Close your eyes, and imagine a morning walk through the country on a summer’s day. You start in a small forest glade where moss creeps up ancient trees and their gnarled roots. Leaves lie damp under your footsteps, crushed into earth that is dark, loamy, and a little sweet. Tender green shoots and fresh herbs climb out of the ground, peeking their heads around the moss, joining the forest’s morning song. The sun glints through the trees, seemingly half awake and still a little pale, but it quickly shakes itself to shine brighter and warmer, moving rapidly over the turquoise sky.
Your walk quickly takes you to a meadow on the other side where clover and soft grasses form a soft, downy blanket covering the lands. You find yourself a tree at the edges, near an adjoining field of hay and a farmer’s small herb patch filled with sage and thyme. You place a blanket and pillow on its mossy roots, lie back, and let the country’s summer pageant engulf you. The sun has woken fully now, shining warm and bright, enveloping you in its soft embrace. It’s a reverie of greenness that feels infinitely warm and happy without ever losing its innate, ineffable sense of elegance.
That tale is the essence of Bergamoss, an eau de parfum released a few days ago by the acclaimed doyenne of natural perfumery, Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes. It’s a solid perfume that harkens back to the chypres of old, and whose character, notes, and structure are well described by Ms. Aftel on her website:
Bergamoss features the sumptuous marriage of oakmoss, with its aromas of the wet forest floor, and the bright freshness of bergamot. It harkens back to the substantial and transporting chypres of old. I was after a particular kind of chypre — one that was both rich and fresh, bright and heavy, sweet and loamy. I chose the particular essences for Bergamoss to merge with each other so completely as to blur seamlessly together. I didn’t rely on the traditional diffusiveness of an alcohol-based perfume, but instead wanted the warm texture, solidness, and deep green color to be an intimate and intrinsic part of experiencing the perfume. [¶][…]
… [S]oft and powdery coumarin warms and buffs the rough edges off the oakmoss. Antique civet insinuates muskiness seamlessly into the oakmoss and coumarin. Rare flouve absolute, from the flowering tops of a sweet grass in France, is so aromatically complex that one can, over time, keep finding new notes and nuances on the perfume blotter. The flouve contributes sweet and mossy herbaceous tobacco notes, along with powdery rich green notes. Citronellol, a natural isolate from geranium, is like a fresher, lighter, rosier rose. The great affinity of the juicy peach punctuated with the warm, woody spiciness of the nutmeg absolute and the green rosy citronellol combine to create a transparent floral layer at the heart of Bergamoss. The bright opening notes include the fresh elegance of bergamot, boosted slightly by high notes of the wild sweet orange — with its touch of dirty citrus.
Top: bergamot, wild sweet orange.
Heart: peach, citronellol, nutmeg absolute .
Base: oakmoss, flouve absolute, coumarin, antique civet.
The flouve is a major part of Bergamoss on my skin, so I thought I would briefly add a few details to Ms. Aftel’s description. As she notes, flouve is a type of sweet, flowering grass that Wikipedia says is sometimes also called “vanilla grass” because the dried scent is filled with “coumarin, a glycoside, and benzoic acid – it smells like fresh hay with a hint of vanilla.” According to Hermitage Oils, the essential oil version smells “dry, buttery sweet, vegetative, with a raw, earthy vetivert and cola nuance,” and is often used in conjunction with chamomile, galbanum, artemisia, and other green materials to create chypres or fougères.
Bergamoss opens on my skin with a panoply of moss that smells simultaneously fresh, plush, slightly mineralized, dried, and herbaceous. It’s not the musty, fusty, grey lichen that sometimes rendered old-school chypres so haughty and a little cold, but it’s also not a purely springy, emerald-green, fresh mossiness either. This lies somewhere in-between, with an occasionally dry and mineralized facet, but also a hint of dewy freshness. More importantly, it’s herbaceous right from the start, with an initial whiff of mint quickly giving way to something closer to sweet, freshly dried sage sprinkled with a little thyme. Something vaguely, nebulously floral speckles its edges once in a while as well.
