I recall a particularly tough professor back in my University days demanded such hard-to-crack questions that one way to bypass embarrassment and speech impediments during the ordeal of the oral examination was to begin by defining what a thing wasn't supposed to be, the latter part of the definition implied to be known to both partners in the discussion at least. Example: "Kintsugi has absolutely no relation to ikebana." [ed.note all right, all right, apart from both being Japanese concepts, I mean]. This kind of "definition by negation" is sometimes useful to the fragrance writer because perfume descriptions are so very hard to do justice to in the first place. Palimpsest is one such case, not only because it has an indefinable quality of pure exquisiteness, but also because it is perfumer Mandy Aftel's very best.
|Zil Hoque; Oil, 2009, "Palimpsest I" via (recalling the horse in Salvador Dali's Tempation of St.Anthony)|
I can begin by saying that Aftelier Palimpsest is nothing like you'd expect an all naturals perfume to smell like; although I'm fond of the raw energy of some all naturals, there is a certain medicinal or vegetal quality that sometimes comes a bit too forcefully at first, which is probably the reason there is so much hesitation among perfume enthusiasts regarding this branch of perfumery art. One of the reasons for avoiding that might be that Mandy is using natural isolates for the first time in such a context, such as gamma dodecalactone (peachy, apricot-y) and phenylacetic acid (a honeyed note). They play out beautifully.
Another thing that I could negate is the official definition of a "fruity floral". Yes, the ripe peachiness is not unknown among fruity floral perfumes, but it's as far removed from the typical Barbie wannabe on the Sephora counter as could possibly be. With a name like Palimpsest I suppose one would expect it to deviate far and wide!
Palimpsest is a word I first came by when I was 15 and reading The Name of the Rose, the famous novel by Umberto Eco, "a palimpsest" as the author introduced it. The cunning of the narrative technique relied on making the narrator retell a story that is based on an even earlier narration, lifted from an older manuscript and with extensive quotations from other books often in their turn referencing even older books. As Eco maintains throughout his opus in an intertextual turn of mind "books talk about other books" which is true enough in my, lesser than his, experience. All the tales are being woven into a "palimpsest", the old parchment scroll that bears writing over former writing that had been carefully scratched off to make room for new but is still vaguely visible beneath. In a similar manner perfumes talk about other perfumes and intertextuality in scent is a wonderful dialogue that I had occupied myself with breaking down a bit in the past.
Aftelier Palimpsest is one such perfume, taking inspirations from several points of departure and offering something new and coherent, recapitulating the history of perfumery, a given since it sprang from the research Aftel did for her book "Fragrant" out this October (you can order it on discount on this link), but being contemporary all the same! Midnight in the Garden of Eden; honeyed streams of lush florals (jasmine grandiflorum) with a sensuous and mysterious Lilith undercurrent of what I perceive as ambergris (a refined animalic perfume note), speak of a layered tapestry where one is hard pressed to see where one golden thread ends and another, in a slightly different hue, begins.
As Gaia, The Non Blonde, notes in her excellent review on the origins of the inspiration for Palimpsest:
"The gum of the Australian firetree (also known as Christmas tree), or by its official name, Nuytsia floribunda, is sweet and eaten raw by the ingenious people of Western Australia. It's not a common ingredient in perfumery (the only other one I know of was the limited edition Fire Tree by Australian brand Nomad Two Worlds, and I had a hard time warming up to its rawness). I never smelled the firetree as a raw ingredient, so it's hard for me to tell how much of what I smell in Palimpsest comes from it and what is pure imagination. But fantasy is a big part of the perfume joy, isn't it?"
My palette of raw materials, though rather extensive, is similarly limited in regards to this particular essence, so any opinion I might proffer on the adherence to the natural facets of the material would be illusory and misleading. Mandy herself mentions that firetree has rose and lilac facets with a milky undertone that the longer it develops the more it reveals smoky, oud-like, leathery tones. Talk about a multi-tasker! "It possesses an unearthly beauty which, ironically, arises from the soil", says fragrance connoisseur and fairy godmother to indies Ida Meister.
What I can say with certainty myself is that the golden incandescence of Aftelier Palimpsest has to be experienced first hand and quickly at that.
Aftelier Palimpsest comes as an eau de parfum (full bottle costs $170) and an extrait de parfum (same price). Samples of either retail at $6, while a mini of the pure parfum will set you back $50 on aftelier.com.
In the interests of disclosure, I was sent a sample vial directly by the perfumer for reviewing purposes.