Some perfumes immediately transport me to a place in time. For Palimpsest, it is a summer’s walk in an orchard on the brightest of days. Sun-ripened fruits drizzled with honey hang heavy and low on trees, irresistible in their sweetness. There are lush peaches for as far as the eye can see, but a small portion of the orchard is devoted to yuzu grapefruits, while bright, banana-yellow ylang-ylang flowers grow further in the distance. One peach beckons to you, and you take a bite, its juices running down your chin, as a smear of animalic honey coats your lips. There is a subtle suggestion of golden flowers swirling in the warm air around you, along with tendrils of smoky woods, vanilla, and amber, but the overall feeling is that you’re walking in sunshine. That is the essence of Palimpsest, a fragrance released last week by the acclaimed doyenne of natural perfumery, Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes.
The press release for Palimpsest provides a lot of useful detail about the perfume’s name and inspiration, its “fold back” structure, and its more unusual notes, which range from the firetree wood used by Aboriginal tribes to certain compounds that smell either like honey or fruit:
A palimpsest is an old document on which the original writing has been erased and replaced with new writing. Sometimes the older writing can still be read under the new, resulting in a complex and beautiful layering. My new Palimpsest perfume was inspired by the layers of history I uncovered while researching my new book, Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent. Leafing through dozens of volumes, some more than a century old, I felt as though I had stumbled into a secret old world of scent, whose story can still be read, in whispers and traces, beneath the story of the world we know. […][¶]
Palimpsest captures the feeling of being in the Garden of Eden at midnight: lush, wild florals, forbidden fruit, and majestic creatures in hiding. The perfume undulates down through florals to its ambergris-laced, other-worldly drydown, and the base notes shimmer up through the top and middle notes in a seamless, scented wave.
Palimpsest folds back upon itself over time, the opening notes joining with the deepest notes and the aromatic traces of the earlier notes persisting in an intricate evolution. It allows you to experience the past in the present and the present in the past; in a whiff, it undoes the structure of time.
Featured notes in organic alcohol:
Top: gamma dodecalactone, phenyl acetic acid, yuzu.
Heart: jasmine grandiflorum, peach, ylang ylang.
Base: firetree, vanilla, ambergris.
The base chord revolves around firetree, from the eponymous tree that Aboriginal tribes use in all its parts [….] The essential oil, harvested under special permit from dead or fallen trees, has a complex and unique aroma, highly diffuse; its lilac and rose notes, with milky undertones, give way to a sweet and floral spiciness, then morph into a woody, earthy, slightly leathery note, and end in a smoky, oud-like drydown. The firetree makes a bond with the ambergris and the equally tenacious phenylacetic acid of the top note, with its initial sweetness of honey on a floral background and its powdery, animalic nuances — a bond that asserts itself early and changes over time, revealing glimpses of the perfume’s rich floral heart and animalic base.
Yuzu, the grapefruit-like essential oil, provides a contrasting brightness to the opening of the perfume. The gamma dodecalactone, with its soft, milky peach-apricot note, drifts down to the vanilla absolute, enfolding the peach along with the banana facets of the ylang ylang extra in a rich gourmand note. Jasmine, peach and ylang ylang merge to create a suede-like floral heart. These complex essences together magically conjure phantom nuances of rose, tobacco, honeysuckle, and chocolate.
Palimpsest comes in two concentrations: an eau de parfum and an extrait. This review is for the former, the eau de parfum. With regard to the notes, I’m going to take the liberty of referring to them in layman’s terms, simplifying things to what they smell like to me. So, instead of writing “phenyl acetic acid,” I’m going to say “honey,” or use “peach” for the gamma dodecalactone.
Palimpsest opens on my skin with honey that is sheer, sweet, and lightly animalic. Its translucency turns deeper within seconds with the arrival of tart, zesty yellow grapefruits and juicy peaches. The perfume takes on a pronounced muskiness, as much due to the peaches as the castoreum that stirs in the base. Much less significant is a dry, spicy wood note that emits a subtle smokiness and, for a brief moment, has almost a chili-like bite to it. Abstract florals weave about the edges, but they are impossible to separate out into specific elements.
