Studying Natural Perfume with Mandy Aftel

I am the author of Essence and Alchemy: A Natural History of Perfume, which won the 2001 Sense of Smell Institute's Richard B. Solomon Award. It continues to be translated and published around the world and is considered a cornerstone of modern natural perfume (see sidebar). I have developed my own line of liquid and solid perfumes, face, bath, and body products: Aftelier Perfumes. I co-wrote Aroma, a cookbook about using essential oils, and my line of Aftelier Chef’s Essences are used at Michelin-starred restaurants. I was recognized in Perfumer and Flavorist on their “it-list” of perfumers, chosen on Basenotes as one of the 25 most influential people in perfume, and named by Forbes as one of the top seven bespoke perfumers in the world.

Over the last 20 years of teaching hundreds of students, I developed the following format for studying how to create beautiful natural perfume:

Level 1 Workbook: independent-study, doing blending exercises with up to 6 essences in oil, completed before any in-studio classes.

Advanced Workbook: Can be used before or between in-studio class sessions, it has exercises covering a very wide range of essences, how to choose specific ones, and the way they can lock with or bury each other.

In-Studio Classes: 3-day studio sessions in Berkeley, CA, hands-on blending with at least 9 essences in alcohol (formerly Level 2 & Level 3 classes).

This course of study is geared toward anyone interested in learning how to create beautiful natural perfumes, providing you with three things that you need in order to be a good perfumer:
      - a thorough understanding of the perfume essences.
      - the right way of thinking about perfume structure.
      - the ability to edit and revise your own creations.

The initial portion of this learning is done independently, using the Level 1 Workbook to incrementally build your knowledge and skills. After studying the fundamental building blocks on your own, you come to the in-studio class to start working with 9 essences in alcohol. Besides learning about the structure of natural perfume, you will learn the process of “learning to learn.” In the small group environment of the class, you will see many cycles of identifying and fixing design problems in perfume formulas, which increases your ability to analyze and improve your fragrances. It takes years of independent study to understand complex natural essences and their even more complex interactions.

Then you will take these tools home with you and integrate them into your own blending, continuing to study independently. When you come back for another class session to learn more about structure and design, you will apply the knowledge you have gained on your own and learn from observing the cycles of editing & revising each student's perfume.

Level 1 Workbook ($375)

    [click to view]

Peek Inside the Workbook
See Table of Contents
See Introduction
See Example Exercise

My teaching format begins with the Level 1 Workbook, which focuses on becoming deeply familiar with natural essences, refining your olfactory abilities, and doing hands-on experiments with set formulas. The exercises use a set of 18 well-chosen essences (6 top, 6 middle, 6 base) as a template for all future study. We offer these essences as an optional kit.

Optional Essential Oil Kit ($325)

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You are guided through the process of making many, many accord experiments (combinations of single fragrance “notes”), which are the novice perfumer's equivalent of practicing scales on the piano.

The Level 1 Workbook gives you the necessary perfumery vocabulary, the basics of relative intensity, the very important aspects of construction, and a deep understanding of what makes a top note, a middle note, or a base note. You will learn about the textures, smells, and intensities that differentiate these notes. The exercises in this workbook introduce various families of scents, familiarize you with the blending capacities of similar essences, and refine your ability to distinguish between essences within each family.

This workbook includes an Aftelier Natural Perfume Wheel - an invaluable tool to help organize the world of natural essences and link vocabulary to scent. It is a straightforward visual way to link scent experience to description, and to understand the relationships between scents and scent families.

This workbook serves as the foundation for further study in my teaching format. It covers making perfume formulas with up to 6 essences (2 top, 2 middle, 2 base) in oil, which is sufficient for fragrancing body-care products and basic solid perfumes. After completing the Level 1 Workbook, you are ready for the In-Studio Class, although doing some of the Advanced Workbook would help you be even better prepared for class. You have the option of getting a Level 1 certificate for $75 if you submit a solid perfume and formula to me, along with a paragraph about why you chose your particular essences.

Advanced Workbook ($375)

    [click to view]

Peek Inside the Workbook
See Table of Contents
See Sample Exercise

You can do this workbook at any time, whether or not you are attending the in-studio classes, but doing some of it ahead of class would help you be better prepared. The purpose of doing the exercises in this workbook is to familiarize yourself with the different blending capacities of essences that are similar to each other. You will work with the Aftelier Natural Perfume Wheel (included), studying families of scents and learning to distinguish between the essences within each family. The exercises in the Advanced Workbook guide you to determine the odor profile, evolution, and intensity of each of the 114 essences on the Aftelier Natural Perfume Wheel.

    [click to view]

Then you compare the essences within each family, preparing yourself to understand the complicated processes of "locking" (as essences augment one another unexpectedly) and "burying" (as an essence overtakes another unduly). in perfume formulas. This workbook does not cover making formulas, just studying, comparing, and writing about essences.

