• High Fibre Fragrances (or How I Discovered Natural Perfume)

    Win a sample set from Ayala Moriel! Ayala is giving away a miniature fragrance set, featuring the fragrances mentioned in the article (worth $360). We will pick a random winner from the comments for Ayala to send the prize to. (closing - end of May 2010)

    Wholemeal pasta. The texture is all wrong. It is eaten by worthy, try too-hard long haired types. They are well meaning, it is true, but ultimately they are too wrapped up to know that you can eat white pasta and still get enough fibre in your diet. Some time ago, I began with an assumption that natural perfume must fall into the same category. It would be worthy but somehow stodgy. Maybe, like some whole foods, it would be full of goodness which I don't enjoy enough to use enough to benefit from the goodness. The thought would run something like this: fragrances are about smelling good, and good can be created by human endeavour as well as nature. Nature gives us clay, human beings fire the clay into bricks, and bricks build stronger houses than sticks and mud.

    In the background, growing like a cancer treated only with health food remedies, there lurked an allure. The idea that I would smell real oakmoss in a green scent appealed to me. If the description mentions lime, it would be pleasing to think that the fragrance contains lime. I don’t know why this seemed important. Maybe it was to do with the general feeling I have running in the background that I am being duped by everyone about everything all the time. I am an urban boy.

    I had read about Ayala Moriel’s perfumes on basenotes.net, and indeed read Ayala's posts there, and her own excellent blog. I had even unsuccessfully attempted to contribute an idea for naming one of her fragrances when she consulted the basenotes public. I had never smelled one.

    Image: Trish Vawter of ScentHive.com

    I set off to Vancouver to visit my friend. One day with little agenda, I was wandering the city when I remembered that Ayala was downtown on the street named Haro. I couldn’t remember the exact address, so I walked along looking out for a shop front, keen to pop in and try her Rainforest of which I had read. It has oakmoss in it (amongst all sorts of other things) and it sounded good. After strolling all the way down Haro, I got to Stanley Park and smelled the real rainforest but I couldn’t find Ayala. Later, I realised that she operates from a private address not a storefront. Luckily for me, when she later read my story of walking straight past her, she generously sent me a set of eight samples of her perfumes.

    So, back in London, I opened the little box and unscrewed the lid of the Rainforest and took a sniff. It was sweeter than I expected, the subtle rose note somehow civilising the very green and quite warm rainforest, as if the savages in the forest have a beautiful secret flower garden they maintain tenderly while taking a break from grunting and fighting. A dry hay and a friendly pine note, not at all harsh as pine can be, sitting with a little citrus and some moss. This was very good. I was struck by the depth, darkness and earthiness, the sweet balsamic wood. Like a living forest. Surprised and impressed, I put the samples aside for later when I would have more time.

    Coming back to them that evening I opened all the little vials and had a sniff. Several smelled so good from their containers that I couldn't stop. I had something of a re-awakening. I remembered why I like fragrances. For me, it is not so much the longevity, the projection. It is just about something that smells fantastic. I inhaled deeply and repeatedly. I read some of the notes from the website, tested a little on skin, but mostly I inhaled deeply from right above the little pots. This turned out to be a very bad mistake. I had forgotten that these were not light, volatile Eaux de Toilette. My sense of smell hit overload quite rapidly so I couldn’t smell anything much except a general essential oil melange. I felt like my nose had a coating of heavy oils on the inside. I tried to resist mental images of nasal receptors overflowing with oil while an impotent scent molecule struggled to get in. I ran for the coffee, but it was too late. Thoroughly burned out, I wore no fragrance for two days. Even the smell of toast had become annoying. I was briefly worried I had permanently damaged my will to explore, but fortunately this was not the case and I returned to these fine potions a few days later with a much more cautious approach.

