Perfume in a Poem: In a Station of the Metro
Lisa Fong: Perfume in a Poem

Mandy Aftel: Perfume in a Poem

Mandy Aftel at her perfume organ

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;

Petals on a wet, black bough.

Ezra Pound

My base would be built around tonka absolute and costus.  Warm and sweet like caramel, tonka is the ultimate powdery note.   Costus, with its complicated aroma of a wet dog crossed with crushed violets,  retains the alchemical ability to transform every other essence.  To create a watery and shimmering base, I would dose heavily with costus to cause the other essences to give up their rough edges, like an apparition.

For the middle I would choose broom absolute with its honey rose-like aroma with a back note of hay and wood. To this I would add the rich and heavy aroma of dark coffee to create a dirty floral reminiscent of the "petals on a wet, black bough."

For the top I would focus on the precious sugi wood of Japan.  This light but rich wood has an aged and precious aroma.   I would balance this with the slightest hint of a very creamy but sweet and clean peppermint; using only enough to shed light on the faces in the crowd.

By Mandy Aftel   ----

Editor's Note:

It is fitting that we begin this project with Mandy Aftel's evocative contribution, since it was with her Essence and Alchemy: A Natural History of Perfume that I began my exploration of perfumery as an art.  I have read it numerous times, owned several copies and have given many away to friends.  It is an exceptionally well-written book and is the single volume I most often recommend to friends who ask what my "perfume thing" is all about. 

Mandy With BooksAmong her many distinguished and critically acclaimed works of authorship, I especially love Scents and Sensibilities, a tiny book on crafting solid perfumes which holds much more inspiration than it would seem possible in such a small volume.  It makes a wonderful gift for anyone who's interested in perfume on any level. 

Also of particular importance to me is Aroma: The Magic of Essential Oils in Foods and Frangrance, which she co-authored with Daniel Patterson.  Aroma is a book to alternately savor and devour, and I'm doing just that.  It is filled with recipes for sublime perfumes (such as Cepe and Tuberose liquid perfume as well as Vanilla-Licorice solid perfume) and delicious dishes using ingredients such as black pepper essential oil, cepe (mushroom) absolute, and saffron absolute.  If you have any interest at all in the alchemy of aromatic cooking, this is a book for you.  You can purchase many of these absolutes and essential oils at Mandy's website,

Mandy's perfume blends are legendary and have garnered a great deal of well-deserved praise in media such as The New York Times Style Magazine, Vogue, Bazaar, and Allure, to name just a few.  My personal favorite from her line is the dramatic and gorgeous Tango, a mesmerizing and truly original fragrance, which contains notes of "smoky ... roasted seashells and champaca; a heady floral with spice and honey notes."  Her Boronia solid perfume, smelling "like sunlight on the trees in the forest" is so beautiful I can't bring myself to wear it and use up the sample.  I know, that's bad, but her perfume is just that beautiful. I want to wear it and yet I don't want to be without it.  What a wonderful dilemma to have.

Our exciting giveaway on March 31 (selected from the names of all those who contribute comments to the posts in this project) will include a sample of Mandy's newest release, Parfum Prive, which "smells like the night air in Hawaii -- redolent of sultry flowers, warmth and light. It almost shimmers. Created from the rarest and most costly essences: osmanthus, orange flower absolute, ambrette seed (a botanical musk) and the legendary ambergris. A limited edition."

Aftelier perfume organ
Mandy Aftel's perfume organ of natural essences

Metro Perfume GiveawayCredits:

All images in this post were provided by Mandy Aftel and are used with her permission.  Credit for the photo of the perfume organ is given to Joel Bernstein.  All quotes are from

Comments are encouraged!  Please read the initial post in this series for the details on our extraordinary giveaway which will take place on March 31. 

Posts prior to 2015 first appeared on my previous website, memory & desire (


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When you choose a perfume, do not account on anybody except yourself


It's a very nice article.
Well done ;-)


i've never heard of costus, but i love the idea of it blurring the edges in the fragrance. it lends itself to the idea of rain falling but still being able to see faces through it.

Lisa A

I, too, fell in love with Mandy's work after reading "Essense and Alchemy" and that is the one book that has inspired my passion for purfume more than any other. As a lover of dark, moody, deep scents, I've been on the search for quite some time for a floral that captures the moodiness I love. It sounds like Mandy's creation is the perfect "dirty floral" - just the right mix of floral, wood, and powder with an opening hint of mint.

Catalina Castells

Fantastic post and a wonderful project. I'm very excited to read the rest of the posts on this topic.

Ruth Ruane

It's spring time in Paris and the black coffee is appropriate for so many reasons... Mandy's creation conjures up the image of an old gentleman, who is young at heart and seeing the beautiful faces in the crowd he is reminded of how fleeting has been his life. It's sort of lonely and bitter sweet.


