Friday, October 24, 2014

Aftelier Perfume Palimpsest: fragrance review

I recall a particularly tough professor back in my University days demanded such hard-to-crack questions that one way to bypass embarrassment and speech impediments during the ordeal of the oral examination was to begin by defining what a thing wasn't supposed to be, the latter part of the definition implied to be known to both partners in the discussion at least.  Example: "Kintsugi has absolutely no relation to ikebana."  [ed.note all right, all right, apart from both being Japanese concepts, I mean].  This kind of "definition by negation" is sometimes useful to the fragrance writer because perfume descriptions are so very hard to do justice to in the first place. Palimpsest is one such case, not only because it has an indefinable quality of pure exquisiteness, but also because it is perfumer Mandy Aftel's very best.

Zil Hoque; Oil, 2009, "Palimpsest I"  via (recalling the horse in Salvador Dali's Tempation of St.Anthony

I can begin by saying that Aftelier Palimpsest is nothing like you'd expect an all naturals perfume to smell like; although I'm fond of the raw energy of some all naturals, there is a certain medicinal or vegetal quality that sometimes comes a bit too forcefully at first, which is probably the reason there is so much hesitation among perfume enthusiasts regarding this branch of perfumery art. One of the reasons for avoiding that might be that Mandy is using natural isolates for the first time in such a context, such as gamma dodecalactone (peachy, apricot-y) and phenylacetic acid (a honeyed note). They play out beautifully.
Another thing that I could negate is the official definition of a "fruity floral". Yes, the ripe peachiness is not unknown among fruity floral perfumes, but it's as far removed from the typical Barbie wannabe on the Sephora counter as could possibly be. With a name like Palimpsest I suppose one would expect it to deviate far and wide!

Palimpsest is a word I first came by when I was 15 and reading The Name of the Rose, the famous novel by Umberto Eco, "a palimpsest" as the author  introduced it. The cunning of the narrative technique relied on making the narrator retell a story that is based on an even earlier narration, lifted from an older manuscript and with extensive quotations from other books often in their turn referencing even older books. As Eco maintains throughout his opus in an intertextual turn of mind "books talk about other books" which is true enough in my, lesser than his, experience. All the tales are being woven into a "palimpsest", the old parchment scroll that bears writing over former writing that had been carefully scratched off to make room for new but is still vaguely visible beneath. In a similar manner perfumes talk about other perfumes and intertextuality in scent is a wonderful dialogue that I had occupied myself with breaking down a bit in the past.


Aftelier Palimpsest is one such perfume, taking inspirations from several points of departure and offering something new and coherent, recapitulating the history of perfumery, a given since it sprang from the research Aftel did for her book "Fragrant" out this October (you can order it on discount on this link), but being contemporary all the same! Midnight in the Garden of Eden; honeyed streams of lush florals (jasmine grandiflorum) with a sensuous and mysterious Lilith undercurrent of what I perceive as ambergris (a refined animalic perfume note), speak of a layered tapestry where one is hard pressed to see where one golden thread ends and another, in a slightly different hue, begins.

As Gaia, The Non Blonde, notes in her excellent review on the origins of the inspiration for Palimpsest:
"The gum of the Australian firetree (also known as Christmas tree), or by its official name, Nuytsia floribunda, is sweet and eaten raw by the ingenious people of Western Australia. It's not a common ingredient in perfumery (the only other one I know of was the limited edition Fire Tree by Australian brand Nomad Two Worlds, and I had a hard time warming up to its rawness). I never smelled the firetree as a raw ingredient, so it's hard for me to tell how much of what I smell in Palimpsest comes from it and what is pure imagination. But fantasy is a big part of the perfume joy, isn't it?"

My palette of raw materials, though rather extensive, is similarly limited in regards to this particular essence, so any opinion I might proffer on the adherence to the natural facets of the material would be illusory and misleading. Mandy herself mentions that firetree has rose and lilac facets with a milky undertone that the longer it develops the more it reveals smoky, oud-like, leathery tones. Talk about a multi-tasker! "It possesses an unearthly beauty which, ironically, arises from the soil", says fragrance connoisseur and fairy godmother to indies Ida Meister.
What I can say with certainty myself is that the golden incandescence of Aftelier Palimpsest has to be experienced first hand and quickly at that.

Aftelier Palimpsest comes as an eau de parfum (full bottle costs $170) and an extrait de parfum (same price). Samples of either retail at $6, while a mini of the pure parfum will set you back $50 on aftelier.com.

In the interests of disclosure, I was sent a sample vial directly by the perfumer for reviewing purposes. 

Perfume Giveaway: Win a Free Bottle of Eau de Parfum plus an Extrait de Parfum mini!

It is my privilege and honor to make the very choicest acquaintances through the pages of this site. People with varied interests from the arts and with a budding or steadier interest in perfume reach me all the time with insightful comments and emails and sometimes with enriching experiences. One of them is Lia. She is not only a lovely, warm personality but a person immersed in the arts who has been testing fragrance after fragrance and discovering bits and pieces to delight a perfume addict's heart cockles. In a supremely generous gesture, she is giving away a 2oz eau de parfum of Lauder's classic oriental fragrance Youth Dew in a (indeterminate) vintage edition, accompanied with a mini 0.12oz extrait de parfum of Youth Dew in the classic style flacon! These sure look pretty, don't they?

