At the Intersection of Taste and Smell: Aftelier Perfumes’ Cepes and Tuberose

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Cepes and Tuberose by Aftelier Perfumes. Photo courtesy of http://www.aftelier.com

Today I’m exploring an iconic fragrance – Cepes and Tuberose – created by natural perfumer Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes, an indie outfit from Berkeley, California. Regular readers of this blog will remember my series of reviews of Aftelier’s Chef’s Essences. The creative experiments I undertook in the kitchen while working with these edible essential oils fostered a new interest in the relationship between taste, aroma, and flavour. As Cepes and Tuberose contains an unusual mixture of ingredients from the realms of both food and fragrance, it is an especially appealing creation for me to ponder, explore, and review.

Cèpes

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Boletus edulis – cèpes mushroom

Cèpes (boletus edulis), as it is known in France, is a mushroom that grows naturally in the Northern Hemisphere. I know it by its Italian name, porcini, due to the considerable culinary influence of the large Italian community here in Australia. While porcini/cèpes mushrooms don’t grow here naturally, they are available at Italian grocery stores and gourmet food outlets, and are most often sold dried or preserved in cute mushroom-shaped jars. They have a pungent and intense flavour and aroma, somewhat like that of the Japanese shiitake mushroom.

Apart from eating these mushrooms occasionally in risotto, I was lucky enough to smell cèpes absolute at a gathering at Fleurage Perfume Atelier in Melbourne last year. Perfumer Emma Leah of Fleurage hosted a meetup for an avid group of fragrance enthusiasts to talk about her perfume making practice and to share with us some of the wonderful ingredients that she works with. Of the many rare and unusual ingredients that were passed around that night, cèpes surprised and impressed us the most. It smelt mushroomy, earthy, intensely fungal and yeasty, and somewhat like the iconic Australian spread Vegemite, which is made from brewers yeast, a by-product from beer production. For those who haven’t tasted Vegemite, it’s similar to Marmite and Promite, but with more kick, less sweetness, and more salt. For those who haven’t tried Marmite or Promite either, Wikipedia describes Vegemite as “salty, slightly bitter, malty, and rich in umami – similar to beef bouillon.”

Tuberose

Tuberose (polianthes tuberosa), a bulb that produces white, flamboyantly fragrant flowers, grows best in warm and tropical climates. It blooms at night and is native to Mexico. Tuberose is a very popular note in feminine scents and is both heady and sweet. It is notorious for containing indole, a chemical compound that is present in many of the popular and pleasant white flowers used in perfumery, including jasmine, gardenia and orange blossom. Indole also features in less pleasant aromas including halitosis, the smell of faeces and mothballs. It is also produced during the decomposition of corpses. Due to the presence of indole in mothballs, to me, anything containing indole (including tuberose) smells quite cool and camphoraceous, stale, and a touch medicinal.

Some say that the bodily associations and characteristics of indole lend animalic, even sexual qualities to a fragrance, which can be utilised by the wearer to allure and attract. It must be mentioned that most wearers of perfume (other than enthusiasts, critics and perfumers) are probably not aware of indole as a discrete smell, nor its unpleasant associations, but probably do notice that the compound adds a certain “je ne sais quoi” to the fragrance. I feel that these animalic aspects may be detected more at a subconscious level by the average wearer. As indole is but one constituent of a perfume ingredient, its effect is usually fairly subtle, unless the wearer has a particular aversion to the smell, or if it is overused in a fragrance.

I’m not a huge fan of indole, so tuberose has been a problematic ingredient for me in the past. I used to flat-out loathe the ingredient. Now I believe this was probably due to some unfortunate experiences smelling tuberose-heavy fragrances that emphasised the indole and intense headiness of the flower to the extent that these aspects overpowered everything else. Now that I’ve had more experience smelling this note in a greater number of perfumes, I can say that I find the smell of tuberose to be more complex and varied, not always overtly indolic, and at times even hard to detect. Histoires de Parfums’ Tubéreuse 1 and Tubéreuse 3, for example, use tuberose in the background (despite their names suggesting otherwise!), to sweeten rather than overwhelm the other ingredients in the fragrance.

