Synaesthetic descriptions of perfumed delight
I am filled with admiration for Mandy Aftel’s writing about perfumery. Although a beautiful book to handle and read in ‘real’ form, with its thicker than normal, creamy coloured paper, beautiful, often archaic line drawings, and shiny, alluring woodcut/embossed type red cover, this is not a coffee table book. Rather, I would say Aftel is inviting you into imaginative, creative journeys of your own, those line drawings rather stirring the senses, connecting the reader to an old, but living history, in a way which artfully arranged, sumptuous colour photos of perfume bottles and ingredients could never do.
Aftel shows herself to have style and she shows herself to have substance.
Originally, Mandy Aftel, a highly respected American Artisan perfumer, was a psychotherapist, and what really appeals to me in her fascinating books is the reverse of the pile em high, whack em out ephemeral approach to instaperfume fashion. What insinuates from her books is relationship, a kind of development and connection which comes from the fact that she works with natural materials.
Fragrant, divided into 6 chapters, 5 of which place a particular plant and the fragrant material it produces, centre stage is an invitation to journey in time and in space with the material itself, and those who have tended it, prized it, grown it, harvested it, worked with it, transported it, thought about it and worn it.
There is something very special about a perfume from natural ingredients only. Firstly, it can never be standardised, and for some of us, that is a major part of its allure. The plant an essential oil or absolute may have been extracted from will have been a living, responsive entity. A batch of essential oil bought from this supplier, this year, from this place, will be somewhat different from the batch bought from the same supplier, from the same grower, last year, as the plant will be producing subtly varying chemistry, in response to this year’s changed growing conditions.
Aftel’s book invites reflection. Her major star playing aromatics, each of which indicates different facets about our relationship with aromatics, are Cinnamon (the once, highly exotic, call to adventure and the spice trade) Mint (home, the familiar, the cottage garden, the everyday – home) Frankincense, (the search to transcend, to interconnect, to find spirit) Ambergris (the frankly weird, a vomited up exudate from sperm whales, acted on by wind, water wave, sun to, if the finder is lucky, turn to monetary gold) and finally, Jasmine (the gorgeous, the provocative, the sensuous delight) Around these star players are others, and, also instructions to encourage the fragrantly curious to experiment, to source, to make your own.
A bibliography invites further fragrant journeys, too
I also recommend her Essence and Alchemy which I reviewed last year
Oh lucky Statesiders, Aftel runs courses. She also will design you a bespoke perfume, but it must be done face to face – she leads you snuffling through her treasure chest of aromatics. She does also retail her existing perfume range, at reasonable prices (unlike the bespokes, which of course are a unique creation for a single user) Alas, I would have loved to purchase small samples of her existing perfumes, but shipping costs to the UK are savage. Not to mention our Brexited weak and wibbly pound
Go explore her website