Completing the exercises in this workbook helps you make more informed and aesthetically pleasing choices when creating a formula, knowing why you are choosing one essence instead of another. This knowledge is the beginning of a long process of understanding how individual essences interact in a formula, preparing you to both predict and correct these interactions. Understanding the commonalities and differences between similar essences will let you work with their unique qualities in a conscious way. To be a skilled perfumer, you need to make informed choices. The more knowledge and control you have over your materials, the better your fragrances will be.

So for instance among the sweet spices, you need to be able to compare cardamom, to ginger, to nutmeg, to allspice. They are grouped by similarity, but the key is to understand the differences between them, so that if you decide to add a sweet spice when making a perfume, you know exactly which one to choose. The closer that essences are to one another, the more important their differences are.

In-Studio Class ($1,650)

After completing the Level 1 Workbook, you can come to work with me in person at the in-studio class. This level of instruction can’t be done remotely – I need to see how you interact with the materials, and spend some time 1-on-1 (the class size is very small). This is a key step in learning how to critique your perfume formulas. It is very important to understand what contributes to the essences burying or locking with each other; both effects can have either a positive or negative outcome in a perfume blend.

The class fees cover all materials, including the essences used. The topics include:
      - filler & accessory notes
      - natural isolates
      - burying & locking
      - using different forms of particular ingredients (absolute, concrete, extra, etc.)
      - thinking about top notes without relying on citruses
      - final perfume = total lock
      - scaling up your formulas using the Aftelier drop chart
      - content & format for the student to teach a beginning solid perfume class

At the in-studio classes, I work directly with each student in making liquid perfumes. In the mornings, I lecture about specific essences and their unique capacities in a perfume, and we do some odor studies as a group. In the afternoons, students work on a specific perfume construction, sometimes based on the morning lectures, or sometimes dealing with a specific type of perfume, like a floral-floral, or a chypre. After each student has created a perfume, I constructively criticize the results, pointing to where the flaws are, and as importantly how to fix them. We evaluate the results again after the students have revised and remade the perfumes according. Examining the details of these very specific examples illustrates the broader general concepts, which improves each student’s ability to create beautiful perfumes.

Each student makes at least 3 perfumes to take home, but the goal is not to make great perfumes in class. The goal is for you to learn to critique your own designs, finding and fixing the flaws in your formulas. Every time you create a new perfume, there will always be new design problems. Learning natural perfumery with me is like studying painting at an art studio; my teaching focus is solely on the aesthetics, not on weights, scales, specific gravity, or how to run a business.

The In-Studio Classes are scheduled several times throughout the year, meeting for a long weekend (Friday through Sunday, 10-5 each day). The current price for each 3-day session is $1,650, which includes all materials. When you buy the Level 1 Workbook, your email address is added to the the list for announcing the class schedules. Each session is announced several months ahead by email, and then filled on a first-come basis. You will receive a Level 2 certificate of completion after attending 2 sessions, and a Level 3 certificate after completing a total of 4 sessions.

...special ability to pass on what she has learned...[click to see review]
— Ross, student

...a humble, giving, and loving soul who loves sharing her knowledge and art...[click to see review]
— Anu, student

The learning one receives, not only from one’s successes, but also from the disasters, is immense...[click to see review]
— Michelle, student

...a most informative, creative and sensual workshop...[click to see review]
— Julianne, student

...shifts in beliefs, new perception and perhaps the discovery of an exciting new oil...[click to see review]
— Michelle, student

The Queen of Green...she started a revolution that we now take for granted as part of our environmentally conscious culture.
— Beauty News

Mandy Aftel is a recognized authority in Natural Perfume and a true pioneer in the modern field of Naturals
— Rochelle Bloom, President, Fragrance Foundation

The Queen of Green...she started a revolution that we now take for granted as part of our environmentally conscious culture.
— Beauty News

Mandy Aftel is one of the fragrance industry's most creative thinkers, not to mention one of its most prolific talents.

Mandy Aftel is an indisputable icon in the world of perfumery, and quite arguably, the Mother of Natural Perfumery.
— Cafleurebon

Mandy Aftel is the perfumery guru and pioneer who managed to alight an all naturals aromatics Renaissance with her body of work and especially her seminal book, Essence & Alchemy, the cornerstone on which the naturals movement has flourished.
— Perfume Shrine

The trend toward using natural ingredients was pioneered by perfumer and author Mandy Aftel.
— Allure

Mandy Aftel is like the Alice Waters of American natural perfume
— Indieperfumes

Mandy Aftel has spearheaded the artisanal natural perfumery movement in the United States
— Now Smell This

One of the great living masters of natural perfume
— Affluent Lifestyle magazine

Winner of Perfumer's Lifetime Achievement Award as "The Last of the Alchemists"
— Perfume Smelling Things

Ms. Aftel's work as a natural perfumer has been trendsetting...Essence and Alchemy...became a corner stone upon which the contemporary natural perfumery movement was built.
— Bois de Jasmin

Essence and Alchemy is in no doubt partly responsible for the current growing interest in natural perfume. You would be hard pressed to find a natural perfumer without a well-thumbed copy of this book on their bookshelf.
— Basenotes