In her work Essence and Alchemy, Mandy Aftel describes perfumers as the modern-day inheritors of the alchemical tradition, following in the footsteps of those men fervently obsessed with finding the Philosopher's Stone and turning base metals into gold. And when you visit the atelier where she mixes up her highly fragranced potions, you can't help but agree. There's something bewitching about the rare essences, the old books, and the quiet, pretty tinkling of colored glass, and I left fairly well ensorcelled myself. Mandy showed me around, let me take a million pictures, and told me all about how some of the rarest and most controversial ingredients go from the natural world into lovely little flacons. So to learn about everything from ambergris's origins inside sperm whales to how a perfumer comes up with new scents, just keep reading.