Essence and Alchemy

Essence and Alchemy : A Book of Perfume

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As long as there has been passion, there has been perfume. Wealthy Romans used to scent their doves while in Shakespeare's time, a woman in love would place a peeled apple into her armpit to saturate it with her scent and then present it to her lover. "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. Aftel tracks scent through the boudoir and the bath and into the sanctums of worship, and along the way teaches us the art of perfume-making, including many of her own recipes, offering insights on the relationship of scent to solitude, sex, and more

Product details

  • Paperback | 256 pages
  • 129 x 198 x 19mm | 209g
  • Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
  • London, United Kingdom
  • New edition
  • New edition
  • 0747558019
  • 9780747558019
  • 1,987,044

About Mandy Aftel

Mandy Aftel is the founder of Aftelier, through which she creates one-of-a-kind perfumes for individuals and private labels. She is also a counselor who specializes in working with artists and writers. She is the author of three previous books, most recently THE STORY OF YOUR LIFE. She lives in Berkeley, more

Review Text

This is a richly descriptive account of the history of perfume. Aftel explains how the makers of perfume inherited alchemists' traditional practices, thereby laying the foundations of the modern industry. Towards the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, perfumers experimented with combinations of ingredients and started using synthetic materials instead of naturally occurring ones such as extracts from plants and animal essences. Aftel explains the intricacies of top notes, middle notes and base notes and the difference between perfumes with synthetic bases and those with natural bases. Apparently synthetic perfumes produce an instant effect which rapidly disappears, whereas natural bases change subtly and react with the wearer's body chemistry. The book explores the various groups of essences and the feelings that they can evoke, as well as the spiritual and physical meanings of perfume, and the delight and pleasure it can bring. Aftel describes exotic and sometimes extraordinary blends - some of the most magical perfumes contain essence of civet, which smells foul undiluted, yet one drop added to a mixture can produce wonderful depth and scent. Tea, tobacco and tarragon are other unlikely ingredients. Aftel is clearly passionate about the subject and this book is a fascinating account of both the practical and the personal aspects of scent. A bibliography and list of places that stock ingredients are included for anyone wanting to learn more about this absorbing area of knowledge. (Kirkus UK)show more

Review quote

'Probably the ultimate Christmas present for the modern aesthete' Evening Standardshow more