The draw is open internationally and you're eligible by leaving a comment below; ask a question or make an observation or say what you enjoy most when reading blogs etc. I will announce a winner by the end of the weekend.

"Dior and I": the Documentary Soon Hitting US Screens

Film & TV distributor The Orchard has acquired all rights in the U.S. and Canada to director Frédéric Tcheng’s fashion documentary Dior and I, which premiered at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival to outstanding praise. This marks the third fashion film for Tcheng, who previously co-wrote and co-directed Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel and co-produced Valentino: The Last Emperor. The documentary captures the entire process behind Raf Simons debut couture collection in his new position as Creative Director of Christian Dior Couture

"I am extremely excited to be working with the Orchard on bringing the film to its North American audience," said director Frédéric Tcheng. “They clearly have a passion for and understanding of the film that will translate to a successful roll-out.”

In 2012, legendary French fashion house, Christian Dior Couture, announced designer Raf Simons as its head Creative Director.  Dior and I pays homage to the work of the talented Dior atelier and takes a privileged, behind-the-scenes look at the makings of Simons’ debut haute couture collection and how it returned to the origins of the house of Dior.  

The film takes an intimate, vérité-style glimpse at the inner workings of the Dior atelier, capturing the entire eight-week process up until the premiere of Simons’ collection. This includes the little-seen atelier workers – the heart and soul of the fashion industry – some of whom have sewed for Dior for decades and do so with an unbridled passion. Together, they form a support system for Simons and help to create his masterpiece collection, with every line they sketch and bead they sew.
A whirlwind of creativity, stress, determination and triumph, the movie boasts mass and niche appeal. 
Dior and I is a visually and emotionally stunning film about an oft unseen part of the process in the world of high fashion,” said The Orchard’s SVP of Film & TVPaul Davidson. “Frédéric Tcheng has crafted a documentary that, much like the elegant creations in the world of Dior, deserves to be seen."
The film is slated for a 2015 theatrical release in the US and Canada. The deal was negotiated by Danielle DiGiacomo of The Orchard and Josh Braun of Submarine.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Unwavering Popularity of Vanilla Scents

"Vanilla isn’t plain to product developers. It’s the x-factor in most fragrances, conjuring feelings of craving, warmth and familiarity. Other scent trends come and go, but vanilla shows no sign of waning popularity, fragrance experts say. That is fueling a chase to find new iterations."


Thus begins the article by Ellen Byron on Wall Street Journal, more of an advertorial for the new Bath & Body Works Wild Madagascar Vanilla, but interesting all the same. Such as this nugget:

"Preference for vanilla appears to form before birth, helped by mothers using and eating so many things that contain it, says Pamela Dalton, a faculty member at Monell Chemical Senses Center, a scientific-research institution. Vanilla can be found in amniotic fluid and in breast milk so people are exposed extremely early on in life, she says. […]
By adulthood, most humans have had so many interactions with vanilla’s scent and flavor that nostalgia drives even more preference for it, says Dr. Dalton, who has studied humans’ ability to perceive the vanilla scent, even at low levels. “We’re very receptive to it, even when it’s blended in other mixtures,” she says."
There's also the Dame Perfumery Scottsdale Black Flower Mexican Vanilla fragrance, out this past summer, which I haven't personally tried but which sounds promising. Vanilla is like the little black dress, an easy solution to a complex dilemma, a sure bet, a staple, the perfect nude lipstick of the beauty world.

Which prompts me to bump up my Vanilla Series on Perfume Shrine which highlighted some of the varieties of styles that vanilla fragrances can take and the top vanilla perfumes in each of them. Always current I suppose!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Oscar de la Renta: 1932-2014

The Dominican designer Oscar de la Renta had to die at 82 years of age for me to find out his very Hellenic middle name, taken on from his mother's brother side, shame on me. Aristides, "of an excellent kind". How apt!

Amal Clooney's wedding dress was designed by Oscar de la Renta, photo via Vogue

the man via

The multi-awarded trainee of Cristóbal Balenciaga, and then at some point head designer for Balmain, who truly loved and cherished women throughout his opus, soon showed a keen eye for color, for red carpet gowns and for ensembles that dressed First Ladies and Hollywood film stars alike to great aplomb. He also designed Torguga Bay, a small boutique hotel, among the best in the world. And of course he diversified into elegant perfumes right from the 1970s onwards: Oscar original (1977), several Oscar flankers, So La Renta, RufflesVolupte, Something Blue, Live in Love, Esprit d'Oscar

via vintageadbrowser

dresses from the Fall 2012 colection

Fern Mallis, Executive Director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, had called him some years back "The Sultan of Suave". You couldn't have done better than that if you tried.

from the Exhibition "Five Decades of Style" showing dresses and tailleurs worn by First Ladies

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