    First I chose the vetiver scent Vetiver Racinettes. On first sniff I almost recoiled at the sheer raw earthiness on offer here but immediately I wanted more. This smelled so deeply rooted it seemed to touch some primeval nerve. It was almost rude. I sniffed again from the sample, then put a little on a testing strip and waited for it to develop. This didn’t smell sensual to me; I smelled something downright sexual. I had to put some on my arm. After such a radical opening I was surprised to find that this lightens surprisingly quickly as it settles on the skin leaving a perfect wild vetiver fragrance. I was struck by the structure, the composition and the development. This was a fragrance constructed by a nose of some distinction.

    Over the next few days, I tested others in a similar fashion:

    Arbitrary is beautiful and seamless. It is a zingy blend of citrus and aromatic herbs with bitter oakmoss in a classic chypre accord, reminiscent of legendary masculine scents like Eau Sauvage or Signoricci. The way the citrus melts into the verbena is outstanding, the fresh, slightly minty side of the herb shines through while a touch of an anisic green quality, maybe from the listed basil note, stays very much in the background. In the heart, a dry hay colours the warm jasmine, which is thickened slightly by some patchouli. For lovers of the dry citrus herbal style like me, this will rate very highly.

    In Bon Zai Tangerine seems to bridge the rose and the wood, tying the two together into a unified chord. From the first, a green, woody, inedible quality comes to the fore, followed quickly by a citric-emphasised rose. The lemon Verbena is strong too. From a distance it smells like a rose scent but closer up the greens and the woods are more prominent. There is a distinct and fascinating Japanese quality to the woods, a skillfully realized effect. The quality of these ingredients radiates. This is a very fine and unusual rose scent for men to wear which combines echoes of classic English Victoriana with exotic greens.

    Epice Sauvage boasts an astounding top note accord of soft wonderful spices. Many perfumes claim the “Spice Market” label but this smells just like I’m standing in front of the stall. Cardamom usually smells harsh and unpleasantly sour to my nose, but here it is round and beautifully integrated. Cinnamon is another note which I often find overpowering in fragrance but here it is a gentle dusting, a flavor amongst others, not prominent in its own right like in a perfect apple crumble. The key word here is accord. It settles into a lovely floral heart with transparent wood and dries to an herbaceous, balsamic, sweet accord balanced perfectly with the savory/dry spice.

    Espionage is very different. Lots of action up front here before it settles down into an amalgamated accord of lightly musked vanillic leather with the other notes in wonderful subdued balance. The initial rollercoaster gives me immediate leather, tobacco, leather again, rose otto with a little indolic jasmine in a wonderfully balanced floral blend, with a touch of brightness from bergamot. Vanilla too, all detectable in the first ten minutes but masterfully put together. Again this brings to mind the blending of top quality French fragrance. The fact that it is all natural makes the effect achieved even more impressive. I am not sure how the leather note has been done, but I get a hint of earthy mushroom giving an earth- hide note.

    Lovender is a beautiful lavender fragrance which skillfully and without complication showcases and accents the various components of the lavender. The minty quality is there balanced nicely with the more prominent citric aspect. This lemony note segues into an orris note, which remains quite transparent and clear and hardly powdery, though a little soft-focus aspect emerges as it develops. The warm sandalwood, with a pinch of vanilla, sits underneath supporting the more woody tones but these remain very much in a subordinate capacity. The main silage is a wonderful lemony herbal lavender freshness, with just a hint of romance beneath. A scent for an anniversary, not a date.

    Ayala describes Sabotage as a “parody on classic masculine scents”. Personally I don’t get the satirical angle. Instead I experience a wonderful fresh lift of citric green; lemon, petitgrain, gentle spice from the pimento (which smells here somewhere between bay, juniper and capers to me) and soft pepper. There is a sorbet-like refreshment from the orange notes. Buried at the bottom is an almost fungal sweet green earthiness from tobacco, vetiver and tonka. Maybe this is the sabotage? Who put the mushrooms in my lemons? The vetiver wins out in the long run in the base accord providing good longevity. Imagine the great men’s’ scents of the 60’s and 70’s made with top quality natural ingredients. Fabulous stuff.

