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ambergris

During the last couple of weeks I have mainly been wearing two solid perfumes from Aftelier, Muse and Parfum Privé. Wearing perfumes by Mandy Aftel is so different from other perfume experience that I tend to wear them in phases, not mixing with anything else for a few days or weeks.

I am not sure exactly what it is that creates the particular feeling, if it is Mandy’s hands or the carefully selected and treated (few) ingredients or like in these two cases – that they are solid. Probably a mix of these aspects. It creates a perfume experience that is just…different. Genuine. It has very little to do with the feeling of applying for example a commercial fashion brand perfume regardless of how nice it would be.

Solids are quite unusual. This is unfortunate, if you ask me, because to me a solid feels more intimate, more integrated with my skin. The application feels sensual and somehow, the word that comes to mind is diachronic. When applying a solid with my fingertips I feel like I am repeating a ritual that has been performed during thousands of years. There is something ceremonial about solid perfume and it evokes that feeling of a bond between scents and health. Like its an ancient ointment that will save and seduce at the same time. Add to this feeling the particular notes in these perfumes: lime, clary sage, labdanum and rosemary absolute in Muse – and bergamot, pink pepper, orange flower, osmanthus, pimento leaf, ambrette and ambergris in Parfum Privé – and you should be able to imagine the combination of sensual base notes and something that feels like it was made to cure practically anything a long time ago.

Could this be made by anyone other than Mandy Aftel? I don’t think so. After having read Mandy’s book and slowly discovered several of her creations I am starting to see what links them. There is just no other perfume like it. There are many amazing perfumes, but something that has been made by someone so dedicated to their craft, with their hands – becomes unique in the best sense of the word and very real. Dynamic. When I have worn these perfumes I always miss them when they start to fade.

And they make me want to listen to Regina Spektor and learn how to dance like Rachel Brice.

Oh, this Clayton on the other side of the planet… When I started writing this blog after having decided to make something concrete out of my scent obsessions, Claytons articles on his blog What men should smell like, were among the first texts that I read for inspiration in my search for my kind of perfume rhetorics. I didn’t want to write reviews per se, there is an abundance of perfume reviewers which is great for the market and some of them are striking. But I was interested in diving into a world of reflections rather. And I have a major issue with the kind of language you find in oh-so-many perfume ads and descriptions filled with clouds about “unique fragrances that evoke the sensuality in the soul of what is woman” etc etc… To find Clayton’s work was inspiring and refreshing. For some reason he makes me think of one of my house gods, AA Gill. I think I like them for the same reasons, eloquence, sophisticated stringent sense of humor, directness and profound knowledge of matter.

Some time ago I went all OH! about Clayton’s article on Ambergris. And today I am all OH! again. Read this article. It is from The Perfume Magazine and it just might make your entire weekend. Made mine.

“So perhaps the aphrodisiacal reputation of these animalic 
odors does not come from the materials themselves. It comes from 
the connection made as they remind us of the scented human 
body, a smell we remember from life’s intimate moments.” – C.I.
Clayton, writer extra-ordinaire

“A tobacco aroma with sweet undertones of honey. A pure aphrodisiac”. This is how today’s fragrance is described by Kilian. And Kilian’s perfumers know their stuff so I am sure this potion has caused more than one baby in its lifetime. For me…no. Unfortunately. I would love to love tobacco and honey. I want to love every Kilian fragrance because the ones that I do love I am completely enchanted by. And I know enough to know that every black bottle with this name has been created with great passion and dedication. Also I am interested in all sorts of connections between the olfactorial world and the emotional world. So I am sorry to say, “Back to Black: aphrodisiac.…our paths will never cross again”.

The first two hours I was intrigued by this perfume. I felt like I smelled like a male rock star. Crude, restless, eager, fierce. I did however not feel like that rock star, but like I had borrowed Mick Jaggers perfume. A bit weird but interesting! However the fierceness disappeared and turned into something more like heavy incense at Midnight Mass. Bit too much of it for me, I couldn’t carry it off, but still… interesting. But then by the end of this day suddenly something entirely different emerged. To me, it resembled heavy roses and soap. I know a lot of people think that sounds beautiful but it is just not my thing. I felt like when you have not rinsed the soap away from your hands and that experience to me is really uncomfortable, just the thought of it makes my head itch. But this is personal, the people in my company did not react like this at all or even sense that sort of thing.

My reflections do not mean anything else than this, a bad match simply and I would love to hear someone else describe a contrary experience of this fragrance to me. In fact, when you google “kilian aphrodisiac review” you will find exclamations of great joy. And this, is one of the things that makes perfume so interesting.

So, please look at the notes below and if you like the sound of them look up reviews on blogs, Fragrantica etc. This could be a sensational discovery for you. And now I am going to look up the notes – which I have in fact not done before this very moment because I wanted to give you a sincere reflection without having “the right answer”.

There is no other way to describe spring’s arrival in the Swedish capital than… shy. From an olfactory perspective you can feel it approaching as the air gets softer and sweeter. In the evening though it smells of Baltic winds and gravel. Hard and cold. But there is a scented cure for everything. Some time ago I received a collection of samples from Kilian and they have been waiting for their occasion ever since. The occasion is now. My plan is to go through them, one per day, and share my reflections with you. By the time I reach the eleventh one maybe spring will be here.

