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.