Aftelier Perfumes Secret Garden and Oud Luban

Aftelier Perfumes' tagline is “Modern Natural Luxury,” and with Secret Garden and Oud Louban, perfumer Mandy Aftel delivers more two fine examples of her swellegant specialty.

Secret Garden parfum

I'd say this particular secret garden was originally planted in the tropics, what with its humid, candied jasmine. If that showgirl Fracas ever hauled her feather-festooned hindquarters out of the theatre dressing room for a skip in the fresh air, she might smell like Secret Garden during its bright, happy overture. But after about 20 minutes curing on the skin, Secret Garden's damp sweetness swaps places with a salty spiciness, and any remaining sugar is recast as an intimate honey.

One of the fascinations of Aftel's creations is the way she utilizes rare and antique perfume materials. Even if the ultimate destination of these natural luxury scents is “modern”, Aftelier fragrances first take the wearer on an exclusive tour through the fast-evaporating history of perfume. Secret Garden features antique civet, castoreum, and aged patchouli, demonstrating how essential “dirtiness” is to humanizing the ethereal side of flowers.

Any fella who adores himself in a haze of white florals needs to experience Secret Garden. And anyone bedeviled by jasmine's tendency towards ice-pick sharpness should lick their white floral-phobia with this warm, complex and deep perfume. I'm enjoying the dissonance of spicy sunshine blossoms in these ever-colder, darkening days. Perhaps the secret in this garden is that it's an oriental in tropical clothing. Sounds like the perfect way to sneak a bit of summertime into winter.

Bonus Fun Fact: Secret Garden was created during Mandy Aftel's participation in luxury blogger Nathan Branch's "Letters to a Fellow Perfumer" series, and Nathan suggested the name "Secret Garden." Read his review here.

Secret Garden ingredients:
Top: bergamot, bois de rose, Geraniol, blood orange
Middle: jasmine sambac, raspberry (compounded isolate), Turkish rose, blue lotus
Base: civet, castoreum, vanilla, deer tongue, benzoin, aged patchouli

Oud Luban solid perfume

Oud Luban is a solid perfume, and I love the silky texture of the balm. The feel has a more-ish quality, and as I kept dipping back into my little sample pot for another schmear, I had to restrain myself from putting it on my lips (just a reflexive instinct from years of applying lipgloss.) Oud Luban's blur of glorious orange with piney frankincense say “hello!” right at lift-off, but within minutes, the oud asserts its waxy-burnt-leathery M.O. and predominates in the scent.

The longer I wear Oud Luban, the more the oud shifts from its charred intro towards kitten-paw softness. (Mixmistress Aftel has coaxed this beguiling accessibility by blending no less than eight different varieties of oud.) By the time the kitten paws pitter-patter off, a frankincense ghost remains, along with the specter of softly spiced patchouli and opopanax.

Like another plushly soft oud perfume, By Kilian Pure Oud, Oud Luban makes a wonderful layering scent to deepen one's more frivolous fragrances, or to add some oomph to a pretty rose.

Oud Luban ingredients:
Top: elemi, orange terpenes, blood orange, frankincense CO2.
Base: oud, opopanax, choya ral, benzoin, aged patchouli.

Secret Garden is available in a 1/4 oz. bottle ($150), a 30 ml EDP spray ($150), a 2 ml Mini bottle ($45), and a sample size ($6)
Oud Luban is available in a sterling silver case holding 1/4 oz. of solid perfume ($210) and 1 ml sample ($6)
Both at

Looking for a fragrance recommendation? Visit Fume Finder: the Katie Puckrik Smells fragrance app.

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  1. What a beautiful review. I've tried several from Aftel's line. Cepes & Tuberose, Honey Blossom are my favorites. She's a talented natural perfumer.

    Although I'm not a fan of her fumes with Jasmine sambac, this note doesn't agree with me at all. I smell like a kitty litter box. The Mandy disciples would certainly hang me if they know what I thought of their beloved Fig.

  2. The "dancer" in you is that Isadora Duncan in the second photo? Or, perhaps, one of her Isadorables?

    I'm one of those "fellas" who enjoys a good white floral, so Secret Garden is going on my Must Try list. Thanks for the head's up....