Kilian Hennessy, for those of you who are not familiar with this brand and man, is a perfume creator who is also the grandson of the founder of the LVMH group. This of course is not irrelevant, he was brought up in a family dedicated to cognac and early in life encountered the phrase ”angels’ share”, a term used to describe the percentage that for unknown reasons evaporates from cognac cellars. This was one of the things that led Kilian towards perfumery.

After writing a thesis on the semantics of odours he trained alongside the noses of Dior, Paco Rabanne, Armani and Alexander McQueen before eventually (2007) creating his own brand. I am an admirer. The fragrances are exquisite and the perfume house takes much more devoted care of its brand and fans than most competitors. Just look at the website, it is pure dedicated seduction.

So, back to my 11 Days With Kilian. Fragrance number one.


I have been wearing it for a couple of hours now and it is an adventure of the mind. It is sophisticated but has that dark side twist that all Kilian fragrances have. All kinds of associations come to mind… ceremonies or rituals. Druids? Yes, it sounds crazy I know but try hearing an aria from Norma in the back of your head. It is ceremonial in a very sensual carnal way, a mix of incense and leather. Some moments I can’t feel it on my skin anymore and I wonder where it went, then I make a slight movement and there it is. But like the scent of someone standing behind me rather than my own.  Spiritual. It is the scent of a temple. Perhaps not a physical one out of stone with pillars, but rather the one inside of you. 
Unfortunately, I am not sure this is a fragrance for me. It seduces me but it is not ”mine”. Fortunately… I had an instant association with someone else. And I think this could be a scent for that person. We will see.

Some time ago I received a selection samples from Kilian, one of my absolute perfume houses/creators. Each fragrance that wears this name is exquisite. But apart from that this is also a very exciting perfume house from brand perspective.

So what better way to welcome spring, I am thinking, than to enter it with these fragrances that were sent to me, one for each day. Today I will start with…

To quote Kilian: “A fragrance inspired by Rum, a life-giving alcohol blending the heat of Carribean islands.” Perfumer: Sidonie Lancesseur. This is what I will be wearing this weather-wise shy Saturday.

A few words on Mr Kilian himself for those of you who are not familiar with this brand and man yet. He is the grandson of the founder of LVMH Group and part of a family of cognac-makers. The House of Hennessy uses a term, “angels’ share” to describe the percentage that for unknown reasons evaporates from cognac cellars, an environment that was a natural part of Kilians growing up. This phenomenon led Kilian to the world of perfumes, and to writing a thesis on the semantics of odours and studies in communication. His career in perfumery began with training alongside the noses of Dior, Paco Rabanne, Alexander McQueen and Armani. Today he has his unique own brand and many devoted fans. I am one of them.
So. Time to get my rum and ambergris and go. I will share my reflections about the experience with you later. Have a fragrant Saturday.

I know you have heard of amber. The word appears often in the perfume world when talking about oriental fragrances for example. Makes me envision nature caramel. Then you hear of ambergris. I am guessing many of you assume these two are, if not the same thing, that at least linked to each other. A very logic assumption and it seems even the perfume industry sometimes likes to blend the two (on purpose?). They are not the same… And the difference is significant, so my suggestion is that you keep an eye on which one it is that you are going for when looking for a new fragrance. I will definitely do a post on amber soon but tonight it is time for the nastier of the two.

I will admit, I was a bit surprised the first time I googled ambergris. This, for example, is the first sentence that you find if you look it up on Wikipedia:

Ambergris is a solid, waxy, flammable substance of a dull gray or blackish color produced in the digestive system of and regurgitated or secreted by sperm whales.

If you follow this blog you might have gotten accustomed by now to the fact that perfume and animal secretions have a lot in common, and accepted that probably you have had both one and two of them on your skin. You have also probably noted that most of these secretions are replaced with synthetic options nowadays. But not always. Perfume houses are not always enthusiastic when it comes to defining whether they use synthetic or natural ingredients but I have heard that for example Creed use natural ambergris. Some people are put of by this but in my opinion, if the animal is not harmed and the synthetic option can be allergenic – then nature’s gifts are definitely my preference. 

So, ambergris. Fresh ambergris smells bad, like really bad sea smells, I think you know what I mean. But then it changes into a sweet, marine, musky and earthy scent. This process however takes a long time, often many years. You find it not only in the whales, but floating on the sea surface or in the sand. Geographical areas particularly rich in ambergris are the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific. Bahamas is responsible for a large part of the ambergris on the market. Not far from there, you will find the island of Ambergris Caye in Belize which got its name from the large amounts of ambergris washing up on the island’s coast. 

Natural ambergris was been banned from use for a period of time as the sperm whale is an endangered species. Nowadays it is legal to use it however, though distributors are instructed to use only the amount that is naturally washed to shore, that is not taken directly from the animal. Every now and then a happy tourist will find ambergris on a beach. If that happens to you this site offers guidance in identification  and they will buy it from you as well. You are likely to be rewarded generously.

Ambergris gained its place in perfume history as a fixative. But it has been used in different ways for a long time. In ancient Egypt it was used as incense, and during the plague in Europe it was said that carrying ambergris in your pocket would protect you from the disease. During the Middle Ages it was used to treat headaches, colds and epilepsy. As with most slightly nasty things ambergris has also been considered to be an aphrodisiac.


But that’s not all. Ambergris has been used in cooking to add flavor to various dishes, even in recent times. In December 2009 it was added to a cucumber jelly in a British TV Show. And if you look at cooking discussions in online perfume communities you will find that it appears on dinner plates every now and then. Apparently it goes particularly well with chocolate and eggs.

It seems you can get some here btw.