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.

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Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series – Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes

thirteen-thoughts-v2_800_shadow1Thirteen thoughts from perfumers around the globe. Each perfumer profiled at Perfume Polytechnic has been presented with the same set of thirteen questions that probe into scent memories, imagination, education, history, the creative process and philosophy. How each perfumer answers these questions, and what form the answers take, is up to them. Tune in each week for a new instalment to learn more about the olfactory arts and how perfumers think about smell.

Today marks the launch of Series Two of Thirteen Thoughts, a Perfumer Interview Series. There will be five, weekly instalments in the new series, featuring perfumers Mandy Aftel, JoAnne Bassett, Andy Tauer, Ellen Covey and Shelley Waddington.

You can catch up with Series One of Thirteen Thoughts here.

Today, Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes answers the thirteen questions. As Mandy is such an iconic figure in the perfume world, I hardly need to say very much about her. As many of you will already know, Mandy makes the most wonderful natural perfumes and scented wares, as well as the Chef’s Essences range of food flavourings, and organic teas. Mandy is also a perfume educator, and is the author of several key, influential texts about perfumery and the sense of smell, including Essence and Alchemy, Aroma: The Magic of Essential Oils in Food & Fragrance (co-written with chef Daniel Patterson), and Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent.

The intention of Thirteen Thoughts is to let each perfumer speak for themselves about who they are, what drives them, and what they do with fragrance, so without any further ado, let me introduce you to…

Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes

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Mandy Aftel

  1. Tell us about a significant olfactory memory from your childhood.

I remember being struck by, and very interested in, the impolite smells of my own body… I liked them, and found it fascinating that they were made by me.

  1. What is your “origin story”? When, why and how did you decide to become a perfumer?

More than 20 years ago I wanted to write a novel, and for no particular reason decided the protagonist should be a perfumer. I imagined a character with some mysterious, sexy allure, but knew next to nothing about the profession, so I began to research it in my usual obsessive way. Besides collecting over 200 antique books about perfumery, I took a solid perfume class at the local aromatherapy studio. I was completely smitten by the absolutely gorgeous natural essences, they spoke to me in a way, and I made such a wonderful perfume in class that a friend who took the class with me said we should start a perfume company. We founded Grandiflorum Perfumes and started selling in Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman’s. So I actually fell into it quite by accident, and never did write the novel.

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Some of Mandy’s antique perfume books

  1. Do you have any formal training in perfumery, or are you self-taught? Have there been any mentors or other personal or cultural influences on your work as a perfumer?

I am entirely self-taught, inspired by the magic of the natural essences — and old books about perfumery. I am heavily influenced by Bob Dylan; the whole way he’s done his art and life are a complete inspiration. I love that he’s so gifted with words, but goes after a particular kind of sound that’s in his head. I can feel that from his music, all the different ways that’s been manifested. It informs my own efforts to express — through scent — things that are locked inside my head.

  1. Who are your favourite perfumers or perfume houses, and what do you like about their work?

The only perfumes I really follow are the ones that are made by my students, and I especially enjoy watching both them and their perfumes develop over the years.

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Aftelier Perfumes fragrances

  1. Describe your brand to us: tell us about the kind(s) of perfume that you make, as well as your brand’s philosophy or ethos.

The first company Grandiflorum Perfumes came to a bad business end. Now I love being able to combine my love of research, writing, and flavors & aromas into creating perfumes for my own line, Aftelier Perfumes. I find my creative inspiration in the natural perfume materials — I totally enjoy the hunt for the best versions from around the world (I actually enjoy everything about my business!).

I think of my perfume line as a whole work in itself, almost like a book to be edited and fit together chapter by chapter. I consider the relationship between my fragrances, trying to complement and diversify the emotional experience that people can have with my perfumes. Sometimes I myself get bored with some part of my line and look for the experience that is missing or can be done better.

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Mandy Aftel at her Perfumer’s Organ

  1. How do you come up with the idea for a new perfume? For example, do ideas come to you spontaneously, do you work conceptually, or do you try to fill gaps in your range?

My main goal is to capture a memory or experience I’ve had and share that through scent – like a poet would do with words. My perfumes start as a conversation between two ingredients; that wouldn’t be obvious when you smell the finished perfume at the end, but that’s the way it starts in my head. I’m always trying to solve some aesthetic problem that’s just beyond my comfort zone, so I’m always learning something new on everything I make, which I enjoy.

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Antique oil bottles

  1. What element of your perfume making process do you think readers of this blog would be interested or surprised to learn about?