    I love the way Ayala references classic mainstream perfumes and accords. In this way, she cleverly avoids being stuck with the old recipes for natural perfumes and stays rooted in the current discourse of ideas. It is as if she has taken some of my favorite commercial fragrances and made them better. Each of these boasts a quality of smell which immediately puts it in the top bracket of its category for me. The longevity and projection are low compared to perfumes which use synthetics, but it is difficult to care when it smells this good.

    I knew I couldn’t draw any conclusions about natural perfumery from the work of just one nose who is, in my view, exceptional, and I have since explored more. However, Ayala’s fragrances showed me that natural perfumery can be excellent. I’m sure it often isn’t. The strength in her structures suggests to me that Ayala could have made excellent perfumes with synthetics also or indeed with the contents of her kitchen cupboards. As a natural perfumer, I think she has carved herself out a true “niche” and found an independent way to be in control of her materials as well as secured a good marketing position.

    Win a sample set from Ayala Moriel! Ayala is giving away a mini fragrance set, featuring the scents mentioned in the article (worth $360). We will pick a random winner from the comments for Ayala to send the prize to. (closing - end of May 2010)

    About the Author

    Walker Minton is a Jasmine award winning freelance writer and jazz musician with a lifelong interest in scent. He lives in North London with his partner and two sons. walker_minton@yahoo.co.uk


    1. Natural Perfumery


    Comments 100 Comments
    1. driftwood's Avatar
      driftwood -
      your whole meal pasta analogy made me laugh (even though I am guilty of eating whole grain pasta multiple times... I love the earthiness of natural perfume. I love 'smells' so with natural and 'not-so natural' perfume, it isn't an either or for me- I want to smell them all!! I have been dying to try Ayala's perfumes so would love love to win this giveaway!
    1. smeller's Avatar
      smeller -
      My knowledge of Ayala Moriel is restricted to her insightful comments in Basenotes and at her blog. I always had the feeling that her opinions have a strong basis, even when I disagreed in a first sight (how pretentious I was). Natural perfumery is a complete novelty to me. The descriptions sound like a true olfactory experience...
    1. jessica1000's Avatar
      jessica1000 -
      Beautiful review. I am also a big fan of Ayala's perfumes. The first time I smelled them, I also sat up and paid attention. She is a true artist and skilled at her work. Her Espionage is on my wish list! Would love to win the set....
    1. Raquel8's Avatar
      Raquel8 -
      As a fledgling perfumer i LOVE to read about other peoples opinions on natural perfumes...Ayala is a fascination woman...I read her blog religiously & would love to sample her perfumes!
    1. belleotero's Avatar
      belleotero -
      I have the good fortune to live in Vancouver and have been planning for months now to visit Ayala's table at Portobello West Market and smell some of these perfumes ... this article has just whetted my appetite once again. I answered the Perfume Consultation questionnaire on her website and her response was most detailed and generous. It would be so delightful to have some samples to play with!!
    1. actiasluna's Avatar
      actiasluna -
      The small perfumer trend toward naturals is a lovely thing indeed, and if anyone can succeed with this, it's Ayala. I am enchanted by the article and amused (as the previous poster) with the mention of whole grain pasta... the point being, when you work with natural ingredients you still have to hit the right note, the right texture. The natural oils running around out there in the market stalls and faire carts aren't always lovely and definitely (more often than not) resemble the scent version of whole-grain pasta... a little too rough to take.

      A sensitive hand and nose is apparent in Ayala's work, so I give this article my Nice! rating. (okay, so this is the first ever appearance of such a rating.)
    1. LauraZ's Avatar
      LauraZ -
      Hmmm. I thought I had commented, but I don't see it! Delete this if it's a duplicate.

      Ayala's work is lovely and she is just as lovely in person. I’ve been fortunate to have sampled many of her scents. My favorites are Song of Songs, Espionage, Bon Zai, Ayalita, Rebellius, Autumn, and Libra.

      Two things stand out:

      1. I never liked florals until I smelled hers. Hers are exactly like how flowers should smell – spicy and earthy and real. So much deeper and more interesting than those inspid synthetic scents!

