Something about natural perfumes is so appealing. I envision a greenhouse with a long table heaped with blossoms. On another table, glass panes crush grease-laden tuberose flowers. A perfumer — always a woman with flowing hair and the witch-like quality of knowing the perfect herb for every ailment — dispenses jewel-toned liquids drop by drop into lead glass bottles. If love potions exist, surely they are made by natural perfumers.
Of course, that’s just my overly active imagination. I know little about natural fragrances, and I haven’t developed much of a nose for them. My brief experience has shown natural perfumes to feel more “telescoped” and dense. I haven’t encountered one that’s a sillage monster — I doubt you’d get kicked off an elevator if you wore most natural fragrances — and they don’t tend to last as long as a department store fragrance.
So I was curious to take Aftelier Secret Garden, an all-natural fragrance, and Dawn Spencer Hurwitz Pandora, a 97.5% natural fragrance, for a test drive. Would they smell too, well, wimpy? Short answer: no.
Secret Garden has top notes of bergamot, bois de rose, Geraniol, and blood orange; a heart of jasmine sambac, raspberry (compounded isolate), Turkish rose, and blue lotus; and a base of civet, castoreum, vanilla, deer tongue, benzoin, and aged patchouli. (Deer tongue is a plant, by the way.) A series of letters between Mandy Aftel and Dawn Spencer Hurwitz on Nathan Branch’s blog outlines Secret Garden’s development.
Secret Garden is a lush, jammy floral buzzing with jasmine and finished with sweet, fusty animalic notes. Secret Garden’s blood orange and raspberry are apparent right away, but lots of rich, spicy flowers keep it far from turning into a cocktail. I know calling something “seamlessly blended” is a cliché, but the fragrance truly is whipped into one silky fabric. Secret Garden feels like it could have been lifted from another time. It is feminine and emotional, but playful enough to earn a spot on Costanze Mozart’s dressing table.
As the fragrance develops, Secret Garden smells more leathery-sweet and just a tiny bit dirty, but it keeps the integrity of its spicy-fruity heart. There’s something intensely romantic, but not at all saccharine, about this perfume. Hey, maybe this is the love potion I imagined.
I tested both the Secret Garden Parfum and Eau de Parfum. I prefer the Eau de Parfum for its effervescence, but like the Parfum for the depth of its animalic notes. They both last about three or four hours on my skin.
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz Pandora (97.5% natural) has a similar throwback feel as Secret Garden, but it moves you out of the flower-packed, boiserie-lined drawing room, through the room’s windows open to the summer garden, and to the leather and meadow of the stable.
Pandora has top notes of aldehydes, bergamot, cassis bud, davana, green peppercorn, ozone, pink peppercorn, ruby fruits (botanical accord), spice notes, and violet leaf absolute; a heart of cabreuva wood, centifolia rose absolute, green tea absolute, juhi jasmine absolute, linden blossom absolute, orris root, and yerba maté absolute; and a base of ambergris tincture, Australian sandalwood, cyperus, fossilized amber resin, green oakmoss, mousse de Saxe no. 1 (botanical accord), muhuhu, patchouli co2, tonka bean absolute, vanilla absolute, and vetiver co2.
On first smelling Pandora, I thought, “An herbal green chypre! Like Parfumerie Générale Corps et Ames.” (Side by side, Corps et Ames is more austere than Pandora.) Within a few minutes, when the minty, herbal top notes faded, a dry, spicy leather chypre emerged. “Aha! Just like Robert Piguet Bandit.” (Bandit is soapier and more angular.) Over the next hour, the fragrance continued to evolve, and its leather dropped evolved into the tonka-inflected, mossy dry down of a grand old oriental.
Sadly, like the legendary Pandora’s box, once this box is opened, its delicious contents disappear too soon. The Parfum lasts three hours, tops, on my skin. I’d love to burn a Pandora-scented candle and infuse my house with its fragrance over an evening.
Aftelier Secret Garden is available as 2 ml of Parfum ($45), quarter ounce of Parfum ($150), and 30 ml Eau de Parfum ($150). For information on where to buy Secret Garden, see Aftelier under Perfume Houses.
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz Pandora is available as 15 ml of Parfum in “antique presentation” bottle ($225), a dram of Eau de Parfum ($25), or 10 ml of Eau de Parfum ($60). For information on where to buy Pandora, see Dawn Spencer Hurwitz under Perfume Houses.