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Essence and Alchemy: A Book of Perfume
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Essence and Alchemy: A Book of Perfume

3.99 of 5 stars 3.99  ·  rating details  ·  320 ratings  ·  31 reviews
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 p
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Hardcover, 272 pages
Published June 20th 2001 by North Point Press (first published 2001)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 909)
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Sarah
Oct 18, 2007 Sarah rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Amateur perfumers and anyone who's curious why they like the scents they like
Reading this book was a direct result of my new obsession with the Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, a boutique perfume oil company that I just ADORE. There's lots of practical information, a big helping of encouragement to experiment, and lots of good mythological and historical tidbits.
Yaaresse
Someone saw me reading this book, and the comment was, "But you don't even like perfumes!"

That's partly true. I don't like synthetic perfumes. I don't like being bombarded by someone's overzealous application of scent. I don't like synthetic fragrance. (Every time someone tells me their homemade soap or perfume has "only the best all-natural essential oil of banana/cucumber/lilac/fill in blank with any other synthetic oil), I cringe. I do like things that smell good and are subtle. I like histo
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Laura (Kyahgirl)
This was one of the first books I read on the history of perfume and perfume making. I think it is an excellent blend of 'story' and fact. The art and science of perfumery is fascinating. As is the long history of fragrance in human society. I love it. Aftel captures the fact, the history, the science, and the mystery. I'd highly recommend this book to any one with an interest in this subject.
B
I wasn't expecting so much writing about mixing scents, formulas and storing oils. I did enjoy the parts when the author gave the readers a more historical background on perfume and the science of scent and perfumery, although it was limited.
Joanna
Nov 17, 2014 Joanna rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: BPAL and other indie perfumery nerds
Shelves: 2000s, artifice, history
I perhaps should have expected a book on perfume to waft about. Very emotional, romantic, idealistic writing. Which I was fine with actually. I appreciated and enjoyed her passion for perfume and her strongly held opinions on it, though I may not agree (I am fine with synthetic scents). And I personally wasn't bothered by the magic/alchemy bits either. But the way the information jumps around! I was reading aloud some parts to my boyfriend, and he asked for a definition of volatile. So I told hi ...more
Dave Johnson
my journey with fragrances has been an interesting one, indeed. without going into my whole story, i used to not like them, then i got mildly interested around the time i met my wife. a few months ago, i became extremely interested, and now i'm part of a whole fragrance community on Youtube (just look up FragranceBros). i thought it would be an interesting video to do a review of a fragrance book, and also another good idea to do a vid on a brief history of fragrance. i saw this book, grabbed it ...more
K.m.
Practical guide for the beginning/aspiring perfumer as well as philosophical/sensory discussion of scent and psychology, evocation of memory and associations, the importance and aesthetics of smell. Using the metaphor of alchemy, Aftel describes the history and significance of smell to human culture (spirituality, sexuality, adornment, etc) as well as perfumery's alchemical science and art.
Anne
Not what I expected. I wanted an actual history of perfume- how it was made, how it reflected society, how it differed in different cultures, etc. This book was a disorganized mess of random quotes about alchemy, information about perfume ingredients from a mostly botany-related perspective, and recipes for making your own natural perfumes. There were also lots of snide comments about how synthetic perfumes suck, which was insulting as well as inaccurate (for instance, the author asserted that s ...more
M.
What a delightful and fascinating read. Plowed through this one while living in a big city, one that did not smell half as good as the thoughts in this wonderful little read.

A completely responsible purchase for the budding chemist (or a recovering wet photographer such as myself), I highly recommend this book, as Aftel gives you all the notes, tips, and inspiration needed to create your own natural perfume.

If you do purchase this one for someone, make sure they have a wallet and a job to go w
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Jessica
I picked this up for the history of perfume part. Content-wise it was fine, but I found Aytoun Ellis's The essence of beauty : a history of perfume & cosmetics a more enjoyable read.

