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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Come in from the cold: Winter and holiday offerings for 2015 from Aftelier Perfumes

By Donna

Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes has made a habit of delighting us just when we need it most, in the dreary days of winter. This season we are presented with a new perfume, a different version of another, and a long-awaited addition to her line of organic artisan teas.

All new for 2015 is Vanilla Smoke, which through some sleight of hand actually smells more like real smoke than many fragrances with synthetic ingredients; the effect comes from a special extract of Lapsang Souchong tea that has been smoked over pine wood. I have to admit that smoky perfumes and I do not always get along, and when I first put this on, I smelled just like Henri Bendel's Firewood candle – one of the best there is, but not something I would want to wear on my skin. Fortunately this effect subsided as it warmed up and the vanilla note began to expand. It is a decidedly non-foody Madagascar vanilla absolute, deep and dark and woody, the perfect mate for the smoke. The composition is wrapped in a veil of real ambergris, which acts as the binder to make the whole thing seamless and velvet-smooth and gives it extraordinary longevity. This new introduction is available in both eau de parfum and extrait; the latter is almost supernaturally rich and dense and a bit less smoky to my nose than the eau de parfum; it's a showcase for the vanilla and ambergris. Wear it for the most special of occasions; it stays close to the skin, but those who do get close will be mesmerized.

I tested the fabulous Bergamoss when it was launched in solid form, and now it is available as a liquid perfume for a limited time. I may even like it better in this formulation, if that is possible; it is opened up, sharp and distinctive, punched up with a shot of bitter-green the way I like my chypres, yet still imbued with the beauty of the florals and the marvelous essence of the aromatic flouve grass. The bergamot is very forward in this version, while the solid is softer and mossier, with some sweetness added from the creamy base itself. The eau de parfum is striking, exhilarating, and vibrant, the perfume equivalent of a beautiful woman in a daring green dress who turns heads the moment she enters a room. We are so very lucky to have American perfumers making real chypres at a time when European firms are hobbled by EU/IFRA restrictions - I say bring it on, and since this is a limited edition, get it while you can, it is superb.


And the tea – oh my, the tea! It has been two years since the launch of the original three perfumed teas from Aftelier, which are wonderful, and the new Orange & Cardamom black tea, using flavorings from Aftelier's wonderful Chef's Essences, was worth the wait. Cardamom is my favorite of all the sweet spices, but dosing is key; too little and it can be overpowered by other aromas, too much and its highly pitched woody character can do its own overwhelming. This is judged just right, blending the sharp brightness of cardamom with a sweet and inviting blood orange, which also happens to be one of my favorites so far from the Chef's Essences line. The tea itself is top shelf rolled black tea pearls of exceptional quality, of course. This is a treat for cold mornings curled up on the couch and relaxing, savoring every sip, and a worthy addition to the lineup.

Image credits: “Golden Smoke” wallpaper from, art by T Glow. One of my favorite photos of actress Elizabeth Taylor, in a publicity shot from 1951's “A Place In The Sun.”
Disclosure: The samples of all the products in this review were sent to me by Aftelier Perfumes.

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

Foodie Sunday: New scented teas from Providence Perfume Company

By Donna

When I heard that Providence Perfume Company was introducing a new line of organic perfumed teas, I knew I was in for a treat, since I already love Charna Ethier's creative natural fragrances, and when I received them for testing I was not disappointed. All six varieties of these “A Poth A Care” loose teas are outstanding, and very different in character; there is something for everyone in this lovely selection.

Perhaps the gentlest of the group is Green Pearl, a classic green tea that is presented in the traditional rolled “gunpowder” style. It is so easy to drink and as smooth as one could wish for. When a tea is as unadorned as this it has better be of top shelf quality, and this is some of the best green tea I have ever come across, with a hay-like aroma and none of the astringency one might expect of this style of tea. Drink this when you are in a meditative mood, or when you need a calming influence.

I sampled Yuzu Breakfast when the weather was still very warm, and it's just perfect for a summer morning. The formula is a little twist on the tried and true orange spice formula – the tea is the bold black pekoe found in the major supermarket brands and such teas as Constant Comment®, but the citrus component here is orange peel and the amazingly aromatic Japanese yuzu fruit peel, which lies somewhere between grapefruit and bergamot and is very zesty and exhilarating. No other flavoring is needed, and you will really look forward to waking up with this in your cup.

Orange Blossom Oolong is so delicious I was wishing that it also came in perfume form while I was drinking it – maybe I can persuade Ms. Ethier to make some? I have always been a fan of the subtle yet complex flavor of oolong tea, and the other ingredients in the blend enhance it without masking its essential delicacy. It has a sublime orange flower and jasmine aroma and a soft, creamy personality. I am sure this one will be a favorite with true tea connoisseurs.

