Showing posts with label ambergris. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ambergris. Show all posts

May 14, 2016

Book Review- Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent by Mandy Aftel

 A few months back I won a signed copy of Mandy Aftel's book Fragrant: the Secret Life of Scent and it's companion kit on Perfume Shrine!

I have to first mention how beautiful the book is. The cover is a gorgeous foiled metallic magenta and brilliant saffron orange with a medieval illustration of people harvesting cinnamon. The pages are a lovely cream colored quality paper with deckle edges. The endpapers and spine are coordinated in a rich purple. The are no photos in this book but plenty of hand drawn illustrations and prints of ancient woodcuts.

The companion kit shows equal thoughtfulness in presentation. The box with it's sliding cover matches the book. The star shaped divider partitions the substances discussed in five chapters of the book-  cinnamon, mint,  frankincense, ambergris, and jasmine. The cinnamon and mint essential oils are not to be worn but used in food. The nugget of frankincense can be rubbed to release it's fragrance. The jasmine and ambergris dilutions can be worn directly on your skin and layered to create your own perfume.

I was so excited to receive this book as it has received rave reviews from such notables as Howard McGee, Alice Walker, and Alice Waters. This sentence from the first chapter summarizes her book:

"As I researched and thought about the deep ways that perfume touches our most primal selves and the collective self of our species, I realized that I had the makings of an adventure story of sorts, an entrée to writing about scent as a series of excursions into the fragrant world that I think will return you more awake and alive, more profoundly able to “smell the roses.”

Each chapter is filled with musings upon scent from countless angles- literature references, religious uses, modern and ancient recipes, differing cultural insights worldwide, and various historical tidbits on all of the five scents discussed in the book. She states that cinnamon represents our longing for the luxurious exotic, mint speaks to our affinity for the familiar, frankincense taps our longing for transcendence and spirituality, ambergris embodies our never ending curiosity and fascination with the unknown, and jasmine exemplifies our yearning for beauty no matter how transient. 

The most interesting part of the book for me is when Ms Aftel delves into her zen philosophy of perfume making, the beauty of the hand crafted, the perfection of the imperfect, and the nature of luxury. She's certainly correct when she asserts that part of the allure of beauty is it's impermanence, more isn't necessarily better, expensive certainly isn't always better, and a cup of mint tea is true luxury. 

This is a fascinating book for browsing as well as in depth study which never veers into the overly technical making it a great read for hard core perfumistas to those with just a casual interest in scent. I'm excited to try making Ms Aftel's original recipe for Coca-Cola with essential oils, the lavender and frankincense shortbread, and her mint vetiver perfume. I wonder if Ms Aftel would be interested in trying my attempts at making a lavender infused garam masala and parfum d'Nepal?
Ms Aftel also has an online shop full of all sorts of goodies, she even has long pepper/pippali essential oil!

Calmly currying on,

I had never smelled straight ambergris before. The scent of ambergris surprised me as being reminiscently human- first a bit like dirty hair, then baby spew, a blast of placenta, and a sea breeze. I know it sounds disgusting but I wouldn't call it unpleasant. It reminded me of how newborn babies, newborn animals, and delivery rooms smell. I expected something a bit withered, perhaps fecal, and marine in fragrance and was completely flabbergasted. Since we were all steeped in placenta for 9 months prior to birth perhaps this scent memory is why humans find ambergris so attractive? Who knew weathered whale poo smelled so human? I can see how this would make a perfume come alive and really pop backing up an ethereal floral or resinous woods now.
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