Aftelier Perfumes’ Cepes and Tuberose

Mandy Aftel’s Cepes and Tuberose has not one, but two starring ingredients, and they take on an equal role in this fragrance. As one starring ingredient – cèpes – is primarily associated with food, and the other – tuberose – with fragrance, this perfume is received by the brain in a curious and interesting way: do I eat this, or do I smell it? But we have come a long way from simply associating smells with either the realm of food or the realm of fragrance exclusively. Gourmand fragrances featuring the aromas of edible ingredients have flourished for decades now: notes such as vanilla, chocolate and fruit are commonly found in mass-produced fragrances, proving that they are indeed suitable and popular to wear in fragrance. Mandy Aftel expands the notion of what a gourmand can be with Cepes and Tuberose, demonstrating that food ingredients such as the savoury, fungal cèpes can be used as valuable and interesting fragrance ingredients too.

So, food has made its way into our fragrances, and the converse of this also applies: we can eat a range of perfume ingredients, including frankincense, fir, Peru balsam and ylang ylang, to name but a few. Mandy has been instrumental in helping us conceive of perfume ingredients as being edible. Her book Aroma: The Magic of Essential Oils in Foods and Fragrance, written in conjunction with chef Daniel Patterson, is a study of essential oils and how they can be used in both cooking and fragranced products. Her partnership with Patterson led to the creation of Aftelier Perfumes’ Chef’s Essences, a comprehensive range of essential oils, absolutes and isolates that can be used to flavour food. I experimented with and wrote about a number of the Chef’s Essences earlier this year and they were a joy to work with. What I enjoyed most was how the essences seemed to straddle the realms of flavour and aroma, while at the same time highlighting the complex interrelationship between them. As aroma accounts for approximately 80% of our perception of flavour (aroma + taste = flavour), our sense of smell is incredibly important in how we experience food.

Naturally, having such an interest in Mandy’s Chef’s Essences, and as a perfume enthusiast, Cepes and Tuberose jumped out at me as a must-try from the lovely box of samples that Mandy generously sent me a few months ago. My review is of the Eau de Parfum strength.

So – how does Cepes and Tuberose smell?

Sweet and savoury, rosy and floral, ever-so-slightly salty. The tuberose is lightly indolic, but in this context I like it. It adds a medicinal edge to the otherwise lush and rounded composition. The cèpes is yeasty, rich and earthy. It does smell edible, but this is balanced out by the rich floral tuberose. Both key ingredients hint at the animalic: the earthy and almost meaty smell of the cèpes and the noticeable, yet not overt bodily associations of the indole in the tuberose. The two main ingredients are equal players in this perfume story, with neither dominating. Other notes in this composition support the starring duo: rosewood (bois de rose), rose and benzoin. The rose used here reminds me of the culinary rosewater used in Turkish Delight; it emphasises the sweetness of the tuberose, while the benzoin adds a creaminess and solidity to the fragrance. Overall, Cepes and Tuberose is quite an edible concoction; several of the notes listed are also regularly used in cooking or as flavours, or smell like food ingredients: benzoin (which smells like vanilla), rose, and of course cèpes.

Cepes and Tuberose is an uncommon and daring perfume that traverses the realms of food and fragrance and in doing so breaks down boundaries of perception. The two starring “Odd Couple” ingredients of cèpes and tuberose combine surprisingly well: they contrast with and complement one another in a way that is unique and interesting to the nose. Perfume enthusiasts should give this a try to experience the unusual marriage of ingredients, but Cepes and Tuberose is also suitable for lovers of white florals and gourmands, due to the fascinating foody-floral mixture of the composition.


Cepes and Tuberose can be purchased directly from the Aftelier website, in a range of concentrations and sizes, including pure parfum and sample sizes. Prices range from $6 to $300USD.

I tried the Eau de Parfum sample, courtesy of Mandy Aftel. I wish to extend my warmest thanks to Mandy for providing my sample.

The Nasophone: An Unexpected, Musical Use for the Nose?

I suspect that the following old newspaper excerpt is a joke, and a fun one at that, but one can never be too certain! One thing I do know is that the opening remarks about Mozart seem to be based on an anecdote that I’ve heard before. Scroll down below the picture to read more about this.

This excerpt dates from 1885 and was published in the New York Times via the Pall Mall Gazette. Do you know if the nasophone was real? I certainly hope it was (or still is)! nasophone2Now, as for those opening remarks about Mozart, I suspect they were based on the following anecdote from Slonimsky’s Book of Musical Anecdotes:

One day, Mozart taunted Haydn that the latter would never be able to play a piece which Mozart had just written. Haydn sat at the harpsichord, began to play from the manuscript, then stopped abruptly. There was a note in the center of the keyboard while the right hand was playing in high treble and the left hand in low bass.

