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.
Meet my newest love: this beautifully rendered vintage solid perfume compact ($300) from Aftelier Perfumes. If you, like myself, have an extreme weakness for petite, elegant fragrance keepers, the luxe antique cases at Aftelier are worth more than a glance. They're also likely to make you stare longingly into your wallet wishing additional funds would appear there, but if you're looking for something to do with that holiday bonus check, they'd make a gorgeous keepsake. And take heart: the price includes a full-sized solid Aftelier fragrance of your choice, so most of what you're paying for is scent.
In effort to eschew conventional, overly potent synthetic scents, some people have been hitting the bottle. That would be the 190-proof bottle of Everclear or neutral grape alcohol, which are commonly used as bases for creating homemade scents. As ambitious as it may be, natural perfumery involves mixing or pressing together stems, herbs, and petals to make tinctures, and it's an art that is on the rise.
Call it a modern form of alchemy, if you will. Or just call it a way to become reconnected with what nature has to offer. "People are so often in front of their computer screens and detached from the sensual world," natural perfumer Mandy Aftel told the NYT. Natural perfumes may not be cheap, but they're appreciated. In fact, instructor Jeanne Rose, who teaches fragrance classes throughout the country and out of her San Francisco home, recently added more classes to her roster due to popularity.
And there's also the Internet, where perfumer Anya McCoy offers online classes as well as an outlet for DIY fragrance makers through her Yahoo group. Making your own scent may take some time and practice, but have you ever tried it out before? If not, would you consider becoming a natural perfumer?
Recently, I popped into noted natural perfumer Mandy Aftel's Berkeley, CA studio for a tour. I found it quite inspirational to see someone so passionate about her work. Seriously, the enthusiasm was contagious.
So, when I told Aftel that picking a fragrance is a difficult task for me (as I'm sure it is for many of you), she gave me some cool tips I'll definitely be remembering next time I cross paths with the fragrance aisle.
- Love the dry down — When it comes to picking an aroma you'll love, "It's important to get down to that dry down note — which is that last note that's left on your skin — because that's what's going to stay with you," Aftel said.
- Don't judge a bottle by its cover — Aftel recommends not even looking at the bottle or names on the label. Just go on smell alone. Hey, in that case, there must be some real gems in this photo collection of ugly perfume bottles.
Discover the other two tips when you read more
According to Allure, "The trend toward using natural ingredients was pioneered by perfumer and author Mandy Aftel."
Well, guess what? Last week I had the pleasure of meeting with the famed perfumer in her Berkeley, CA studio. We covered everything from beautifully stanky scents to trends in the industry to advice on selecting fragrances. And when I asked her if she had any do-it-yourself ideas for holiday gifting, she definitely delivered.
In her book, Scents & Sensibilities: Creating Solid Perfumes for Well-Being (approximately $5), Aftel provides a "recipe" for creating your own solid perfume. While the talented perfume maker sells her Single Solids, Double Solids, and the ultra-luxe One-of-a-Kind Antique Cases on her website, you can create these thoughtful and easy gifts for your friends and loved ones on your own. Learn how to make these sweet smelling compacts when you read more
Last week, I met renowned natural perfumer, author, and owner of Aftelier Perfumes, Mandy Aftel, in her visually stunning Berkeley, CA studio.
With wood built-ins, glass bottles lining the windows, and apothecary style furnishings, it was a little Frank Lloyd Wright with a pinch of Harry Potter. Topped off with the collective smell of essential oils and perfumes? Yeah, it was pretty much like heaven.
When it comes to industry trends, "Food-based smells are quite popular right now," she says. Oh, gourmand, you say? I sampled her Layering Gourmand Trio ($125), which was complex, inviting, and — well, delicious.
"Natural materials really mix with your body chemistry in a very interesting way, then they kind of fade away," she says. . .They have that soft arc that I think is very sexy." Humina, humina. As for this set? The three pieces can be worn apart or together for maximum sensuality. Find out which aromas are included when you read more