1 2 3… Tango

I wore Mandy Aftel’s Tango three times before I fell under its spell. Tango is not conventionally beautiful or pretty, and defies established notions of what can be categorized as perfume. However, conventionally pretty is not what I usually look for in perfume. When I wear perfume, I want to be moved, or entertained. Sometimes, I want to be comforted. Other times I want my perfume to be evocative, or rise up to wrestle with my moods. Almost always, I want my perfume to be an expression of some aspect of me. Tango is complex enough to be the perfect scent companion – very demanding yet comforting, often rising up to battle my boredom. Mandy Aftel somehow manages to condense an experience into a tiny drop of perfume.  Tango is a string of moving images, to be experienced very slowly. Like Tea.

My first impression upon smelling it was that of black salt/kala namak– the pungent salty condiment used in a lot of Indian street food like Jal Jeera and Pani Puri. Kala namak is often paired with ginger to add a piquant sweetness  that sometimes peeks through in Tango. I asked Mandy about the source of the saltiness, wondering whether it was the choya nokh (roasted sea shells). She thought that it was the combination of the tobacco absolute and the choya that was creating the salty percept. Kala namak has something in addition to the saltiness  referred to as ‘chatpata’ in Hindi, which means tangy,salty,spicy and sometimes (in non-food contexts) can also mean ‘naughty’. This tangy saltiness contributes to the wonderful strangeness of this perfume and creates the smoky, sultry (and yes- naughty!) quality of Tango.

On my third wearing, my brain stopped latching on to and amplifying the black salt note (which I found highly addictive) and I was able to ‘view’ the perfume as a whole. The start is sultry yet light, like just-damp air, with a hint of sweetness from the orange. The sweet introduction gives way to a gingery warmth and something smoky, salty like an intimate dance by the sea.The languid sea breeze is tempered by a driftwood fire. There is  tension, heat, and moving bodies that just avoid collision. I keep waiting for more sweetness but it doesn’t appear. Yet. This is definitely all lust, with no pandering sweet sentimentality..The air is heavy, the embers are dying and there is dancing in the dark. I can’t tell you what happens next because that wouldn’t be very appropriate. But the sweetness from the tonka does appear like the honeyed skin and soft sleep after a tiring night of passion.

When I apply Mandy Aftel’s perfumes, be it Tango or my other favorites Cepes and Tuberose and Shiso, I feel like I’m wearing my own skin. Her perfumes feel deeply personal, almost as if, they were made for me. When I wear them, I feel content with my company and meditatively happy. Perhaps it is because of their unconventional beauty that I feel like I am wearing them just for myself. These perfumes don’t pander or try to seduce or flirt with those around. Like any personal piece of art, these perfumes feel like moments of austere luxury, meant solely for my pleasure.

Disclosure: I received the samples to try from the perfumer.  This did not influence my views
Photo Credit : http://www.flickr.com/photos/nurpax/3651622004/lightbox/
via CreativeCommons


  1. Thank you so much for this incredible review of Tango. I loved so many of the points that you made — that my perfumes are so deeply personal and wear like your own skin. This made me so happy to read because that is what I hope for when I create them. I am so appreciative. My favorite line was: “Tango is not conventionally beautiful or pretty, and defies established notions of what can be categorized as perfume.” To me, that gets to the heart of what perfume is really about.

    • Thank you for stopping by, Mandy. I wanted the review to capture the essence of Tango- so I am very glad that you liked it. And I also need to thank YOU for making perfumes with so much character and depth and also for sharing some of them with me..:)

  2. I’ve read at least three other great reviews for this scent and they all were so different that without mentioning the perfume name I wouldn’t have ever guessed they all were about the same one. It must be because of “Her perfumes feel deeply personal, almost as if, they were made for me”.

    Interesting review, thank you. (though now I feel a little hungry and want some Indian food 😉 )

    • Thank you, Undina and so nice to see you here! Yes- Tango is complex enough, that I seem to perceive it differently depending on my mood- so I can imagine different people ‘seeing’ it very differently. Plus there are cultural associations and such which probably bias perceptions.. Tango is such a thick savory scent on me – I could eat my arm..lol

  3. Tara

    Beautifully written Lavanya and very helpful as I am sampling Tango at the moment. I feel rather intimidated by it from the first testing – just because it is so different to anything I have tried before. However, it’s good to know patience with it can be rewarded so greatly.

    • Thank you so much Tara! Tango did surprise me- it didn’t smell like any preconceived ideas I had about the scent. It does need time and complete attention. I found that out when I was testing it with two other perfumes- a big no-no! Also, the more I smell it, the more I seem to like it. I’d love to know what you think about Tango, once you’ve gotten a chance to live with it a bit.

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