“Nobody can play this with only two hands,” Haydn exclaimed.

“I can,” Mozart said quietly. When he reached the debated portion of his composition, he bent over and struck the central note with his nose.

“With a nose like yours,” Haydn conceded, “it becomes easier.”

(Anecdote taken from Slonimsky’s Book of Musical Anecdotes by Nicolas Slonimsky, and quoted online at Story Compositions)

What do you all think of this silliness? Should noses be used more to make music, rather than just smell things? I used to play my plastic recorder with my nostrils as a child, but that’s a story for another time…

Giverny Blooms at Denver Art Museum: Scent Experience by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz at “In Bloom: Painting Flowers in the Age of Impressionism”

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Spring blooms

It’s been a long, cold Winter here in rural, South-Eastern Australia, but spring is finally here. The fruit trees have blossomed, the canola fields are neon yellow, pretty bulbs have come and gone: tulips, daffodils and irises. The rose bush is now in bud, and my pot of carnations promises flowers soon. Lavender flowers have emerged a deep shade of purple after dying off over Winter. The grass is green and needs constant mowing, the sun is plentiful, encouraging weeds to shoot up rapidly. I’ve spent a lot of time in the garden recently, fingers in the dirt, smelling the cut grass, the uprooted weeds and the flowers. It seems like an appropriate time to embrace floral perfumes again: they mimic my real-life experience of Spring, which promises vibrant new life, energy and growth.

When I travelled to Europe in March 1999, I spent some time in France, on the cusp of Spring. I was keen to visit painter Claude Monet’s famous garden at Giverny near Paris, but was mortified to find out, once in Paris, that the garden didn’t open until the 1st of April. As I had plans to be in Provence before then I sadly had to forgo my visit to Giverny.

Giverny in Bloom: a Scent Experience

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The Iris Garden at Giverny by Claude Monet (1900). Public Domain.

Sixteen years later, perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz has given me the chance to experience an olfactory visit to these gardens with her fragrance collection Giverny in Bloom. Giverny in Bloom was created for the Denver Art Museum’s In Bloom: Painting Flowers in the Age of Impressionism exhibition, which has been running throughout the American Summer and finishes this coming Sunday, 11 October. The exhibition showcases floral, still-life paintings by 19th Century French Impressionist painters, including Manet, Degas, Monet, Renoir and Van Gogh. For anyone living in or near Denver who is interested in olfaction, you still have a chance to visit and experience the special scent experience that Dawn has created for this exhibition. The Giverny in Bloom collection is also available to purchase from the DSH website, so if you can’t experience the scents in the context of the exhibition, you can still enjoy them at home.

Dawn is a perfumer, painter and synaesthete and has collaborated with a range of other artists and with the Denver Art Museum many times before. The Giverny in Bloom scent experience takes place in its own room at the In Bloom exhibition. The room features a panoramic photograph of Claude Monet in his famous garden, and the scents designed by Dawn are dispersed into the space with specially-designed diffusers. Dawn’s scents were inspired by the flowers and plants found in Monet’s garden at Giverny, with a focus on Spring and early Summer flowers, as well as paintings by Monet of Giverny, and floral artworks by other painters in the exhibition. The scents and their placement in the space are intended to convey the impression of being in a garden, moving from one fragrant flower bed or garden space to another, through the use of three separate accords. Each of these fragrance accords is linked to colour.

“Le Jardin Vert” (The Green Garden): a refreshing, slightly cleansing blend of green leaves, trees, and moist earth scent. This aroma of fresh cut leaves and soil greets the visitor and gives its last breath to you as you leave the garden room.

“La Danse des Bleus et des Violettes” (The Dance of Blues and Violets): a lighter, mildly watery interpretation of violets, heliotrope, irises, and lilacs.

“L’Opera des Rouges et des Roses” (The Opera of Red and Pinks): a dramatic, heady scent dominated by old roses, red and pink, peonies, red geraniums, and carnations.

Source: Denver Art Museum website

Dawn has also created a fourth scent from a combination of these three accords, resulting in a highly complex garden fragrance called Giverny in Bloom. Dawn describes this fragrance as:

“An impressionist style perfume of green budding trees, wet dewy flowers and soil, that transforms to a rich floral bouquet as it wears.”

