Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Votive duet: Aftelier Perfumes Vanilla Smoke & Amber Tapestry mini-reviews - plus an Ajne retrospective

Made by me - a rare gift TO my elderly friend!
Strange to report, I didn't develop a liking for wine till I was at least 22, and olives still remain a challenge too far today. In the nine years of my perfume hobby, I have also come late to appreciating natural perfumes - that's with the exception of Carmel-based Ajne, a house to which I was introduced by Michelyn Camen early on in my perfume j*****y, before she founded Cafleurebon. I still possess a small bottle of Calypso - a woozy blend of frangipani, jasmine, cardamom and vanilla - which doesn't seem to have turned yet, despite being at least eight years old. Ajne* had quite a low profile in the blogosphere back then, and I never hear tell of them now. For a while though the range exerted a hypnotising pull over me, due to the hyper-realism of the luxurious ingredients, coupled with the delicate filigree of the Bohemian bottles, and the ritualistic way I would dab on my precious collection of samples. There was even one called Om, described as 'a consciousness-altering blend of smoke-laden sandalwood, Himalayan heart incense cedar, deep forest lichen and smooth musk'. I remember liking Om quite a lot, but I was busy chasing samples and splits of the other heady florals in the range apart from Calypso, notably Printemps (gardenia, linden), and Fleur Blanche (gardenia, stone fruit). It all feels like a lost chapter in my life, with only the increasingly amber-toned remnants of Calypso as testament to my ever having had this intense but fleeting dalliance with natural perfumery...

Ajne Calypso

Then something happened recently to ignite a spark of interest in naturals again, namely an email from Mandy Aftel, explaining that she had spotted my comment on a blog post by Tara of A Bottled Rose, expressing an interest in trying Amber Tapestry and Vanilla Smoke, both of which Tara had reviewed. Mandy invited me to pick a couple more samples to go into the package, and after an enjoyable evening spent reading the reviews of fellow bloggers with tastes congruent to mine, I settled on Wild Roses and Honey Blossom (which I may feature one day).

But before getting to my impressions of the scents themselves, I must devote a paragraph or two to the packaging, which greatly contributes to the 'devotional' aspect of my response to them - though not before mentioning the lightning speed with which the package arrived. It took an astonishing three days to come by FedEx Express all the way from Berkeley, California (including a brief pitstop in a depot in Cannock!). Why, I have known Christmas cards take longer to get from Littleworth to the other side of Stafford.

After the speed, I was completely smitten by the packaging...the golden Jiffy bag, the dear little cardboard box with its charming country scene and the tiny scent pots nestling in paper 'straw' at each corner.

Oh, and the distinctive use of priestly purple as Aftelier's 'house colour'. (Which reminds me of the time my father - not known for his largesse - bought me a colour TV on a whim, purely so he could watch a televised procession of bishops in New Zealand in all their ecclesiastical finery.)

Then there are other dainty touches to savour: the mysterious motif of a long stemmed retort, like a spindly garlic bulb, and Mandy's characterfully spiky calligraphy on her little note, enclosed in a glassine bag to protect the ink from the elements.

How much did I love all these thoughtful trappings? It activated whatever part of my brain - somewhere deep in the amygdala, perhaps? - is excited by miniaturisation, and brought back happy memories of dolls' houses and advent calendars of yore.

And there is something very significant too about the little pots; the Ajne samples were similarly presented, though it was all so long ago. I do believe these tiny receptacles predispose one to a mood of solemn reverence when applying - nay, anointing oneself with - the perfumes. And Vanilla Smoke in particular had the meditative quality of Ajne Om, or the Om at least of my distant recall.

So without further ado, here are my impressions of these two - I must stress that they were both written without reference to the note list!:

Source: kevineats.com

Vanilla Smoke 

I was not too sure about the first few seconds of Vanilla Smoke, as it was all about the smoke initially. A resinous puff of something like birch tar - or gunpowder? - in a quiet register, but still a bit too 'medicinal smoky' for me, if that makes sense. Very slightly like burning Band-Aids. But I was not at all daunted, having read enough reviews to be confident of a more seductive sequel, and so it proved. Soon a veiled sweet note emerged, like jaggery sugar or a dark, veering to treacly, vanilla, and smoothed out the smokiness. The texture of the scent was now silken and soft and comforting, the stern opening quite forgotten.  Who knew a bonfire (for there is smouldering wood still going on in the base) could be so cosseting? If anyone knows Om, cross it with Mona di Orio's Vanille and you would be in the right general ballpark. Vanilla Smoke is a judicious blend of austere smoky backbone and yielding vanilla vulnerability, if I may lapse into purple prose for a moment. Given the purple livery of Aftelier, I am hoping this may be excused! Vanilla Smoke is at once haunting and calming, and unlike any take on vanilla I have ever smelt - and vanilla being my favourite note, I have made it my mission to sample as many of its incarnations as I can find. I am not religious, but as I intimated earlier, dabbing a drop of this on my wrist borders on the spiritual. Hmm, I sense the dabbing part is key. Maybe Aftelier perfumes should only be available in tiny, dabbable quantities to foster this association. Now there's a radical idea... Or if my reference to transcendental experiences sounds a bit un-bonkerslike of me, at the very least Vanilla Smoke would be the perfect accompaniment to one of those Headspace apps where you sit still in a chair, scan your body parts one by one, and generally try to feel floppy. I  loved it, and wouldn't mind if I never smelt any of those 'straight up gourmand' vanilla scents (of which I have so many iterations in my collection) again.

Notes: yellow mandarin, Siam wood, saffron absolute, vanilla absolute, lapsang souchong tea essence (for which the tea leaves were smoked over pinewood), coumarin and ambergris

Source; pixabay
Amber Tapestry

Now although I didn't peek at the note list before marshalling my thoughts on this one, I remember reading somewhere that Amber Tapestry had jasmine in it - very likely in Tara's review - and was also waiting for a cosy, more amber-forward drydown. Instead I got a whoosh of fresh, green, vaguely mentholated, mahoosive and slightly bubble gummy phantom tuberose! And I promise I mean this in a good way! It was really, really interesting, and transported me back to the Palm House of Belfast's botanical gardens, inhaling the dewy, fleshy, otherworldly scent of some unspecified and faintly triffid-like plant. Think the blowsy Vero Kern Rubj crossed with Tubereuse Criminelle and you won't be far off, though I have only smelt the latter once. I see Tube Crim contains jasmine AND tuberose, as well as orange blossom and vanilla. And an eclectic collection of spices. And it is amber coloured to boot! So yes, those two...and maybe lob in a soupcon of Nuit de Tubereuse for good measure.

Source; Wikimedia Commons

Amber Tapestry is a highly unusual scent: odd and shapeshifting and not at all what I expected. Now that I have spied the note list, I reckon the faux-tuberose effect may in fact have been created by the combination of heliotrope (which can read big and 'plasticky') and the jasmine. And how intriguing that both Vanilla Smoke and Amber Tapestry should contain yellow mandarin and coumarin, not that I could have picked either of those out unaided. I suspect the coumarin could also be amping up the heliotrope and helping it stage this surprise tuberose stunt. I can't honestly say I get amber. Or even a drydown as such. The compelling tuberose chimera simply becomes more attenuated and finally fades away.

To compensate for my strange take on this scent, which I realise is way off the reviews I have now caught up with(!), I am inserting pictures of tapestries I have made - or co-made with my mother in the case of the footstool. Both feature an orange colour that could loosely be called amber.

Notes: heliotrope, yellow mandarin, jasmine, jasmine sambac, pear and cinnamon, amber, labdanum, benzoin, castoreum, ambergris and coumarin

The full footstool!

*Ajne did of course famously mark their card by unexpectedly closing early on the day I said I was coming to visit, hehe.


  1. Those tapestries are amazing, V!! WOW!
    And "and olives still remain a challenge" What!? I live for olives. We put them in our pasta sauce! That's okay, I still love you :)

    1. Hi Carol,

      I am afraid I wouldn't have the patience to do tapestries now. I had one of a Klimt painting and sold it on eBay not long ago!

      I am glad you know about my olive issue before I come for a meal again. xx

  2. I'm an insane olive lover, they're my favorite food and I've been known to travel quite far to try new varieties. That said, my boyfriend is very anti-olive, as are most of my friends. Your distaste for olives reads as "normal" to me. I'm also 28 and just beginning to appreciate wine, I'm late to the game!

    These reviews are fantastic and have convinced me to put in for an order from aftelier, so thank you.

