(picture borrowed from this lovely blog)
The sign of a well-composed fragrance often lies in the reactions that wearing it generates. Usually, when I try a new fragrance on, I often will “ooh” and “ahh” or moan inappropriately. Sometimes I visibly recoil and audibly gag. Once in a while, music or poetry will come to mind if I make a tangible and deep connection with what I’m smelling. When this happens, I know that I’ve struck “perfume gold”, and that what I’m wearing needs to come home with me or be purchased in a larger size. The undeniable beauty of the scent is its own symphonic treat, words painted with an olfactory glaze, mobile and living art.
I feel as if it’s no surprise that Mandy Aftel’s latest fragrance, Secret Garden, conjured up such emotions in me. I had excitedly followed the genesis of the fragrance on Nathan Branch’s blog, and his review of the finished product left me thrilled and anxious to get my paws on a sample. From the inspiration behind the name (how I love the book by Frances Hodgson Burnett!) to Nathan’s declaration that the scent was “irresistibly luminous”, Secret Garden seemed to bloom with the promise of sensuality and surprise.
It has been interesting to read other bloggers’ thoughts on the fragrance. My demonic sister Sheila found herself seduced by the fragrant blooms and animalic base of Secret Garden, while the lovely Birgit was enveloped by a very human sense of comfort and warmth exuded by the perfume. Incredible that one small vial of liquid could conjure up such vivid and conflicting emotions and thoughts! Like I’ve said before - and like I will say again - Mandy Aftel’s genius lies in her ability to create perfume as an experience. All of the senses are stirred, the mind struggles to comprehend, and the heart leaps.
When I first applied Secret Garden to my skin, I was instantly reminded of Pablo Neruda. I have been a fan of his for as long as I can remember, and I keep his collected work of poetry by my bedside. I am especially fond of his sonnets, and I know a few by heart. Soneto XLVII (47) in particular jumped out at me; I’m posting the Tapscott translation below for you to read:
I want to look back and see you in the branches.
Little by little you turned into fruit.
It was easy for you to rise from the roots,
singing your syllable of sap.
Here you will be a fragrant flower first,
changed to the statuesque form of a kiss,
till the sun and the earth, blood and the sky, fulfill
their promises of sweetness and pleasure, in you.
There in the branches I will recognize your hair,
your image ripening in the leaves,
bringing the petals nearer my thirst,
and my mouth will fill with the taste of you,
the kiss that rose from the earth
with your blood, the blood of a lover’s fruit.
What is incredible is that this sonnet perfectly embodies the experience of wearing Secret Garden. Secret Garden is flower, fruit, and flesh all at once: the initial application is bright, unfolding, and full of promise but as the fragrance develops it becomes feverish, deeper, and lustier. I am kissed by happy hints of bergamot and blood orange, caressed by an indolic jasmine and a blooming rose, and ravaged by (real!) civet and castoreum. It reminds me of perfumes from another era; Secret Garden could be a long-forgotten vintage and I’d believe it.
Still, this is probably the easiest Aftelier fragrance to wear - and I do think it is Mandy’s best. She managed to create a perfume that is both accessible yet outerworldly: Neruda’s forest lover encapsulated. Secret Garden: it is the kiss that rose from the earth to awaken passions within us all.