First, a definition: a “palimpsest” is a material, such as a parchment, that’s been written on, erased, and written on again. With a palimpsest, you may see traces of the story written before. (Another word that evokes this sense of story within story is “pentimento,” the glimpse of a painting under a painting. Maybe the name of an Aftelier Palimpsest flanker?)
Mandy Aftel, Aftelier’s founder and nose, says she was inspired to create Palimpsest while she was researching her newest book, Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent. “I wanted to capture the feeling of how the past is alive in the present, but transformed into a beautiful, shadowy feeling of layered richness and sensuality,” she writes.
Like all of Aftelier’s fragrances, Palimpsest is made from natural materials. It includes notes of firetree (an African tree), ambergris, yuzu, vanilla absolute, ylang ylang, jasmine and peach. Like a palimpsest, the fragrance is meant to fold “back upon itself over time, the opening notes joining with the deepest notes and the aromatic traces of the earlier notes persisting in an intricate evolution.”
Palimpsest smells dense and telescoped. A sniff tells you right away that it’s not a bright, diffusive department store perfume. The fragrance starts with a flash of green that instantly gives way to a focused heart of fruit I imagine to be dark purple with a velvety skin, like a fig — but not a fig, and not anything I’ve seen at the supermarket. Sometimes the fruit stays fruity, and sometimes it turns more vanillic, reminding me of a chocolate-covered banana, especially if I put my nose right up to skin. Further away, I smell ylang ylang more clearly.
To me, Palimpsest has a tropical feel. These aren’t the tropics of Club Med and suntan oil, but the sort of tropics you’d see on a sepia-toned postcard of wooden trading ships and wind-blown palms. Also, since the fragrance is so rich, I’d wear it with sweaters on a cold day rather than on an island vacation. Palimpsest is heady — it packs some sillage — and it wears all day, no problem.
As for whether Palimpsest plays the hide-and-seek of a real palimpsest, I don't really smell it, but that could be my skin or my faulty nose. In any case, it doesn't make the fragrance any less interesting.
Aftelier Palimpsest is available as a 7 ml Parfum ($170), 30 ml Eau de Parfum spray ($170), and 2 ml Parfum mini ($50). Samples are $6. To buy Palimpsest, see Aftelier under Perfume Houses.
Note: image of the Archimedes Palimpsest via PBS / NOVA.