    1. Hi Stephanie,

      Thanks for dropping in...I sense the olive reference has surprising legs! I am glad to know that as an olive refusenik I am far from alone. If you have only started drinking wine at 28, that gives you ample scope to backdate some of your 2-3 units a day the NHS recommend we stick to. ;)

      Enjoy your sampling of Aftelier!

  3. Amazing tapestries - but I'm disappointed not to see Leo!

    I have a love/hate relationship with olives, but veer these days more towards love. Last night we had seabass stuffed with sundried tomatoes and olives and I think that the tomatoes seemed to bring out the best in the olives; I like them too in a tagine with lots of preserved lemon.

    I keep meaning to order some of those gems from Aftelier, but have always been put off by the posting process. Your speedy delivery inspires hope.

    1. By the way that post is from me, Jillie, just in case you need to know!

      And I know that your past experience of L'Artisan's Vanilia was perhaps not the best, but I think that its formula varied quite a lot during its production and I wonder if the version you had was a lesser one? I was wearing mine the other day and was struck at just how good it was. I would be happy to send you a sample if you would like to give it another go!

    2. Hi Jillie,

      Sorry about the lack of Leo - there's no Pisces either, Mandy's sign. Basically my mum and I took each sign of our immediate family (Gemini x 2, Taurus and Libra), and added Capricorn and Cancer for her best friend and her daughter, while I picked Scorpio as a tribute to my inspirational English teacher, to whom I still send a card each year.

      You are not selling me on the olives, hehe, but I am glad you have learnt to appreciate their qualities. ;)

      That is kind of you to offer a sample of Vanilia - shall I test my version again first (if I can find it) and report back what I make of it? I remember it being rather like AG Vanille Exquise...

    3. Turns out I don't have a sample of Vanilia - I am not sure actually that I ever did, though I do believe I have sniffed it at some point. And so I would be happy to take you up on your offer if it is not too late, or too much bother?

    4. Turns out I don't have a sample of Vanilia - I am not sure actually that I ever did, though I do believe I have sniffed it at some point. And so I would be happy to take you up on your offer if it is not too late, or too much bother?

  4. What a huge treat to get a double review from you Vanessa, and so beautifully written & photographed! I was moved by your very personal response to Vanilla Smoke, and loved your description of phantom notes in Amber Tapestry, deeply grateful to you! ๐Ÿ™๐Ÿ’œ๐Ÿ‘ƒ

    1. Many thanks to you, Mandy! I was so excited to try these scents after my curiosity had been well and truly piqued by Tara's review. The whole experience of receiving the package and testing the samples was a sensory delight from end to end!

  5. Hi V,

    Lovely post about two of my favourites from Mandy. So happy you fell for Vanilla Smoke which is on my To Buy List but I need to clear out a few things first.
    Love the anecdote about your father getting the TV to watch the Kiwi bishops. That says so much about him!
    As everyone seems to be talking about olives I'll add that I've loved them since adulthood while Mia took them at about age 4. I've still not acquired a taste for wine.
    How nice to own a footstool your mother covered with a tapestry of her own.

    1. Hi Tara,

      I am indebted to you for the lemming trigger! And I know what you mean about clearing out one's collection first - I need to do the same before permitting any more FB purchases.

      LOL at Kiwi bishops! Actually, if my memory serves me they came from all over the world, hence the particularly colourful collective display.

      I am impressed at modern children being so adventurous about trying food. Liz Moores' Daisy is the same. I was very fussy and my brother even worse though he is more broad in his tastes now.

      Oh, I made half of the footstool, actually, which may not have been clear in the post. I think I did the Scorpio, Cancer and Taurus, leaving my mum the more fiddly signs. ;) We made it in relays, as it wasn't that big!

  6. Only after reading your post I realized that I started eating/liking olives several years before I tried wines worth liking for the first time. I have to ask though: have you tried olives that you know were objectively good - and still didn't like them?

    Vanilla Smoke is good. It reminded me of something I thought I've previously smelled, but each of my attempts to run a parallel testing ended up in proving to myself that the tested perfumes had something in common but not identical. I still have a drop in that cutest mini jar but later I will consider buying more.

    1. Hi Undina,

      Well, well - another person late to wine drinking. I am pretty sure I will have tried proper olives at some point. I dislike even those tiny slivers in bread.

      I do think Vanilla Smoke stands out on its own, but agree that it has echoes of other scents - am glad you like it too. The mini jar is the cutest thing!