I’m pretty ruthless about my work, I don’t pay attention to what people think or what’s fashionable. I don’t think about the past or the history of perfumery — maybe because I use a natural palette and there’s so little history to go on, or maybe it’s just my nature.

I am inspired by food, color, and good writing — also by the quirky beauty of the past, I need some of what I consider beautiful every day. I cannot believe my good fortune in working every day with materials that are so gorgeous, diverse, and historical.

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Palimpsest by Aftelier Perfumes

  1. What are the current challenges you face as a perfumer, both creatively and in regard to manufacturing, distributing and marketing your perfume?

Every new perfume presents a creative challenge – that just comes with the territory as part of it, not something new or special. I relish the hunt for the materials – both completely new essences and better versions of ones that I already have. Over the years I have bought an astounding amount of stuff that turns out not to be any good, and I have to throw it out, but that’s part of the challenge that I love. I get bowled over by my good fortune at making perfumes that speak to me and please me, and that miraculously have found an audience with other people; it’s quite gratifying to do something that other people believe in. I love creating a handmade product, so I’m actually not facing any challenges about growing or increasing my production or distribution. I’m not interested in being in stores; I love the personal connection of selling directly to the customer. If it weren’t for the internet, I couldn’t do it this way.

  1. How has your work as a perfumer affected your perception of everyday smells?

Well, I like the funk, in the perfume and period. Having such a wide palette of natural aromas to work with has increased my awareness of the smells from doing gardening, or just being out walking – I’m aware of how vibrant they feel to me because it’s my métier. Smells are very personal to me, not so much about identifying things individually, but to learn the subtle differences and variations between smells. There is such a glorious panoply of fragrances in the real world.

  1. Many ingredients that are edible are also used in fragrance (chocolate, vanilla, coffee and rose, to name a few). If you could reverse this process and turn any perfume ingredient into an edible ingredient, what would that be? Which fragrance ingredient do you think would taste nice as a flavour?

Because I like odd things… I think frankincense would be interesting to cook with (I already use it in my perfumed tea). Or finding some way to cook with patchouli would intrigue me.

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Frankincense resin

  1. If you had a time machine, which historical period in perfumery would you like to go back to and work in as a perfumer?

I’d love to see the turn of the 19th century, when most of the natural perfume materials were in play. It was just on the cusp of thinking of perfume as an art form, and before it became so dominated by the synthetics. But honestly, I’m very thrilled to be working in this period, it’s a wonderful time where I can choose from a wealth of very high-quality natural materials, create a perfume that expresses my personal aesthetics, and have a direct relationship with my customers.

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Mandy Aftel’s solid perfumes, housed in beautiful antique cases.

  1. If you could invent a new olfactory gadget, tool or technology, what would it be and how would it benefit perfumers and/or society?

Well, this isn’t very complicated, but what I want most right now are some really really beautiful — like sculpturally beautiful — perfume blotter holders, to keep the scent strips organized while creating a perfume. I like every part of the perfume-making process to be beautiful (I’ve already invested in letter-press printed, all-cotton heavyweight perfume blotters).

  1. What is the purpose of perfume?

I make perfume, and people wear it, as a vacation from reality. It is a place — an ideal place — that you can visit without traveling. It is restorative and it makes you feel good. It has no practical purpose whatsoever; we wear it as a personal adornment like jewelry. It simply allows us to inhale bliss and however briefly, stop time.


I hope you’ve enjoyed the first instalment of this second series of Thirteen Thoughts with Mandy Aftel.

I want to thank Mandy for taking time out of her very busy schedule creating and travelling to answer my questions. Mandy has been a delight to communicate with throughout this process, and so friendly and approachable! I really enjoyed reading her very personal and considered responses.

I will be writing a feature article on Mandy’s Chef’s Essences flavour sprays in the coming weeks. Stay tuned, or follow Perfume Polytechnic so you don’t miss reading about these fabulous food flavours and how you can use them in your cooking.

If you’d like to find out more about Mandy and her fragrant wares (and buy them), visit the Aftelier Perfumes website. You can also find Aftelier fragrances listed on Fragrantica and Basenotes.

For those of you who want to learn more about perfumery, the sense of smell, the history of perfume and/or how to use essential oils in cooking, you can read more about and purchase some of Mandy’s books on these topics at the Aftelier website.

Next week:

Stay tuned to see how perfumer JoAnne Bassett answers the thirteen questions in Thirteen Thoughts, a Perfumer Interview Series.

Intellectual Property:

All interview answers and photographs were provided courtesy of the perfumer, and remain their intellectual property. All interview questions remain the intellectual property of Perfume Polytechnic. Please do not reproduce interviews or images without permission.