What kind of fragrance does a perfumer make for herself? When someone has smelled through the full range of olfactory materials and has the skill to compose something personal, what is it? In the case of Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes, it's a dense, sophisticated floral oriental built on real ambergris, a perfume she calls "the most extravagant in my collection." Fittingly, she named it Parfum Privé.
A few years ago I saw Aftel speak in New York City. Her casual, down-to-earth appearance set her apart from many of the high-heeled, artfully coiffed perfume industry women I'd soon meet at the Fifi semi-finalists' awards breakfast. She was friendly but not pandering, and smart but not pretentious. My impression was she had nothing to prove, but was happy to share her love of natural perfumery if you were interested enough to listen.
Aftel said her route to becoming a perfumer wasn't straightforward. She used to be a therapist for artists and writers, and, in part to understand their challenges, she decided to write a novel. A novel featuring someone who made perfume. In researching the book — tracking down ancient perfume manuals, learning about methods — the novel went out the window and perfume making with all natural materials took its place. Aftelier Perfumes was born.
As fascinating as it was to hear Aftel, I have to admit I haven't always connected with natural perfumes. With the Gatling gun-like shower of new perfume releases, it was always easy to push the naturals to the side. Besides, I'm used to fragrances loaded with synthetics. I'm used to perfume that can be big, diffuse, long lasting, and cheap. I suppose listening to Mozart on 18th-century instruments might take some adjustment, too. Listening to Lady Gaga played by the same ensemble definitely would. I don't have a lot of experience with the blend of modern olfactory sensibility and natural materials.
For me, Parfum Privé opened the door to a new appreciation of natural perfumes. Mandy Aftel created Parfum Privé in 2007 after obtaining some real ambergris. Parfum Privé also has notes of orange flower absolute, osmanthus, and ambrette. Its orange flower hugs Parfum Privé quietly and tightly, like the shellac on a piece of polished wood. Ambergris would be that wood. Not that ambergris smells like wood, but have you ever seen wood with such a smooth, satiny grain that it looks like it should be 3-D? That's the feeling I get from the ambergris — that satiny, shimmery depth. In the middle of the fragrance is the glamorous, tough-but-floral roundness of osmanthus. Something herbal dirties up the composition nicely.
Parfum Privé is dense, and all its notes feel telescoped into a narrow bandwidth. That doesn't mean the fragrance is limited or boring. Instead, it's deep and subtle like a piece of good chocolate — with a similar earthy kick, actually. Chocolate looks, smells, and tastes like one thing, chocolate, but hold it in your mouth and you might taste smoke, caramel, wood, and more. Parfum Privé has a similar way about it.
Parfum Privé has presence, too. I wore it last week when I met up with Trish from Scent Hive for lunch, and she noticed it right away with a comment on its "nice sillage". It has good sillage, that is, while it lasts. Which, sadly, is only about two hours.
The way to go with Parfum Privé would be to invest in a solid of the perfume and apply it throughout the day. You'd have to be committed, though, because a solid is $400. The perfume is a relative bargain at $125, but that's $125 for 2.2 ml. To get a visual on a 2.2 ml bottle, imagine Barbie holding a Barbie-sized fifth of gin. It's that small. My dreams of spraying Parfum Privé with abandon will have to be filed away with the others involving Johnny Depp, villas on the Riviera, and vintage Balenciaga ballgowns.
For information on where to buy Aftelier Parfum Privé, see Aftelier Perfumes under Perfume Houses.