Perfumer Mandy Aftel has a very unique and unusual signature. And it is often also a very carnal one. From the sex-in-vats-of-chocolate of the suggestively edible Cacao; the lust-behind-the-sand dunes nude bacchanalia of Cuir Gardenia;  the frank and beautiful filth of Aoud Luban – one of the first perfumes to almost make me blush, in truth –  to the hirsute, ungodly Kama Sutra of her disturbing and fantastical Wild Roses – a night garden of essences and physical pleasure that leaves no erotic stone unturned (yet all, cleverly concealed beneath a calm, rosaceous veneer of garden stems and rose flowers), Aftel seems to revel in antagonizing us into realizing, self-consciously, that we are all animals and beasts of the flesh, at heart.



Her scents are rarely simple. Nor, on occasion, even approachable. There is a weirdness: a sharp, tangy, bodiedness to many of her perfumes, wherein flowers and spices and all manner of olfactory materials are boiled down and blended and given a succour of intensity that while giving you a frisson of physical reaction, also can make you feel  unhinged: a whole new vocabulary of odours that provokes you into thinking and reassessing what perfume even is (I think of Tango, here, for instance: that deeply perturbing scent of roasted seashells and resins that is unlike anything ever produced in perfumery before, or since).



With Memento Mori, Aftelier’s newest (and perhaps most ‘difficult’) release yet, Mandy Aftel really cuts to the chase. While ostensibly masked, or rather preluded, with some hints of rounded, soft and musky rose accords in the opening, as though they had been stripped of all dew, and green, and leaves, to leave the fig-leafed body beneath in its natural state, this perfume goes too far for me personally in what I consider wearable, even acceptable, in a perfume. In going with the concept of capturing the smell of a lover’s skin, hair, the desire to memorialize the smell of the loved and deceased, the perfumer does quite successfully, once the composition settles in and harmonizes on the skin, definitely get close to that sensation of warm, unwashed, and I have to say dirty, human skin, of a particular human skin, and one perhaps known only to the perfumer, but the important  question is: who really who wants to smell of this skin? Is this the olfactive equivalent of The Tooth Fairy, the serial killer who dons other people’s skins in the horrifying Silence Of The Lambs? In transferring another’s epidermis to our own, like the surgeon in Pedro Almodovar’s brilliant La Piel Que Habito/ The Skin I Live in, Aftel is definitely doing something radical and along these sense-shaking lines.




Similar provocations already exist in perfumery: I think of Ombre Fauve by Parfumerie Generale and its strange, haunted smells of sexual obsession: Miller Harris’s alarming (and for me, personally disgusting) L’Air De Rien, in which the singer wanted to embody the perfume with the smell of her brother’s hair; L’Antimatière, by Les Nez, which smells, if you sniff closely enough, of the aura of unwashed sheets and faint, unclean skin, and Serge Lutens’ original, undoctored Muscs Khoublai Khan, which smelled to me quite simply just of sheep, and seminal fluid.



I suppose what is stimulating for me personally about these perfumes –  particularly Memento Mori, which goes even further than any of the scents described above in delving into sheer intimacy, is what they might say about me personally. While other reviewers talk of the snug, comforting aspect of such perfumes, of nuzzling into their humming, human embrace as the day wears on and they lose themselves in their calming, skinful realness, in my case I always find that I am basically just repulsed. Though the final notes of this particular perfume do certainly coalesce into a warm, sweet, and intense addiction (the way that real, bodily, smells are sometimes, ones you can’t stop smelling, even when you simultaneously hate them), a base accord here that is almost reminiscent, at times, of ultra-animalic perfumes such as Paco Rabanne’s iconic La Nuit, I find that such smells are, in truth, why I wear perfume – and hope that others will do too – in the first place. To me, perfume is something that combines, that fuses, with the wearer’s skin, not destroying its natural odour, the way that so many unpleasant contemporary chemical perfumes now do, but embellishing it, harmonising it, flattering it, beautifying it : in experiencing that perfume later, it is already a kind of memento mori, a way of remembering that person, even hours after you have initially encountered it. When someone is gone, and you smell the scent that they were wearing, unconsciously you smell their bodily smell along with it, it evokes their physical presence. Perfumes with animalic notes in them, in their base, are particularly adept at giving this reaction, particularly when they remain subliminal,  and not at the very fore, or core, of the fragrance.




But here, Mandy Aftel intrepidly eschews such prescribed formulae of perfume making and goes straight for the flesh-and-blood jugular. Beginning with an almost sweet, muttonish oil smell, like sweating, breathing, pecorino cheese encased in roses, soon the civet, and the ambergris, and the aged patchouli come up through the peau like the blood, sweat and tears of essence of a particular human – not one that I know – and whose intimacy I am not sure that I even want to. She/he might indeed be very tender, loving, intelligent, sensual, but having this person’s intensity of smell on my own skin feels almost like an intrusion. Memento Mori thus reveals perhaps more about my own inclinations and phobias than I would perhaps like to reveal, and it is in this regard – that a perfume can make you question your own levels of prudishiness, of fear of mingling with another, of your hatred of the smell of human hair, of your wanting the people around you to be freshly showered but still being utterly fascinated by every single smell that they give off even if they are not (am I in fact the maniac Grenouille, from Patrick Suskind’s ‘Perfume’?) that I find this curious creation most compelling.