The moss is accompanied by other notes as well. It is laced with a moist earthiness atop which lies a thin layer of crushed, wet, dark leaves. They are a light touch, never so strong as to veer into “humus” territory, but it is enough to evoke images of the forest floor and early morning dew. Actually, the “dew” in this scenario would be drops of citric freshness from the bergamot that quietly splatters Bergamoss’ edges. The whole thing is then placed atop a resinous base that is almost marshy, almost musky, and really quite warm. It doesn’t smell like the tobacco which Ms. Aftel said is an undertone to the flouve, and is absolutely nothing like the cola or “raw, earthy vetivert” facets that Hermitage Oils pointed out. Instead, for a brief moment, it initially had a castoreum-like vibe, before quickly changing to something more balsamic and resinous, with the leathery and slightly smoky nuances of something styrax-like.
For a few, early minutes, the opening called to mind Oriza L. Legrand‘s outstanding Chypre Mousse, a stunning, otherworldly scent from 1914 that was re-released a few years ago. Chypre Mousse is one of my favorite chypres, but Bergamoss has some significant differences. Its herbaceous, earthy, and damp tonalities are highly restrained as compared to Chypre Mousse; it is not heavily minty; it has zero sense of porcini mushrooms or violets; and the sense of actual mousse de chene is more muted. The balance of notes, but also the overall vibe, is completely different. Chypre Mousse is positively otherworldly in a way that has always been a struggle for me to describe. It plants you right on the actual forest floor, covers you with heavy humus, fungi, wet leaves, and violets, and makes you feel as though you’ve entered a fairy dwelling from another time. Bergamoss is warmer, softer, more approachable and tame, with a stronger focus on the grassy flouve on my skin than humus made from mushrooms, violet leaves, and leafy detritus, streaked with resinous leatheriness.
Plus, while Chypre Mousse stays consistently on the forest floor, Bergamoss soon starts to traipse cheerfully to the sunny meadow beyond. The first step takes place roughly 10 minutes into Bergamoss’ development, feeling as though the sun’s rays had managed to pierce the forest canopy. The fragrance is slowly turning sweeter and grassier, while the sense of wet leaves and dampness fades, as though evaporating in the sun’s warmth.
What surprised me, though, was a quiet woodiness that snaked its way through the base. It’s a certain resinous, spicy darkness that felt like true, brown patchouli lightly coated with a leathery balsam. I can’t explain it at all, but that sense or accord appeared all 3 times that I tried Bergamoss. My only guess is that it’s the flouve in conjunction with the nutmeg, since it’s certainly not the civet. That didn’t appear once in any concrete, discernible manner on my skin.
Inch by inch, step by step, Bergamoss walks out of the forest and into the sunny meadow beyond. 40 minutes into the fragrance’s evolution, you’re out in the light, the blanket at your feet now dominated by clover, sweet grasses, fresh plants, lightly dried herbs, and a few strands of hay. The moss remains, but it is starting to feel a little more abstract, a shimmering suggestion that ties everything together. The bergamot feels even more nebulous, while the woodiness has retreated to the distance. The moss is no longer even partially dry or mineralized, but springy and bright.
As a whole, Bergamoss is now imbued with a certain gravitational bounce. Ms. Aftel told me in correspondence that it resulted from “the bergamot shaded with very small aspect of wild sweet orange (which is an extremely aldehydic orange),” and mixed with “a tiny smidge of peach which tends to float up to the top.” I have to say, on my skin, I smell no orange or peach in any concrete, clearly delineated, discernible way, but I have no doubt they’re working indirectly. The whole vibe of the scent is completely different at the end of the first hour, in addition to having an airier feel in body and weight.
And, yet, Bergamoss still retains strong roots to the ground. There is a paradoxical situation happening in the middle of the 2nd hour, where the fragrance is simultaneously sunnier and brighter, but also darker and smokier. The resinous streak in the base has risen up completely, flickering with a quiet smokiness, and smudging the moss’ edges with something almost tarry, like birch. It’s such a lovely contrast to the placid, bucolic serenity of the sun-dappled, clover meadow that I wish the dark puffs were more pronounced. Like many other parts of Bergamoss, however, it is a restrained note. I suppose that is probably for the best, because anything too prominent would undoubtedly ruin the careful balance and picturesque harmony that characterizes Bergamoss.
