Aftelier Haute Claire : Perfume Review

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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.

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16 Comments

  • Nathan Branch: “This duo is the olfactive equivalent of the marriage between Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe!” — my jaw about hit the ground when I read that. That’s a *perfect* metaphor for Haute Claire. July 18, 2011 at 4:02am Reply

  • Maureen: What a great picture…I have never seen this one before. He looks so sharp and intense and she seems so soft and bright. The contrast is really striking. This new fragrance must really be unique. Thanks for the review. July 18, 2011 at 9:31am Reply

  • Suzanna: Aftel does counterpoint extremely well! I was an original fan of Cepes and Tuberose, back in the day. Where she hits it, she knocks it out of the park as you note here. I’ve always found her intensely creative without slipping into the perverse. It seems easier and easier to try to make a statement by going that way. Aftel is the antithesis of that aesthetic.

    Am a fan of Nathan Branch, too. July 18, 2011 at 10:06am Reply

  • Olfactoria: What a wonderful comparison. I love both Arthur Miller and Mandy Aftel. 😉
    I can’t wait to try Mandy’s new creation. July 18, 2011 at 11:04am Reply

  • Mandy Aftel: Thank you so much for this lovely review. I appreciate your astute comments about perfumes, natural perfumes and artistry. You say it so well when you write” the most beautiful materials do not necessarily create the most beautiful fragrances. The imagination of the creator is what is essential.” I agree completely and am honored by your nuanced attention to my work and that you find so much to value in it.
    Mandy July 18, 2011 at 3:43pm Reply

  • Lavanya: I’ve been hearing great things about Haute Claire and you make it sound so lovely! I have been enjoying sampling Mansy’s perfumes- my current favorites being Tango, Cepes and Tuberose and Shiso. Will put this on my to-try list..Love the picture of Miller and Monroe- it matches perfectly with your description of the perfume. July 18, 2011 at 3:46pm Reply

  • Lavanya: I meant ‘Mandy’ July 18, 2011 at 4:58pm Reply

  • Lucy: Such an insightful review, I agree the the bright and dark in it are what make it so yin yang, balanced yet unusual, bright and interesting in an absorbing way. July 19, 2011 at 7:57am Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you, Nathan! What a great series, I very much enjoyed them. July 19, 2011 at 10:06am Reply

  • Victoria: You’ve pointed out exactly the reason I love this photo. Such a tender image. And yes, the perfume captures the duality beautifully. July 19, 2011 at 10:07am Reply

  • Victoria: Cepes and Tuberose is another one I love for the same reason (and Tango.) It is memorable, without being overly challenging. That part is always difficult. July 19, 2011 at 10:07am Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you, B! I look forward to hearing your thoughts. July 19, 2011 at 10:08am Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you, Mandy, for another beautiful perfume. It is always a pleasure to smell fragrances where one can feel a fingerprint of their creator. July 19, 2011 at 10:09am Reply

  • Victoria: Shiso was one of the first perfumes I have tried years ago, and I still remember it well, even though it has been ages since I’ve last smelled it.
    Have you tried Tango? I very much like it. Honey Blossom and Lumiere are my other favorites. July 19, 2011 at 10:11am Reply

  • Victoria: This aspect is something I love in fragrance–the contrast, the surprise. So rare to find today! July 19, 2011 at 10:11am Reply

  • Lavanya: Yes- I’ve tried Tango – it has sneaked into my favorites list and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my sample. Lumiere is beautiful- I was surprised at how much I liked it- such a graceful, lovely little scent. I need to try Honey Blossom- you make it sound gorgeous in your review. July 19, 2011 at 5:22pm Reply

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