Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent
Mandy Aftel’s 2001 book Essence and Alchemy had a profound effect on me, as I know it did on many others in the perfume community. It cast a spell that seems to have enchanted me for life and even led to short-lived experiments with my own oil-based perfumes.
While Essence and Alchemy intended to give people interested in a perfume a grounding in natural perfumery, Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent is aimed at everyone. Mandy was moved and inspired by witnessing the effect re-connecting with scent has on people who didn’t think they liked perfume.
“Watching them discover authentic aromas and their sensual pleasure is profoundly thrilling, like watching a starving person feast on a delicious smell.”
That’s not to say that those already addicted to fragrance won’t find plenty to love and learn in this meticulously researched book. Mandy has collected a large array of antique books and we get to benefit from the knowledge she has accumulated over the years.
“Indeed entering the world of fragrance is like falling through the looking glass and finding on the other side an everyday miracle, a mystery, a source of wonder. It is truly a transformative experience and one I am passionate to share”.
Mandy is beguiled by natural materials and she transmits that feeling so well. You don’t just get the facts in Fragrant but an intimate explanation of why these materials matter to us as human beings; how they connect with us on a deep level and have the potential to transform us. The fact that Mandy has not lost that sense of wonder or passion comes across on every page.
Fragrant goes into much more depth than Essence and Alchemy and cleverly uses a different fragrant material to tell the multi-layered story of perfume and approach it from a number of interesting angles. “Cinnamon” tells the history of the spice trade which is entwined with that of perfume, while “Mint” goes into the use of remedies within the home and the intriguing Books of Secrets. “Frankincense” explores incense and spirituality, “Ambergris” focuses on animal derived essences and finally “Jasmine” is a thoughtful meditation on perfume and beauty.
There are recipes at the end of each chapter for very simple oil and alcohol based perfumes and I shall definitely be trying out a few for body oils as I’m mildly obsessed with those.
Aside from the content, the writing is beautiful. Each sentence has its own gentle rhythm, which makes reading Fragrant an almost meditative experience.
Mandy manages to reignite the passion I felt when I first discovered the world of essential oils and then perfumery. She has reconnected me to the visceral reason why perfume captivates me so much.
Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent is a gorgeous treasure trove of a book.
Ancient Resins Body Oil & Hair Elixir
Ancient Resins Body Oil & Hair Elixir is something I’ve wanted to try for ages so I reverently tipped some of the sample onto my fresh-from-the-bath skin. I was intrigued to read that Mandy created it as an ode to singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen.
It’s built around resins that have been prized since ancient times for their spiritual and healing properties. Ancient Resins contains frankincense, Balm of Gilead (poplar buds). benzoin, elemi and labdanum in a base of jojoba and fractionated coconut oil.
Frankincense is a distinctive material and I expected it to dominate but in Mandy’s seasoned hands it practically purrs on the skin, taking a back-seat to the balsams.
Ancient Resins is a seductively balsamic body oil with a subtle vanilla undertone.
What I was particularly pleased about was how quickly it was absorbed by the skin. The oil is not at all greasy so you don’t have to linger for long before dressing. It leaves the skin thoroughly moisturised and softly fragranced.
Ancient Resins Body Oil & Hair Elixir is a real sensual pleasure both to apply and wear.
Have you read Fragrant or tried any of the Aftelier body products?
17 responses to “Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent by Mandy Aftel plus Ancient Resins Body Oil & Hair Elixir By Aftelier Perfumes”
Mandy Aftel rocks Tara. What a gem. One day we should go to her workshop and spend a week tormenting her.
Haha! I would love that Portia and I bet Mandy would too 🙂
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Oh wow, Tara, Ancient Resins sounds wonderful. Love a body oil that soaks in, and the description of the balance of resins vs vanilla is appealing. 🙂
xx Tina G
It’s pretty seductive stuff, Tina. I think you’d love it 🙂
I haven’t read this book, but I do so love the cover I would buy it for that alone and just leave it lying around and gaze at it from time to time. Though from your review it is clear that there is lots to savour inside too!
Re the oil, completely echo what Tina said. Vanila and resins sound like a divine combo, and an oil that soaks in quickly is essential.
The book’s yours, V. Just remind me next time I visit. I only need to note down a few of the body oil recipes but that won’t take 5 minutes as they’re nice and simple.
I haven’t read the book either, although I feel I should have done. I have to chime in with Tina and Vanessa, the oil sounds gorgeous, and even though I do not like frankincense I reckon it might just work! Bussis. xxxx
I’d recommend starting with Essence and Alchemy. It’s such a captivating book and a relatively short read.
Ancient Resins is not frankincense heavy in the slightest. It’s all about balsams laced with vanilla.
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Lovely review Tara! As you know, I love Mandy’s work. Fragrant sounds delightful – I love the idea of each material telling a different story. Need to read it soon. The Ancient Resins has been a lemming for the longest time. I adore body oils so I should try a sample soon. I’ve tried a few of Mandy’s face elixirs and they smell divine!
Oh you’ll thoroughly enjoy Fragrant, Lavanya. It’s clearly a labour of love for Mandy and beautifully put together. A must-read for a book lover like you.
I bet the face elixirs smell divine!
What a wonderful review Tara! It means so much to me that you took the time to read the book and I really appreciate your terrific writing about it. I love everything you say about Ancient Resins too, thank you! Those vanilla notes come from various facets of the poplar buds & benzoin & labdanum.
You’re such a talented writer as well perfumer, Mandy.
Many thanks for the extra information about Ancient Resins.
I had the very same experience with Essence & Alchemy as you, Tara : I was already interested in aromatherapy, but after reading the book I started to experiment with oils and fell for perfume, with no return (it was 2007). Amazing book. Fragrant is already waiting on my bedside cabinet (I want to finish Moby’s biography Porcelain first).
Oh, and I want to wear the same body oil as the wondeful Leonard does…
Oh it’s so interesting that Essence & Alchemy sent you down the same rabbit-hole as me, dear M! I read it in 2008. Wow, time flies.
Double lemming! And funny how everything is about mummies and their resins these days, I really should get on with my Djedi write up 🙂
Oh yes, can’t wait to read your thoughts on Djedi.
Apologies for the double lemming! I really think you’d love both the book and the body oil. I’m all for the mummy resins trend 🙂
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