Straight to the heart: PARFUM DE MAROC by AFTELIER PERFUMES (2010)



Yesterday we looked at the bizarre, if highly memorable, Arabie by Mr Lutens and his magician/alchemist/sidekick Christopher Sheldrake, an innovative blend in which the desserts and spices of the Middle East were whipped up into an impossibly smooth and sultry, if for me indigestible, perfume.

I love spices: they reel me in, especially now that we are living in the days of the anodyne and the measured in perfume, where to smell merely pleasant, clean or worst of all, unthreateningly conformist, is the order of the day. (How often do you trail behind a person on the street wearing a gorgeously spicy scent? That sensation in your brain and stomach when your limbic system is momentarily thrown off course and the instinctual drives kick in and, like a blinkered horse, you forget your surroundings and all you can think about is that scent and its associations…..?)

The perfumes of Mandy Aftel, which I have only recently had the chance to smell for the first time, are composed entirely of natural essences, and they deliver a kick to me physically; involuntarily, somewhere between the groin and the heart (though I felt something in my upper legs for some reason upon sampling the new Oud Luban extrait recently; it literally had my muscles twitching….) Intellectually I wasn’t entirely sure about its curious blending of blood orange oils and the extraordinarily dirty and suggestive essential oil of oud and the Indian essence Choya Ral, but at the same time it was so feral that while my mental protective mechanisms went pitifully into place, my body rebelled as I sat there in the dark watching a film, and it got me quite frankly aroused……)

I have not yet written much about aromatherapy on this site as I am concentrating more on perfume, but for me the two go hand in hand in daily life, and I have been intimately involved with aromatherapeutic oils for at least twenty years (and seen a miracle or two in that time as well). Let’s just say I am a believer.

Where essential oils are like medicines for me, indispensable for my sense of well-being and feeling of a therapeutic connection with nature (the souls of plants!) perfumes are my hedonistic side; aesthetic and sensual pleasure, shameless artefacts of beauty that are ephemeral, invisible, to be consumed in a way that makes them unique and enjoyably guilt-ridden.

Having these two separate sides of myself fused – the medicinal and the purely fragrant and luxuriant – is an odd sensation for me, because on the whole I do view them quite differently. I realize, obviously, that most perfumes contain natural oils and so will also have some physiological effect on the organism, but this is very different from the way a bath of rosemary, geranium and peppermint makes my heart beat like a drum, or the way marjoram oil at night soothes my spirits like the anaesthetic waters of Lethe; or how a candlelit bath of vetiver sends me to a slow-breathing netherworld of the deepest, most earth-centred tranquillity.

Can natural perfumes find a pleasing in-between? Be subtle and complex enough to please the senses aesthetically while delivering the physiological goods? I have already written some favourable reviews of the all-natural, and very delicate, scents by Frazer Parfums (which see), and judging from Oud Luban and Parfum de Maroc, which is a very excellent rose/spice fragrance, Ms Aftel really does manage to stride the bridge between the two worlds extremely effectively.

Going back for a moment to what I was saying about encountering people that are doused attractively in spice, aside Duncan’s mother Daphne and her clouds of Opium and Jacomo’s Parfum Rare, and my friend Georgia who wears Caron’s Poivre exquisitely with its fiery, moody, blend of pepper and cloves, the spice scent that springs to mind the most in this conversation is the original perfume by Comme De Garçons, that groundbreaking spice blend based on perfumer Mark Buxton’s memories of the Moroccan souk. It is a great scent, but too many fashionistas and art people were wearing it at the time of its launch (1994) whether it suited them or not, and when a person chooses a perfume for ‘the wrong reasons’, especially with something as distinctive as this clovey, cinnamon balsam-laden thing, in my opinion the perfume can just sit on the skin unwantedly and smell wrong.

Comme des Garçons was a very dense perfume that contained every spice under the sun over incense: it smelled mainly natural and was originally made for CDG founder Rei Kawakubo as an mood-enhancing elixir to steel the nerves, yet allow you to relax in its warm aura, all the while in the full realisation that you were wearing something emphatically cool. It was the perfume that brought spices, and the edible, back into the fold when the trends in perfumery were going in the opposite, more anorexic,  directions of Eau D’Issey and CK One, and for that we must be grateful.

I mention this perfume because it was what Aftelier’s Parfum De Maroc vaguely reminded me of the first time I tried it on (after all, both scents are based on the same specific geographic location, the Moroccan spice market). But where in the CDG souk-fest the spices and other elements feel pressed together and fused in the laboratory, Parfum De Maroc allows for no such artificially induced compression and bursts from its bottle unsuppressed, natural essences of a very sensual Turkish rose absolute layered over a prominent base accord of cardamom and myrrh essential oil ( an essence I have used in face creams and whose odour I know intimately), all swirling, diffusively and suggestively, while a captivatingly spicy accord of galangal ( a more fiery relative of ginger ), black pepper, saffron and nutmeg lower your defences as they choreograph themselves around the soaring red rose – surely the star of the show. It is a scent that needs red, orange, gold, rich fabrics, and a person with a warmer heart than mine to wear effectively: it is gorgeous, but on me I find the perfume almost torrid, the untamed nature of the pure essential oils used, particularly the myrrh, almost intimidatingly rich and heart-filling (Parfum De Maroc would work amazingly as a grief or shock-absorber….it is the perfect antidote to cold of all kinds….)

Still, if I wasn’t quite comfortable wearing this heady perfume on myself I still had an urge to keep smelling it for some reason, and so I then committed what might be seen as something of a perfumista sin …

Like other essential oils, which I sometimes evaporate in oil burners placed in different parts of the house, I decided to try ‘burning’ Parfum De Maroc, just to see, letting its Arab vapours fill the entire house with its florid coils of quietly pulsating heat, and I must tell you that the smell, as it slowly made its way around corners and into each room as I caught its poignant, exotic warmth, practically made me swoon.


