Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent by Mandy Aftel ~ book review

Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent by Mandy Aftel, book plus kit

In fiction, an effective writer uses plot not just to move the story along, but to illuminate an underlying theme. If Mandy Aftel’s Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent were a novel, the plot would be the five essences — cinnamon, mint, frankincense, ambergris, and jasmine — around which she structures the book. The theme would be beauty.

In Fragrant’s first chapter, Aftel writes about how she became involved with perfume, then says:

As I researched and thought about the deeps ways that perfume touches our most primal selves and the collective self of our species, I realized that I had the makings of an adventure story of sorts…

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Dawn Spencer Hurwitz Scent of Hope ~ fragrance review, with an aside on Jacques Fath Iris Gris

Iris

I can’t think of another fragrance that matches the mystique of Jacques Fath Iris Gris. Sure, perfume lovers scramble for vintage Mitsouko and study its qualities by the batch number, but Mitsouko is still on the market, and vintage bottles are relatively easy to find. Jacques Fath, perhaps Dior’s closest competition in the New Look years, died in 1954 at the stupidly young age of 42, and Iris Gris — even the name is mysterious and moody — disappeared soon after. Scent of Hope is a recreation of Iris Gris that indie perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz originally made for a private client.

Perfumer Vincent Roubert developed Iris Gris in 1946, just as France was shaking free of World War II.1 Thanks to Denyse Beaulieu of Grain de Musc, I’ve been lucky enough to smell a sample strip dipped in a bottle she bought unopened. I was surprised at how clean it smelled, and how rich the iris was, but of course that bottle was at least 60 years old. I cherish the amber-stained but now-scentless strip as a talisman. But how would Iris Gris smell fresh…

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Serge Lutens L’Orpheline ~ fragrance review

Serge Lutens L'Orpheline

Do you ever think of certain scents as “warm” or “cool”? I do. Amber, leather, oakmoss, and wood smell warm to me, while herbs, citrus, green notes, and ozone smell cool. Florals can go either way, especially rose. Most perfumes seem to have an overall warm or cool flavor to them, too, or they start out cool then turn warm. Serge Lutens L’Orpheline bucks the trend by straddling both cool and warm notes at the same time. In the end, the fragrance feels like a worthy complement to a rainy autumn afternoon.

In true Serge fashion, the press material surrounding L’Orpheline’s release is more mystical than practical. (I imagine members of some future cult bowing to a huge black-and-white portrait of Serge Lutens while chanting bits from leather-bound perfume box inserts.) We do know that the fragrance was developed by perfumer Christopher Sheldrake and includes notes of incense, ashes and musk…

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Aftelier Palimpsest ~ fragrance review

Archimedes palimpsest

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…

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Pinaud Clubman Virgin Island Bay Rum & Providence Perfume Co Bay Rum ~ fragrance review

Pinaud Clubman Virgin Island Bay Rum & Providence Perfume Co Bay Rum

Until a sample of Providence Perfume Co Bay Rum cologne showed up in my mailbox, I’d been vaguely curious about Bay Rum colognes, but not enough to track one down. I’d seen darling straw-thatched bottles of Bay Rum in hat stores by the cash register and the odd retro-looking bottle at a family-owned drugstore. But I couldn’t tell you what Bay Rum smelled like. Well, now I can. And I like it.

According to Wikipedia, Bay Rum cologne is a West Indies cologne, probably originating in Saint Thomas, made from rum, the leaves and berries of the West Indian bay tree (not the culinary bay you might be more familiar with), and spices such as clove and cinnamon. In short, it’s a warm, spicy scent that lovers of linear, spicy fragrances along the lines of L’Artisan Parfumeur Tea for Two and Laura Mercier Minuit Enchanté might want to investigate…

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