Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Guest Post: How To Smell Natural Perfume by Mandy Aftel

Learning how to smell a natural perfume is like learning to speak another language: the common vocabulary will not suffice. Words don’t cover the same territory and in fact, the terrain is different. So let me take you by the hand through this narcotic, complex, earthy, dense, sometimes luscious syntax.

Natural perfumes are best experienced on your skin, rather than smelled in the bottle or on a perfume blotter. They have an idiosyncratic relationship with your body chemistry, blossoming on your skin. These perfumes smell unique on each person, which is part of their allure and magic.

Natural perfumes don’t broadcast their presence, and last only about two hours on the skin. In contrast, the thing that allows perfumes to endure from morning until night, and to be perceived from across the room is the presence of synthetics. Perfumes that purport to be all natural, but last all day or have a sillage of ten feet, are not from botanical sources.

When I come upon a person to whom the aroma of a synthetic rose reminds them more of an actual rose than does the aroma of the voluptuous natural Turkish rose absolute, I know that the funky, complex, and authentic aspects of natural perfumes will not be appreciated. The aromas of natural essences are multi-layered by nature (pun intended). The texture of these aromas is more opaque and less possible to pin down. Their scent is just plain different. The perfumes created with them, are complex, layered, and deep. Some people think of their aroma, pejoratively, as dark, heavy and fungal, almost coarse.

The best way to smell a natural perfume is put a bit on the back of your clean un-fragranced hand. Rub the perfume twice to make the alcohol disperse. If you don't do this, you will be overwhelmed by the smell of the alcohol and it will diminish your ability to smell the perfume. Close your eyes when you smell the perfume and focus on that initial aroma. Take note of the complexity, texture, shape of the scent. Wait five minutes and smell it again. Notice how it has changed. Smell again after ten more minutes and then again after half an hour. This will give you a good reading of the evolution of the perfume on your skin.

An inescapable aspect of smelling a natural perfume is the way that it connects you to the smells of the natural world, in the same way as a walk in the forest, cooking a delicious meal or harvesting plants and flowers from your garden. There is a richness to knowing that the essences you are inhaling played such a rich part in human history. After all, we not only smell with our nose, but with our mind.

© 2011 Mandy Aftel


About the guest blogger: Mandy Aftel is one of the world's leading natural perfumers. She is the author of three books on natural perfume: Essence And Alchemy, which has been translated into seven languages and was the winner of The Sense of Smell Institute's Richard B. Solomon Award; Aroma, co-authored with chef Daniel Patterson, which focuses on the essential link between food and fragrance and includes recipes for both; Scents And Sensibilities, which guides the reader through the history and creation of solid perfumes. She was named "Best Scent" in San Francisco Magazine's "Best of the Bay", included on the "It List" of perfumers in Perfumer & Flavorist magazine and was chosen as one of the twenty-five most influential people in perfume by Basenotes.net.

Mandy is currently up for an American FiFi award, the recipient of which will be decided by a public ballot. Click here if you'd like to vote. Please come back to Persolaise.com on Friday for reviews of four Aftelier perfumes.


  1. I love how you describe from the start that "smelling perfume is like learning to speak another language." I can't recall off the top of my head if I've smelled a natural perfume before. I might indeed have one or two in my wardrobe, after reading this though I think I understand that a natural perfume, smells, well, natural! It's hard to describe what I mean, but it's an appreciation in the materials used on top of their quality I think I'll be able to detect now!

    Thanks Mandy, and thanks Persolaise!

  2. Beautiful article. I love how you describe the complexity of a natural aroma. The way from the nose to the soul is a shorter one with natural perfumes, the connection a more immediate and intimate one. We are a part of nature after all, even if we imagine ourselves to be superior.

  3. Natural perfumes have an energy to them that is lacking in synthetic perfumes. Mandy understands and explains this beautifully. To me, it is much like the difference between a piece of natural turquoise and synthetic turquoise. The synthetic 'stone' may be the same color, but it lacks the Divine energy and depth of natural.

  4. Thank you Persolaise for asking me. i wanted to write this because i do think that smelling an all-natural perfume is a different experience for most people who have only smelled the more mainstream perfumes
    Mandy Aftel

  5. Divinemama, I love your turquoise analogy, it's spot on!

    Thanks P for giving Mandy this forum to write about the experience of natural perfumes. It's wonderful post!


  6. Who better to teach us how to smell natural creations than the finest natural perfumer on earth? Mandy has a way with words that brings the inanimate to life, and the living to exalted heights.

  7. Thank you Carrie, for you incredibly kind words about my work -- I cherish them. I am glad, Liam, to have helped explain this difference to you which is more intuitive than rational. I loved your analogy to a piece of turquoise divinemama. Thank you Trish and Birgit for taking the time to chime in here with your lovely thoughts.

  8. I like how you say natural perfumes bloom on your skin, Mandy. There can be a slight comparison between two bottles of perfume (in the bottles), one of them that does not contain totally natural essences, but wear them and you know the difference!

  9. Love this post! It was exactly the topic i was looking for yesterday! XOXO Monica

  10. Hi everyone,

    I haven't replied to your comments as this is technically Mandy's post, but I just wanted to say how pleased I am that you've enjoyed her writing.

    I'm honoured that she agreed to make a contribution to Persolaise.com.

  11. lady jane grey15 May 2011 at 09:44

    Your article reminds me my utter surprise back then when I first sniffed your Pink Lotus and Cepes parfumes - I was baffled (very positively baffled!). It was immedietely clear to me that I have to sniff and understand them differently than the non-natural ones - the scents themselves made it clear to me. Now there is another eperience for me to make - and I can't await to get there: the solid ones from Aftelier...


Thanks very much for reading my site and taking the time to leave a comment.

Please note that whilst the full range of views is welcome on Persolaise.com, comments containing expletives and/or abusive language may not be published.

If you're using Safari on an Apple device, you may experience some difficulties with submitting comments. Please consider using Google's Chrome browser on your Apple device; this may make it easier to leave your comment.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...