I've discovered this project a little late, and am thoroughly enjoying it! What a fantastic idea! And Mandy's description has caused me to promise myself to become more familiar with her perfume blends.


I have always loved perfume but am new to the "inside" of it all. I loved the way Mandy went along describing how each scent fit with the poem.

A few weeks ago I was thinking that perfume is like poetry...and here I am, actually living and "feeling" it. The two things I have always loved the most being put together so beautifully.

Darlene Johnson

Peppermint would scare me! But Mandy, being the experienced perfumer that she is.... has no fear! something I hope someday I can shed.

Robert Upton

Tonka and Costus sound absolutely drenched and warm. Coffee of course to make us believe there's something beyond the drudgery of urban life. The peppermint is a 'fresh' idea...pun intended. Never been introduced to Sugi Wood.....hmmmmmmmm, interesting.


Coffee, Costus and Tonka. Ms. Aftel is definitely brewing her magic once again to leave us all asking for more. Perfume and poetry, this is indeed a brilliant idea.


This is such a fabulous idea to stimulate creativity and the art of perfume. Bravo, Heather!

I love Mandy Aftel's concise description and the images it provokes. I would love to smell the actual scent to see if the images are the same. I had mixed thoughts on the coffee at first but I think it would work here. At my local New York station there's always a lingering scent and coffee is the best potential cause (heh). I am really intrigued by the mix of the other notes with the peppermint, which I would never have considered.

I find myself eager to track down these books...sigh, my poor credit card...


I love the bottom and the top, but the heart of a dirty rose. Oh no. I just can't stand rose. I really appreciate all of the information on the notes, being particularly intrigued by costus and its abilities. I think the idea of a creamy pepperment as the light is genius.


With three paragraphs, Mandy expresses everything that is important in her creative process regarding this project. I have found her to approach everything this way: well-edited, spot on, and nothing superfluous. She captured it all, beautifully.

Janet in California

This is so beautifully described. I can just imagine the building process. Mandy's Parfum Prive sounds glorious too!


You had me at 'wet dog'.
It's marvellous to see how you approach this haiku-
And your novel, but so right-feeling aromatic color palette.

I feel stimulated and energized, just reading about it...


Having read and mulled over and re-read Mandy's Essence and Alchemy many times, I was really looking forward to her post..
I am intrigued by the combination of sugi wood and peppermint and the shimmery base sounds wonderful (I am not so sure about the coffee, though). Wish this was available for sampling!


I too am currently reading Essence and Alchemy which has inspired me to buy the other books by Mandy. I love the idea of cooking with aromatics and can't wait to smell Costus.


Creating a perfume based on such a concise, evocative poem - what a brilliant idea!

I am currently reading Essence and Alchemy (very slowly I might add because it is loaded with info) and was so pleased to see Mandy Aftel as the first perfumer. I just ordered samples from her website on Sunday.

I think I would die and go to heaven if I won the samples from your contest!

Nicole Meredith

Reading as a poet and as a perfume scholar, I really enjoyed the last bit about just enough peppermint "to shed light on the faces in the crowd." That is the only way I personally enjoy peppermint in my perfumes, and I thought this was a beautifully evocative description of it.

I love this project. Can't wait to read more entries.


I too, long to smell this perfume. Or at least it's individual components! Mandy, I am a huge fan of Essence and Alchemy, which sets on my shelf next to the works of my favorite food writers. Seeing your work here is such a treat.

Maggie Mahboubian -- I second your call for the Sufi poets! I only know the work of Rumi, whom I adore in all his many moods, but it seems like such a natural connection.

Maggie Mahboubian

This is a project close to my heart. I arrived at perfumery through a circuitous route encountering my own version of a top, middle and base note: architecture (my profession), natural skincare (my avocation) and aromatics (my passion). I've always associated perfume with poetry as it is intrinsic to the Persian culture with which I grew up. I would love to see this project extended to the works of the great Sufi poets, Sa'adi, Hafez and Rumi. I think only a perfume would be able to translate the complex and often cryptic language used by these poets. Mandy's description are always so evocative and effusive; I find myself savoring every word like a winetaster.


Thank you for this idea - i love, love, love the opportunity to get inside the creative process and watch Mandy's mind at work - creativity is so fascinating and indivual and it is excitng to catch a glimpse - it also humbles me to the amount of care and time one must spend with essesnces to really know them and know how they work - I can't wait for more!


A great description! I was especially intrigued by the costus note, it sounds very multi-faceted - I never knew!

And the pic of the perfume organ is impressive!

P.S. Thanks to the author of the blog for such a great idea and for all her effort!

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