Museum of Scent, Mandy Aftel
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Mandy Aftel is one of the world’s preeminent natural perfumers, with a clientele ranging from the singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen to Ivy Ross, head of hardware design at Google. Eschewing the synthetic molecules that dominate commercial perfumes, Aftel creates her complex and subtle fragrances using only natural essences. For her, each of these essences is a gateway to a lost world of scent, stretching back to the beginnings of human civilization and intertwined with the history of medicine, cuisine, adornment, sexuality, and spirituality. In 2017, Aftel opened a one-room museum—the Aftel Archive of Curious Scents—in her backyard in Berkeley, California, to help a modern audience rediscover the enchantment of this lost world. Her museum has attracted thousands of enthusiastic visitors and has been featured in the New York Times, Vogue, Goop, O: The Oprah Magazine, and numerous other media outlets.
Now Aftel has created this beautiful book, illustrated with treasures from her museum’s collection, so that readers at home can immerse themselves in the world of scent. She guides us through the different families of botanical fragrances (including flowers, woods, leaves and grasses, and resins), depicting each plant with a hand-colored antique woodcut and revealing its olfactory notes and lore. Special chapters are devoted to the most rare and precious fragrances—such as ambergris, formed of a rare secretion of the sperm whale—and to antique essential oil bottles, handwritten recipe books, and other evocative artifacts. The Museum of Scent, which includes a bookmark subtly scented with a natural essence, invites us on a sensuous, imaginative journey.
“This work . . . is a true original—a rarest of rare legacy volume. This book was created by a beautiful elder who is a polymath: meaning, a highly unique person of multiple modern and old ways of knowing. . . . Mandy Aftel’s dons and talents are now resting in your hands in this magical tome that, I deeply sense and hope, will bless you time and again.”
—From the foreword by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés Reyés, author of Women Who Run with the Wolves and the forthcoming La Curandera, Walking in Two Worlds
Abbeville Publishing Group, October 2023