Mandy Aftel Debuts The Museum of Scent Book

Museum Of Scent Book Photo
courtesy of the author

Author and award-winning fragrance creator Mandy Aftel, of Aftelier Perfumes, has debuted her latest book, The Museum of Scent. Perfumer & Flavorist+ connected with Aftel to discuss the process of assembling the book, what she hopes readers will gain from her words and research as well as some insight into the book's illustrations.

What were the drivers to create the book?

I was pleasantly surprised at the success of my museum, with visitors coming from all over the world, and also from down the block. Most surprising—and gratifying—is that almost half of visitors come back again, wanting to share the experience with another family member. I made this new book for two reasons: one is for people who couldn’t come to the museum, so I could share with them the amazingly beautiful history of aromatic plants and natural essences, and the other is for people who could come to the museum but wanted to know more about the gorgeous history of fragrance; they would be able to have access to all the beauty, education, and wonder that was in the museum with the extra chance in the book to say more about all the artifacts and essences.

Author Mandy AftelAuthor Mandy AftelPhoto by Foster Curry

Can you touch on the process?

I fell in love with natural aromatic materials more than twenty-five years ago, and I have had the privilege to live and work in their world ever since. In my practice of perfumery, I have curated thousands of gorgeous essences from all over the world, many of them antiques themselves. They are all part of the extraordinary lineage of scent that reaches back to the beginnings of human culture and is entwined with the earliest history of medicine, cuisine, sexuality, adornment, and worship.

At the same time, my research and writing led me on a treasure hunt to hundreds of antique books and other artifacts that helped me to piece together the world in which perfumery took shape. I came to see my practice as bringing the lost world that I had discovered into the modern world. The books, engravings, essences, and raw materials I have collected have been a source of endless beauty and fascination and happiness to me, and I continue to be inspired by them every day.

What do you hope fragrance enthusiasts gain from reading it?

I want the readers of my book to fall in love all over again with the sensuality and beauty of fragrance as they learn more about the botanical materials and history that create the fragrant world around them. They will gain a deeper and greater appreciation of why they love fragrance, of the great role fragrance has played in every culture across the globe and every time period. And that the artifacts that are assembled in the book represent all of the origins of perfume and the great connection perfume has to healing, to sexuality, to rituals, to religion. And I believe that the whole world of artifacts -- books, maps, antique postcards of people harvesting flowers, essences – are all objects of great beauty and are the heritage of everyone who enjoys fragrance in any way.

The imagery is so beautiful! Can you share a little about the illustrations and images?

I found that same sense of discovery and newness in the magnificent old books about herbs—known as “herbals,” with their detailed renderings of the beauteous world of plants in woodcuts and copper engravings. These images identified each plant individually, leaf by leaf. One of the most famous herbals, which I have an original edition of in the Aftel Archive, is Theatrum Botanicum from 1640. I painted the black-and-white woodcuts from the Theatrum to illustrate the plants whose essences are featured in The Museum of Scent book. Because the plants permeated everything from medicine to sexuality, food to bathing, there was a sense of their pervasiveness in one’s life. One thing leads to another: recipes for perfumes lead to recipes for essential oil–laden drinks; paintings of plant-gathering lead to moody photographs of the various processes of extracting essences from plants. I fell into a whole and complete aromatic world that most people know nothing about. I was astonished at the workmanship and the beauty inherent in the old, engraved emblems, the pomanders, the patch boxes. All of it reflected how precious beauty was in people’s lives and how these essences inspired them—inspire literally means “to breathe in.”

Museumofscent Resinsfamily

Finally, anything you’d like to share about the book’s release?

My earlier, book Essence and Alchemy was published in 15 languages. Last year it was published in French by the wonderful publisher Nez, and is now coming out in Vietnamese. Soon it will be published in Korean. So I’ve had a first-hand experience of our great international community of people interested in natural essences. I feel there is this great interest in them as the fundamental building block of perfume, whether you work with natural or synthetic essences. I am so looking forward to sharing this beautiful, glorious history, with everyone who loves fragrance.

You can find The Museum of Scent at

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