If I had been reading this as a how-to manual on sourcing and mixing essential oils to create my own compositions, I think I would have found it more useful.
Noel
Interesting book, although the constant references to alchemy, change and magic become tiresome after the first few pages; so tiresome that i magiving this a mere two stars. However, there is some refreshing information on the history of perfumery as well as pertinent information on essential oils and their attributes, as well as useful listings of internet resources, suppliers, and what is needed for a beginner to start creating their own essences. Ok.
Patricia Joynton

I read this book b/c my daughter Stefanie and I were going on a trip in California to a naturalist place and making perfume was an activity of the resort we were going to. I was getting ready for the trip, but then a mud slide took out the road to the resort and we had to cancel.

Glad I found it. Think I will make my own from my garden. I've always considered fragrance when I order my plants, especially roses.


Junior
Loved the history of perfumery and alchemy explained and the list of classic scents provided and the list of equipment needed to get started really helped me get myself ready for my adventure
Elizabeth
This is a cross between a layman's textbook on perfume (including resources for the beginning perfumer, and a recipe to create as you progress through the book) and a philosophical treatise on the intersections of perfume with alchemy, spirituality, and sex. It covers the history of perfumery fairly widely, but not in great depth.

I'd buy a copy of this purely for the bibliography.
Katey
I loved the author's attitude to the art of perfume making, but this book partly reads as a "how-to" book. But it does give you great insight into deconstructing the fragrance you wear. But for some, (me included part of the time), sometimes you just want to enjoy a beautiful scent, like a beautiful piece of art, without breaking it down beyond the sum of its parts.
Rose
so far so bad. assumption-laden and factoid ridden. irritating and ill-informed. there's some fascinating writing about olfactory processing in humans. this is not it.
I plugged on for a while as she has a vast collection of antiquarian perfume and alchemy books. I had a vain hope some distillate of that history might have infused these pages.
Rachel
I picked this up at an airport bookshop ... I believe it was on our way back from Europe that one time when we went. An interesting look at the history and making of perfumes. It actually inspired me for a few months to try making my own.
Kenneth
Gorgeous writing and excellent instruction for any interested in learnign to craft natural perfume. It is not a comprehensive work on the art, but it is an inspiring starting point and has been a valuable resource to me in my blending.
JT
Beautiful writing style and great information for a perfumer just starting out. Towards the end she lost me a bit because it started going a bit off topic. Great read, very helpful!
Lana Zoubkov
It was my first book on perfume and I think it was a great introduction for someone who would like not only enjoy perfume but also experiment creating my own signature fragrance.
heidipj
This is a pretty interesting book about smells. Nice smells. Written by an author who is passionate but, if I remember correctly, very slightly overbearing.
Tristan Tarwater
Read this book as an intro to perfumery and scent. Enjoyed the narrative and information there. Not a recipe book by any means but a good read.
Amy
Very very interesting. Read it while re-reading Jitterbug perfume and at the same time we discovered http://www.blackphoenixalchemylab.com/
Kara
A sensual history of perfume. Interesting!
Several examples of perfume mixology I will experiment with.
Taylor
This book was extremely helpful to learn how to make your own perfume. I loved this book. :)
Shellie (Layers of Thought)
This book gives the history of scent and the many ways that it is made and used.
Lucy
Great basic introduction to the materials of perfumery and the pleasures thereof...
Jane
Oct 23, 2012 Jane marked it as triedtoread  ·  review of another edition
If you are interested in this topic, this is a good book with lots of illustrations.
K
this is only a 4 start if you want to learn about natural perfumery.
Anne
I eventually lost interest and stopped reading this book.
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Today, almost every perfume is created from synthetic essences. Although synthetics approximate the odors of natural ingredients, they have none of the complexity, mystery or emotional depth. We bring an inexplicable emotional intensity to the experience of an authentic smell and the memories it sparks and creates.

My approach to creating artisan natural perfumes is based in the quality and integr
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More about Mandy Aftel...
Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent Scents & Sensibilities: Creating Solid Perfumes for Well-Being Aroma: The Magic of Essential Oils in Foods and Fragrance Death of a Rolling Stone: The Brian Jones Story The Story of Your Life: Becoming the Author of Your Experience

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