From afar, Palimpsest smells primarily like juicy peaches covered with honey. It is a musky and animalic combination, but the skankiness is subtle and never verges on the urinous or dirty. Rather, it calls to mind that old legend about how Aimé Guerlain supposedly used peaches in Mitsouko to evoke the smell of his mistress’ warm flesh after sex. The peaches here have the same sort of effect, their muskiness providing a quiet sensuality that goes beyond simple fruited sweetness. The honey adds to the ripeness, creating a wisp of animalic sharpness but never anything shrill, sulphurous, or extreme the way the note can sometimes be in Vero Profumo scents. The castoreum in the base is the final layer, adding a velvety quality to the muskiness that completes the images of heated skin covered in dripping juices.
Yet, for all that, the main thing that I think about when wearing Palimpsest is not sex or skin, but an orchard on a summer’s day where fat, happy bumblebees buzz about, drinking fruited nectar laced with honey. There is such a bright sunniness and golden quality to Palimpsest that it sometimes feels more like an atmospheric mood than a medley of concrete notes.
That sense is amplified by the way the elements overlap each other, creating a musky, sweetened haze dominated primarily by the peaches and honey. Less than 15 minutes into Palimpsest’s evolution, the abstract florals soon retreat to the sidelines, the spicy firewood trails even further behind in the distance, and only the yuzu grapefruit really lingers in a noticeable way to keep the sweetness in check.
As time passes, Palimpsest’s main notes remain constant and unwavering. Once in a while during the first hour, there is an occasional suggestion of custardy banana that has a very nebulous floral quality about it. A sliver of semi-sweet vanilla is fused within, adding further to the custard impression, but none of it is unctuous, gooey, or particularly sweet. The most surprising thing for me is that the combination of “banana custard” with honeyed peaches never makes me feel as though I’m wearing a fruit salad. There is too much of a perfumed quality to the overall notes, thanks to the indirect effect of the musky animalics, the abstract florals, the tart grapefruit, and the ghostly wisp of smoky firewood.
At the 90-minute mark, Palimpsest is primarily a hazy swirl of sweetly honeyed, golden florals and juicy, ripe fruits, all coated with a quiet muskiness. It is no longer animalic, and there is only the tiniest suggestion of castoreum leatheriness in the base. From afar, the notes all fuse into one without any clearly delineated edge, but if you really focus, up close, you can still pull out the honeyed peach, the citric tartness of the yuzu, and a wisp of slightly bitter woodiness.
At the end of the 6th hour and the start of the 7th, Palimpsest shifts a little. The florals and wood become impossible to distinguish; the vanilla grows stronger in the base; while the honeyed fruits on top are now sprinkled with a light veil of powderiness that calls to mind pollen. At times, it feels as though an ambery benzoin had been used, because Palimpsest is also much warmer and softer now as well. While the benzoin-like powdery warmth diffuses the honey, the vanilla provides a subtle creaminess in the base that is amplified by the occasional pops of ylang-ylang custard in the background. Flickers of something woody lurk in the shadows and, to my surprise, they occasionally do smell like the “chocolate” quoted in the press release. I have to emphasize that the “banana,” “vanilla,” and “chocolate” are extremely ghostly touches, but they are there if you really focus. From afar, though, Palimpsest smells primarily of different forms of fruitiness, all blended in an abstract, sunny haze of sweetness that is laced with honey, then sprinkled with a pinch of pollen powder. It remains that way until its very end.
Palimpsest has excellent longevity, but weak projection on my skin. Natural fragrances are rarely powerhouses in terms of sillage, and Palimpsest is no exception. To my regret, it’s an extremely intimate scent, and one which feels as soft as silk. Initially, Palimpsest was practically diaphanous in weight and body, but even when the notes took on more depth after 10 minutes, it continued to be quite discreet. Using 2 small spritzes from my little atomizer, Palimpsest initially wafted 2 inches above my skin, but it felt so quiet that I added a 3rd little spray just to be sure. The result was 3 inches, at best, in projection. After 15 minutes, that number dropped to 1.5 inches. At the 45 minute mark, Palimpsest hovered a mere half an inch above my skin, where it stayed for a few hours. It turned into a true skin scent roughly 4.25 hours into its development, and died roughly 11.75 hours from the start.