      2. If the scent doesn't appeal on first sniff, give it a bit to develop. Her scents are complex. Film Noir didn't appeal to me at first, but it became beautifully rich and pleasant after a few minutes. I was surprised at how much I liked it. The concept is interesting, too.
    1. jwebber1@austin.rr.com's Avatar
      jwebber1@austin.rr.com -

      I love 'em both. And that is the point: For me, if it smells good, it is perfume, and should be respected as such. If I see: "Win a sample set from Ayala Moriel! " Then I must respond. A perfume is made up of many things, some 'natural', some not. And Ayala Moriel is not the only 'natural' nose in the universe. But: her stuff sounds fantastic, and I would love to bury my face in her scents....So, if I win this giveaway, I will be able to do so!
    1. Hasupk@gmail.com's Avatar
      Hasupk@gmail.com -
      This sounds too interesting, I also held (I guess) the authors same view that natural fragrances was just a joke. However, it seems the jokes on me. We will have to wait and see!
    1. Yuko's Avatar
      Yuko -
      My favorite perfumes as a teenager were 1000 by Patou and Bal a Versailles by Desprez. I was attracted to these scents, because I had read somewhere that they contained a lot of natural fragrance material, and of course, I loved the smell. These perfumes also didn't give me the sickly, plastic feeling I got with some other perfumes.

      As I had children, I moved more and more towards natural scents or no scents at all. Most everything I use now is unscented; if they are scented they are scented with natural oils. With my interest in aromatherapy and essential oils, my interest in perfumes returned, but this time I wanted something that only used natural fragrance materials, something that was an extension of your own scent, not something that screamed for attention.

      Ayala Moriel is an inspiration to anyone interested in natural perfumes. I've spent many hours pouring over her website trying to imagine what her creations might smell like. I've learned so much from her Smellyblog, too! I love her unassuming style and would love to experience first hand the works of this prolific master.
    1. bloodflower's Avatar
      bloodflower -
      i have never tried her creations, they sound so interesting.
    1. sunnybrett's Avatar
      sunnybrett -
      I wish I could find retailer who carry “the fruits of you imagination” Ayala…are your natural perfumes available in California? Lots of love! Brett
    1. Ankica's Avatar
      Ankica -
      I haven't tried many Ayala's scents, but I've noticed that many natural perfumes have that "natural touch" which is not always positive, but Ayala somehow manage to wrap it so wonderful that everything is in harmony...
      Because of her creativity, I am more interested and motivated to make natural perfumes myself...
    1. m.francisco's Avatar
      m.francisco -
      I'm interested in trying something natural like this, so far everything I own pretty much falls under the 'synthetic' category.
    1. SpringfieldXD9mm's Avatar
      SpringfieldXD9mm -
      Wonderful article. If the fragrances are anywhere near as beautiful as their creator they will be a delight to the winner of this contest.
    1. HJS's Avatar
      HJS -
      Fantastic article!

      Ayala is a sparkling gem in the world of natural perfumery, I find her work inspirational. Its natural perfumers like Ayala that keep me dabbling at my own blending desk!
    1. Sarahsaurus's Avatar
      Sarahsaurus -
      My life would not be complete without Ayala Moriel perfumes! Cmon, my miniature collection NEEDS them!
    1. mjcr's Avatar
      mjcr -
      Nonsense! Wholemeal spaghetti is vastly superior to standard spaghetti.
    1. mr. reasonable's Avatar
      mr. reasonable -
      Great article and commentary on these natural works - you have no idea how reassuring it was to read 'it is difficult to care when it smells this good' re. longevity and sillage.

      I also find it ironic that the once 'demure, polite, hippie dippie' realm of naturals is looking more and more like the true 'cutting edge' radical area of development for perfume as the industry smothers itself in regulations against "shock, horror". . . natural ingredients!

      My only experience with 'alternative' perfumery is some of the work from Mr. Dubrano (profumo.it) and, if I understand it right, some of the Aveda stuff - I have a few tiny bottles from a range they had a while back. I would love to try some of Ms. Moriel's work at some point.
    1. wicozani's Avatar
      wicozani -
      Thank you for the wonderful article! A try of these fragrances has been on my radar for quite some time, but now that desire is greatly intensified!

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