Essence and Alchemy

A Book of Perfume

Mandy Aftel

North Point Press

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An artisan perfumer reveals a lost art and its mysterious, sensual history.

For centuries, people have taken what seems to be an instinctive pleasure in rubbing scents into their skin. Perfume has helped them to pray, to heal, and to make love. And as long as there has been perfume, there have been perfumers, or rather the priests, shamans, and apothecaries who were their predecessors. Yet, in many ways, perfumery is a lost art, its creative and sensual possibilities eclipsed by the synthetic ingredients of which contemporary perfumes are composed, which have none of the subtlety and complexity of essences derived from natural substances, nor their lush histories. Essence and Alchemy resurrects the social and metaphysical legacy that is entwined with the evolution of perfumery, from the dramas of the spice trade to the quests of the alchemists to whom today's perfumers owe a philosophical as well as a practical debt. Mandy Aftel tracks scent through the boudoir and the bath and into the sanctums of worship, offering insights on the relationship of scent to sex, solitude, and the soul. Along the way, she imparts instruction in the art of perfume compositions, complete with recipes, guiding the reader in a process of transformation of materials that continues to follow the alchemical dictum solve et coagula (dissolve and combine) and is itself aesthetically and spiritually transforming.

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Book Excerpts

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  1The Spirit of the Alchemist A Natural History of PerfumeWhen from a long-distant past nothing subsists after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.—Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things PastFRAGRANCE has the instantaneous and invisible power

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Reviews

Praise for Essence and Alchemy

"Even for those of us who may not be inspired to try our hand at the venerable art of the parfumier, this book has much to offer: fascinating facts about the history of perfume, its links with the ancient art of alchemy and the roles it has played in many cultures . . . Aftel proves an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide." --Merle Rubin, Los Angeles Times

"Rarely has the glory of the sense of smell reached such heights as in the imaginative mind of sensory superstar Mandy Aftel." --Annette Green, President, Fragrance Foundation

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About the Author

Mandy Aftel

Mandy Aftel, founder of Aftelier, creates one-of-a-kind perfumes for individuals and private labels, and is also a counselor who specializes in working with artists and writers. The author of three previous books, she lives in Berkeley, California.

Mandy Aftel

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Available Formats and Book Details

Essence and Alchemy
A Book of Perfume
Mandy Aftel

e-Book Agency

e-Book Agency
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
North Point Press
April 2011
e-Book Agency
ISBN: 9781429936125
ISBN10: 1429936126
272 pages, Line Drawings and Illustrations Throughout
$7.99
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North Point Press

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