I had a small window of opportunity to get to Henri Bendel today, for the opening of their new Aftelier perfume installation. The second floor has many of the most interesting artisanal perfume product lines, grouped in the same area. Mandy Aftel was preparing for her special group presentation, so I did not meet her, but I was able to sample the fragrances. My favorite was Shiso, based on an old Geisha formulation, which contained unusual ingredients, combining a dark rich spice background with very unfamiliar foreground notes -- shiso leaf and agar wood. Subtle and holding close to skin, it has very strong staying power in that even after washing it remained clearly discernable. Mandy Aftel has been such an inspiration in her writing and deep understanding and respect for the psychological effects of scents and appreciation for traditional materials and production processes, and with her passion for the history and beauty of natural perfume, that it would be difficult to overestimate her influence as a catalyst for the creative rennaissance we are experiencing in natural fragrances today. I sometimes tell people who are unfamiliar with all this that Mandy Aftel is like the Alice Waters of American natural perfume. I find it interesting that both women are based in California, and each focused on and took one of the very primal, mostly non-intellectually mediated senses, smell and taste, and reconnected their refinement to appreciation of the traditional, artisanal methods of production and the importance of the use of the best natural materials available. Reconnecting to these concepts has also resulted in creative combinations and new contrasts using those natural materials and old methods, for uniquely modern results from many increasingly adept and creative practitioners. The audience of enthusiasts are multiplying exponentially.
Above - The Natural Perfume Wheel, from Aftelier, a visual way to link scent experience to description.