eyeliner on a cat

eyeliner on a cat
beauty, scent & style scrutinized for pleasure

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Aftelier Sepia: a review, and a pondering on the nature of things


I am a Virgo. Mutable, a child of Mercury or Vulcan, depending on what you believe. I am perpetually in awe of what I encounter on my path in life. It's taken me awhile to figure out that I must yield to immovable forces, and that it's wise to recognize when to do so. That brings me to my introspective question of the day:    Do we assimilate ourselves into the hearts of perfumes when we wear them, or does the perfume go through some sort of transmogrification to become part of us? If every action has a reaction, am I reacting or is the perfume? Who's Zoomin' Who?

Mandy Aftel and I definitely hang out in the same universe-- that much is clear. Body and soul, her creations are stirring to me. I react to them with a deep curiosity and appreciation, and they make me feel so balanced that I even tend to have increased empathy for the people and other living things around me. This sounds like a positive step in the direction of world peace, doesn't it? See, Norwegian black metal hasn't ruined me completely. There is hope.

Sepia is Mandy's newest creation, and has a very unique inspiration: the dusty ghost towns of California. Her travels to these places was a very moving experience for her, and she has expressed herself eloquently with Sepia.

Fragrance Notes:
TOP: blood cedarwood, yellow mandarin, pink grapefruit
MID: pink lotus, strawberry, jasmine grandiflorum, cocoa, coffee
BASE: flowering tobacco, oud, indole, ambergris, cepes, labdanum


One of my initial impressions of Sepia was that it feels very much in the same family as Tango, but a bit less sweet and richer, deeper and more earthy. It also shares genes with another of my favorites, Cacao, with the gorgeous combination of fresh citrus and cocoa. The indole is perfectly dosed and works so beautifully with the jasmine and notes of dry earth, tobacco and cepes. Many people are afraid of indole (or are just opposed to the idea that its scent is associated with excrement or decaying bodies), but rest assured that it has been used in Sepia very judiciously and should definitely not be problematic for anyone who is (or thinks they are) sensitive to it.

[Beautiful new boxes and EDP bottles!]

The EDP version of the scent leans more in the direction of Tango. The notes of cocoa, strawberry and coffee are most prevalent on my skin. It's also more buoyant, less earthbound than the perfume. It's vulnerable to the wind. This diffusiveness allows the citrus notes to sing in its ideal register for a short but blissful duration.

With the perfume, the heightened intensity of the base notes (especially labdanum) behave in a  more incense-like way, and the gourmand notes are the first to hit me and the longest to stick to my skin (my skin is a notorious sugar magnet- amplifying even the tiniest hints of sweetness). The strawberry note in particular seems to intensify over time, and marries with the ambergris so perfectly. Ultimately, these little variances between the EDP and the perfume makes the perfume my preferred version of the fragrance (by a small margin, however).

The first time I wore Sepia, I was unsure about how I felt about it. It felt foreign to me, and historically, that's never meant anything but good things-- I enjoy not having specific reference points for perfumes. With Aftelier Shiso, the fragrance conjured alien landscapes for me, and with Tango, a surreal psychodrama played itself out set in my childhood home. Sepia is intended as an ode to the beauty of decay, when something is all but forgotten and only the bones remain. It is a stark contrast to her fleshy, robust and sticky Fig perfume and the tropical seaside lushness of Parfum Prive; Sepia is about the romance of what has passed and can never be replaced. It exists somewhere between reverence and reverie-- a newly occupied space for Mandy's perfumes, and a welcome addition to her well-edited and diverse lineup.

There is Beauty in Decay [photo courtesy Mandy Aftel]

Lately, I've been returning to my youth via the traditional hippie-ish scents of the incense I used to burn constantly-- Nag Champa, Frankincense & Myrrh, Patchouli, Dragon's Blood, Sandalwood, and all manner of various aromatics and ambery resins occasionally combined with elements like fruits and gourmands. I've been buying up and stockpiling "headshop" oils, incense, bath and body products-- whatever I can find that recalls the stuff I once habitually used and treasured. I've even located a source for Frankincense & Myrrh laundry soap.*



I am currently in the middle of this fragrant frenzy, yet it wasn't until the 3rd time I wore Sepia that I realized that there is a place for this luxury artisan fragrance among my veritable army of incense and oils.  Of all the incense-y perfumes I own, Sepia is the only one that doesn't announce itself as an incense fragrance; it wasn't intended as one, after all. But...labdanum and strawberry with so many other rich and mysterious elements... yes, it's happened again. I'm able to assign my own memories, feelings, images and associations with another Aftelier creation. From my perspective, that's the sort of blessing that only the very best perfumers can bestow upon the wearer. Sepia found its place in my life by instinct alone, and has already joined the ranks as one of my favorites.

Layering tip! There is a palpable sort of magic in the air when you layer Sepia with Oud Luban, which lends its beguiling smokiness to Sepia, enhancing its incense-like qualities and even transforming them. You can create an incredible third perfume by combining them.

* Visit IndigoWild.com for a nice selection of natural cleaning products, as well as a bazillion wonderful personal care products with scents suitable for current or former hippies, or people who aren't hippies but like hippie stuff (like me).

Aftelier Perfumes Sepia is available at Aftelier.com: 1/4 oz perfume for $150, 2ml mini bottle for $45, and 30ml EDP for $150. Samples are also available in both forms.

[samples provided by the perfumer for my consideration]

11 comments:

  1. Brilliant review, Carrie! I love Sepia's undernotes - dark, moody & fulsome in their expression. But, you capture the essence of going deep into the our forgotten past so well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much, Nav! I love how the unexpected touch of coffee really adds something special-- not always recognizable for what it is, but that bit of aromatic bitterness is hella intoxicating. Also, I should mention that I am a huge coffee drinker. :)

      Delete
    2. Oh, and thanks for saying I'm not cray-cray. :)

      Delete
  2. Nav has already said how brilliant this writing is -- but it is also achingly beautiful. Thank you so much for seeing (and smelling) deeply into this perfume. You found the mystery in it that even I can't explain. I love the idea of layering it with Oud Luban. I am so grateful to you.
    xoxo Mandy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, dear Mandy! There is always mystery in your perfumes, every one of them. I count myself lucky if I'm able to unearth a little of that magic through my words. Sometimes it lies just below the surface, and other times it's buried deep beneath, but invariably, it's there.
      Love and hugs!

      Delete
  3. Carrie, your reviews are always evocative. I find it quite difficult explaining how a fragrance makes me feel, particularly those with the complexity of most Afteliers, here you speak to me on an almost subliminal level. Like you are peeping into my soul. "There is Beauty in Decay" and a life lived and loved :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much Sharon, that's a very sweet thing to say!

      Delete
  4. Your reaction to Sepia sounds so similar to mine that it is freaky! My first thought on smelling Sepia (perfume) was - Tango! but not as sensual as Tango (more like a memory of Tango). And the beginning of Sepia to me smelled very like the top notes of Cacao, but more restrained and less voluptuous.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, seems like we have very similar noses! That's pretty cool. :)

      Delete
  5. Carrie, this is such a gorgeous review of what sounds like a gorgeous fragrance. Thanks for sharing. I always look to you for insight into the Aftel fragrances, as it really does seem that you and Mandy "get" each other.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much! I count myself as very lucky that I'm able to connect to Mandy's work (and Mandy) so freely and naturally. In a way, Mandy helped me find my voice as a blogger because her perfumes challenged me so much.

      Delete