Filed under Flowers, Rose, Spice

24 responses to “Straight to the heart: PARFUM DE MAROC by AFTELIER PERFUMES (2010)

  1. My God, this sounds divine! It sounds exactly like my cup of tea and I’m dying for a sniff now. Thank you for a wonderful review.

  2. penseedautomne

    Very much interested in this parfum as Maroc is one of the countries I’d very much love to go. Also curious about a miracle or two that you had seen…

  3. Reblogged this on The Lady Philospher's Blog and commented:
    Wonderful as always!

  4. George

    Great essay this one, with a lovely flow and mix of topics and wrap-up at the end. Made for very enjoyable breakfast reading here in snowy Cambridge.

    • ginzaintherain

      Lovely to hear from you again, fine sir. I was too afraid to reread it as it was do over the top! You have assuaged my fears.

      Happy new year to you and Eli/yssa: a snowy Cambridge sounds divine

  5. brie

    Please please please you must do a post exclusive to essential oils and aromatherapy (I will even get you samples of whatever your heart desires from Eden Botanicals to entice you!). Ironically, I have never smelled an Aftelier perfume- but I am a huge fan of Mandy Aftel and literally read Essence and Alchemy ten times (once three times in a row over a long weekend at a chess tournament) as I kept renewing the book from my local library- completely changed my world and sparked this insane interest in pure essential oils/aromatheray. As you already know I blend (completely amateurishly but with the best of intentions) and I never worrry about what the outcome smells like as I make them for specific purposes based on the research I have done on the specific healing properties of various e.o.s (ie: anti-anxiety, mood lifting, grounding,etc). I truly believe that these oils work and from what I am reading, you do as well. would love to hear your “miraculous” story one of these days involving lemon and tea tree oil (which is a permanent staple in my house along with thieves oil to ward off illness).

    • ginzaintherain

      ‘Thieves Oil’…..gorgeous name. What is in it?

      • brie

        Theives oil- a concoction that reportedly was utilized by grave robbers during the bubonic plague-slathered all over their bodies to ward off disease. Comprised of eucalyptus, rosemary, lemon, cassia bark and clove essential oils (original also had garlic oil).
        The balm is applied to the soles of the feet, chest and abdomen and reportedly keeps away illness (the flu is running rampant at work). I also have it in liquid hand soap format-the smell is extraordinary!
        IF you would like next trip to my health food store I can pick up the balm for you and send in package no 3 (no 2 will hopefully be sent today if I can get to the post office- empty vials arrived last night…HOORAY!)

      • brie

        and I will be curious as to your take on Tibetan Mountain Temple when you receive package 2- orange,ginger, vetiver and patchouli….

  6. brie

    Oh and I forgot to mention this hilarious story! About a year ago my eldest started using tea tree oil to combat the outbreaks of acne on her face and the entire house reeked of it! Of course hubby started complaining “What is that God awful smell?” expecting me to confess that I was sampling some new perfume. I responded in a matter of fact tone that it was his daughter’s acne medication. A very meek “oh….” was his reply and he has never commented about it since despite the fact that the scent of tea tree oil is truly overpowering!

    • ginzaintherain

      I hate the smell as much as your husband does, that vinegary dill pickle turpentiney smell, but it sure as hell is effective stuff!

  7. What a terrific review Neil! The gorgeous pictures go perfectly with your brilliant, intricate, intimate writing, thank you so much!

  8. Reblogged this on The Black Narcissus and commented:

    The cold wind is biting me after work as I wait at the train station. I need warmth, I need spice……

  9. What an enchanting thing to read on a cold morning when I don’t have to run to work too early. There is no greater luxury than amber and/or spices on a cold day. Your writing caused me to pull the trigger on a bottle of the original Comme des Garcons, and has me planning to sample Parfum de Maroc. Last year I swore that I would never sample another all-natural because of the zero longevity, but my recent experience with Cuir de Gardenia convinced me that Ms. Aftel’s work is beautiful enough to be an exception. Ginza, have you experimented with Trayee yet? I have heard it compared to Arabie, but in my experience it’s an even more extraordinary amalgam, and much more wearable. I don’t just wear it, I glory in it, and it gives me hope that other perfumers will make spice scents that can actually be detected on the wearer. I can’t imagine a more futile endeavor than making a “fresh, clean” spice-oriental, but judging from what I smell on men in public, there are a lot of perfumers out there trying.
    Even thinking about going out into the cold wind, as I must do very shortly, has me thinking wistfully about vintage Opium. I have very little of it left, and if there were more of that around I wouldn’t be sorting through spice scents trying to find a replacement.

    • Then I shall look for it.
      It does turn up sometimes you know.


      • Dearest Ginza, if some of that ever turns up there, I will be thrilled beyond imagining. That never even occurred to me. The Banner of the Fiery Carnation seems so essentially un-Japanese that I would have thought it would be turned back at the ports and borders. I am thinking of your description of perfume shopping etiquette in Japan, and imagining that one of the strips set out for the anxious shopper to hover over is vintage Opium. The cloud of rising spice, the reeling shopper, the SA squirming in distaste…nope, just can’t see it.

      • I did have a full vintage parfum replete with tassles and all the rest and……spilled it. Another smaller one I gave to Duncan’s mother. I shall keep an eye out. I saw an edt the other day but assumed it must be the remake; the box looked too new. Shall peel one’s peepers even more for that sly beast.

      • Then think again. Japanese women in animal print fur coats? Check. People who totally swim against the tide? Check. Sexy motherfuckers who want to smell like a leopard? Check. It’s all here, and more.

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