Death is in the air at this time of year. Reminders of our mortality abound in the form of styrofoam headstones on suburban hillsides, ghost-shaped bed sheets billowing from branches, and costumed skeletons stalking the streets. All Hallow’s Eve gives way to Día de los Muertos, the Mexican Day of the Dead, on which family and friends remember loved ones who have died. At Catholic school, where Kirsti and I met, All Souls’ Day was observed each November 2nd to commemorate the souls of Christians who’ve passed on (sorry, heathens, you’re S.O.L.—Souls Outta Luck).
It is in this “spirit” that natural perfumer Mandy Aftel created Memento Mori for Aftelier, her Berkeley, California-based fragrance atelier (clever!). Memento mori is Latin for “remember that you have to die,” and this sentiment has been depicted in art throughout the ages to remind us that our time in these bodies is both fragile and fleeting. To create a similar work of art using her perfumer’s palette, Mandy sought to “capture the musk-like smell of skin” with aromatic essences ranging from ambergris to wood violet.
When I first inhaled the scent, it reminded me of Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo in New Orleans, a city that has itself elevated the celebration of life and death to an art form. There is something exotic, yet comforting, about the fragrance—a recognition of the simultaneous yearning to explore the new and unusual while clinging to the familiar and dearly beloved (or departed). I don’t know if I was influenced by the description, but it does call to mind the scent of sun-warmed skin, especially when emanating from the warmth of my own skin.
Mandy has said that Memento Mori was a deeply personal perfume for her to create, but perfume is also deeply personal to the wearer, both in the choice of fragrance and how it morphs and changes on each individual to create a unique blend of scent and self. It is a living thing, which is appropriate for a composition meant to remind us that, though our time here may be short-lived, it should be well-lived. So seize the day AND the spray, because Memento Mori may be one of the finest fragrances in living memory.
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