which I will tell you in the next post, tomorrow!

Leave a comment with your favourite Aftelier perfume or product, and enter to win a miniature of Aftelier's Cassis parfum.
UPDATE: The winner of our giveaway is Lavanya. Congratulations! Hope you enjoy the Cassis :-)

Note: All the photos are courtesy of Mandy Aftel and copyrighted to Aftelier.

P.s. The visit was on June 29th.

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At July 11, 2011 10:38 AM, Blogger mandy said...

Your post brings back the happy memories of your visit. can't wait for the next one!

At July 11, 2011 10:54 AM, Anonymous Felicia said...

I can't speak to her perfumes as I've sadly never smelled one. I do have a few of her raw materials though, and I'm loving her light agarwood.

At July 11, 2011 11:05 AM, Anonymous Lavanya said...

oh- this sounds like such a wonderful visit!
I just recently got an opportunity to live with some of Mandy's perfumes. I've been loving Cepes and Tuberose, Shiso and Lumiere. But I think I'm slowly also falling under the spell of Tango- such a sensual scent!

At July 11, 2011 11:09 AM, Anonymous Lavanya said...

That ginger and rose tea sounds divine!- I would think the ginger would overpower the rose- are they equally present? If yes- I can imagine the 'sharpness' of ginger being a perfect complement to the sweetness of the rose ..

At July 11, 2011 11:59 AM, Blogger Margaret said...

Thank you for the lovely tale of your visit Mandys home. I love Honey Blossom! It was a gift and I treasure it! Thanks for the chance to sample something new!

At July 11, 2011 12:16 PM, Anonymous Katie said...

Great article! I love Mandy's scents and am in awe of her ability to work magic with difficult ingredients. Pink Lotus is the one I own and I was so amazed that she was able to work in oakmoss without overpowering the more delicate lotus. I had the pleasure of studying with Mandy in May and I got a chance to smell her ylang-galbanum blend as well. Again I was amazed at how well she worked galbanum into the whole. I hate galbanum, but I could definitely have worn that perfume! She is a true master of her materials.

At July 11, 2011 2:11 PM, Anonymous Cheri H said...

To pick a favorite of Mandy's creations is difficult; she has many beautiful blends. What comes to mind at first are the Boronia and Wildflowers solids. Both smell of fresh plants: one tropical and one like honey and hay.

I have fallen for Pink Lotus, too. I think the combo of flowers and oakmoss is a classic that will never grow old.
Her Forest Flower bath is wonderful bath oil; the magnolia adds cheer to an earthy forest hike.

Sadly I hear that both the Boronia and the Pink Lotus is going away. Oh well, that leaves room for more wonderful creations. Most of what I have are samples.

I would love to try cassis, as it normally not available on the website.


At July 11, 2011 3:14 PM, Blogger Olive and Oud said...

How it makes me smile to imagine the two of you sharing your passion for and curiosity about scent.

I've tried about a half dozen of Mandy's scents and love them all, but Shiso is the one that speaks most seductvely to me.


At July 11, 2011 8:08 PM, Blogger Lux Vivens said...

Sounds just lovely Ayala!!! The closest thing I have smelled of Mandy's was that intriguing African Stone. I hope to experience some of her creations one day soon. Thank you for sharing your experience with us :)

At July 13, 2011 11:10 AM, Blogger Ayala Moriel said...

Aftelier's raw materials are outstanding. Mandy is a wiz when it comes to sourcing :-)

I love Shiso as well - it's such a haunting, mysterious perfume and very true to Japanese body incense perfumes. The ginger is only an accent - it's definitely a rose tea :-)

You're lucky to have received Honey Blossom as a gift - I'm jealous ;-)

Thank you for your comment. I'm pleased to hear about your experience with Pink Lotus. For me it's another exmaple for how important body chemistry is - it smells very different on me, and so does Cepes and Tuberose. I have hard time wearing sandalwood-based perfumes...

I have the Boronia solid as well and love it... And now you've reminded me of all the other things I *meant* to smell at her studio and haven't got a chance too - the Wild Flowers solid, for sure was one of them and I totally forgot, getting lost in conversation and all the beautiful bottles and essences... You got to have a shopping list visiting there ;-)

That is very sweet of you to say!
And you join me in the Shiso admiration!!!

Thankfully, Mandy knows better than putting too much African Stone Tincture in her perfumes... Next time you're in Vancouver I can show you what I have of her creations in my (ever growing...) perfume collection.

At July 15, 2011 9:46 AM, Blogger dabney rose said...

A very injoyable read! It fueled my fantasy of someday doing the same. :)


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