I have been an Earl Grey tea purist for almost as long as I have been a tea drinker, which is a very long time. I was a little bit skeptical of messing with the basic formula, but Earl Grey & Lavender won me over very easily. The lavender in the mix is very refined and sweetly floral, not at all soapy, and it's a perfect partner for the lively freshness of the bergamot. This is also a green tea version of Earl Grey instead of the usual black tea, which may be a concern to other purists, but it really works here.

For those who like a richly flavored tea with a fruity character, look no further than Brambleberry Rose. I really love this one, which combines fine black tea with locally grown organic rose petals, raspberries, strawberries, cocoa nibs and Madagascar vanilla. The result is a deliciously jammy rose tea, rich and incredibly fragrant. (It seems like most companies that make a rose tea just can't resist adding hibiscus, which makes the tea too puckery, but that's thankfully absent from this formula.) This is the perfect thing for high tea accompanied by delectable desserts and strawberries with cream, and another one that should be a perfume too!

Last but certainly not least is Violetta, which is just ridiculously good. Green tea leaves that have been dried with night blooming jasmine to impart a floral quality are blended with Tahitian vanilla bean, violet extract and blue cornflowers. It reminds me very much of those violet-scented pastille candies, but without the chalkiness those can sometimes have. The sweet violet scent is true and so very pretty, like a breath of early spring on the breeze, and the flavor is truly unique. This is a strong contender for my favorite along with Brambleberry Rose, but thankfully I don't have to choose. You just can't go wrong with any of these.

Image credit: Violetta tea label art by permission of Providence Perfume Company
Disclosure: I received my samples directly from Providence Perfume Company.

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Friday, December 04, 2015

Pagans and Petrichor: New Burning Man fragrances from Aether Arts Perfume


By Donna

Perfumer Amber Jobin of Aether Arts Perfume makes a pilgrimage each year that most of us can only wonder about; she attends the annual Burning Man festival in the vast Black Rock Desert of Nevada. This celebration of art, music, creativity, personal expression of every kind and any number of things that are almost certainly banned in Boston is an ongoing inspiration for her, and the “Burner” series of perfume oils is a tribute to its influence on her aesthetic. I am very pleased to review the two newest scents in the series, which showcase Ms. Jobin's impressive and growing talent.

Sensuality is one of the main associations many people have with Burning Man – the “let it all hang out” dress code and encouraging of uninhibited behavior results in a a potent stew amounting to what may be the largest gathering of free spirits on the planet. Black Rock City is the embodiment of this atmosphere, an earthy, sexy perfume that cannot be mistaken for anything ordinary or tame. Named for the temporary community of thousands that springs up every year and then vanishes at the festival's conclusion, it was created in 2010 and only released to the public in 2015; Black Rock City is Number 1 in the Burner series. It is 95 percent natural and combines timeless desert essences like sage, mesquite and cedar in a deep, resinous composition that somehow evokes the scent of warm bodies to my nose, even though it is also quite dry and woody. It has a subtle vanillic sweetness from mesquite blossoms – an essence I have never smelled in a perfume before now – and is grounded in a base of cedar and mesquite wood. This deceptively simple formula is very long-lasting and complex, and must be experienced on skin for the full effect, as it just keeps getting better as the hours pass.

On the opposite end of the fragrance spectrum, Reflection (Burner No. 6) captures the sensation of the desert after a rare rainstorm, ominous with thunder and lightning yet brimming with life as thirsty desert plants spring up virtually overnight and flowers open their blooms to the sky after a long drought. The sensation of rain-washed earth evoked by this fragrance is astonishingly true to life, and it succeeds where so many have failed in capturing the exhilarating post-rain aroma known as petrichor. I have never been a big fan of ozone scents (exception: Ms. Jobin's own Argent, see link in first paragraph), mainly because they almost never seem to get it right, but this one does, blending the sharp, penetrating character of ozone with the tender scent of flowers and the soft wetness of still rain pools. Sage, mesquite and cedar make appearances here too, along with cactus flower, yucca flower and sage blossom accords. Even though it shares ingredients with Black Rock City, the two fragrances are worlds apart in style; Reflection is a testament to the artistic possibilities of mixed media perfumery, being 45 percent natural and 55 percent synthetic. (Both fragrances are made in oil form equal to 45 percent extrait, so their longevity is impressive.)

The two can also be layered together for a truly unique experience; in fact, that works wonderfully well on my skin. The extremes of wet ozone and dry wood cancel each other out just enough to allow the lighter herbal and floral notes to shine, like the breath of green plants rising from the warming earth as the rain evaporates under the desert sun. I give an enthusiastic thumbs up to them both, either by themselves or in combination.

Image credit: Lightning storm in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada wallpaper photo via
Disclosure: I received my samples for testing from Aether Arts Perfume.

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