Palimpsest is an extremely pretty fragrance, and one which I enjoyed wearing. Its discreet nature is a deal-breaker for me personally, but that is a question of individual style and taste. I would very much recommend it to anyone looking for a happy, fruity-floral with office-appropriate sillage, because there is just something so very sunny about Palimpsest. This is a fragrance that I can imagine people turning to in the dead of winter for a joyous escape into a golden, warm reverie.
Palimpsest is too new for a lot of online reviews. None of the comments thus far on the perfume’s Fragrantica page are from people who have tried it, but Ida Meister gives Palimpsest a very positive, glowing assessment in a Fragrantica “Scented Snippets” editorial. She describes Palimpsest “as a radiant foray into a floral paradise which is denied me in my waking dreams.” Her review reads, in relevant part, as follows:
Where do I begin?
We are tantalized by tangy citrus-y yuzu whetting our olfactory appetite, segued by the downy peach / apricot gamma dodecalactone, peach, and jasmine grandiflorum [my favorite jasmine]. The peachiness is both milky and has a distinctly butterfat-feel, especially when it tarries with ylang-ylang. Then we smell amplification of banana, the addition of vanilla absolute and honey-like phenyl acetic acid.
Union with ambergris [not some aromachemical, but the precious material itself] makes Palimpsest glow as it accentuates a rosiness, a kiss of lilac which is part of the ambiguous palette fire-tree provides. […][¶]
I feel Palimpsest as a radiant foray into a floral paradise which is denied me in my waking dreams.
It possesses an unearthly beauty which, ironically, arises from the soil.
Perhaps it hails from the Dreamtime.
It’s a very pretty perfume, indeed. If you’re looking for a “floral paradise” or something that will make you feel as though you’re walking on sunshine, give Palimpsest a sniff.
Disclosure: My sample was courtesy of Aftelier Perfumes. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.
Oh damn, you have done it again. I am going to have to try this one, after I swore I would never spend money on all-naturals again because I have too many longevity problems with them. But I do admire the Aftelier scents and love sunshine, so this one is a must-try.
Kafkaesque, have you ever tried her Parfum Privee? I am very curious, but the stunning price of a tiny sample has held me off.
I’ve never tried Parfum Privée. I’m almost scared now to look up the price. lol.
With regard to Palimpsest, it really feels like happy sunshine and a subtle, quiet form of Liquid Prozac in its glowing, honeyed sweetness. Very pretty! I’ll be interested to see how the longevity works on your crazy skin. I was surprised by how tenaciously it clung onto mine, though the sillage is discreet. Thus far, I think it may be my favorite of the Aftelier scents that I’ve tried thus far. It doesn’t hurt that I’m an absolute sucker for peach notes in fragrances, as well as honey.
Parfum Privee is $20 for 1/4 ml, and then if I loved it, I would have one very expensive addiction indeed. But my real issue with most all-naturals is that they disappear so quickly that I could go through a bottle in nothing flat because of all the re-spraying. I think I will ask for an Aftelier mini or two and some samples for Christmas, or maybe my birthday, just because that’s sooner (!), and see if they can last any decent length of time.
And by “decent,” I mean that I would settle for anything over an hour, but it has to be detectable all that time, not sniffing at my hand and wondering “Do I still smell something? Maybe?”
That’s an expensive 1/4 ml, indeed! I always feel so badly for you about how your skin devours fragrances. I think it’s the worst case I’ve ever heard about, from sillage to longevity. I mean, when one often can’t detect perfume after a mere hour, and 4 hours can be miraculous longevity, then that’s truly extreme. I would be howling in frustration in your shoes.
It makes natural fragrances difficult, indeed, and given the inherently weak sillage (for normal people), I’d advise caution against spending a lot on the larger “minis.” Perhaps a small vial as a preliminary first step?
Enticing. The peaches and honey sound enticing. But I am looking for a bigger aura lately, not hard core here she comes aura, but a nice bubble of scented movements to remind me of what I am wearing and make me feel protected.
I relate to your bubble feelings, my dear. I tend to be a big over-sprayer in terms of my personal usage, simply because I want that cloud around me. I don’t think Palimpsest would achieve that for you (or me), alas.
Simply astounded & so gratified by your profound, intricately woven review of Palimpsest! I always learn so much from reading your beautiful writing, thank you so much!