Source: DSH Perfumes website

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Water Lily Pond at Giverny by Claude Monet (1900). Public Domain.

She says of her inspiration for the scents:

“The inspiration for Giverny in Bloom is not only taken from actual information about Monet’s garden but also from the flowers found in the paintings of the exhibit. This ties the scent experience to more than the Monet paintings in the show. Before leaving the scent experience visitors are invited to take a scratch and sniff card of “Giverny in Bloom” as a memento but as well as to bring the multi-sensory aspect of the olfactory art with them to enhance their interaction with the remainder of the exhibit.”

Source: DSH Perfumes’ Press Release

Dawn also drew upon Impressionist creative concepts when making Giverny in Bloom:

“I intended for the designs to not only reflect the flowers in the paintings, but also to give a sense of what impressionism entails,” Dawn said. “A ‘plein air’ feeling, a kind of lightness and airiness that I feel is found in many impressionist paintings, much like the fleeting delight of walking through a flower garden in full bloom.”

Sourced: Denver Art Museum website

Giverny in Bloom Micro-Reviews

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Claude Monet in his Garden at Giverny, 1921.

As well as including Dawn’s descriptions of the Giverny in Bloom scents (see above), I also want to share my own impressions of the scents with you. I’ve written some quick sketches, or micro-reviews of each of the four scents below.

Le Jardin Vert (The Green Garden)

Dirty. I smell the realistic scent of freshly dug earth, sweet grass and green leaves. A garden waiting to be planted: empty beds in a manicured garden bordered with neatly clipped lawns, waiting for flowers. Like the inside of a flower shop, which, oddly, these days, rarely smell of fragrant flowers and more like cut stems, greenery and water.

L’Opera des Rouges et des Roses (The Opera of Red and Pinks)

Rich and vibrating with excitement and intense energy. The rose is crisp and tart and the clove-like, peppery carnation adds a spicy undertone that makes the fragrance shimmer even more. This is a deeply exuberant scent and it literally took my breath away when I first sniffed it. My favourite of the collection.

La Danse des Bleus et des Violettes (The Dance of Blues and Violets)

Soft and comforting and old-fashioned with notes of Victorian violet, iris and heliotropin dominating. I’m reminded of Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue, though this is softer and as it develops, watery notes emerge and take over. This is a watercolour-soft fragrance. It’s delicate, realistic and pretty.

Giverny in Bloom

A realistic, interesting and complex scent – just like that of a real garden. At first I smell mostly the green, dirty, watery and softer floral notes (the blues and violets), but as the fragrance warms and settles, the sweeter, richer red and pink flowers emerge. The smell of dirt remains subtly throughout, which reminds me that I’m smelling the scent of a garden, not just a bouquet of flowers.

Epilogue

It’s been a delight to be able to experience Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s Giverny in Bloom collection, particularly at the height of Spring in Australia, when smelling these lovely floral and garden-inspired accords and fragrances seems particularly apt. As a veteran collaborator with other artists and galleries, and as a synaesthete, perfumer and visual artist herself, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz is the perfect fit for this scent collaboration. I wish I could visit Dawn’s special scent room and experience the In Bloom exhibition in its entirety, but having the fragrances to smell will have to suffice. These beautiful garden scents transport me in my imagination to Monet’s garden at Giverny, a place I’ve wanted to visit for many years.

Exhibition Details & Where to Buy Giverny in Bloom

In Bloom: Painting Flowers in the Age of Impressionism is on at the Denver Art Museum until Sunday October 11, 2015. Visit the Denver Art Museum website for further information.

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Giverny in Bloom Discovery Set

The Giverny in Bloom collection can be purchased at the DSH Perfumes website. You can buy the Sample Pack (4 x 1ml) for $24 USD or a Discovery Set (4 x 3ml) for $48 USD here. A coffret of four mini flasks can be purchased for $70 USD here. You can also purchase the individual fragrances from the collection in a range of different sizes here.

You can read more about Dawn Spencer Hurwitz and her work as a perfumer and artist over at her website.

Find out more about Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny at the Fondation Claude Monet website.

Acknowledgements & Disclaimer

Warmest thanks to Dawn Spencer Hurwitz for generously providing me with a discovery set of the Giverny in Bloom collection for this blog post and review.