Filed under Antiperfume, Flowers, Musk, Psychodrama

19 responses to “PSYCHOLOGIES: : : : : : : : MEMENTO MORI by AFTELIER PERFUMES (2016)

  1. WOW, what a review…and so well written and thought-provoking!

    • Really? I wasn’t sure. I do know that I could never take part in an orgy. And in some ways, that is sad.

      • Really never take part in an orgy? I’m surprised.
        How much fun is Momento Mori? a roller coaster ride!
        Portia xx

      • No. I mean yes. I just realized on the bus, that there is no way I could or would. My sense of smell overrides EVERYTHING. Part of me wishes I could just LET GO like that, like an animal, and just surrender to the baser passions, but in reality it would just never happen. I don’t know if that is a good or a bad thing, but I do think that this perfume is interesting in that it brings such ideas to the conservative surface.

  2. emmawoolf

    Utterly fascinating review. Your responses, even more so. (I rather like l’air de rien, as it happens)

    • I guess this perfume has just brought all my prudishness up to the surface of the sexual lake. I do believe that I have a healthy sex drive and libido, but at the same time, smell is the driver. Utterly and absolutely. I just can’t get past it, and if someone is deficient in that regard, then nothing is going to happen! I have always been that way.

  3. Elizabeth Cheryl

    I’ve always felt that L’air de rein was the little sister of BaV, and love them both. I wonder if that means I will feel the same about Mandy’s newest?
    Thank you for a most interesting post.

    • As you know I am the sturdiest of supporters of Bal A Versailles, because the naughtiness is gradual and is revealed slowly through the transcendent floral gunk. For me, when it works properly ,it is the absolute apotheosis of that velvet, sensual skin scent: outrageous in a way, but JUST within the boundaries of propriety. Memento Mori delves straight into the sebum and the animalia, and while that might really attract some people (the end accord is quite addicting, you can’t really stop sniffing it), as will be apparent here, I can’t entirely take it!

  4. Thank you so much for the time and thoughtful writing about my newest perfume. I am blown away by the places that it took you to and, many of them were not intended. Nevertheless like a great novel, the work pulls things out of us as we read, and there can be no greater compliment than to have helped, in some small way, to introduce you to parts of yourself through smell.

    • Thanks for being so gracious! Strangely, though I may have gone too far in my reactions to the humanity in the scent, I can actually imagine people really WANTING to smell it even more from reading this over the top review. My own skin always brings out the basiest of the base notes – perhaps at heart I am a skank – but I can imagine on other people the tenderness you and they seek would be more apparent.

  5. Kayse

    Thanks for another great review, I’ve been relying on you for the best perfmista bedtime stories for awhile now. Your thoughts have made my evenings immensely more enjoyable, I wish I had your skill at written expression.
    I’m definitely going to try the Aftel line.

  6. mikasminion

    You are certainly right about making weirdos like me want to smell it 😉 I happen to have a strong aversion to the actual smell of human hair but I love L’air de Rien because it smells like skin-warmed cashmere to me. Why the heck that should appeal is a mystery since I’ve never particularly cared for the smell of sheep or goats. I have wondered if my early years surrounded by smelly farm animals have accustomed me to the more earthy and musky odors in perfumes, since they usually either just add a cozy warmth or go completely unnoticed (except honey, which is usually just urinous and disgusting to me and does actually remind me of goat hair). Most musks just smell sweet to me, with the heavier ones having a silkier richness and the lighter ones feeling like needles so it may be anosmia of some kind.
    In any case, I had glanced at the notes for Momento Mori and, in spite of loving the name, not really registered it as necessary to sample. You’ve succeeded in putting it on my list.

  7. Nelleke Oepkes aka Booknose

    Good morning Monsieur G.
    Longtime no see or savour . And vintage Ginza it is. I always have to be seduced, fascinated, drawn into, recalled to my senses by a perfume, so that it can match my mood. I have the same reaction to body odours as you appear to have.
    The sensation of a body living there thrills me. Just the moment. Do I sound like a Victorian for whom the glimpse of the ankle was more exiting than the whole caboodle? All the same I can admire and appreciate those beautiful creatures flashing by in shorts up to their whatevers. Confusing? Maybe, but I am such stuff… Gemini! .I will pass over Memento Mori I feel. Not up my street. Can you recommend anothet of her perfumes? Don’t know any! love the name Aftelier! Appeals to my imagination.

  8. This sounds like a fragrance I would absolutely adore. I love the way you describe it; as a living, breathing scent. I just love fragrances that could make others blush, I adore the carnal side of parfumery. For me, the dirtier the scent, the better. I wonder if I could order a sample of this from her web site. I really want to try this.

    • The pecorino cheese top note doesn’t put you off? Now Smell This said parmesan.

    • She does do a great sample system on her website, and you should try other animalic scents like Cuir de Gardenia while you are at it. Wild Roses is quite amazing, actually as well. They are the kind of perfumes you put on your skin and then get embroiled in their unusual combinations and feral intensity. Go for it: I would really love to know what you think.

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