Dearest Ms. Aftel, I’m so, so glad you liked the review. I really appreciated the opportunity to try Palimpsest, and those hours of happy sunshine were just what I needed. Such a super peach note, and with all that honey as well. Perfectly calibrated levels of animalic naughtiness and muskiness, as well. Thank you again.
With respect, as always,
Good afternoon, Kafka, this sounds divine. I have never tried anything by the Aftelier line, but I must now. The fire tree note is really intriguing. I have not encountered it before and I must try this fragrance now! Thank you again for expanding your readers’ horizons both geographically and aromatically.
Fire tree is a really cool thing, imo, and I’ve only heard about it once before. La Via del Profumo’s Abdes Salaam Attar used it in one of his fragrances, I think, or perhaps he talked about it on his blog. I can’t remember which one it was now, but it caught my attention as being one of those very rare ingredients that seemed to have a very complex, cool, interesting character. I’m guessing from the Aftelier Palimpsest press release that its use is highly regulated or limited, so I would have liked to experience a lot more of it here. It was very weak on my skin, though. Let me know if it shows up strongly on your skin and what you think about it.
Oooh. I love peach notes in perfume. Even with no sillage this is a must try for me, sounds divine. I like naturals for at home days or wearing to bed anyway because my mood tends to shift and I can always reapply or switch it up.
I’m so glad to hear you’re another peach fan! You know what has a very pretty peach note and is a scent that I love enormously as a whole? YSL’s vintage Yvresse/Champagne. A beautiful, bubbly chypre with roses, lychees and nectarines, not to mention endless oakmoss. Very affordable on eBay too, at least under its Yvresse name. You may want to check my review if you really love peach notes, though I have to emphasize that there is more going on with the fragrance than just that: https://kafkaesqueblog.com/2013/12/14/ysl-vintage-champagneyvresse-sparkling-elegance/
As for Palimpsest, if you enjoy naturals as well as peaches, then you should definitely get a sample. The honey and castoreum provide a lovely touch of naughtiness and skankiness that may work well in bed…. 😉
So interesting to learn how the notion of honey is actually achieved – “phenyl acetic acid”, I’ll make a mental note. Since I want to learn a little bit on aromachemicals, I appreciate your review very much (what I want to say: It offers just the right amount of technical terms to still enjoy the beauty of your review and learn something new).
Usually I don’t like too much honey in my fragrance but in combination with juicy peaces, the golden spirit and “perfumed quality” you describe, it is a must try for me!
Have a nice Sunday!
I’m glad I could tempt you, Anka, and that you found the review interesting as well. 🙂 In terms of the “phenylacetic acid,” I personally wouldn’t characterize it as an aromachemical because it is an organic, natural compound that is apparently found in fruit. Or, so Wikipedia says, lol: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phenylacetic_acid So, in that sense, I see it differently than a purely man-made synthetic like the loathsome ISO E Super.
With regard to the honey note here, if you’re generally not a big fan of the aroma, then I would advise a tiny, little bit of caution. The main reason is due to the combination of the castoreum *with* the honey, as it amplifies some of the honey’s innate sharpness and creates that animalic feel. The end result is not hardcore like the honey in SL’s notorious Miel du Bois (which ends up being almost urinous on my skin); it isn’t urinous at all, in fact, but it can be a little sharp for those not used to castoreum. It’s almost a little civet-y in that way. I hope that makes a bit of sense and isn’t too incoherent. My bottle line is that Palimpsest has a skanky quality to its honey at one point, and it’s not just simple, syrupy sweetness like regular honey.
It seems to me you often come up with a review I need that very moment the most 🙂 And I’m very thankful for that !
I was very near to make a blind buy for this one – but then somebody told me that Palimpsest is “awful” and I should sniff a sample of it first. Then my holiday came inbetween (greeting from Lenox, MA 🙂 ) – but I can see now it was only postponed by a week or two. I’d love to walk on sunshine, the whole year long…
You’re very welcome, my dear. I’m so glad I could tempt you with something, and at a time you needed it. With regard to the other person’s comment, it would be interesting to know what their experience was like. Some of it may be chemistry, some may be personal taste or definitions, especially if they don’t like skanky notes or animalics. If they’re unaccustomed to castoreum, then the combination with the honey could have been too sharp and musky for their tastes.