  3. Wow Katie, I am so glad that you like my latest perfumes, and honored by your clever & lively reviews! Your writing is wonderfully entertaining *and* informative – I am sad when it’s over. I marvel at your talent and energy, and adore your honest, straight-shooting style.
    - Mandy Aftel

  4. It's true -- Mandy's Jasmine Sambac is one seriously dirty flower, and it'll funk up the place faster than Curtis Mayfield on repeat. Fortunately, I'm into that, and I feel that "Secret Garden" sits at the same pong-ish lunchroom table as Francis Kurkdjian's Absolue Pour le Soir, which I'm also into.

    Though Secret Garden, because it's all-natural, is softer and fades-out over the course of the day, where Absolue Pour le Soir is the fun-loving party guest still crashed out on the sofa the next morning.

  5. Thanks, olfactoryobsessed! Honey Blossom sounds like a good candidate for me to try. I'm always looking for a honey-inflected perfume that isn't too unchanged underpants or teeth-itchingly sweet.

    Marko, I'm guessing Isadorable rather than the original Lady D. As for white floral fellas, I know Nathan Branch has stocked up on both the parfum and the EDP version of Secret Garden.

  6. Wow Mandy, thanks for your multi-layered compliments! Your perfume writing is so exact and evocative, it's a tall order to match even your press releases. Thanks again for sharing your provocative and pleasing work with me.

    Hold yer funky horses, Nathan! I'd agree that Secret Garden works a lived-in niff among its blossoms, but I'm not getting the full-on sweaty saddle of Absolue Pour le Soir. Maybe Mandy mixed you a *special* Nathan-only version?

  7. Katie -- I get a definite honeyed-funk from Secret Garden, though it's not nearly as loud, potent and all-week-all-the time as Absolue Pour le Soir. But I do find them to be convivial seat mates at the table, with conversational topics in common.

    However, I did just go compare the two side by side and I understand your "Hold your horses, Nathan!" response, because where Absolue is full-on funkadelica with a side of honeyed-floral, Secret Garden is honeyed-floral with a side of funkadelica. Like, a kinder, gentler Absolue.

    And maybe that's how I should have initially described it -- but I find that both hit the same pleasure center in my brain.

  8. shoot me now -- this is such a pleasure to read.

  9. Nathan, your pleasure center must be a very busy intersection at the moment.

  10. What a great review. I loved reading this & am really enjoying the comments. I love Mandy (samples of the above scents, along w/Memento, are already in the mail to me) and Nathan. I don't know what took me so long to read/subscribe to your blog-there's been buzz for a long time-but I remedied that today. Looking forward to reading your other reviews & checking out your fume finder-how fun!

  11. Katie -- Trust me, I'm dodging cars left and right. But they're putting out some fine smelling fumes as they streak by.

    And Joy -- Welcome to the list! I hope you'll find the reading worthwhile. And Katie's Fume Finder is a gem. I ordered a couple of items for my teenage nephew that I would never have thought of myself -- and he liked both of them a lot.

  12. Hi Joy - welcome aboard! So pleased you found me. The thoughtful and enlightening comments on the blog are indeed the icing on the cake. And anyone who knows me can tell you that I like icing better than the cake.

  13. Enjoyed your review, katie! I absolutely loved secret garden too. might be my favorite aftelier perfume - very swoon worthy, mysterious, sexy, yet a perfect sleep scent..

  14. Lavanya - "sleep scents": a noteworthy category!

  15. Just received my samples today (Secret Garden, Oud Luban, Memento) & I'm seriously loving all of them. I have Oud on one hand, Memento on the other & Secret Garden on my wrists. I couldn't help myself. Now I know why Nathan has Secret Garden in both perfume & EDP-it's gorgeous! I can't even describe it. Parfum Prive has been my favorite Aftel but this just may move into that slot. Oud Luban smells like suede to me, soft & beautiful. Memento is warm & spicy w/top notes resembling leather to my nose. It's great in this cold Pacific NW weather. Man, I need to move back to CA!

  16. joy, thanks for your fresh-from-unboxing report. You're playing with all of your new toys at once!