Monday, May 23, 2011

Natural Perfume Workshop with Mandy Aftel

Mandy's scent organ
I recently attended a most informative, creative and sensual workshop in the art of natural perfume in the home studio of Mandy Aftel, the premier natural perfumer and author the the natural perfumers bible, Essence and Alchemy.  Over the years I've taken several perfume and aromatherapy workshops but the difference here is, aside from all of the practical information (of which there was plenty), it was also akin to taking an art class.  Indeed, Mandy has elevated natural perfume from hippie fragrance to an art form and my appreciation of her as an artist grew throughout the weekend.  Her teaching method was simple and straight from art school:  a morning lecture explaining concepts and exploring materials and techniques followed by a blending session where we each made our own perfume.  We were then critiqued and spent some time adjusting our formulas and critiqued again.  Her critiques were accurate but delivered gently and inevitably we all made better perfumes the second time around.

I came away with a better understanding of the shape and texture of a perfume and with a nose tuned in to the subtle differences in aromas, better able to distinguish between a good quality oil from it's lesser counterpart.  Indeed, my sense of smell is heightened overall.  As I walk down the streets of my Brooklyn neighborhood in Spring I can pick up subtle scents wafting in the breeze.  I came across a vase of fresh peonies the other day and could distinctly pick up the variance in the scent of each blossom.

I also had the opportunity to smell things I had only read about and things I have searched for to no avail.  One such oil is Flouve, a sweet, herbaceous tobacco-like oil that is so rich and complex that one keeps finding notes in it.  Another is Oud, a rare and precious oil from the Agarwood tree, one of the most expensive perfume ingredients around at about $1000 to $1400 an ounce.  Mandy collects antique oils as well which she hunts the globe for.  Antique patchouli oil is rich and complex and bears little resemblance to the ubiquitous hippie aroma.

The workshop was a wonderful, creative and expansive experience which I'll be drawing from to create new fragrances for Herbal Alchemy.  I'm so grateful for the opportunity to study with Mandy and to get to know a little better this warm, generous and dedicated teacher and perfumer.
A selection of top notes from the perfume organ.

2 comments:

  1. I feel like I was there, Julianne... what fun it must have been. Perfumery is like art... shadings and highlights... and also like like music with tones and notes... you know Debussy spoke of JMW Turner as a huge influence on his music... creativity has its own voice that flows through all disciplines, don't you think???
    WOnderful post!

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  2. Lovely, a true full immersion experience! I can't wait for the results to manifest in your next things.

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