Or perhaps the honey just went south on them, since it can be a troublesome note. I’m generally lucky in that regard but not always. For example, SL’s Miel de Bois… yikes! It is urinous on me to a very difficult degree. Even MFK’s Absolue Pour Le Soir has a tinge of urinous elements from the honey-musk combo.) So, in the case of your acquaintance, maybe it was something similar. Or who knows, the peach could have been musky as well.
From what I remember, musky or animalic notes barely register on your skin or, if they do, they don’t last for long. So, I think you’d be safe from some of the potential pitfalls. I’d be very curious to know what you thought of Palimpsest, since I knew you’d been curious about it from before. I hope you get a sample and then let me know your thoughts. In the meantime, have a wonderful holiday and get some much-needed R&R!
Mmmmmm! Sounds like a sample will be heading my way… I was wearing Moon Bloom last night, and, as gorgeous as it is, I also find problems with longevity with all-natural fragrances- (Had to reapply Moon Bloom in a smear in order to smell it as I drifted off to sleep last night without waking the DH with a tuberose bomb).. However, if Palimpsest is anywhere as gorgeous as Moon Bloom, I’ve got to give it a try!!
Seriously, Kafka, your reviews are are, in addition to being beautifully written, so often educational on some of the chemical aspects that define what we smell, what the parfumer is trying to accomplish, and how different compounds can mimic scents found in nature (How I HATE IFFRA regulations!!! Grrrrr!!). I also absolutely adore learning any bits of history regarding a fragrance, a perfumer, the evolution of “acceptable” scents of their day, etc…
In short, I so wish you could continue your blog, but somehow find the time to put together a book… Don’t hate me for being greedy, it’s just always disappointing when the review ends! 🙂
How long does Moon Bloom last on you (and based on what quantity)? I think Palimpsest is completely different in feel and vibe than the Moon Bloom. The Aftelier scent has a distinct muskiness, as well as an initially sharp flicker of animalics from the honey/castoreum. It’s more fruity than floral, warmer and sunnier than the delicate, liquidy cool, “tuberose in moonlight” delicacy of Moon Bloom. Just wanted to make that clear, so you don’t get a surprise. 🙂
As for the chemical aspects, the ones used her are actually more organic in nature than the sort of man-made things concocted in one of Givaudan’s giant laboratories. Ms. Aftel uses more of the core compounds that are innate to various ingredients (fruits, flowers, etc.), so, in that regard, they’re not aromachemicals in the vein of something like ISO E Super. What you may not know is that Ms. Aftel is really the leader in natural perfumery, an admired expert who has taught on the subject, and has written some very acclaimed books on the matter as well. I believe when Andy Tauer wanted to start making perfumes, he relied heavily on her famous “Essence and Alchemy” book and he’s credited her with teaching him a ton on the matter.
So, if you’re interested in all this sort of thing, you may want to look up her book as well. 🙂 Here’s the Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/Essence-Alchemy-Natural-History-Perfume/dp/1586857029
A part of the Publisher’s Weekly blurb from that Amazon page:
I think this book may be just what you’re looking for, Lexi. Ms. Aftel has forgotten more about perfume than I could possibly ever learn in my lifetime, and she covers the same sort of topics that you mentioned you’re interested in! 🙂
I was very fortunate to win a 2ml mini of Palimpsest extrait de perfume from another blog and have found it to be as exquisitely sensuous, layered and glowing as you have so perfectly described. However, the extrait, in contrast to the discrete projection you found in the edp, projects an amazingly radiant sillage from just the tiniest of drops. My skin tends to be dry and scent consuming, but my husband was aware of the Palimpsest extrait from across the room.
I’m in awe not just of Many Aftel’s artistry but also of her technical skill in concentrating such depth and power in such a tiny bottle. I’m sure 2 ml of the extrait will last me for a very long time, but think I will have to investigate the edp for the days when I want to keep Palimpsest’s radiant messages more to myself.
How wonderful to hear about the extrait’s projection. Thank you for sharing that, Kathyrn, as I’m sure it will help some people who may be trying to decide which one of the two concentrations they should try, or whether they should go for both.
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