Anyone who has an interest in natural perfume will recognise the name Mandy Aftel and Aftelier Perfumes. Universally regarded as one of the world’s most sought-after natural perfumers, she is a pioneer in the industry, author of a seminal book on the subject called Essence and Alchemy (one of our favourites – read more about it here). Mandy is also credited for setting up the Natural Perfumers Guild to raise awareness of the trade. Through her work since the early ’90s, she has inspired a whole new generation of perfumers – including the UK’s Michelle Roques-O’Neil, founder of organic beauty range Therapie Roques O’Neil – in the art of natural perfume-making. As huge fans of natural essences and aromas, and with her book Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent on top of our reading list, we were so excited to chat to Mandy and gather some insight into her world.
What was the catalyst that ignited your passion for natural perfume?
My passion came directly from the gorgeous essences of natural perfumery themselves. When I first encountered them more than 20 years ago, it felt like I was meeting old friends that I had known forever. I was taking a solid perfume class with a local aromatherapist as part of my research for a novel that I wanted to write about a perfumer. I came to class wanting to know how things smelled and left with a perfume that I made with around 20 essences in it. They had a mysterious familiarity to me that has completely enchanted me ever since. I never did write the novel, but instead launched a natural perfume line that sold in Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman.
Where do you look for inspiration when creating a new perfume?
My underlying motivation with each perfume is to capture a memory or feeling I’ve had and share that through scent – like a painter would do with colors. My starting point is always a dialogue between the first two ingredients. You wouldn’t know this when smelling the final results but that is where I begin. That starting pair of essences usually has some interesting aesthetic challenges – something just beyond my comfort zone, and I love working through those problems in creating the perfume.
Which oils or scents do you find have the biggest impact on your mood and state of being?
In general for me, I find jasmine very uplifting and frankincense very calming. From my experience making custom perfumes, I see that people have a natural attraction to the oils that make them feel good so typically they instinctively engage with things that will improve their mood. Beauty is always uplifting, and I find so many of them beautiful beyond words – they are my friends! Working on a new perfume never fails to lift my mood.
What is your all time favourite natural scent?
My all-time favorite essence is Ambergris, which is kind of an indigestible mass that comes out of the back end of a sperm whale before ageing on the ocean or beach for many years. Drenched in mystery and beauty, the final resulting fragrance is almost impossible to describe: magical, ambery, shimmery, glowing and utterly beautiful.
Scent is often linked to memory – let us in on a memory of yours that you have found scent to trigger. Is there a scent you can remember most prominently from your childhood?
I always liked the smell of the air when day turns to night, and when the seasons change. I prefer the smells of fall and winter, the associations with cold weather and the holidays, though not necessarily food. I’ve always thought of the holidays as magical time, full of celebration. For that reason I love London, with all of the history and literature there!
Do you have a favourite unexpected way or recipe to use fragrance?
I love to use scent in my food every day. I put essential oils (my Chef’s sprays) on everything I eat. Most often black pepper, or basil on vegetables. I love having milky oolong tea with fresh ginger essential oil in it. It’s completely delicious!
If you are a fan of Mandy’s work or want to learn more we recommend watching this wonderful interview with Mandy here.