Essence & Alchemy

Essence & Alchemy: A Natural History of Perfume

Winner of the Sense of Smell Institute's Richard B. Soloman Award for 2001

which is given to a member of the media, school, museum or individual who has made a unique
contribution in creating positive awareness of the sense of smell and human response to odors.

From earliest times, people have taken what seems to be an instinctive pleasure in rubbing their skin with scented material derived from bark, leaves, flowers, and grasses. Ethereal, almost intangible, yet unequaled in its capacity to evoke our deepest emotions, perfume has helped us to pray, to heal, and to make love. Mandy Aftel resurrects the rich legacy that is entwined with the evolution of perfumery, from the dramas of the spice trade to the quests of the alchemists. She unearths a forgotten world in which scent was celebrated by poets, contemplated by philosophers, and universally appreciated for its profound resonance with body, mind, and soul. And she seduces us out of our armchairs to experience firsthand the pleasures of composing with natural essences, guiding the reader in a process of transformation that continues to follow the alchemical dictum solve et coagula (dissolve and combine) and is itself aesthetically and spiritually transforming.

"Smelling her extraordinary collection of oils took me to beautiful places I have never been before. The fragrance that Mandy Aftel blended exclusively for me is full of citrus and herbal fragrances that complement my culinary life."
—Alice Waters

"Reading Mandy Aftel on perfume is like listening to Mozart on original instruments-it’s a revelation of tone and technique. She captures the sensuous pleasure of working with fragrance oils and the intellectual delight of composing in scent. Her book combines a perfumer’s sensibility with the authority of a historian and the passion of an enthusiast."
—Avery Gilbert, president of the Sense of Smell Institute

Essence and Alchemy has been published in Greek, German, Spanish, Swedish, Chinese, Italian, and Portuguese.

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