As the second hour draws to a close, the fragrance’s nuances change. The sage and thyme grow blurry and weak, though a streak of indeterminate herbaceousness remains at the edges. The moss feels hazier, too, overshadowed on my skin by the flouve’s sweet grasses. They, in turn, become Bergamoss’ main focus, evoking images of fields of clover. As the sun rises higher in the sky, shining more brightly, and bringing a haze of warmth to the scent, it wipes out the shadows of leathery, slightly smoky, resinous darkness. What’s left from the start of the 3rd hour onwards is largely a warm, sweet haze of sweet grasses, gilded by the softest whisper of moss, and occasionally licked by tiny slivers of dry hay and dark resin. In its final moments, all that’s left is a sweet grassiness with a warm feel.
Bergamoss has moderate to low longevity, depending on how much I apply, but the projection is consistently the softest, and there is no sillage at all. It’s a bit difficult to quantify application amounts for a solid perfume, so bear with me for a moment. My sample was the size of an American quarter or a 2 Euro coin piece. For two of my tests, I ran a finger round and round the small sample, and applied the scented, oily remnants to my skin about 7 times. With that amount, Bergamoss opened with 0.5 inches of projection, became a skin scent after 2 hours, and lasted 5.25 hours at most. It was extremely difficult to detect even up close from the 3rd hour onwards, and I actually thought it had died at the 4.5 hour mark. Using a smaller amount, roughly 3 to 4 swipes of the finger, Bergamoss again opened with 0.5 inches, was a skin scent at 1.75, but was almost gone after 2.5 hours, and barely lasted until the top of the 3rd hour.
As I’ve mentioned often in the past, my skin rapidly consumes even some mixed, semi-synthetic fragrances (with pure florals and eau de toilettes suffering in particular), so all-natural creations are even more susceptible. However, I rarely have an issue with sillage, and you should be aware that Bergamoss was intentionally meant to be an intimate whisper. Ms. Aftel warned me in correspondence about that fact and repeated the “no sillage” point several times because she knows my personal tastes skew wholly towards opulent, baroque powerhouses. As a result, I didn’t expect any sillage, and the fact that Bergamoss projected even 0.5 inches was an unexpected surprise, but I would have liked greater longevity.
That said, I don’t judge or review all-natural fragrances by the same standards as mixed, semi-synthetic creations because that would be wholly unfair. It’s technically not possible for naturals to have the projection power or longevity of a fragrance that has been given an amplifying boost by artificial means. For example, there is no white musk or ISO E Super (thank God) to make the scent boom in volume or last forever. In the case of a solid natural fragrance, I’ve found that they are generally even softer, more intimate, and breathier than those in an alcohol base. In short, one has to have very different expectations for this style of perfumery as compared to something like, say, a Tom Ford, a Mugler Angel, or even an indie line like Slumberhouse. I think it’s important that you should know all that going in, particularly as Bergamoss is not cheap at $240.
For me personally, my skin is too wonky and voracious to make naturals something that I would choose for myself. Plus, as noted earlier, my personal style and preference is at the other end of the spectrum, for Wagnerian fragrances with a super-sonic boom and hefty weight. But that doesn’t stop me from enjoying a really good natural when I come across one or appreciating it objectively. When something is done extremely well, one can admire its beauty even if it doesn’t suit one’s personal style.
That is the case here. Bergamoss is lovely, and I think it is one of the prettiest things that Ms. Aftel has created. It is as pretty as Palimpsest, is sometimes almost as sunny in feel, and shares a similar approachable, enveloping vibe. But Bergamoss feels more elegant than Palimpsest, probably because chypres are the most elegant perfume family around. What strikes me is how hard it is to make a chypre that isn’t haughty or aloof, holding you at a distance with a deluge of coolness. Bergamoss may be the one, rare chypre that I would label as “sunny” or “happy.” I would wear it in a heartbeat if it had it been a powerhouse singing like a Valkyrie, but that is structurally and technically impossible. (It’s also not Ms. Aftelier’s aesthetic at all.)
So, is Bergamoss any good? I’d say it’s excellent, and I would very much recommend it to anyone looking for a happy, sunny, approachable, warm chypre that is an intimate, private experience.
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.