Tag Archives: Non-fiction

Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent by Mandy Aftel plus Ancient Resins Body Oil & Hair Elixir By Aftelier Perfumes

 

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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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Have you read Fragrant or tried any of the Aftelier body products?

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Perfume Legends: French Feminine Fragrances by Michael Edwards

Michael Edwards is the author of Fragrances of the World, the ultimate industry reference book, now in its 32nd Edition. To put it simply, he is an authority on the subject.

Published in 1996, his book Perfume Legends:French Feminine Fragrances sought to chart the evolution of French perfumery chiefly from the perfumers’ perspective and is the result of 150 in-depth interviews. In 164 pages, it takes us chronologically through 44 French perfumes starting with Jicky in 1889 and ending with Angel in 1992.

 

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He used the following criteria for choosing the fragrances that feature in the book; firstly, that they inspired other perfume compositions, secondly, that they started a new trend and thirdly, that they have an enduring appeal which surpasses fashion.

I loved reading The Foreword which was written by Edmond Roudnitska, the great perfumer who created many of Dior’s classics including Eau Sauvage and Diorissimo as well as Rochas’s Femme. Funnily enough, he mentions that when he visited Sydney (Edwards is Australian) he was stuck by its similarity to his own Côte d’Azur.

I was particularly interested to see what Roudnitska had to say  about a favourite (if not my very favourite) perfume, “Jacques Guerlain’s most modern composition was probably Vol de Nuit which was not given the full appreciation it merited from the public or from the House.” He also states that Chanel’s best composition is not Chanel No.5 (which he feels benefited from clever marketing) but in fact “the magnificent” Bois des lles

After The Foreward there is an introduction entitled “The dawn of modern perfumery” which leads up to the creation of Fourgére Royale by Houbigant in 1882. Then we get to the perfumes…

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Each individual entry starts with a brief summary of the time and gives the context for how the perfume came into being. This is followed by a piece about the specific fragrance explaining how the perfume was developed, usually with quotes from the perfumer, his relatives or associates.

These aren’t reviews but offer up what are usually fascinating tales which try to get to the facts about how the perfume came about and why it became so great. The chemical components aren’t shied away from but aren’t overwhelming for the non-scientifically minded, like me. It’s a nice mix of anecdotes and technical information.

Before ending with a section about the bottle, there is a pyramid diagram detailing the “Head, Heart and Soul” accords and epithets for each. In the case of Miss Dior these are “Spicy, Flowery and Clinging”.

Here are a selection of the perfumes featured in the book from across the  20th Century: L’Origan (1905), Mitsouko (1919), Tabu (1932), L’Air du Temps (1948), Cabochard (1959), Calandre (1969), First (1976), Loulou (1987) and Tresor (1990).

I really like how Michael Edwards gets to the root of the story behind the perfumes by going back to the source. Iconic fragrances are often surrounded by myths but you feel that Edwards gets to the truth wherever possible. It’s a large, beautiful, coffee table-style book but unlike most in that genre, it is full of content.  Perfume Legends really is a wealth  of insider information, facts and stories from the relevant protagonists or those closest to them.

Unfortunately it’s a spendy purchase with the hardcover currently on Amazon UK for £149.01.

Many thanks to Lila for lending me her copy.

Do you have any non-fiction books about perfume to share?

 

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