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Writing on perfume so fine and evocative I could smell the accords in imagination!

essence-and-alchemyAftel’s book is a delight, to all who might be interested in perfumery, the mysteries of olfaction, and, particularly how psyche and aroma connect. Her book is far from a leaf through, light on substance pretty picture coffee table book. Instead, dense and engagingly written text, lightened and deepened by beautiful line drawings – which are actually so much more satisfying (for this reader) than the usual photographer and bottles of perfume artfully arranged number.

There is something enormously pleasing about the original slow work involved in making, for example, botanical line drawings, woodcuts and the like, which are then here reproduced.

Aftel is a fascinating writer, too. Originally a psychotherapist she brings that listening delight to teasing out the useful story of ‘the other’ the uncovering of hidden meaning, to the way she sees her present vocation – perfumer. And, her interest is in natural perfumes, rather than those of novel synthesised chemistry created in a lab.

Those of us who are pulled, for many reasons, by perfume using plants, know that this is slow, reflective perfumery. At its best we are drawn into a realisation of the complexity of growing the plants, of extractions to yield their aromatics, of a weight of history behind them

And Aftel brings all this along with her in her book, connecting ‘’Per fumem” to its original, sacred roots, and the making of perfume from extracting essential oils from plants to an original pairing with alchemy.

C. Gesner, The newe jewell of health

                   C. Gesner, The newe jewell of health

Along the way as well as philosophical, psychological and historical reflections, there is much practical information for the budding kitchen perfumer, including methods, aromatic suggestions, information about what will harmoniously marry with what, and what might connect with interesting, piquant oppositions.

This is a book to enjoyably read and re-read – not to mention, embark on given formulations and sail out on one’s own to assay others.

Enfleurage, in times of yore

                          Enfleurage, in times of yore

The book concludes with a list of potential suppliers, though as this was originally published in 2001 I note some of the listed suppliers have long disembarked from their perfumed barges and vanished into the wild blue yonder,


There is also an extensive bibliography and reference section, to take the eager reader mandy-aftelonwards into further aromatic journeys, be these deeper into an exploration of alchemy, or neurobiology and olfaction, or, even weighty tomes exploring the history and design of perfume bottles!

This is very much a deep, broad, wide read on the subject, but beckoning the lured reader on the further exploration

Essence and Alchemy Amazon UK
Essence and Alchemy Amazon USA