Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.
I followed the exchange of letters between perfumers Mandy Aftel and Liz Zorn with much interest. Nathan Branch, via whose blog this communication was made possible, certainly made sure that each installment was thoughtful and insightful. Haute Claire, Mandy Aftel’s fragrance, was developed through these exchanges, which can be found in the Letters to a Fellow Perfumer series*. The name Haute Claire, suggested by Nathan, refers to a famous sword from 12th century French literature, and its evocation of high and clear certainly serves as a great introduction to the fragrance itself. Bright and lively, it is an intriguing pas de deux between galbanum and ylang ylang.
From a technical standpoint, creating a harmonious blend of galbanum and ylang ylang is challenging, since both materials are complex and bold. In Haute Claire, however, Aftel retains their distinctive personalities—the green sharpness of galbanum and the tropical warmth of ylang ylang, while allowing for a striking synergy. Making the most of the natural fresh, wintergreen top notes of ylang ylang, she twists the characteristically sharp and aggressive galbanum into an unusually shimmering and bright note. At the same time, the languorous ylang ylang is made fiery and exhilarating. This duo is the olfactive equivalent of the marriage between Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe!
The tone of Haute Claire as it begins to evolve on the skin is that of brightness. The uplifting, pleasantly bracing sensation, however, is only a prelude to what is essentially a lush, sultry floral blend. When I first sampled Haute Claire, I wished that the brilliant green notes lasted longer, but as I have been wearing it again and again, I started to anticipate the moment when the voluptuous richness of ylang ylang takes over. At first, it is sweet and warm, like a drizzle of vanilla cream, but then the floral accord turns deliciously animalic, reminiscent of soft suede and tanned leather. A flourish of indole wraps the floral notes and deepens their timbre.
Although Aftel has been working with natural materials, I would be reluctant to call her a natural perfumer, because this label immediately sets up an artificial dichotomy between natural and synthetic. Music that moves us can do so not because of the separate notes used to write the composition, but rather because of the skill of the artist in creating novel and memorable effects. It is the same with perfumery: the most beautiful materials do not necessarily create the most beautiful fragrances. The imagination of the creator is what is essential. In Haute Claire, what touches me the most is the uplifting sensation it evokes. Like my other Aftelier favorite, Honey Blossom, Haute Claire stays close to the skin, but it lasts quite well with a lovely character development. The surprises along the way make exploring it worthwhile.
Aftelier Haute Claire includes notes of galbanum, ylang ylang, clary sage, lime, orange, honeysuckle, vetiver, and vanilla. Available at Henri Bendel in New York or directly from Aftelier website. 30 ml spray bottle ($150), 1 ml spray sample ($6).
*Another recommended reading is the exchanges of letters between Mandy Aftel and Andy Tauer, likewise via http://www.nathanbranch.com/2011/03/mandy-aftel-andy-tauer-letters-to-a-fellow-perfumer-ep-11.html Nathan’s blog.
Sample source: Aftelier
Photo: Arthur Miller and Marylin Monroe.