“I wanted to capture the musk-like smell of skin, using all naturals, which was quite a challenge,” Mandy Aftel writes of her latest fragrance, Aftelier Memento Mori. At first blush, creating a perfume that smells like skin might seem pointless. After all, aren’t we wearing skin? We should have skin smell already built in.
Think about it a moment, though, and it makes sense. Maybe you look out your window at a mountain, but it doesn’t take away from the pleasure of viewing Cezanne’s Mont Sainte Victoire. An artist’s interpretion of her subject adds value. Even an exact depiction of something can be art, because the painting is not the original object — ceci n’est pas une pipe. In the case of Memento Mori, this is not skin. It’s perfume.
And now that I am in art theory way over my head, I’ll say that to me Memento Mori is not a headspace-like reproduction of skin’s scent. Rather, it might be Francis Bacon’s take on skin for its first several hours, fading to the dried rose petals and maternal flesh of a Mary Cassatt.
To describe Memento Mori’s notes, lets go back to Mandy Aftel’s words:
Butter, orris and beta-ionone with their skin-like flat but subtly floral aroma was the perfect entry into the perfume. Phyenylacetic acid combines the animalic with the floral. The rose notes are a soft and intimate bridge to the skin-like tones of the wood violet — beta ionone — and the rich but transparent patchouli isolate — patchoulyl acetate. The luminescent texture of ambreine, civet and ambergris lends warm and sheer notes of musk that linger.
On me, Memento Mori goes on sharp and slightly fusty, like parmesan cheese brushed with acid. It’s disturbing and not particularly pleasant, but interesting. Over the next half hour, the fragrance seems to incrementally relax, showing a floral heart so gentle that it might simply be the breath of cotton wool stored in a chest with a decade-old wedding bouquet. The fragrance loses some of its metallic fustiness, too, but its queer, acidic skeleton shows its bones for several hours.
Finally, hours in, Memento Mori transforms into a velvet whiff of barely sweet, warm, intimate notes, like smelling the inside of a winter overcoat in the summer. It’s gentle and easy to wear. This is the phase of the perfume I like best.
I sampled Memento Mori in Parfum, and it has amazing staying power. A drop shared on two wrists, applied before breakfast, still goes strong by dinner. It is completely nongendered.
If you like fragrances that are “pretty,” you might not want to go to a lot of effort to sample Memento Mori. But if you enjoy perfume that aims more toward art than easy pleasure — like, say, Byredo M/Mink — do give this one a try.
Aftelier Memento Mori is available in 30 ml Eau de Parfum ($180), or in 2 ml mini Parfum ($50), 1/4 oz Parfum ($180). Samples are also sold. For information on where to buy Memento Mori, see Aftelier under Perfume Houses.
Note: top image Renaissance Gimmel Ring with Memento Mori (German, 1631) via The Met.