Letters to a Fellow Perfumer: Mandy Aftel & Dawn Spencer Hurwitz (ep. 1)

July 6th, 2011, Berkeley, CA

Dear Dawn,

I enjoyed talking on the telephone, and going back and forth about our plans for the project that we’re going to work through together.

I’m glad that we decided to focus on creating a Classic Floral perfume. Nathan had suggested this idea, but it seems that both of us were thinking along these lines anyway, so it works out in our favor.

*Note from Nathan: See: “The designers putting the posh back into perfume” — and who better to do this than Mandy and Dawn? I rest my case. But back to Mandy!

I like very much that we settled on pairing the multi-faceted and complex osmanthus flower with the voluptuous tuberose as the centerpiece for the project. I feel it will give us a lot of leeway to examine other florals for supporting character roles, as well as the opportunity to discuss the “King and Queen” of perfume — jasmine and rose.

It also strikes me as a great foundation for this public method of writing back and forth. Maybe a good place to start would be to talk through what a Classic Floral perfume means personally to each of us.

I would love to hear your thoughts.



Rose, the queen of perfume — photograph by Aftelier


July 8th, 2011, Boulder, CO

Dear Mandy,

I, too, enjoyed our phone conversation, as well as considering the scope of our new project.

I love the idea of focusing on the Classic Floral style, as the concepts of creation vary widely from perfumer to perfumer, and there’s been so much discussion about what makes a great classic floral amongst fellow Natural Perfumers and perfume lovers alike. I think that it will be fascinating to explore this genre further, especially while giving the spotlight to osmanthus and tuberose.

It’s interesting to me, from the get go, that tuberose is generally known and can be found in many perfume classics from the 17th Century onward, but osmanthus, because of its Asian origin, is lesser known and considered rather exotic. I think this makes for a somewhat unlikely pair, and yet both have a “strength of character”, shall we say, that makes them suitable as partners.

They will, of course, have the example of the “old married couple” (Rose and Jasmine, to continue that metaphor) to bring structure and balance to the heart of the composition.

You know, in terms of a Classic Floral, there are many definitions or ways of thinking about it that spring to mind. First is the concept of floral accords or bouquets that come to us from generations of perfumers that have proved to be successful again and again: rose, jasmine, orange blossom/neroli, carnation, lily, violet/orris, ylang ylang, tuberose and sometimes narcissus/jonquil.

Many, many great perfumes that we would consider classics today have some variation of these floral notes, at least in the heart structure.

Another way of considering a Classic Floral is not only its timelessness, but also its sense of propriety. You know, nothing outlandish. Something that you can imagine Queen Elizabeth wearing.

I think an argument could be made that Jean Patou Joy epitomizes the classic floral — of the rose/jasmine kind, anyway, with Diorissimo as the more demure variety, and even Fracas as the standard by which tuberose/gardenia perfumes are measured.

These all have a sense of “classical” and “classic” to me, so I like the idea of possibly expanding the notion of classic to include osmanthus, with its delicious fruity qualities.

What comes to mind for you, Mandy, when you think of the Classic Floral? I look forward to your thoughts on this, as well as the entire process of this project. I know that it’s going to be wonderful.

All my best,



July 12th, 2011, Berkeley, CA

Dear Dawn,

I agree completely with your thoughts about what makes up a classic floral: the wearability & the timelessness.

Also for me, there is an emphasis on the perfume being “beautiful” (as in traditionally beautiful) — focusing on floral essences that create a sense of a bouquet rather than a single flower.

The “classic floral” genre feels to me like an elastic category with lots of room to accommodate more modern interpretations within its old-world structure.

I love that we’re going to pair the less common osmanthus with the popular tuberose, and I’m excited to see how the apricot notes in osmanthus will react when set within a classic floral framework.

One idea I’m considering is to create a fruity theme that evolves along with the florals. When looking at some formula books this last weekend, I noticed that many of the classic florals, like Joy and Fracas, have a peach top note. Since I only work with naturals, I don’t have any access to a peach essence, but I can get pear, strawberry and raspberry — and those are calling to me right now.

I really love to work with florals, to try to create a new floral aroma — it feels a bit like a botanist stumbling upon a new flower that she’s never smelled before.

I remember reading in the history of perfume that this was the way perfume in the modern age started, with perfumers at the turn of the century quite literal about what they could create — single floral notes. But what ushered in the modern age of perfumery was the concept of creating an original floral note that couldn’t be found in nature.



Creating floral notes that can’t be found in nature — photo by Aftelier


July 19th, 2011, Boulder, CO

Dear Mandy,

It’s interesting that you mention the sense of a floral bouquet and associate it with the classic floral perfume. For me, I would include the soliflore as well.

I do agree with adding in a sense of traditional beauty, although I tend to shy away from that kind of assessment as I prefer the painterly concept of beauty — that which exists in the eye, ear and nose of the beholder. There’s so much room for expression within the balance of traditional florals and modern nuances, so I think this is going to be great fun!

I, too, love the subtle fruit notes found in many classic florals. I’m sure you’ve enjoyed, as I have, the wonderful fruitiness of many floral absolutes on their own merit, but when more fruit notes are added, something truly magical (or horrible, if overdone) can occur.

I find that osmanthus can be pushed toward peach or its more natural affinity, apricot, but also toward prune, with the right balance. I’m thinking about accentuating these notes, but I have to admit that I haven’t nailed down my thoughts and feelings just yet.

I tend to work in an intuitive way when designing, which generally occurs in my mind before I work anything out on paper or in a bottle. I let the image or sense of the perfume develop completely, but the way it comes through these days is through the forms of color, texture, light and shape more than intellectualized notes.

When the image is complete, I can then translate it into the materials that will achieve it. It’s an idiosyncratic way of working, I know.

I also haven’t decided whether or not I’ll stick to what, for me, is the more limited palette of all-natural materials, or if I will indeed include some synthetic essences. We’ll see.

I like the image that you’ve created in my mind right now . . . that of the modernists declaring a new age at the turn of the twentieth century, with the freedom to truly create in abstraction, beyond the bounds of what they could literally see (or smell).

All my best,


***This is the first of a series of letters between Mandy Aftel & Dawn Spencer Hurwitz. You can find the other letters at the links below:

Letters to a Fellow Perfumer: Mandy Aftel & Dawn Spencer Hurwitz (ep. 2)
Letters to a Fellow Perfumer: Mandy Aftel & Dawn Spencer Hurwitz (ep. 3)
Letters to a Fellow Perfumer: Mandy Aftel & Dawn Spencer Hurwitz (ep. 4)
Letters to a Fellow Perfumer: Mandy Aftel & Dawn Spencer Hurwitz (ep. 5)