Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes
Can you tell us about your background?
Over 20 years ago, I was working as a therapist and writer, and wanted to write a novel. Somehow the idea of having the protagonist be a perfumer struck me as a good idea - something about the mystery and allure. I began to research by getting ahold of every old book on perfumery I could find, eventually collecting over 200 of them. The one perfume class I took was at a nearby aromatherapy studio, where I immediately fell in love with all the natural essences -- so beautiful and transporting, so rich and complex, so stinky and alive! I felt completely connected and comfortable working with them, and on the spot created such a well-crafted perfume that a friend said we should go into business together. We started Grandiflorum Perfumes and got orders right away from Bergdorf’s & Neiman Marcus.
Did you have a interest in fragrance growing up?
I wasn’t overly interested in fragrance or perfumes, but I did like my mother’s perfume bottles - the whole array of mysterious glass bottles on her dresser. I only developed a real interest later in life -- inspired by the gorgeous materials and by my research, I started making perfumes and writing books.
- How did your journey into perfume begin?
After following my nose into my first perfume line at Grandiflorum Perfumes in the early 1990’s, that business quickly came to an end and I didn’t expect to sell perfumes anymore. I decided to write a non-fiction book based on all my research; I never did write that novel, but instead Essence and Alchemy: A Natural History of Perfume. I realized that in the world of food, people care a lot about the quality of the ingredients. I wrote a cookbook with 2- Michelin star chef Daniel Patterson called Aroma: The Magic of Essential Oils in Cooking and Fragrance, and also gradually developed my own line of Aftelier Perfumes. I wrote 2 more books about perfume, most recently Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent, and am now working on a new book with Daniel Patterson about creating flavor.
Where would you say the fragrance world is in at the moment?
What are your thoughts for its future?
The fragrance world is an amazing place right now, especially for true artisanal brands! It’s more possible than ever to talk directly to your customer, and make the perfumes you believe in. I am concerned about IFRA banning natural materials - it’s a very worrisome situation, especially for the growers and distillers.
Can you explain in your own words one of the major differences that people may notice with natural perfumes.
Compared to what people are used to from commercial brands of perfume, natural perfumes come in smaller bottles, cost more money, and don’t last as long. I try to educate people about their expectations, so they’re aware that if they want a perfume that will last all day, they probably shouldn't buy my perfumes.
What would you say is your creative process?
The process begins with such wide-open possibilities! I always start with two things, usually high-contrast materials that seem like they will connect in some special way. I look for a secret relationship between the two of them that will be revealed by using them together in the perfume. As I proceed by adding other materials, usually working from the base notes to the top, I develop a very tight structure, and each thing that is added closes doors in terms of the possibilities that can still work. I smell the result at each step along the way, backing up a bit if there’s a wrong turn. Each piece must continue to justify itself, or it's back out, and the last final top note fits in like the last piece of a puzzle.
Do you have any advice for those that may want to become a perfumer or anything that is creative in general?
My advice is that it is always the best idea to do something that you absolutely love that doesn't seem like work and that you would be doing anyway. In other words, if you won the lottery and got to do whatever you want (as a pursuit or calling, not just some leisure activity) what would you do? Well, do that. Learning to work with beautiful smells is such an incredible privilege, and the interaction you have when your work finds an audience, that's an incredible joy!
Finally do you have any other words that you would like to share?
It's so gratifying to see the growing artisanal perfume community, in all its different facets. Such a wonderful thing to see these beautiful aromatics enriching people's lives!