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Essence and Alchemy - A Natural History of Perfume

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By Mandy Aftel

For centuries, people have taken an instinctive pleasure in rubbing scents into their skin and using them to pray, heal, and make love. Yet in many ways perfumery, with its lush history and creative and sensual possibilities, is a lost art. No one knows this better than artisan natural perfumer Mandy Aftel, who has spent nearly thirty years immersed in the world of scent, culling the most beautiful natural essences from all over the world and using them to create exquisite fragrances.

In Essence and Alchemy, Aftel teaches the art of making natural perfumes, complete with recipes. She resurrects the social and metaphysical legacy that is entwined with the evolution of perfumery, from the dramas of the spice trade to the quests of the alchemists. Tracking scent through the boudoir and bath and into the sanctums of worship, she offers insights into the relationship of scent to sex, solitude, and the soul, unearthing a forgotten world of natural essences and their profound resonance with body, mind, and spirit.

This is the 2022 revised edition of this classic text on perfumery, originally published in 2001. It has been translated into eight languages and was the winner of The Sense of Smell Institute’s Richard B. Solomon Award.

Mandy Aftel is an internationally known artisan perfumer and educator on natural fragrance and flavor. She was born and educated in Michigan and has been living in Berkeley, California since 1970. She is the owner of Aftelier Perfumes and the Aftel Archive of Curious Scents in Berkeley, California. The Archive is the first museum in the United States dedicated to the experience of fragrance, including her collection of one-of-a-kind antique artifacts.

Aftel has demonstrated and taught the art of natural perfumery across the nation, and regularly collaborates with top-name chefs and mixologists. She was named one of the top seven bespoke perfumers in the world by and her work has been widely featured by outlets including CNN, The New York Times, Vogue, Vanity Fair, In Style, Time, Bon Appétit, Food and Wine, W, Self, O: The Oprah Magazine, and Elle.

Aftelier Perfumes, 2022, softcover, 5 x 8 inches, 264 pages.