The Secret Life of Scent

full disclosure bannerThe Secret Life of Scent | Paths & Errands

“My first scent memory is of the way the autumn air smells in Michigan, my home state. All of a sudden, almost overnight, the air smells crisp, of pears and apples and the crunch of dead leaves underfoot.” -Mandy Aftel.

While interviewing master perfumer Mandy Aftel for a recent article, I ended up with a few extra quotes I never got to use. Her first memory of scent was such an evocative statement that I couldn’t let it languish unread forever, so today we’re going to talk about natural perfumery.

Mandy’s two latest projects are a book and a perfume. The former is titled Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent, and is one I’d highly recommend if you’re at all curious about aromatic ingredients. She’ll teach you how to interact with a perfume—how to smell it, think about it, experience it. Best of all, you’ll learn olfactory factoids that are perfect cocktail party fodder.

Along with Fragrant, Mandy has released a new addition to her luxury brand, Aftelier PerfumesPalimpsest (I cannot for the life of me remember how to spell that) is one of the most fascinating niche scents I’ve encountered—although I spend most of my time testing celebrity fragrances, so it’s not like I have thousands of experiences to draw from. On my skin, it’s salty, animalic, golden and sweet. It is the polar opposite of a one-note perfume. Featured notes are as follows: gamma dodecalactone, phenyl acetic acid, yuzu, jasmine grandiflorum, peach, ylang ylang, firetree, vanilla, ambergris.

I have to give one little aside for that last note, which is also heavily featured in her new book. Ambergris is a material that sperm whales expel from their stomachs under rare circumstances. It gains its value as it bobs around the sea for decades, until finally, it dries and cures. Fun (in the most unfun way possible) fact: John Locke gives it a shoutout in his Second Treatise of Civil Government, Chapter 5, which is the one and only time I perked up while slogging through that decidedly-less-enjoyable read.

And that concludes today’s perfumery lesson.

“A palimpsest is an old document on which the original writing has been erased and replaced with new writing. Sometimes the older writing can still be read under the new, resulting in a complex and beautiful layering. Palimpsest perfume was inspired by the layers of history I uncovered while researching my new book, Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent. Leafing through dozens of volumes, some more than a century old, I felt as though I had stumbled into a secret old world of scent, whose story can still be read, in whispers and traces, beneath the story of the world we know. I wanted to capture the richness that you feel when you experience the past as alive in the present, creating the gorgeous complexity of life. Palimpsest captures the feeling of being in the Garden of Eden at midnight: lush, wild florals, forbidden fruit, and majestic creatures in hiding. The perfume undulates down through florals to its ambergris-laced, other-worldly drydown, and the base notes shimmer up through the top and middle notes in a seamless, scented wave.”

The Secret Life of Scent | Paths & Errands

The Secret Life of Scent | Paths & Errands

The Secret Life of Scent | Paths & Errands

Favorite scents & scent reads? Share them in the comments below!

Full disclosure: The products featured in this post are press samples. All opinions are my own. Please see the disclaimer section of my About page for my full posting policy.

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