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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Loved the way Mandy Aftel made me visualize her perfume creation step by step. The way she described it. Somehow I could sense the soft, sweet, sensual and exotic creation in my mind. Thanks for that moment to stop and sense it....would love to experience the real thing one day!
Mandy - your book "Essence and Alchemy" is such a wonderful and must book. I keep on reading and reading and never get tired, always learning.

And Heather, you are amazing for combining the beauty of perfume with poetry!

Therese S.

Thanks for your wonderful blog, which I appreciate as a poetry lover and would-be natural perfumer. I'd love to participate in the next project! Regarding perfumes that I feel are inspiringly "black," I would say:
* Tango by Mandy Aftel
* Film Noir by Ayala Moriel
Those are all-naturals, I know. However, my first impression upon reading Pound's Haiku was "Angelique Encens" made by Creed in the 30's and dedicated to Marlene Dietrich.
I've tried it and fell in love at the first whiff. The main ingredients are Angelica and Sandalwood.

Fragrant greetings,



This is fabulous. Thank you Mandy. I love the description of Costus ("the complicated aroma of a wet dog crossed with crushed violets") and now I am longing to smell it. And sugi wood! I've never smelled that either.

Heather, the book recommendations are greatly appreciated, too. I have a feeling I will be ordering a copy of "Aroma" very soon. Thank you.


What an enthralling idea! Congratulations on enthusiastic response from so many perfumers and I am so glad to have discovered this site.

As for Mandy's contribution, my personal interpretation of the dark bough would perhaps be deeper - not so sweet as tonka, coffee and broom together. Perhaps Agar, black tea and then I would have to head into synthetics, maybe isobutyl quinoline with hedione... you know, choosing to work within the constraints of natural perfumery, Mandy, Anya McCoy and their peers must be incredibly skilled in their craft to produce such wonderful fragrances. My hat is off to them.


When you announced the poems and perfumers project, I hoped that you would give light to the perfumer's creative process.

This first post from Mandy Aftel does not disappoint. I love how she explains the effect she is going after with each note she chooses and how it related to the poem.

I'm looking forward to the others.


Fantastic concept indeed! I'm intrigued by the use of Peppermint. Its added an additional visual aspect to the imagery the poem and Mandy's commentary has conjured for me. Bravo!


This is such an amazing project. Thank you for sharing with all of us. And the prize? Yea Baby! Icing on an already scrumptious cake!


I wish Mandy actually made the perfume she describes! Wish I can sniff the sugi wood and simply love the idea of using costus to give the sense of apparition.

DW Rosengard

What a genius idea!

As someone very new to the world of perfume, I am so enamored by the idea of seeing how different scenes evoke different scent-memory combinations for both perfumers and wearers.

What I love about Mandy Aftel's approach to the poem is that so many of the notes remind me of the smells one might encounter in a crowd at a train station - coffee stained fingers, flowers crushed underfoot, a faint hint of where the dog brushed dew onto a gentleman's pant leg during a morning walk.

And what an excellent poem to choose! I personally prefer Eliot over Pound, but the whole idea is so evocative and romantic. The only other short poems I can think of that might also work area couple by William Carlos Williams ("This Is Just To Say" or, perhaps, "The Great Figure"). I really like that you chose such a short and vivid piece.

Gail S

What a wonderful concept! I look forward to reading about each perfumers' take on the short poem.

For this first one by Mandy Aftel, very interesting. It's not at all what I would have expected, which is sometimes the best!


I love that Mandy was the first to contribute to this evocative idea of creating a scent remeniscent of a mysterious line in a poem, for she was my first inspiration to walk down this exotic path as a Natural Essence Perfumer....beautiful potion!


This feels like an experience most people have all encountered. Mandy captured the aromas of people/moments that eclipse us all too quickly. The costus feels like just the scent to jerk us out of our own worlds and let us see what is right in front of us.


I love this! When I first read about the contest and was contemplating the poem, I focused specifically on the "black" part and thought of coffee. I'm so glad that Mandy chose it. You can do magical things in perfume with it, provided you use it wisely. And Mandy is the one to do that!

This is off to a great start, and it's SO exciting!


This project is so innovative - such a blend of creativity swirling around a central vision contained in a three line poem - fantastic! What a treasure it would be to have all these proposed fragrances available and together in a small collection complete with the artists' commentary and artwork. Imagine how compelling that would be.


Mandy - I very much like how you do not romanticize the image, and instead concentrate on effects- like the soft focus for apparitions, and peppermint sparkles of faces in the crowd. These are my favorite touches. I'm also interested in the use of coffee notes because it seems to offer a solution to the problem of the bough: a woody word that seems to intimate its flowering (for me anyway). Coffee notes seem to strike a chord combining both the moodiness of dark woods and their fruit. A wonderful idea!


I was with Mandy until the coffee - I think that coffee is too recognizable in a perfume meant to evoke the poem. I would get stuck on the coffee scent and not "get" the rest and therefore lose the link to the poem.

Love the pic of the perfume organ.

Thanks for doing this project, Heather. You're a genius!


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